Bible Questions?

Why did God command killing in the Old Testament?

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While spending time with friends, a question was asked regarding violence in the Old Testament. The issue with which they were struggling was a question about the command not to “commit murder”, yet God commands Isreal to “destroy” the Canaanites and, later on, the Amalekites (Deuteronomy 20:16-18; 1 Samuel 15:2-3, etc.) Does this mean God commits murder? I am sure this is a common question you may have encountered when speaking to someone about Jehovah God, or you may be struggling to understand.

People often judge God’s actions as though He is just another human and according to our standards. Instead, we need to know that God is the creator, ruler, and judge over all His creation. He is the supreme standard of good and evil. His judgments on His creation are always just and fair. The morality of God is different to the ethics of the world. His standards are much higher than ours, and His standards are the ultimate authority with which the world will be judged. It doesn’t matter what you think is right or wrong; rather, it matters what the creator determines is right and wrong. God is holy, and all his ways are just. Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”

As an example, the world considers various sexual sins acceptable; they consider abortion and the killing of unborn babies as acceptable, etc. Because of our sinful nature, we have a distorted view of who God is and of His righteous requirements. Next, it is God’s right to do what He pleases with His creation. God gives us life because He has willed it and takes it away when it pleases Him. God is the sovereign ruler over all His creation. He does not owe us anything, nor is He answerable to any human authority. Because of our sins, we deserve punishment from God, but we live and breathe because of His common grace upon people. Job 1:21 says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

In the Old Testament, when God led the people of Israel, it was a “theocracy”. That is to mean that “Jehovah” was the ruler of Israel. So, there was a political perspective to His rule. In fact, God used His people as an instrument to bring about judgment at that time. Scriptures teach us that God brought the people of Israel to Cannan, the promised land, not because of their righteousness but because of the wickedness of the people living there and God’s promise to Abraham. Deuteronomy 9:5 says, Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

Jehovah tells Abraham that His descendants will be enslaved in Egypt for 400 years until the Amorites’ sins reach their full measure (Genesis 15:16). They were an exceedingly sinful nation. They indulged in sexual immorality, child sacrifice, idolatry and all kinds of abominations. In Leviticus 18, we are told that the iniquity of the Canaanites was so full of evil and wickedness that the land would vomit them out because of the extent of their sin. Leviticus 18 lists the types of corruption that these nations were engaged in.

So, God brings judgment on these nations through His people Israel. As mentioned above, this was due to their sin. One of God’s attributes is His justice, and His perfect love is also portrayed when He carries out justice. Justice involves punishing evil doers according to God’s standards. This is why God commands the Israelites to kill the Canaanites and other nations. Not only were they so full of sin, but if any were left remaining, they would corrupt the nation of Israel, which eventually did happen. Yet God allowed them to continue for another 400 years before His judgment. It did not cause them to repent; instead, their sins got worse until they reached their full measure, and then judgment was bought about by the people of Israel (Genesis 13:15-16).

There are some examples where mercy was shown towards those who repented, turning to God, such as Rahab and her family in Joshua 2:9 and the Gibeonites in Joshua 11:19. At the same time, there were specific warfare laws described in Deuteronomy 20:10-20, where God allowed Israel to spare people if the battle was outside the promised land. If the war was within the cities of the promised land, then Israel was to commit it to “total” destruction and not spare anyone. This was because the covenant community of God demanded purity and holiness. Failure to remove anyone unrepentant from the lands meant the possibility of pulling down the entire nation to lead down the path of idolatry, injustice, and evil. 

Deuteronomy 12:29-32 says, “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.”

Likewise, in the present age of grace, the church is not under a theocracy; instead, we are exiles passing through (1 Peter 2:11). Now God has placed governments worldwide to bring about justice. We see the act of capital punishment being enacted in many nations as a form of justice for those who have raped, murdered, and committed all sorts of heinous crimes. We are to respect governing authorities that God has placed over us. Yet they continue to fail, and they are not part of the church of Christ, and our ultimate authority is the word of God. 

There is coming a time when God will have the final judgment upon all the earth. This judgment will include the living and the dead; everyone must answer to God. We read about these events in the book of Revelations and across the new testament books. The same types of sins committed by those nations are now being committed today. There is an increase in sexual immorality, the killing of children through abortion, and the practising of idolatry (Colossians 3 describes modern forms of idolatry).

In conclusion, trust the actions of God, seek to understand His ways, and know that God is holy, righteous, just, and at the same time, full of amazing love, forgiveness, merciful, and gracious. That is why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice for sin. He is the lamb that takes away the sins of the world, and anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved (John 1:29; Romans 10:13). Amen.

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