How do Christians explain the genocide passages in the Bible?

I want to answer a follow up question to last week’s article about Christianity and violence. If the Bible teaches all men should love one another then why do Deuteronomy 7:1-6 and Deuteronomy 20:17-18 tell us that God commanded the Israelites to wipe out entire groups of people? This is a significant question. Some have attempted to get around these difficult passages by saying they mean something else. That is a tempting but unacceptable solution to the problem. If the passages in question do not mean God commanded utter destruction of entire tribes, then it is impossible to determine any real meaning from those passages. A natural reading leads to one inevitable conclusion. God commanded the nation of Israel to eradicate entire tribes of people.

God is not evil for decreeing the destruction of a people or nation. As the Creator, Kign and Judge of all humanity, God has the authority to execute judgment how and when He wishes. When God created Adam and Eve, He warned them the consequence of disobedience would be death (Genesis 2:17). On the day man sinned God condemned all humanity to death. Everyone who dies does so because God has decreed the destruction of all humanity. Later in human history, God destroyed all but eight people. In the flood God put to death millions, possibly hundreds of millions, of men, women, children and infants. Still later God destroyed two major cities and their surrounding villages. He wiped Sodom and Gomorrah off the map, killing all but three people. In the days to come God will once again pour out His judgment on humanity. During the time of the Tribulation, billions of people will be killed by the catastrophic judgments of God. God is the Creator, King and Judge of all humanity. He is righteous in executing judgment on men. Though it is disconcerting to consider the justice and wrath of God, we cannot attribute evil to God for exercising His just wrath.

We are disturbed by the commands for Israel to destroy the tribes of Canaan because God is commanding a nation, an army and its individual soldiers to put to death women and children, even infants. The troubling question is how can a loving God command His people to kill non-combatants and to annihilate a whole group of people? Though the command to the Israelites is extreme, it is not out of keeping with the character of God. Since the days of Noah God has used men as His instruments of justice. He appointed governments to be ministers of the sword. He gave to governments the responsibility of executing capital punishment.

Israel was a nation uniquely set apart by God. They were a holy people unto the Lord. They were a nation governed by unique laws, given a unique territory and holding a genuine national identity. God’s use of a nation to bring judgment upon another nation is not contrary to His character. Passages like Isaiah 45 shows that God uses nations as a means of bringing punishment upon other nations. To begin to understand these passages, one must consider the nations under God’s condemnation. The nations inhabiting Canaan were extremely wicked. They were idolaters routinely practicing a wide variety of immoral sex acts as part of their worship of false gods. They offered human sacrifices and even killed their children at the altars of their false gods. They were demon worshipers serving devils that they imagined to be real gods. God in His justice determined to destroy these nations because of their awful depravity.

In the end we must be content to trust the justice of God. Israel was not acting out of malice or a mistaken sense of racial superiority. No megalomaniacal tyrant decreed Israel destroy the nations so he could elevate his prestige. No self-declared superman demanded Israel exterminate all those he deemed inferior. Israel did not devise this course on her own. The nation was following the command of an all wise, just God. Israel was acting under the command of God as the agent of God’s justice. We naturally cringe at the thought of the death of so many. The wages of sin are terrible and passages like this bring home the enormity of sin’s hideousness. We must let the truths of God’s holiness, justice, goodness and wisdom give comfort to our troubled hearts. We must remember that the Judge of all the earth will always do right.

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4 thoughts on “How do Christians explain the genocide passages in the Bible?

  1. And God does not change, he is the same God of new testament. So will history repeat itself again?

    • The book of Revelation is the most detailed description of the coming judgments of God. These judgments will be worse than anything this world has seen. Though the Bible does not tell us that God will command one nation to destroy another, Revelation does tell us that Jesus will wipe out the armies of the nations that rebel against Him. He will then execute judgment on all living who have rejected Him. All who refused to submit themselves to Him will be condemned and cast into hell. There is coming a day when none will be left alive on earth except those who have turned to Jesus for salvation. Truly, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

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