Violence in Old Testament II


Although you recently commented on the violence in 1 Samuel, I am still a little unclear. Could you please explain why it is acceptable for God to order genocide in certain situations? At face value this seems intrinsically evil, however, we know God doesn't command anyone to do evil.


The reason that it is not evil for God to kill people is that all people deserve to die. They deserve to die for the same reasons that they deserve to be punished in hell once they do die: they are guilty of sin. In fact, death is the consequence of sin. All die because all are guilty of sin (Rom. 5:12-14). This is true even of infants, who have not committed their own sins, but who are united with Adam in his sin and are thereby guilty of having committed it (Rom. 5:12). Adam's sin may not seem like a crime worthy of death, but remember that death was exactly the punishment threatened against Adam for the sin that caused the Fall (Gen. 2:17). Even Jesus did not die on the cross until after the guilt of sin was credited to him (1 Pet. 2:24).

Why then did God destroy certain nations, and allow others to live? Well, it's hard to say. We know that in the flood he killed everyone but Noah and his family, his reason being that their behavior was exceedingly evil (Gen. 6:5-7). The same was true of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:20). In 1 Samuel 15:2-3, God made it clear that the genocide of the Amalekites was also in response to significant sin. It would seem that God did not make it his practice to wipe out nations unless they were particularly evil. When he did wipe out nations, though, it's true that in some respects the young died because of the sins of the old. This is the result of God's covenant thinking. One way he punishes parents is by killing their children. Even so, it is not as if the children themselves are not guilty. Moreover, God is not under any compulsion to treat people with total equality -- he has mercy on whom he desires (Rom. 9:14-16). He never treats anyone unjustly (punishing them for what they have not done), but he does show greater mercy (undeserved favor) to some.

When God's people engaged in war against another nation, and someone in that nation repented and came to faith, or was already faithful to God, that person did not die with the nation (e.g. Rahab [Heb. 11:31]; Lot [Gen. 18:17-19:29]). God's vengeance is not indiscriminate, but appropriate and careful. he does not exercise judgment against the righteous (e.g. Gen. 7:1; 18:23; Exod. 23:7; 1 Kings 8:32). The problem is that no one is righteous in and of himself (Rom. 3:9-18). Only by faith may we be counted as righteous (Gen. 15:6; Hab. 2:4; Rom. 3:21-30; Gal. 3:11-14; Heb. 10:38; 11;6). This is why Jesus said that no one would get to the Father except through him (John 14:6) -- even seemingly "innocent" babies must be covered by Christ's blood in order to come into God's presence.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.