In The God Delusion, author Richard Dawkins makes a connection between Moses and the Taliban that must have occurred to some of us as well.
Who among us has not listened with horror to reports of young women being stoned for adultery or for going out in public without head coverings. Some of us may even have been critical of the Taliban when they dynamited the ancient cultural treasures of 150-foot-high Bamiyan Buddhas carved into the mountains of Afghanistan.
Yet, as Dawkins points out, the Taliban themselves claim that their actions against idolatry and other forms of “social evil” are rooted in the ancient commands of Moses and his God.
Readers of the Bible may recognize the connection. Moses did require the destruction of pagan religious statues (Exodus 34:13-17). He required stoning, and other eye-for-an-eye deterrents, for a wide range of behaviors that, by the standards of our day, seem trivial (Lev 24:11-20). He even called for the death of women and children when dealing with enemies (Numbers 31:15-17).
The Bible’s incidents of extreme punishment, however, do not rest in Moses but in his God. From the first pages of Genesis, the smallest infraction of “eating a forbidden fruit” was regarded as worthy of death.
Only as the drama of the Bible unfolds does the wisdom of its God become apparent. Seemingly insignificant decisions turn out to have disastrous social consequences. With the murder of Abel by his older brother, Moses shows how small seeds of spiritual distrust led to violence, and in time, to war, human bondage, racial prejudice, arrogance, greed, pornography, and every other social evil.
The record of the Old Testament shows what happens when human nature is not restrained by the fear of God or a legally armed community.
So what is the difference between Moses and the Taliban? Read in context, the details of the Bible help us understand the difference. In the days of Moses, Israel was a real Theocracy (God-ruled nation). God himself placed controls on the extreme form of punishments he was using to show his people the dangers of “small and even symbolic sins”. The leadership of Moses was accompanied by the unmistakable power of God; by a cloud by day, by a pillar of fire by night, by manna 6 out of 7 mornings a week, by water out of the rock, and by other obvious, visible signs of the presence of God among his people.
It’s just as important to see from the same Scriptures that when Israel walked away from their God, their government and religious institutions became self-serving and contrary to the public interest. By the time of the New Testament, the religious leaders of Israel were using the moral laws of God in a way that was abusive.
In our day, any form of religious fundamentalism that tries to replicate the days and ways of Moses–without the accompanying Presence of God will show why even the best of human leaders make bad gods.
While social order, moral policy, and a limited application of justice are essential to any society, the judgment of God can be applied rightly, and wisely, only by God himself.
That’s one reason the New Testament offers a solution for changed hearts that lies not in the application of law, but rather in a personal acceptance of the grace, mercy, and Spirit of Christ.
So… when the Taliban, or any of us, try to play Moses, might be a good idea to make sure that we have manna on the ground, a pillar of fire overhead, or some other very obvious evidence that we are acting in God’s behalf rather than on our own…