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?