It's not genocide when God judges sin.
Did God command Israel to commit genocide, defined 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 the best answer I can that considers the question and the Old Testament in context. We always have a better chance of understanding the Bible when we approach it contextually, considering the biblical, cultural, doctrinal, historical, linguistic, literary and religious context.
Questions to consider
1. Did God command genocide in the Old Testament?
2. How can anyone believe in a God who approved and authorized the destruction of nations?
3. If God did command the destruction of nations, 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:
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.
God knew that pagan nations, left unconverted and undisturbed, would cause continual trouble for the children of Israel. That is why God repeatedly 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 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
1. Is total war or destruction of entire nations 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.
2. Is total war and destruction of nations 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 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.
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 are making, who accuse God of genocide? 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 60 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 by abortion - killing 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.
It's 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 something more than a hundred thousand people died as a result of God's judgment in Canaan. Here's the comparison.
* God our Creator took a hundred thousand lives in the land of Canaan.
* Abortions have taken hundreds of millions of lives worldwide.
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 God 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 when Israel actually entered the land 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 gracious 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.
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.
This page updated January 31, 2017
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