Saturday, November 10, 2007

"How Can God [in the OT] Order the Killing and Massacre of Innocents?" [Amalekites, etc.]

By Dave Armstrong (11-10-07)

This is how I have understood the matter, in my own apologetic reflection. Perhaps it will be helpful to others as well:

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Because God is Creator He also has the prerogative to judge. This is analogous to our experience. Society takes it upon itself to judge the criminal and punish him if he supercedes the "just" laws that govern the society, in order to prevent chaos and suffering. If that is true of human society (one man to another), it is all the more of God, because He is ontologically above us (Creator and created).

So it is perfectly sensible and moral to posit (apart from the data of revelation) a notion of God judging both individuals and nations. God's omniscience is such that He can determine if an entire nation has gone bad ("beyond repair," so to speak) and should be punished. And He did so. Now, even in a wicked nation there may be individuals who are exceptions to the rule. So some innocent people will be killed. But this is like our human experience as well. In wartime, we go to war against an entire nation. In so doing, even if it is unintentional, some innocent non-combatants will be killed.

But it's also different in God's case because He judged nations in part in order to prevent their idolatry and other sins to infiltrate Jewish (i.e., true) religion. He also judged Israel at various times (lest He be accused of being unfair). In any event, it is not true that nations or individuals were punished because of what their ancestors did. There is a sense of corporate punishment, just described, and it is also true that the entire human race is a fallen race. We all deserve punishment for that fact alone, and God would be perfectly just to wipe us all out the next second. No one could hold it against Him.

He decides to be merciful and grant us grace to do better, but He is under no obligation to do so, anymore than the governor is obliged to pardon convicted criminals. Again, the societal analogy is perfectly apt. If someone rebels at every turn against every societal norm and law and appropriate behavior and so forth, is society to be blamed? Say someone grows up thinking that serial rape is fine and dandy and shouldn't be prevented at all. So he goes and does this. Eventually, the legal system catches up with him and he gets his punishment. He rebelled against what most people think is wrong, and more than deserved his punishment.

We don't say that there should be no punishment. We don't blame society for his suffering in prison. We don't deny that society has a right to judge such persons. So if mere human beings can judge each other, why cannot God judge His creation, and (particularly) those of His creation that have rebelled against Him at every turn? What is so incomprehensible about that? One may not believe it, but there is no radical incoherence or inconsistency or monstrous injustice or immorality in this Christian (and Jewish) viewpoint (which is what is always claimed by the critics).

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For further reading, see:

The Destruction of the Amalekites (

"Shouldn't the butchering of the Amalekite children be considered war crimes?", Glenn Miller

"Why couldn't Israel take in the Amalekites like they did foreign survivors in Deut 20?", Glenn Miller

Genocide in the Old Testament (

God's moral authority (

Does God Punish Children for Their Parents' Sins? (

Does God Show favoritism to the descendants of good people? (

"God is Wrathful, Vengeful, Jealous, and Angry every day--and you want me to have a relationship with Him?!", Glenn Miller

"How could a God of Love order the massacre/annihilation of the Canaanites?", Glenn Miller

"What about God’s cruelty against the Midianites?", Glenn Miller

"Was God being evil when He killed all the firstborn in Egypt?", Glenn Miller


Phil said...

Don't the later prophetic books of Ezekiel and Isiah directly condemn the actions of Moses? A Christian friend has objected to your explenation of the wars stating that they are amongst the "sins" and "atrocities" condemned by God thorugh Ezekiel, because they were mearly what Moses "believed" that God was instructing him to do and wrote down as such. They argue that since God could allow imperfections in the Old Law, that he also allowed Moses to decieve himself believing that these actions came from God for a higher purpose.

Be assured that I did point out that the book of Exodus clearly says that Moses spoke to God "face toFce as one speaks to his friend." They agreed, but stated that although God did this on two occasions in the burning bush and on Mount Sinai, and that the rest of the time the communication was imperfect and thus allowed for Moses to become confused.

It was then said that your interpretation of these passages is typically Evangelical Protestant literalism and gave the following link to prove that it is opposed to Catholicism: (quote is at the bottom of the page.)

Dave Armstrong said...

Interesting. Obviously I strongly disagree with these friends. I can hardly respond adequately without direct argumentation. Are they afraid to come here and discuss it? It's easy to claim that someone's interpretation is easily colored by past evangelicalism.

Don't the later prophetic books of Ezekiel and Isiah directly condemn the actions of Moses?

Where? I'm unfamiliar with any such passage, but perhaps I missed it.

I don't agree with all of the take in the Catholic Answers piece, either. Some of the statements are very surprising to me. But they are not the magisterium. They can make mistakes, too. I have a very high opinion of their work, which is why this info. surprises me.

The contentions of your friends are, I think, outrageous, particularly the following:

"God . . . allowed Moses to decieve himself believing that these actions came from God for a higher purpose."

"the rest of the time the communication was imperfect and thus allowed for Moses to become confused."

If they want to claim that, then by all means, they need to show it from Scripture. Where do they come up with such goofy notions? Again, I don't recall ever seeing it, but I'm always happy to be shown something in the Bible that I can study further.

Far from me being overly influenced by evangelical Protestantism; it is they who have been highly influenced by post-"Enlightenment" Protestant liberalism and higher criticism, to arrive at these skeptical views of Moses and (in effect) OT inspiration.

Let them come here and discuss it. I'd be more than happy to do so, instead of dealing with vague second-hand, undocumented arguments.

Phil said...

Well we had already established that the commandment "thou shalt not kill" did not apply to reasonable force during a just war. On that they agree. But their disagreement comes in the way that they interpret the relationship between the Old and New laws. They point to the notion that although morally good, the Jewish law was influenced by the hardness of the Israelite's (and Moses') hearts and that therefore the ritual commands (such as animal sacrifice, eating kosher and divorce) are no longer necessary. Since in the Torah the phrases "The LORD commands" or "The LORD says" are applied even to the ritual laws, they suggest that when it states that "the LORD" commanded Moses to put nations to the sword, it could easily be just Moses' idea of what he though God wanted.

I cannot remember the exact text from Ezekiel that was cited to me, but I can rember fairly well its content. It was near the passage that says that Yahweh is displeased by burnt offerings and instead requires a pure heart. The passage condemns Israel for behaving unfaithfully and for "spilling blood" in a sinful manner or something along those lines. This is put forward as proof that God did indeed regard these actions as sinful. Another argument with the above text is that since God cannot contradict himself then it is impossible to reconsile the messianic prophets with certain parts of Exodus.

The main reason put forward for refusing to debate with you is that you "like to talk and argue too much", "are typically American (?) in your justification of violent torture" and "usurp Papal authority for yourself by contradicting the magisterium and claiming it as infallible" (none of these are my own opinion I assure you!).

Dave Armstrong said...

Well, they can huff and puff and talk (bigoted, logic-challenged) nonsense all they like; it won't cover for their intellectual cowardice.

I've already dealt with an argument along these lines, claiming that Moses went his own way, in sin:

Did Moses (and God) Sin In Judging the Midianites (Numbers 31)?

These people ultimately have a problem with biblical inspiration and logic, not with me. I'm just the convenient target.

Dave Armstrong said...

As for the asinine remark about "violent torture," I have specifically come out against waterboarding and use of torture.

Secondly, I have condemned the nuclear bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima (even losing a friend in discussing that, because he so severely disagreed with me and became intensely insulting and slanderous).

Thirdly, I have been arrested five times and have spent time in jail defending the lives of innocent babies about to be tortured and butchered.

What have these naysayers done along those lines, if they want to be sanctimonious and condemn me for fictional attitudes I supposedly possess?

It is GOD Who commanded these wars of annihilation, and He can do so because He is the Creator and Judge. It has nothing to do with me wanting to justify genocide and torture. The problem is with the dim understanding of the sovereignty of God. These people have picked up wishy-washy postmnodernist, liberal notions of what God is supposed to be like. They're not arguing biblically, but emotionally, awash in the culture they are immersed in, without being aware of it.

If they want to personally insult me because they are unable and unwilling to argue their positions in an open forum, then I'll respond with hard truths.

Phil said...

Thankyou for the link. I am sure that they do not hate you, in fact they have even commented on your excellent dialoque skills. It is only on the issue of Biblical War and Corporal punishment that they claim that you make up arguments. But what can one do?

Dave Armstrong said...

I'd rather be outright hated than to be subject to irrational, groundless derision, based on a misunderstanding even of what I believe.

I oppose capital punishment as well (excepting only the most extreme cases), following the reasoning of Pope John Paul II.

These are Catholic positions. I also lean towards distributism in economics, which is from Chesterton and Belloc, and hardly fashionable in America. If they fancy that I am overly-influenced by evangelicalism, they should realize that probably the majority of evangelicals favor the nuclear bombings as justified, and favor capital punishment.

The only ones, pretty much, who accuse me of being too "evangelical" in my Catholicism, are anti-Catholic Protestants (desperate for an argument) and liberal Catholics.

From the things you have conveyed to me, methinks these friends suffer from the deleterious effects of theological liberalism. They've already in effect attacked the inspiration of Scripture, the character of Moses, and even of God Himself, claiming that He would never do what He in fact did (command wars of annihilation and judgment).

The liberal Catholic has to justify his error and so pretends that orthodox Catholics are quasi-Protestant or "fundamentalist" or suchlike. I've seen this dynamic many times. And obviously I detest this mentality as a falsehood and self-justifying evasive rationale in the service of error.

Maroun said...

Hi Dave.
I completly agree with you . Plus we must always remember as saint Augustine and many other church fathers taught , that the old testament was a symbol and a figure of the new .
So the fact that these wars against unbelievers and their destruction was a symbol of those which will persist in their unbelief till the end and they shall also be destroyed.And let us not also forget , that in the old testament unbelievers were destroyed physicaly , but in the new , Christ has warned far more severe judgement on those which persist in their unbelief , nothing less than hell.
In fact when saint Augustine was answering like the church fathers before him heretics such as Marcion , which believed and taught that the God of the old testament is different than the God of the new , and some others also taught that God in the old testament was just and that now in the new He is merciful . Both were corrected and condemned,because God is One and the same and immutable .
God is always merciful and always just , He is the truth and never lies and never commits anything wrong.So whatever He says or do is always absolutely just and right , even when we dont understand why .
It`s amazing how some still want to accuse God or the prophets or deny that the whole scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit and He is the first and true author of the scriptures , and for that it contains no errors whatsoever.

Gary said...

So you believe that the targeted killing of children and babies is, sometimes, under some circumstances, justifiable??

Even in war, the targeted killing of children is considered a war crime. Killing children as “collateral damage” in the act of war is not a war crime, but deliberately targeting children for killing; hunting them down; looking for their hiding places and then running them down as they scream in terror as they see you raise your sword or knife, IS a war crime.

Your god would be arrested, tried, and convicted of the most heinous war crimes if he were put on trial today. He is a monster. How can you teach your children this barbaric nonsense? How can you call yourself a “moral” person and believe this?

There is NEVER any justifiable reason to target children for killing. Never.