In the readings for Daily Mass this week we are reading from 1 Samuel 15 where Saul comes into disfavor with Samuel and God for refusing to fully obey the “Ban” imposed on the Amalekites by God through Samuel. What was the “Ban?” Most fundamentally it was an command that in taking a city or a nation that the Israelites were to destroy every man, woman and child and animal. No one was to be spared. Further, any wealth was to be given to the sacred treasury.

The Ban is one of  the most disturbing  aspects of the Old Testament, made even more disturbing by the fact that it is freqently God himself who seems to command it. 

The practice is first seen in the Book of Deuteronomy where the Ban is commanded in certain places. As Moses and the Israelites journeyed through the Desert and came near the Promised Land they mercilessly destroyed many kingdoms. Sihon King the Amorites and all his cities and subjects were utterly destroyed and no one left alive. Next as Israel went out against Og the King of Bashan God said to Moses: “Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon” (Deut. 3:2) Systematically the troops of Israel destroyed every city in Bashan and killed every man woman and child. 

And Moses left this command for Israel as they entered the Promised Land:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you- and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy (Deut 7:1-3).

Hence as Joshua led the people into the Promised Land they implemented the Ban beginning with Jericho:

Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city! The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury.”  When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.  They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. (Joshua 6: 16-20)

In the passage above it is not clear that God commanded the Ban, but later in Joshua 8 the Lord affirms what happened to Jericho and commands the same be inflicted on the city of Ai : Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.  You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. (Jos 8:1-2). Joshua 10 then goes on to describe a whole series of Canaanite Cities that are also put under the Ban. No one is left alive. Though here there is no explicit command of God to do so that is recorded, they are clearly following the plan that Moses had set forth.

Finally, in the readings for daily Mass we see the command given by God through Samuel that the Amalekites should be put under the Ban:  This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “ (1 Sam 15:1-3) But Saul does not fully comply, keeping some of the cattle for himself and his men. God therefore rejects him as King for his failure to keep the Ban wholly. (1 Sam 15:23).

The “Ban” is troubling and many explanations have been advanced to try and place its horrible dimensions in some sort of acceptable framework. Here are a few explanations:

  1. God said no such thing – Some commentators hold that God did not really say any such thing to Israel. Rather they simply misrepresented God or put their evil practices into God’s mouth. The Catholic Study Bible says of God’s “command” to Saul: The slaughter of the innocent has never been in conformity with God’s will. The footnote goes on to suggest that Samuel misrepresents God (Footnote on 1 Sam 15:3). The problem with such an approach is that it opens up a door that many want to walk through. Namely, whenever there is something we are troubled by or don’t like we just say, “God never said that.” The list of things God never said could grow quite long if this door is opened. Further, if God never said this to Saul how do we explain God later rejecting Saul for disobeying God. How can we disobey something God never said? Too many problems seem to issue from this approach IMHO.
  2. They weren’t innocent – Some commentators agree that God would never say to kill the innocent and then argue that among these ancient peoples put under the ban there were no “innocent” people in these sinful city-states. Everyone participated in abominable sexual practices and  strange idolatry to include even sacrificing their children to their gods. Well, OK even if we could argue that these ancient civilizations were thoroughly disreputable, it is hard to argue that little children and infants are not innocent. The position still does not answer why God ordered even infants killed.
  3. God has authority - Some prefer simply to insist that God is the Lord of life and can never be accused of injustice in taking life. He decides who lives, who dies and when. He has every right to command the end of civilizations. It is no different than you or I pulling out hedges to plant roses. God ends eras, brings nations and empires to an end as he wills and we are not free to question why. Pure and simple God has authority to do this and owes us no explanations as to why he chooses one nation or people over another. Like surgeon he amputates when all hope of healing is gone. OK, it’s pretty hard to argue against God’s authority. It’s a kind of a Job-like answer. God answers Job’s questions with a rather long soliloquy on Job’s incapacity to admonish God or understand his ways. In the end, it still seems unsatisfying for it does not address why God seems to act so contrary to other commands he gives Israel to respect the resident alien, and not to murder (eg Ex 23:7; Ex 20:13).
  4. Emphasize the reason – God gave the reason for the Ban in Deuteronomy 7:4: for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. Hence God commands this to keep the people pure. OK, but can the end of purity justify the means of genocide?

In the end, it would all we can say about these passages is that they exist and put a kind of a tall fence around them. I personally think God did in fact order the Ban for the reason stated in the objection to Number 1 above. Of all the approaches above I suppose the argument from authority carries most weight with me. But the command was only for a brief time in a very particular circumstance for a very particular reason. Sometimes the best we can do with Scripture is to accept the history it records. Scripture is a collection of books that ultimately build upon each other and progress toward a better goal. In an early and brutal time God commanded tough solutions. Once his Law established deeper roots in a brutal world God could insist that indiscriminate killing was no longer to be permitted. Later books and surely the New Testament would never support such a “solution” as the Ban.

We must be careful here. because to say that Scripture builds and progresses toward a more enlightened moral understanding does not mean we can indiscriminately reject every moral insight of the Old Testament. Much of the early legislation such as the Ten Commandments carries  forward and is affirmed by later texts. Some OT moral requirements however are explicitly abrogated (such as when Jesus rendered all foods clean). Others simply disappear from sight and are never reaffirmed by later texts or the New Testament. Such is the case with the horrifying Ban and it is well that we leave it in the distant past. Beyond this we cannot say much more. The Ban is a fact recorded in early Scripture and we have to be sophisticated enough in our understanding of Scripture to simply accept that fact. But the same sophistication demands we properly understand the development of Doctrine which God himself directs in the pages of the same Scripture.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts and additions to this article

134 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    This is an excellent treatment of a tough Biblical text. I appreciate how willing you are to face head on the problem of God ordering the Ban which included infants being put to the sword, and not try to spiritualize it away.

    The argument of authority does seem to make most sense, but an ancillary issue that many people seem to have problems with is how we are to reconcile God ordering the babies of the Amalekites to be put to the sword in the Old Testament, then Jesus saying in the New Testament to let the little children come to him. In the words of a friend who wrestles tremendously with this problem, he puts it as follows:

    “God’s ethics change by the most drastic of degrees with the passage of time, both in his own actions and in the actions he demands of his people – to the point where the God of the New Testament is unrecognisable from the God of the early Old Testament.”

    Perhaps you could follow up on this blog post with another that addresses this apparent difficulty. I know that it would surely help a lot of people.

    • Iverlast says:

      “God’s ethics change by the most drastic of degrees with the passage of time, both in his own actions and in the actions he demands of his people – to the point where the God of the New Testament is unrecognisable from the God of the early Old Testament.”

      I can never agree with this statement, because I do not believe that God will be sooo barbaric and later becomes sooo civilized!

      • Yes, basically the quote you are rightly denouncing is a form of Marcionism, an ancient heresy

        • Cradle Catholic says:

          Perhaps Marcion was right all along. Perhaps the God of the Old Testament is not the same as the God of the New Testament. Certainly Jews themselves believe this.

          A lot of confusion has resulted from the belief that they are the same God. It would be interesting to see how Christian theology would have developed if the belief that they are two different Gods had become Church dogma.

      • Greg says:

        I subscribe to the comment that reffers to the authority of God: according to Christ prophecy of mtt.24.1-2, Jerusalem was besieged and it temple desroyed between AD 67-73.And i quote :”there was no pity for age and no regard was accorded to rank;children and oldmen laymen and priests alike were butchered,every class was pursued and crushed in the grip of war.Whether cried out for mercy or offered ressistance” the destruction of Jerusalem AD 70.by Josephus Flavius, an eyes witness acconunt.

  2. Archangel says:

    The Bible says God commanded the Hebrews to kill all their enemies, including infants. But killing infants, who are innocent, cannot be right. So how do we explain God’s commanding something immoral?

    Here are some possible answers to this conundrum:
    (1) What God commanded them to do was not immoral once he had commanded it
    (2) What God commanded them to do was not immoral because killing innocents is not wrong
    (3) What God commanded them to do was not immoral because we know that God is just, even though we can’t explain how God was right to do this.
    (4) God did not command them to kill the innocent, even though the Bible says he did.

    Answer 1 comes from the Protestant tradition that emphasizes God’s sovereignty: Anything God commands is ipso facto right. It clashes with the Catholic tradition (usually called natural law) that insists that right and wrong are based on the nature of things. Killing innocents is wrong by the very nature of things, and God’s command is unable to make it not be wrong. But that implies that God commanded something immoral. And that can’t be correct.

    Is it possible to save the natural law answer in this case? The other answers attempt to do so.

    Answer 2 argues that killing the innocent children of the Amalekites was not wrong. One version says that because of original sin, we all deserve to die, and so God is entitled to kill us whenever he wants (newborns included). Another version says that killing the innocent children of the Amalekites was doing them a favour because they could have grown up to be idolators and gone to hell. Neither of these arguments should be dignified with a response. Unfortunately, they tend to confirm what some peope believe, namely that religion makes some people nuts.

    Answer 3 just gives up any attempt to explain things. Saying it’s a mystery is an easy way out, but our faith is a faith that seeks understanding. And saying “It’s a mystery” whenever we can’t figure things out disgraces our faith. Non-believers are shocked when they read these passages in the Bible, and people like Dawkins quote them to discredit our faith. Saying “Uh, it’s a mystery” is not a suitable reply.

    I argue for answer 4: God did not command the Hebrews to slaughter all their enemies, even though the Bible says he did. The historical books of the Old Testament are a compilation of (part of ) the history of the Jewish people. It was recounted from generation to generation before it was written down. In the course of this recounting, events were given a theological explanation: whenever the Jews won a battle, it was because God was on their side, and whenever they massacred people, it was because God had commanded them to do so. But we are not required to accept every one of these theological explanations just as we are not required to believe — as people did for centuries — that every word in the Bible was dictated by God. These books are in the Bible because through them God reveals something to us, but we do not have to accept there is a revelation in every event recounted. The fullness of Revelation is found in Jesus, and if any passages in the Old Testament conflict with what Jesus reveals to us about God, then these passages have to be understood in a way that is consonant with the full revelation in Jesus. And the way to do that is to reject, when necessary, the theological explanation the authors of these passages gave them.

    • Thanks for the summary. I agree we look back and assess through Jesus. However I cannot simply accept # 4 due to the problem of drawing the line. Perhaps God did not give the ten commandments. Or maybe they were 8. Perhaps he did not forbid homosexual actions, or adultery either? It just seems to open a door to a whirlwind that blows the papers around a lot.

      • Bender says:

        Very good summation of the various arguments Archangel. I would concur with much of your analysis, but in addition to your argument that God took an actual historical event (war) and put a theological spin on it in inspiring the human authors, such that the Biblical account is actually more prophecy than historical fact, I would tweek Number 4 a bit, call it 4(a) — God did not command them to kill the innocent, and our interpretation that the Bible says He did is faulty.

        There is truth to Number 3 — God is a mystery. And, as such, He is hard to describe precisely and accurately, including the actions He takes. Not only is His will a mystery, but what He has actually said and meant can be a mystery. He is especially hard to describe given the limitations of human language, including the vast limitations of the English language. For example, as I stated before, a later verse in 1 Samuel 15 imputes imperfect human characteristics to God. Throughout the Bible there is a tendency to anthropomorphize God — to describe Him in human terms. This is understandable because we are, after all, human, and human is what we know. We can hardly describe the mystery of God in terms that we don’t know, even if there were words to describe Him. But to describe Him thusly, in human terms, even if those are the words used, is obviously not a wholly accurate description of who and what God really is.

        That being so, given the limitations of language and the limitations of describing God, the description of exactly what God said and what He meant is necessarily limited. Being limited, it is susceptible of misinterpretation. So, in this instance, God really said, “I want you to do so and so,” and given our limited ability to understand the mystery who is God, and the limitations of using human words to describe Him, we have interpreted that over the years to mean “go kill everyone, even the innocent.”

        I don’t know what the answer is. Some explanations are better than others. Some are more consistent with Christ than others; some are more consistent with the Catholic faith than others. And if the OT was 100 percent entirely crystal clear, we would not have needed Jesus to come and explain it all and correct everyone’s misconceptions about it. As weasely as Number 3 is, and I agree that Number 3 should not be our starting point, but even when we do find one answer that is more satisfactory than the others, I’m not sure that we can definitively say that it is the right one (but if someone can point out a definitive magisterial pronouncement, it would be very helpful). Thus, even when we do finally settle on one particular answer, it is probably more prudent to then back up a step and fall back to Number 3 — i.e., this probably is the answer, but we’re not sure because God is a mystery — and leave it at that.

      • Archangel says:

        But isn’t that the response of Protestant Fundamentalism? In their criticism of the Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation, Protestants saw the Bible as the sole criterion of truth. Sola Sciptura! Is purgatory in the Bible? No. Then the Catholic Church teaches a false doctrine. And so on. And we’re all familiar with Protestant Fundamantalists who have their proof texts memorized in order to prove what they believe.

        But when historical criticism of the Bible came along, they simply could not accept it: once you grant that some passages in the Bible might not be literally true, then the Bible ceases to be the sole criterion of truth, because we have to make critical judgments about certain Bible passages. In their mind, this means that human judgment becomes the criterion of truth, and the whole Sola Scriptura edifice comes crashing down. So, they are led to deny generally accepted scientific evidence and devote energy trying to prove, for example, that God literally created the world in six days 6,000 years ago.

        They’re the like the people at the time of Galileo who refused to accept the idea that the earth revolved around the sun and were led to assign increasingly bizarre orbits to the heavenly bodies in order to explain the way things appeared. The solution was not to invent increasingly bizarre theories to support what they had always believed, but to take a step in a different direction: the sun simply does not revolve around the earth. The same is true about the Bible: it has to be understood in the light of our growing scientific knowledge about geology and biology (e.g. Genesis), but also about ethnology and psychology (e.g. the historical books). Not to mention the fullness of revelation in Jesus.

        Protestant Fundamentalists are unable to take this step in a different direction. But the rest of Christianity has done so, including mainstream Catholic Bible scholars. It is now generally accepted that the earth was not literally created in six days. And once one grants that, then the fateful step has been taken, and the literal truth of other passages is a matter for judgment. Once one accepts that the earth was not created in six days, then one can’t say about other passages “Oh, we can’t question its literal truth because then everything is up for grabs!” (the Fundamentaist “argument”). It’s too late; we’ve already left the Fundamentalist position in the dust by the wayside, and the way forward is to use the sum total of our God-given knowledge to understand the Bible.

      • Archangel says:

        Just to make things clear: The “that” in my post beginning “But isn’t that the response of Protestant Fundamentalism?” referred to Msgr Pope’s answer, and not Bender’s.

    • Mark says:

      Your treatment of the argument leaves out the fact that while killing innocent people is wrong for human beings, it is not wrong for God. This is not because God is beyond good and evil as Luther taught, but because God is the Lord of life. Life is God’s gift to give and he does no one injustice when he takes it away. The fact that God used human beings to end these lives is incidental to the fact that he was perfectly justified in doing so. Had the Israelites done this without God’s express command, however, they would indeed have been guilty of murder.

  3. Bender says:

    once you grant that some passages in the Bible might not be literally true, then the Bible ceases to be the sole criterion of truth, because we have to make critical judgments about certain Bible passages . . .

    Again, I would agree with much, but disagree with a few points.

    We should be careful to note that, while the Bible might not be the sole criterion of truth, it is truth. However, that truth is told in different ways. Even the Creation account of “six days” is true, but it is true for whatever purpose, whatever underlying point, the author meant to convey, which was not necessarily an eyewitness play-by-play account.

    To tweek your remarks a little bit more, I think that understanding scripture “in the light of our growing scientific knowledge” goes too far. That is like putting God under a microscope, putting Him to the test of scientific verification, which of course is the error of the atheists and agnostics. Rather, we are on safer ground with saying it should be understood in light of right reason. That “scientific knowledge” can often be quite wrong. Especially in the modern day, when science has in too many cases abandoned reason, having been hijacked by politics. Just look at global warmism for proof of that.

    No, as Pope Benedict has brilliantly pointed out on multiple occasions, and JP2 before him, it is faith and reason which go hand-in-hand. One informs and enlightens the other and the other purifies and safeguards the first. And right reason, properly understood, is not personal and subjective, but is instead objective. For us everyday folks, we must be suspect of our own subjective reasoning, which is often flawed (even if only because of ignorance, that is, lack of knowledge of the subject). However, taking as we must that the Magisterium is guided by the Holy Spirit in order to protect our understanding of the Faith from error, we must remind ourselves not to make our own personal judgments the final word, but must also look to the Church for the definitive judgment.

    In this case, I don’t know that there are any official Magisterial judgments on the matter. However, the very lack of any substantial explanation from people like Pope Benedict suggests one of two things — either he is avoiding the issue, like the crazy uncle in the room, or he is not very troubled by it and does not feel the need to analyze and argue the point to death. The first possibility is absurd, knowing the Pope, by why the second, why would he not be troubled by it? He obviously, in his mind, has reconciled the seeming violent and vengeful God of 1 Samuel (and the OT generally) with the God of Love and Truth. If anyone knows anything he has said or written on the matter, it would be helpful to know his throughts.

    • Yes, as we have all pointed out here this is precisely the point that Benedict made at Regensburg regarding faith and reason. The Muslim “If God said it it must be right no matter what.” needs to be avoided by Chirstians. A wake up call for me since I find the Argument from authority most satisfying. :-(

  4. Hannah says:

    This is a very interesting discussion and I learned a lot. I hope there are follow-up posts.

    Since I’m a parent and am interested in matters pertaining to child-rearing, it must have been a challenge for God to train a people who had been slaves for generations. They had to learn in stages, much like learning arithmetic, algebra, and calculus (which must be in that order). First they had to learn the LAW so that later Jesus could teach us how to transcend it. My generation of parents have made the mistake of trying to skip over the training part (like learning the fear of God and sin) and go straight to the mercy part and so our children are lawless and ungrateful. Likewise for the concept of the Trinity, that had it been revealed earlier would have been understood as polytheism. The revelation of Heaven and Hell came late too and that makes sense to me along these lines. One of our problems today is not appreciating that learning takes place in stages and, for example, we expect to export democracy into cultures that are not ready for it.

    • A kind of development of doctrine point of view. God leads us to truth in stages.Only problem to avoid is tha some OT teachings still hold unchanged. May today such as the homosexual commuity hold that we continued to come of age in matters such as theirs and that previous condemnations of their actions we simply bigotted. THe problem they cannot overcome is that the NT repeats the wrongness of the homosexual acts. Thus, I am willing to accept your theory with proper distinctions in place. Some moral laws of the OT do not need to develop, others have and will.

  5. Hannah says:

    Also, if we think about murder as stealing life from its rightful owner (God), then by definition God cannot murder. As we believe He holds us in existence by His thought, our life on Earth is a sheer gift from Him, and when it’s time to go He calls us back to Him.

    • When you gotta go you gotta go. I suppose this is a version of the argument from authority. An arguament for which I have respect but remember that Pope Benedict was troubled by it and seems to reject it at the Regensburg address. Not de fide, but just a reason to give us pause.

  6. Irenaeus says:

    Forgive me for I know this will probably draw ire, but… are not even babies born with the original stain of sin? We can call them innocent as in Herod’s slaughter, but not sinless. In the case of the OT, they were not part of Gods people, so they had no means of atonement. I would think the wages collected from unmitigated sin is most often death… especially original sin. Otherwise, why would I be baptized into the mystical body of Christ? Or Jews be circumcised? All the limbo stuff aside, who are we to say how God judges those stained with sin? In the end, does it make is less horrible that those who follow false God go to hell….because it is the end of times? or only when God makes his wrath known earlier in the OT? We all know the risks that come with sin. I think the ban is tough to swallow because it is a glimpse at the final judgment.

    • OK, a version of the
      they weren’t innocent argument. Liked your reference to the glimpse of the Last Judgment.

    • Bender says:

      None of us are innocent.

      But even if we are all deserving of death, that really is not the issue here. The issue is not death, the issue is killing — whether God really did tell His people to kill and, if He did, how can we reconcile killing with Love, as well as all the many other scriptural passages that say that God does not delight in death, even the death of sinners, and that God is God of the living, not God of the dead?

      (The same thing could be said of capital punishment, where advocates often point out that the defendant is not innocent, but guilty, and thus should rightly die. However, that someone might be deserving of death does not necessarily mean that another has the right to cause that death.)

      Moreover, how can we reconcile the “exterminate them all” interpretation of God’s words to Saul (see also Ex. 17 (the day-long battle with Amalek while Moses keeps his arms raised)) with some later passages where there are still some surviving Amalekites, and God does not immediately tell David or others to continue the fight and complete the extermination?

      ————————————–

      Here is an interesting theory from a Jewish perspective, which would suggest that the answer we are seeking lies not in consideration of “the Ban,” but in considering exactly who the Amalekites were (or are). Apparently, they are a special case —
      . . . Amalek was an ancient Middle Eastern nation that had an inborn hatred towards Israel. The Amalekites took any opportunity to attack Jews for absolutely no reason. There was no land dispute or provocation that caused this hatred – it was an intrinsic pathological need to destroy G-d’s people. Such hatred cannot be combatted through diplomacy. There was no option to re-educate the Amalekites or review their school curricula. Their hatred was not taught – it was ingrained. As long as an Amalekite walked the earth, no Jew was safe. It was a clear case of kill or be killed. A Jew had to take the command to kill Amalek quite literally – his life depended on it.

      In time, the Amalekite nation assimilated into the people around them. Their inborn hatred became diluted as their national identity dissolved, and the command to kill them became impossible to fulfill. This was no accident of fate. The G-d who authored the Torah is also the Author of history. He decided that the time had come that this command should no longer apply in its literal sense. It was time for the Jewish people to move on.

      But this doesn’t mean that Amalek has disappeared. Amalek is alive and well today, albeit in a different form. No longer a foreign nation, today’s Amalek is an internal enemy. We each have an Amalekite lurking within our very self. The inner Amalek is unholy cynicism. That little voice inside each of us that derides, belittles and attacks truth and goodness; our irrational tendency to mock people who act morally, to be cynical when we see altruism, to doubt our own or other’s sincerity – these are the modern day Amalekites. They wage a lethal war with our soul. If we let it, cynicism can kill our every attempt to improve ourselves and smother any move towards refining our character and expressing our soul.

      There is only one effective response to Amalek’s attacks: Annihilation. Don’t argue back, it won’t work. . . .

      At first blush, I kind of like this theory.

      All that being said, as we approach 100 comments, this has been an enlightening discussion. Something to reflect upon further as we continue our journey. And may we pray that we stay on the right path during that journey.

      • I guess that is one way to end a threat or win a war. One side wins absolutely. I have heard some of this thinking in terms of some of the modern wars that exist around the globe: let one side win. But what we tend to do is call for cease fires and negotiations to end the battle. THere is an approach that says no to all this and says, stand back and let one side win. Only problem with this approach the US is seldom neutral as to who wins.

  7. Vince says:

    Hope I”m not too late to chime in here…

    I’d been wondering about this issue myself for some time. Initially I assumed that perhaps the relevant passages were merely ‘exaggerated for effect’ in an effort to make the ancient Israelites understand how serious this sort of offense really was. That demon-worship could eventually result in the complete and utter downfall of their nation – down to the last man, woman, and child.

    Or that the episodes are something of a parable… and that destroying even the children was actually a euphemism for the destruction of the ‘spiritual progeny’ of those evil societies.

    But, as with some other explanations, these seem mold the ancient texts into what we want them to be rather than what they are. Then I heard a talk by Scott Hahn in which he refers to these events – and the commands issued by God – as being absolutely true.

    But I really think Hannah is on to something, and if the blog readers here can bear it I’d like to throw in some more words about that solution.

    As she states, our lives here are nothing more than a free gift from God. Or it might be more accurate to say that they are on loan from God. God gives us life because He wishes to do so, not because He is obligated to do so. And our lives do NOT come with a contract that states we are hereby granted and guarranteed ‘X’ number of years on planet Earth.

    Now, if I loan something to you – say, a car or a book or a lawnmower – under the same conditions, I have the right to say to you AT ANY TIME: “OK. I want it back now!”. I don’t have to explain my decision – the loaned article is still mine even though you’re using it. I still retain all moral and legal rights to that article.

    The same would apply to our life – it is ‘loaned’ by God, and God can – at any time and for any reason – demand that it be returned to Him, the true and rightful Owner. I believe we can reconcile this with the NT and that Jesus Himself reiterates this principle when he tells the parable of the rich man with the bountiful harvest who plans to build more granaries: “You fool! This very evening your life will be DEMANDED of you!” (Luke 12:20, emphasis added, obviously!). Jesus does NOT say “this evening you shall die of natural causes”. Secondly, note that no particularly heinous crime has been attributed to the man – only complacency, perhaps, and presumption. But these are common failings of a great many people and hardly the material of mortal sin. Jesus in no way declares that the man’s actions are the reason his life is being forfeit, but rather makes the point that his priorities were backwards and thus he was unprepared for his unanticipated death.

    We can also note that God may very well carry out this demand either directly or THROUGH THE ACTIONS OF HIS SERVANTS. Paul tells us that civil authorities, acting as the servants of God in maintaining civil order, can indeed inflict death legitimately (Rom 13:4).

    Of course we, ourselves, are not allowed to ‘demand’ anyone’s life under any circumstances. That, I think, is the meaning of ‘Thou Shall Not Kill’. The only legitimate reason for killing is when, under very specific circumstances, God Himself has declared it permissible or necessary. Under those conditions, perhaps, we could be seen as merely the ‘collection agency’ of God. Why even get us involved? Because He has made us active and cooperative players in His creation (a whole ‘nuther topic).

    So, if we recognize these principles as attested in the NT – the legitimate rights of God and the legitimate use of His servants in carrying out His will – the ‘ban’, I think, becomes easier to accept. God wished to demand back the lives of those innocents AS A LESSON AND A WARNING TO FUTURE GENERATIONS, and it is His moral and legal right to do so.

    And what of the final disposition of those slaughtered innocents? Who’s to say they were not among those who were freed from Sheol when Christ descended to the netherworld after his crucifixion? They were killed by men, but fell into the judgment of God, Who’s mercy endures forever.

    • Yes, thanks for the examples and anaolgies. Basically you seem to affirm the argument from authority which I think carries a lot of weight. Further your remarks about things being a warning to us is in conformity with Paul’s teaching about the punishments in the desert and other OT stories being written for our instruction (i.e. later generations) upon whom the end of the age has come.

  8. James says:

    With all of the comments with differing views finally I can understand what really happened as it is written. I am not ready to answer what I see now to an inquiring mind but with a few more days of running this stuff through my head an answer will come out in a much shorter version.

    Coming up to today and viewing Israel now, we are seeing the Jewish people acting as though they are using these old testament scriptures to commit again acts of murder against ethnic people in Gaza and elsewhere?

    I do need to make the understanding that not all are involved, only those that have tagged Zionist onto part of their identity. Many Jewish groups are very out spoken that they do not approve of Zionism nor the actions of the political leaders in the state of Israel.

    Having a question I needed an answer for I started my own searches. I started reading articles from both sides and in between. I am seeing something that I would hope to hear from many people just like those that gave answers to this question did God command genocide.

    The question is: What is Israel going to do that will cause all nations of the earth to raise against them? They are going to do something that will trigger reactions from 196 other countries to surround them in an effort to destroy them completely. The entire world sees the actions against the Palestinians and the total disregard of what they destroy, mostly civilian homes with the inhabitance still in them. These actions alone should have the world kicking at their doorstep.

    I do know that Israel uses other nations to go to war against their neighbors in the Middle East. There is now a constant rhetoric aimed at the country of Iran (Persia). Iran has the intention and the right to build nuclear reactors to generate electricity. But all we hear is the same as we heard before to get the US and those other countries dumb enough to follow into attacking Iran because it is said their intent is to build nuclear weapons. Israel in this matter has an itchy trigger finger. If sanctions do not work Israel wants to bomb them with a nuke. Bomb where? The proposed site or Tehran.

    So, you can see where I am coming from. An answer to that question, did God command genocide? Those actions were not done by Zionists. Bombing with a nuclear weapon would be done without the direction of the Lord God. If they do it, that could be the reason all nations come against Israel.

  9. Sherlock says:

    I disagree with what Bender says about not taking scientific evidence into account. Scientific evidence is derived from God’s creation, and everything in God’s creation should be able to be attributed to God, if God exists.

    The following is not a complete answer to the question of why God commanded genocide. It is rather some food for thought and possibly the beginning of an explanation. It is important to note that this is not in support of the “It’s a mystery” theory. Building upon the proposition mentioned in the former paragraph that God is accountable for all creation, since he created it, I would like to point out many unfortunate and indiscriminate things which happen to people for no reason other than nature took its course. Among these events are tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, fires, and many other things which kill or injure many people, guilty or innocent. Why can’t the same methodology be applied to God’s supposed commands to commit genocide in the OT? Also, this view suggests that true morality and spirituality lies outside the bounds of the factor of longevity of life.

    Another, separate, explanation could be that God commanded Israel to drive out and kill it’s enemies, and every person, whether it be man, woman, or child, that falls into the category of enemy. If an innocent child exists, then it is not an enemy, and therefore to kill that child would not fall under the support of God’s word. I do realize that God singled out nations to be killed in the Biblical texts, but who is to say that the writers of this particular part of the OT did not simply distort God’s words from “your enemies” to “the entire nation of the Amalekites”?

  10. James says:

    Two weeks have passed since I wrote above about how today’s Israel has an itchy trigger finger toward Iran. To further the talk against Iran, the NYT had a full page report on Feb. 7 written by Elie Wiesel the same day I wrote above, but I had not read the report until later. So, the question is still out there for anyone that may have a different view. No doubt in my mind that the US will be pushed into a conflict with Iran by those in public office that are in full favor of Israel, and that only because their bank accounts get bigger the more they side with Israel. (How big is Israel? The country could fit into the state of Florida seven times.)

  11. James says:

    This would be the best idea to follow by those idiots in DC. Pack up and leave the Middle East ASAP. And possible does not mean a slow withdrawl over the next five years. ASAP means to get the US asses out of there by the end of next month.

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on the US to leave the Middle East (AP)
    Thursday February 25,2010

    The US should pack up and leave the Middle East and stay out of regional affairs, Iran’s president said during a visit to Damascus that follows a string of US efforts to break up Syria’s 30-year alliance with Tehran.

    President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Arab nations will usher in a new Middle East “without Zionists and without colonialists.”

    “(The Americans) want to dominate the region but they feel Iran and Syria are preventing that,” Ahmadinejad said during a news conference with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    “We tell them that instead of interfering in the region’s affairs, to pack their things and leave.”

    A string of high-profile visits to Damascus in recent months – from the US, France, and now Iran – shows Syria’s strategic importance in the Middle East.

    US President Barack Obama is determined to engage with Syria, a country seen as key to peace in the region but which the State Department has long considered a state sponsor of terrorism.

    Ahmadinejad’s trip comes amid rising US tension with Tehran over the country’s nuclear programme.

    The US and others believe Iran is hiding nuclear weapons development under the guise of a civilian energy program. Iran insists that its intentions are peaceful.

    On Thursday, Assad signalled his strong support for Iran, saying America’s stance on Iran “is a new situation of colonialism in the region.”

    Still, Assad could be open to a breakthrough with the Americans. He is hoping for US help in boosting a weak economy and for American mediation in direct peace talks with Israel – a recognition that he needs American involvement to achieve his top goal of winning the return of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 war.

  12. Mina S says:

    I understand this is late in the discussion. I did a google search on biblical genocide, and this is one of the pages that I found in the google search. I really enjoyed the discussion and the article and its honesty. This is one thing I, as an Orthodox Christian, struggle with personally. One day, I find justification, and the next day in my heart I cannot justify it.

    The best answer I gave to myself is what do the Church fathers say concerning this passage and other passages like it? It’s one thing I haven’t done much research on, but then again, there is much commentary that is not translated yet that the Church fathers have done on the the Old Testament. It would be interesting also to see how Philo of Alexandria, the Jew, read these passages, and how other more ancient Jewish exegetes interpreted them.

    I only know one thing coming from Origen of Alexandria himself. When I read the compilation called the “Philocalia” allegedly compiled by the Church fathers Sts. Gregory Nazienzen and Basil, I couldn’t help but feel comfort in my scientific mind how a very ancient Church father with the approval of two others seem to find it okay and rather logical to not believe there was a literal tree of life or knowledge, or that a fruit can do such, but rather these are allegories (it sorta helped me with issue regarding science and religion, especially the science of evolution). Origen believed fiction was interwoven with fact in the Scriptures (especially the Old Testament) to paint a complete picture of God’s revelation. Everything has a moral and an allegorical interpretation, but not everything is literal. He also gave the example of the “8th day circumcision,” where the Scriptures mention that past the 8th day this infant should be cut off from Israel if not circumcised. That makes no sense, says Origen, for the infant is not guilty, but rather if anyone should be cut off it’s the father. But these things are written because of a deeper and hidden meaning.

    I’ve heard one Orthodox priest describe me these events as precisely God’s inspiration to the author of this book to write such things to show how serious God is, but these events did not happen. God treated Israel at her infancy/childhood/teenage times. In other words, Israel was immature, so you must deal with immature people with harshness of sound. “Yes, Santa Claus will not give you gifts because you were bad.” or “If you go outside without my guidance, the Boogie Man will come and snatch you and eat you alive. Now listen to your Daddy, or else the Boogie Man will come.”

    So God said, “See what I commanded to be done to these seven nations, it can be done to you too.” The stories are so unique, the spoils of war are not even considered. Nothing is to be spared, which is something else that makes no sense, for in the end of war, one can take such things as booty for themselves. But in the Bible, I believe there is a deeper meaning, that even their gold and silver are to be destroyed and not used for personal use, even their herds of animals are to be destroyed.

    The question then comes, who is to say what’s true and what’s not in the Bible? Well, before we answer that question, I am very curious to read what the ancient Jewish and Christian exegetes had to say. I have a feeling Origen’s way of exegesis is not his own, but came, at the very least, from the ancient Alexandrian Greek Jewish ways, inherited by the Alexandrian Church influencing all other Christian fathers. But to be fair, I wonder what even Antiochian thinkers, like St. John Chrysostom would say also.

    As you may tell, I tend to lean on the Alexandrian way of interpretation, and in fact, how can we tell what’s true and what’s not? Simply, if it doesn’t even make sense in the literal way to begin with, as it seems. “Destroy all things” and “kill even the infants” does not make sense, and cannot be true. It sounds strange, as if catering to our very own needs, but I think one should think about this “inner law” we are all born with, as St. Paul says. Israelites had the written law, and the Gentiles (along with Israelites) have the law from the heart, and so even Israelites should know that genocide is not right. But I am open to correction until I can find further explanation by the ancients.

    Forgive me for the lateness, but I am curious to know your thoughts.

    Mina

    PS I read there are “106″ replies, but I counted way less than that. Is there a “Reply archive” that I’m not seeing? The first reply I see here was one made by “Chris” on January 21, 2010 at 10:34 pm. Perhaps there were replies before him. Where have they went? I don’t like to rehash arguments made by others, but I wrote this just in case. If someone else made the same comments I did, I understand if no one replies, I just want to know where I can read these same remarks. Thank you.

  13. Kim Zhu says:

    every my

  14. Dominic R. says:

    Father,
    In short, there was one answer that I found quite satisfactory that you did not seem to address.
    To set up the point, I think it can be agreed that many “good” people from the Old Testament would today not really be in line with church teaching on homocide, rape, sex, and property. I believe I am safe to say that more then anything we needed Christ. That before Christ, man interpreted God as a fickle, moody God of wrath and justice. It was not the case, from what I understand, that God suddenly turned all kind and loving in the New Testament. Certainly our understanding of God changed dramtically, not God Himself.
    God can never order something that is intrinsically evil according to the caticism under any circumstances because it would change His very essence. (I’ll leave you to find it yourself Father)
    Here’s the arguement; this is another case of why we needed Christ to redeem us and that the people of the Old Testament were, as in many other cases, quite without true divine direction.
    I’d like to see what you think.
    God Bless

    • I think ultimately you are trying to solve what is a very deep mystery. I present some possible solutions. But all of them lack in some way. The Scriptures are not man’s word about God. They are God’s word to us. Now, God may have spoke to us in various ways thorugh the generations, but in the end it was he who spoke these things and did these things. Therein lies the mystery that I think we cannot easily solve. You are free, it seems to hold this view I would just be careful of thinking it is the only answer. Passages like these are ultimately caught up in God’s mysterious desgins. Humility is the best approach and we struggle with such as these.

  15. Mike Edwards says:

    I’m new to this discussion, but have sought you out because this is something that I find troubling. Your blog is a refreshing discussion on line among all those who use this to deny God or his Goodness.

    I too have entertained various thoughts:

    At first I thought that it must have been the human filter that was flawed–faulty reporting, if you will. I suspect there was some of that in place, but to accept that assumption says that even God’s inspired word is subject to contamination as it gets recorded and reported. To attribute something this significant to the human filter opens up all of scripture to our current interpretation (guess) of our ancestor’s interpretations. It leads us to a place where one reads the Bible praying and hoping that the Spirit will guide us to a correct understanding of what it means to us each individually.

    I then thought that perhaps God is not all knowing, at least as affected by his intervention out of an eternal now into our time space. Perhaps God truly is a jealous God who was surprised at the obstructionism of his creation and who had to learn and evolve–at least as he exists and existed within time.

    Lately I have wondered if the God of the Old Testament and the Father whom Christ refers to are the same entity. The God of the Old Testament is truly a jealous and protective father who seems to be partial to his chosen ones, even when other peoples may not have had the opportunity to truly know of his existence. I have been amused at the story of Elisha returning from the wilderness and encountering some snotty kids in a border village who taunted him with cries of “baldy”. He called God down on them and a bear came out of the forest and wiped out the children. Being bald, I kind of liked the story–but it doesn’t sound like the God that I know.

    I’ve never liked the argument from authority. Various religious groups cite God’s authority to justify all kinds of surprising actions. If God is true, then He must be consistent in his actions and true to his nature. I do not want to believe that my God is arbitrary and inconsistent.

    Nor have I ever liked the response that says, “It’s a mystery!” — even though that is often true. Growing up in Catholic schools, I had way too many incidents where just when we were getting into something that was strange and exciting, Sister Mary “WhateverHerName” would answer by saying that it is a mystery. I came to feel that that was the copout answer when folks didn’t know and didn’t want to be bothered with the question or with the prospect of researching a bit more deeply.

    I suspect this all sounds a bit rebellious and/or sacrilegious. I don’t mean it that way and want to reiterate how appreciative I am for your forum. I am not Roman Catholic–so a short statement of my perspective is probably appropriate if you will consider allowing me to continue to participate. I consider myself Episcopal Catholic and try to attend Mass every Sunday. While I am not too excited about the general direction of the Episcopal Church these days, I do feel that the Episcopal Church’s willingness to allow its members to consider a broad range of beliefs within its Christianity is both its strength and its weakness. But for me, it allows me to maintain an identity with traditional Christianity and my Catholic heritage–and with the Eucharist–while permitting me the latitude to be a spiritual explorer, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit while attempting to seek out what is true and to become what God wants of me. At least that’s what I like to think on my better days. My wife is a Mormon; so of course I have been exposed to their truths and beliefs as well.

    Thank you all. And God bless.

    Mike

    • Anonymous says:

      @Mike Edwards

      I would be lying if I did not say this appearant “change” in the Lord disturbs me too. But keep in mind Christ Jesus was not just a divine hippie. He drove the money changers from the temple with a whip of chords while prophesying about his death and ressurection knowing full well the leathery serrated whip that was made for him. See the first chapters of John’s gospel. He was hard on the money changers, jealous, but it was for their own sake. The glory of the Lord is not deminished because petty mortals wish to turn a place of worship into a marketplace but the people themselves that are injured because people’s understanding of the respect due the Lord is injured. This passage is something I need to pray about more but I feel it is essential to understanding some of the Lord’s actions I cannot comprehend. Surgery may be painful but it is to cure. But even this seems out if character of the Ban. For it seems natural to me for the Lord to execute judgement through his servants of nature: plagues and beasts, but it seems contrary to me for him to command his servant man to execute his judgement by taking life of another man for their lives are both given by the breath of the Lord and by nature one man is not better than the other.

      Sorry for the long rambling. I am just thinking outloud.

      By the way Mike have you looked into Anglican Use? The provision allows Anglicans and Episcopalians converting the option of retaining many of their customs as I understand it but to do so in full communion with the Catholic Universal holy mother Church. A branch cannot live apart from the tree. The Lord established his Church as a primary means of dispensing divine grace. I did an Internet search for Anglican Use Washington DC and found a few small results.

      I hope my tone is not harsh. I cannot describe the joy in my heart when I properly receive the Lord body, blood, soul, and divinity in holy communion and wish the same good for you.

      With charity.

  16. Mary says:

    This is a very late entry, but it’s an important question because it’s one of the ones that atheists love to throw in our faces. Quite frankly, I’m not sure how to reconcile this controversy, but I don’t lose sleep over it either–I just accept it as it is. But a few things did occur to me.

    1) This genocide occurred under a very specific set of circumstances, and a very direct order. It wasn’t a case of God saying “just kill anybody you don’t like”.

    2) If you read the Bible front to back as an ongoing narrative, The rules become more stringent over time, but mercy becomes more abundant (ie, by the time of the NT, Jesus forbids even looking lustfully at a woman, which is more stringent than the mere avoidance of physical adultery, but he forgave the woman taken in adultery with an admonishion to avoid this sin in the future, and she was not stoned to death).

    3) OT times were extremely brutal, genocide and infanticide were widespread, and the Isrealites were the most moral people around. There was no amnesty international or any sense of social justice like we think of it today. Might was right, and an authority figure could pretty much do anything they felt like to you, and although an individual might not like to be on the receiving end of such treatment, they wouldn’t be likely to question if the authority had the right to treat them that way to begin with. Human rights and civil rights are a fairly recent concept which are built on Christian principles! So the fact that the atheists are even questioning the morality of the genocide reveals that they are not as far from Christianity as they imagine.

    4) Atheists are by and large pro-legalized abortion. So I’m not really interested in their squealing “unfair” about this story from the Bible. I’m writing this for the Christians who might be disturbed by this story.

    • Frank says:

      Mary, you’re dead right on all four points. I do think, however, that there are more than a few sincere atheists who are troubled by these biblical passages for the right reasons–because they are listening to the voice of moral law. The problem is that without some faith to begin with, they are not likely to find any of these solutions palatable. #3 can be an effective apologetic *if* an unbeliever can be persuaded to step out of his culturally-conditioned frame of reference for a few moments to realize that by even objecting to such practices, he is accepting an absolute moral standard and one that would have been alien by and large to pre-Christian cultures.

  17. Tom says:

    As with the study of any history we must be careful not to judge this through the lens of our 21st century sensibilities, nor to presume limitations on God’s wisdom and mercy. As was mentioned above all had original sin and the depth of the depravity of the Canaanite culture is not even comprehendible to us. If there are difficulties with this story the deficiency lies with our understanding, not the actions of God.

    God is omniscient, knowing from the beginning of time who would and would not be saved (I am not implying predestination, only foreknowledge). He knew, even while still in their mother’s wombs, which, if any of the inhabitants of those cities, would be saved or not. Remember, in Genesis 18, which precedes the episodes in this discussion, God revealed His mercy when Lot bargained with Him over the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah. This was also revealed later to Jonah with the fate of Nineveh. He would not destroy the righteous.

  18. Jim Albert says:

    Father,

    Thank you for this topic

    This is an important question for so many. We seem to be forgetting that the first genocide was not with the other nations, it was with the isrealites themselves b/c of the Golden Calf. I asked my 7 year old and 5 year old daughters: Why did God order the Isrealites to Kill their OWN people? Their response was “b/c they built the golden calf” I said “NO”——-They did in fact build the golden calf, but if you take a closer look, Moses, upon seeing the golden calf, ordered it to be destroyed and gave all of them an opportunity to repent and come back to him. It was the ones that came back to him that were saved and they were the ones who were sent to kill the rest. So, in that case, it was not the Golden calf–it was the unrepentant and disobedient heart that was killed.

    So to look at the whole in order to understand the part, I suggest we re-ask–what is Divine Revelation? Divine Revelation is God’s progressive revelation of Himself to us. In the case of the Murder of the Isrealites and the eventual murder of the Nations, where was God in His process of revealing Himself to the Isrealites and to the rest of the world?

    (the fullness of God’s Revelation of Himself to us being Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, the decent of the Holy Spirit–up through to the death of the last Apostle—that what the completion of Divine Revelation–the death of the last apostle—that is the moment that the full deposit of faith was closed and God’s revelation of Himself was complete)

    In light of this progression God’s revelation of Himself, at the time that God ordered Moses to kill the remaining unrepentant Isrealites, He was just begining a renewed relationship with the Isrealites. They were newly freed from slavery and were to be His chosen people. This was very early in the time progression of His revelation of Himself to us. How could he allow the first crop of his people to be represented by those with unrepentant/disobedient hearts. Remember, He saved those who repented and went back to Moses side (after the golden calf incident). I would ague that, in God’s Divine wisdom, If He allowed such unrepentent hearts to survive the golden calf incident, He knew that they would have too much division and disobedience to carry out His next objectives. I would argue that, in His wisdom, He knew he needed repentant, obedient and unified people to accomplish His objective of establishing them and introducing Himself to the rest of the world.

    So what was this next important objective? To announce Himself to the world as the One True God, through His chosen people (and to establish them as a sign of His existence). Again, Divine Revelation is a progression of God’s revelation of Himself to us in time, in the world. The world did not know about One God yet—they still embraced many Gods and false Gods. How is he going to convince these people that there is One God? How are they going to buy into that? Well, in His Divine wisdom, He knew that fear was the begining of true wisdom. He knew precisely what these pagan cities needed; and he prepared a God fearing and repentant nation of Isrealites to introduce Himself to the other Nations.

    Again, this was how he Had to get through to the world that He Existed and He was the One True God. Can you really think of any other way people would have listened? He was breaking into time and introducing His Oneness to a barbaric, violent pagan world. I am sure word quickly traveled about the Israelites and their One God. So did God accomplish His purposes to Reveal His Divine self? Did these nations understand that the Israelites were represented by One God? Yes. So God did understand what it would take? It seems to me that yes he did.

    So, it seems to me there was a Divine purpose for these killings—It was effective in establishing, in the minds of the pagans that there was a nation that was represented by One God and that He was powerful–thus real. The fear of God’s power is what got through to the other nations, and I am sure it made quite an impression on His chosen people as well.

    So I argue that God did what He knew he had to do to take the next step in the progressive Revelation of Himself to the world. Now, I am sure that an all loving Creator was not happy to have to kill souls, but to sacrifice those souls in order to reveal Himself more fully seems more of a necessity rather than some sadistic act of violence. For me it’s about trust that God did what He knew He had to do to bring the Revelation of Himself to the next level in Salvation History (of course He also communicated His displeasure with sin and disobedience while he Introduced Himself)

    This is, at least, how I looked at it. I would love to hear what Father thinks.

    Peace to all–in this era of Fullness of Revelation,
    Jim

  19. Taryn says:

    As interesting as this discussion was, I hope (and am more or less certain) that everyone here understands that they are discussing a topic that is essentially unfalsifiable. The nature of God as described in the bible is not something that we were ever meant to fully understand. It is philosophical, requires certain assumptions, and is hardly a mathematical code that can be broken. Therefore, as much as this discussion probably helped a lot of people rationalise the topic of genocide in their own minds, it always essentially relies on a significant assumption that athesits and agnostics, like myself, cannot make.

    Archangel very eloquently laid out the concerns that I already had so I have no need to reword his already very well written points. The only point I would like to touch on is those of the persons saying that life is a gift – a loan from God that he can collect on at any time. I can understand this, but even if he has the authority to take life whenever he pleases, it does not necessarily mean that he automatically has a good reason for doing so. Think about it – I have the authority to do something. I can use the authority guided by my moral compass, or I can use the authority arbitrarily. Someone gave an example of loaning a book – the book remains my property therefore I can take it back whenever I want. I can wait until you had the pleasure of reading the book, or I can find out that you’ve just about reached the climax of the story and then take the book back for no other reason than I felt like it.

    Of course, as Christians, you must assume apriori that God’s reasons must be good – maybe the person did something that resulted in God wanting to take the person’s life before his/her golden years. So once again, the assumption comes in. It is inescapable really. But I’m sure you knew that already. In any case, I really appreciate pages like these where people take the time to think about their views and do the relevant research instead of just accepting and shrugging their shoulders. Ignorance is the most annoying thing in the world.

    On a final note, I came here to research God-commanded genocide and found the discussion quite interesting and lingered long enough to make my own comment. Just thought I should make full disclosure in case you guys thought I was trolling to add “evil atheist comments” on a Christian page. Hardly the case.

    Take care.

  20. Tony says:

    The ‘Ban’ was a problem for me and was the reason I searched the internet. Great info! Happy to learn this issue bothers many devout Christians. Here is one more consideration not yet covered:
    I seem to recall God telling his people somewhere in the OT to wait because the iniquity of these people had not reached its full height yet and this delay was many years. Perhaps the then full blown iniquity that included sacrificing their children led to the entire people to be possessed by the devil and that God knew that their utter destruction was necessary somehow for their own eternal good and that any cohabitation with His chosen people would only provide satan with the means to corrupt His chosen people.

  21. ExOttoyuhr says:

    I discovered a probable resolution to this problem. The Catholic Encyclopedia speaks of two categories of the moral law or natural law: the primary natural law, which applies to all intelligent beings (God included) at all times and under all circumstances, and the secondary natural law, which differs for each intelligent species and which, when followed, makes a being more of the ideal for his species.

    Primary natural law commands include not murdering (i.e., not killing someone who one knows is innocent, in a deliberate and premeditated manner, in a context without extenuating circumstances), not envying, and not acting out of a spirit of desecration. Human secondary natural law commands include things like not killing innocents (which would not be an element of the secondary natural law for an intelligent species of birds — mammals do have a strong aversion to killing con-specifics, but birds do not), and marrying monogamously and without divorce (which intelligent horses, for example, would probably not have).

    Under certain circumstances, elements of the secondary natural law for a given intelligent species do not apply. To ignore elements of the secondary natural law is a serious matter, but there are circumstances in which it’s intuitively clear that a particular provision of the secondary natural law does not apply, and others in which this can be determined through sincere reflection and study — which, however, must be undertaken in a spirit of desire to obey the secondary as well as the primary natural law.

    Not all premises of the secondary natural law can be obeyed at all times; for example, the secondary natural law for human male sexuality contains three commands, one to ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ one to marry only one wife, and one to be celibate, and obviously no more than two of these — often no more than one — can be obeyed at a given time.

    An early speculation was that God could dispense people from the secondary natural law; the Church rejects this view, but it does say that the secondary natural law is complex, and that under certain circumstances, the commands which would normally be universally binding cease to be so. I’m not entirely sure how to safely describe God’s orders to enforce the Ban and exterminate the Amalekites, but I no longer think that it’s logically impossible, but only that I’m not enough of a theologian to do it.

    Put less tactfully, this is Archangel’s answer #2: killing innocents is not wrong — in sufficiently extraordinary circumstances. That doesn’t mean the Orangemen in Ireland, though, and it doesn’t mean WWII; the Catholic Encyclopedia sneers like the New Atheists at the crude and barbarous condition of the Israelites, and it’s the Church’s opinion that the Ban and the Amalekite genocide offer no moral guide whatsoever for modern times.

  22. Bruno Leclercq says:

    It appears that no one cares to take notice that the God of Abraham was a tribal god. Abraham was a polytheist and so was Moses.
    As for the difference between the god of the Israelites then, and the God of the Christian, it is precisely that
    the Christian God is the same that is behind Creation and evolution, it is God the Father with the other two aspects of his.
    He certainly would not make a chosen people, something quite normal for a tribal god.
    Christianity should forget a large part of the Old Testament as it teaches limited, skewed rules for the benefit of the descendants of Abraham.
    There are good prayers in the old testament, but there are some also in the Coran, another book that can hardly represent God’s will as it fails to forbid killing.
    so, take those books, enjoy what is in line with Christian teaching, what elevates your soul, and forget the rest.
    Note that the Christian religion is the only one that never condones killing.
    All the others have no problem with it whether in the Mediterranean or in Asia.

  23. Brother Andrew says:

    Dear Brother Charles,

    This is certainly a tough aspect of the Original Covenant which puts a great many of the Brothers’ and Sisters’ feet to the fire. I see it as a great blessing in disguise – an opportunity to examine the real world effects of a sinful heart whether of an individual or a nation.

    As you know, Leviticus chapter 18 is one of several places that outlines the sex crimes. Often times we gloss over the opening statement, reading from the King James version:

    Lev 18:3 KJV – After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.
    Lev 18:4 KJV – Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I [am] the LORD your God.
    Lev 18:5 KJV – Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I [am] the LORD.

    If you notice, it says not to copy the customs and manners of the Egyptians nor those of the Canaanites. The entire chapter is a summary of everything the Egyptians and Canaanites practiced as a matter of public policy (law). If it were not so, this chapter would not open up with mentioning these two nations. The interesting thing is, every other nation thereafter and likely before that practiced these abominations burned to rubble. As a parallel, I’d like to direct your attention to the public policies coming out of Washington, Ottawa, London, Canberra, and the entire Western world. We were told to be a lamp unto the nations. Sadly we seem to be hiding our lights under baskets. I am still learning about the bans but I do believe I stumbled upon something whilst spelunking through these old caverns, and wished to share it with someone with access to a wider audience in the body of Christ.

    Peace be with you,

    Brother Andrew

  24. Brother Andrew says:

    I spoke too soon. I looks like the first comment involved someone named “Chief of sinners” who on July 24, 2012 included a very interesting link. I will be reading the message board. Thank you Brother for writing the article.

    Peace!

  25. James D says:

    Is it possible that the order was indeed an act of mercy from God? Merciful to both the Hebrews and their enemies? I propose this may have been to save them all from years, decades, even centuries of war, hatred and possibly even scores more deaths over the generations. Possibly, this was to save His people from a future where the defeated rise again and overwhelm the Hebrew people and (maybe) enslave them again. Even for the enemies, it may be better to die by the sword quickly than endure generations of war and die at a later time. God sometimes makes difficult decisions that we don’t understand. But if we try to look at it a different way, we may find an answer, or a different point of view. This is a theory, not a fact. No offense intended.

    James

  26. Bob the Burocrat says:

    What a great discussion. I wish we could get it moving again. In case anyone is still reading, here is my comment. We know that God did not literally create the universe in 6 days, but he did create it. The story is told in such a way as to make a point. The story of the genocide may be similar. The Israelites did indeed destroy their enemy. That the story says they took no booty (women, children, livestock, etc are booty) demonstrates the fact that the enemy was destroyed because they were evil, not for reasons of material gain. Did they literally kill all the children? Maybe not.

  27. Laurel says:

    Everyone forgets that God can give and take life for His divine reason. God did not take these lives or land or precious metals. God does not need land or metals. God needs our love and faith in Him. With that being said …man murdered and took in the name of God and justified it..wrapped it up and called it the Coran..the Bible and anything else man wanted to call it. And man continues this even today. How can God give the 10 Commandments then command them directly after this to break every commandment? Simple….they did this of their own vilicion and labeled it as God’s word. Afterall..who physically wrote these scriptures…men…It’s like the game “Grapevine”… by the time the word finds its way to the last player it is unrecognizable. Believe in God…not stories passed from ancient hands hundreds of years written after the fact and passed down and dont try to understand and pick apart God …just love Him as He gave us life and asks simply that we have faith in Him. To limit faith in a any book takes away further knowledge as God reveals it. And faith knows no bounds.

  28. Laurel says:

    Amen

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