Old Testament Morality and Genocide

The search for meaning/purpose in life is ultimately a useless exercise in a blind pitiless indifferent material world - if there is nothing outside the human brain. Molecules alone = no meaning

'What is truth?' Pilate asked and turned away ... from the Truth. John 18:38, 14:6

It is not that one cannot but will not believe

 Morality in the Old Testament Question

Morality and Genocide

His people misunderstood, rejected Him. He stayed and prayed despite the pain that tore His hands & heart. He chose not to walk away.

Old Testament Morality and Genocide

How do we understand  Old Testament morality and genocide?

Is the God of the Old Testament a harsh God or a holy God? Is the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament the same God or the same God that has changed? Or a God who is harsh on sin, but with overwhelming empathy, love, compassion for people but perfect in holiness?

God led Israel to a miraculous conquering of Jericho after the 40 years in the desert as they entered the Promised Land. See Joshua 6

In Joshua 7 we read about Israel sending  3000 men to war but they were defeated by the small army of Ai, in fact they were left paralyzed with fear and that after the huge victory over Jericho. Because one man did not obey God. Really, because of one man?

Joshua 6:18-19

18 “Do not take any of the things set apart for destruction, or you yourselves will be completely destroyed, and you will bring trouble on the camp of Israel. 19 Everything made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron is sacred to the Lord and must be brought into His treasury.”

Joshua 7:19-26

19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, by telling the truth. Make your confession and tell me what you have done. Don’t hide it from me.”

20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. 21 Among the plunder, I saw a beautiful robe from Babylon, 200 silver coins, and a bar of gold weighing more than a pound. I wanted them so much that I took them. They are hidden in the ground beneath my tent, with the silver buried deeper than the rest.”

22 So Joshua sent some men to make a search. They ran to the tent and found the stolen goods hidden there, just as Achan had said, with the silver buried beneath the rest. 23 They took the things from the tent and brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites. Then they laid them on the ground in the presence of the Lord.

24 Then Joshua and all the Israelites took Achan, the silver, the robe, the bar of gold, his sons, daughters, cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats, tent, and everything he had, and they brought them to the valley of Achor. 25 Then Joshua said to Achan, “Why have you brought trouble on us? The Lord will now bring trouble on you.” And all the Israelites stoned Achan and his family and burned their bodies. 26 They piled a great heap of stones over Achan, which remains to this day. That is why the place has been called the Valley of Trouble ever since. So the Lord was no longer angry.

Why so harsh? Achan confessed, still, he and his family were stoned to death! What?

But more ... we read:

Leviticus 24:16 Anyone who blasphemes the Name of the Lord must be stoned to death by the whole community of Israel.

Deuteronomy 21:20-22 The parents must say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious and refuses to obey. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of his town must stone him to death.

Deuteronomy 13:6-10 “Suppose someone secretly entices you—even your brother, your son or daughter, your beloved wife, or your closest friend—and says, ‘Let us go worship other gods’—gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known. 7 They might suggest that you worship the gods of peoples who live nearby or who come from the ends of the earth. 8 But do not give in or listen. Have no pity, and do not spare or protect them. 9 You must put them to death! Strike the first blow yourself, and then all the people must join in. 10 Stone the guilty ones to death because they have tried to draw you away from the Lord your God, who rescued you.

Leviticus 20:10 “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the man and the woman who has committed adultery must be put to death.

God's moral standards are extremely high  and His punishment extremely severe.  It is in the Old Testament that God was choosing a people for Himself and clearly wanted to let them know how seriously He regards sin/disobedience/immorality/dishonesty/disrespect so that people would understand not to view sin lightly. Sin that separates people from God.

But did God change His mind from the Old to the New Testament, even as He reveals His holiness and utter hate of sin?  Jesus said to the accusers of the  woman caught in adultery, “Let anyone of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”   John 8:7. And He prevented her from being stoned. Is this a different God than the God of the Old Testament or did He change?

What does the  Old Testament say about God?

Malachi 3:6 “I am the Lord, and I do not change."

Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, …. He is not human, so He does not change His mind.

Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Jeremiah 26:13 But if you stop your sinning and begin to obey the Lord your God, He will change His mind about this disaster that He has announced against you. (He will not change who He is, His principles, but in His love and compassion will change His response to sin)

So, is the world still under the wrath (wrath= deep intense anger and indignation) of God? And why? We read in  the Old and the New Testament

Leviticus 11:45 "…. you must be holy because I am holy."

1 Peter 1:16 “You must be holy because I am holy.”

The more holy God is, the more unacceptable sin will be for Him and He is perfectly holy. He is what holiness is.

Habakkuk 1:13 Your eyes are too holy to look at evil, and you cannot stand the sight of people doing wrong.

Yet He does not give up on us;

Hosea 11:8 “How can I give you up, Israel?  How can I abandon you? Could I ever destroy you?  My heart will not let me do it. My love for you is too strong.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Though His intense aversion in sin still stands;

Romans 2:8 But He will pour out His anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth (John 3:16) and instead live lives of wickedness.

His love and compassion do not cancel His wrath. It does not cancel  His aversion in sin, His hate for sin.

Revelation 15:1 Then I saw in heaven another marvelous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion.

We who are saved are saved from this wrath by His infinite love and grace, from His wrath that will only come to completion at the end of times.

  His hate, wrath on sin has not changed and is as severe as ever.

After Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and after the 40 days in the desert He started His work on earth with the Message:

Matt 4:17 ”From that time Jesus began to preach His Message: Turn away from your sins….”                                                                                                                          Mark 1:16 “Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News” The Good News of John 3:16

Jesus' final command: ”Go then to all people everywhere and make them My disciples ….  And teach them everything that I commanded you”

Mark 8:36 “Do people gain anything if they gain the world, but lose their life?  Of course not!”

Those who accept Him, get to know Him, believe Him, trust Him are set free from the intense wrath of God, and live eternal lives free from the wrath of God.

His wrath on sin has not changed but in His love and compassion He provided Christ to take the full wrath of God on Himself in our place  to set us free;

John 14:6  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

John 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

Morality and 'Genocide'

The above, God's holiness, hate, and wrath on sin,  provides background insight into the moral standards of the Old Testament and the apparent genocide that took place.

I. Morality

The question one should ask is: Can objective morality exist without a standard of absolute morality?

If there is nothing outside of the human brain, in other words, morality is solely the product of human thoughts and actions and there is no standard outside of it to measure it to, then it cannot be but totally relative to the individual's or a communities' preference. One can ask the question then, whose preference is more relevant, more moral; Mother Theresa's or Hitler's .... if it is a matter of opinion only. (Frank Turek) Or Jo citizen's opinion living in Europe or the USA or Mohammed's living in an Arabian country?  A materialistic view excludes the possibility of objective morality. That does by no means mean that a materialist or atheist cannot be moral. He just cannot justify the reason for his morality apart from the fact that it is based on his feelings, his preference at a specific time.   But all of us know that there are right and wrong. - it is written on our hearts.

They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. Romans 2:15

If the Bible is read and studied carefully it will become clear that the God of the Bible is the transcendent perfect moral Being to which all morality is measured. If we have no concept of a straight line, how would we know if a line is not straight? Or if we do not understand the meaning of truth, how would we know that someone is not telling the truth, lying?  There need to be a perfect standard outside of us to which we can measure our concepts. If this standard is within us only it will be totally unstable and changeable depending on feelings, opinions, and times.

See also  Why Right and Wrong

II. 'Genocide'

How could God command Genocide in the Old Testament?

Adjusted from  Justin Taylor    's writing;

What happened in the book of Joshua when God commanded Israel to slaughter the Canaanites in order to occupy the Promised Land? It was a bloody war of total destruction where God used His people to execute His moral judgment against His wicked enemies.

1. As the Maker of all things and the ruler of all people, God has absolute rights of ownership over all people and places.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) “and the sea and all that is in them” (Act 14:15). This means that “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). As God says, “All the earth is mine” (Ex. 19:5)

2. God is not only the ultimate maker, ruler, and owner, but He is just and righteous in all that He does.

Abraham asks God the same question that we are asking, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). The implied answer is, “By all means!” This is the flip side of Paul’s question in Romans 9:14: “Is there injustice on God’s part?” Paul’s answer: “By no means!”

It is commonplace in our culture to ask whether this or that was fair or just for God to do. But if you stop to think about it, the question itself is actually illegitimate. Merely asking it presupposes that we are the judge; we will put “God in the dock” and examine Him; God must conform to our sense of fairness and rightness and justice—if God passes the test, well and good, but if He doesn’t, we’ll be upset and become the accuser. Perish the thought. As Deut. 32:4 says, “all God’s ways are justice”—by definition. If God does it, it is just. To think otherwise is the ultimate act of arrogance, putting your own mind and opinions and conceptions as the ultimate standard of the universe.

This does not, however, preclude humble questioning and seeking in order to gain greater understanding. While it is ultimately illegitimate to ask if God’s ways are just in securing the Promised Land, it is perfectly appropriate and edifying to seek understanding on how God’s ways are just—whether in commissioning the destruction of the Canaanites or in any other action.

3. All of us deserve God’s justice; none of us deserve God’s mercy.

  ... all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!  Psalm 14:3

God is absolutely just in all that He does. The only thing that any of us deserve from God is His justice. We have broken His law, rebelling against Him and His ways, and divine justice demands that we receive divine punishment in proportion to our traitorous, treasonous rebellion. It is fully within God’s rights to give mercy, but He need not give it to all—or to any. It is also helpful to note that in biblical history, an act of judgment on one is often an act of mercy for another (e.g., the flood was judgment on the world but a means of saving Noah; the plagues were judgment on the Pharaoh but a means of liberating Israel). Likewise, the destruction of the Canaanites was an act of mercy for Israel.

4. The Canaanites were enemies of God who deserved to be punished.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”—“None is righteous, no, not one”—and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23; 3:10; 6:23). Therefore if God destroyed Adam and Eve after the fall He would have been entirely just. When He wiped out over 99.99% of the human race during the time of Noah, He was being just.

Sometimes we can mistakenly think that God just wanted to give His people land and kicked out the innocent people who were already there. But in reality, the Canaanites were full of iniquity and wickedness (eg sacrificing their children by throwing them into the fire to the please their 'god'   Molech - child sacrifice strictly forbidden by God apart from all their other hideous acts), and God speaks of the land vomiting them out for this reason (cf. Gen. 15:6; Lev. 18:24-30; Deut. 9:5). All of this is consistent with the fact that God “avenges the blood of His children and takes vengeance on His adversaries. He repays those who hate Him and cleanses His people’s land” (Deut. 32:43).

It’s also important to note Deut. 9:5, which says that Israel’s possession of the land and the Canaanites’ being kicked out would not be due to Israel’s righteousness, but would rather be on account of the Canaanites’ wickedness. God very pointedly tells Israel that if they do not follow the Lord and his law, then they will suffer the same fate as the nations being vomited out of their land (cf. Lev. 18:28; Deut. 28:25-68; cf. also Ex. 22:20; Josh. 7:11-12; Mal. 4:6).

5.  Why was it necessary to remove the Canaanites from the land?

God’s covenant community demanded purity, and egregious violations meant removal (e.g., see Deut. 13:5; 17:7, etc). This also entailed the purity of the land in which they were living as God’s people, and failure to remove the unrepentant from the land meant that the entire nation would be pulled down with the rebellious, resulting in idolatry, injustice, and evil (e.g., Deut. 7:4; 12:29-31)—which sadly proved to be the case all too often under the old covenant.

6. The destruction of the Canaanites is a picture of the final judgment.

At the end of the age, Christ will come to judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 4:5), expelling them from the land (the whole earth). That judgment will be just, and it will be complete. That is the day “the Lord Jesus [will be] revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thess. 1:8–9). His moral judgment against the Canaanites becomes a foreshadowing—a preview if you will—of the final judgment.

Read in this light, the terrible destruction recorded on the pages of Joshua in God’s Holy Word become not a “problem to solve,” but a wake-up call to all of us—to remain “pure and undefiled before God” (James 1:27), seeking Him and His ways, and to faithfully share the gospel with our unbelieving neighbors and the unreached nations. Like Job, we must ultimately refrain from calling God’s goodness and justice into question, putting a hand over our mouth (Job 40:4) and marveling instead at the richness and the mystery of God’s great inscrutable mercy (Eph. 2:4). At the end of the day we will join Moses and the Lamb in singing this song of praise:

“Great and amazing are your deeds,

O Lord God the Almighty!

Just and true are your ways,

O King of the nations!

Who will not fear, O Lord,

and glorify Your name?

For You alone are holy.

All nations will come

and worship You,

for Your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Rev. 15:3-4)