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Janie wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Why did God allow so much killing in the Old Testament, especially when He gave instructions to kill an entire village or army?


  { Why did God allow killing in the Old Testament, like when He ordered the killing of a village? }

John replied:

Hi Jamie,

Many of the things recorded in the Old Testament need to be understood in the context of the situation at a given time.

First of all, we need to understand that these Narratives may or may not be actual history. The Bible teaches us Salvation history . . . a narrative that is meant to reveal the nature of God. For that reason, much of the Old Testament is written in such a way as to reveal:

  • God's absolute holiness, and
  • that nothing unholy can survive in His presence.

Just on the surface the cities and villages (and the population) that God ordered be destroyed (Again, the narrative is not necessarily actual history the way we record history) were condemned because of their complete and total moral corruption. So God was bringing judgement on the people in these towns. In fact, there is reference in one of these instances that says God waited to deliver a certain city to Israel because the sin of the Amalekites (which He foreknew they wouldn't repent) was not yet complete. The point of this narrative is to demonstrate God's long-suffering and patience but final judgement after people are given every possible chance to repent.

Secondly, we must understand the historical context of the day. Back then, nations went to war for the spoils of war. Those spoils included:

  • riches
  • the livestock, and
  • even the people who were enslaved as a result of their loss in battle.

So when God told Israel: Wipe everything out . . . including women, children, livestock, and so on, often times the women were taken as wives. Here God is pointing out that:

  1. He's bringing judgement on these folks.
  2. Israel was not going to war for spoils . . . because God was their provider.
  3. God did not want Israel intermingling and intermarrying with these pagan nations for fear that they would continue to practice polytheism by adopting the false gods and idols of the conquered people.

In fact, that last point was a primary reason Israel had become pagan during their time in Egypt. When they were first delivered and began their journey to Mount Sinai, God told them that He would deliver all of Canaan to them without an order to kill everyone — so long as they kept separate and didn't intermarry with these pagans and start worshiping their false gods and idols.

But when Moses went up Mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments, they immediately reverted to pagan practices during his absence. I'm sure you remember the building and worshiping of the golden calf: a major Egyptian false god. So seeing this, God then imposed total warfare. We also see the beginnings of a Just War teaching in this narrative. Israel would not be allowed to act like other nations — going to war for spoils.

Thirdly, we have to really dig deeper and look at the original Hebrew. In the Book of Joshua, we read about the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land. They prepared to cross over and conquer. We read the following in Chapter 3.

"7 And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And you shall command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, When you are come to the edge of the water of Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan. 9 And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God. 10 And Joshua said, By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites."

Joshua 3:7-10

Now looking at verse 10, we see seven nations listed that God would deliver unto the Israel. In the original Hebrew, these names all come from root words connected with to the false idols that Israel still worshiped during their 40 years of wondering. They also mean things like:

  • strife
  • division
  • oppression
  • wandering, and
  • on an allegorical level, according to several of the Church Fathers, and other ancient Rabbinic sources, they symbolize the seven deadly sins:
    1. Pride
    2. Envy
    3. Wrath
    4. Gluttony
    5. Lust
    6. Sloth, and
    7. Greed

So understanding the entire symbolism in this narrative is crucial. The Crossing of the Jordan is symbolic of a Baptism of the new generation of Israelites, born during the 40 years of wandering, just as the crossing of the Red Sea was symbolic of the Baptism of the first generation that, except for Joshua, died off during the wandering. Entering the Promised Land is a picture of salvation and the deliverance from sin.

Elsewhere we read verses admonishing Israel where God is saying, now that you've entered the Promised Land:

  • put away the idols, and
  • destroy your enemies

and then it would list those nations.

Well, that's what we are supposed to do as believers. Baptism and faith not only grant us forgiveness of sin but it gives us sanctifying grace that empowers us to overcome the sins we struggle with.

Often times we need look deeper and recognize the historical narratives in the Bible are teaching us several things.

  • Sometimes they are literary constructs or devices that aren't teaching actual historical events.
  • Sometimes they are . . . but either way, they are recorded to teach us deep theological truths that are much more profound than a story about a battle.

I hope this helps,

Under His Mercy,

John DiMascio

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