Did God really want King Saul to KILL?


#1

While researching violence in the Quran and how those passages compare to passages which people claim suggest violence in the Bible, I stumbled upon this NPR article which said

[FONT=“Trebuchet MS”]“By the standards of the time, which is the 7th century A.D., the laws of war that are laid down by the Quran are actually reasonably humane,” he says. “Then we turn to the Bible, and we actually find something that is for many people a real surprise. There is a specific kind of warfare laid down in the Bible which we can only call genocide.”

It is called herem, and it means total annihilation. Consider the Book of 1 Samuel, when God instructs King Saul to attack the Amalekites: “And utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them,” God says through the prophet Samuel. “But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

When Saul failed to do that, God took away his kingdom.

“In other words,” Jenkins says, “Saul has committed a dreadful sin by failing to complete genocide.”

Being a thoughtful Catholic, I decided to investigate these claims of God promoting killing because I was genuinely confused. I found some poor explanations from some almost heretical “Christian” sites like in gotquestions.org/Canaanites-extermination.html:

Why would God have the Israelites exterminate an entire group of people, women and children included?

This is a difficult issue. We do not fully understand why God would command such a thing, but we trust God that He is just – and we recognize that we are incapable of fully understanding a sovereign, infinite, and eternal God. As we look at difficult issues such as this one, we must remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9; Romans 11:33-36). We have to be willing to trust God and have faith in Him even when we do not understand His ways.

Which I took to mean as basically “God is mysterious and therefore he knows when we should kill people,” which to me goes against Wisdom 1:13 (I’m an NABRE fanboy):

Because God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.

Granted that the authors of that (almost heretical by claiming God wants death) post likely didn’t have the Book of Wisdom in their translation, I still believe that the authors should have recognized that God is not a god of death.

I looked up the verses they reference, and it’s from the beginning of 1 Samuel 15 when the LORD is talking through the prophet Samuel to King Saul:

Samuel said to Saul: “It was I the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel. Now, therefore, listen to the message of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: I will punish what Amalek did to the Israelites when he barred their way as they came up from Egypt. Go, now, attack Amalek, and put under the ban everything he has. Do not spare him; kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

1 Samuel 15:1-3 NABRE

1 Samuel 15:3 is very clear it seems: “…kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.” This would seem to suggest that God, speaking through the prophet Samuel, is asking King Saul to put men, women, children, and animals to DEATH (contradicting Wisdom 1:13). Why would the LORD want Saul to kill if He does not want death?

The only way I can think to interpret this is that it is a story about disobedience, as a counterexample to Abraham obeying the LORD by almost killing his son before the LORD stops him. If Abraham had not obeyed God because he believed killing his son would be wrong, then God would have punished him. But because Abraham obeyed him, God stopped him before he could kill Isaac because He does not want death. Following this view, the story of Saul might have included God stopping Saul from killing if Saul had followed His command, but Saul disobeyed and now we have the story of Saul disobeying today instead of the story of God (possibly) stopping Saul from genocide.

I, personally, find this to be a weak explanation for a real problem. Are there any other interpretations or explanations for God commanding Saul to kill?
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#2

Great Flood. Sodom and Gommorah. Those are times God Himself took life. And as the apologists have noted, the commandments are for us to follow, but He isn’t bound by them because He made us. When He takes life, it is just.

And it doesn’t contradict Wisdom. He takes life not for pleasure, but for justice. Just how if a gunman tries shooting innocents, you are permitted to kill the gunman-- not to find joy in his death, but to protect the innocents.


#3

This


#4

Hi!

I’d like to share with you Bishop Robert Barron’s take on this : wordonfire.org/resources/video/violence-in-the-bible/287/

Amalec is symbolic of the evils of the world and of sin. When God commands Saul to kill EVERYTHING, what he is commanding is for Saul and the people Israel to completely remove sin from their lives. They are unable to get free of sin when they keep a few spoils of war for themselves.


#5

If God saw fit to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, killing everyone living there, because their sins offended him so greatly, why did he not destroy Nazi Germany or intervene in some way at that time? Sodom and Gomorrah were cities of great sexual sin, but look at todays world, there are plenty of modern day Sodom and Gomorrahs, which are sinning to a much greater degree, but God is silent…?

Also when you think about it, wasnt the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah infringing upon the peoples free will that lived there, at least to some extent?


#6

Umm… how do you know that He didn’t? :hmmm:

Sodom and Gomorrah were cities of great sexual sin, but look at todays world, there are plenty of modern day Sodom and Gomorrahs, which are sinning to a much greater degree, but God is silent…?

I think there are many ways to approach this question…

First, the account in Genesis makes it clear that the issue isn’t merely that there is great sin, but that the entire population participated in and/or condoned the immoral behavior. I don’t think you could make that same claim about any cities today, do you?

Second, I think it’s important to ask the question of why intervenes (in Biblical narratives). What’s implicit in these narratives is that they’re part of salvation history; that is, they are part of the story about how God saves humanity. As such, these stories not only events per se, but also serve a higher purpose as events that are part of a greater context – that of the story of how God’s family grows and expands and grows in faith. (That’s why it’s not evidence of injustice on God’s part if He heals this person (in the Bible) but not that person.)

Third, we can talk about anachronism: we’re in the age of Jesus’ New Covenant; in the time of Sodom and Gomorrah, there wasn’t any such covenant – in fact, the only covenant at the time was between God and Abraham (and his family… whom He saved from Sodom). It would be anachronistic to attempt to assert that the situations now and then must be the same.

Also when you think about it, wasnt the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah infringing upon the peoples free will that lived there, at least to some extent?

How so? That wouldn’t hold, unless your notion of ‘free will’ includes unfettered license. :shrug:


#7

Thank you so much mVitus for describing it like this! I understand now how it doesn’t contradict Wisdom 1:13 because Wisdom didn’t say God never kills it just said He does not rejoice in it. I get it now! :thumbsup:

Peace be with you all :slight_smile:
:blessyou:


#8

This :thumbsup:

Amalec is symbolic of the evils of the world and of sin. When God commands Saul to kill EVERYTHING, what he is commanding is for Saul and the people Israel to completely remove sin from their lives. They are unable to get free of sin when they keep a few spoils of war for themselves.

To the OP, it is crucial to remember that Catholics do not read the bible as literalist fundamentalists.
Another good bit to ponder is this from Pope Benedict:
w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20100930_verbum-domini.html

The “dark” passages of the Bible

  1. In discussing the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments, the Synod also considered those passages in the Bible which, due to the violence and immorality they occasionally contain, prove obscure and difficult. Here it must be remembered first and foremost that biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history. God’s plan is manifested progressively and it is accomplished slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance. God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them. Revelation is suited to the cultural and moral level of distant times and thus describes facts and customs, such as cheating and trickery, and acts of violence and massacre, without explicitly denouncing the immorality of such things. This can be explained by the historical context, yet it can cause the modern reader to be taken aback, especially if he or she fails to take account of the many “dark” deeds carried out down the centuries, and also in our own day. In the Old Testament, the preaching of the prophets vigorously challenged every kind of injustice and violence, whether collective or individual, and thus became God’s way of training his people in preparation for the Gospel. So it would be a mistake to neglect those passages of Scripture that strike us as problematic. Rather, we should be aware that the correct interpretation of these passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired through a training that interprets the texts in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective which has as its ultimate hermeneutical key “the Gospel and the new commandment of Jesus Christ brought about in the paschal mystery”.[140] I encourage scholars and pastors to help all the faithful to approach these passages through an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ.

Also Sec 44 is important:

The fundamentalist interpretation of sacred Scripture

This is hardly an endorsement of the “killing for the sake of God’s justice” interpretation which is so (mistakenly) common.


#9

God does not kill. Killing is what humans do. God is the author of human life, he gives it and takes it away, or allows it to be taken away.

God’s sovereignty over all of existence is not the issue here.
This is the issue:
Is it in God’s nature to command one human being to take the life of another innocent human being?
In light of Christ, the answer can only be “no”. If you’re interpretation of this passage allows for mano-a-mano murder under God’s command, that might be problematic.


#10

For two thousand years great theologians of the Church have taken those verses of God commanding killing literally, now in the 21st century, we have to take them figuratively? Why? To appeal to modern sensibilities?

There is no compelling textual reason to suggest that the text where God commands Saul to kill the Amalekites should be read as figurative. No Jew believed this, the Church for two thousand years has never professed this. The real reason why there is this modern push to reinterpret such passages in this way is an emotional reason, people don’t like how they feel after reading it. This is not a good justification for rupturing how the Bible has been read in the Church for centuries.


#11

Your characterization is not accurate. If anything, the ancient authors of scripture did not write inspired literature with anything like the modern insistence on literalist documentation. Literalist fundamentalism is a relatively modern thing.
At the same time you might know that the Catholic Church gives prime importance to the literal interpretation of scripture.
There is a difference between literal and literalist.
vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s1c2a3.htm

There is no compelling textual reason to suggest that the text where God commands Saul to kill the Amalekites should be read as figurative. No Jew believed this, the Church for two thousand years has never professed this.

This is just not true. Reread Benedict’s “dark passages” talk above. Jesus Christ is the ultimate hermeneutical key to reading the scriptures. Please re read this.

The real reason why there is this modern push to reinterpret such passages in this way is an emotional reason, people don’t like how they feel after reading it. This is not a good justification for rupturing how the Bible has been read in the Church for centuries.

Again, a mischaracterization of the way the passages were written, and the way the Church reads scripture.
And, if your emotions are aroused when reading scripture, that is a good thing. We don’t act purely on emotions, but they are part of being human. Empathy, anger, fear, sadness. These are indicators that should be valued in their proper place.


#12

Thankyouthankyou!

What a wonderful presentation by Bishop Barron. :thumbsup:


#13

Goout,

I find myself disagreeing with you sometimes, but you are always a wealth of resource. I’m with you 100% on this thread. Thank you so much for the links to Pope Benedict’s Verbum Domini. I’m going to have to start following you around, because I am learning so much from you.

I’d like to focus in on these two lines of the section 42 you shared:

“God’s plan is manifested progressively and it is accomplished slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance. God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them.”

Reading in the historical context, keeping in mind a progressive awareness of His plan and His ways, why not say it like it is? The author(s) of those violent texts truly believed that God wanted them to kill all the people in the outgroup, kill the people standing in the way of material resources desperately needed, killing those standing as an enemy to the freedom and survival of the tribe(s) of Israel.

Just as Jesus grew in wisdom in His life, the Israelis also grew in wisdom. They truly believed that God wanted them to kill the whole lot they hated or saw as a threat. In that sense, they found it unconscionable to allow i.e. “those evil beings” to survive, and they equated their own consciences with God Himself. It made perfect sense to them to kill those they found abominable, just as today it makes perfect sense to many that the death penalty is just.

The Israelis found their violent acts to be what they thought was best at the time, and ordained by God. It is easy for us today in our well-protected society to think that they went overboard, but in reality their acts were natural and understandable, and it would be an error for me to second-guess the necessity of their actions. They were protecting their own, and they believed that God was on their side. It’s okay. The morality of the action does not apply today, now that we know Revelation and have a greater awareness of God’s plan, now that the world is truly a safer place where war can be averted in many ways. (especially Jesus’ way! :slight_smile: )

Feel free to contest my assessment. :):twocents:

Blessings, and thank you!


#14

We take this passage as an inspired part of the whole bible. So when the author says “God commanded”… then as a first sense we must accept that word and try to glean it’s Truth. We cannot dismiss it as uninspired. “…it would be a mistake to neglect those passages of Scripture that strike us as problematic.” (P Benedict) It is inspired and has a literal meaning.
You have the events. You have the meaning of the events, as interpreted by the ancient people. The ancient Israelites had been through savage battles, and are looking for the will of God in all of that. You have the recording of the events from their cultural perspective. And God wills to convey Truth through this writing.
AND
Passages of the bible are always read in the context of the whole, never in isolation. Scripture is always read “within the Christian perspective which has as its ultimate hermeneutical key the Gospel and the new commandment of Jesus Christ…” (P Benedict).
To expose the meaning of Scripture we must read it through the eyes of Christ and in reference to the whole of it. Christ is the unity and fulfillment of all things.
The ancient authors did not have this perspective.

In the fullest light, an interpretation which seems to endorse God’s will for the slaughter of innocents is really problematic.
You see some apologists try to wiggle around this in two main ways:

  1. women and children of the Amalekites were not innocents but guilty combatants, or tainted racial progeny that needed to be eliminated for the sake of racial and religious purity. Honestly I find it horrifying that anyone holds this view but it’s out there.
  2. God gives life and can take it as he wishes. Well, sure, that’s true.
    It’s also true that God does not command murder. This approach simply sidesteps the real objection which is whether God would command one man to murder innocents.

I find Bp Barron’s and P Benedicts take on these issues to be much more real. But they do challenge those who want literalist certainty out of scripture.


#15

Yes, I agre that it is a horrifying view, but it may very well have been the mindset of the time. We are all capable of hate, and with hate comes the illusion of evil associated with the enemy. In this same mindset, the community may very well have perceived that God was calling them to destroy that “evil”.

I don’t really see that this compromises the inspiration of the story if one reads this in light of the fact that we are a species slowly coming to know His plan. The killing of innocents is a manifestation of a deep prejudice, and many who have racial prejudice believe that God wants the destruction of the enemy. It is a human reaction to persecution or what is seen as injustice.

  1. God gives life and can take it as he wishes. Well, sure, that’s true.
    It’s also true that God does not command murder. This approach simply sidesteps the real objection which is whether God would command one man to murder innocents.

I actually heard this explanation on Catholic Radio the other day and was aghast, and that was the reason why I was drawn to this thread in the first place. There is a serious compromise of the notion that God is merciful with this explanation. It seems to trivialize the taking of a life, and in doing so trivializes a great many other abominations. I can see someone from terrorist organization having this very mentality.

I find Bp Barron’s and P Benedicts take on these issues to be much more real. But they do challenge those who want literalist certainty out of scripture.

I love Bishop Barron’s take, but perhaps it does veer a little (maybe a lot) from the intent of the authors. They really did believe that God wanted them to kill innocents. Perhaps there was a lack of resource involved, a desperation. For example, the innocent survivors of the losing party were often kept as slaves, and there may have been some fear of lack of resource to provide for everyone. Perhaps they did not want to get into the “can I save this one? this one?” arguments and with the proclaimed divinity behind words to kill, they saved a lot of time and discord, and discord is deadly to a tribe.

People can only choose options from those they have within their own scope and circumstance to carry out. We can understand their situation without construing that the commands they heard say something about the Abba we know through Jesus Christ. They heard a voice, the voice was their own despair, desire to survive, and desire for justice. (Justice as they perceived it)


#16

I am not sure what you are trying to get across. We see things in a very similar way. :shrug:


#17

Whether it is real history or an allegory of some kind, it still presents the problem of God requiring men to kill innocents which is in and of itself forbidden. Men cannot murder innocents because it is intrinsic evil, which may never be done under any circumstance or for any reason. And for God to require men to do so and go against their conscience seems absolutely wrong. So … how do we explain this???

It isn’t enough to say that God takes innocent lives also thru natural disasters. Why? because he is not asking man to go against his own ordained goodness. And God does have the right to take back his gift of life just as he has the right to take back any gift he gives to man. Why? because God is the owner of those gifts and what belongs to him he has the right to take back.

Then again it might be said, well why doesn’t God have the right to use man to take back his gift of life? Because for a man the act of taking the lives of innocents is of itself a sin, and intrinsic sin, which a man may never do under any reason or cimcumstance.

I believe this episode has to be explained in some other way, a way that has not yet been explored or offered. Just as in the case of Mary and her freedom from original sin. So many years went by before we understood about Mary being preserved from original sin. Until someone came up with the idea that Mary was given the grace of Jesus’ death in advance of his death. So that she too was saved by her son and only different from us by when that grace was applied.

In the same way, someone needs an approach to explain this.

As far as I know the church has never officially recogized/denied either explaination; historic reality or some kind of allegory.
So far now, Bishop Barron’s explanation is acceptable and so is the allegory explanation. As a matter of fact, both interpretations could be applied at the same time without contradiction (except for intrinsic evil).


#18

Well the simplest answer is this: they weren’t innocent. They had original sin, and were unworthy of Heaven to begin with. God only prohibits murder, not any killing whatsoever. In this instance he permitted the killing of infants and it was therefore not immoral precisely because he commanded it. It’s basic divine command ethics. It is shocking to 21st century sensibilities? Yes. But it didn’t cause any changes in the thousands of years in Judaism and Christianity to radically reinterpret these passages the way people try to do now.

I find Bishop Barron’s explanation to be a total cop out. Why should we interpret these passages as allegorical or metaphorical and not others? Is our sole interpretive key our own emotional responses to the passages? We conveniently choose to radically reinterpret these passages and not others? Why not? Moreover to suggest this interpretation implies that these events didn’t even actually happen (if we are to say God did not command Saul to do these things and that he didn’t do them). Why should anyone put stock in the Bible if believers themselves are constantly reinterpreting it to mean what they want it to mean? It’s a very relativist approach. The Church has almost never issues infallible interpretations of passages of scripture, and believers use this absence to basically interpret it to mean whatever is most comfortable to them within some general parameters.


#19

You realize that your paradigm allows the killing of any of us on the grounds of justice, since we are all subject to original sin?

In this instance he permitted the killing of infants and it was therefore not immoral precisely because he commanded it. It’s basic divine command ethics.

You realize how many murders have been committed with exactly this same ?
reasoning.

shocking to 21st century sensibilities? Yes.

Maybe it’s shocking because we have seen Christ. Please read Pope Benedict’s “dark passages”.

But it didn’t cause any changes in the thousands of years in Judaism and Christianity to radically reinterpret these passages the way people try to do now.

This allegorical interpretation has been around forever. Fundamentalism is a relatively new way of reading scripture.

I find Bishop Barron’s explanation to be a total cop out.

The “not innocent” explanation is the copout. It’s easy, it requires no prayerful thought, no room for Christ to speak through His Word.

Why should we interpret these passages as allegorical or metaphorical and not others?

So then you believe there is a dome over the sky?

Is our sole interpretive key our own emotional responses to the passages?

Read Pope Benedict. Christ is the ultimate hermeneutical key. Christ himself.

The Church has almost never issues infallible interpretations of passages of scripture, and believers use this absence to basically interpret it to mean whatever is most comfortable to them within some general parameters.

Yes, that’s good to ponder. :wink:
It’s good to read scriptures with Christ, and with his Church, not our own comfort zone.


#20

“It’s basic divine command ethics.”

If the discussion centers on natural catastrophies, known as acts of God, then I would agree. For innocent lives are taken in those acts, but they are taken by God himself thru nature. That are not taken by God himself thru man which is quite different. Because now man’s ethics become involved as to what he may or may not do. Nature doesn’t do evil, but man does. And there are certain acts that man is not allowed to do…namely intrinsic evil ones. By the fact that he does them he commits sin, for whatever reason. God would not direct man to do these kinds of acts, tho God may thru nature.

“They weren’t innocent.”

They were not guilty of committing sin so they actually were innocent or to put it the other way, they were not guilty of any sin since they did not commit any sin. Killing an innocent person is murder. What else could this be?

I know what you may be thinking … “It’s a basic divine command…” and therefore this removes it from murder to obedience. Yes, I agree that this is what it may seem to be. But … man is still required to murder to be obedient. The reason murder can’t be removed is because that is what it is, and it is also intrinsically evil, meaning that under no circumstance or for any reason may this act be done by man.

Like I mentioned before … this is a Harvey harbunkle. I’m not saying that there isn’t some unexplained reason to justify this, but that one hasn’t been offered as yet. And this would hold true for either explanation … Bishop Barron’s or being a true historical event. They both have this problem. St. Augustine’s reasoning goes along with Bishop Barron but even St. Augustine did not offer an explanation of how intrinsic evil can be avoided. And some might say, “well if is just a story and not history, then there is no intrinsic evil.” But this is not the case since it is a teaching event using man to perform an intrinsic evil.

As said earlier, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t an answer, just that there hasn’t been one offered yet. But in the light of Jesus Christ, there will be.


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