WAS THE GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT HOMICIDAL? PART 1: THE INHABITANTS OF THE PROMISED LAND
By way of a prelude, the point of this mini-series is not to attempt to justify the killings of God in the Old Testament. I believe God has an absolute right to kill, as He Himself says,
“Now see that I, even I, am He,
And there is no God besides Me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:39)
The point of this is to present another side to the story. One which atheists and sceptics would never in a million years present to their audience. The point is to show that these killings did not happen for no reason at all. Whether or not you agree with these scriptural reasons is entirely your business, my aim is to point you to these reasons nonetheless. With no further ado, welcome to the “Was the Old Testament God Homicidal?” series.
God commanded the Israelites to eject the inhabitants of the promised land from it. The promised land, as a result, was conquered piece by piece in a series of wars led by Joshua, Moses’ successor, between Israel and it’s erstwhile inhabitants. This has prompted the now dead Christopher Hitchens to ask, “Is this really how God does real estate?”. The question remains though, why would God endorse this?
The simple answer? Judgment of the wickedness of the inhabitants of the promised land! We often think of these inhabitants of the promised land as ordinary people going about their everyday lives innocently until the Israelites come knocking at their doorsteps to wipe them out. However, God was very clear to the Israelites regarding the reason inhabitants of the land were being wiped off,
“Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.”
The “things” God referred to were listed in Leviticus 18:6–23. They were mainly laws regarding incest, homosexuality, bestiality and child sacrifice by fire to Molech. (irrespective of your thoughts on homosexuality, we can at least agree on incest and the killing innocent babies by burning them in fire bits). Although the general word of warning from God to Israel was not to walk in the ways of the nations around them. Even chapter 18 of Leviticus begins,
“According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 18:3-4)
Where is the mercy of God in all of this one might ask? Well, God gave the inhabitants of the promised land ample time to repent. Some 400 years before these wars began, God said to Abraham,
“Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:13)
So God was monitoring the iniquity levels of the inhabitants of the promised land until it “became complete" or “full” as KJV puts it. A process that lasted at least 400 years.
Again just to show God’s justice system being uniform and impartial, He warned the Israelites not to walk in the ways of the nations that lived in the land before them otherwise the land would spew them out and true to His word, the moment Israel began to walk after other gods and indulge in diverse sexually immoral practices, God ensured the Israelites were taken captive as well.
“In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and they had feared other gods,
and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the Lord had cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they had made.
Also the children of Israel secretly did against the Lord their God things that were not right, and they built for themselves high places in all their cities, from watchtower to fortified city. They set up for themselves sacred pillars and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree.
There they burned incense on all the high places, like the nations whom the Lord had carried away before them; and they did wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger,
for they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.”
Yet the Lord testified against Israel and against Judah, by all of His prophets, every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets.”
Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God.
And they rejected His statutes and His covenant that He had made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He had testified against them; they followed idols, became idolaters, and went after the nations who were all around them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them that they should not do like them.
So they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.
And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger.
Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone.” (2 Kings 17:6–18)
Over and over again in the above verses, the echo was “Israel started to behave like the inhabitants of the promised land. What was the result? The same fate that befell the inhabitants of the promised land befell them as well. Wickedness is wickedness irrespective of who is committing it and God’s judgment fell on Jew and Gentile alike in the Old Testament.
Judah, the last remnant of Israel was also removed from the promised land by Nebuchadnezzar, scripture cites the atrocities of Manasseh as the reason God had to wipe out Judah as well (2 Kings 23:26). 2 Chronicles 33:1–9 gives us the details,
“Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem.
But he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel.
For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; he raised up altars for the Baals, and made wooden images; and he worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.
He also built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem shall My name be forever.”
And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord.
Also he caused his sons to pass through the fire in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom; he practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger.
He even set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever;
and I will not again remove the foot of Israel from the land which I have appointed for your fathers — only if they are careful to do all that I have commanded them, according to the whole law and the statutes and the ordinances by the hand of Moses.”
So Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel.”
Again, similar to Israel, Judah’s captivity was as a result of their following the footsteps of the previous inhabitants of the promised land.
As a matter of fact when Israel’s captors initially started living on the land, they followed their own whims and God sent lions to destroy them…they were so afraid that they had to get some Israelite priests to show them how they ought to love in the land. They then ended up in this strange place where they followed after their own gods but feared the God of Israel (2 Kings 17:24–41).
Point is…and this would be a running theme in this miniseries, wickedness of human beings is one of the major reasons God killed people in the Old Testament.
Even in the time of Noah,
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5)
“But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord killed him” (Genesis 38:7)
I conclude this article on this note. The times we live in definitely plays a role in our thinking with respect to whether or not God has a right to kill. If you lived under the regime of a king, the old days of kings not the current nominal kings we have these days, a king decided who died and who lived in the course of administering justice…or simply just to satisfy his whims and caprices. You could disagree with his decision but it was not in doubt that, as king, he had that right.
Now how much more does a just God, the very author of life have a right to take away a life He gave in the first place? Especially when the life is spent in perpetuating wickedness?