Genocide in the Old Testament


#1

Hey everyone. I am really confused. There are instances in the Old Testament where God basically commanded the Israelites to commit genocide. How could a loving and merciful God do this? How do these stories fit in with the rest of the Bible which seems to present God as loving and merciful which we believe He is. I'm sorry, its just that these instances have really been causing me doubts lately. Please help. Some examples of what I am talking about would be in Deuteronomy chapter 2, Joshua chapter 6, Numbers chapter 31, and there may be others as well.


#2

Read these verses. This was before Sodom was destroyed

  1. Then Abraham drew nearer to him and said: "Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?
  1. Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it?
  1. Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty, so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?"
  1. The LORD replied, “If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
  1. Abraham spoke up again: "See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!
  1. What if there are five less than fifty innocent people? Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?" “I will not destroy it,” he answered, “if I find forty-five there.”
  2. But Abraham persisted, saying, “What if only forty are found there?” He replied, “I will forebear doing it for the sake of the forty.”
  1. Then he said, “Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on. What if only thirty are found there?” He replied, “I will forebear doing it if I can find but thirty there.”
  1. Still he went on, “Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord, what if there are no more than twenty?” “I will not destroy it,” he answered, “for the sake of the twenty.”
  1. But he still persisted: “Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time. What if there are at least ten there?” “For the sake of those ten,” he replied, “I will not destroy it.”

bibliacatolica.com.br/the-new-american-bible/genesis/18

Would there have been any innocent people among those that God commanded the Israelites to go too, if God said what he did to Abraham?

I have read that God waited for 400 years before he judged those in the Canaanite nation while Israel was in Egypt. Archeologists have found some of things the Canaanites would do. They have found jars which contain the remains of babies. There were Canaanites that would sacrifice a child when a new house was built. They would sacrifice their firstborn to Molech into a fire. Archeologists found jars with babies in. There were Canaanites that practised beastility, prostitution etc Leviticus 18 - 20 lists some of the immoral practises done by the Canaanites.


#3

[quote="_Abyssinia, post:2, topic:339606"]
Read these verses. This was before Sodom was destroyed

bibliacatolica.com.br/the-new-american-bible/genesis/18

Would there have been any innocent people among those that God commanded the Israelites to go too, if God said what he did to Abraham?

I have read that God waited for 400 years before he judged those in the Canaanite nation while Israel was in Egypt. Archeologists have found some of things the Canaanites would do. They have found jars which contain the remains of babies. There were Canaanites that would sacrifice a child when a new house was built. They would sacrifice their firstborn to Molech into a fire. Archeologists found jars with babies in. There were Canaanites that practised beastility, prostitution etc Leviticus 18 - 20 lists some of the immoral practises done by the Canaanites.

[/quote]

I don't doubt that the Canaanites had a lot of very evil practices. But the thing is, even infants were killed. How could an infant be guilty of these practices?


#4

[quote="Holly3278, post:3, topic:339606"]
I don't doubt that the Canaanites had a lot of very evil practices. But the thing is, even infants were killed. How could an infant be guilty of these practices?

[/quote]

Yes of course the infants were innocent. I am sure that God's plan is infinitely perfect, and he took care of their souls.

The Lord was preparing a people in which the Incarnation would take place. We are His finite creatures, and He is infinitely perfect. We cannot fully understand His ways; and it is very wise to trust Him. Just look at His birth, life, death, and Resurrection.....all for us!


#5

Jimmy Akin discusses passages such as these here:

Hard Sayings of the Old Testament


#6

I too struggle a lot with the Old Testament and reconciling the fierce God there with other teachings of a loving and merciful God. Unfortunately, I don’t have any advice on how to assuage your doubts - I myself just keep plowing forward, taking another run at the passages, and praying to understand. Maybe it’s something we’re not meant to understand. Or perhaps the Jimmy Akin discussion quoted above is correct. I don’t really know - but I wanted to let you know it’s not just you struggling with these passages.


#7

Both infants (Egyptian firstborn sons for example) and pregnant women (Numbers 31:17).

How many infants and pregnant women drowned in the flood?

rossum


#8

God is not commanding genocide. God was commanding the destruction of people who are depraved and will never repent.

These people continued to worship false Gods after having seen the power of the God of Israel. They sacrificed their children to Molech - burned infants alive, sold their children to be prostitutes in pagan temples, were homosexual gang rapists, engaged in incest and had sex with animals. They showed no mercy to their slaves and used the poor for their own advantage.

These were bad people. They had seen the power of the God of Israel and were never, ever going to repent. Some individuals did repent - Rahab the harlot for example - but the vast majority were never, ever going to repent.

All these people had to do was turn to the God of Israel and they would have been saved. The city of Nineveh repented in the Book of Jonah, they put on sackcloth and declared a fast and turned to the God of Israel, and they were spared destruction.

-Tim-


#9

Also, keep in mind that you are viewing the end of life as a bad thing. If you were a wicked person then surely, it is a bad thing. However, if you are an innocent, it is not a bad thing. Your problems with some of these things stem from that the fact, as a living person, you view maintaining your life as the utmost good. A dead person, judged innocent by God, would not hold the same assumption, and would not lament the loss of their life.


#10

I think it important to emphasize that these people were not only DOING horrible things, but also to realize WHY they were doing them. These weren't simply hedonistic practices or every day sins. These people had affirmatively turned away from God, in a conscience way, and had chosen to worship Meloch, Astarte, the Baals, etc. Those are not merely the names of "false gods", they are demons. And it wasn't merely that generation that had chosen to practice demon worship, it was a generational teaching. The horrible practices that they engaged in were for the purpose of satisfying their demon masters. They practiced human sacrifice to satisfy their demon gods, they practiced ritual sex (group, homo, pedo, beast, etc) to encourage their fertility demon gods to give them good harvest. And so on. God did not turn away from these people, they turned away from Him, and not by accident or out of ignorance.


#11

[quote="alexandratm, post:6, topic:339606"]
I too struggle a lot with the Old Testament and reconciling the fierce God there with other teachings of a loving and merciful God. Unfortunately, I don't have any advice on how to assuage your doubts - I myself just keep plowing forward, taking another run at the passages, and praying to understand. Maybe it's something we're not meant to understand. Or perhaps the Jimmy Akin discussion quoted above is correct. I don't really know - but I wanted to let you know it's not just you struggling with these passages.

[/quote]

The same God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. There is no fierce God of the Old Testament and Loving God of the New Testament. It is the same God.

God took the lives of Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5. God also took the life of Herod in Act 12.

**On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and made an oration to them. And the people shouted, "The voice of a god, and not of man!" Immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died. (Acts 12:21-23)

Pretty ruthless...

All Herod had to do was repent, to give God the glory and he would have been spared. All Ananias and Saphira had to do was repent, confess and do penance and they would have been spared.

-Tim-


#12

[quote="Holly3278, post:3, topic:339606"]
I don't doubt that the Canaanites had a lot of very evil practices. But the thing is, even infants were killed. How could an infant be guilty of these practices?

[/quote]

If one goes to a cancer surgeon does one ask him to only remove part of the tumor?


#13

An important point to remember is:
The Church does not interpret the bible in a literalist or fundamentalist way.
The Bible is certainly literature.
It has historical elements It is the story of a people.
There is allegory, and poetry.
The authorship is a joint project, human beings inspired by God. The human authors are not robots or dictation machines, or in a trance with God guiding their hands. The authors are “tools”…“instrumental causality” is the concept.

The core of the question I believe, is not whether the Israelites waged war and killed women and children. It seems they did, as has been the lot of humanity from the beginning.
The core question is, did God literally command them to kill innocents? Are we required to believe this? The answer from the Church is no, we are not required to believe that God literally commanded them to do this. The author writes what he writes, inspired by God, as a human being trying to interpret God’s will, sometimes (frequently) imperfectly interpreting it. The author writes within a cultural and spiritual context and has a viewpoint concerning God’s will and involvement in human affairs. None of this detracts from the concept of inerrancy or inspiration. There is always truth in every passage, although not literalist truth…

Context is important in Scripture. Nothing can be interpreted in a vacuum, apart from the whole of it, including the New Testament. And always primarily illumined by the life of Jesus Christ.
We just had this issue last Sunday in our RCIA class, which was taught by a Scripture scholar Monsignor who studied in Rome and taught in the seminary for many years.


#14

In these OT passages God judged.
In the NT Jesus came to save sinners, not to judge. But one day he will come again as judge.
God have mercy on us when he does.


#15

To say that God could somehow find a way to reward the souls of the innocent children, seems to be a somewhat forced and unsatisfying way to get God off the hook, so to speak.

Here is a very interesting article on it from a trusted source:

blog.adw.org/2010/01/did-god-command-genocide/


#16

Thank you so much. Out of all the posts on this thread, I must say that this one was the most helpful because that article was extremely helpful. The doubt that I have been having concerning these Old Testament passages is now resolved. Thank you for posting this. :thumbsup:

I also want to thank everyone else for posting. It was interesting to see the various viewpoints. :slight_smile:


#17

For what were the unborn children judged? What had they done that deserved judgement?

For what were the infants judged? What had they done that deserved judgement?

rossum


#18

IIRC, the Canaanite tribes were first given the option to convert or move. If that's correct, then it would seem that maybe God wasn't so much bothered by their religious practices as he was by where they were being practiced.


At other times in the OT when God wants to influence a hostile group he performs some wondrous deed to convince the miscreants of his seriousness, e.g. Pharaoh and the Egyptians. For some reason, that treatment was withheld from the Canaanite tribes.


If it's true that the Canaanite tribes performed ritual sacrifice of babies, then I'm not seeing how commanding the Israelites to slaughter them instead improves the situation for the Canaanite babies all that much.


I think the so-called OT minimalists have provided the best way out of this dilemma: based on the extant archeological evidence it's entirely possible that these wholesale slaughters never even occurred.


#19

I had a hard time with this for a while, too. But one day a thought occurred to me, perhaps it was put on my heart, perhaps not, but either way it has comforted me.

Consider the land of being taken by the people of Israel as a metaphor for your own personal journey of faith and conversion. The rule of God sweeps in and at his command all things not compatible with this new life must be purged complely. So, as you grow in faith, you eradicate sin from yourself. Consider each city the was destroyed as some sin in your life. You must remove it completely, leaving no small remnant remaining, lest it grow to power again.

There are so many layers of meaning to the Bible, and I think seeing it (or atleast parts of it) as a metaphor for your own journey in faith can be both reasonable and helpful.


#20

There is no Biblical verse which says children or women were actually killed so we do not know if any where killed.

In Old Testament Ethics for the People of God by Christopher C.J. Wright he says that words

‘men and women’ in were used for describing all people in region or town ‘without predisposing the reader to assume anything further about their ages or even their genders’

“MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN”

When reading the text of 1 Samuel 15:3, we are led to believe that Israel targeted and obliterated Amalekite noncombatants. However, Old Testament scholar Richard Hess argues that we do not actually have indications that this was so — whether toward the Amalekites or the Canaanites. Deuteronomy 2:34 states that “we captured all his cities at that time and utterly destroyed the men, women and children of every city. We left no survivor” (NASB). Again, in the next chapter, we read that Israel “utterly destroyed … the men, women and children of every city” (3:6, NASB).

The sweeping words like “all,” “young and old,” and “man and woman,” however, are stock expressions for totality — even if women and children were not present. The expression “men and women” or similar phrases appear to be stereotypical for describing all the inhabitants of a town or region, “without predisposing the reader to assume anything further about their ages or even their genders.”6

Our understanding of the archaeology/history of Canaan offers some illuminating perspectives that help shed light on this discussion and reinforce this point. So let’s explore this.

JERICHO, AI, AND OTHER CANAANITE CITIES

This stereotypical ancient Near East language of “all” people describes attacks on what turn out to be military forts or garrisons containing combatants — not a general population that includes women and children. We have no archaeological evidence of civilian populations at Jericho or Ai (6:21; 8:25).8 The word “city ‘ir]” during this time in Canaan was where the (military) king, the army, and the priesthood resided. So for Joshua, mentioning “women” and “young and old” turns out to be stock ancient Near East language that he could have used even if “women” and “young and old” were not living there. The language of “all” (“men and women”) at Jericho and Ai is a “stereotypical expression for the destruction of all human life in the fort, presumably composed entirely of combatants.”9 The text does not require that “women” and “young and old” must have been in these cities — and this same situation could apply to Saul’s battling against the Amalekites.

Furthermore, people in Canaan commonly used the associated term melek (“king”)during this time for a military leader who was responsible to a higher ruler off-site. (The civilian population typically lived in the hill country.) According to the best calculations based on Canaanite inscriptions and other archaeological evidence (i.e., no artifacts or “prestige” ceramics), Jericho was a small settlement of probably 100 or fewer soldiers. This is why all of Israel could circle it seven times and then do battle against it on the same day!10 Also, we should keep in mind that the large numbers used in warfare accounts in the Old Testament are a little tricky; they simply may not be as high as our translations indicate. The Hebrew word ‘eleph (commonly rendered, “thousand”) can also mean “unit” or “squad” without specifying the exact number.

enrichmentjournal.ag.org/201004/201004_138_Canannites.cfm


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.