Article by Casey McFall
God is love. He doesn’t just love everyone, He loves everyone to such an intense degree and with such purity, that He Himself is love. This is something that anyone who is familiar at all with Christianity knows is an integral part of our Christian faith. How is it possible then for such a loving God to have done all of the things that were done or commanded to be done in the Old Testament? The same God that said to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39) and commanded not to kill (Ex. 20:13) is the same one that commanded His chosen people to completely wipe out 6 nations (Deut 20:16-17). How does this not make God a hypocrite, a murderer, or both? Does anyone who would order such a mass genocide, be he divine deity or otherwise, have any right to command the rest of us to love our neighbor?
This is a question which plagues many Christians and causes doubt to arise in their hearts. After all, even if God has the prerogative to wipe out a nation; He didn’t do it Himself. He commanded His people to do so. And even if it were justified somehow to kill the adult men, the Jews were commanded to completely wipe out anything that breathed. This included the women, the animals, and even the most innocent of infants. All of this just so the Jews could have some land and cities? How can we worship such a God and put our trust in Him?
The answer to this question is 4-fold. Not 4 different, possible answers from which someone can choose whichever one makes them feel the best; but rather 4 different sides to the answer that work together to deliver a solid argument. Because that is exactly what apologetics is; it’s similar to the arguments that one may give in a court of law to create a single, cohesive case. The motive, murder weapon, testimonies, and circumstantial evidence all work together to form a whole. (You can learn more about apologetics here, the first of a 6-article series about apologetics) These 4 different arguments that work together are God’s sovereignty, the purification, God’s justice and mercy, and the unknown factor.
The sovereignty of God
The first thing that anyone who suggests that God is either a murderer or a hypocrite (based on the argument presented previously) misunderstands is the sovereignty of God. Sovereignty is defined as supreme power or authority. This is not just political power to make others conform to one’s will however; this is a power of right. A sovereign has absolute right within his/her own domain. This means that whatever that sovereign wills within his/her domain must not only be done, but is also right to be done. If a sovereign declares something to be against the law, then does that exact thing within his own domain, it is not illegal for him to do so because of his sovereignty. The only question, is to what degree of absoluteness a person is sovereign. For example, even during the middle ages, the king or queen was considered to be the sovereign, but the degree of absoluteness of that sovereignty was limited by the de jure laws of land (some of the power was given to the nobles who thus limited the extent of the king/queen’s domain) and the de facto power that the sovereign possessed (the might to enforce their sovereignty).
When this question of degree of absoluteness is applied to God, we cannot help but admit His absolute sovereignty. As the creator of all things, the person for whom everything was created, and the person by whose grace all things still exist; His domain knows no limits or bounds and His sovereignty is absolute in every aspect. The sovereignty of God is taught in many places throughout the Bible; some examples of which, are Psalm 135:6 and Job 1:21. Psalm says: “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.” Everything that happens is by the pleasure of God, and anything that He wills is right.
Applying this understanding of the sovereignty of God to the question above, we can now begin to understand a bit how ludicrous it is to question the morality of God’s decision or to assume any kind of hypocrisy. Even if we just stopped the argument here, we can already see that God had the absolute right to make the command that He did and it was right for Him to do so. While this may answer the question of hypocrisy however; it is certainly a very rough, stick to the back of the head, “Because I told you to” kind of answer. It doesn’t really allay any doubts about the matter or make the pill any easy to swallow. After all, just because He had the authority to do it, and just because it was morally and legally alright for Him to do it, just how could a loving God command His people to kill little babies? Fortunately, there are still three more arguments to present before I rest my case.
The purification of the land and people
Although I haven’t yet done a study on the frequency of it (that could be an interesting study if any of you feel up to it!), I believe that it is safe to say that it is rare for God to directly explain why He has given a command. We may be able to reason out the answer, or guess some reasons why, or He may give the answer or some other portion of the scriptures, but it is not often that He gives a command and immediately explains why he gave it. But God did that for us here. In fact, in the very next verse after giving the command, God gives His explanation. Deuteronomy 20: 18 says, “That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the Lord your God.”
God is telling His people here, “Hey guys, if you don’t do this thing that I commanded you to do, the people are going to teach you their wicked ways and you are going to turn from me and dive into sin!” And the thing is, we don’t even have to wonder if God was right or not because they didn’t obey Him completely and it turned out exactly as God had predicted! One could say that the entire book of Judges happened because they did not obey God and did not destroy the nations as they were commanded. Thus, they were taught idolatry and turned from God just as He said they would (Psalm 106:34-45).
By commanding His people to destroy these nations, God was helping them to preserve their purity and love for Him. He was striving to ensure blessings for them rather than punishment. Not only would removing the people prevent them from mingling with the Israelites and teaching them about false gods, but would also serve as a lesson for His people. After all, what kind of man can easily take the life of a woman or child as if it were nothing? This could not have been an easy or desirable task that God had given to the men of Israel. But it was important for them to realize the high cost of sin. God was teaching not only to remove the temptation, but also what price they would have to pay should they ignore God’s warnings and commands.
The justice and mercy of God
Other than purifying the land and teaching His people the high price of sin; it was also God’s justice and mercy at work to give the command that He did. One may of course question how on earth this total annihilation was either just or merciful. To those people, I’d redirect to Genesis 15:16. In this chapter, God is talking to Abram and promising the land which He would later give to Israel. In verses 13-15, God explains to Abram that although his offspring will possess this land, Abram himself won’t be alive to see that happen and that his seed will be oppressed in Egypt for 400 years before that can happen. Once again, God does explain why this must happen. In verse 16, it says: “But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” Way back when God was talking to Abraham, the Amorite were already living lives full of iniquity and sin, but God was giving them grace and mercy. God gave them 400 years to turn from their ways; all while knowing that they would only continually compound and increase their sin exponentially! By the time the Israelites arrived at Canaan, the people living there had already had their judgement delayed for four centuries.
Nor was the iniquity of the Canaanites small or unknown. The Greek historian Herodotus describes a custom of the land which required every woman to undergo a religious rite at least once in her life. This consisted of the woman going to the temple of Aprodite (the Greek name for the fertility goddess Asherah) and waiting there until a stranger would cast a coin into her lap (any amount of money would work). She would then have to engage in “sacred” intercourse with him. The walls of the temples and groves in these Canaanite cities were covered with religious iconography that would be considered absolute pornography even in today’s accepting culture of public nudity.
Nor was that the worst of it. While the worship of fertility reigned supreme in Canaan, the best sacrifice that one could offer in order to ensure fertile crops, productive lands, and future prosperity was that of your own child. Child sacrifice was not only commonplace, it was encouraged. Mothers and fathers would bring their children to an idol made of metal whose belly was a furnace. They would lay their infant or toddler still living on the superheated arms or other appendage of the idol and the child would begin to burn and scream as it rolled down those arms into the furnace at the belly. There the child would endure an agonizing death in the flames. During the entire process, the parents were forbidden to shed a single tear or show signs of remorse. Meanwhile, the priests would beat on drums throughout in order to cover the cry of the child.
This describes but some small, known part of the iniquity of Canaan when the Jews entered in. This sin had been going on and compounding for centuries, until finally God declared that it was time. The commandment that God gave was justice for the adults and was a mercy for the children! The children of Canaan would have either been offered up to this idol or, even worse, would have been raised to worship that idol! The first option resulted in the excruciating pain of burning till death while the second resulted in the excruciating pain of burning forever after death!
The unknown factor
The last argument to be presented and wrap this whole case up, is the unknown factor. What is it? Well… we don’t know. This argument emphasizes the fact that we don’t know the entire story. We have some small piece of the story from what God gave us in His Word, but we don’t know how much hasn’t been shared. To illustrate the importance of this, I like to give the example of your child coming inside crying. They tell you that the neighbor kid hit them with a big stick. Most if not all parents would get pretty angry at this and would naturally want to confront the neighbor about their child’s behavior. But you only have half of the story. The other half may end up changing your opinion of the situation quite dramatically! So much so, that you may even end up apologizing and punishing your own child once you hear the reason why he/she was hit in the head with a stick.
Hopefully that example serves to illustrate the need to withhold judgement when only a portion of the entire story has been made available. Especially in this case, since one must remember that God gave these nations 400 years before he deemed their iniquity to be full (Gen 15:16). We know the story of Jonah, and how God sent him to Nineveh with a message of “Repent or be destroyed” because it is recorded in the Word of God. But we must not assume that every prophet that was ever sent somewhere with a message has a record in the Bible. So just how many prophets did God send to the people of Canaan during this 400-year period of grace? We don’t know. What we do know is that God is a loving and merciful God. The evidences of this are scattered not only throughout the Bible, but also in our own lives. God has proven Himself time after time again; how can we let doubt creep into our lives because of a single occurrence when we don’t even know the whole story?
Lesson to learn
Although the primary intent of this article was to present a case in defense of the faith and explain an issue that has proven to be a stumbling block for many Christians, there is also a valuable lesson that can be learned here about the importance of removing temptation from our lives. God warned the people of Israel what would happen if they mingled with these people who didn’t share their faith. But they chose to ignore God’s warnings and fell into sin as a result. Just how many times do we see the Jews turning from God and being punished in the book of Judges? Archeologists have found numerous inscriptions of the Jews having tied Yahweh (God) to Asherah (the fertility goddess of the Canaanites). She was supposedly the wife of El when they first came into the land, then the Jews decided that she was the wife of their God, and eventually the wife of Baal (when they decided perverting their faith wasn’t enough and they needed to discard it completely). Jeremiah 7:31 records the depths to which the chosen people of God fell in their sin, even burning their own children in the fire.
We like to accuse and be astonished by the Jews, but the truth is that we are no better! God has made Himself just as real to us, and we have just as much warning against temptation (James 1:15) but we still fail to remove ourselves from the temptation! We still mingle with people who will turn us from God. We still want to keep our “high places” that we have set up to worship anything else other than God. And, just like the Jews, those temptations will lead us to sin and we will have to suffer the consequences of it!
For those who want to learn more about apologetics and are looking for additional resources, I highly recommend Dave Hunt’s book “In defense of the faith”. Unfortunately, not all of the verses referenced in the book are from the KJV, but the majority of them are. Like all things written without the divine inspiration of God, I recommend testing everything said against the truth of the Bible! It is an excellent resource however and he answers many questions about the faith using apologetics. You can find it at Amazon here: In defense of the faith
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