God of War: The War Texts

Anthony Weber —  July 14, 2012 — 8 Comments

In my previous post in the God of War series, I mentioned the violent, Old Testament “elephant in the room” that left me conflicted about God’s nature. We may not like how Christianity’s critics have been more than eager to point out God’s apparently  homicidal proclivities in the Old Testament, but we Christians have often stayed pretty far from these stories ourselves.

Speaking of the stories, here are some of the more difficult passages:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations — the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you —  and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.  Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.  This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. (Deuteronomy 7.1-5)

However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.  Completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites — as the LORD your God has commanded you.  Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 20.16 and following)

This is what the LORD Almighty says: `I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'” (I Samuel 15.2 and following)

There are other war passages similar to this, but you get the picture. Several questions immediately spring to mind:

  • Did God actually command Israel to do this, or did the Isrealites just invent this divine sanction to justify territorial greed or genocidal tendencies?
  • If God did command this, doesn’t wholesale slaughter of nations seem a little incompatible with a God who we claim is characterized by attributes such as Love and Mercy?
  • What in the end, do we learn about the nature of God? And will we like what we learn?

We will work our way through these questions starting with the next post, “God of War: Playing the Amalekite Card.”

Until then, here’s a question: What explanations have you been given concerning the passages I mentioned?

Anthony Weber


Anthony graduated from Cedarville University in 1995 with a degree in English Education, and from Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana in 2004 with a Master's Degree in Theology and Philosophy. Anthony is a husband and father of three, an author ("Learning to Jump Again"), high school and college teacher, pastor, blogger (tcapologetics.org, empiresandmangers.blogspot.com), and co-founder of etcetera, a "street-level philosophy group" in Traverse City, Michigan.

8 responses to God of War: The War Texts

  1. Explanations. 1) The Bible is not flat.  It is interpreted  through the saving act of Jesus which clarifies and corrects everything that came before and after.  2) The Bible reflects human understanding of God and this has evolved over time with a breakthrough in Jesus.  3) The Bible is the history of the people of God, reflecting their sometimes faulty understandings. 4) For the specific passages: God’s purposes are beyond our understanding and we will understand in the fullness of time.  And: 5) Religion is bloodthirsty and used as an excuse for tribalism and genocide.  6) The Bible is a collection of historical writings reflecting first tribal superstitious thinking and later the superstitions of a quasi-political movement.

    There are more, of course.  The Old Testament is a bloody collection of stories and does not lend itself comfortably and easily to literalist reading.  As my father used to say, no matter how you read it, you are interpreting it and any perspective reflects biases, sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious.

    • Lamar, it sounds like you are saying these stories record the Israelites’ flawed perception of what God was asking them. As such, these stories are meant to reveal the slow, painful process of humanities’ understanding of God.  Is that an accurate reflection of your position?   

      •  You asked what explanations I have been given.  Over the years there have been these and many more that would take to long to recall.  As a theological dilettante, my position probably looks fuzzy to trained theologians.  Basically I think the Bible is a history book the pages of which contain the cultural history, personal story and subsequent influence of Jesus, in whom I uniquely see God.  So I take great interest in it’s interpretation, but don’t struggle with the stories of Jesus cultural history, just like the extra-Biblical history of Judaic law is something that also interests me.  So, regarding the question of pacifism, the fact that Jesus came from a culture that so readily relied on violence and then uttered the phrase “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also”  (Luke 6:29), strikes me is incredibly significant.  It is like saying, “yes, you have been God’s people, but you really don’t get this.”  It is the contrast between Jesus cultural history and teaching and his instruction that is so striking. 

        • Anthony and Lamar – really enjoying the articles and the discussion between you too. Stumbled across this thread when researching the middle eastern cultures that have disappeared – and to be honest cultures that have disappeared due to Islam. Fascinating reading all of this. Lamar you raise excellent point re the coming of age of Christianity from war to forgiveness and makes me think that there could be an argument that the Koran is actually the faiths old testament which is unfortunately totally bastardised by the continual “updating” through present day “imam” interpretation. Thank you both.

          • idonotknowhatusernametochoose November 1, 2015 at 11:07 pm

            Islam did not come into existence until hundreds of years after the book of Revelation was written.
            Regarding the other comments by you and the others: no comment, for now, except to say that I agree with the article after this one by the same writer. He did his homework, like the Bereans.

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