Slaughter in the Old Testament outside of Divine Command


Okay, I’m a little bit caught up on something. I realize in the Old Testament we see that God commands the Israelites to drive out various peoples such as the Canaanites from what would be their promised lands, and it involves lots and lots of slaughtering. Since God has authority over life and death, I’m okay with all of that.

I’m not so sure how I should be dealing with battles such as in Maccabees, which likewise involve lots of slaughtering, though as I see it, not by any divine command. Judas Thaddeus is just leading an Israeli army to war and lots of death ensues. Should we just assume that Judas is not acting in perfection to the moral law, but that because times were so tough and brutal, that the culpability of these people was greatly obscured compared to, say, the modern world, where we tend to have so much greater awareness and control over such things? I suppose likewise we see that Jacob took on two wives, and yet God did not condemn him.


In the start of the Maccabean conquests, the Maccabees are defending their nation against an unjust oppressor, who is preventing the jews from worshiping the Lord, and trying to force them to engage in immoral acts.
For the Maccabies to lead the willing to rise up against this opressor was not unjust.

Now the situation may be viewed slightly less favourably as later on the family continue to battle beyond their borders as they aim to cement into place their place in the political climate of the middle east.

In fact the described slaughter of women and children and even cattle in the canaanite conquests led by Joshuah and the Judges is far less morally acceptable in the light of a modern and christian view of the Just War and of the value of life and sanctity of Human Life.

The history of the O.T. is a history telling us how the hebrew people came to gradually understand who God is and to better understand His ways. It’s not that God deemed such murders OK then and not today - rather that we people better understand God and Morality today than the Hebrew people did at the time of the conquest of Canaan and Palestine to form the land for the nation of Israel.


Certainly war often entails bloodshed, but that does not automatically mean anyone engaged in that battle is acting sinfully. Even as Scripture says, if possible, live peaceably with everyone. (Rm 12:18). Also, as my morality professor said to the class, the human authors of the Old Testament did not have as developed a concept of God’s will as we do today. Today we have such theology as God’s permissive will and God’s ordained will, i.e. what He passively permits and what He actively ordains. The value of truth in Scripture includes understanding the meaning of a text through the eyes of its author. Take for instance a hypothetical, non-biblical text, ancient, that describes a floating torch in the sky. What he is really seeing is a comet. He’s not really “lying” by saying torch, but he is describing in accord with his understanding.

Additionally, the figures of the Old Testament consistently correspond to typological realities. For instance, Paul derives covenantal meaning out of the Old Testament persons of Hagar and Sarah (Gal. 4:22-31). The value of the Old Testament accounts of those women transcends their individual persons. In that story reveals something deeper about God, and Paul deciphers that in his epistle.

In Old Testament battles, Israel can be seen as iconic of the side of God and the enemy the side of evil. This corresponds to the victory of good over evil. The imperfect types of Christ leading battles correspond to Christ leading a victorious enterprise over sin, the true evil, the true enemy of this age.


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