Why Does God Command Old Testament Violence

Why does God command his people to commit violent acts of war in the Old Testament? In today’s Take Five, RZIM Canada’s Daniel Gilman draws on insights from Professor Paul Copan’s book “Is God a Moral Monster?” as he answers this tough question.

He said, “If you actually humble yourself for a minute, you will see in this passage restraint from grotesque violence, you’ll see justice for the oppressed, and provision for the young women and girls. Restraint, justice, and provision.”

I find these words so challenging to me personally because we can see that God holds to account not just those who perpetuate violence, but those who are indifferent to it; not just those who are oppressing the poor, but those who remain indifferent.

This is the heartbeat of God: concern for those who are lost, who are marginalized, and who are hurting.

Make it Personal

  • Have you wrestled with this question of whether God is a moral monster, whether personally or in conversation with someone else? What has come of it?

  • How does this passage challenge you or encourage you in your relationship with God?


Hi, I am new here and recently joined because of this video because I had a few questions. I’m also asking my questions here in particular because there might be people like me out there that would be interested in the answers.

So, I’m Christian myself, but I’ve only been interested in apologetics recently. I’m actually very curious as to where I can read up on these ancient war traditions that are talked about in this video, because I’d like to educate myself more on the context of Biblical times, especially in the Old Testament since it tends to get a lot of hate.

However, I’m personally unsure where to even start on this topic. Do you have any suggestions, or perhaps know of anyone that could be forwarded that I could learn from?

I would greatly appreciate it.

Long answer short, for the same reason God sanctioned the Babylonians to besiege, destroy , kill, lead away into captivity His own cherished people the Jews .
Because God is a God that both loves and judges in His Holiness.
And He will use whatever method or people available in His universe He chooses to visit His Judgement upon any nation.
The real question is if God was willing to visit such judgement upon His own beloved people what will happen to our nation of rebellion .
Can you see a different direction for us ?
" Then he put out the eyes of Zedikiah and the king of Babylon bound him in chains
, and carried him to Babylon, and put him in prison until the day he died …
And burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house , and all the houses of
Jerusalem, and all the house of the great men , burned he with fire ."
( Jeremiah 52:11-13 )

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It is difficult to pretend to be a thinking believer and not to have wrestled with the difference between the picture of the “warrior God” apparently presented in the OT, with the the Word who was with God, Who was/is God, of the NT, and who submitted to a violent and totally unjust death on the cross.

In some examples it may be possible to reframe the telling, as from a cultural context in which the OT Israelites interpreted the commands and acts of God. We find the disciples in the Gospels being very disturbed at the way Jesus perceived the Messiah because it did not match their received knowledge, and this continued to colour their perception of what Jesus was doing and going to do. The Hebrews leaving Egypt were told that they should not have a king like the nations, for God Himself was to be their King. They called for a king anyway, and in spite of his disappointment, God directed Samuel to find and annoint a king. God allowed the people to have their way - and yet they then could say that it was God who actively chose their king (especially David the warrier shepherd! - their favourite). And so we have influences, not only on God’s aquiescence in their behaviour, but quite potentially in how they then wrote their history. If one holds to the belief in the Scriptures being recorded and maintained exactly how the Spirit wanted it, then this type of argument isn’t really adequate.

Professor Paul Copan’s understanding, at least as far as Gilman refers to it, also gives, for some, a plausible view. I’m not sure it will satisfy all the instances in the OT. It is one thing to look at the violence apparent in the warfare that was apparently approved by God. It is another thing to look at the genocide resulting from natural forces in the flood. There was no direct human involvement in this case. God decided it would happen, warned Noah, and gave him instructions on how to survive it, along with other creatures. And the Gospels clearly show that Jesus had power over the winds and waves. This instance cannot be interpreted through a cultural lens.

Because of this challenge to my understanding of God as God (holy, but loving - One who says “I am meek and lowly of heart”), I have just ordered and received a copy of the 2 volume “Crucifixion of the Warrior God” by Gregory Boyd (Fortress Press, Minneapolis). The title itself caught my eye, because it has recently come to my mind, that Pilate’s inscription on the cross, was prophetic in some sense - that the persistent image of the Messiah in the Jewish mind as a Jewish king of ruthless vengeance and international justice for the chosen people of Israel was, there and then, put to death by violence.

I am told that Boyd does an exhaustive study on the subject of “God’s violence” in the OT, but through the lens of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. If all of Scripture speaks of Him, and He is the true representative and revelation of God, then somehow we need to interpret even the difficult and uncomfortable passages of the OT from the perspective of this focal point of all history. I look forward to reading it.

I wonder if anyone else here on Connect has read it, and has comments.