If God is loving, compassionate and slow to anger, why did Israel put to the sword the women and children in the Old Testament. Isn't that cruel?
In the OT, when the Israelites went to war with their enemies, I read
numerous times where God told them to put the women and children to the
sword after killing their enemies. Don’t you think this is a very cruel
act in killing helpless and defenseless beings? Even in modern warfare,
armies don’t do that. In contrast, the God in NT is often mentioned as a
loving, compassionate, slow to anger etc.
You ask one of the most difficult questions one can ask about the nature
of God and the historical record in the Bible. I have answered this
question a few times at the web site, and am supplying a former question
and answer below.
Any answer to this question will have to include an admission that this is
a disturbing thing. It is very difficult for me to take in God asking his
people to completely destroy the Amelekites given that God is loving,
compassionate and slow to anger.
What it comes down to for me is that there are two absolutely essential
aspects of the nature of God which, to human reasoning, seem to be in
conflict. God is a god of justice. We are made in God?s image, which
includes having the same sort of emotions as God does. God experiences
anger about sin and jealousy about those who love the world rather than
him. God will punish those who rebel against him. “For it is written:
?Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay.?” (Romans 12:19 “It is a
terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews
10:31) The justice and anger of God for sin is not a popular topic. We
refer to talk about the love of God. I have not yet been to a funeral at
which the preacher informed the audience that the person will be in hell,
yet Jesus said that the way to life is difficult and narrow, and few
manage to follow this road (Matthew 7)
God is just. He will act against those who reject the truth and willfully
continue in sin. But God is also love. He wants a relationship with us.
He was willing that his own Son receive the penalty for our
transgressions. He is patient. He is not looking for an excuse to blitz
us. He will wait and wait and wait,?. But his patience is not infinite.
God will act. If anything is taught in the Old Testament, it is that God
will bring judgment on the hard-hearted. Of course, a constantly
recurring theme in the Old Testament is God?s salvation and grace for
those who seek him.
This brings us to the commands by God in the Old Testament to completely
annihilate certain peoples. This command must be understood in light of
what was happening in these cities. The Canaanite form of worship
included ritualized prostitution. People worshipped their god by having
sex in the temples. Another god, Molech (and others as well) was appeased
by sacrificing children to the god. The situation in Canaanwas absolutely
disgusting and degraded. God promised this land to Israel. I will admit
that it is hard for me to accept, but God chose to completely remove these
people, and he used Israelas his instrument. What chance did a baby being
raised in these cultures have of going to heaven? About zero. To God,
physical death and even suffering are not the chief issue. The chief
concern of God is that we are righteous and blessed in this life and even
more importantly in eternity. So God, because he loved Israel, and even
because he loved the Canaanites (but also because of his justice at the
hopelessly degraded lives of the Canaanites) decided to judge these people?
to bring their lives to an end.
Like I said, I, like you, find this difficult to accept. Like you, from my
human perspective, I find it cruel and inhumane that Israeldestroyed these
people. However, I believe the verdict is clear. God is loving. He sent
his only son to die for us. He is almost, but not quite, infinitely
patient with us. However, God is just and he will judge those who rebel
against him. God?s love is greater than his justice because Jesus was
willing to die for us. However, God?s love does not cancel his justice.
Below are a question and answer on a similar question already posted at
the web site.
John Oakes, PhD
How could God command a person to commit murder and genocide, which must
have caused moral, psychological, and emotional trauma? Lately I have been
wondering about the atrocities of murder, genocide, etc. today. I do not
have a problem understanding the existence of evil or human suffering. But
throughout the OT God told the Israelites to conduct genocide; including
the murder of women and children. I can accept instances like Sodomand
Gomorrahwhere God himself did the destruction. But recently I have
considered the depravity that is required to kill viciously. How could God
command a person to commit such acts which must have caused moral,
psychological, and emotional trauma? An illustration of this question is
to consider the lack of compassion required for an Israelite to kill a
young child or pregnant mother because God instructed him to, even if they
were evil in God’s eyes. I am not sure if it is the same as Abraham’s
test. However, an answer you gave on your website required me to clarify
my question. I understand that as humans we sometimes dread the 1st death
more than the 2nd death. But the effect of vicious murder on the killer is
what I am concerned with; not the death resulting.
You ask a question which does not avail itself of an easy
answer. In a sense, it is an irrelevant question for us, as none of us are
asked by God in any situation to do such a thing under the New Covenant.
Therefore, to some extent this is really an academic question.
Nevertheless, because such a thing is in the Bible, we cannot
just blow it off. I certainly cannot ignore it personally. You are being
quite reasonable to assume that there were terrible consequences, not just
for the conquered peoples, but for those Israelites who were involved in
the various wars and the post-conquering destruction of certain
populations. Psychologists today recognize Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome
to have devastating effects on people. While I can understand why God
chose to remove these people from his sight theologically, due to the
horrible sin and its inevitable effects on Israel, I cannot understand the
idea emotionally. I wish I had an easy answer for you. I can tell that you
are thinking clearly enough for yourself that there is probably little I
can say you have not already thought of.
Bottom line, terrible things happen in this world because of
sin and, indirectly, because God left his creation with the freedom of
choice to do evil. I could say that God had Israeleliminate these people
(rather than eliminating them some other, less violent way) in order to
teach them the seriousness and consequences of the blatant form of
idolatry and sexually-oriented worship which were endemic amongst their
neighbors. Intellectually, this answer works, but emotionally it does not.
I could say that God’s people had the support, based on God’s blessing to
recover from such a thing better than their neighbors might have–that as
terrible as such violent destruction was, the Jews were more able to
handle it emotionally because God had commanded them to do it. That still
does not eliminate the difficulty, even if it explains it. In the end, I
am forced to trust in the wisdom and inscrutable nature of the God who
created us. I do not have to agree with what he did, but I need to trust
that God loves me and that he wants the best
for his creation–that as
terrible as the judgment was, it was best, in the long run, for God’s
Sorry to not have an easy answer.