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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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
153 Replies to “Did God Command Genocide?”
It has been a while since I read the warring parts of the OT, so my thinking is a little fuzzy overall, but —
(1) I would find the argument from authority to carry the least amount of weight. Perhaps it is a good argument for Allah, but not so much for the God of the OT and NT.
As Pope Benedict pointed out in his Regensburg lecture, Allah might be so all-powerful that he can act contrary to himself, that he can act unreasonably, but the Judeo-Christian God, while all-powerful, being the Logos — Truth — cannot act contrary to Himself, God cannot be both God and Not-God. He cannot act contrary to Truth and Reason, and He cannot be or do anything contrary to love, because He is Love. So, one really cannot say that it is OK for God to murder because He is God and can do whatever He wants, that if He does an objectively evil act, then it is not evil. Such a concept of God, while perfectly in line with the Koran, is contrary to the Triune God of Love and Truth.
In faith, I must accept that there is a good explanation for the Ban — one that is consistent with Love and Truth, reading the Ban (and all of the OT) in light of the NT and, more particularly, in light of Christ — but I do not find the “because He’s God, that’s why, and He doesn’t have to answer to you” explanation to be very satisfactory.
(2) Setting aside for the moment the question of explaining the killing part of the Ban, and the historical accuracy of the scriptural accounts (until I go back and reread those parts of the Bible and my notes thereon), the “don’t keep for yourself those things that should be given over to God” part of the Ban is pretty self-explanatory and should be fairly non-objectionable. But as to the further question — has the Ban been affirmed and carried over into the NT and beyond, to the present day? If we look at the broader implications of the Ban, the broader significance of it, I would say — yes, “the Ban” is still in effect.
Many of the events of Salvation History stand for more than one thing. For example, the Flood does not merely mean some natural disaster thousands of years ago, it also signifies the death of sin by the waters of Baptism. (Even the dietary laws, while abrogated, still apply in the sense that the underlying teaching — that everything belongs to God and is subject to Him (which would include one’s daily food) — still applies. The dietary and purification laws themselves were merely preparatory to learning this underlying meaning, just as most of the written Law and Old Covenant is preparatory to the Holy Spirit writing God’s law in men’s hearts in the New Covenant.)
Thus, it would seem reasonable to conclude that, beyond the literal and historical nature of the Ban, there is what it signifies, what it prefigures. Given that the Ban was about destroying, not just anybody, but the (sinful) enemies of God and God’s people and banning the keeping for oneself those things that belonged to the enemy, but should be turned over to God, the broader concept would seem to be about destroying all sin and evil, thorougly and completely. And that God should command us to fight like soldiers to destroy sin and evil, leaving none of it standing, and not keep sinful remnants for ourselves, is something that we have discussed and approved of in recent prior discussions.
(3) As for the literal Ban itself, and all of the war in the OT, those parts were unsettling and disturbing when I read them. A very careful reading is required to understand them properly. And if one does not understand them properly, he runs the risk of going off and saying things like “the Haiti earthquake was punishment from God.” Also, much as I might find comfort in thinking that it is all purely “myth” and allegorical, it does seem to be presented in the OT as historical fact, so I am inclined to likewise reject the “God never said it” theory. But, again, it’s been a while since I read these parts and various commentaries thereon (I don’t recall reading any magisterial teachings on them), and it’s been a while since my own personal “lectio divina” on them, meager and poor as it is. So, I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Yes I understand spiritualizing the Ban and in that sense it is still in effect. But as you say it is the literal Ban that I puzzle over.
Well reasoned and thoughtful exegesis. I appreciate your insights, monsignor! Thank you for tackling the tough ones!
Tim Hope DRE
St Philomena Parish
Des Moines, WA
Thanks for reading and pondering!
Great post about a difficult question Father. The argument from authority is a good one, though it doesn’t account in itself to explain how God could command evil, (i.e. the killing of the innocent). Thus, I have always wondered if they were all guilty. After all, if they practiced child sacrifice, it very well could be the case that there were no children under the age of reason to kill at the time of the conquest by Israel. I don’t think this is too far fetched, for we read of Pharaoh killing all the Israelite male children for a time. We also read of Herod doing the same. I would not put it past a culture that enjoys child sacrifice to kill all of their children under the age of reason. In fact, it makes sense for them to do it precisely when the Israelites are upon them. They could have performed such a mass infanticide to appease their demonic idols and ask for assistance against Israel.
The flaw with this position is that it is not supported by the immediate texts. It would make sense of the situation in my mind though.
Ok, though it seems unlikely that all the children under 7 were killed. Not much of a future for that culture!
Seven years later I come across this article and read you comment.
You said: “The argument from authority is a good one, though it doesn’t account in itself to explain how God could command evil, (i.e. the killing of the innocent).”
Think about the God sacrificing His Son – the most innocent of all.
I always found these texts from Deuteronomy/Leviticus/Samuel etc to be very hard reading. Indeed it was precisely the notion that God’s morality seemed to be purely arbitrary that was part of the impetus that drove me down the path of atheism. It seemed self evidently contradictory that God could be described a Love yet at the same time order the gruesome slaughter of children and babies. Even though I have since found my way back to God and back to the Church I still find a great unease with these passages; they still remain unanswered to my modern moral mind. Maybe my modern moral mind is the problem.
Yes, sometimes we just have to accept that there are puzzles in scripture and faith just as even science has its imponderables.
Always we keep in mind that God is infinitely Just and Merciful – and we simply cannot understand all He does, or commands or allows. Many things we accept simply on Faith. Two examples of this are the existence of evil in God’s creation. Another (for me especially) is Christ’s Real Presence, His Physical Presence in the Eucharist – to which the only thing anyone has ever been able to say is “…where shall we go, you have the words of life…” God wants our complete trust and faithfullness. It is essentially a test.
Ah nescio quid!
I tend to agree with you (although I’m a little unsure what you mean at the beginning of the paragraph “In the end …”). The passages exist and they are a part of God’s written word. God’s living Word never repudiated them or explained them and still was able to proclaim that He did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. I have long since given up the idea that I need to understand everything God has ever done or is doing. As St. Paul reminds us, our knowledge is, at best, imperfect. Personally, I do not believe my salvation depends on comprehending the Ban. And if it is not necessary for salvation, then I can live without it.
I also appreciate your frankness in discussing these passages. It is important that we who believe always take an honest look at our religion. Because if we who believe don’t, others will.
Thanks, I agree.
Can we say that the Bible is a notebook of some learners in the school of God? The teacher gave them some notes to write down. On occasion some learners did not write the entire message as the teacher had instructed. We have the written message to work with. In earlier parts of the book the writers do not have a very clear understanding of who God is……little mention of mercy and kindness but much emphasis on God’s power and justice. Later on, God’s love is clearly mentioned and celebrated. As an individual I have to tread the narrow path. Failure means I will be thrown out into the outer darkness. It will not matter if there will be some good in me. No trace of mortal sin i acceptable. The children in those cities destroyed under the ban were innocent.
When Our Lord Jesus Christ comes at the end of time, some persons will be alive in body. Some of these alive will be expectant mothers. Will the unborn children be subject to judgment?
I suspect they will be liable to judgment since life begins at conception. I think for them the judgment they face will consist in what remains undone for them rather than what they have done.
Are we required to believe that everything that is recorded in the Old Testament happened literally? Could it not be that some of the events in the Old Testament never happened literally but nevertheless are inerrant renditions of eternal moral truths? If so, then the moral of such events could be found in a metaphorical reading of the passage: God commands us to completely destroy the vices and temptations that threaten our relationship with him, down to the smallest “infant” temptation.
I guess I don’t see how such a metaphorical reading of the Old Testament opens us up to liberal license. We read (the old testament especially) as metaphor when contradictions and difficulties _within_ scripture or between scripture and undeniable science (such as the dates of genesis and evolution) demand it. We don’t read scripture as metaphor when a contradiction between scripture and popular culture demands it. Thus, we escape the problem of the murdered infants without falling into the trap of, say, ignoring the bible’s sexual restrictions.
What am I missing?
The teaching of the Catholic Church about inerrancy is that what the human authors intended as truth is true. The Sacred Scriptures are inerrant in matters of faith and morals as well as historically. God is the author od Scripture, the human authors are true authors, although secondary authors. See Fr. William Most’s book, Without Error..
To read something as a metaphor cannot set aside the historicity of the event. Hence, to spiritualize the event or make it a spiritual jihad is not unacceptable but it cannot address the problem of the historicity attentest to by the text.
Monsignor, I’m just a simple in the pew Catholic, but I believe in evil spirits.
Couldn’t the evil spirits in the people have gone into the animals, and they would all be destroyed only by killing everyone and everything?
Yes, anything is possible such as when the Lord drove the demon into the swine. The real problem here isn’t the animals but the hilling of the humans.
I find it interesting that so many people have difficulty with believing that God would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah or that God would order the Ban, but they do not have similar difficulties with the destruction of Pompei, or for that matter the devastation that has recently hit Haiti. If one is judging God for the loss of life, these are all pretty equivalent.
Two things should be kept in mind regarding the Ban, though. The first is the example of Rahab. She showed that the Canaanites knew what was coming, but they refused to change their ways — in fact, when God had told Abraham what was going to happen, He had said that his descendants would remain in Egypt “until the iniquity of the Amorites was made full”. Rahab, on the other hand, was willing to change and embrace the God of Israel, and so she saved both her life and the life of her family.
Secondly, I think the reason for having the Canaanites destroyed by the hand of Israel, rather than by direct divine action, was so to impress on the Israelites what was happening, and why. These people had lived in the Promised Land, but they gave themselves over to wickedness, and now they are being destroyed. It was an object lesson and a warning — a much more effective warning than mere words.
Excellent answer. And the scripture reference of the sin of the Amorites is Genesis 15:16, in which God gave the Amorites “four generations” to repent and change their ways. Perhaps a “modern” example (though I don’t know of any “warning” given to them) is the defeat of the Aztecs by the Spaniards. The Aztecs were a blood-thirsty lot — sacrificing men, women *and* children. Written reports sent back to the Old World may be found in some university libraries, and online. Would someone argue that the Aztecs should have been given more time to amend their ways? — all the while sacrificing yet more innocents? I often find that the same people who have trouble with the Bible and God “wiping out” sinful degenerates are the same ones that have no problem “saving trees” yet aborting children.
Ok so you’re advancing the notion that no one was innocent. But why kill infants. I am not rejecting your point of view but it leaves that one question unanswered
I’m no scholar but I’d like to forward one possibility. Could God have permitted the destruction of the children to prevent the perpetuation of the sinful cultures of those nations? While at the same time saving the immortal souls of the children. Having only the stain of original sin, and not sin of personal choice? I asked God once what happens to children who die in abortion and before the age of reason and I believe he answered me. Not so much in words but impressing it on my heart. The answer was that they would be purified in purgatory, just as others who die with venial sin will be purified before entering into heaven. The stain not being equal to to the culpable choice of Adam who made a conscious choice to disobey God.
I don’t have all the answers. But do children, even infants, die all the time because their parents are foolish or evil? Of course. The problem of evil really is a problem, and knowing that it has a solution gets me no closer to really UNDERSTANDING that solution than knowing that Fermat’s Last Theorem has been proved gets me to understanding the proof.
Ultimately, I suspect that family connections are stronger than we think. How else are we to make sense of the sin of Adam alienating all his descendants from God? How are we to understand the importance of descent from David to the Incarnation or why it was especially fitting for the Blessed Virgin to be preserved from the stain of sin? How else are we to understand infant baptism?
We may be Catholics, but we are immersed in an individualistic society that is founded on Protestant principles, and we have to be aware that this limits our own perspective.
I have just recently begun studying Scripture on my own, and I find Deuteronomy and Leviticus very confusing. I guess one is not supposed to try and read the Bible cover to cover?
I think God does things for a reason, but I don’t think that He “makes” bad things happen. When I was going through some bad traumas, someone once told me that God didn’t let those things happen to me. God is there for me through it, and will help me heal from it. Just like when people die when I’m at work, and I’ve done everything in my power to try and save them, and they still die, God is there for me and for the families, to help us heal. I could go as far as to say that the Devil makes bad things happen, but that would open up a lot of doors as well. I don’t know if anybody really knows WHY there is rape and murder and genocide, and I have always wanted to know why people do the things they do. Maybe it’s because I am a psychology and Physician Assistant major. Who knows. Anyways, just my thoughts on things. I am nowhere near as knowledgable on Scripture as most of the other people who comment, but I like to comment when I think I understand and can contribute. Great post, as always, Monsignor!
Yes, you’ve broadened the question to the whole problem of evil. A real difficultly and deeply mysterious
Some quick comments on the comments.
Bender, you wrote God “cannot act contrary to Himself,” and John H., you asked “how God could command evil.” I don’t disagree with either statement on their face. But, if, as I believe, God is beyond my comprehension and His ways inscruttable, how can I be judge if He is acting contrary to Himself or if He has commanded evil. I agree with these statements on their face, but in practice they lead me in circles. E.g. God cannot command evil. Ergo, if God commanded it, it is not evil. Or, if God did it, then ipso facto it was part of his nature.
namatsi: I, too, have tended to regard parts of Sacred Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, as an imperfect understandings of God’s intention. But this does not solve the problem. Regardless of whether the writers understood God’s true intent or recorded events accurately, the Spirit saw fit that these passages be part of Scripture. They are not there by accident.
I guess the answer to your question is that though God may transcend our understanding he does not contradict reason. This is really the point the Pope was making at Regensburg, the address that got him in trouble with the Muslims.
I don’t find this very difficult at all. Maybe I am being too simplistic, but God IS the ruler of all things. His wisdom, knowledge, mercy etc. is far beyond our comprehension. If the Israelites were God’s chosen people, we can safely assume the victims were not. The victims were clearly, in God’s view, living outside of his laws. As Roman Catholics we know a rejection of God’s laws can lead to banishment to Hell. But that happens after the death of the body. So, I think this passage is hard to swallow because God did this live, on earth AND had his chosen people do it. Yes, we have the Ten Commandments which say, “Thou shalt not kill”, but If we are to truly be a servant of the Lord we must obey him and trust in his divine knowledge even when our HUMAN capacities and other laws he has handed down seem contadictory. In other words, we need to STOP trying to equate our Lord’s understanding to our own. To do so implies that we are equal to him in intellect and that is simply wrong, and in my opinion, insulting to him. That’s why we have faith. For me, part of having faith is the belief and the knowing that our God is a loving God and is fair, even in his justice. Just my opinion, God Bless. And Msgr. feel free to correct me. I am always looking for better understanding as God intends to be understood..
Well basically you are articulting the Argument from Authority. Fine if you ask me but just not wholly satisfactory to everyone. But it IS one of the answers often advanced.
Thank you Monsignor, I have thought of this often but have never (until now) heard any priest attempt to address it openly. It’s like the elephant in the living room that everyone wants to step around. I do have several comments to add to the discussion:
— It appears that even the OT writers were aware of the harshness of the Ban ( Read the book of Wisdom
chapter 12 especially verses 9-15.
— We do not and can never perceive things as the ancients did. St Augustine also seems to have
wrestled with this. (Read ch7 of his confessions, at one point he states: “Is justice therefore variable and
changeable? No, but the times over which it presides are not all alike, because they are temporal.
Men whose days are few upon the earth, cannot harmonize by their own perceptions the causes of former
ages and other nations, of which they have no experience, with those of which they have experience”).
— Wasn’t the ban a common practice in the ancient world when one people conquered another, especially
when their intent was to live in the land they conquered. To leave grown men alive was obvious, but
to leave women and children alive would have invited vengeance within a generation.
Yes. It was common practice. I appreciate the quote from Augustine who in effect challenges us as to our ability to judge former ages.
I also have been troubled by these texts, and published an article in Philosophy and Rhetoric in 1999 entitled “Biblical Terrorism: with a Platonic Deconstruction”; and also a recent piece in insidecatholic.com, May 21, 2009, on “When Religion gets Violent.” It’s interesting that Thomas Aquinas in places where he examines divine commands that seem to go against the natural law — e.g. the command to Abraham to slay Isaac, the command to the Israelites to steal the goods of the Egyptians, the command to the prophet Osee to have relations with a prostitute, etc., does not include the “ban” at all! There was not even a word for genocide in his time. I think we should concentrate on the evolution of both morality and religion from the Old to the New Testament, and appreciate the amelioration that has taken place.
Thanks. Are your articles on-line?
Yes, the article from http://www.insidecatholic.com is still available on their website. Another relevant article I have published last November, “Religious Committment: the Natural-Law Criteria,” is available online at the Heythrop Journal website, http://www.wiley.com/bw/journal.asp?ref=0018-1196. It goes into the issue of natural law and religious violence.
There’s a great series of articles on this question on this blog; I believe the author takes the same approach but goes much more in depth:
Thanks for these links. I have scanned them and they seem quite good
I tend to understand the Ban this way:
1. The Scriptures faithfully and inerrantly record God’s interaction with the world through His chosen people, the Israelites in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament, of which Israel is a type.
2. The Scriptures teach us that physical death is a punishment for sin, and that all mankind is subject to it, even those whom we would consider innocent. And coming from God, this sentence is just.
3. All of the Canaanites (and the Israelites too, for that matter) would have died anyway. Minor point, however.
4. Besides the bald declaration in Genesis that “because you have eaten of the tree of life, you shall die”, the Ban teaches us that those who are not holy to God are subject to the sentence of death, and coming from God, the sentece is just. The realm of the holy and the realm of the unholy can’t have anything to do with each other. Considered solely in its relationship to God, the Isrealites are not nearly as holy as they should have been, but vis-a-vis the rest of the world, Israel and God are a package deal. Israel’s dealings with peoples not belonging to God are as God’s dealings with peoples not belonging to God.
5. In the new dispensation in Christ, the kingdom we occupy is an otherworldly kingdom and the death we avoid is the otherworldly death. We learn this, in part though, because when the chosen of God in the old dispensation occupied their this-worldly kingdom, the not-chosen-of-God experienced a this-worldly death.
It seems to me that if a just and loving God could not command innocents (infants, I guess) to be slain by the Israelites, ultimately it’s because He could not command that they be slain at all (accidents, disease, birth defects). I’m guessing that indicates more of a defect in my understanding of what God’s love requires of Him than a defect in His love.
Yes, here again there is a kind of nescio quid argument. Fine as far as I’m concerned but not satisfying to all.
I find Deuteronomy and Leviticus very confusing. I guess one is not supposed to try and read the Bible cover to cover?
Katherine — that is the error too many make, reading scripture in isolation, rather than in the context of the whole. To gain a correct understanding, one must read the OT in light of the NT, and the NT in light of the OT, a coherent, consistent whole (as well as, when necessary, reading it in the context of extra-biblical history). For example, to properly understand the command to offer Isaac in sacrifice, we must read it in light of Christ to properly understand. Reading it in isolation, apart from Jesus, leads one to the conclusion that God is getting sadistic kicks terrorizing Abraham by throwing His power around. So, yes, to properly understand Deuteronomy and Leviticus, one must read the entirety of the Bible first (as well as listen to the Magisterium and Tradition).
Moreover, we must remember that there is only ONE God — a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and that when this One God acts, it is the entirely of the Trinity who acts, not merely one of the three. So, in reading the passages at issue, we have to understand that it is not merely God the Father commanding this, it is Jesus as well. That this seems entirely inconsistent and contrary to everything we believe about Jesus is troubling to say the least, but there is it.
And that we should, indeed, strive to understand and not merely blindly follow is clear from the very act of Salvation History itself — God’s attempt to continually reveal more of Himself to mankind so that we might have a better and greater understanding of Him. Made in the image of God, that is, made in the image of the Logos (from which we get the word “logic,” meaning “reason”), we should strive to embrace both faith and reason. Simply having a blind faith, not even attempting to see the reason in it, leads one to invarabily adopt all sorts of unreasonable conclusions, as our non-Magisterial Protestant brothers and sisters have all too often done, not to mention Muslims who, as an article of faith, blindly follow whatever Allah of the Koran says, no matter how self-contradictory, inconsistent, and contrary to reason.
Thank you for the explanation. I am constantly trying to learn everything I can to broaden my faith, and be a better person overall. I purposely do things out of my comfort zone just to do something new and get a different perspective. I do have some books from a Bible study, so I will work with those as well. I definitely want to become more proficient in Scripture. I don’t like to blindly follow things – in fact, I won’t – so I learn everything I can. And I greatly appreciate the blog, and getting to read all the comments, because it does help me understand certain things much better.
The innocent often die in situations of mass destruction. The problem is in seeing THIS life as the greater good, or in some cases, as any good at all. If these civilizations were as bad as they seem, as described by God and Moses, then how good would it be for innocent children to grow up in them? The truly innocent have the “hope” of growing up in a society that will turn them into the same kind of licentious and murderous people as their parents. Parents sacrifice their children to demonic, insatiable Gods; or give them over to use as temple prostitution, boys and girls. It would seem to be a greater mercy to kill them while innocent along with their guilty parents. Those who are truly innocent would be spared in terms of eternity, whereas if they were allowed to live, they might lose their souls because they adopted the ways of their culture. It’s not as if the children grew up in a pluralistic culture like ours wherein there is some hope that unbelievers will encounter the more positive influence of Christianity or Judaism. In that location, in that time, the Jews were surrounded by pagan societies. There was little chance of a child learning anything other than the paganism of their own society. To include them in the ban would be like a baptism of blood.
On top of it, we see throughout the Bible how the Israelites were so often influenced by the pagans which remained once they came to occupy Palestine. This was the reason for the Judges and the Prophets so often having to call them back to fidelity, the reason for the dispersion, etc. Imagine how much worse it would have been if the Israelites had had to co-exist with ALL the pagan societies that were present at the time of their arrival at the Jordan? It was necessary to preserve the Israelites genetically as far as possible, as well as to preserve their Laws and their Worship, because this was God’s plan in preparing for the Messiah, who came, humanly speaking, from the Jews. Only God could foresee the potential for near complete absorption of the Jews into the pagan culture that surrounded them if the pagans were not wiped out.
I guess the bottom line for me is, if this life were all we had, the innocent dying under a ban would be an unspeakable atrocity. But the innocent can be spared for eternity if they lose their earthly lives, and the Israelite culture/laws/worship can be preserved fairly intact in preparation for Christ. God alone knows the state of one’s heart, knows the future of each, knows who will or will not be saved in certain situations.
If God permits the most innocent, his Son, to die to save us, if he can permit the death of the children of Bethlehem in favor of his Son, then how unmerciful is it really to preserve the Israelites in anticipation of the Incarnation of his Son, even if it includes the death of innocent pagan children who will also be spared either sacrificial death to false Gods, or the destruction of their souls by the adoption of the parent’s pagan beliefs?
Again, we can’t apply this reasoning to OUR times because we do live in a much more pluralistic society, and there is hope of encountering Christianity “and salvation” even in relatively isolated regions. And today it is no longer desireable to isolate the “chosen people” from the “unbelievers.”
Good points esp about this not being all we have.
If we are to truly be a servant of the Lord we must obey him and trust in his divine knowledge even when our HUMAN capacities and other laws he has handed down seem contadictory.
Brian — and if God were to command that we should no longer obey Him, should we obey that?
If we obey it, then we are violating it because He said to no longer obey Him.
But if we disobey, then we might be obeying that particular command, but in the greater sense, we are sinning against Him.
Try as we may, we cannot escape reason — we cannot blindly follow, we cannot merely salute and say, “yes sir,” and shut up. God is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life. True, things might be a mystery — much of the faith is a mystery — but we cannot hide behind “mystery” and not even attempt to understand. To do that is to become a Pharisee, blindly following the letter of the Law, without any consideration of the spirit. Moreover, in practice, it leads one to start thinking that, because God violently smote His enemies, it is right and proper that we should do the same, which historically has led to nothing but a cycle of war and misery. That understand of God and man — a blind faith understanding — is the wrong understanding.
No, that God and His ways are hard to understand is not the ending point. When faced with such difficulties, it is not appropriate to simply throw up one’s hands and say, “well, God is a mystery,” and not even try to understand. When we come to a point where God appears on the surface to be acting contrary to Jesus Christ — contrary to Love and Truth — we must not simply accept such a conclusion, that God can be contrary to Love and Truth if He wants to. Rather, we must continue on and say that such a conclusion is clearly wrong, and then try, as best we can, to reconcile the troubling scripture passage with Love and Truth.
Again, I reference Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Lecture, found here.
Good I appreciate the reference to the Regensburg lecture
As Jesus made known-God allowed divorce(via Moses) because of the hardness of the human heart. It is an evil,(but not an intrinsic evil such as abortion),that later Christ made known was not to be done by Christians. God also allowed the evil of slavery,but with restrictions-again because of our fallen state.But it seems God was waiting for a time that this evil on injustice to “run it’s course.” The Holy Fathers now speak out against slavery.
So although other texts in the O.T. make know the other peoples were not in fact toaly destroyed by the Hebrews-perhaps God allowed the killing of innocent people at that time by them.
The saint make know to see that everything that happens to one,as coming from the hand of God. God eternally so it,and either absolutley willed it so,or gave His permissive will to it.
Actually, it is an intrinsic evil. Moses did allow it, but God never willed it (except by his permissive wil). That was because if he did not allow it the men would simple kill their wives and then re-marry.
Our Lord commanded them to forbear from uprooting the cockle in order to spare the wheat, i.e. the good. This occurs when the wicked cannot be slain without the good being killed with them, either because the wicked lie hidden among the good, or because they have many followers so that they cannot be killed without danger to the good (Augustine: Contra Parmen). It is plain there were no good in the eyes of God, so He uprooted them all. The Ammorites were deep in the sin of idolatry (His spirit was stirred within him seeing the whole city given to idolatry: Acts 17:16), and had taken the Ark of God (1 Kings 4:11; Douay-Rheims Ver.), the glory is departed from Israel because the ark of God was taken (4:22). God’s Justice demanded that he stamp out paganism and introduce Fear of the Lord. Dispensing of justice is to correct, just a medicine is given to the sick. Idol worship violated the First Commandment. They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness and image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of four footed beasts and of creeping things; Who worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:23, 25). Punishment restors disorder (CCC 2266), and is proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Therefore the offense of idol worship was counted as amoung the gravest of sin because it is unbelief that is the gravest sin of all. God’s Glory is restored; wicked sinners are put to death; and Saul is punished for disobedience like Adam.
Ah yes the none are innocent argument. Well stated,
Many of theses points bring some clarity. What I see, also, is that the “Law” does show the fullness of Jesus. If we do not take the “ban” out of the context of the living word of God. In Gen 6, we see the “sons of God”, or those after Sem, worshiped God, while the “sons of men”, did evil. With the flood, God destroys all but those who find “do” favor with God. In Gen. 14 Melchisedech blesses abraham, and abraham wants this part, but not booty “lest it is said that the Lord enriched abraham.” Gen. 15, as noted above, the iniquity is not yet full, by those of the “sons of men”, that inhabited cannan. Gen. 19, Lot offers his daughters “who have not known man”, but all the people, young and old, wanted to do evil upon the angels. Gen. 20, “shall God slay the ignorant or the just?”, God says “I kept you from sin, or I would have destroyed you for it”. So, it maybe that all four of your explanations bring more clarity. He did say it, He does have authority, They were not innocent. God loves us so much, that He lowers his majesty to show us the reason. We have already been told that God punishes evil, and rewards faith. It appears certain that the amalekites knew what was to come, and why. They waylaid the “sons of God” in the desert, practiced infanticide, and worshiped stone idols. When iniquity is full, it destroys, and if we do not reject it, it can destroy unto death. It is sobering to put 2 and 2 together and think what may be coming to us, for the infanticide in our country. It could be as Mother Theresa said, the “fruit” of child murder is nuclear war, or the ban, or total amelioration.
The warning is well stated for us today who practice infanticide
One other point —
If the answer we get is unsatisfactory, if the conclusion we come to is clearly wrong and inconsistent with what we already know to be true, one response is to look for other possible answers, other possible conclusions.
But another response is to consider that maybe it is the question that is wrong.
If you start from a wrong premise, the conclusion is invariably going to be wrong as well.
Well said. Perhaps the questions are wrong
Monsignor, I struggled with this issue a great deal perhaps five years back. As a precursor let me say that I, like you, hold to the strict inerrancy of Scripture, recognizing it as the constant teaching of the Church, reinterated in Dei Verbum (Kapler, “The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center,” Appendix VII). On this matter of the ban, or “herem,” I have glimpsed a Fifth Way to interpret the texts which has been of help to me personally. I had the first glimpse of such an alternative when reading the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s “The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible.” I wish I had a copy handy to reference the exact wording. The gist of it though is that when we take account of literary genre, ancient narrative, manner of expression, etc., we can affirm the inerrancy of Scripture while at the same time offering that a more figurative understanding of the ban – if that was the intent of the author. The only other research that I’ve found, pursuing the sacred author’s use of “hyperbole” as a valid instrument in ancient narrative is the following doctoral disseration (which I thoroughly enjoyed!):
“Did God command genocide? Christian theology and the herem”
Todd Lyle Lake, Boston College
I examine how major Christian theologians have dealt with God’s commands in Deuteronomy to kill “everything that breathes,” the herem, and the narratives in Joshua which tell of this command being carried out. The problem of theodicy pales in comparison with a literal reading of texts where God commands Israel to massacre infants, women and children. Whether it happened in reality or only in the text is not as significant as one might at first suppose. In either case, God is portrayed as standing behind the practice. This God is either beyond morality, or, as many modern scholars believe, Israel misunderstood what God had revealed. In the former case, one’s view of God’s character suffers. In the latter, one’s trust in Israel as a faithful witness to God’s words and deeds is severely eroded. I believe that the herem is best understood as hyperbole. When read against its ancient Near Eastern background and in its biblical context, it becomes clear that the original writers and readers would have understood it as such. My approach is consciously interdisciplinary and takes seriously the contributions of archaeology, historical criticism, systematic theology, and the history of exegesis. Augustine’s belief in a literal herem was a repudiation of four centuries of non-literal exegesis of the ban. The literal view of the herem which has reigned since Augustine led Christians to conclude that God is capable of commanding genocide. The Crusades were only the most visible example of the deleterious effect of a literal view of the herem. The damage done to humanity’s view of God’s character has been even more far-reaching. In sharp contrast, most modern scholars have refused to accept a literal herem as coming from God; they assume that Israel simply misunderstood God. But this view has exacerbated a crisis of confidence in the Old Testament as revelation. I believe that the herem, when read in its ancient Near Eastern and biblical context, was intended as hyperbole.
OK so your point seems to be that the author of each book merely added this detail to Challenge the reader to radical adhearance to God?
Sounds like a divinely sanctioned jihad to me.
You missed my point entirely. I agree with you when it comes to the modern world, when we are part of or direct witness to an event. Obviously, we can not say that for the times in which the OT was written. None of us were there. THEREFORE, we must, in good faith, accept the story and BELIEVE that God’s decision was the right one at the time eventhough we can not now, or may never, understand why he acted as he did eventhough it seems contradictory to his laws. For us to question the past as if we know better now then God did then is ridiculous.
I read the whole Bible in the 60’s, and of course my understanding at that time was even more limited than it is at present. I know now, for instance, that the rape of the woman in Judges (sorry you know I can’t quote) can be explained as an accepted custom for legal recompense for forfeiture of debt. So I’m not going to make any comment on the difficulties with the ban, although I really think all comments show so much more thought than I have at present the energy or capacity to give. I am, alternatively, going to put a little ‘prod’ into the argument, just to test our perspective. (I hope in this instance, Bender, you will take my comment if you read it, with a ‘little grain of salt’. There I go into metaphor again. I’m submitting this, as I aid, for an ‘alternative perspective’. Thanks for letting me post the words to my son; doing so made me reconsider and sharpen up some of the comments. So you are, by distance, involved Msgr Pope in my evangelizing attempts to make up for neglecting religious training in order for the children to meet the worldly context of life. (P.S. I believe that as astute thinking as put it, there is an abundance of imaginative content to the Koran, rather than a content of prophetic, and historical even, transformation and content. I also have personal thoughts about what these passages suggest with reference to hell and damnation. But here, I will keep my speculations to myself. Hope I am not offending. Thank you, everyone for providing such excellent commentary.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2009
Time asks the Hasan faith question (kind of)
Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgement of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.
Loreen Lee says:
November 24, 2009, at 2:42 pm
I attempted years ago to understand, and even finish reading the Koran. In matters of understanding the writings within any faith there can be extreme difficulty of interpretation. ‘Fight those who do not believe in Allah,…’ This at least explicitly does not state to kill. ….choose to ‘fight’…’out of those who have been given the book’. This to my understanding would assume restriction of the ‘fight’ to individuals who do not hold ‘the truth’. There is in Islam the tradition of ‘fighting’ for the ‘truth’. I shall continue ‘until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority, and they are in a state of subjection’. Is the superiority one of superiority of belief or ‘station’? ‘Pay the tax’, could be interpreted as some sort of ‘karma’, or ‘penance’, as well as a monetary retribution! ..and are in a state of subjection’ – to the truth or to a physical or other form of power or authority over the person. As I said, the Koran, like all religious literature is difficult to interpret. Is the onus on the individual, the ‘priest-(iman), the congregation? Who is ‘interpretating’ the Koran, and how is the distribution of that interpretation presented, circulated, and controlled?
I like the hyperbole theory. In fact, we don’t really know HOW God communicated to Moses and Joshua and Samuel. Was it a clear voice, heard audibly? Was it an inner voice? Was it though a trance-like state? It is entirely possible that the method of communication still allowed for individual misinterpretation, and what was then communicated to the people was emphasized by means of hyperbole.
The fact of the matter is: not all of the people under the ban were killed. In fact, I have often thought it would be virtually impossible to perfectly fulfill such a ban. People can hide, they can escape, they can find a way to deceive and mingle with their enemies. How could the Israelites be sure they had captured and killed every Amalekite, etc?
Still, the use of hyperbole would go toward making sure that they were especially careful to eradicate all that they could. It would assist them also to resist the temptation to take as slaves persons who might later erode their faith, or lure them to adopt pagan practices. It would assist them in resisting the urge to take items that might have been used in pagan worship, which would have been ritually defiling and another possible source of temptation. (In this regard, it would be something like police who destroy confiscated drugs or pornography. Why take the risk of storing it?)
Still, even if the bible records a misinterpreted command in the form of hyperbole, some innocents would have been killed, and there remains the recorded appearance that God commanded and approved of the killing. and I maintain what I said earlier: that under the circumstances of the time and place, the innocent would benefit since they would be protected from either becoming the victims of murderous worship, or of being degraded in being otherwise used in sinful worship, and worse, of consenting to practice that worship to the destruction of their souls.
To me, it’s all pretty simple:
God makes the rules, he’s omnipotent. He can do whatever he wants, but it will never be evil. We will never understand certains things he does, but it is all part of his plan.
The rule against killing the innocent is for us down here on Earth, not him. Innocent people die all the time for reasons that can only be attributed to God. It is always sad for those of close to them, but it’s all really about the eternal reward or punishment.
Is it really “evil” if God takes a newborn baby from the Earth, and gives them an eternity in Heaven?
The theory about the ‘herem’ being an expression of hyperbole is very interesting. Even today, you will often hear Middle Easterners sling out florid and improbable curses on each other for no apparent reason.
Such massacres could have been hard to carry out simply for practical reasons, and it is doubtful whether people even at that time would have the stomach to do so.
On the other hand, the invasion of Canaan would never have had a day in court under Catholic just war theory. So it seems that God did in some form dispense with his own divine laws for the sake of the Israelites, so that they could come into possession of the Holy Land (though I am inclined to say that this is not really the case, but I can’t make the theological argument)
We can only conclude that God’s ways are inscrutable. But clearly the invasion of Canaan shows what lengths God is prepared to go to in order to save His Elect. It shows how much He hates sin (and all the persons slaughtered by the Israelites were under the dominion of sin, even those under the age of reason). And let us not forget that by ordering the death of the Canaanites from this life, He did not thereby issue their eternal judgment. And He did not subject them to a degrading conversion by the sword, as latter-day ‘holy warriors’ do.
All human beings, “innocent” or not, are tainted with original sin and subject to (at least) physical death, whether sooner or later. We assume implicitly that the later the death and the longer the physical life, the better, and that an early death is always a bad thing for the person who experiences it. God who sees all events and possibilities past, present, and future may know better in many cases. This earthly life passes quickly in any event, and any evils we may endure here are certainly worth it if they are to our benefit in our eternal lives to come.
To go out on the very end of the limb here, the innocents who gave their lives for the sake of Israel’s purity may be honored in Heaven right now, and are even grateful to have been spared an upbringing in a pagan and evil culture that would most likely have fatally corrupted their souls before they died.
Or that whole line of reasoning could be way off base. What I do know for sure is that God is holy, loving, and just, and that anything that looks to our finite, still-ignorant minds like injustice on His part will be revealed in the end as acts of perfect justice and love.
It just came to my mind that we should remember that death is the natural punishment of sin. All the Canaanites were condemned to die as a consequence of the sin of Adam, as well as their own sins. Their slaughter by the Israelites merely had the effect of speeding up the process. So it is not as spectacular as it might seem that God would order such a thing to happen. It sounds horrible, and it is, but sin is far more horrible. And as I said, it had no bearing upon their eternal judgment.
Russ: God permitted divorce, but He commanded the Ban. There is a difference.
The rule against killing the innocent is for us down here on Earth, not him.
So, what you are saying is that it is an arbitrary rule, and that it is not based on objective moral truth. That moral truth is relative — it is one thing for us and another for God.
Surely, you cannot mean that?
Robert, I apologize – I threw “hyperbole” out there but didn’t elucidate Dr. Lake’s doctoral dissertation. His thesis was this: that the phrasing tantamount to “kill every living thing,” is found in other Near Eastern writings – Egyptian, Babylonian – but upon examination of those examples, it becomes obvious that it was an expression, an idiom. It meant to wage war fiercely, not to LITERALLY destroy every living thing. The idiom is hyberbolic. And Lake’s contention is that when God used such language with Moses, Joshua, or Saul, they understood the “literal sense” of the command – what the idiom actually meant. So they would have waged war, bringing judgment upon these cultures, but they would not have put to death every living thing. We use expressions today in a hyperbolic fashion, “Destroy them;” “Crush them;” “Decimate them.” Granted, we’re talking about ancient warfare here as opposed to sports; but you can see where I’m going.
Earlier I said that the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible” started me wondering whether a consideration of literary genres and ancient forms of expression could shed light on the “ban” or “herem.” Now that I’m home from work I can locate the relevant section, No.56. While certainly not infallible, any document signed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger calls for my consideration:
“The theme of the land should not be allowed to overshadow the manner in which the Book of Joshua recounts the entry to the promised land. Many texts speak of consecrating to God the fruits of victory, called the ban (chérèm). To prevent all foreign religious contamination, the ban imposed the obligation of destroying all places and objects of pagan cults (Dt 7:5), as well as all living beings (20:15-18). The same applies when an Israelite town succumbs to idolatry, Dt 13:16-18 prescribes that all its inhabitants be put to death and that the town itself be burned down.
At the time when Deuteronomy was written — as well as the Book of Joshua — the ban was a theoretical postulate, since non-Israelite populations no longer existed in Judah. The ban then could be the result of a projection into the past of later preoccupations. Indeed, Deuteronomy is anxious to reinforce the religious identity of a people exposed to the danger of foreign cults and mixed marriages. 251
Therefore, to appreciate the ban, three factors must be taken into account in interpretation; theological, moral, and one mainly sociological: the recognition of the land as the inalienable domain of the lord;the necessity of guarding the people from all temptation which would compromise their fidelity to God; finally, the all too human temptation of mingling with religion the worst forms of resorting to violence.”
Howard made a good point about Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen.19:24f.). He might have added the Flood (Gen.6:7). These acts reveal a God whose ways are far removed from our ways (Is.55:8) – a seemingly vengeful and bloodthirsty God whom we are tempted to reject (as Marcion famously did in the 2nd c. AD) because He fails to live up to our ideal of mercy and love.
The “ban of destruction” is even more challenging, precisely because it required human agency and cannot be rationalised as a mythologising interpretation of natural catastrophes.
Here we are confronted by the ban placed on the Amalekites. They had been the first hostile tribe blocking Israelites’ entrance into the Promised Land. It was they who attacked the Israelites at Rephidim (Ex.17:8) not far from Mt. Sinai (Nu.33:15).
Joshua defeated them in battle (Ex.17:13), and God promised to wipe them out (v.14). The attack two centuries later under Saul was the delayed satisfaction of that promise (1Sam.2).
In this context, the annihilation of the children of the Amalekites is of a piece with the slaughter of the first-born of the Egyptians (Ex.12:12). Those who try to thwart the Divine plan will be destroyed. The fact that, before Saul’s attack, the group known as the Kenites were specifically exculpated (1Sam.15:6), suggests that the Amalekites chosen for destruction were those who were inveterate enemies of Israel (also see Jg.6:3-6).
And yet (as Robert speculated, although whether there was total annihilation or not isn’t exactly the issue) the Amalekites were not annihilated, because David had to crush an Amalekite raiding party on a later occasion – when 400 young Amalekite tribesmen escaped on camels (1Sam.30:17).
Shane, thank you. I pretty much understood what you meant, and agree with the theory. It makes sense that God would speak to people in a language or idiom with which they were familiar. It also makes sense that leaders like Moses and Samuel would use that idiom convey what they had received from God. I’ve never thought it was reasonable to think that God expected, or that the Israelites actually succeeded, in killing every single living creature in a city. And of course, the bible reveals that they did not do so.
Reading the other comments, as well as some commentary from other sources, I am inclining toward my prior comment at 1:17 p.m.
Maybe we need to re-examine the question and the premises to the question. Before we can come to a correct answer as to explaning the Ban and reconciling it with the NT, perhaps we need to go back and ask exactly what was meant by it. And to do that, we first need to ask, why are these accounts included in the Bible? Are they there merely for historical interest?
“So and so did such and such after God said to.” OK, that’s nice. I like pure history as much as the next guy. But is that why these events were included in the Bible? Some things happened in the far past, but they have nothing to do with us today? There are a lot of things that happened in human history, including the history of the people of Israel, but God hasn’t wasted our time by including them in the Bible.
The fact that these accounts are included in scripture suggests that they are there in order to teach us something. If the purpose of the accounts is to teach us something, what is that something? That God can say and do whatever He wants because He’s God, so quit questioning and shut up already? Or is it something deeper? Perhaps our understanding of exactly what God said and when He said it and why He said it is wrong.
The Bible is not meant to be pure history. It is Revelation — God revealing certain truths to us, teaching us certain things that He thinks we ought to know. That means that, while things might be placed in an historical context, we should not expect every aspect to be pure unadorned history. The Creation accounts, while historical, are not history. They take an historical event (creation of the world) and present it in a story format in order to teach us, not the history of creation, but the greater theological questions of who and what God is and who and what man is.
Neither should we expect the passages about “holy war” and the Ban a/ka/ herem a/k/a anathema to be absolute pure history. Certainly the people of Israel engaged in warfare, that much is certain, but how much of the scriptural accounts are, in fact, history, and how much is God trying to teach something that would be relevant to people in every place and every time? How much of it is history and how much of it is theology? How much of God’s commandment of “the Ban” is literal, how much of it is Israelite History, really pertaining to the actually killing of actual people, and how much of it is allegorical, how much of it is Salvation History, pertaining instead to the broader matter of destroying sin? And which of these is more important for us today? Are we at risk of missing “the big picture”?
I should expect that, rather than absolute pure history, the passages at issue are, instead, God trying to teach us something, and placing that teaching in an historical context. What could that teaching be?
Perhaps — salvation isn’t going to be easy. If we want to live in the Promised Land (heaven, the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God), we are going to have to fight for it, we are going to have to listen to God, do what He tells us, and utterly destroy the enemies of God (evil and sin, such as worshiping false “gods”) because those enemies (Satan, et al.) seek to keep us from that Land. If we want to be the People of God, then we are going to have to purge the entire land (our entire lives) of all sinful things, no matter how tiny, and not persist in residual attachments to sin.
That seems to me to be the substance of the teaching and the reason for which these passages were included in scripture. This is what speaks to us today, this is what advances Salvation History. Seeing as how the passages were written some period of time after the events, and were not put into their final form until hundreds of years later, one possible theory could be that there is a fair amount of allegory attached to these stories. God took actual historical events — various Israelite wars — and God actually saying what He is recorded as saying, but meaning it in an allegorical sense (or, if you will, as hyperbole), rather than meaning it literally.
In any event, at this point, while I am disposed to still reject the “God never said it” theory, I am likewise leaning toward rejecting the literal interpretation of what He said. In other words, because we come to an untenable conclusion — God apparently doing evil — our initial premises, our intital conception of exactly what He is commanding is wrong. Instead of meaning “go commit genocide and ethnic cleansing,” God meant “destroy sin and evil.” And over the centuries, that true meaning has been susceptible of being misconstrued. (And then we have to add in the whole issue of accurate translation into English, etc., even assuming accurate copies of the original scriptures.)
I’m sure I haven’t explained what I mean very well, but this is a difficult subject to wrestle with.
Reading 1 Sam. 15 again, I am even more of the view that we cannot take it completely literally. There is obviously some figurative speech and imagery going on here.
That much is clear from 1 Sam 15:10-11, “The word of the LORD came to Samuel: ‘I regret that I have made Saul king . . .'”
God regrets? That would imply that God thinks that He was wrong previously, that He made a mistake. But God can’t be wrong. That being so, the “regret” remark is obviously figurative, not literal; it is imputing human characteristics to God. And if we have figurative imagery in one part, it is not inconceivable that there is some in other parts as well.
Bender: While at mass this morning I got an insight into a recurrent admonishment Christ makes throughout the New Testament. The words in Mark 3.7-12 end with: Whenever the unclean spirits saw Jesus, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!” But he sternly ordered them not to make him known. (There are no capitals in the text of ‘The Living Christ’. ) Does Christ not constantly do this, as with the ‘legions’. And yet the unclean spirits propagate the presence of Jesus Lord and make his ‘presence’ known.
I have recently been reading Grahame Nicholson’s ‘Justifying our Existence’ in which he develops with the aid of ‘concrete arguments’ a comparison of how we act not only to justify ourselves, but to magnify ourselves. Nicholson is in the school of philosophy which I find beneficial; it includes Paul Ricoeur, and Heidegger who speak primarily to the status of human understanding. He concludes that as well as the self-justification through faith, and by the mercy of God, self-justification might also require us to be sanctified. Rather than be sanctified, he says that the commandments are fine, but we usually take them in deferral; that it is easier to find the fault in the ‘other’ than in ourselves. It is easier to project them as characteristics of the external world, than to examine our internal workings, our conscience, and what we think, do, and say ourselves. We announce what we know, not being entirely in a state of sanctification, and thus often with unclean spirit. If the saying of Jesus not to make his presence known, refers not only to a physical presence, but a theological and eternal one, the question of the existence of unclean spirit is possibly a recognition, that we are not capable of announcing or making ‘known’ in this sense the ‘presence’ of the Lord. Our morality may not be perfect in understanding within our individual lives also. It is of note, that even I, here, with unclean spirit, do make the attempt, however, just as in the New Testament, those with unclean spirit, like myself, could not help themselves. But can I wonder that I am not that successful, when I am told that I am not to (or have not the ability to) make h(H) known. (Why the lower case?) So I’m saying this here, just to get it out, because I doubt that too many, if any will read it, even yourself; but I want you to know that I ‘perfectly’ appreciate your insights, especially the logical conundrum of the ‘self referential’ paradox: Again, I speak by a kind of comparison, rather than logically as you do. Please excuse. Here’s your liar paradox quoted: (It may be part of the connection I’m attempting to make. Brian — and if God were to command that we should no longer obey Him, should we obey that?
If we obey it, then we are violating it because He said to no longer obey Him.
But if we disobey, then we might be obeying that particular command, but in the greater sense, we are sinning against Him.
I said that I imagine what God wants me to do, (I DON’T hear voices!!!) But there is no assurance or conviction from my part that I am doing ‘His Will’. I don’t ‘know’ God. That’s why I said, I have to try to follow the EXAMPLE of Jesus, as we were taught to do when I was a child, in veneration of the Saints. So Thanks Bender, if you read this. No conclusion here; merely trying to ‘ponder’ this out. I know only that I, myself, can’t make the presence of Christ ‘known’. I must patiently await his hour, time, return. Thank you.
I have taught young children (6-8 years old) for 20 years. I used to try and skim past those Bible texts which referenced the Ban. Now I do not worry, but read just as the text is written. (I read aloud from a fairly complete children’s Bible, from Genesis to Maccabees over the course of each school year.)
Every year, without fail, the children are somewhat stunned by God’s command that Jericho be razed and all inhabitants except Rahab destroyed. HOWEVER… also without fail, I give them time to voice their rationalizations. It has never happened that they declare God’s orders to be wrong. In their young minds, the logic runs thus: God is always right, and maybe we’re the ones who aren’t smart enough to understand. Still, the children come up with possible reasons that might help them understand a bit more.
And I am unfailingly edified:
“God was trying to get the land ready for Jesus to be born. The really bad people had to be gone so the land could become holy.”
“It wasn’t mean to kill all the people. It was good. The children all got to go be with God instead of with their bad parents.”
“If their moms and dads were giving sacrifice to false gods, maybe they were planning to sacrifice their children. God didn’t want those little children to belong to false gods, so He saved them.”
As the children try to wrap their minds around this, I am grateful that at such a young age they are forming a mindset of complete trust in God’s justice–and that they believe His justice is not in conflict with His mercy. And as each school year progresses, the story of Jericho having been digested, the children easily accept all the later references to battles and utter destruction at God’s word. And they do it with sympathy for the fact that it was necessary, rather than any sense of vindictiveness.
I learn a lot from them.
We are currently going through that in the Bible Timeline studies with Jeff Cavins. Sodom and Gamorrah ultimately met distruction but only because at the last resort, God could not find one just and faithful person in that entire city at the pleading of Abraham. God conceded to Abraham if he could find one just man but he did not so the city was destroyed. However, note that Lot and his family was saved except his wife who did not listened and was turned into salt. With regards to the people of the entire Canaan region, for over 400 years they had sinned against God in their ways…see Leviticus 2. It was also referred to one subsection of the Canaanites in Gen 15:16 when their inequities were not yet quite filled. The Lord waited patiently for them to return to moral ways but they did not so they had to be under the ban when Israel came to take the land from them which was given to them by God. God’s way is not our ways and sin results in death..which was why Christ wept when his close friend Lazarus died because death not in God’s original design for us. By our free will, we chose sin and the consequence of sin is death.
Two thumbs up for the “idiom” theory of utter destruction. Makes a lot of sense, especially given that English is such a terrible language through which to understand the writings of the Bible. The best way to understand the Bible is to learn Aramaic and Hebrew and travel in a time-machine backwards.
A thought on “destroying utterly”: Richard Dawkins (yes, I know, boo!) came up with this idea of memes, basically ideas which are transmitted throughout cultures in a pseudo-evolutionary fashion, ideas which are seeking to survive, in a sense. Now, whatever you think of the guy (I don’t like him terribly much), such an idea has merit. That is, if you don’t get rid of as much of a culture’s “genome” as possible, there’s a good chance that it will come back to haunt you. There’s evidence of this in the Bible, as has already been noted concerning the Amalekites.
The only reason we are not supposed to do this stuff anymore (at least, violently) is because:
(a) God has not commanded US to do so
(b) God has explicitly commanded us NOT to do so through His Son
Thus, we can’t read the Old Testament and say to ourselves, “Well, the Jews did it, why can’t we?” Not that anybody does that, but I think some people hostile to the Faith actually believe that Christians are one-step away from putting such thinking into action.
Oh, and somebody mentioned the Crusades. Mentioning the Crusades in this context is a non-sequitur. There’s some great books from Ignatius Press that this fellow might read to clear the air.
Well, I don’t have time to read all 50 comments, so if I’m repeating, I’m sorry. I had a professor who brought up this interesting idea: the Ban as a curb on warfare. In short, God had the people take back (or really, take for a first time) a land that had been promised them, and that involved wars. Ok, not pleasant, but there you go. God ordered the taking of the Promised Land, and that taking involved wars against those who did not ally themselves with the Hebrew people (I seem to remember one instance in which the alliance happened.) Now, since the war must be, God declares the Ban: everything must be destroyed, like a holocaust. Thus, the Hebrews get no new possessions or slaves from their holy war – they get no profit whatsoever except the Promised Land. They therefore realize that holy war is essentially unprofitable. This eliminates the temptation to have centuries of wars purportedly ordered by God whose intention in reality is to acquire booty. This also explains the rejection of Saul: he took the king ransom, and the cattle that would be slaughtered for the Lord would also provide a feast for his men. He began to treat holy war as something profitable. No profit, no real cause for war, except the explicit command of God, which, as we’ve all established, disappeared very quickly.
I recognize this is not a perfect solution, but I think it helps. God permits evil that a greater good might come out of it – perhaps in this case a much lower casulty rate over all than would have happened without the Ban. It’s worth pondering.
The Ban can also be seen in terms of the incident in Siloam from Luke 13:4-5.
In Jesus words: “Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. “
Thanks for this post. I too found these passages very disturbing. I believe the argument from authority has the greatest credibility. I notice that many responses mention God commanding evil and in some repects that iwould seem true. But if we are looking at ultimate good or evil then the death even of an innocent is not evil if we accept that heaven is our final goal. What God commands the Hebrews to do is end the earthly lives of all those in these cities. It says nothing of their final destinay. From that standpoint it easier to accept these texts as well as the notion of why good people suffer even today. God reminds us: “My ways are not your ways.” Since He has ultimate authority even that which seems evil or terrible to us finally gives justice to the innocent and the guilty.
The Ban is not the only instance in which God commanded death to infants – during the Exodus, God’s angel is directed to slaughter the first born sons of Egypt. Sure, this is revenge for what was done to the Hebrews, but it is still direct destruction of infants at the hand of God. Very troubling and something I have never been able to reconcile, among other issues.
LOOK OF COURSE GOD DID COMAND GENOCIDE AGAINST ANYTHING THAT HATES HIM THAT BLASPHEMIES THE HOLY GHOSTS LOOK I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT A BABY AN UNBORN CHILD I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT AND ELDER I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT A GOOD CATHOLIC OR SOME FAR AWAY FOREGINER WGHO NEVER HEARD THE WORD GOD OK FOR EXAMPLE I AM A SIMPATIZER ROMAN CATHOLIC BELIEVER OK BUT FOR EXAMPLE IN HAITI THE ARCBISHOP DIED AND 1,000S OF ROMAN CATHOLICS BUT I SIMPATIZAED WITH THE FAMILIE BUT NOT WITH A RCC MEMBERS WHO SIMPATIZES WITH IDEA THAT ARE NOT CATHOLIC FOR EXAMPLE RCC HAS DEFINED ON HOW JESUS DOES LOOK LONG HAIR AND LONG BEARD FOR EXAMPLE EVEN IF THAT MEMBER BEEN IN THE RCC 20 30 YEARS BUT DOES NOT AGREE THAT THATS HOW JESUS LOOKS HE CAN GO TO HELL FOR I CARE .
I subscribe to what I refer to as the “Divine Justice” theory. Justice is for God to give. Even though the courts of man may give a sort of justice, the only infallible justice is that of God. It is without the human errors and biases we all carry. In our modern, human sense of justice, we would conclude these events to be inhumane and genocidal. I find the words of Romans 9:14-29 to be interesting in this context:
9:16-18 “For this reason I raised you up: so that I may display My power in you, and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth. So then, He shows mercy to whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills.”
Our God is a God of love, but also power and might. The Pharaoh in Exodus was allowed to be hardened. Some might say God hardened his heart, but as 1 Samuel 6:6 illustrates, Pharaoh’s heart was already hardened. It was his free choice; God merely allowed for his heart to remain hardened. The rest of Chapter 9 in Romans should be considered when dealing with this subject.
Also consider the ever-presence of God. He is “The same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). God would see the path these cultures would take without him. He would see that the practices of child sacrifice and other abominable practices would continue; that it had already infested these cultures past the point of return, perhaps comparable to the sexual sin prevalent in Sodom and Gomorrah. The Great Flood also offers yet another example, except on a much wider scale: a world that is rife with sin and has been judged by God.
Sorry if I repeated anything that has already been said. God bless you all.
I am sure that this idea has already been mentionned, but I just wished to add my two cents worth to this topic.
One of the ways that I have been able to reconcile the harsh passages concerning God’s command to kill infants with the idea of God’s love is through the understanding and application of eternal life to the situation. First, let me be clear that I have no problems with the killing of the adults or animals, for the obvious reasons concerning moral culpubility for the former and eternal indifference for the latter. Now, if God saves infants, which with the Holy Martyrs there is Catholic precedent for his doing, and with his absolute knowledge, God may know that in every other possible world, the persons that are the infants in this one would have freely chosen salvation. Thus in this world, God kills them as infants, ensuring their eternal salvation, which they would have freely chosen anyway in any other possible world. Yet at the same time, God has chosen this course of action because it allows other individuals who might not have been eternally saved, to be eternally saved. Therefore, in terms of eternal importance, more individuals are saved via the death of infants than not, but all persons that would have been saved if they had not died, are saved anyway. And so love is reconciled with the killing of infants.
Take care and may the Lord bless you,
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.
OK I’ll work it up.
Did you ever end up working up that article in reply to this response? I would be very interested in reading it.
All – I found the following article very informative on this subject. It’s a loooong read but worth it!
How could a God of Love order the massacre/annihilation of the Canaanites?
“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
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.
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.
Is it possible that the Israelites had a limited theology and still saw God as a tribal God who defended them only and not the God who so loves the world? They would still be following their own consciences by trying to eliminate a very dangerous threat to their existence but would be doing so in actual error. As for Saul being rejected for his failure to ban, we know that one must follow their conscience (even if they are wrong and can’t see that) because that is the only way they can be sure they are doing what they think is God’s will (even if it isn’t). Saul’s disobedience was enough to punish him not the actual cause of his disobedience.
We should then interpret the statement that ‘God said put them under the ban” as an assertion that the people thought this was what God wanted them to do and not what God actually wanted. Even in their error (God tolerating) the salvation and protection of Israel was accomplished. It is very important that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
That is what I believe.
Of course the objections to your position are stated in the article
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This post is 3 years old
My belief, however flawed it may be…
I do not believe we can throw out the parts of the bible we do not understand or we do not agree with… doing so would say that the bible is not truth, inspired by God and in turn not something to be trusted.
If we do believe the bible, we believe that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. We believe that God is the beginning and the end and everything we are comes from him. We believe that God is Sovereign. If these things are true, then we can also believe God is a jealous God (which he admits), God is an angry God (which he admits and tells us to be angry, but do not sin). These attributes are not sinful, it is what we do with these feelings that are sinful.
The difference in the Old Testament and the New Testament is Jesus. Jesus is the softer, gentler side of God (if you will). He is our advocate, he intercedes for us, he shed his blood for us, he is love and mercy. (Trinity) God has different elements that make up the one… we are made in his image, after all. If you read the Old Testament from beginning to end you will see the tone of God is wrath, judgment… pretty much a God to be feared and to stay on his side, be obedient, do what you are told, or you will “meet your maker”. He is pretty consistent. He defends those he loves, but does so with a stern hand – ready to wipe out those that step out of line. This is consistent up until Jesus comes and saves us from ourselves. He brings love and mercy to a dying world. In doing so also changes the “face of God”. God has not “changed” but we are certainly benefitting from God’s softer side.
We can not expect to understand the things of God… this is one reason it is called Faith. If we think we should be able to understand everything, then we are saying we are as smart as God or as omnipotent as God. I will never stop trying to understand and never stop praying for my eyes to be enlightened, or stop praying for wisdom… but I will not be arrogant enough to believe that I understand God or have even the ability to fully understand. I will not be pompous enough to believe that I have all the answers or that my thoughts and understandings are 100% correct.
So I press on to the mark, to the calling – with the knowledge that My God is to be feared, respected and lifted high – regardless of the “inconsistencies” I think I see, regardless of the “unfair” issues in the world, regardless if I “agree” with the acts/decisions God seems to make. I do this all the while being fully aware that I may be “seeing images that appear smaller or larger than they seem”, all the while realizing I may be missing it completely and thankful that as long as I ask Jesus into my heart, as long as I continue to seek, continue to pursue the things of God – I will make it to Heaven and will finally understand…
My beliefs and ramblings…
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. 🙁
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.
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.
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.
It is a good distinction you make at the beginning Bender about the issue not being death but killing.
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.
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.
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.
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”?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
This article was an interesting read but… No one seems to bring up the point that the Amalikites were in fact not only giants but Nepelim
They were part of a demonic bloodline that traces back to genesis 6 when fallen angels breed with human women. So instead of writing a long article there is really a very simple explanation.
Here is more insight.
Wonderful article, and I fully respect your conclusion of putting a “fence” around this verse.
Those that say ‘God said no such thing’ or else ‘even the infants weren’t innocent’ sound much like Job’s friends who are rebuked by God for defending God unjustly.
The difference between the Ban and Sodom and Gomorrah is that God determined for that instance, in that time in history, for reasons unknown to us, that it be done by His people instead of a rain of fire. That does not mean that Christ and Mary did not weep for the Amalakites, or that none of them are now among the saints.
I would point to the fact that God has been responsible for every death in the history of the world; whether through His will, or through His respect of our free will. Job 42;3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
Samuel 15 is a problematic passage as is the passages concerning the ban or herem in the Old testament from Deuteronomy through Samuel.Some have stated that these passages as opposed to the Gospels is what led to the Marcion heresy in the early church. Others have said that these passages are a dangerous justification for religious genocide such as that occuring in the Middle East and the vicious attitude of Tea party fundamentalists in America who cover their hatreds and racism with a religious cloud. We must also remember that goodly Protestant Puritans and Catholic conquistadors used these things as an excuse for genocide against native americans, Hawaiians, and the enslavement of Africans to America.
To argue that this is an example of God’s sovereignty is like the dilemma of Euthrypho and Socrates when Socrates asks what is piety- is piety pleasing to the Gods because of their personal enjoyment or is piety what is pleasing in and of itself in the sight of the Gods because the actions are just? The atheists would say that is why piety is ridiculous, because of the arbitrary nature of a non-existent Divine tyrant. Indeed if God condoned the murder of infants then wouldn’t abortion be justified?
My answer is the following: God does not change but man’s interpretation does change. Christ is the very word of God and always was and is the truth of God and so Christ challenges us to find an answer. What no one has said is that the Scriptures from Deuteronomy through the Historical books culminating in Kings of which Samuel is a part is a historical revision of a religious political faction that grew in the time of King Josiah and Jeremiah just prior to the fall of Jerusalem before Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. This faction was known as the Deuteronomic faction that claimed in the light of finding an old text of the Mosaic Law that contained the Deuteronomic discourse of Moses when the temple was being renovated religious reformation that became a religious fanantical binge of extremism stating that all the neighboring people around the Jews should have been annihilated for their idolatries and leading Judea to sin.They revised portions of the Bible to exaggerate genoicides that never occured in the large numbers that were stated. Joshua was stated that have killed men , women, andd children under the ban and yet in the following book of Judges these idolatrous nations remained. Even after Samuel’s command the Amalalites remained. Indeed one helped Saul commit suicide on Mt. Gilboa and brought the crown to David who slew the Amalikite! Deuteronomic religious historians doctored up the texts in the historical books because of the apostasy of Judea and Israel. Jeremiah was courageous to oppose their extremist zeal. He stated that God had told him that things were now being put in the Law that God had never said, hence the young Jeremiah was called to be a prophet of the New Covenant.
Samuel recalled the injunction that God uttered against the Amalikites during the time of Moses, but in a different emphasis using quotation marks the English Anglican interpretation of the Bible separates the word of God in quotes from Samuel’s interpretation to “Go and kill women, children, and infants.” The American Catholic Biblical interpretation however puts the whole statement in quotes so that one can’t distinguish between what God decreed and what Samuel interpreted. Samuel as viewed by the Deuteronomist faction would be invoking annihilation as THEY viewed a prophet of God, but it is not clear whether Samuel actually said this and it is most certainly questionable whether God’s decree was properly interpreted much less stated directly by God that infants should be killed.
We must be more particular about the revelation that comes directly from God in the library of books that are called the Old Testament; it’s far more easier with the Gospels spoken out of the mouth of Our Lord and I have a Bible with all the quotes of Christ in red ink! One case in point God states to Moses in Leviticus, prohibitions against sexual offenses without punishments and yet one chapter later in the same book the same prohibitions are stated again with the same words with death penalties added. In the final edition of the Law read by Ezra during the Persian period towards the end of the development of the Old Testament library known as the Hebrew Bible it is stated that commentary was added. I submit to you that it should be considered that the punishments were part of a priestly commentary and not the revealed word of God. Why would God micromanage punishments; and did Jesus break God’s edict by not stoning the woman taken in adultery? If Jesus said how can Satan drive out Satan, then how can God(Jesus) drive out God by not stoning the woman? Clearly the original text of God’s decree against adultery was revealed but the repeat with death penalties was the commentary of mortal preists.
We find in revelations that an Angel of God hands John a little black book and tells him to eat it. John does as he is instructed and eats the book. He then tells us the readers that the book tasted good in his mouth, but it also made him sick to his stomach. The little black book is the Bible. The words flow off the pages like milk and honey. The words sound good, but when you ingest them they make you sick because the Bible is not the word of God in its entirety. The Bible is a collection of testimonials of people who believe they have had an experience with God with the exception of some parts that are common knowledge as coming directly from God, such as the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus. People often lie or embellish things, and in some cases that is what has happened here in the Old Testament. We know from historical studies that Jericho was not in very good shape at the time that the Israelite people passed by the city. Most of the walls were already crumbed and most of the population had already left. The writer is embellishing and changing the history, which was a common practice in Egypt. Immortality of the pharaohs depended on the written word. The new pharaoh would sometimes destroy evidence of the previous pharaoh. History was altered or deleted from the written word. Most likely, the Israeli scribes were trained in this method of recording history and would have used this method to embellish and enhance the Israeli History. So, most of these, so called history, Old Testament passages are not true completely. The writer was trying to make his people look bigger than what they actually were for survival purposes; the idea being to put fear into the hearts of their enemies. Who would dare attempt to enslave them again with God crushing their every enemy like tiny ants under his foot. But, to agree with me, you must also agree that the Bible is not the Word of God, but only a collection of testimonials made by people who had experiences with God. I argue this point because the Bible says that Jesus is the Word, so no book written by the hands of mankind could possibly be the Word of God. Jesus damages the Old Testament when he basically tells everyone that he has not come to destroy it, but to fulfill the Old Testament. He also goes on to say that the disciples have the Law of God, then says he is adding an eleventh law, Love one another as I have loved you. So, here we find that the only part of the Old Testament that has any value to Jesus or that he refers to as the Law of God is the Ten Commandments which were written by the hand of God. The rest has been fulfilled and is no longer relevant. Also, keep in mind that we do not have all of the books that written because some never made it to the Bible. Many books were left out and many more were not known at the time the Bible was put together, for example the Dead Sea Scrolls. Even the New Testament is a bit shaky because Paul, a former enemy of the church, has written most of it. There is even some concern that the church may have already been corrupted by time the Bible was first put together. It may have also been further corrupted when it was translated into different versions. Also, who says we were supposed to stop recording testimonials? How many prophets and Saints have come and gone since the Bible was written that never were recorded into the Bible? The bottom line is that to truly be a Christian you must have a spiritual connection or personal relationship with God himself or you are just a follower willing to believe just about anything other people write or say. If you are one with God, then you know right from wrong. You only need the Law, Eleven Commandments, and the teachings of Jesus to understand what it means to be a Christian. And even if you did not have the Law, your connection to God, a God of Love and Forgiveness, would be enough to make you realize that killing people and stealing from people or otherwise harming others is wrong/immoral. I just believe we put too much into the study of the Bible, and not enough into doing what is morally right. For instance in our capitalistic society we are told that a person with great wealth is important and worth following similar to what was written in the Old Testament teachings. This wealthy person must be right with God because they are wealthy, right? Jesus says, “It is more likely that a camel could pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Then he instructs them to give all they have to the poor, and come follow him. We are also told in the New Testament that nobody goes to heaven except through Jesus. You must have a personal relationship with Jesus to be a Christian. So, don’t believe in God because someone tells you he is real or because the Bible tells you so, but rather believe because he lives within you and you know he is real. Love God and everyone else as he loves you. Then and only then can you truly be one with God and even have the right to utter the words I am a Christian.
This is really insanity! How on earth can people accept this as words of God. According to the bible the Ban isn’t even the most unjustifiable part (at least this happen in war), how on earth can God Kill the first born of every Egyptians? What kind of justice is this, specially form the all knowing and all loving one? The very disturbing thing is it was also God who made the Pharaoh’s heart harden.
I think, the sane man can clearly see that this has got nothing to do with God, this is the racist Jews writing, nothing more nothing less. Open your eyes and look with it!
The answers to your rant are in the article. Its ok to say you don’t think God said this, but there’s no need to get all worked up and attack personally people who conclude differently on what is a mysterious matter. There are plenty of reputable scholars who are not insane or racists and are not blind or unjust, who have pondered this matter and try to balance various concerns. SO calm down a bit be a bit more thoughtful than just reactionary and read the article more carefully, it does give voice to different views
I really find it funny that mere humans would make a judgement call about the morality of God using a moral yardstick that applies only to man. People seem to forget that God can do whatever He wants and is not subject to any universal moral code. But you know what, in His eternal wisdom, God commanded Israel to decimate entire peoples like the Amalekites because He knew nothing good would come out of them. They have been blasphemers worshiping false gods then, and their descendants who have survived because King Saul failed to do the job continue to do so to this day. Just FYI, the Amalekites are the Paletinians, Jordanians, Iraqis and Syrians of today – the ones giving the world unending headaches.
Your analysis of God seems more Muslim than Christian. God is truth and hence he cannot “do whatever he wants” since he cannot deny himself or be what he is not. By the way decimate means to reduce a population by a tenth, so I suppose you mean eradicate or eliminate.
Even if you accept the idea that God can do whatever He wants you are still left with the troubling problem that God ordered man to commit genocide instead of God doing it Himself. Why is it troubling? Because God is supposed to have written the moral law into every man’s heart. So God writes into every man’s heart that genocide is evil and then God commands man to commit genocide. That is truly diabolical.
If the ban seems odd or you find yourself struggling against it or even you personally want to make excuses for it then it is most possible that you yourself have the wrong premise about the content of the Bible.
I wonder if the directions of God so debated in this article would garner the same attention if the verses simply said to completely eliminate the ways of Satan. Which, by the way, is what the ‘ban’ actually says.
I must commend both Msgr. Pope for the honest and thought provoking article and most (but not all) those who made comments. They were serious and intelligent attempts at contributing to the dialogue, unlike at many other sites. Does the webpage manager edit out the obnoxious comments?
I just want to make a couple observations.
First, hyperbole appears to have been a common form of expression for the Jewish people in both the Old and New Testament. It is exaggeration for effect, or, put another way, when more is said than is literally meant. Mark’s Gospel tells us that when John was baptizing “all the land of Judea” went out to hear him and were baptized. Jesus appears to frequently speak in hyperbolic terms: “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Mt. 23:24); “If your right eye offend you, pluck it out…” (Mt. 5:29); “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children…” (Lk 14:26). Taking such things literally gets one into serious trouble! Some examples from the Old Testament: “The king [Solomon] made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones” (2 Chr 1:15); 2 Kings 18:5 says of King Hezekiah that “after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him” then, after him, says the same thing of King Josiah (2 Kgs 23:25). The claimed “utter” destruction of populations of peoples occupying the Promised Land at the time of the conquest can be seen as this type of figure of speech. It is a kind of warning and boast. This may apply to the destruction of the Amalekites (who reappear in 1 Chr. 4:42–43). That said, the ban put on the Amalekites could still indicate intent to utterly exterminate them.
Passages in the Old Testament frequently fail to distinguish between the active and the passive will of God (between what he commands and what he permits). I know this is a much later theological distinction, but it is a true and important one. In failing to make this distinction the human authors of Scripture often appear to make God the cause of both good and evil. Since God is sovereign, the line of reasoning appears to go, then all that happens is positively ordained by God. For example in Exodus 4:21 we read God telling Moses that he (God) will harden Pharoah’s heart against releasing the Israelites (yet in Exodus 8:15 we read that Pharaoh hardened his own heart). By this line of reasoning every misfortune that befalls Israel (defeat, famine, disease) is God’s punishment upon them, and every good fortune a reward from God. Nothing good or bad happens except God positively ordains it, and the authors confirm this by having God speak through the prophets in such a way. Thus Israel’s destruction of the Amalekites is attributed to God’s will. Yet total war was not an uncommon feature of inter-tribal conflict around the world (read War Before Civilization: the Myth of the Peaceful Savage by Lawrence Keeley). One did not simply defeat one’s enemy, one sought to annihilate them. What makes this episode unique is the ban against taking booty and slaves. I would attribute this to the human authors’ desire to present the conflict as a sacred war, one done not for personal gain but to give glory to God, and this is emphasized by having God command the annihilation of the Amalekites. The Israelites were then a tribal people with a tribal ethos. I believe God was slowly leading them into a more profound and sophisticated understanding of Himself and His will, but in the meantime they expressed their religiosity in a manner suited for a tribal society. This includes boasts that their God is more powerful than other people’s gods (Deut. 10:17; Ps.135:5). Not exactly pure monotheism but eventually God would get them there. How do we deal with this as inspired and inerrant Scripture? A difficult issue but maybe in part by recognizing (1) that the Bible is the Word of God in the words of men, and (2) that revelation unfolds in stages, that a development of doctrine is occurring in which earlier passages in Scripture need to be interpreted in light of later and more complete revelation – ultimately in light of Jesus Christ.
If the little children won’t come to him, then. And, Jesus was not born yet. They had no savior.
Personally I believe in a 5th option, God was historically when it came to war misrepresented for ethnic cleansing purposes by the propaganda machine of Israel that sought to justify its land grabs by basically just writing down that they were following orders (God’s Orders) The first casualty of war is truth.
To defeat an enemy do you not have to also defeat their ideal? If women and children had been left, then it is possible that the idea of revenge would be raised and nurtured by the survivors. Giving future rise to revenge wars on God’s chosen. Maybe god know if any survived that it ment future wars and troubles for his children.
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