Why I do not believe God directed the Ancient Jews to Slaughter other Nations

warGetting a lot of emails and questions today about why I do not believe that God directed the Jews to slaughter other nations … so I am doing a quicky post!

There are three things that make me think the Jews acted violently on their own despite the fact that some of the authors of the Old Testament recorded stories saying that God was telling them to slaughter entire nations.

First is that the prime directive of God to the Jews was to be a people that invited the world to God. And from the very beginning the law told the Jews to love God and others. Even the 10 commandments told the Jews not to kill (it doesn’t say not to “murder” leaving it okay to kill for righteous causes – it says not to kill). So I can’t see God telling the Jews to then kill those who got in their way both because it defeated God’s own prime directive, but also because that meant a human being would have another’s person’s blood on their hands. After working with the PTSD patients at the VA Hospital in Decatur, I can’t see God ever asking someone to harm another person – I think that does something to someone’s soul that is almost unrecoverable.

The second reason is because of what I learned from an orthodox Jew who is a friend of my husband. I admire this man because he still follows the Old Testament laws and that is not easy in our society. One time he and my husband were traveling together and stopped to eat in the airport. Before the man would eat he dialed some sort of Orthodox Jew 1-800 number to find out what he could eat at that particular restaurant. This guy is seriously Jewish! Well, in talking with him, we found out something interesting – that even orthodox Jews don’t believe that the entire Old Testament is holy – just the Mosaic law and the prophets. The rest – all the stories where these vicious acts of violence are recorded – are an important part of their history, but not considered infallible “truth”. This has always been what even the ancient Jews believed. I think they might be right – especially when you consider that there are drastically different accounts of the same battles in different books of the Old Testament.

The third reason is that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament.  Jesus agreed with the 10 commandments including “Do not Kill” except he took it even further.  He said that we murder when we so much as hate.  He said we have murdered even if we never took action – just because we hated another person.  He taught us to love our enemies.  He said not to live by the sword. He went to the cross without a fight.  I can’t see Jesus condoning or authorizing genocide.  I can’t see how Jesus could be the God described in some of the stories of violence against other nations.  I think the writers of those particular stories were attributing something to God that God was not a part of.

Well… there are my two cents.  Would love to hear your opinions!!!  April

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April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

16 thoughts on “Why I do not believe God directed the Ancient Jews to Slaughter other Nations

  1. Hi, yes this is a really troubling issue. And yet, if we start to judge Scripture, are we not placing ourselves in God’s position? Aren’t we becoming the ones who decide what is or isn’t good?(rather like Adam & Eve listening to the serpent’s opinion that God didn’t quite know what He was doing when He forbade them from eating from just one of the many trees in the garden!).

    So when God says in Dt 20:16-17 “…you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction…..as the LORD your God has commanded” our question should perhaps not be ‘how can a loving God say such a thing?’ – but ‘why did God say that, at that time, to that person? What was the purpose – perhaps we can only see the purpose by looking at the end, and seeing God’s mighty hand at work. When His people didn’t obey Him, what happened to them, His beloved? Instead of being victorious, they were defeated (Josh 7); their hearts melted.. And God said “I will be with you no more unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Josh 7:12). This is a one-off command for a greater purpose.

    And when we think of the (innocent?) Canaanites who were slaughtered, let us think on the perfect God the Son, the only innocent human who ever was, who was slaughtered for our sakes. The God who commanded the slaughter gave Himself up for slaughter that we might know forgiveness, utter love and freedom from penalty of sin.

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  2. I agree that early Jewish people attributed their actions to mandates from God after the fact in order to justify the atrocities they committed. I also agree with the previous post from Jo that Jesus was not God. He was a son of God like any of us can be and he was a messenger for God. I am a Unitarian, believing in one universal God and not the concept of the trinity. The earliest Christians did not have Trinitarian beliefs.

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    1. The trinity is simply a time-bound way of dealing with the philosophical issues of the Middle Ages. Why deny its useful insistence on God being God, God in Christ, God with us? That doesn’t keep me from believing in One God.

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      1. The concept of the Trinity was well established in the early church (Pentecost – speaking in tongues through the Spirit, etc) and even in Jesus’ teachings – not to mention John the Baptist. The middle ages really had nothing to do with it.

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  3. Indeed. IMO, there was a of “theologizing after the fact” that the ancient Hebrews engaged in in order to justify and rationalize their actions. Many Christians in the U.S. engaged in the same sort of thing as we waged the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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  4. First off Jesus Christ is God. Second God did not command Jews to bring about genocide. Its hard to understand but part of God’s will is the death of the wicked and part of it is death of the innocent. People can’t just pick apart the bible and say I like this part but not this part. Its all or none. For or against.

    “Before Abraham was, I am.”

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    1. And the bible is the word of God….. it says so sooooo many times in the old testament. Thus saith the Lord. Peter says its God-breathed.

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  5. April; Thanks for this good post. i would add that one of the reasons I don’t think that God in fact told the Hebrew people to slaughter others is based in the cultures of the time and in my understanding of human depravity (our seemingly limitless ability to be in error). During the OT times, it was common for “the gods” to direct that countries go to war or that kings do this or that. I think that the Hebrews, perhaps even trying to be very faithful, felt that God was leading them to go to war, and so in the parlance of their culture, they said that God told them to do this. I think that the same is true of Abraham’s attempted slaughter of his son… I believe that HE believed that this is what God would have him do, and so he was acting in faithfulness… but God saved Isaac and Abraham from their delusions and brought another sacrifice to the table. In an attempt to be faithful, we are all bound to make mistakes or to misunderstand God’s word and desires… but God is faithful to work all things for good and to save us from not only our bold-faced sins, but also from our faithfully intended mistakes.

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    1. So very true… sadly though, God lets us hurt innocent people with our mistakes – he did stop Abraham, but not the Israelites from killing many many people. This is something I have struggled with ever since a childhood friend of mine was raped and murdered. Our youth director said, “God was with her when this happened.” He meant well, but that just made me picture Jesus standing by and watching. I don’t like that very much. I want God to break in and stop such things… but of course, God does not always do that.

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  6. Jo, Thank you for your post. I do disagree with you though. My beliefs are very orthodox believing that God is trinitarian and Christ is part of that trinity. April

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  7. Hi April,

    While there is much to commend about believing that God never asked us to kill – and that these are man made contrivances I must take some issue with the ‘Jesus Christ is the Old Testament God.’ He isn’t even the New Testament God.

    Christ prayed to the Father. The Father was the God of Christ. Without whom, Christ was powerless. He said ‘I and the Father are One’ – which is different. You can think of it like this – a child in the womb of it’s mother is still it’s own being – but it is in the Mother – one with the mother. Even more so, Christ shared the spirit of the Father and so the oneness is even more complete – but his sharing of the spirit was of his own heart and will. He was human made divine. Perhaps divine made human made divine…but no more so than anyone else is divine made human. Christ never said he was God. He said he was the Son of God. That the Father elevated him to a status equal to the Father, does not make him the Father. The Father is apriori the Son. The Father is the creator of the Son. The Father is God. And the God that Christ prayed to, pleaded with, gave glory to. I don’t believe Christ came to bring confusion. He did not lie. He wasn’t messing with our heads. In no way did Christ equate himself with the Father. Though the Father saw fit to raise him and call him by the same name. You may think of Christ as the chosen godfather of mankind. The Father is the true father – but Christ the living incarnation of the word/will of God given to raise and teach the Father’s children about the ways of the God.

    “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. Mark 10:18

    Going a little farther, he (Jesus) fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39

    In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” Hebrews 5:5 (Note; this happened in time (today) not at the beginning of creation though God indeed had foreseen this event.)

    During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, (the Father) and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Hebrews 5:7

    The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in Heaven…

    When we ask in Jesus’ name for something it is because of the love the Father has for the Son that it will be done .

    These words spoke Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you: As you have given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as you have given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:1-3

    ***Did you see that? That they might know you the only true God, (The Father) and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.***

    If I honor myself, my honor is nothing: it is my Father that honors me; of whom you say, that he is your God: Yet you have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like to you: but I know him, and keep his saying. John 8:53-55

    It is a heresy to say that Jesus Christ is God. It is against what Christ himself was teaching. Saying otherwise makes a mockery of all he said and did. It turns Jesus into a liar and the messenger of confusion.

    Please. The Christ is the Son of God. He is the true messenger of God’s word. It is enough. Do not have any other Gods before me is very first commandment. Please love the word of Christ and the will of the Father and keep this commandment.

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    1. Jo, I agree with your position about the divinity of Jesus. I do not believe he is one in the same with God. He is a son of God just like any of us can be and a messenger.

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  8. I agree. I am always stunned when people contend that the Bible is the Word of God because so much of the Bible demonizes God. When they speak of a threatening, smiting, genocidal, filicidal, judgmental and condemning God, I have only one response: Would Love do that?

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  9. Agreed. Once I had an open vision where I met Gods HUGE face in the universe. As I approached him all I felt was utter love! There was nothing radiating from him apart from love. I knew in that moment that we ( church/religion/society) had got him all wrong. 🙂

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