Did God Command Genocide In the Bible?

This is, perhaps, one of the best explanations on this issue.  William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University,  debates a rhetorical question that has been asked by atheists:  “How could a God who is all loving, all good, and all holy issue such commands?”

Some of his topics include:

  • God told Abraham he would give Canaan 400 years to show signs of moral remorse, and turn from their evil ways:  “After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction (Gen 15:16 NIV).”
  • Ancient non-Biblical history confirms the incredible evil nature of these tribes (sins quoted below).
  • God used Israel to bring His judgment to Canaan; as God would later use other nations (like Babylon) to judge Israel.
  • Israel was to drive out, exterminate any that opposed, and acquire the land God promised Abraham in His covenant.
  • The lives of any children (not yet of an age of accountability) who may have been killed, were secured in Heaven (as the grave is not our last destination).
  • This was a harsh “object lesson” to Israel to remember God’s moral laws themselves, and to preserve their salvation; as this was the nation who would bring Christ, the redeemer of the world.

Writer for the Christian Research Institute, Clay Jones, of “Killing the Canaanites: A Response to the New Atheism’s ‘Divine Genocide’ Claims” explains:

The “new atheists” call God’s commands to kill the Canaanites “genocide,” but a closer look at the horror of the Canaanites’ sinfulness, exhibited in rampant idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality, reveals that God’s reason for commanding their death was not genocide but capital punishment.  After all, the Old Testament unequivocally commands that those who do any one of these things deserves to die.  Also, God made it clear in His conversation with Abraham regarding the Canaanite cities of Sodom and Gomorrah that He knows who would or would not repent, and in the case of those cities, not one person would heed the warning and even Lot’s family had to be forcibly pulled away from the coming destruction.  In Leviticus 18 God then warns Israel that if they commit similar sins that the land would similarly “vomit” them out.  Later when Israel disobeys God and allows the Canaanites to continue to live among them, the corruptive and seductive power of Canaanite sin results in the Canaanization of Israel.  Subsequently, God sent prophets to warn Israel of their coming destruction, but they didn’t repent and God said that they became “like Sodom to me” and He visited destruction on Israel for committing the same sins.  This again reveals that God’s motive isn’t genocide, but capital punishment.  That we commit similar sins today renders us incapable of appropriate moral outrage against these sins and thus we accuse God of “genocide” to justify our own sinfulness.

Further thoughts:  If judgments issued are a result of a just God, who issues capital punishment to those who are due, and a merciful God who sometimes has to cut short the lives of those who might be otherwise be damned to an eternal Hell, what might that say about those who are left?  Is there hope in us to find, and share, God’s ways to our world?

The Bible is about God’s redemption plan for humanity, and the constant warnings are a sign of God’s love, if we would only heed them!

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isa 55:8-9).”

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