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?