Here is an interview with Dr Peter Williams, Warden of Tyndale House. With the criticisms of Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, ch. 7) particularly in mind, Williams gives a cogent series of responses to some of the more difficult and pressing worries that we (whether we are believers or not) may have about the morality of some of the things we find in the Old Testament.
Of course, Williams cannot offer, in the limited time afforded by an interview, a comprehensive set of answers. And, in any case, if would be foolish of anyone to suppose that it is even possible to provide a neat set of knock-down arguments. But I have to say that the lines of explanation offered in this interview are most helpful. Williams constantly emphasises the contexts of the passages in question, and invites us to ask what the passages really say, not what we think they say either at a cursory glance or (worse still) at second- or third-hand.
To take one example:-
There is an account, in Judges 19, that involves a terrible and tragic case of a woman who was gang-raped and then left for dead. She was found the next morning, ‘fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold’ (Judges 19:27).
Dawkins expresses particular distaste for this account. How can a ‘Good Book’, regarded as authoritative for millions of believers, teach such things?
But Peter Williams has no difficult in showing (as, indeed, many others who have paid close enough attention to this passage have shown) that the behaviour recorded in Judges 19 is in no way condoned. In fact, the whole point of the passage is to show just how bad things had become at that point in Israel’s history. The point of the story is clearly this: morality had sunk even lower for Israel at this time than it had for non-Israelites at the time of Lot (cf. Genesis 19).
The New Bible Commentary comments on the Judges 19 passage as follows:-
In vv11-28 we have another story of hospitality, but this time ‘perverted and grotesque, with unmistakable similarities to the description of life in Sodom in Gn. 19:1-13. This is particularly ironical because the travellers had deliberately avoided pagan towns in order to seek hospitality with their fellow-Israelites (v12-14). The rowdies in the streets of Gibeah were clearly morally bankrupt, but so too was the old man who opened his house to the travellers. It was this apparently model host whose perverted sense of duty led him to conceive the idea of casting two innocent women to the dogs (v23-24). Here is moral bankruptcy indeed. When God’s people do whatever is right in their own eyes they are no better than Sodomites.’
Anyway, do listen to Dr Williams’ comments. I warmly recommend them.