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If you don't think the bible condones murder, genocide and infanticide, what is your interpretation of the atrocities demanded in Joshua by your God? Have you forgotten Psalms 137:9; 2 Kings 15:16; Hosea 13:16; Genesis 22:1-18; 1 Samuel 15:3 among hundreds of others?
Thank you for your question. It is obviously a very controversial one, and one that causes many people to stumble as they consider the claims of Christianity. I hope therefore in these few words to give a good defence of what the Bible truly teaches, and all I can ask is that you would be willing to genuinely come and consider the teaching of the Bible without any assumptions that you already know what it is saying. The truth is, if you come to this answer determined to discredit the teaching of the Bible then you will be unchanged by anything I can write, but if you are willing to be persuaded, you may be surprised at the conclusions you could reach.
Much could be written in answer to your question, but I will try to be brief with a few points of explanation. Firstly let us recognise what is fairly obvious, that the Bible is against murder. In the Ten Commandments we are told plainly that to murder is to break the law of God (Exodus 20:13). The issue is this: for a human being who has been given life by God to take away the life of another human being whose life was also given to them by God is clearly wrong. God is the giver of all life, and therefore He is the only one with the right to take life away.
You have stated that there are places in the Bible which seem to directly contradict this idea. In fact, there may well be a seeming contradiction even closer to the Ten Commandments than the verses you are suggesting. You see, very often in the rest of the law of God, Moses was told that the punishment for breaking the law was death. The people of Israel were to take the lives of their fellow countrymen when they had committed certain crimes (there are a number of examples in Exodus 21 & 22). It wasn't for individuals to take these laws into their own hands, but it was the responsibility of the leadership of the people to enforce them.
So let us ask the question, are these two ideas a complete contradiction contained within the very same book of the Bible? Absolutely not. The law that Moses received in the book of Exodus was given directly from God, who, as we've already stated is the only one with the right to take life away. In laying down this law God was showing his people that the just punishment for evil was sometimes for the life of the offender to be taken away - this isn't the same as the murder of one human being by another one, it is the justice system which as set up by God for His people to be governed well. Whatever our view on capital punishment nowadays, God had every right to set up this system with His people. God’s character demands that injustice must be punished, and so His nation was set up to clearly reflect this.
In fact the Bible teaches us that at the end of all things God will finally remove all wrongdoing from the world and set up his perfect Kingdom where righteousness will reign and lawlessness will be ended. These are all vital truths to understand and lay as a foundation as we try to understand some of what takes place in the Biblical narrative. God has a right to justly take the lives of wrongdoers when they deserve it.
So we move on to one of the major objections in your question - when God commands His people to destroy entire people groups (as in 1 Samuel 15:3). The answer to this is surely very similar to what we have written above in the first part of this answer. These events are not just times when God randomly gets angry at a people group and decides to destroy them on a whim. These were evil people committing wickedness and idolatry consistently over a period of decades if not centuries.
The Bible tells us that God is slow to anger (Psalm 103:8), and this is certainly the case with these people. He let them get away with their evil for years, but now was the time for justice. He had given them ample opportunity to recognise Him as the true God rather than the idols they worshipped (they would certainly have known of the events in Egypt and all that God had done for His people in rescuing them from slavery to Pharaoh), but these people refused to surrender, and suffered the consequences of their rebellion. Just as He gave His people the responsibility of administering justice within their own nation, so He was giving His people the task of being the agents of His justice in the world, and every punishment was absolutely deserved. God held out his hands to these people for many years, but they would not turn to him, and were therefore destroyed.
This is once again the God of the Bible being displayed as a God of justice who, when the time comes, must judge the evil in the hearts of men and women.
We are given a very clear picture of this with one of the nations that Joshua and his army destroy in the book of Joshua - the Amorites (Joshua 24:8). Roughly 500 years before Joshua invaded, God had been speaking to Abraham of the plan He had for His people - to go into slavery in Egypt for 400 years - but He then tells Abraham this:
“And they (God’s people) shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” Genesis 15:16
God was being patient with the Amorites - He gave them 500 years to respond to what they would have heard about Him, but they wouldn’t, and so the judgment eventually came.
I think if we’re honest, when you put it like that, we can see more clearly that God is not vengeful, vindictive, nor addicted to destruction. He is actually patient, compassionate, and wants to give space to men and women to turn and trust in Him. I’m sure the honest truth is, if it had been us in God’s position, would we really have given the Amorites so much time to respond, or do we really struggle to be patient for 5 minutes, let alone 500 years!
This leads us to the final, and most difficult part of your question, and we can effectively call it 'collateral damage'. Why is it that the children had to die with their parents? The truth is that a number of the verses you have mentioned in your question contain very emotive language about women with child being ripped open, which is never something that God commanded, and is a statement of what did happen to some nations when they were judged - Israel did not always carry out God’s instructions perfectly. However we cannot deny that God does command His people on a number of occasions to kill not just the adults but also the children of a people group as well. The children are clearly identified with their parents and their people group and appear to be punished for something they have had no real part in. You could at this point also bring up the possibility that there may be others in a people group who are not party to the evil and wickedness to the same degree as everyone else. For an example of this it would be worth reading the story of Rahab in Jericho (Joshua 2), or even Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19) for ways in which God rescues the righteous from these places doomed to destruction.
At this point too it would be really easy to try and rationalise the way God told His people to take the lives of all those children. I could talk about God not wanting His people to be influenced by the pagan culture of the people they were conquering, which is a very clear theme in the Old Testament, or I could probably come up with a few other theories as to why it happened, but I don't really want to do that. If I’m honest, I don't totally understand the reasons why God would take the lives of all those children, but thankfully my faith in God has room for things that I don't understand. The good that I have seen and known of God in my life leads me to trust Him, and I want to focus on what I do understand about Him rather than on what I don't.
With that in mind, let me go on to speak the truth that we do know about God which relates directly to what we're talking about; truth that gives us an entirely new perspective on life and death, and can transform the way we think about these kinds of situations. You see, this world is not all that there is, in fact, this world is in many ways insignificant compared to the one which is to come. The reason we sometimes get so emotionally involved in these kinds of issues in an unhelpful way is because we live completely in this world, and not in the world to come. We speak so much of the tragedy of young life being taken away, when in many instances it is highly possible that life has simply been transferred to a better place.
When any person leaves this world the Bible tells us that they will then face the judgement of God. We are told that God will weigh up the lives we have lived, the choices we have made, and the response we had to whatever revelation of Him we received, and what the Bible is very clear on is that this judgement of God is absolutely just and fair. If we were given a great chance in life He will judge us based on what we were given, if we received very little He will also take that into account. Therefore, though the Bible does not explicitly say so, it is highly possible that children who died so young they had barely begun to live their lives will be taken to live with God in heaven forever - infinitely better than any life they may have down here. This in no way justifies any human being taking the life of a young child - only God has the right to give and take life as we've already recognised, but it does give a completely different perspective to the one we can so often have.
We see death as a tragic end to everything, whereas the Bible sees death as a glorious beginning of something far greater than anything in this world, so why do we need to fear it and try to avoid it as much as we can? On the other side of that coin there will also be no-one who is separated from God in hell, the place of His judgement who will be able to say that given more time they would have turned to God, and therefore He has been unfair to them.
It’s only as we’re able to gain this eternal perspective that we will ever be able to see the world as God does, and then begin to understand all that He does.
We can think of this world as being like the adverts that we see at the cinema before the main film comes on - if someone walks right in front of us during an advert we don’t really care, it’s the film we’ve come to see. In the same way, if bad things happen to us in this world - suffering, pain, or even premature death - so long as we know we’re going to be able to see the main thing in heaven, it shouldn’t really bother us nearly as much as it does. Don’t get me wrong, we should never be flippant about pain and suffering, but we should be able to say with Paul that the sufferings we experience in this world are ‘light and momentary’ (2 Corinthians 4:17) and not even worth comparing to the glory that will one day belong to those who have trusted in God.
So my friend, I hope that what we have gone through has helped in answering your question, but I don’t want to leave it there. You see the most important thing to come out of this answer is not just that we would understand what happened to other people thousands of years ago, but that we would understand what it means for us. The God of the Old Testament is still the same today, and that has serious implications for us. Firstly it means that God is still a God of justice, and will still punish the sin in all of our lives.
Whether you see yourself as a particularly bad person or not is of no consequence - God who sees everything, your words, deeds and even your thoughts will one day bring everything into the open and will judge you on your life, and most importantly will judge you on your response to Him. The Bible tells us that if you think you will stand on that day and not be found guilty, you are deceiving yourself, for everyone will be found guilty and deserving of the righteous judgment of God.
However, there is good news - right now, if you are still alive in this world, God is being patient with you, and giving you a chance to turn to Him. The Bible teaches that God has done everything that was necessary that we could be forgiven of our sin. Jesus Christ, the God-man, who lived a perfect life in this world, died in our place taking our punishment so that, if we turn to Him, we could be forgiven of every sin and come to know God. Jesus didn’t stay dead, but rose from the grave on the third day, and therefore He is able to save anyone who comes to Him, and this is what is absolutely critical for you.
Don’t allow yourself to be caught up in what you don’t understand about God - if God isn’t there then the suffering in the world is even more pointless and depressing. He is real, and He is calling out to you today to come to Him that He might give you real life - life that begins now and will continue on for all eternity.
I urge you today to turn to Jesus, receive forgiveness for your sins, and a hope that goes beyond death.
You can watch a video explaining what Jesus has done for you on the main part of our website: www.lookingforGod.com
In closing I want to encourage you to take your questions to the leaders of a church that is local to you - I’m sure they would welcome the chance to help you with these issues. If you do not know of a local church near to you, then our church finder may well be able to help you to find one, and I encourage you to do so to help in your journey towards God:
Meanwhile, we invite you to engage some more with our Interactive Answer Matrix and maybe even pose another query. Our helpful staff are daily waiting and prayerfully ready to try and bring a Biblical response to your sincere questions, and will be delighted to tell you more about Jesus Christ the Lord, the Saviour of the world.
Here are some more Bible Verses for your further consideration:
- Exodus 13:1-16
- 2 Peter 3:1-10
- 2 Corinthians 5:1-10
*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise
*If anything in this answers affects you directly, then please feel free to call our confidential prayer line in the UK on 0845 4567729, where trained Christian volunteers will take your call and pray both for you and with you. If you are outside of the UK then you may submit your request for prayer on line at http://www.ucb.co.uk/prayerline
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