Did God commit genocide?
Its not genocide when God judges sin.
Did God command Israel to commit genocide (defined by some as the systematic killing of a cultural, ethnic, national, racial or religious group) in the Old Testament?
This question comes up from time to time and deserves a thoughtful answer. I don't have all the answers so my goal is to provide a partial answer that considers the question and the Old Testament in context. Approaching the Bible contextually always helps our understanding of scripture. I invite you to add your answer in the Comment Box.
Questions to consider
1. Did God command gen@cide in the Old Testament?
2. How can anyone believe in a God Who approved and authorized gen@cide?
3. If God did command gen@cide, was this a common event or an unusual event different than God's normal method of operation?
4. Did God give long periods of warning lasting many years, of His impending judgment so that people could change their behavior and escape judgment?
5. Did God give the objects of His wrath opportunity to leave the Holy Land and thus escape His judgment?
6. Did God give innocent people a way out before His judgment fell?
7. Did younger household members share in the fortunes or misfortunes of their parents, related to God's judgment?
8. Are Biblical instances of God's judgment upon nations rare or common events?
9. Is God's judgment upon nations often linked to the land of Israel or the way those nations treated the nation of Israel?
10. Does God as Creator have a right to judge people and nations?
Explore these questions in depth at: Christian Think-Tank
There are Bible verses in which God commanded dispossession or destruction of the inhabitants of Canaan. Some view that as genocide because they're angry at God for other reasons. God's intent was to judge some nations and their pagan culture by driving out the individuals who made up the nation and pagan culture.
* Dispossession was for those who left Canaan.
* Destruction was for those who refused to leave Canaan.
The problem as God sees it
God knew that pagan nations, left undisturbed and unconverted, would cause continual trouble for the children of Israel. That is why God continually warned Israel to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, to not intermarry with pagans, to not worship pagan gods, to not forsake the true God. Accusing God of genocide in this situation is anachronism in my opinion, reading modern politically correct moral beliefs into thirty-five hundred year old historical situations.
"They (Israel) did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the LORD commanded them: But were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them.
Yea, they (Israel) sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood. Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions.
Therefore was the wrath of the LORD kindled against his people, insomuch that he abhorred his own inheritance. And he gave them (Israel) into the hand of the heathen; and they that hated them ruled over them. Their (Israel's) enemies also oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their hand." -Psalm 106:34-42
God's specific commands
about Israel's enemies
War in Israel
"cut them off" -Exodus 23.23
"I will... destroy all the people" -Exodus 23:27
"make your enemies turn their backs" and run -Exodus 23:27
"I will drive them out" with hornets -Exodus 23:28
"don't offer your children to Molech" -Leviticus 18:21
"the land is defiled" -Leviticus 18:24-25
"don't worship Molech" -Leviticus 20:2-5
"drove out the Amorites" -Numbers 21:32
"So they smote him... none was left him alive" -Numbers 21:35
"drive out all the inhabitants of the land" -Numbers 33:52
"to cast out all thine enemies" -Deuteronomy 6:19
"cast them out... smite them... utterly destroy them..." -Deuteronomy 7:1-5
"destroy their name from under heaven" -Deuteronomy 7:24
"for the wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from before thee" -Deuteronomy 9:4
"the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee" -Deuteronomy 12:29
"they burned their children in the fire to their gods" -Deuteronomy 12:31 (pagans committing genocide)
"the LORD your God... goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies" -Deuteronomy 20:14
"if they make peace" don't kill them -Deuteronomy 20:10-16 (making peace is not genocide)
"don't be a whore or a shrine prostitute" -Deuteronomy 23:17
Pondering questions about genocide
1. Is total war or genocide the way God normally operated in the Old Testament?
No, total war is the exception, not the rule. There are a few historical examples where God Himself judged sin and annihilated people.
- Almost the entire population of earth was wiped out by Noah's flood, except for Noah and his family - Genesis 6-7 (This may fit our modern definition of genocide if anyone but God did it.)
- Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim were wiped out for the sin of inhospitality among many others - Genesis 19, Ezekiel 16:48ff.
- The Amalakites were wiped out because they refused to show hospitality to Israel as God's chosen people passed through their land - 1 Samuel 15:2ff. with Deuteronomy 25:17-19
- The Assyrian city of Ninevah was slated for annihilation but when they repented, Jonah 3:5-9, God spared them including the little ones - Jonah 3:10. God's attitude toward Ninevah was concern, not genocide, Jonah 4:10
2. Is total war and genocide the way Israel normally behaved toward their neighbors in the Old Testament?
No, total war was not standard foreign policy for the nation of Israel in ancient times nor was genocide. When Israel entered the promised land, God instructed them to drive out the inhabitants yet those inhabitants were allowed to leave if they wanted to.
The great issue with God was the land of Canaan. God created that land, God had a specific interest in and purpose for that land, Deuteronomy 11:12 and God intended to see His purpose fulfilled.
3. Who were Israel's enemies and did God offer them options other than genocide or being annihilated?
A careful reading of the Tanakh (our Old Testament) indicates that God did indeed offer the Canaanites opportunity to leave without being destroyed.
4. Is total warfare or genocide against unbelievers God's instruction for Christians today? No, absolutely not! Christians today are in an entirely different situation.
- Our Messiah, King Jesus, has already come so we are not focused on preserving the Messianic seed. That has already been preserved.
- We are under what the Bible describes as a new and better covenant and the old covenant has been abolished, Ephesians 2:15.
- The weapons of our warfare are not carnal (fleshly) but mighty through God. In other words, our weapons are spiritual, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.
Thoughts to assist
- Truth is often uncomfortable yet it makes no sense to reject truth, especially God's truth, just because it makes us uncomfortable.
- God's ways are often difficult to understand yet it makes no sense to reject God's way just because we cannot easily explain why God does what He does.
- Our motives for rejecting God's truth and God's ways are usually pride or petulance or both. If God doesn't come down here and tell us what we want to hear, we stomp our feet and reject Him.
- Our revulsion at Biblical stories describing the intentional killing of infants results from trying to impose our twenty first century sensibilities on events that happened 3400 years ago.
It should be pointed out that all babies who die in infancy go to heaven where they are safe, happy, blessed, Romans 4:15, 5:13. Many babies who grow up to become adults live their entire lives rejecting Christ and go to hell when they die because they never got saved.
- Did younger household members share in the fortunes or misfortunes of their parents, related to decisions their parents made to ignore God's judgment? Yes, that is certainly the case yet it is not accurate to label as genocide the consequences of bad decisions.
Do modern children sometimes suffer and die because of poor decisions made by their parents? Yes, that happens every day. Is it fair to blame those deaths on God because He gave us free will instead of making us mind-numbed robots? No, blaming God and accusing Him of genocide is illogical and irrational.
- Wisdom compels us to resist the temptation to fancy ourselves more righteous than God. Thinking to ourselves, "How could God do something so awful?
I would never do that!" takes us down the path of pride and arrogance.
All of us should have enough experience with our fallen nature to realize that no matter what we sometimes think, we are not as good as or better than God, not even close.
It is human nature to attempt to revise history to make God more palatable to ourselves and anyone we may tell about Him. Accusing God of genocide is the old trick of tearing down another to make ourselves look better.
When the children of Israel entered the promised land, God commanded them to drive out or kill the inhabitants of the land. This was not genocide - it was God's judgment on people who refused to obey Him.
This was not a normal situation. God's command was unique to that time period, to safe-guard the Messianic line. God's purpose was to prevent Satan from destroying the Messianic line by mingling it with pagans. The story of Balaam, Numbers 22:1-35, is an excellent example of an attempt to infiltrate and destroy the Messianic line.
The focus of the Bible is redemption, God sending Jesus our Messiah into the world to pay for our sins. God did not allow anything to interfere with His plan of redemption. With that as our starting point, some thoughts about why God judged the people of Canaan so harshly that thousands of years later, even some Christians accuse God of genocide.
Does modern abortion = genocide?
Some contend that hundreds of millions of abortions do not fit a strict definition of genocide. I believe they at least qualify as mass murder of innocent life and do represent genocide. And isn't that the point people who accuse God of genocide are making? They're saying God took innocent lives and He is guilty.
Have you ever wondered why there are so many genealogies in the Old Testament? God is dead serious about preserving the line of Messiah. Throughout the Old Testament, there are two groups - people who follow God and people who refuse to follow God.
People who refused to follow God were not innocent folk living in peaceful harmony with those around them. They were pagans who sacrificed their own children to idols, Leviticus 18:21, 20:2-5 and who were determined to enslave or destroy Israel and her innocent children, Judges 6.
Before we get our knickers in a twist thinking God may have committed genocide, remember that in the twenty first century many non-Christians and many Christians support abortion, which is the killing of pre-born infants. In the USA, since 1973, more than 40 million babies have been killed via abortion. Abortion numbers worldwide are in the hundreds of millions. Those numbers dwarf the entire population of Canaan in Old Testament times.
Where is the logical consistency in charging God with genocide 3500 years ago but supporting genocide - aborting hundreds of millions of unborn babies in modern times and refusing to view that as genocide? Some of the people who accuse God of genocide are not shy about supporting abortion rights. And it never occurs to them that they support the very thing they accuse God of doing several thousand years ago.
If you choose to view God as morally evil for judging the ancient inhabitants of Canaan, logic compels you to view abortion supporters as perpetrating a far more wicked genocide against the unborn, based on numbers alone.
God's judgment on the inhabitants of Canaan was often more like deportation, expelling the pagans from the land of Canaan, than like genocide. The people who were killed were the ones who refused to obey God and leave Canaan.
Its also helpful to remember that God promised the same treatment to the Israelites if THEY refused to obey Him, Leviticus 18:24-27. And when they persisted in disobedience, God expelled the children of Israel from the holy land.
God's judgment was restricted to the land of Canaan, as far as Israel making war on other nations, Deuteronomy 20:10-16. Israel did not engage in far-ranging wars of conquest as did Philip and Alexander or the Roman Caesars.
Those who charge God with genocide have no idea how many people actually died as a result of God's judgment. Their argument is much like the arguments of agnostics and evolutionists who ask: 'How could Noah get all those animals in the ark?'
If you believe God committed genocide, how many people did He kill? From the reading I've done, it appears that hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of God's judgment in Canaan. Here's the comparison.
* God our Creator took hundreds of thousands of lives in the land of Canaan.
* Abortionists worldwide have taken hundreds of millions of lives.
If a baby is not a living being, why do they have to kill it?
When you think about it, many folks who accuse God of genocide while supporting abortion are far guiltier than they imagine God to be. Their argument is mostly rhetorical self-righteousness, intended to impugn God's righteousness. Many Canaanites fled the holy land ahead of the Israelites, "driven out" by God so that they would not be killed, Exodus 23:29-31, Deuteronomy 9:3, Joshua 5:1ff, 23:5.
God spent 400+ years warning the people of Canaan to trust Him, beginning with Melchisadek, Genesis 14:18-19, and Abraham, Genesis 15:16. The inhabitants of Canaan were exposed to God's truth through followers like Melchisadek and Abraham. Abraham and his descendants witnessed to the Canaanites for 400 years before the Israelites entered the land. Abraham built altars to the true God and interacted with the Canaanites, Genesis 12:7-8.
According to Rahab the harlot, the people who dwelt in Canaan had at least 40 years advance warning that the children of Israel were en route, Joshua 2:9-11.
Examples of God's mercy
Has it occurred to those who accuse God of genocide that Rahab is an example of God's mercy? When Rahab trusted the true God, she and her family were spared. And God's treatment of Rahab the Gentile convert to Judaism was so merciful, she is included in the line of Messiah.
The Gibeonites are another example of people who were spared, Joshua 11:19. God's mercy was available in the Old Testament to anyone who would receive it.
The children of Israel were supposed to kill the pagans who remained in Canaan but they didn't obey God and allowed many of the pagans to live. These pagans and their false religions were a continual snare to the Israelites.
- Because they were enemies of the Messianic line through which Jesus the Messiah would come, Genesis 3:15.
- Because young pagans would grow up to be adult pagans and want to avenge the death of their parents.
- Because when they grew up they would intermarry with Israelites and draw them away from God into pagan religions.
- Because every infant who dies goes to heaven, Romans 4:15, 5:13. If they grew to adulthood, many of them would reject God, eventually die and go to hell.
- God is in charge, whether you like it or not.
- God is always righteous and holy.
- Whatever God does is right, even if it doesn't seem right to us, even when we accuse God of genocide.
- God's justice is tempered with mercy for everyone who obeys Him, Rahab, Ruth and Naaman the Syrian being prime examples.
- If you argue that God does not have the right to punish sinners, logic compels you to argue that no one has the right to punish wrongdoing, an obviously contradictory belief since all of us believe some wrongdoing should be punished.
- God's punishment of sin is not genocide or ethnic cleansing since God placed a redeemed Canaanite harlot, Joshua 2, and a redeemed Moabitess widow, Ruth 2-4, into the genealogy of Christ. God punishes sin, not ethnicity.
- God removed unrepentant pagans and disobedient Jews from the holy land because He intended redeemed obedient Jews to occupy that space.
- The destruction of the Canaanites who refused to obey God, which was not genocide, reminds us that God will judge the world in righteousness, Acts 17:26ff.
There is a fascinating discussion of God and genocide at the Gospel Coalition website. Pay particular attention to the good information in the comments too.
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