The entire case against God in the Old Testament seems to rest on a handful of battles, the flood, and the fact that slavery was permitted under the Torah's legal system1. At best, this is special pleading where a few passages are conveniently selected and then pitted against the whole. This approach makes a habit of pointedly ignoring the context of justified jugdment or protection.2 It may make effective rhetoric, and that may be all that's wanted. But it lacks an intellectually honest assessment of how the Old Testament actually portrays God.
The Old Testament shows God as emphasizing:
- Justice - One of the overriding concerns of the Law of Moses is whether justice is done.
- Beauty - Both the beauty of creation and the emphasis on beauty in the tabernacle and Temple show God's love for beauty.
- Purity - Moses' Law covered spiritual purity, emphasizing the worth of the person and praiseworthy aspects of redeemed humanity. It also covered physical purity to the extent that the Law of Moses is one of the earliest instances of modern infection control on record, far ahead of its time.
- Holiness - the Law of Moses emphasizes not only God's holiness, but God's transforming effect on his people to make them holy as well.
- Blessings - God's emphasis included physical blessings such as rest and spiritual blessings of his favor and goodwill.
- Forgiveness - The Law emphasized forgiveness by making regular provision for it by way of daily rituals, annual festivals, and regular cycles of additional forgiveness where debts were forgiven, slaves were freed, and all various economic inequities were restored. Again, the ancient code has the advantage on our modern codes in the regular cycle of forgiving long-term debt so that people are not haunted by debt for their whole lives.
- Wisdom - The Old Testament has wisdom literature in the book of Proverbs, but also elsewhere portrays wisdom as an attribute of God and one of the spiritual blessings evident in the faithful, even the simple.
- Compassion - One of God's most defining aspects was held to be his compassion, part of God's own self-identification as he revealed himself to Moses.
- Mercy - God likewise singled out mercy as one of his identifying attributes when he revealed himself to Moses. God's mercy is seen time and again in his laws, his promise of redemption, and in his patient interactions with sinful people.
In the Old Testament, God's character is shown as faithful, merciful and just. His disposition is shown as loving towards mankind.
None of this is to disclaim any of the passages that make modernists squirm, or that are used as debate-fodder by anti-Christians. It is just to mention that, on a fair reading of the Old Testament, God is portrayed very differently than the commonplace portrayal of a petty vindictive tyrant. He is portrayed as the one bringing justice, mercy, and restoration.
1 - Yes, I'm aware that the slave trade as we knew it from American history was outlawed in the Torah (Exodus 21:16). The type of slavery where someone was forcibly kidnapped and sold carried the death penalty for the slave trader. However, there were other types of slavery permitted. Some of the permitted forms of slavery still seem objectionable to us today, regardless of the fact that the whole evil framework of mass kidnapping behind slavery in the Americas was a capital offense under the Law of Moses.
2 - "Justified judgment" applies not only to the flood or to battles, but also to thieves who could be made slaves temporarily if it was the only way they could repay their debt to those they robbed (Exodus 22:3). This is one of the respects in which I believe the ancient Biblical law was more enlightened than our modern Western-style law where there is no requirement that the victim's loss be made good by the thief.