Why does God order war in the Old Testament? What about His command not to murder?

January 29, 2020

Why does God order war in the Old Testament? What about His command not to murder? by Fr. Gabriel Wissa

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; One God, Amen.

Why does God order war in the Old Testament? Doesn’t that contradict His command not to murder? Why did He order the annihilation of certain nations? Why did He choose to kill them by the sword? In this video, we will attempt to answer these questions and touch on others.


We have seen in the previous video in this series on the violence in the Old Testament that God does not desire war. The desires of His heart were clearly seen through the decisions He took with King David and the several prophecies revealing His ultimate will; which was to be accomplished in the New Testament Church. We will put the link to this previous video in the comments section below. However, in many instances, God commanded war on certain nations. Why is that? Does God change His Mind? No, He doesn’t. But, He does change His ways based on the state of the humanity He is dealing with. My objective in this video is to set you on the right path by providing you with three main arguments, when comprehensively understood, they provide a complete answer for this puzzling question.  


Let us begin. If you have followed this entire series, you have surely seen how God is dealing with a very barbaric and brutal humanity. This was obvious not only from the events recorded within the Old Testament; but, also, from the secular historical records of the timeSo, God interacted with this humanity in ways fitting its level. For that same reason, He gave Israel, at the time, the command of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ rather than to give them the fullness of the New Testament Law, which is to give the other cheek. He stooped down to their ways of living and intended to bring them one notch higherSo, the first point to remember is that God was working with a humanity within a certain timeframe, history and background. His Laws and commands were not haphazard, but were confined by the humanity of the time. Although God Himself was not confined by humanity, his dealings with humanity were confined. In the same way that as an adult, I am not confined by the slow mental and physical development of my child; but, I am confined in my ways of dealing with her. In other words, I cannot ask my daughter to solve an algebra question at the age of 6. It is the same with God, God cannot give direct commands as per His own sole will. Well, He can; but nothing good will come out of it. Humanity, at this stage, will neither understand nor fulfill any of it. He is dealing with a corrupt humanity that is in dire need of restorationSo, the Old Testament is not written according to God’s standards. It is written according to the human standards of the people at the time with the objective of bringing them one step closer to God’s ultimate spiritual LawIt is for this reason, that 1st Chronicles, chapter 20, verse 1 says: “It happened in the spring of the year, at the time kings go out to battle, that Joab led out the armed force…” When it comes to wars, it wanaturally what people did at the time. It was nothing unusual for them. Whatever seems as an unconceivable act of God today, was business as usual at the time. The main issue, here, is when, we, who are living in the New Testament era, who perceive war as evilread the Old Testament Scripture. We read it from our perspective. But that’s a mistake. We ought to read it from their perspective. The Scripture cannot be understood without proper understanding of its background. Let me give you another example. Ask yourself, what is the difference between Hitler and Alexander the Great. Although there might be differences in the ways they did things, their objective was ultimately the same—fight and conquer. Yet, one is historically perceived as an immoral human; while, the other is hailed as the Great. Why is that? Because they lived in different times in history. So it is with Scripture. It ought to be read in its proper context. God stooped down to their ways to bring about a greater good in the New Testament. 


In certain occasions, however, there was a call to complete destruction on behalf of God. The most prominent example is the call to war against 6 nations including the Amorites and Canaanites in Exodus 23. In response to this, the second argument we ought to consider is that these wars were specific against certain nations for good reasonsIn Deuteronomy 9, it says: “… it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out from before you. The Bible, then, gives us a hint of their sinGod says: “When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.”  In short, these people offered their children as living sacrifices to their pagan gods among other crueltiesAlthough, the Bible does not elaborate on their sin, we can easily imagine the brutality of these nations based on their practice of sacrificing their own children and on the human violence portrayed throughout the Old TestamentBut, we don’t have to speculate. Scripture does provide a reference demonstrating that their level of sin was evidently irreversible. In Genesis 15, approximately 400 years earlier, during the time of Abraham, or Abram at the time, God told him: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” The All-Knowing God revealed to Abraham that his descendants will be slaves in Egypt for four centuries; then the Israelites will return to Canaan. In other words, while there was still a chance for repentance for those nations, God endured these hundreds of years exhibiting His compassion and His desire for their salvation. However, when their sin was complete, when there was no more room for repentance, it was time for Judgment. So, there are two points to note from this passage. First, God did not rush to their destruction but was patient awaiting the salvation of the Amorites for four centuries. Second, their sin was now complete and it was time for Judgement. 


For some, it is still difficult to accept that God can order these killings even if it is for judgment purposesSo, maybe an analogy could help. Imagine a judge sitting on his judgment seat studying a murder case. After he listened to the prosecutor, the defense lawyer, the many witnesses, studied every detail of the case, and verified the trustworthiness of the evidence, he concluded that the accused is indeed a criminal and is deserving of punishmentWe would all agree that this is a fair judge. But, what if the accused were a group of people, should the decision be any different? No, they are all guilty and all should be punishedBut what if the judge, although aware of the evidence, sets the criminal to be freed? In this case, the judge would have evidently not judged righteously. But more importantly, He would not be loving. We have to remember that other human lives are at stake here. If the criminal is freed, others would eventually be killedThat same concept applies to the peoples in the Old Testament. Due to their state of sin, massive corruption was propagating within humanity. If God is to be merciful towards other nations, or humanity in general, He needs to apply His judgement on the nations whose sin is complete. In other words, God’s mercy towards some is directly associated with fulfilling His judgement on those whom, in vain, He awaited patiently their repentance. One action is taken by GodFrom one side’s perspective it is a judgment. From the other side’s, it is mercy. It’s a double-edged sword. ObviouslyGod judges righteously. And this righteous judgment involves both His faculties of mercy and justice. So the third argument is that God’s righteous judgment is declared based on the well-being of ALL His children. Sometimes we get caught up in the details of the events between God and these specific peoples that we forget about the others. But God does not. 


But why does God choose to kill by the sword? Isn’t that contradictory to His command not to murderNot really. There are two points to consider here. First, if we look at the 10 commandments, they are addressed to the people on a personal level: You shall not bear false witness against your neighborYou shall not steal, You shall not murder. The wars, as we have seen, were a customary practice amongst nations at the time. The second point is that God was concerned with establishing in His people a sense of justice. The concept of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ was also used in this specific context of murdering. In Genesis 9, God says: Surely for your lifeblood I will demand reckoning [settlement]; from the hand of every … man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of manWhoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man. So God sets a command not to murder. But He also clearly sets the equivalent consequence for the murderer himselfThis is today’s equivalent of capital punishment. The law states not to murder; yet, at the same time applies the identical punishment in accordance with the crime. I am not, here, advocating for capital punishment. This is simply an illustration. Finally, there are some skeptics that claim that God ordered the genocide of the Midianites in the book of Numbers, chapter 31 amongst other atrocities. This is simply inaccurate. Since we can still see Midianites years later in the book of Judges, chapter 6, it was obviously not a genocide. We will put a link below to a free online book on Old Testament violence, to which you can refer to, if you are interested in this subject of Midianites or the subject of God allegedly favoring Israel over other nations along with other subjects that we have not covered in this seriesOn a final note, I encourage you to research the scientific subject of epigenetics. This scientific subject is enlightening when attempting to understand God’s ordering of killing childrenWe will also put a video link in the comments section to start you off on the right path.  

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