In the previous post, I noted that the war texts show how God implemented justice on a particular Canaanite people group that was outstandingly evil. (William F. Albright, famed archeologist, described the Amalekite religion as “perhaps the most depraved religion known to man.”)
We may not like that war was involved, but we must enter into the world as it was to to fully understand the big picture. This was a world in which every people group gauged their god’s authority and power by the quality of their own lives. If they were rich and strong, they believed their gods liked what they were doing. If they failed to flourish or were conquered, apparently their god was unhappy or another god was stronger (think of the Ark of the Covenant vs. Dagon in 1 Samuel 5, or the clash between Moses and Pharoah). You may find this to be simply a lot of superstition, but in the context at that time, the God of the Israelites was challenging the God of the Amalekites in a manner that was understood by both cultures.
However, a key question still remain: Even if the judgement was justified and the actions were understood, is their punishment defensible? I am going to argue in the following posts that a clear reading of the Old Testament mitigates agains a God of cruelty and genocide by highlighting four key factors that contextualize and clarify what was actually happening:
- God waited and warned the people groups involved;
- He commanded the Israelites to accept and assimilate any immigrants from these nations, clearly showing God was not interested in genocide;
- He sought not to destroy individual people, but to destroy the religious and cultural centers that promoted their particular evil;
- He exercised lex talionis (a principle which says that punishment cannot exceed the crime).