Old Testament Atrocities

A common objection made by skeptics against Christianity is that God commanded atrocities in the Old Testament. Even if no skeptic ever made this objection to me, I have certainly had pause after reading some verses in the Old Testament. I don’t need a skeptic to point out to me that some of the commands in the Old Testament seem, at best arbitrary, and at worst malicious. Has the God we believe to be good commanded atrocity?

So what?

It’s important to ask the skeptic, “What are you getting at?” What is the point being made? If God actually commanded genocide in the Old Testament, all that would prove is that God exists. He has to exist in order to command something! So if you ask, “Why did God command genocide?” you’re admitting His existence. In other words, this isn’t an objection to God’s existence, it has no bearing whatsoever.

What morality?

Next, it is important to recognize that this a moral objection. Anytime an atheist makes a moral objection, the proper response is, “Upon what objective standard of morality do you object to God’s actions?” There is no objective standard of morality on atheism, all they have is a subjective preference. In other words, they can’t object to God’s actions when they have no standard by which to judge actions.

Falsely assuming innocence

The people that God commanded the Israelites to “wipe off the face of the earth” in the Old Testament were not innocent. They committed horrible atrocities like child sacrifice. God usually warned them that unless they repented, they would face judgement. So, there’s no excuse. They weren’t innocent and they were warned.

I’m not convinced

I’m not convinced that God actually commanded the killing of women and children. I’ve read that the language of “kill everyone even the women and the children” was hyperbolic language commonly used in Ancient Near East times. The Israelites were commanded to annihilate Jericho, but Rahab and her family were spared. The Canaanites reappear later in Israel’s history, so clearly they didn’t kill all the women and children.

The normal pattern goes like this:

  1. People commit awful crimes.
  2. God warns of judgment.
  3. Those who repent are saved.
  4. Those who don’t pay the just penalty.

What’s the objection?

God owes us nothing

If God wiped every single one of us off the face of the earth, He would still be just. Everyone has sinned and committed high treason against a just God. Therefore, he would be just if he gave us what we deserved. He would be merciful and graceful if he only saved one person from that just wrath. How gracious is he that he sent His only Son to die in our place and redeem people from all tribes, nations, and tongues.

Far from being a tyrant in the sky, God is good, loving, slow to anger, and quick to forgive. Turn from your sin and trust in Him.


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11 Replies to “Old Testament Atrocities”

  1. Are we talking about this verse in Deut 7?
    1, ¶ When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;
    2, And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:

    I’d say that, pretty clearly, God DID command the children of Israel to destroy them. You are right about how this isn’t a reason to be an atheist, but it does exist.

    Vs 4 tells us why: “…that will be a snare unto thee.”

    This all has to do this the Old Testament Jewish Theocracy. God has moved on from it after the Jews rejected their Messiah in the Gospels and Acts. Now God is not dealing with nations, per se, as in the OT, he is dealing with individuals. Acts 15:14, Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.

    When Jesus Christ comes back after the time of Jacob’s Trouble. Jesus Christ will bring back the Theocracy and it will involved bloodshed not unlike the book of Joshua. See: Is 63 and Rev 19.

    Point of that all is this: trust Christ now. There’s never been a better time than now to receive Jesus Christ as your Saviour by faith and be saved. John 1:12, Rom 10:13.

  2. Good post. I agree.

    The Bible’s message is true – in it’s totality. The Holy Spirit inspired individual writers to record His word. However, each writer wrote in their own words. These words and phrases were written in the language of that time. But, just as in today’s world, writers used hyperboles to make their message understandable.

    We cannot take everything literally. That’s why we go to church and Bible studies, etc. We must learn how to interpret the meaning of the scripture.

    When someone says, “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “He runs faster than the speed of light” or “She’s a toothpick” or “He’s a monster”, etc., do you take it literally? Get my point?

    1. So why is the resurrection not a metaphor? Why can we not simply see this as an ancient method of telling us to be good?

  3. Previous points taken. Thanks.

    It seems to me as Believers there is a point where we want to, and even need to view God’s word from our own perspective. This might help us to understand in some ways, and assist us in walking out the Word in our lives. Sometimes you doing this is problematic.

    BUT, I think a bigger problem is when we view God’s Word without any consideration of HIS perspective.

    I believe His perspective is the Great reality, and ultimately our perspective is close to irrelevant, and fleeting at best.

    He is the author of this Grand Story. He created not only the rules, but the game board and the pieces themselves, and there is nothing to prevent him from wiping it clean and starting over to emphasize his own intentions.

    And that would scare the heck out of me if I wasn’t a Believer and follower of Jesus.

    It’s pointless when an unbeliever attempts to turn the table on the one who created it.

    But still, apologetically, Believers like us need to know that these objections do occur, and it is good for us to have a response.

    Thank you, Michael.

  4. Confirm. This post is particularly one of the best. It’s a good response to our dearest skeptics

  5. When I think about this, I always consider two things.

    1] How do I think the Bible was written and built.

    While I believe that the bible is the word of God. I do not think that the bible was penned by God through humans Authors. What does that mean? I Believe that God gave the inspiration to write historical events to the authors of the biblical books. However, the author was not told what words to write and then proceeded use there own language and understanding of the event. while sometimes I Believe I receive words of wisdom/knowledge I never get words, just a gut feeling toward a situation that is already happening or something I’m already thinking. Then I have to use reasonable logic to figure out how to use that feeling. that means if I was writing a book then I would write those feeling down in the way I understand it. IE. If I look back at the Civil War and I feel God prompt me to put that into my book. Then I may also assume that God ordered and orchestrated the Defeat of the south.

    2] How did other cultures at the time view their Gods.

    Even though this isn’t an indictment to the character of God. How the world believed gods to be could have an effect on how authors portrayed God or even understood God due to the upbringings. At that time gods who were violent and showed no mercy were gods to follow because of there ability to make the worshipping people prosperous or blessed. If the gods people were seen as prosperous or blessed then it would be conceivable that the author assumed that the God of the Bible was the most powerful and violent.

    I always have to keep in mind my original statement normal people wrote this and normal people are prone to mistakes and biases in their own ideological positions with-in their culture.

  6. I suppose there should be a dynamic between any urge to rationalize scripture and any desire to Faithfully trust in it. I do not think it should be one or the other, I believe they go hand-in-hand. Christians need to use their head as well as their heart, and that means at the same time.

    In the event of a tie I will lean towards the infallible and inerrant word of God over my own understanding any day.

  7. Well said! God does not owe us absolutely anything. We are the ones that owe him an eternal payment. Thanks be to God for Jesus. Thanks for the post.

  8. I think you nailed it perfectly at the end. Any sort of gasping that happens over the God of the OT is rooted in a distorted understanding that we as human beings are entitled to be here and alive here. Historically, Christianity gets a bad rap for de-emphasizing life here on earth but that is because we know we have eternal life following this. For the atheist who is determined that this life is all there is, surely has a sense of entitlement for their own lives and a grounded (but false) sense of importance for it. The Christian does value this life as much as the next and will give way for the spiritual against the temporal here in this life. The truth is that none of us are entitled to be here, we are all broken and are all guilty of not just original sin but daily conscious sin that separates us from God by our own actions and not His. We we approach with that perspective, the God of the OT (who is the same God as the NT) isn’t terrible.

  9. So if you ask, “Why did God command genocide?” you’re admitting His existence. In other words, this isn’t an objection to God’s existence, it has no bearing whatsoever.

    Wrong. One does not have to admit any such thing. It is the believer that considers Yahweh to be be real.
    The skeptic is merely asking the believer to justify the actions as written.

    Much as teaching children that Hell is real. It is not.

  10. Have you ever come across Dr Chuck Missler’s teachings? He explains this very clearly, and I’ve been trying to find a link for you, without success. Start with this one, but it only just briefly touches on it. Basically, it was all about ‘Satan’s subsequent stratagem was an attempt to contaminate the human gene pool’ thus thwarting the plan of God for the Messiah – http://www.khouse.org/articles/2004/510/

    If you have a look at his ‘Learn the Bible in 24 hours’ series, he also touches on it in there at relevant places. The whole series is EXCELLENT! Cannot recommend it highly enough.

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