Wrath and judgment – did God command genocide in the Old Testament

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When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.
-Deuteronomy 7:1-2
In Deuteronomy 7, the Israelites are just outside the land and the Lord gives a challenging command. The Israelites are told to wipe out the nations who inhabit the land.
It’s not a popular idea. It’s a notion that many find reprehensible and immoral. For skeptics and people who believe in other religions, it’s fodder for them to undermine the teachings of the Bible.
God is using Israel as a divine judgment for cleansing the land against wicked nations who lived totally contrary to the will of God. It was divine mercy that God had allowed these nations to exist as long as they did. But their sin eventually reached a braking point.
The judgment was divine and righteous judgment.
In this judgment, everything needed to be destroyed. The people, but not just the people. Also their livestock, also their crops, also their gold and possessions.
It was all given to the Lord. The point wasn’t plunder for the Israelite’s gain because victory was from the Lord and everything was given to the Lord.
Part of the reason why they had to be wiped out was that it was trying to preserve the Israelites from idolatry.
It’s a very challenging idea. It’s a very unpopular idea.
For a student of the Bible, I’d like to include a few thoughts on this challenging passage.
God is just. 
The fact that God doesn’t wipe out anyone immediately due to their sin is evidence of God’s grace and mercy. No one deserves grace. We willingly sin and transgress against the holy and righteous God of the universe.
This judgment wasn’t Moses’ idea, or later, Joshua’s idea. It was God’s judgment. It wasn’t the Israelite elders who decided they should do this. God decided.
And it was ultimately God who was enacting his judgment.
Judgment for a particular time and place
It was not meant to be a worldwide judgment. It was clearing out the land. Once the Israelites were in the land, there aren’t any indications that they were supposed to become raiders just attacking other groups or committing violence for its own sake.
This command was for the Israelites in the specific context of the Promised Land.
Israel never followed through at carrying out this judgment 
While it might seem unfair or unnecessarily harsh, The Israelites never actually fully enact the devoting of their enemies to destructing in the land.
And it is to their own peril and difficulty as they will historically be plagued by idolatry and turning away from the Lord.
Picture of future judgment 
For anyone who will not bend a knee to God, there will be a day of reckoning. This is a foretaste of the final judgment. There is an eternal consequence for rejecting the Lord, because without his saving grace, we are dead in sin.
Opposing the Lord comes with severe consequences.
God is just.
And no one dies who would have otherwise repented. No one goes to hell because they didn’t have enough time.
It’s not because God is mean. Not because he’s unfair.
But because he is holy and righteous. And God cares about his own holiness.
The good news is that God has made a way for people to avoid all of that. It’s a matter of trusting in the gospel. Believing in the Lord.
We can’t be good enough, we can’t earn it. Our only hope is Jesus. God with us. Who lived a sinless life so that all who believe in him could be forgiven.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to subscribe! 

Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. His hobbies include working out, watching sports, and photography. Josh and his wife Kari live in Minnesota.

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Categories: Bible, Christian living, Commentary, Faith, Theology

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