God told Saul to kill all of the Amalekites. I understand that because he disobeyed and left some alive that their decendents retaliated in the book of Ester, but how do we reconcile genocide from a loving god?
1 Samuel 15:3
3Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.
God told Saul to kill all of the Amalekites. I understand that because he disobeyed and left some alive that their decendents retaliated in the book of Ester, but how do we reconcile genocide from a loving god?
@tfloraditch I think there are three things to consider initially:
- the long history of Amalekite aggression against the Isralites
- the possibility of ‘ancient warfare rhetoric’ - God was not actually commanding Israel to wipe out every single person, but rather the destruction of a violent / idolatrous culture
- genocide is normally motivated by hatred / prejudice / greed - whereas God’s judgment comes after a group of people has continued in wickedness for generations. God always, always, always forgives when people change their ways / heart. These are nations that simply refused to repent and persisted in violence / idolatry for multiple generations. It’s more like the overthrow of ISIS than what we would think of as genocide.
The Amalekites attacked the Israelites without apparent provocation as they were traveling during the Exodus (Ex 17:8). “When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind” (Dt 25:17-18). They later attacked Israel during the time of the Judges (Jdg 3:13) and often raided the Israelites’ land after they had planted crops, leaving them with nothing (Jdg 6:2-5). God punished the Amalekites by ordering Saul to destroy them (1 Sam 15:2-3) - over 300 years after they had first attacked Israel. During that time, the Amalekites had contact with the Israelites and would have heard about God. They could have repented and changed their ways, but they continued to raid and plunder other cities up to the time of Saul and David (1 Sam 30:1-3). The Amalekites that Saul and David warred against were clearly no better than their ancestors who had first waylaid Israel.
It seems clear that Saul did not totally destroy all of the Amalekites, men, women, and children. Yet Samuel, and presumably God, were satisfied that Saul obeyed God’s commands, except for keeping alive livestock and the king of Amalek. Therefore, it seems that we should take Saul’s claim that he “completely destroyed the Amalekites” as a hyperbolic statement that would literally mean, “I won the decisive military victory that God commanded me to win.”
Under “Ancient Near East Warfare Rhetoric” theory, the language Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. is exaggeration. God is not actually expecting or commanding Saul to hunt down every last living thing under every tree and kill them all. Instead, God’s purpose is that their entire society (namely, their religion and immoral practices) would be destroyed. The language “utterly destroy” is often referred to as an act of worship to God. That is, by removing the religion and practices which directly oppose God, they are offering sacrifice to God.
So, then, the purpose is not that Israel might receive plunder and wealth from the society (as God allows and provides for in various other wars), but to end the horrifying evil and extinguish the religion of the Amalekites. Instead of taking this call seriously, Saul sees the opportunity to expand his personal wealth (a recurring theme in the story of Saul - him taking God’s commands into his own hands; taking the animals, making his own sacrifices instead of waiting for Samuel, etc).
You may also find this thread helpful in thinking through this question.
How do we reconcile love, as coming from a God who will execute perfect justice?
How can we allow God to protect his people (in his kind providence) from cultures who engaged in gross immorality, and child sacrifice?
How do we reconcile God giving us free will (which includes the (limited) ability to damage ourselves and others), with the idea that God is loving and just?
One of the core problems that Christians never seem to address, is how our concept of an “ideal” God forces us to pick one characteristic of God, over others. Or tends to make us “prioritize” the characteristics that we think God should have.
I see the same outcome, as Christians arbitrarily reject the clear warning that God will condemn everyone with unforgiven sin, at the final judgment. (Do we want to grant God sovereignty to be “loving” as we conceive of it, but not just? Do we want to grant God sovereignty to execute justice at the final judgment, but not the sovereignty to decide when some individual’s life is going to end? Do we want to grant God the sovereignty to give us free will, but not to hold us individually responsible for what we choose to do?)
Christians need to understand that God is not our “ideal” God, as we may conceive of that idea. He is not a tame God (in the words of C.S. Lewis). He is a God who offers amazing compassion and forgiveness, according to his own timetable. But he is a God who will execute perfect justice, also on his own timetable, if we do not accept his offer of forgiveness.
We need to understand what sort of God would allow his people to be persecuted, to make them worthy of the eternal kingdom (Thessalonians). We need to understand the kind of God who would allow evil people to persecute his people, so that evil people might potentiate their own punishment (Thessalonians).
I don’t think that modern Christians are carefully considering what this God is like, that the Scriptures present to us. He is not the “PC tolerant” God. He is not the God “who plays arbitrary favorites”, with his arbitrary favorite groups. He is not a God who respects the fallen worldly cultures that we were redeemed out of. He is not a God who will tolerate evil, in his people.
I think that Christians need to deal with the very unnerving and uncomfortable qualities that God has. We need to learn what the Scriptures call “the fear of God.” And dealing with this real God, is not done by a shallow quoting of slogans such as “God is love,” or “perfect love drives out fear.” The shallow use of these quotes, shows a misunderstanding of who God is.
I’m not a theologian- but love your question so would like to take a stab.
First and foremost, we have to define terms.
God- The Great I AM. The only one worthy of praise, adoration and worship. The Almighty Creator of the Universe who above all is Glorious attributes is Holy, Holy, Holy.
Love- How does God define love? Exodus 20 gives us an excellent definition.
Let me just grab Exodus 20:3; “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Our definition of love tends to be arbitrary or self serving. God’s definitions are not arbitrary, and they do serve Him. As he is the only one worthy of praise, adoration and worship- the Creator of all things- he is the only one allowed to make the rules. The 10 Commandments lay out for us how we are to love God and our neighbors.
Because God’s love is perfect- and the triune God is one, his perfect love for himself is both correctly applied and all consuming. God is jealous for his glory (Exodus 20:5), and there is none other that can be or should be loved like God.
Because God is ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, he cannot tolerate any sin in his presence. His perfection will not allow it- his love for himself will not tolerate it.
We were made to worship God and enjoy Him forever. Then Adam fell. Sin entered the world- and death through sin (Romans 5).
God hates sin. He is perfectly just and right to do so. Sin must be punished if God is to be shown just and right.
We’ve all sinned and fallen short of God’s Glory- there is none righteous, not even one- no one seeks after God (Romans 3).
Not only were the Amalekites worthy of destruction, but so am I.
In the situation you mentioned, which has been well researched and documented here, God knew that the sin of the Amalekites would taint his people if it was left in the land. Why? God is all knowing, true- and with that he knew the hearts of the people. Stumbling into idolatry was nothing new for the Israelites- in fact, Scripture shows they seem to have been pretty well accomplished in it.
God loved his people and desired to protect them from even more wickedness, but the king that the Israelites raised up for themselves-Saul, the man with the tall stature and handsome looks, did not have a heart turned to God- in fact, they chose Saul over God…content with a human king that would make them more like the nations around them.
But God’s intention was for them to be separate (holy), unto serving him.
God’s judgment didn’t just fall on the Amalekites- but on the nation of Israel; and those people amongst the nation whose hearts went after that idolatry were also judged.
God hates sin. God loves himself. He is jealous for his glory. He has to punish all sin- otherwise he is not the unchanging God of the Universe.
He demonstrates His love for us in this way, that while we were still sinners, God sent Christ Jesus to die for us.
There always has been a blood price for sin, and by the works of the law, no man will be saved.
Love, Justice and Mercy met on the Cross. The blood of the innocent Jesus shed on behalf of all those he came to save- “He made him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
In order for any human being to be able to stand on the day of judgment, their sin has to be covered. God’s justice and love for himself require it. Either I (and every other human) will pay the penalty for my sin or by faith, I have to trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. His perfect life, death and resurrection are all my hope- as otherwise I am a lawbreaker and pagan at heart- just like the Amalekites- as I’ve broken all 10 Commandments- maybe differently- but still completely.
@Stephen_Wuest Wow! Slow down, Ferdinand. I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition. First of all, remember I am on your side, so sheath the verbal rapier and let’s have some brotherly dialog.
I think you have made a few assumptions which are, in part, my fault perhaps because I should have posted this under evangelism instead of bible questions. I know that God is loving and just. However, the children and animals are certainly not guilty of most of the sins you listed. I am no PETA sympathizer, but killing everyone and the animals are extreme, to say the least, and I am guessing has some larger purpose.
I don’t deny God the right to destroy that which He created, but how do we explain what is going on here to those who don’t know God as we do?
@tfloraditch I have seen in pointed out by a number of commentators that in some of these cities bestiality was practiced, in which case it would be necessary to kill the animals. When we read the narrative carefully, not all cities are assigned the same extent of destruction and there may be some correlation between the level of depravity and the level of destruction.
@Todd_Sheets Thanks very much for the effort of responding. I appreciate your passion, but it appears to me you have put together a very long theological answer to say we all deserve death and God is God so He can do anything He wants.
I get all that, but killing everyone and the animals? It is enough for me to say that God is God and He can do what He wants, but remember when Moses said to God that He can’t take these people out into the wilderness and kill them because everyone will say He is cruel. Doesn’t genocide do the same thing?
@SeanO I would not agree with those commentators. As I said I am not a PETA person but I think there is a bigger explanation.
@tfloraditch What type of alternate explanation would you offer? The only two explanations of which I am aware are:
- The animals were defiled
- It was inappropriate to get wealthy off of those they had been sent to destroy in judgment
@tfloraditch You’re assuming this was genocide, but it is not clear that it was genocide. That term is loaded. As noted above, it is possible that this was not a case of genocide but of exaggerated language. Even if you do not accept that explanation, the term genocide is still loaded because it implies, in the modern mind, bigotry and petty hatred.
In the ancient mindset, per my understanding, it was far more acceptable / expected for a divine being to judge people. That is not a shocker. It is only to the modern audience that judgment is so hard to comprehend. I think @Todd_Sheets does have a point - we will all face judgment one day. In some cases that judgment, rather than being forestalled, comes upon a nation in the course of actual history.
@SeanO The Oxford dictionary defines genocide as “The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group.” You would need to convince me that the absence of “bigotry and petty hatred” disqualifies this as genocide. It still really sounds like genocide to me. I am not condemning God just looking for deeper understanding of a very great God.
As I told @Todd_Sheets There were innocent children and animals who were killed. Certainly, none of these explanations are going to satisfy the skeptic.
It occurs to me that we use Old Testament thinking when trying to resolve Old Testament issues. There is a new covenant whose source, Christ, gave up his life without fighting or retaliation. The ultimate expression of His example may be for us to make that same sacrifice when confronted with the choice to kill or be killed. What a test that would be!
@tfloraditch I think what distinguishes what happened in the Bible from genocide is that the command against the Amalekites was not primarily ethnic in nature, but moral. I might be splitting hairs a bit, but to me there is a huge difference between being targeted because of your ethnicity versus judged for your sin. In the case of ethnicity, there is nothing you can do to prevent your own destruction - you are powerless in the face of a more powerful adversary.
In the case of being judged for your sin, however, there is something that you can do - you can repent. And what we see in the Bible is that there were those who repented and, when they did, were readily welcomed. In addition, I don’t think forced conversion was in view here - I think that casting aside certain false gods whose worship entailed practices like fornication and child sacrifice may have been sufficient to prevent destruction.
I think the word we should use is judgment rather than genocide, because that implies the moral element.
The implication of this pattern is that individuals from other nations, including Canaanites, could have turned to follow YHWH and been preserved. The book of Joshua never indicates that the Israelites presented this option to the Canaanites, but the preservation of Rahab implied that they honored such testimonies by those who helped them. The early Jewish interpreters believed this was the case. Wisdom of Solomon 12:10 says that the conquest happened gradually in order to give the Canaanites time to repent (although it also claims that the Canaanites would never change). Mid. Deut. V.13 notes a parallel with Sihon, the Amorite king. YHWH commanded Moses to fight Sihon, but Moses’ first action was to send messengers of peace to Sihon (Deut 2:24–26). Therefore, even though YHWH commanded the destruction of the Canaanites, the Israelites should still have sent messengers of peace. The Midrash even speculated that the Girgashites left Canaan when Israel arrived and went to Africa (Mid. Deut. V:14; see also Jubilees 10:27–34). Hebrews declares that the Canaanites were disobedient, implying that they knew how YHWH wanted them to act and rejected his commands (11:31).
The danger was not the Canaanites as people, but their devotion to gods other than YHWH.
@SeanO Then if the argument is that God gave them every opportunity to repent and appealed over a period of time I would be much more comfortable with that discussion.
I still think that genocide is an accurate word for what has happened. Judgment describes a decision leading to the action. It’s true, more modern occurrences of genocide carry some complicated issues. I think you may be bringing those into the definition in an effort to justify God, but He doesn’t need us to do that. I think in fact I have learned more about Him by putting those aside and letting Him speak for Himself.
@tfloraditch Yes, I think your description of having given them opportunity to repent over time is one with which I would agree - we see God gave them 400 years / 4 generations (Gen 15:16).
I disagree strongly about the word genocide being applicable. It was originally used to describe the Nazi slaughter of the Jews and is composed of a prefix meaning ‘race’ and the Latin word for ‘kill’. It implies both brutality and prejudice. And I must say I would never serve a god (notice little ‘g’) who committed such acts of heinous and meaningless violence.
God does not need us to justify His actions. But we must convey to the skeptic that we serve God because He is good and wise - not simply because He is all powerful. I resonate with those who say that they would stand in defiance of a deity who slaughtered without reason. I must say yes and amen.
I do not always understand God’s actions, but I know that He would not commit genocide. I would never serve such a god.
In 1944, Raphael Lemkin created the term genocide in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe . The book describes the implementation of Nazi policies in occupied Europe, and cites earlier mass killings. The term described the systematic destruction of a nation or people, and the word was quickly adopted by many in the international community. The word genocide is the combination of the Greek prefix geno- (γένος, meaning ‘race’ or ‘people’) and caedere (the Latin word for “to kill”). The word genocide was used in indictments at the Nuremberg trials, held from 1945, but solely as a descriptive term, not yet as a formal legal term. Wikipedia
@Nopro I agree that when we are unsure of the heart of God the best place to go is to Calvary, where we see the mercy and justice of God meet. But it is also important to remember that God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), so just as He judged the nations in the OT He will one day judge the world. I agree that being asked to lay down our life for another would be a mighty test of our trust in the Lord!
@SeanO I will admit you are getting closer to convincing me on the genocide term. However, you lost me with the citation from Wikipedia. Wikipedia is not considered a reliable source for citation purposes. You can use Wikipedia to find reliable sources in the footnotes provided, but in and of itself you should not use it for citations.
You say you would never serve a god (lower case g) but would you serve God (upper case G) if He killed a race of people because that is what they were created for? Romans 9 has much to say about this. In verse 20 it says, "On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
What does Job mean when he says in Job 13:15 “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”
@tfloraditch Good point about Wikipedia I did verify the roots of the word, but below I’ve provided an educational source. I’m sure the same information could be verified in many different places.
Regarding Romans 9, it is my personal opinion it is often poorly interpreted (please see resources posted below from William Lane Craig and Greg Boyd).
I think the Scripture in Job means that whatever comes we trust God. I think that is very different from saying that God can do whatever He likes and that is okay. Our trust in God is rooted in our experience of His goodness and love - we have good reason to trust Him - because He shows Himself faithful. So when we encounter things we do not understand, we trust Him still - we trust that He does have a good reason / purpose in all things, even if we cannot fathom what that might be. We also trust that, in the end, suffering will cease and the goodness of God will prevail.
Here is another source on the term genocide:
The jurist Raphael Lemkin , a Polish scholar of international law, coined the legal concept in 1944. He fled the German occupation of Poland in 1939 for Sweden, and at the end of World War II, he moved to New York to lobby the United Nations for an international genocide convention. He subsequently taught law at Duke and Yale Universities and was nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1933 Lemkin delivered a paper at an international meeting in Madrid in which he focused on the historical destruction of racial, religious or other social groups. He called for an international convention that like that against slavery and piracy would make international crimes out of the destruction of groups, which lacking a better term, he called “Acts of Barbarity.”
He was not satisfied with this very broad term, and it went nowhere in subsequent international law. Then, years later he came upon Plato’s use of the Greek word genos for a “race,” or “tribe.” The idea naturally occurred to Lemkin to add the Latin -cide , which means “killer” or “act of killing” in Latin, as in homicide or suicide. Thus was born " genocide ."
At the height of Holocaust, and with that in mind, Lemkin wrote his 1944 book on, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe , which was the first public articulation of the concept. In it he proposed the international regulation of genocide-the “practice of extermination of nations and ethnic groups.”
Lemkin played an important role in the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal trials of Nazi war criminals. He also lobbied at the UN during its debate on genocide, which concluded with the General Assembly resolution that “genocide is a crime under international law which the civilized world condemns, and for the commission of which principals and accomplices are punishable.”
Romans 9 - Greg Boyd and William Lane Craig
It is a misunderstanding of Romans 9, in my opinion a poor one, to think it should be applied to individuals or that the main focus is on an unquestioning acceptance of divine decisions.
Paul’s burden, then, in Romans 9 is not to narrow the scope of God’s election but to broaden it. He wants to take in all who have faith in Christ Jesus regardless of their ethnicity. Election, then, is first and foremost a corporate notion: God has chosen for Himself a people, a corporate entity, and it is up to us by our response of faith whether or not we choose to be members of that corporate group destined to salvation.
A social apology for jumping in so directly, to the question.
Perhaps a different approach would help. The final judgment is based on individual moral/ethical responsibility and choices. But in this life, we see (often) a real lack of closure, as far as individual justice is concerned. We see evil individuals, who do not get “paid in full” so to speak. And we see righteous people, who suffer abuse from worldly people. I do not see this life, as a place where we can (always) expect individual justice.
Going from the individual to groups, I think that you can see a pattern in the Bible, of God dealing with groups of people, for the good of large numbers of people, but not particularly with individual justice in mind. We have God allowing the sons of Israel to experience slavery in Egypt for about 400 years. Think about this.
We have God putting off destroying the Canaanite nations for decades, until they got so perverse that he commanded Israel to completely wipe them off the map. This is dealing with entire groups of people, and this tends to bother modern Americans.
There will be a day for perfect individual justice, at the final judgment. But that is never guaranteed to happen in this life.
For those who believe that this life is all that there is, and the spirit is not eternal, then Judaism and Christianity can offer them no guarantee of perfect moral/ethical justice in this life.
Atheistic systems (such as Socialism and Communism) may claim to be acting “for the good of the people,” but they do not embrace God’s moral/ethical code. They often have committed arbitrary genocide against arbitrary groups of people, while claiming that the individuals deserve to die.
I prefer God’s style of dealing with human beings, individually, and in groups.
Thank you Timothy!
To clarify, there are no innocent human beings (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:9-19).
Were children and animals killed. Sadly, yes- but sin always has consequences- and as a parent whose lost babies, I don’t say that lightly.
Who made those babies and animals? God did. Who owns them and shaped them before the foundation of the world? God did.
So is God accountable to every human being who questions his ways and methods or is he accountable only to himself?
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?” Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11:33-36)
I would propose that if you wanted to ‘satisfy’ a skeptic, you would need to invert their perspective on ‘who’ has the authority.
Paul put it this way,
_"You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will? But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this? Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? _
As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
That underscores and points back to the criticality of the Gospel. As I mentioned before, ‘God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.’
When we look at the God of the Bible, we must ‘accept’ Him on his terms, not ours. All Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof and doctrine and profitable for the training of the Godly man. I’d encourage you to search the Scriptures more as our walk is a lifetime battle and without his grace love, wisdom and guidance we can’t succeed. We need the Spirit to open peoples eyes through the preaching of the Gospel. Over time, He will realign us to where he wants us to be- and it will be conformed by and with the Scriptures.
Grace and Peace.