Violence in Old Testament

Question
I recently read I Samuel and was dismayed with all of the violence. It even says that God ordered Saul to have all of the Amalekites killed including the infants. That sure sounds like a different God then the New Testament God!
Answer
There is a tremendous amount of violence in the Old Testament, but there is also a lot of love. In fact, the New Testament commands to love are frequently just quotations and affirmations of Old Testament commands to love (e.g. Lev. 18:19,34; Deut. 6:5). In the Old Testament, God also demonstrated extreme patience and love, even when his people rejected him and worshiped false gods (Hos. 11:7-9). He loved them fervently (e.g. Deut. 7:7-15; 23:5; 1 Kgs. 10:9; Neh. 1:5).

The same is true in the New Testament; we find both God's violent anger and his love. Many New Testament passages about God's love are well known (e.g. John 3:16; 1 John 4:7-21), but passages about his wrath, anger and vengeance abound too (e.g. Matt. 3:7; 10:28; Luke 12:5; 21:23; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 2:5-13; 3:5-6; 9:22; 12:19; Eph. 5:6; 1 Thess. 2:16; Heb. 3:7-4:13; 10:26-31; Rev. 2:23).

Still, we do find somewhat less violence in the New Testament than in the Old, but this is not because God changed. Rather, it is because redemptive history has progressed to a new era. In the Old Testament God was king of the nation of Israel, and he used them to wreak his vengeance on those who broke his covenant. As a warrior king, God led Israel into holy wars against his enemies, and often destroyed them utterly. This should not surprise us. After all, God himself once wiped out the world's entire population -- animals and children included -- because of man's wickedness. He preserved only a few souls in the ark (Gen. 6-9).

In the New Testament period, God is graciously overlooking some of man's transgressions by withholding judgment temporarily so that many may come to faith (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Pet. 3:9). Even so, while God does not employ a single physical nation to carry out his vengeance anymore, he does work through earthly governments to accomplish some temporal judgment against evildoers (Rom. 13:4-5).

Moreover, the Bible teaches that in the future God will take vengeance on his adversaries in such a horrific way that the violence of the Old Testament pales by comparison (Matt. 23:33; Mark 9:43-49; Col. 3:6; Heb. 10:26-31; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Rev. 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:10-11,19-20; 15:1-8; 16:1-21; 19:15). The God of the New Testament is the God who will punish sinners in the fiery pit of hell for eternity.

God has always been about both love and vengeance. We frequently stress his love because it is far more pleasing and enjoyable. Nevertheless, both Testaments warn us of the dangers of God's wrath. This is why salvation in Christ is so important and so wonderful. Christ took upon himself God's fierce anger which should have been poured out on us. As a result of Christ's sacrifice which satisfied God's anger toward those who believe, we can rest in a very one-sided relationship with God, enjoying his blessings free from the violence of his curses.


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.