Genocide and the God of the Old Testament

By JC Lamont

Many people take issue with the idea that God commanded the Jewish nation to initiate war against the Canaanites, ordering them to wipe them out and take their land for their own. Not only have some people rejected Christianity over this, but it has even spurred some Christians to leave the faith. Are the critics of the Old Testament and Christianity in general correct when they accuse God of genocide and of slaughtering those who don’t worship Him? How do we as apologists reconcile the God of love with an alleged religious bigot and racist ethnic cleanser?

Genocide God

In researching my book, Prophecy of the Heir, a literary apologetics novel that spans the entire Old Testament through angelic and demonic eyes, I discovered what I believe is a sound defense for God’s actions, which I hope will help those who struggle with this subject matter.

1. 400 Years to Repent

In Genesis 15:13 and 16, when God promises Abraham that He will give the land of Canaan to his descendants, He informs him that it will not take place for another 400 years because their sins “do not yet warrant their destruction.”

What sins was God referring to? History indicates that child sacrifice was rampant in Canaan. Years later, when the Israelites were in the land and began worshipping false gods, it was not until they started sacrificing their children that God sent the Babylonians to take them captive. When it comes to the murder of the innocents, God does not spare even His own people. Why should it come as a surprise then that He would punish the Canaanites for the same crime?

We don’t hear of complaints against God concerning the destruction of Nineveh, the people of whom were given only 3 days to repent, because they were spared due to “turn(ing) from their evil ways and stop(ping) all their violence (Jonah 3:7-10). Note that it doesn’t say they destroyed their idols, or converted to worship of Yahweh. It merely states they were spared judgment for halting their violence. They were never threatened punishment for worshiping false gods.

Why did God give the Canaanites so long to repent? Evidently, He had no desire to wipe them out, and hoped that future generations would stop the violent atrocities learned from their parents. And it should be noted that he warned Abraham that during those 400 years, He would allow His own people to be enslaved (subjected to maltreatment, labor death-camp conditions, and infanticide). It should be noted the similarities in the life of Christ, that God loved those “who were yet sinners” so much that He would allow His own Son to suffer in the hope that mankind would repent.

2. Prophet

Nineveh had the prophet Jonah to warn them, but whom did the Canaanites have? In the heart of Canaan was the city Salem, and its king was Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High (Gen 14:18). Though we know little of Melchizedek, many biblical historians have speculated that He was Noah’s son Shem. If this is the case, the Canaanites were contemporaries with one who had lived in the pre-flood world, who witness firsthand the atrocities of the Nephilim and God’s punishment against the violence that had saturated the world. But regardless of who he was, as king, it is inconceivable that He had little influence in the Canaanite cities surrounding his own, and as the first known priest of God, it is equally doubtful that he did not exhort the peoples around him to forsake violence and child-sacrifice, and to turn to God.

3. Sodom and Gomorrah

Whereas Nineveh was a city that was spared God’s judgment, Sodom and Gomorrah were not. As Sodom and Gomorrah were part of Canaan, why were they not given the same 400 years to repent as the rest of Canaan? In Genesis 18:20-21, God tells Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.”

Many critics are quick to point out that this “flagrant sin” was homosexuality, and that this passage is proof of God’s homophobia. However, nowhere in the Bible does it say that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah due to homosexuality. In fact, Ezekiel 16:49-50 cites exactly why God destroyed these cities: “Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen.”

Though “detestable sins” is not specific (and other translations use the word abominations), the only mention of homosexual behavior in connection to Sodom was the attempted homosexual gang-rape of the two angels searching for enough righteous people in the cities to spare them from judgment. And once again, nowhere in the list of their sins was the worship of false gods.

So why were these cities not given the same 400 years to repent? Perhaps He feared their “flagrant sins” would hold more sway over the other Canaanite cities than Melchizedek’s influence. By eliminating them, He intervened in the course of human history and stacked the odds in the favor of Canaanite repenting.

4. Fire and Brimstone versus War

Would people take as much issue with God if he specifically mentioned He was punishing the Canaanites for child-sacrifice, and had “rained down fire and brimstone” on them rather than using war as his tool of judgment?

It is very possible they would not, and Moses even accosts the Israelites about just that in Deuteronomy 9:4-6: “After the LORD your God has done this for you (given you the land of Canaan), don’t say in your hearts, ‘The LORD has given us this land because we are such good people!’ No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is pushing them out of your way. It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The LORD your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You must recognize that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people. Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.”

5. Prisoners of War

As an aside, I would like to briefly mention God’s treatment of war when not as a course of punishment but as an inevitable action of mankind. In 2 Kings 6:22, an army that had repeatedly raided towns and villages of Israel, killing men, women, and children, sought to kill the prophet Elisha. When they were apprehended, the King of Israel asked Elisha if they should be executed. The prophet’s response? “Of course not!” Elisha replied. “Do we kill prisoners of war? Give them food and drink and send them home again to their master.”

In closing, I hope to have shown reasonable evidence that the destruction of the Canaanites had nothing to do with religious bigotry or ethnic cleansing, and that at every turn, God sought ways to spare them as He did with Nineveh, Sodom, and Gomorrah.

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9 replies
  1. David says:

    Thom Stark’s critical review of Moral Monster does a really good job of debunking this apologetic nonsense. It’s called, “Is God A Moral Compromiser?” You can find a free Kindle version if you Google it.

    Reply
  2. barry says:

    Yes, Elisha forbade killing the prisoners of war:

    21 Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?”
    22 He answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” (2 Ki. 6:21-22 NAU)

    But hundreds of years earlier, Moses required the killing of prisoners of war:

    17 “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately.
    18 “But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.
    (Num. 31:17-18 NAU)

    This shows theological evolution as we would naturally expect it to occur; the earliest forms are the more barbaric and uncivilized, the later forms aspire to a higher morality.

    A sadist is somebody who delights in inflicting unnecessary pain on others.

    Deuteronomy 28:63 says God will delight in inflicting mindless agony and suffering on those who disobey him, no less than he delights in prospering those who obey him.

    63 “It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it. (Deut. 28:63 NAU)

    the immediate context confirms this. Deuteronomy 28:15-63 says god will inflict the worst imaginable horrors on the Jews if they disobey him, horrors that include allowing the child-sacrificing child-molesting pagans to kidnap Israelite kids (v. 41), and rape of married Israelite women (v. 30).

    Your god explicitly credit himself with causing pagan nations to commit the sin of raping Israelite women:

    2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. (Zech. 14:2 NAU)

    What’s funny is that apologists find it morally repulsive to think that a mob boss can get away with murder merely because he only ordered the hit, he didn’t actually pull the trigger himself.

    But when it comes to the bible, their common sense evaporates, and suddenly, the fact that God “gathered” the nations for war which included rape, doesn’t make him equally as guilty as the pagans actually committing those sex acts.

    It wouldn’t matter if your god gave human beings freewill…He obviously doesn’t think respecting that freewill is too important. In agreement with Zechariah cited above, Ezekiel says that God’s forcing a person to sin is appropriately analogized to the metaphor of god putting a hook in their jaws and turning them about:

    3 and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.
    4 “I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them splendidly attired, a great company with buckler and shield, all of them wielding swords; (Ezek. 38:3-4 NAU)

    The world would be done much good if Christian apologists would avoid arguing about how God is always good, if they first accepted everything their own bible says about their sadistic god.

    And if you believe God miraculously prevented the original human authors of scripture from error when they wrote, and did so without violating their frewill, then apparently your god has the actual capability of preventing sinners from erring, and without violating their freewill…necessarily implying, again, that your god is sadistic, because despite the availability of a less sinful drastic hurtful painful way of doing things, his choice is to make people war with each other.

    Reply
  3. Ed Vaessen says:

    “Why did God give the Canaanites so long to repent? Evidently, He had no desire to wipe them out, and hoped that future generations would stop the violent atrocities learned from their parents. ”

    God hoped….
    What a surprise for an all knowing being.

    Reply

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