God and genocide in the OT

Discussion in '2004 Archive' started by Matt Black, Jul 7, 2004.

  1. Matt Black

    Matt Black
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2003
    Messages:
    9,141
    Likes Received:
    0
    It's come up a lot in the last month or so on my "Jesus the Word of the Bible the Word" thread, and I have to say that it's one that I've grappled with a lot over the last few years.

    This is it: in several places in the Old Testament (for example, Joshua, and 1 Samuel), God commands the Children of Israel to exterminate people groups. Women, children, animals, possessions. Wipe them off the Earth, He says.

    The question that many of us ask is, why? If God is good, and genocide is (as practically any sane Westerner thinks in this day and age) a Very Bad Thing, what's going on? Was it right to exterminate those people? If it wasn't, does that mean that God was telling the Israelites to do evil? Or is the Bible simply wrong on the source of the impulse to exterminate entire nations?

    Now I never bought the explanation that the Israelites were right to do it by our standards, that they were purifying the land and protecting themselves from contamination, and that the peoples whom the Israelites were commanded to destroy were unrepentantly evil to a man, woman and cat.

    Nope. Don't like it. For one, what does it serve to kill babies? And what about the stuff? Why tear down all those houses, and then build new ones?

    On the other hand, I'm unwilling to discount any part of Scripture as simply false (and by "false", I mean manifestly untrue and not of use, as opposed to parables, which while made-up, are in fact also true. If you see what I mean). I think that there are lessons to be found in the body of Scripture about who we are and where we came form, and to abandon it without seeing any value in it at all - not even figurative value - does a great disservice to the text.

    So anyway, I thought about this a lot, and I had a couple insights. None of them solve the conundrum for me.

    First, about the nature of war. In the 21st-century West, we can fight alongside someone and be their enemy twenty years later; likewise, we hold no grudges against the people of Germany and Japan. There are Iraqis living in this country - they haven't been interned or persecuted for that. This is because these days, war isn't personal. I mean, people get killed, but we don't identify the nations who are at war with the individuals fighting, and therefore we can talk to Germans, Japanese, and Argentinians (the Falklands? No, I was thinking about Diego Maradona's hand ball in 1986, actually) without trying to kill them.

    In Bible days, when family and nation were closely linked and when the fortunes of a people were a personal matter, war carried on until one nation was beaten. Feuds carried on for generations.

    Children would grow up to avenge their people - as indeed the Israelites themselves would (Judges).

    To leave a child alive would be to leave alive a potential leader of the enemy, and a continuation of the war. It sounds horrible. That's because it is. But in the age of the Patriarchs, the only way to ensure peace was to end the war, and you ended the war by making sure that no one would ever fight again. There was no Geneva Convention, there were no Rules of Engagement as we know them.

    And this makes a point about the changing nature of morality. I think it was something the Israelites had to do. But then they were Bronze Age nomads, living in a culture where most of our givens (the equality of man, the right to self-determination, the right to life) were unknown. What they did was right then.

    Not now, but then.

    Augustine's Confessions (3.7.13) makes the same point - apologies for the archaic translation , by the way. It was the first one I found:


    quote:
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Nor knew I that true inward righteousness which judgeth not according to custom, but out of the most rightful law of God Almighty, whereby the ways of places and times were disposed according to those times and places; itself meantime being the same always and every where, not one thing in one place, and another in another; according to which Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses, and David, were righteous, and all those commended by the mouth of God; but were judged unrighteous by silly men, judging out of man's judgment, and measuring by their own petty habits, the moral habits of the whole human race.

    As if in an armory, one ignorant of what were adapted to each part should cover his head with greaves, or seek to be shod with a helmet, and complain that they fitted not: or as if on a day when business is publicly stopped in the afternoon, one were angered at not being allowed to keep open shop, because he had been in the forenoon; or when in one house he observeth some servant take a thing in his hand, which the butler is not suffered to meddle with; or something permitted out of doors, which is forbidden in the dining-room; and should be angry, that in one house, and one family, the same thing is not allotted every where, and to all.

    Even such are they who are fretted to hear something to have been lawful for righteous men formerly, which now is not; or that God, for certain temporal respects, commanded them one thing, and these another, obeying both the same righteousness: whereas they see, in one man, and one day, and one house, different things to be fit for different members, and a thing formerly lawful, after a certain time not so; in one corner permitted or commanded, but in another rightly forbidden and punished.

    Is justice therefore various or mutable? No, but the times, over which it presides, flow not evenly, because they are times.

    But men whose days are few upon the earth, for that by their senses they cannot harmonise the causes of things in former ages and other nations, which they had not experience of, with these which they have experience of, whereas in one and the same body, day, or family, they easily see what is fitting for each member, and season, part, and person; to the one they take exceptions, to the other they submit.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Now old Auggie was actually talking about Polygamy, but his point is interesting and partly apposite, I think.

    Anyway, those are just my thoughts. I recognise that they're incomplete and that they have holes. I want to write more, but time is short, so I'll leave it there.

    Please, add your own thoughts on this one.


    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  2. amixedupmom

    amixedupmom
    Expand Collapse
    Guest

    Scripture please. I'd like to see this. Thanks in advance
     
  3. Pete

    Pete
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2002
    Messages:
    4,345
    Likes Received:
    0
    In Leviticus God commanded His people to be holy (11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7-8, 20:26...to name a few)

    As far as I know God's command to the Israelites to totally destroy the other nations first comes in Deuteronomy 7:1-6: {1} When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations--the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you-- {2} and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. {3} Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, {4} for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. {5} This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. {6} For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

    My 2¢ on the keys to why are vs 4 & 6. v4 "they will turn you away from following me", so XYZ, because v6 "For you are a people holy to the LORD your God."

    Further on in Deuteronomy on various topics God uses the phrase "You must purge the evil from among you." (NIV) 6 times (13:5, 17:7, 19:19, 21:21, 22:24, 24:7), and "You must purge the evil from Israel." twice (17:12, 22:22).

    I think God's holiness explains the situation mentioned. We have to remember that prior to these events God destroyed the world by flood, destroyed Sodom & Gommorah (remember Abraham asking "Far be it from you to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25 NIV)), sent the plagues on Egypt etc.

    The same God also has a day set aside to judge the whole earth...And He still says to "be holy, for I am holy..."
     
  4. amixedupmom

    amixedupmom
    Expand Collapse
    Guest

    Sounds like it's more of the LORD trying to keep his people safe, and safe in his arms. At least that is what it seems to me. He's trying to keep them together. in "one" nation.
     
  5. Pastor Larry

    Pastor Larry
    Expand Collapse
    <b>Moderator</b>
    Moderator

    Joined:
    May 4, 2001
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    0
    The nations that were being wiped out were living in rebellion against God by serving false gods and thus, there was nothing unjust or unfair in being wiped out. Additionally, God was giving the means for the people to protect themselves against the same outcome. Every nation that Israel did not wipe out became a thorn in their side that brougth them judgment from God.
     
  6. Matt Black

    Matt Black
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2003
    Messages:
    9,141
    Likes Received:
    0
    Including new-born children? :eek:

    Lea, I have in mind particularly I Sam 15 (genocide of the Amalekites, partial by Saul, total by Samuel), Josh 6:21

    Assuming we take these passages literally, which I have already said I do, how does this square with a God of love revealed in particular in Jesus?

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  7. Pastor Larry

    Pastor Larry
    Expand Collapse
    <b>Moderator</b>
    Moderator

    Joined:
    May 4, 2001
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    0
    New born children as well are born as sinners becuase of Adam's guilt. If you believe that infants go to heaven, then that problem solves itself.
     
  8. Matt Black

    Matt Black
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2003
    Messages:
    9,141
    Likes Received:
    0
    Quick question then - do you believe that genocide is right or wrong, particularly if it involves children?

    The question here, is whether genocide is ever moral. Some conservatives argue that whatever God does is moral - the liberal opposition agree. The inerrantists argue that God ordered genocide, therefore when God does it, it's moral. The opposition deny that he ordered it, because it's immoral.

    It looks to me as though to maintain the belief that God ordered genocide, you must believe one of these...
    a) they all deserved to be murdered, in which case this genocide is moral
    b) God likes genocide
    c) genocide was ordered in a few specific instances in order to bring about a change that would benefit the whole world - the end justifying the means, perhaps in some way that's incomprehensible to us.

    I've seen some inerrantists team arguing a), dodging b) but not really going for c), which I find strange. It's not an indefensible position in light of the fact that much evil happens in the world, in accordance with God's will in a sense since he permits it, but if you played that card I'd have to argue that although he redeems evil, I don't believe he ever orders it.

    Speaking as an inerrantist, I agree with a) and c), but not b. God says he doesn't like genocide and that judgement is his "strange work" and "alien task", but it is still one he does.

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  9. Matt Black

    Matt Black
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2003
    Messages:
    9,141
    Likes Received:
    0
    Interesting choice of quote. As far as I can see this passage opposes genocide.

    Why prevent intermarriage if there is no-one to intermarry with? Why order the specific destruction of altars if all is to be destroyed?

    The only possible genocide command is to "destroy them totally", but this might not be genocide, the text implies that they will be driven out and no longer allowed to worship their gods or practice their culture, which seems fairly destructive in itself.

    This passage implies that the Jews were not to compromise with other peoples, but were to remain pure when they came to Canaan, not that they were to slaughter everything in their path.

    So did the Jews misinterpretGod when they started killing women and children?

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  10. KeithS

    KeithS
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2004
    Messages:
    186
    Likes Received:
    0
    Deuteronomy 20:10-20
    10 When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. 11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. 12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: 13 And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: 14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take F65 unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee. 15 Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations. 16 But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: 17 But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee: 18 That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the LORD your God.

    The order for genocide is a special circumstance based upon the inheritance God was giving the Israelites. Kind of like the mountain of the Lord experience. If anyone touches the mountain - man, woman, child, animal - they are to be put to death because God is holy. In the same way, the land was to be "purified" for the Israelites.

    Also consider:
    Genesis 15:12-16
    12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. 13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

    Seems that on the level of national sin the people were deserving of God's judgement. All the citizenry (man, woman, child) are held accountable by God.

    Finally, consider that none deserve the mercy of God and God has no moral obligation to provide mercy or grace to any people. We all deserve death. It humbles me to consider God extended both mercy and grace to me in Jesus Christ.

    So, that being said, only God can order genocide. We are certainly in no position to cast the first stone since.
     
  11. Pastor Larry

    Pastor Larry
    Expand Collapse
    <b>Moderator</b>
    Moderator

    Joined:
    May 4, 2001
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    0
    Matt, at a quick glance, I would agree with A and C as well. I think there is more at work here than we as humans are qualified to judge. The all knowing God who certainly will do right ordered this and therefore it was the right thing to do, for whatever reason.
     
  12. GODzThunder

    GODzThunder
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2003
    Messages:
    1,094
    Likes Received:
    0
    I spoke with a woman on this issue. She left Christianity because she absolutely refused to believe that a God of love and compassion could command the death of an entire people and also allow such suffering and pain. She argued that God sits in heaven and demands respect and anyone who does not do his exact wish is terminated with wrath. She stated that this is is hypocrisy of a God that claims love and justice. she equated God to a father who pours scalding water on his two year old for throwing fits.

    My answer after much prayer and study was this: We are human beings. We are sinful beings. God created a perfect utopia for us and we ruined it and continue to ruin our lives daily with sin. The woman had a problem in the fact that she was too prideful of humanity. The truth is that not a single one of us deserves to even live. we were created in sin and would die in sin except the Lord died for us. Those who question God's justice and holiness have the wrong concept of humanity. We deserve nothing but hell and are lucky to have God's love. jonathan edwards' sinners in the hands of an angry God says all.
     
  13. Matt Black

    Matt Black
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2003
    Messages:
    9,141
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thanks, GODzThunder. That kind of illustrates the sort of dilemma I face - not so much on a personal but on a pastoral level. The 'rejectionist'(if I can call it that) argument runs something like this:-

    "How can it be within anyone's "rights" to do something which is utterly immoral? The real - and appalling - problem for me is that the assumption that underlies so much of the opposition is that genocide isn't intrinsically immoral, it's just contingently wrong because God arbitrarily tells us not to do it. Once again, we find a God whose only attribute is sovereign power.

    My position is that God, revealed in Jesus Christ couldn't possibly order or sanction genocide, and the bits of the OT that seem to record that he does are in fact records of wrong time-conditioned beliefs about God. And furthermore, the disposition to entertain these bits of the OT as somehow binding on us as Christians is a symptom of a deeply faulty theology of revelation."

    To which I kind of reply:-

    Are you saying that God is constrained by definitions of right and wrong created by his creatures?

    Yes, you can say all that stuff about God's self-revelation being coherent with our understanding. But the fact of the matter is that the book of Joshua is part of the Scriptures which point to Christ, and Christ certainly seemed to believe them as historical.

    To my mind, there are two key facts here

    1) Because of the way I reject God, I deserve whatever nasty forms of judgement he sees fit to send on me. So did the Amorites, etc.

    2) God as love does not preclude him from also being God as light, in whose presence we cannot stand except by the blood of Jesus.

    Is it possible, from your point of view that God is love, not in the sense that uncritically accepts everyone but in the sense that offers to accept everyone, even a wretched sinner like me, despite what they are like, but that still leaves room for "Holy, Holy, Holy" and for "Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished"? Is that idea of God possible to you?

    (Yet I'm still bothered by the kiddies...)

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  14. KeithS

    KeithS
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2004
    Messages:
    186
    Likes Received:
    0
    The old debate - is God's overriding attribute Holiness or Love? It seems to some that the Old Testament God was a God of wrath (holiness) and the New Testament God is one of love. I would disagree, but not always easy to explain to an unbeliever.

    God has always been and alway will be "Holy, Holy, Holy". Love, on the other hand, sometimes demands justice be served. To earthly parents, we may spank our children, put them in time out, etc. God, however, is not an earthly parent constrained by our fallen sence of right or wrong. The Creator also does not have a moral obligation to the creation. If we say He does, we are lowering God to our level.
     
  15. danrusdad

    danrusdad
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2004
    Messages:
    161
    Likes Received:
    0
    The problem is, we don't see things from His perpsective. From God's perspective, those idolatrous nations were wholly given over to their sins with completely hardened hearts and no desire for truth. And even the newborn would eventually be lost.

    Was genocide right (even the babies)? From our view, and time, where God has displayed great mercy and let sin abound with (seemingly) little wrath, maybe not. But our perspective is irrelevant.

    I have heard missionaries speak of tribes where even the babies were born demon-possessed. Now is it loving and merciful for God to have those babies killed (when they will go to heaven because they don't have the capacity to choose yet), or is it loving and merciful for God to allow them and their culture continue (when the entire culture is bankrupt and none will chose the light)?

    Personally, as hard as it may sound, I think it is more loving to save those He can (the young) rather than letting them all go to hell.

    Further, it is important to remember that there is coming a day when God's wrath will fall again and the time of mercy will be up. All will fall under judgement. At that time, even children will die. But, again, it is important to remember: those without the capacity to chose will go to heaven and those without will choose their own destiny. So their is no contradiction between God's holiness and mercy.
     
  16. HankD

    HankD
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2001
    Messages:
    15,147
    Likes Received:
    322
    The ultimate genocide:

    Genesis 6:12-13
    And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.
    And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

    Genesis 6:17
    And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein [is] the breath of life, from under heaven; [and] every thing that [is] in the earth shall die.
     
  17. danrusdad

    danrusdad
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2004
    Messages:
    161
    Likes Received:
    0
    After all, it's His world, he can wreck it if He wants to...
     
  18. HankD

    HankD
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2001
    Messages:
    15,147
    Likes Received:
    322
    Yes, but He had good reason and He allowed Noah to start over.

    But...
    it looks like we have come full circle though... "for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth" or getting close.

    HankD
     

Share This Page

Loading...