How do you respond when people say God ordered genocide and rape in the OT?


#1

What do you say to people that say God ordered genocide and rape in the Old Testament?

Here are some examples I need to respond to, but I’m not sure how to start:

1 Samuel 15 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelities when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey”.

"And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ***, with the edge of the sword. Joshua 6:21

(Numbers 31:7-18 NLT) They attacked Midian just as the LORD had commanded Moses, and they killed all the men. All five of the Midianite kings – Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba – died in the battle. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. Then the Israelite army captured the Midianite women and children and seized their cattle and flocks and all their wealth as plunder. They burned all the towns and villages where the Midianites had lived. After they had gathered the plunder and captives, both people and animals, they brought them all to Moses and Eleazar the priest, and to the whole community of Israel, which was camped on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho.

Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the people went to meet them outside the camp. But Moses was furious with all the military commanders who had returned from the battle. “Why have you let all the women live?” he demanded. "These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the LORD at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man. Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves.

(Zechariah 14:1-2 NAB) Lo, a day shall come for the Lord when the spoils shall be divided in your midst. And I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle: the city shall be taken, houses plundered, women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be removed from the city. (Zechariah 14:1-2 NAB)


#2

It’s His prerogative to punish people how he chooses, isn’t it?

Jeremy


#3

What do you say to people that say God ordered genocide and rape in the Old Testament?

–“Ya darn right! Now…Whose side are you on?”
:wink:


#4

I don’t think that such flippant answers do enough justice to the difficulty of the question, nor are they helpful in an apologetic context. You would think that, even if they were incorrect, the various irreligious people who object to certain divine commands in the Old Testament do so out of an admirable concern, both that God be a God of love, and that God not be self-contradictory.

Notice that the people who make this objection don’t often bring up instances where God himself did the punishing directly; e.g., the drowning of the Egyptians, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. I think that’s because these cases don’t create a logical problem–indeed, God is Lord over life and death, he has given/taken away, etc.

Objections that the OT God seems violent and cruel are not necessarily denying God’s lordship over life and death. The apparent contradiction comes when God orders human beings to do things that we believe are objectively evil. Such seems to imply that evil is part of God’s perfect will.

We should not mock the difficulty of this problem–unless you think it’s a good evangelization programme to take cheeky delight in bloodthirsty exegesis.


#5

You might want to listen to Scott Hahn’s "Our Fathers Plan"
He explains this.
real audio format
MP3 format

Real briefly he talks about how Moses allowed this from the book of Deuteronomy.
Israel kept falling into the sins of their neighbors, worshiping their Gods. Their Holiness was weaker than their attraction to Idols. They were supposed to convert the nations, but they ended up turning to idolatry. So Moses allowed a lesser sin to be committed, rather than a greater sin, because of the hardness of their hearts.
So in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses allowed Harem warfare (the killing of every man women and child), and allowed divorce and other things.
Though these were the commands of God, God didn’t speak these directly to the Israelites, Moses passed these laws on to the Isarelites in a speech.

It two main sins that the Israelites commited were the worship of the calf in Exodus chapter 32, and the sin of Baal of Peor in Numbers chapter 25. These two sins led to the book of Leviticus , and the book of Deuteronomy.


#6

The “Evil Bible” argument. I don’t think there’s a pat answer to it.

To some extent we can say that the Old Testament reflected the people of Israel’s poor theological understanding, “it was for the hardness of your ancestors’ hearts that Moses wrote this commandment”.

Another answer is that comfortable Americans don’t have much sympathy with people living in the Middle East, fighting for very survival. When missiles are falling from the sky, you read these passages ina wholly different way.

Another answer is that the OT is largely mythologised history. We don’t know what the actual history of the Exodus was, though it is likely that such an event did occur, and the Israelites had stories about it rather like Americans have Wild West movies which give a fictionalised account of a real event - the settlement of the American West - but with often unrealistic depictions of Indians and the settlers’ relationships with them.


#7

Thanks, I will listen. Hahn is solid enough that I don’t think I need to fear using his material.

I made a post about this a couple of days ago. Mainly my issue is, how closely does the herem warfare in the Old Testament reflect God’s perfect, direct will?


#8

Yes I understand the question, and even after listening to this audio program, I still wonder about this issue, but when people say “thank goodness we don’t have the God of the Old Testament anymore”, I can give them a good reply, after listening to “Our Fathers Plan”


#9

Thanks Godefridus and Mr. McLean. I do need a serious answer as I encounter this charge from non-believers on a regular basis. The lack of a good reply usually shuts down the argument leaving us (Catholics) looking like idiots.

I’ll check the Scott Hahn link, and in the meantime I’m still hoping for some more helpful posts.


#10

I remember a certain apologist, when confronted with a very similar question, simply replying, “Does not the potter have the right over the clay, to make some vessels for noble uses and some for profane use? Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?”

Perhaps not the most “enlightened” of apologetics, but certainly not an invalid one.

Jeremy


#11

So we can’t question things in order to get a better understanding otherwise its considered talking back to God? Is that really what that guy was saying?

The OP is one of the major problems that I have about the Bible, that has in turn directed me away from Catholicism over the years.


#12

well and how dou you reply to “Islamic terrorists are claiming that they are doing God’s will too”? How do I explain the difference between Israelites doing violence in God’s name and Islamic terrorists doing violence in God’s name to an atheist? If I were the atheist I would laugh…


#13

The trouble with this subject is that there is no short sound byte answer for it.

God’s Plan is for Israel, the first born, to bring the other nations to God. But Israel keeps falling into the sin of worshipping the other gods. These other gods are brutal, wicked and immoral; Molech was worshipped by people putting their live children into the flames before the idol! In Gen 15:14 God tells Abraham that “the iniquity of the Ammorites is not yet complete” - God wasn’t going to push the Ammorites out of the land at that point because they weren’t too evil yet or perhaps they still had a chance of redemption, I don’t know. But there comes a point when the cup is full and its time for God to deal with people. In this case the Ammorites had 400+ years to bring things around

When it is time for God to deal with the sins of the people He **always **gives signs and warnings:

The 9 plagues in Exodus, all before the deaths of the firstborn.

The crossing the Jordan before the destruction of Jerico where God stopped the flow of the Jordan. and all the time it took before they actually shouted down the walls (there was more than a week where anyone that wanted to leave the city could have gone and “saved themselves”. maybe some did.

The phrase. “and I will drive them out before you” (said by God) indicates that Herem warfare was not waged against every city, only the most wicked.

So, some people don’t have difficulty with God directly striking down a person, He is the Creator, its His will etc. But are bothered by man killing man “under God’s orders”. God works through us. He spoke through the prophets. God chastized Israel with exile and He used the Babylonians and the Assyrians to do it. And that’s just the old testament. We are the body of Christ, remember Peter healed people in Acts, the poor were taken care of; we do the physical work of Christ on earth.


#14

Maybe they are . . . As I said in my previous post, God used the Babylonians and the Assyrians to chastize Israel for worshipping other gods.

I can think of many reasons our society would be chastized, Abortion being the top of the list.

Ironic how our western society which doesn’t respect life (abortion) being terrorized by people who also don’t respect life (so much so that they kill innocents).


#15

The apparent contradiction comes when God orders human beings to do things that we believe are objectively evil. Such seems to imply that evil is part of God’s perfect will.

Which is the point of my cheeky retort. If it’s what God orders, then it ain’t evil.

Perhaps it is an American phenomina that we’ve created God in the image of a “Disney Dad” that is erroneous and inconsistant.

There is an imbalance of “God is Love” statements made vs. “God is almighty” statements. Yet, curiously, there is a human desire to align ourselves with power and might. I suspect that is why young teen boys adorn themselves Heavy Metal T-shirts. They get a power trip out of making themselves appear to be angels of Satan.

Also, when you think how God might think, death is a doorway, not an end.

Or, perhaps, when you think like the people thought back then, enemy captives were given the same level of dignity as animals. Therefor, when God told the Israelites to destroy all, even women and children, perhaps this wasn’t something that flew in the face of the Israelites innate sense of mercy; but rather this order flew in the face of the Israelites sense of greed. There would be no slaves, no concubines, no plunder, no wealth. Just making room for the Israelites to set up home. Maybe this was God’s way of telling the Israelites to “take only what you need”.

Suppose that God was right in giving the order. Then try to think from there. Instead, people seem to use these instances in the Bible to prove that God is not “all good”.


#16

How is killing infants and children, and rape, the physical work of Christ?


#17

Which is the point of my cheeky retort. If it’s what God orders, then it ain’t evil.

But one can too easily apply a reducto ad absurdam to this pattern of thinking, which when you think about it places an absolute divorce between reason and God’s will, leading to dangerous religions of irrationality. That’s just the thing Pope Benedict argued against last year.

In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which ultimately led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.

As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language (cf. Lateran IV). God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love transcends knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is logos. Consequently, Christian worship is worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).

W00 Benny! We do not worship a God who afflicts us with contradictions or absurdities.

I am not saying that there can be no explanation of Old Testament violence that can synthesize our moral concerns with God’s actions.

I am only saying that, when you mock our moral reasoning outright (perhaps appealing to God’s “inscrutible ways”) then you run the risk of mocking the Logos.


#18

Man, that 20-minute limit on edits is brutal. It takes me longer than that to append new material! And I lost everything I wrote. :frowning:

Perhaps it is an American phenomina that we’ve created God in the image of a “Disney Dad” that is erroneous and inconsistant.

Agreed. Sentimentalism is a disease of American Christianity. But it is consistency which is precisely at stake in this conversation. It is not about God not being “nice enough”; it is about God not being self-contradictory. No amount of nuance or maturity applied to the notion of “love” makes it easy to reconcile with the order to kill children, whether of the Canaanites or, what is even more troubling, of Achan. (I didn’t notice the ‘rape’ part though)

There is an imbalance of “God is Love” statements made vs. “God is almighty” statements.

Again agreed. Yet what is needed is not so much a balance between these statements as a deeper understanding that these two qualities are not distinct in God at all. It is in their separation that we get into trouble.

Yes, God’s freedom and might transcend finite moral reasoning. Yet finite moral reasoning, when it is done rightly, nevertheless stems from God’s infinite goodness as its font and source. An individual instance of reason can be incorrect, yes, but not the whole business of reasoning itself. By definition, God cannot contradict right reason without contradicting himself; and that is the only thing that God is not free to do; however, this is not an “unfreedom” in the true sense. It only means that God IS and cannot not be.

Yet, curiously, there is a human desire to align ourselves with power and might. I suspect that is why young teen boys adorn themselves Heavy Metal T-shirts. They get a power trip out of making themselves appear to be angels of Satan.

Again agreed, but this is not so much an essential evil as the corruption of something which is good, that is, the virtue and the desire for fortitude and strength in the face of adversity. C.S. Lewis talks about this a bit in his essays on chivalry and equality. There is a hint of truth in the periodic iconoclasms that delight in smashing the porcelain idols of bourgeois standards of politeness.

Also, when you think how God might think, death is a doorway, not an end.

Also agreed. This is why Sodom and Gomorrah and similar things do not present a logical problem.

Or, perhaps, when you think like the people thought back then, enemy captives were given the same level of dignity as animals. Therefor, when God told the Israelites to destroy all, even women and children, perhaps this wasn’t something that flew in the face of the Israelites innate sense of mercy; but rather this order flew in the face of the Israelites sense of greed. There would be no slaves, no concubines, no plunder, no wealth. Just making room for the Israelites to set up home. Maybe this was God’s way of telling the Israelites to “take only what you need”.

Again agreed, but you must admit this analysis puts some distance between God’s perfect vs. his permissive will. What Hahn touches on, and what I certainly believe, is that God does not do violence to the free wills of his vehicles of action by miraculously imposing on them enlightened understandings of moral theology; that is, he does not make his people arbitrarily more good than the rest of the broken world.

Thus one may believe, for example, that the inclusion of Achan’s wife and children in the stoning and burning for his crime was something that was tolerated, rather than willed by God.

Instead, people seem to use these instances in the Bible to prove that God is not “all good”.

I do not think people with this question necessarily set out to prove that God is not good; rather, anybody reading these texts without a deep understanding will naturally be confused. I think that for most people this confusion is innocent rather than nefarious.


#19

Here is a link from Scott Hahn’s Salvation History website It is from a bible study of the Covenant Love of God. In this link he is explaining about the Golden Calf incident and how the 2nd law came about. Scroll down the page and you will see about these laws which seem cruel to us today.


#20

Two words: Totally awesome.


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