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The following is an answer to that question that I wrote at the request of the New Attitude folks (now called Next). I thought it might be helpful to post here.


This is a good, hard question. The way we answer it will both reflect and inform our understanding of justice and mercy.

The question is about what happens in the book of Joshua when God commands Israel to slaughter the Canaanites in order to occupy the Promised Land. It was a bloody war of total destruction where God used his people to execute his moral judgment against his wicked enemies. In moving toward an answer it will be helpful to think carefully about the building blocks of a Christian worldview related to God's justice and mercy.

1. As the maker of all things and the ruler of all people, God has absolute rights of ownership over all people and places.

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1) "and the sea and all that is in them" (Act 14:15). This means that "The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein" (Ps. 24:1). As God says, "All the earth is mine" (Ex. 19:5) and "every beast of the forest is mine" (Ps. 50:10). God's ownership of all means that he is also free to do as he wishes over all things. "Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases" (Ps. 115:3). Within this free sovereignty God "determined allotted periods and the boundaries of [each nation's] dwelling place" (Acts 17:26). God has Creator rights, and no one can say to him, "What are you doing?" (Job 9:12).

2. God is not only the ultimate maker, ruler, and owner, but he is just and righteous in all that he does.

Abraham asks God the same question that we are asking, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (Gen. 18:25). The implied answer is, "By all means!" This is the flip side of Paul's question in Romans 9:14: "Is there injustice on God's part?" Paul's answer: "By no means!" Moses will later proclaim, "The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he" (Deut. 32:4).

It is commonplace in our culture to ask whether this or that was fair or just for God to do. But if you stop to think about it, the question itself is actually illegitimate. Merely asking it presupposes that we are the judge; we will put "God in the dock" and examine him; God must conform to our sense of fairness and rightness and justice--if God passes the test, well and good, but if he doesn't, we'll be upset and become the accuser. Perish the thought. As Deut. 32:4 says, "all God's ways are justice"--by definition. If God does it, it is just. To think otherwise is the ultimate act of arrogance, putting your own mind and opinions and conceptions as the ultimate standard of the universe.

This does not, however, preclude humble questioning and seeking in order to gain greater understanding. While it is ultimately illegitimate to ask if God's ways are just in securing the Promised Land, it is perfectly appropriate and edifying to seek understanding on how God's ways are just--whether in commissioning the destruction of the Canaanites or in any other action. This is the task of theology--seeing how various aspects of God's truth and revelation cohere.

3. All of us deserve God's justice; none of us deserve God's mercy.

As noted above, God is absolutely just in all that he does. The only thing that any of us deserve from God is his justice. We have broken his law, rebelling against him and his ways, and divine justice demands that we receive divine punishment in proportion to our traitorous, treasonous rebellion. It is fully within God's rights to give mercy, but he need not give it to all--or to any. It is also helpful to note that in biblical history, an act of judgment on one is often an act of mercy for another (e.g., the flood was judgment on the world but a means of saving Noah; the plagues were judgment on the Pharaoh but a means of liberating Israel). Likewise, the destruction of the Canaanites was an act of mercy for Israel.

4. The Canaanites were enemies of God who deserved to be punished.

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"--"None is righteous, no, not one"--and "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 3:23; 3:10; 6:23). Therefore if God destroyed Adam and Eve after the fall he would have been entirely just. When he wiped out over 99.99% of the human race during the time of Noah, he was being just.

Sometimes we can mistakenly think that God just wanted to give his people land and kicked out the innocent people who were already there. But in reality, the Canaanites were full of iniquity and wickedness, and God speaks of the land vomiting them out for this reason (cf. Gen. 15:6; Lev. 18:24-30; Deut. 9:5). All of this is consistent with the fact that God "avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people's land" (Deut. 32:43).

It's also important to note Deut. 9:5, which says that Israel's possession of the land and the Canaanites' being kicked out would not be due to Israel's righteousness, but would rather be on account of the Canaanites' wickedness. God very pointedly tells Israel that if they do not follow the Lord and his law, then they will suffer the same fate as the nations being vomited out of their land (cf. Lev. 18:28; Deut. 28:25-68; cf. also Ex. 22:20; Josh. 7:11-12; Mal. 4:6). God gave his special electing love to Israel (cf. Deut. 7:6-9), but his threats and promises of punishment for unfaithfulness show his fairness and his commitment to justice.

5. God's actions were not an example of ethnic cleansing.

The Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) provides laws for two types of warfare: (1) battles fought against cities outside the Promise Land (see Deut. 20:10-15), and (2) battles fought against cities within the Promised Land (Deut. 20:16-18). The first type allowed for Israel to spare people; the second type did not. This herem practice (the second type of warfare) meant "devotion/consecration to destruction." As a sacred act fulfilling divine judgment, it is outside our own categories for thinking about warfare. Even though the destruction is commanded in terms of totality, there seems to have been an exception for those who repented, turning to the one true and living God (e.g., Rahab and her family [Josh. 2:9], and the Gibeonites [Josh. 11:19]). What this means is that the reason for the destruction of God's wicked enemies was precisely because of their rebellion and according to God's special purposes--not because of their ethnicity. "Ethnic cleansing" and genocide refer to destruction of a people due to their ethnicity, and therefore this would be an inappropriate category for the destruction of the Canaanites.

6. Why was it necessary to remove the Canaanites from the land?

In America we talk about the separation of "church" and "state." But Israel was a "theocracy," where church and state were inseparably joined and indistinguishable, such that members of God's people had both political and religious obligations. To be a citizen of Israel required being faithful to God's covenant and vice-versa.

The covenant community demanded purity, and egregious violations meant removal (e.g., see Deut. 13:5; 17:7, etc). This also entailed the purity of the land in which they were living as God's people, and failure to remove the unrepentant from the land meant that the entire nation would be pulled down with the rebellious, resulting in idolatry, injustice, and evil (e.g., Deut. 7:4; 12:29-31)--which sadly proved to be the case all too often under the old covenant.

Christians today are not in a theocracy. We are "sojourners and exiles" (1 Pet. 2:11) with no sacred land in this age. We live in the overlap of the old age and the age to come--"between two places" (in the creation that groans--after the holy-but-temporary Promised Land and awaiting the holy-and-permanent New Heavens and the New Earth). In this age and place we are to respect and submit to the governing authorities placed over us by God (Rom. 13:1-5)--but they are not, and should not be, a part of the church (God's people called and gathered for Word and sacrament). Furthermore, God's gift of specific, special revelation to the whole church has now ended (cf. Heb. 1:1-2: "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son"). These factors combine to ensure that nothing like the destruction of the Canaanites--required for the theocracy of Israel to possess the physical land--is commissioned by God or is permissible for his people today.

7. The destruction of the Canaanites is a picture of the final judgment.

At the end of the age, Christ will come to judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 4:5), expelling them from the land (the whole earth). That judgment will be just, and it will be complete. That is the day "the Lord Jesus [will be] revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Amazingly enough, Paul asks the Corinthians something they seem to have forgotten, if they once knew it: "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? (1 Cor. 6:2).

How does this work? What will it look like? I really don't know. But God's Word tells us that God's people will be part of God's judgment against God's enemies. In that way, God's command of the Israelites to carry out his moral judgment against the Canaanites becomes a foreshadowing--a preview, if you will--of the final judgment.

Read in this light, the terrible destruction recorded on the pages of Joshua in God's Holy Word become not a "problem to solve," but a wake-up call to all of us--to remain "pure and undefiled before God" (James 1:27), seeking him and his ways, and to faithfully share the gospel with our unbelieving neighbors and the unreached nations. Like Job, we must ultimately refrain from calling God's goodness and justice into question, putting a hand over our mouth (Job 40:4) and marveling instead at the richness and the mystery of God's great inscrutable mercy (Eph. 2:4). At the end of the day we will join Moses and the Lamb in singing this song of praise:

"Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed." (Rev. 15:3-4)

Thanks to David Reimer, James Grant, Andy Naselli, and Jim Hamilton for reading a draft of this answer and offering counsel and encouragement. I also want to acknowledge the discussion in the Introduction to the book of Joshua in the ESV Study Bible, which was very helpful in thinking through this issue.

View Comments


48 thoughts on “How Could God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?”

    1. Brent says:

      What makes this a difficult question for me is that it was not only teenagers and adults whom God commanded to be killed, but infants as well (Joshua 6:17, 21 – “young and old”). We can easily read over those verses without pausing to envision what that meant – Israelite soldiers running babies through with their swords!

      It’s not difficult to understand why God would use Israel as an instrument of judgment against a wicked people like the Canaanites, but the Canaanite infants did not actively participate in that wickedness. It’s difficult to see God judging the Canaanite infants here for their own sins, since “sin is not imputed when there is no (revelation or consciousness of)law” (Rom. 5:13). And it’s difficult to see them being judged directly for the sins of their parents since “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself” (Ezek. 18:20).

      Perhaps God had Israel kill the Canaanite children for practical reasons (they’d one day grow up to avenge the deaths of their parents) or religious reasons (they’d revert to their pagan upbringing and undermine the faith of Israel). At the end of the day, I’m willing to simply acknowledge that God is just and He has the right to do whatever He pleases, whether I fully understand it or not. But I wish I had a more complete answer for this question, particularly as it relates to the infants who were killed. I’m open to the insights of others.

      1. Rob says:

        Well, I guess that many unbelievers may on the surface agree with you. But given so many of them are in favor of abortion, euthanasia, and so on, I guess they have given away any logical claim to criticize the God of the Bible as morally evil. To criticize such a God would be to condemn themselves.

        I guess the way I think about your difficult comments is to consider that even these children are NOT blameless, but actually intrinsically sinful. That is, their very nature is evil and anti-God. It is just that they have not grown enough to actually prove this fact.

        Perhaps if the murder of the unborn was done in the open rather than in abortion clinics, we would all find “blood and guts” a lot easier to swallow.

  1. Andy says:

    Also, remember that most of the Canaanites fled before the Israelites arrived. God promised to “drive them out” ahead of the nation. (Ex 23:29-31; Deut 9:3; Josh 23:5; etc) He only instructed destruction for the remaining holdouts. (And Israel even failed at this.)

    Rahab indicates that the Canaanites had advance warning of the Israelites’ approach (40 years, in fact), and were aware of the events surrounding the exodus from Egypt. She even indicates that the Canaanites knew that God was THE God of the universe, and that He was with the Israelites. (Josh 2:9-11) As you pointed out, the very fact that Rahab was spared indicates that God was extending grace to repentant Canaanites!

    Only the unrepentant who remained were killed – the die-hards, the holdouts, and those stubbornly defying God to the end.

    This guy has a very interesting and extensive analysis of the issue:

  2. Kevin Davis says:

    Very well done, Justin. Thanks. This is the best brief apologia on this topic that I’ve read.

  3. Andy says:

    Ultimately, it wasn’t really “genocide” at all, but rather “deportation.”

    Remember also that God swore that the same punishment would apply to the Israelites themselves if they followed the practices of the Canaanites. (Which they did, and indeed, the punishment followed.) That punishment was exile from the land, not genocide. (Although obviously and tragically, many, many deaths occurred during the Babylonian conquest.)

  4. Chris Zodrow says:

    Thanks for this.

    I have one thing to add. If one compares the places where Abraham set up worship with Joshua’s battle plan for Canaan, it is a nearly identical pattern. Abraham had been a witness to the area years before and set up altars as a witness to the people (Gen. 12:7, 8). Through this many had been converted to the faith. So, Jehovah did not simply come in and annihilate an ignorant people. Rather, He sent His people back to witness again, but this time with the sword. The sin of the people had reached its full measure (Gen. 15:16) and so now it was time for judgment.

    You could say that we are in the age of witness, and the next judgment is at Christ’s return. We still do battle, but like Paul said, “our weapons are not carnal…”.

    This is the kind of stuff that drives me to amill, even though when I am feeling peppy I tend toward post.

  5. NiftyDrewFifty says:

    I appreciate the interesting and thoughtful response Justin but I definitely share the difficulty with this that Brent has. I mean how would we view slaughtering Iraqi children like this nowadays despite how wicked their leader was?

    This issue has ultimately led me to not take the Bible as God’s literal word, well at least the OT. It makes this story, along with the commands for stoning disobedient children, forcing women to marry their rapists, allowances for owning and even beating slaves, and extensive directions for ox goring, to make a lot more sense if we believe that ancient Israelite men wrote this and not God. In fact, we do know that ancient Israelite men wrote this, its the “God Inspired” part that we actually take on total faith.

    Dostoyevsky in the “Brothers Karamozov” says: “Without God everything is permissible.”

    But actually to justify something like this is to essentially say: “With God anything is permissible.”

    We don’t accept this type of justifications from countries like Iran.

    1. Brent says:


      Brent, here. Just to clarify, I DO take the Bible in its entirety (OT & NT) as God’s authoritative, inspired Word to us. My question is not, “Was it right for the Israelites to have done this?” Clearly it was, since they were acting in obedience to God’s command. Rather, my question is, “Why did God include the children in this command?” Certainly He has a very good reason since He is a good and just God, but at this point, I can’t say that I fully understand what that reason is.

      The fact that we find a particular passage of Scripture confusing or personally offensive is not sufficient reason to throw it out. I am not personally troubled by some of the less-than-appealing aspects of the Mosaic Law that you raise, since the Mosaic Law was never intended by God to be a full and perfect representation of His moral standards for mankind. Jesus Himself said that in the Laws of Moses, God, in effect, “lowered the bar” because of the hardness of human hearts in such matters as divorce (Matt. 19:1-9) and perhaps others.

      But even with all the concessions to human stubbornness contained in the Law of Moses, mankind still couldn’t live up to its standards. And thus, the Mosaic Law, incomplete as it was, fulfilled its purpose – to show men their utter sinfulness and point them to their need of a Savior (Rom. 3:20-22; Rom. 7:5-13; Gal. 3:21-26). Jesus affirms the usefulness of the Mosaic Law in this respect, but points us to the fuller standards of righteousness contained in the New Covenant (Matt. 5:17-48), attainable only through justifying faith in Christ and the sanctifying power of His indwelling Spirit (Rom. 8:1-4).

      Understanding the purpose of the Mosaic Law in the overall theological context of the Bible will keep us from wrongly misjudging it or dismissing it entirely.


      1. Deb says:

        Brent, The reason why God commanded killing even the children of the Canaanites is because of Genesis 3:15.”I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring” which foretold the bloodline of the Messiah. All those geneologies in the OT foretold the coming birth of the Messiah. And the Canaanites were the serpant’s seed.

    2. steve hays says:


      “It makes this story, along with the commands for stoning disobedient children.”

      You mean, stoning juvenile delinquents?

      “Forcing women to marry their rapists.”

      That’s a malicious mischaracterization of the passage.

      “Allowances for owning and even beating slaves.”

      What’s your objection, exactly? For example, some Israelites became indentured servants to make restitution for financial crimes. Someone wrong with that?

      And some carrot/stick approach would be necessary to make that work.

      “And extensive directions for ox goring.”

      In an agrarian economy, why wouldn’t God given them instructions on that type of wrongful injury?

    3. Rob says:

      “But actually to justify something like this is to essentially say: “With God anything is permissible. We don’t accept this type of justifications from countries like Iran.”

      REPLY: I see no reason to believe this behavior is NORMATIVE for us today any more than it was for Israel way back when. If I am wrong, then please show us WHY it is normative at any time other than the events in question.

      In addition, if God spoke clearly to any of us — as he did to Joshua in this scene — and told us to do something, I suspect we would do it.

      Finally, God is going to condemn many to hell for eternity. This will be much worse than momentary pain before death. So in fact you will probably need to also reject much of the teaching of Jesus also.



  6. David Zook says:

    Thanks for the comprehensiveness and sound biblical reflection that went into this piece. I too wrestle with some of the comments outlined above, but the Bible tells us that his ways are higher than our ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

    Though I don’t understand all that God does, I trust that he has a purpose for his actions because he is morally pure and perfect. At the appointed time he will reveal his ways to me, if he so chooses.

    Meantime, I rest in his sovereignty.

  7. Does God use the death of certain people as a symbolic act, as a means to communicate his nature to mankind? One shocking example is Ezekiel’s wife. The innocent babies being run through as the land across the Jordan is “judged”.

    Justice (God’s OR ours)and death do not always go hand in hand in the bible, but perhaps God sometimes uses death to powerfully illustrate some aspect of the reality of his character? His justice being one facet of this character. But often, “unjust” death (by human standards) may be a reminder to all of us that life is not ours by right, but by the grace of God. It forces us to live in the light of eternity, or at the very least to live with reverence for the one over whom death has no control.

    The lord giveth and taketh away is a lesson in humility before our creator.

    Or is this just a woolly cop-out?

  8. NiftyDrewFifty says:

    Thanks Brent-

    I was not implying that you do not take the OT as God’s word, sorry if it sounded like I did.

    “the Mosaic Law was never intended by God to be a full and perfect representation of His moral standards for mankind.”

    How could we know what God intended? How could we know what He ever really said? – if anything, if God is even a He (an anthropomorhic label even the Bible can’t escape – another way that it points being man inspired). The faith you have that the OT is ultimately God’s inspiration is on no stronger ground then the faith I have that its not God’s word. This is a common mistake I see Christians making: they are given a book that claims to be from God and they feel like they have to swallow the whole thing or nothing at all. But we’re all just guessing.

    The same judgement I use to say that I don’t believe God would have ordered the stoning of children in Exodus is no different than the judgement people use to say God inspired Exodus.

    But the key difference is that I am not claiming what God commanded or didn’t and thereby justifying certain acts. Like I said before, the danger of essentially saying “its ok because God said so” is that it can be used to justify evil deeds. Islamic terrorists do it all the time with the Koran. The Spanish Christian Inquisitors did the same. The American Christians during the 1800’s used these very texts to justify enslavement of Africans. And if a Christian takes the OT as God’s inspired word then they are essentially justifying slavery as well! (and they can’t say: it was ok then in that culture but not ok now – because thats just moral relativism).

    So all that to say, I think by not just accepting that everything between Genesis-Revelation to be from God, we don’t have to justify deeds we would otherwise judge as morally reprehensible and would refuse to do if asked to ourselves, even if someone falsely claims that “God said it was ok”.

    1. Brent says:


      You’ve said that you don’t feel the need to accept everything from Genesis to Revelation as from God. I’m curious – which parts do you think are from God, and on what basis do you make that determination?


  9. jake says:

    I had searched your blog looking for this article to no avail and then contacted NEXT asking for a copy of it to use as a reference.

    Thanks for re-posting it. I find it super helpful.

  10. Jake Johnson says:

    I struggle with this topic as well. And I do believe the Bible to be divinely inspired and God to be sovereign. But these conversations are well and good when we can keep them at the theoretical level. I wonder how the tone would change if it were our wives, children, and infants that were being left to die with missing limbs and fatal wounds, or even if we were there to witness such brutal acts.

    It’s easy to objectify the pain and suffering of these Canaanite people – real human beings, men, women, and children, screaming in agony, the smell of blood and the rot of death in the air – when we are historically so far removed.

    As Justin pointed out, we must not forget that we are deserving of the same punishment – Romans makes that abundantly clear. We have been freely forgiven, given grace by God, a gift we did not earn (just as Israel did not deserve God’s favor), but that doesn’t make this jagged pill of a story easier to swallow if we take the time to mediate on it and subjectively place ourselves in the story.

    Stories like this should lead us to pray that all people would come to know God and experience the gift of grace, and so not face the wrath of God as it is so tangibly revealed in the Canaanite story.

  11. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    My puzzlement is of a tangential, but still important, matter.

    If someone (or a group of people) were to receive a command today to commit genocide, how would that person verify that it was a divine command from God? How would other people verify that the person receiving the command did indeed receive a divine command?

    Abraham was instructed to kill Isaac. Joshua was instructed to destroy Caanites. I’m perfectly at ease with that.

    But if something like that were to happen today, i.e., where someone said they had a divine command to kill or destroy another person or people, then I’m definitely not okay with that. I’d continually ask, “How do you know that’s from God?”

    If I got responses like “I had a vision” or “I had a dream” or “An angel came and told me”, I’d be EXTREMELY skeptical and think that the person is crazy.

    Thoughts, anyone?

    1. Deb says:

      Did you see my comments below? I attempted to address this from a somewhat different angle. Would be interested in your take on what I wrote there.

      1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

        Oh! Hi Deb,

        I didn’t know your comment was addressed to me so I just ran past it initially. I’m so sorry. Now that I’ve read it, I think it’s quite good and quite satisfactory. It works for me!

        Thanks for thinking out your answer and writing it for us.

        I’m much obliged.


  12. NiftyDrewFifty says:


    My own human judgement – the same process humans used to decide what books would be labeled as God’s word, how the books would copied before the printing press, how the books would be translated into modern day language, and how they are even interpreted today. How did you decide what books of the Bible are God’s divine word and on what basis did you come to that?

    Truth Divides –

    Definitely that was my very point from before. Put those verses into the context of today and none of us would accept it. Joseph Kony, the LRA leader in Uganda, claims to have a divine mandate from a Christian God to kidnap children and use them to kill the local populace. Do any of us accept this? We don’t, so why are the Caananites any different?

    1. Brent says:


      You asked me, “How did you decide what books of the Bible are God’s divine word and on what basis did you come to that?”

      I started with Jesus and asked myself whether He was, in fact, who He claimed to be — God in human flesh. I concluded that He was and is God – not through blind faith or by merely “guessing,” but by examining the evidence. I don’t have time to outline that evidence here, but you can find it in books like “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller or “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.

      Once you come to the conclusion that Jesus is God and that He can be trusted, then you can determine which parts of the Bible are trustworthy by looking at which parts of the Bible Jesus regarded as authoritative in His teachings. Here you quickly see that Jesus placed His stamp of approval on all of the Old Testament books that we now have in our Bibles (including the laws of Moses), and He also authorized in advance the writings of His apostles contained in the New Testament.

      If that kind of honest investigative process is what you have in mind when you talk about using “human judgment,” then God welcomes that kind of humble investigation. But if by “human judgment,” you simply mean that you accept what you like and reject what you find distasteful, then you’ve essentially created a God who can never contradict you, but can only tell you what you already believe or are willing to hear. I’m afraid that’s the very kind of thinking that has led to the worst kind of abuses you decry.


    2. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      “Put those verses into the context of today and none of us would accept it. Joseph Kony, the LRA leader in Uganda, claims to have a divine mandate from a Christian God to kidnap children and use them to kill the local populace. Do any of us accept this?

      Can you provide a link substantiating this claim?

      And to answer your question, NO, I don’t accept this.

      But then again, I don’t accept Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s claim to a divine vision either.

  13. This is a much harder topic than we often think. I mean imagine yourself as an Israelite soldier stabbing a baby to death. Such an act violates just about every moral intuition we have. And even if it was “just” it certainly would have devastating psychological effects on the stabber. Just think of the PTSD one would have when one returned to his homeland to love and care for infants in his family… I’m just not sure how the Israelite warriors could not have felt like moral monsters.

  14. steve hays says:

    Adam Omelianchuk

    “This is a much harder topic than we often think. I mean imagine yourself as an Israelite soldier stabbing a baby to death. Such an act violates just about every moral intuition we have. And even if it was ‘just’ it certainly would have devastating psychological effects on the stabber. Just think of the PTSD one would have when one returned to his homeland to love and care for infants in his family… I’m just not sure how the Israelite warriors could not have felt like moral monsters.”

    What’s the historical basis for your exercise in psychological projection? ANE warfare was very brutal. So what makes you think an ancient warrior would react the way you do?

    1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      “So what makes you think an ancient warrior would react the way you do?”

      Because Adam O. is an egalitarian and egalitarians like to project and emote.

    2. What’s the historical basis for your exercise in psychological projection? ANE warfare was very brutal. So what makes you think an ancient warrior would react the way you do?

      I was not making a historical argument per se. The basis for such a projection is the common humanity we share with the ANE peoples. War is brutal, and we both agree that ANE war was very brutal. Participating in such warfare no doubt effects the psyche of the participants in damaging ways. Consider the following two scenarios:

      1) Righteous Hebrew soldier who takes God’s Law seriously and lives a life of obedience is commanded to stab babies to death. Taking the Law seriously, however, has had the effect of forming a love and compassion for babies. The cognitive dissonance between loving and caring for babies in one context and stabbing them to death in another results in a tortured psyche.

      2) Indifferent Hebrew soldier participates in ANE warfare and does not bat an eye at stabbing babies. Such warfare has formed in him a callousness towards life that his attitude towards others incompatible with God’s Law to love others as himself.

      In either case, by participating in ANE warfare (stabbing babies), the warrior’s character is transformed into something that comes into the ethics of God’s Law that teach us to value life–the same laws we cite in our defense of the unborn.

      Moreover, if people today suffer from such psychological distress after participating in wars that abide by certain rules, it stands to reason that such distress would be greater in ANE “show them no mercy” warfare.

      Nothing I have said here should be controversial for the person who “has no problem” with God commanding the annihilation of the Canaanites. One can accept a divine command theory that makes such actions “just” and still feel the force of the argument I’ve made. Most believers do.

      Do you?

      1. the warrior’s character is transformed into something that comes into the ethics of God’s Law

        This should read “the warrior’s character is transformed into something that comes into CONFLICT WITH the ethics of God’s Law…”

  15. Deb says:

    Good basic start at answering this question; however, I assert that it sorely misses the mark for the meeting the redemptive historic gospel presentation opportunity that is opened by the questioner.

    In western society, and particularly in this country, Christians would would never expect to be commanded to destroy a Muslim or Hindu nation strictly because it is full of creatures who are guilty of abominable acts committed to idols. So, in addition to the justice question (we all deserve death), which only skims the surface IMO, most people are really asking why was it somehow okay, according to the Bible, somewhere, and at sometime in the past to destroy entire peoples/ ethnic groups? How can Christians believe the Bible is true, and yet not be okay with putting entire nations of people to death today for committing collective idolatry?

    That is the question behind the question that is actually being asked, and it provides a pivotal opportunity to accomplish full-on gospel proclamation. Time and time again, I see the answers to this question only addressing the justice asI would also be sure to present the following as well as :

    · this event (killing the Canaanites) was a unique requirement at a unique time fulfilling a unique role in redemptive history,
    · it was necessary to preserve the physical line of the Promised Messiah,
    · from Genesis 3, we know that the enmity between the seed of the messiah and the seed of Satan’s offspring will be at war and the Canaanites were used by Satan to attempt to exterminate God’s chosen people/the coming Messiah.
    · once the Messiah was born, the seed of the woman was consumated, and there is no longer an ethnic/bloodline.
    · Jesus the Messiah came to establish a “kingdom not of this world,” and without regard to race or ethnicity.
    · His seed – born again Christians — no longer fight with physical weapons or against flesh and blood, but against spiritual strongholds with spiritual weapons,
    · and His seed – born again Christains — come in the name of the crucified and risen Christ who came to offer eternal life to every tribe and every nation, that we might have life abundantly
    · the Messiah came to establish a new covenant and put an end to the enmity in Genesis 3, crying out from the cross: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

    1. Deb says:

      two more notes to go along with the previous comment:
      — Israel’s battle with the Canaanites in the OT, pictures the Christian battle with sin. We are to kill sin completely, taking no prisoners and leaving no collatoral damage.

      — Again, we have passed from the covenant age that was concerned with the preseveration of bloodlines, geneologies and vengence into the new, better covenant that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. What seems abhorant to us on this side of the cross — God’s people executing God’s judgment and vengence on God haters — was God’s decreed will for the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant.

      Ephesians 2:12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

      14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

      19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

      The redemptive story here is HUGE. And I don’t think we should downplay the distinction when we talk to doubters and unbeleivers.

      Does this make sense to anyone else?

  16. NiftyDrewFifty says:


    Thanks for the interesting back and forth. I hope you find it as informative as I do.

    As for your explanation of how you came to believe the Mosiac Law is God’s inspired word, I still don’t see why your approach is any less of a reliance on human reason than mine. You say that you believe it because Jesus mentions some of them (by the what about the books he doesn’t – why are those still Godly?)and you find the evidence for Jesus’ divinity very convincing likely by way of the witnesses to the resurrection (per Keller or Lewis).

    Well, setting aside the issue of whether any of those reasons are legimate evidences for the divinity of the Mosaic law, you have still used your own reason to get to that point. God never spoke to you directly about that (or did he :) ).

    So why is your reason necessarily more honest/better than mine? Again, ancient men did write those books – its the inspired part we take on faith!

    I don’t find the 2,000 year old reported eye-witnesses to the resurrection knock down proof for the divinity of Jesus. And I don’t even know what the original manuscripts even said because we don’t have them. And I know that the manuscripts we do have been altered and added to through the millenia of translation (read Erhman). And I know that at one point men decided which books were divine and which ones weren’t, excluding certain books that talked about Jesus.

    So based on that I reject the notion that the Mosiac law is necessarily from God and therefore don’t have to justify its evil parts. I mean look at this verse:

    “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.” Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NIV

    Would you force your sister/daughter to marry her rapist?

    Truth Unites:

    I have met an orphan myself in Northern Uganda whose parents were boiled alive by this cult. Its horrific.

    “Joseph Kony (born 1961) is the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a guerrilla group that is engaged in a violent campaign to establish theocratic government in Uganda, which claims to be based on the Christian Bible and the Ten Commandments.”

    1. Brent says:


      In my comments, I have never objected to the use of human reason. God expects us to use the reasoning faculties He has given us to ascertain truth. But when evidence leads us to truth that we find uncomfortable, we cannot dismiss it out of hand, simply because we find it uncomfortable. We must wrestle with it and study it and seek to understand it more fully, but at the end of the day, we must submit to it.

      With respect to Deuteronomy 22:28-29, you asked me, “Would you force your sister/daughter to marry her rapist?” The first point I would make is that the Bible teaches that Christians today are no longer under the Mosaic Law (Romans 6:14-15; Romans 10:4; Galatians 5:18; Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14), so the question of whether anyone should try to enforce these laws today is really a moot point. Having said that, however, if I were an ancient Jew living under the Mosaic Law, yes, I would have had great difficulty with my sister or daughter being forced to marry her rapist. However, despite what the NIV translation may say, rape is not in view in Deuteronomy 22:28-29. This can be demonstrated by a careful look at the context and the words that are used in these verses and parallel passages.

      In the preceding verses (23-27) which set forth case law for a variety of sexual situations, there is a clear and consistent distinction made between consensual and non-consensual sex. If a woman resisted the unwanted sexual advances of a man and cried out for help, then that woman would be regarded as innocent, while the man would be put to death. (This severe penalty demonstrates that the laws of Moses regarded rape as a far more serious crime than even our modern laws do.) If, on the other hand, in response to the sexual advances of a man, the woman did not cry out for help in settings where she presumably could have done so, then the Mosaic Law treated such cases as consensual sex.

      The question then is this: Is the sexual activity described in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 consensual or non-consensual? While the NIV translation says that the man “rapes her,” a more literal rendering of the underlying Hebrew would say that the man “grasps her and lies with her.” That might suggest rape or it might not. By the legal standard set forth in the preceding context, the way to determine this question would be to ask whether the woman cried out for help or not. The evidence would suggest that she did not cry out for help, since verse 29 says that the man and the woman “were discovered.” This strongly suggests that the two were caught in the act of consensual, premarital sex. This understanding is consistent with the parallel passage of Scripture in Exodus 22:16-17 which says, “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.” (NASB)

      Far from forcing women to marry rapists, these laws actually provided gracious protection for women. If a man seduced a woman, robbed her of her virginity, and then cast her aside, that woman would have been left in a very difficult position. In a culture where virginity was highly prized, it would have been nearly impossible for her to marry. And in an agrarian society where husbands and multiple children (who could work the fields) were not luxuries, but virtual necessities for survival, the woman would have been consigned to a life of singleness and poverty. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 basically said this to a man: “If you think you can get some cheap thrills by convincing a beautiful young virgin to join you in a quick one-night-stand, think again. You’d better be prepared to take full responsibility for her for the rest of your life.” Again, this regards women with a far greater dignity than our current laws and culture do.

      This post is already way too long, but I would just add that the New Testament manuscripts are far more reliable than you (and Ehrman) suggest. For a helpful summary critique of Ehrman’s arguments, see chapter 1 of “Dethroning Jesus” by Darrell Bock and Daniel Wallace.


  17. John Umland says:

    I think “Truth unites…” comes near to expressing the revulsion that people have with these stories. I don’t think anyone really has a problem with God doing the job, through plagues or earthquakes or hornets, but that he used humans as “righteous” agents of his will for large scale, indiscriminate total warfare is the issue. All these arguments are good and defend God well, except for the issue of why he used his chosen people to do such atrocities. This requires more thought.
    In the history of atrocities that I read, killing babies or innocents does not seem to bother soldiers in most wars. It’s not just ANE brutality, it’s human brutality. Read about the rape of Nanking for instance in WW2.
    God is good

    1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      John Umland: “All these arguments are good and defend God well, except for the issue of why he used his chosen people to do such atrocities. This requires more thought.”

      As I stated previously, I’m perfectly at ease with the divine commands and historicity of what happened in the Old Testament. Jesus, after all, wholly affirmed the Old Testament Scriptures.

      With regards to John’s statement of “why he used his chosen people to do such atrocities” I should like to flip the question around and ask instead “why did He have His chosen people suffer such atrocities to themselves?”

      God is Perfectly Good. God is Perfect Love.

      1. Deb says:

        John Umland: “All these arguments are good and defend God well, except for the issue of why he used his chosen people to do such atrocities. This requires more thought.”

        here is the reason: Genesis 3:15

      2. John Umland says:

        i don’t have a problem with God causing people to suffer, it’s how he refines us. i just don’t have a good answer to my faithless friends for why God commands his people to commit total warfare, when he could have used natural means or other pagan peoples. Genesis 3:15 doesn’t help me.
        God is good

        1. Deb says:

          Genesis 3:15 is where God initiates the promise of the Messiah, and draws the battle lines between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman (which will culminate in the Messiah). This is why all throughout the OT you see the geneologies spelled out. The enmity between Abraham’s descendents and the other nations, including Canaan, is initiated right there in Genesis 3:15. The Old Testament law demanded putting to death evildoers and God haters and that job was sometimes given to Israel. Canaan was the land that God promised and Israel was commanded to purify the land. Many of the Canaanites had already left when they heard of Israel’s coming, and we see that Rahab was saved. The point was obedience. That God’s people were to put sin to death and purify the promised land. In the OT, sin was embodied in the offspring of the serpant (non-covenant people). After the coming of Messiah, the seed of the woman came and the battle of the seed is now faith’s fight against sin – not flesh and blood any more. Israel’s fight against flesh and blood in the OT depicts the cause and effect of what happens when we don’t totally annihilate sin, but hold back on something (like AI).

          I’m not the best at describing all of this but I’m hoping someone else will jump in to help with unfolding it. You might also want to read my comments above and see if any of that makes sense.

          1. John Umland says:

            I get where you are coming from, it’s just not satisfying. It’s the God-initiated part that’s the sticking point. People being at each other’s throats is normal, but being commanded to perform total war is different.
            God is good

  18. NiftyDrewFifty says:

    Thanks Brent-

    That was an good take on the Deuteronomy verse….I really hope you are right. However even the woman didn’t “cry out” that could have still been rape…but who knows. Thanks for responding so thoroughly to that though…

    Well, I guess we just come down on different sides when it comes to the Mosiac law. Taking a step back on these verses it all just seems like a lot effort to justify an old ancient text with alot of laws that seem like they come from out of a different place in a different time – e.g. a whole chapter on ox goring – seriously :)
    But we will never know.

    Anyways, I’ve got enough for lifetime by trying to live my life like Jesus. I have struggled so much with these issues, my faith in God and the Bible in general. But I keep coming back to the fact that Jesus has called me to a life of love and I am starting to realize that this is where my attention should be paid. Its all that matters for now. Kinda like Keats said:

    “Beauty is truth, truth is beauty, that is all you know and all you need to know!”

    1. Brent says:


      You’re right. Those laws do come from “a different time and a different place” which is precisely why it takes “a lot of effort” sometimes to study them and understand them in their proper context. I guess that would be my challenge to you with respect to your general approach to the Bible – really take the time to study it before you stand in judgment of it. When carefully studied, it forms a wonderful story line that progressively shows mankind the depth of his sin problem and gradually reveals the hope of a coming Savior, Jesus Christ (Luke 24:25-27). It’s my hope that you’ll come to embrace Him as more than a good example to live by, but as your Savior and Lord as well (Mark 10:43-46; John 3:16-21; John 14:6). I’ve enjoyed the back and forth. I trust that its moved both of us further down the path on our spiritual journey.


  19. Ateizam says:

    How could you all justify “Gods deeds and will” when he slaughtered men, women, children? You are sick! If you can justify OT, I’m afraid to imagine what would happen if someone convince you that the Judgment day arrived and that he is The second Jesus which came to judge non believers. You who justify OT are able to slaughter in the future, when armageddon comes!

  20. Jeff says:

    In reality God was very patient with the inhabitants of the land. He had every right to destroy them immediately for their wickedness. What is amazing is that the Bible indicates that God kept His people in the land of Egypt for 400 years so that He could be patient with the Canaanites (Gen 15:16)! Actually, that promise was made to Abraham so it was probably more like 600-800 years. Over half a millenia of patience with depraved and wicked people. Yes, the same kind of patience He has today, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to a knowledge of Christ. I am thankful for God’s patience, especially His patience with me. If not for that, we also would be consumed…and rightly so.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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