Putting Old Testament violence in perspective

There were times in the Old Testament where God ordered the killing of all the people, and even animals, in a town. When reading those verses it is easy to think that God is unjust. It’s easy to judge God, the only being in the universe who is truly just. But what a double standard we humans use!

For example, I am an American. America was founded on some great injustices against both African Americans and Native Americans. Many of our Founding Fathers forcibly held innocent men, women, & children in life-long bondage; making them work without pay; forbidding them to read the Bible or any other book; breeding them like cattle (sometimes forcibly fathering their own slave children); and having them brutally punished if they disobeyed them. And yet, many of the men who did such things are still considered great — George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, for instance. How can people judge God so harshly, yet whitewash the grievous cruelty of America’s early human traffickers?

Another example is that untold numbers of Native American men, women, and children were slaughtered over the years. However, accurate records were not kept and most those who ordered such acts were not held accountable. One American President, Andrew Jackson, even went against the Supreme Court to order the removal of all Indians east of the Mississippi River, leading to the death of many thousands of innocent men, women and children. Why do so many people want to accuse the righteous God, but justify Andrew Jackson and others who practiced genocide against Native Americans?

According to the book Fire Sites by Jörg Friedrich, around 600,000 German civilians were killed by the Allies’ World War II bombing raids on the general population in German cities. This including 76,000 German children. So why aren’t the American, the British, and other allies judged for their cruel killing of 600,000 innocent men, women, and children. Is it fair to give them a pass while judging God for Israel’s violence? Is it somehow different to kill innocent people with bombs rather than with swords?

And what about President Harry Truman’s order to drop two atomic bombs on two Japanese cities that resulted in the slaughter of 300,000 or so innocent men, women, and children? Is it fair to let Truman off the hook for the people he ordered killed, while judging God for His orders in the Bible?

History is full of accounts of political and military leaders ordering the slaughter of innocent people, yet still being considered great and wonderful people. Why aren’t those who ordered such acts judged harshly? Perhaps it is because we humans feel justified in using violence to get our way. We think it’s okay to kill civilians if it is for “a good cause” (usually meaning our country’s cause); but we don’t want God to use violence for His purposes.

Another example of killing defenseless people is the violence against the most innocent form of human life — the child in the womb. Preemies have done nothing to deserve death, yet millions of them are killed every year. Personally I don’t see any difference between abortion and killing children after they are born. In both cases, innocent life is taken. Many people and governments support abortion. If we approve of killing the unborn, how can we judge God, the giver of life?

I don’t fully understand why God commanded Israel to kill civilians. I do know that, if anyone in the universe has pure motives and the ability to use violence justly, it is God alone, not human leaders.

So here’s a question. If you can overlook the atrocities of your country, your leaders, and your heroes, why won’t you trust that the Creator had a pure and just reason (bigger than you can understand) for what He commanded ancient Israel?

About Steve Simms

I like to look and think outside the box. In college I encountered Jesus Christ and I have been passionate about trying to get to know Him better ever since. My wife and I co-lead a non-traditional expression of the body of Christ in Nashville based on open participation and Spirit-led sharing. We long to see the power and passion of the first Christ-followers come to life in our time. I have written a book about our experiences called, "Beyond Church: An Invitation To Experience The Lost Word Of The Bible--Ekklesia" that is available in Kindle & paperback @ http://amzn.to/2nCr5dP
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5 Responses to Putting Old Testament violence in perspective

  1. Bill Samuel says:

    I can’t justify the atrocities committed by white Americans over the centuries. I keep pointing out to people our horrendous history, in the belief that our country must recognize its evil deeds, repent of them, and turn away from evil. So your premise to the question doesn’t fit me.

    I don’t agree that because the Hebrew scriptures say God ordered something, it necessarily means God did indeed do that. The Bible was written by human beings. There is a development in understanding about God. The writers are recording their own understanding of God. It is, of course, imperfect. I don’t believe God ordered discrimination against those with disabilities, genocide or many other things the Hebrew scriptures claimed God did. I believe the Bible must be read in the light of Jesus Christ.

    • Steve Simms says:

      I was an agnostic who didn’t believe the Bible until I encountered the risen Christ and began to listen to Him and follow Him. One of the first things I felt prompted to do was to begin to read the Bible. I started in the New Testament and soon began to believe the words of Jesus (that were written in red). I read it for hours a day for years. After a few months I began to believe the entire New Testament, not because of tradition, but because it works in my life. As I continued to read, I gradually came to believe the Old Testament as well, for the same reason. I believe that God accurately communicated His truth through the Bible. Of course some parts are allegorical, but the Old Testament history books are accurate history. When I read the Bible, I am deeply moved by God’s presence and revelation. So, I am thankful that we live in a time where we are both free to be honest and open about our beliefs. Let’s hope that freedom is never taken away from us.

  2. oakside says:

    I agree with Bill. In the OT God was revealing himself little by little — weaning them of the violent milieu in which they lived, bringing them from believing in a tribal deity to follow the King of the Universe. And one great day they were ready for him to come to earth — Jesus, God incarnate, whose life and teaching subverts all the violence of worldly reason and shows how pure love triumphs through cross and resurrection.

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