Why does the God of love commit genocide?[1]

A poster on a Christian forum made this comment:

“I just read Joshua 10 last night…I’ll be completely honest and say that it really hurts my faith to read such things about our God.
That said I believe God is the killer of all things. Since He gives them life, He also gives them death when His will for them on earth is finished. Death is not the issue for me, it’s the genocidal method of it all that bothers me”.[2]

A sympathetic response on that same Forum came with these comments:

“Same here. And that is why most Christians will not respond on this thread. They just dont (sic) have an answer for it. It’s not their fault by any means. But, we do need to confront issues like these”.[3]

It is true that many Christians did not provide adequate answers to these accusations against God and His actions in history. I supplied the following response:[4]

Some of the issues of God’s judgment through genocide include:

1.  The God of love, mercy and justice did give instructions to destroy whole populations (see Ex. 23:32-33; 34:11-16; Deut. 7:1-5; 20:16-18). In many of these circumstances in the OT, God effected a herem, a curse, meaning “that which stood under the ban” or “that which was dedicated to destruction”. The root idea of this term is “separation” (for destruction).

2.  God effected the curse of destruction (genocide) on people and nations because they violently and consistently opposed God’s work over a lengthy period of time. See examples in southern Canaan (Num 21:2-3), Jericho (Josh 6:21), Ai (Josh 8:26), Makedah (Josh 10:28) and Hazor (Josh 11:11).

3.  Take the example of Abraham and his descendants who were exiled and mistreated for 430 years before God led them out of Egypt. Why did God delay for over 4 centuries? Gen. 15:13-16 tells us why: “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (v. 16, ESV).So, God in his patience, waited for the Canaanites to slowly fill up their cups of condemnation through committing sinful behaviour. God was never precipitous (abrupt) in his actions. God’s grace and mercy were waiting for these evil nations to repent. We need to remember that the Israelites were not exempt from sin. Deut. 9:5 makes it clear: “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (ESV).

4.  We see from Deut. 20:16-18 that God cut off and judged the nations to prevent the corruption of Israel and the rest of the world. When a nation committed the horrible act of burning children as a gift to the gods (Lev. 18:21) and practised sodomy (homosexuality), bestiality and other gross sin (see Lev. 18:25, 27-30), God’s grace and mercy conclude and God’s judgment comes. It is a false emphasis to only promote the love and mercy of God without His justice.

5.  On the human level, my daughter suffers from a debilitating disease schleroderma and her surgeon did not hesitate to amputate part of her ulcerated left index finger so that it would not spread to the rest of her hand. In the process a slight amount of healthy flesh had to be amputated with the ulcerated portion. God did something similar with the Amorites, Canaanites, etc, by removing the sinful “cancer” that had the potential to infect all of society.

6.  For you to oppose what God did to the evil nations of the world through His judgment of genocide, you are claiming to have or understand God’s omniscience (all-knowing ability), which you and I do not possess. Systematic theologian, Wayne Grudem, defines “omniscience” as,

“God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act”.[5]

7.  It shouldn’t take much reason to understand that if God had saved the women and children in the Canaanite wicked nations, it would not have taken long before a new generation of wicked, pagan people would rise up who would be just like their pagan ancestors.

8.  God, in his omniscience, knows what He is doing in bringing judgment on wicked nations. How much longer will the love, mercy and patience of God continue before the same kind of judgment happens to my nation or yours?

To dwell only on the goodness, love and mercy of God presents an awfully skewed view of God. I am committed to belief in the goodness, love and mercy of God. But the Lord God Almighty has many mental and moral attributes that are omitted by those who dwell on the goodness and mercy of God. These attributes of God include:

  • Omniscience (God fully knows Himself and all things that are actual and possible in “one simple and eternal act” according to Wayne Grudem’s definition);
  • Wisdom (God always chooses the best goals and the best means to achieve those goals);
  • Truthfulness & faithfulness;
  • Goodness (God is the final standard of good and all that God is and does is worthy of approval — including judgment through genocide);
  • Love (God eternally gives of himself to others);
  • Mercy, grace and patience (God was patient with the Canaanites until the cup of his wrath was full and the judgment of God was effected through genocide);
  • Peace;
  • Righteousness and justice (God will always act in accordance with what is correct, God being the final standard of what is right). God’s exercise of occasional genocide is based on His standard of righteousness and justice and NOT on your standard or mine;
  • Jealousy (which means that God continually seeks to protect His own honour); and
  • Wrath (which means that God intensely hates all sin, including the sin of unrighteousness and rebellion of pagan nations).

When people oppose God’s acting in righteousness and justice in his genocide of some nations, they are opposing some of God’s nature where he manifests his attributes in time and space.

For how much longer will God’s patience extend to your nation and mine?

There are expositions, giving biblical reasons for God’s action in judgment, including genocide, on the Internet. See:

Canaanite Genocide”;

Completely destroy them” – 1 Samuel 15:18[6]


[1] Much of the information in this article was gleaned from W. C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce & Manfred T. Brauch 1996. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, “I Samuel 15:18, ‘Completely destroy them!”, pp. 206-207, also available from Google Books at: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=2eT5CbuJCWoC&pg=PA207&lpg=PA207&dq=If+the+women+and+children+had+been+spared+in+those+profance+Canaanite+nations&source=bl&ots=JJD0-ihP94&sig=4yt57x8uogQKt6VcDCsGj2VZKYo&hl=en&ei=4i_LTMWHLZOfcbqamd0O&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false(Accessed 30 October 2010).

[2] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, “A lot of killing”, 98cwitr, #190, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7505663-19/ (Accessed 30 October 2010).

[3] Ibid., ke1985, #202, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7505663-21/ (Accessed 30 October 2010).

[4] Ibid., OzSpen, #215, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7505663-22/ (Accessed 30 October 2010).

[5] Wayne Grudem 1994. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, p. 190.

[6] Kaiser et al.

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