Is God Just?

Theodicy and Monotheism in the Old Testament with Special Regard to the Theology of Deutero-Isaiah

by Hermann Vorländer (Author)
©2022 Monographs 172 Pages


The emergence of monotheism in the Old Testament is closely related to the theodicy question. It is based on doubts about God’s power, kindness, and wisdom that haunted the Israelites in exile in Babylon. Deutero-Isaiah answers in the form of a "communal theodicy" by confessing YHWH as the only God. Through his universal work in creation and history, the effectiveness of the prophetic word, his saving intervention through Cyrus and his personal nearness, YHWH proves his uniqueness. In connection with monotheism, the theodicy motif shapes the collection and editing of the historical and prophetic books. The author draws parallels to the "individual theodicy" in the books of Job and Psalms, as well as to the "universal theodicy" in the Prehistory.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • A. Definitions
  • 1. Theodicy
  • 2. Monotheism, Monolatry, and Henotheism
  • B. The Experience of God’s Justice
  • 1. The Experience of God and Understanding of Reality
  • 2. YHWH and the Other Gods in Pre-exilic Israel
  • 3. YHWH’s Justice
  • 4. The Experience of YHWH’s Justice in the Life of the Individual
  • 5. The Experience of YHWH’s Justice in the Life of the People
  • C. Doubts about YHWH’s Justice and the Crisis of Experiencing God in Exile
  • D. The Message of Deutero-Isaiah as a Communal Theodicy
  • 1. Origin and Literary Forms
  • 2. The Justification of YHWH from Creation and History
  • Isa 40:12–17, 21–31
  • Isa 50:1–3
  • Isa 51:9–11
  • 3. The Justification of YHWH from the Effectiveness of the Prophetic Word
  • Isa 41:21–29
  • Isa 42:5–9
  • Isa 43:8–13
  • Isa 44:6–8
  • Isa 45:18–19
  • Isa 45:20–25
  • Isa 46:9–12
  • Isa 48:3–5
  • Isa 55:10–11
  • 4. The Justification of YHWH through the Announcement of His Saving Action
  • Isa 41:1–5
  • Isa 42:13–16
  • Isa 44:24–45:8
  • Isa 48:12–16a
  • Isa 51:1–8
  • 5. The Justification of YHWH through the Promise of His Protective and Helping Nearness as the Personal God of the Whole People
  • Isa 41:8–16
  • Isa 43:1–7
  • Isa 44:1–5
  • Isa 49:13–17
  • Isa 54:4–10
  • Isa 55:6–7
  • 6. The Justification of YHWH by Showing His Hiddenness, Freedom, and World Superiority
  • Isa 45:9–13
  • Isa 45:15
  • Isa 55:8–9
  • 7. The Justification of YHWH in Doxology
  • Isa 42:10–12
  • Isa 44:23
  • Isa 48:20
  • Isa 52:9–10
  • Isa 55:12–13
  • 8. Summary
  • E. The Book of Job as an Individual Theodicy
  • 1. The Frame Story: Job 1–2 and 42:7–17
  • 2. The Dialogue Part: Job 3:1–42:6
  • 3. The Justification of YHWH by Showing His Power, Kindness, and Wisdom in Creation
  • 4. The Justification of YHWH from Personal Experience of His Nearness
  • 5. The Justification of YHWH by Showing His Incomprehensible Freedom and Superiority as well as the Infinite Distance between God and Man
  • F. The Theodicy Motif in the Psalms and in Ecclesiastes
  • 1. The Doubts about YHWH’s Power, Kindness, and Wisdom
  • 2. The Overcoming of the Theodicy Problem in the Psalms
  • 3. The Theodicy Question in Ecclesiastes
  • G. The Prehistory in Genesis 1–11 as a Universal Theodicy
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The Priestly Creation Account: Gen 1:1–2:4a
  • 3. The Yahwist Account of Creation and Fall of Man: Gen 2:4b–3:24
  • 4. The Flood Account: Gen 6–9
  • H. The Theodicy Motif in Historiography
  • 1. The Deuteronomistic History
  • 2. Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah
  • I. The Theodicy Motif in the Prophetic Books
  • J. The Theodicy Motif in Eschatological and Apocalyptic Literature
  • K. The Emergence of Monotheism as the Answer to the Theodicy Question
  • L. Theodicy and Monotheism in the New Testament
  • M. Summary
  • N. Outlook
  • Bibliography
  • Indexes
  • Series index


A broad discussion on monotheism is currently taking place in Germany, particularly in relation to the theses of the Egyptologist Jan Assmann.1 He differentiates monotheism from cosmotheism and emphasizes the intolerance and willingness of monotheistic religions to use violence. The topic has also to do with the question of how man can experience God. This question shaped my own theological thinking from the beginning. It is reflected in my previous scholarly work, which was mostly done in the 1970–1990s.

In this context, I came across the problem of theodicy and wondered how theodicy and monotheism were related. In the current discussion about monotheism, I notice that the theodicy question hardly plays a role. In the Old Testament research, the term theodicy is mostly applied to the individual relationship to God, e.g. in Job and the Servant songs in Deutero-Isaiah. In my dissertation (1975) on the concept of a “personal god” I researched into personal piety and family religion in Israel and its surroundings.2 My conclusion was that, in contradiction to Albrecht Alt,3 the god of the patriarchs was not necessarily a nomadic deity, because every deity in the Ancient Orient could be worshiped as “personal god” and addressed as “my god,” etc.

I began to question the arguments for an early dating of the Pentateuch sources J and E. In my treatise on the origin of the so-called Jehovist History (1978), I tried to find arguments for a later dating of the J and E sources. I was probably one of the first, in the German-speaking region, to argue for the late dating of Yahwist and Elohist. Comparing these sources with other Old Testament literature, especially the pre-exilic prophets, it became clear to me that the basic historical themes of the Pentateuch like creation, patriarchs, exodus, wandering in the desert, and Sinai, do not appear in pre-exilic texts. Moses as the central figure of the Pentateuch is not mentioned in pre-exilic prophecy, but only in very few late texts (Isa 63:11–10; ←9 | 10→Jer 15:1; Dan 9:13; Mic 6:4; Mal 3:22). I also questioned the viability of the arguments for an early date of J and E. The JE texts better fit into the exilic-postexilic period. In my research as a young researcher, I was not aware that other scholars would contradict to this result, because it changes completely their concept of the development of the YHWH faith. I found allies only in the works of some Canadian scholars like John Van Seters,4 Frederick V. Winnett,5 and Norman E. Wagner.6

I discovered the time of Israel’s exile in Babylon as the decisive period for the history of the Israelite religion, while for a long time this period was considered as a period of epigones. Therefore, in 1981, I published an article on “monotheism as the answer to the crisis of exile.”7 I took the view that monotheism did not stand at the beginning of the history of Israelite religion but at its end. The theology of the book of Deutero-Isaiah (Isa 40–55) plays an important role, because it marks the turning point and link between pre- and post-exilic YHWH faith. In this context I came across the problem of theodicy and wondered how theodicy and monotheism were interrelated.8

In the following, I attempt to apply the concept of theodicy to the theology of Deutero-Isaiah and other texts of the Old Testament. The theodicy question is based on doubts about God’s power, goodness, and wisdom. These doubts haunted the Israelites, especially in the exilic-post-exilic period, with regard to their God YHWH. Deutero-Isaiah gives an answer to this question by confessing YHWH as the only God and justifying him in his actions. Dealing with the theodicy question set in motion a tremendously fruitful process in Israel that led to a new understanding of God. Without the turning point that took place in exile, the YHWH belief would probably have perished. Only through the proclamation of Deutero-Isaiah and his school in the Babylonian Diaspora could the YHWH belief be put on a new basis and thus survive. The confession of YHWH as the only God, formulated at that time, formed the basis for the New Testament, from which emerged the other great monotheistic world religions, namely Christianity ←10 | 11→and Islam. This concept of communal theodicy is also the basic motif for the editing of the historical and prophetic books. The concept of individual theodicy is found in Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes. The prehistory in Gen 1–11 is to be understood as a universal theodicy.

After many years of work in church and mission I returned, since my retirement, to the study of the Old Testament. I discovered that many present-day scholars came to similar results in regard to the late dating of the Pentateuch. In 2020, I wrote the book “Ist Gott gerecht? Theodizee und Monotheismus im Alten Testament unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Theologie Deuterojesajas.” In order to make my results also available to English speaking scholars, I started to translate it. I look forward to an interesting discussion.

I did the basic translation by myself, partially shortening and correcting the original text. I am grateful to Deacon Laurel Vogl, MA, for her careful editing and improvement of my manuscript. Biblical Quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version (1989). For further references please consult the German edition.

I thank professors Dr. Hermann Michael Niemann, Dr. Stefan Seiler, and Dr. Helmut Utzschneider for valuable comments and corrections. I would like to thank the editors for their kind willingness to have the work appear in the series “Beiträge zur Erforschung des Alten Testaments und des antiken Judentums.” I thank my friend Rev. Walter Dummert for his help with the corrections. I appreciate the excellent cooperation with the colleagues of Peter Lang Verlag.

I dedicate this book to the memory of my Old Testament professor Ernst Kutsch (1923–2009). As his assistant at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg he encouraged me in my dissertation. He taught me how to do careful exegesis in Deutero-Isaiah. I am grateful to him and his dear wife Margarete for accompanying my late wife Dorothea and me through many years of friendship.

Neuendettelsau, September 2021

Hermann Vorländer

←12 | 13→

A. Definitions

1. Theodicy

In view of the horrors of our time, the question of God’s justice is asked more radically today than it used to be. Global disasters, such as the Corona crisis, the outrages of violence, destruction of communities, and the arms race provoke the question of how God can allow all this. “The suffering of a single innocent child is an indisputable refutation of the idea of an almighty and benevolent God in heaven.”9 It is no longer just a question of how God can allow so much evil. Rather, the question is whether or not there can be a God who allows so much evil. That is linked with the question of the thinkability and experience of the existence of God. “As a theodicy question, this question has taken on a specifically modern form (accusation of God or belief in God before the forum of reason), but is basically thousands of years old. It becomes a problem where – monotheistic and universalistic – a good God is understood as the creator of everything that is.”10 In his drama “Danton’s Death” the poet Georg Büchner (1813–1837) has the American revolutionary Thomas Payne say: “Why do I suffer? That is the rock of atheism.”11


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (November)
Justice of God Babylonian Exile YHWH religion Personal God Prophecy Historiography
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 172 pp.

Biographical notes

Hermann Vorländer (Author)

Hermann Vorländer studied Protestant theology and Assyriology in Bethel, Hamburg, Heidelberg, and Erlangen. From 1972−1976 he taught as professor for Old Testament at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut (Lebanon). He worked as pastor, church administrator, dean, and taught at the College for Religious Education in Munich. From 1992−2007 he headed the Bavarian Department for World Mission, now Mission OneWorld, in Neuendettelsau.


Title: Is God Just?