Challenge #5: Kill Every Man, Woman, and Child vs. Do Not Murder
Killing is a major theme throughout the Bible. It is prominent physically in the Old Testament, but life and spiritual death are more prominent in the New Testament (until Revelation!). The word “kill” is used 320 times in the whole Bible. The word “death” is used 466 times. It is not, however, outnumbered by “life”, which is used 555 times, or “live”, which is used 987 times. While death is a major theme—not to mention an inescapable fact of existence—it does not seem to be as major a theme as life.
So a quick response to “Why is the Bible so obsessed with death?” is “Why is it even more obsessed with life?” A similar paradoxical question is “Why is there so much bad in the world?”—to which an appropriate response might be, “Why is there so much good?” We often have a hard time telling what is good and what is bad in grand scheme of things. Experiences that we thought were bad turned out to be something we needed to develop us into who we were supposed to be—and that is on a fairly finite scale. Similarly, how do we know the difference between what is lawfully beneficial killing and what is not.
Assuming that God exists and has an all-knowing nature and an ultimate plan, he would theoretically be the only one to truly know when a killing is necessary, lawful, and beneficial for His desired ends. Therefore, killing done at the command of God is not unlawful, like murder is. The command to people is to not murder—do not take a life without legal provisions. The chief legal provision is at the command of God. I realize that this might sound a little bit circular, but it truly is the groundwork for the system.
Consider Governments: they have the right to enact the enforcement of laws. Somebody that dies by death penalty is not murdered, but, rather, dies lawfully. Some systems are better than others. For example, if a government enacts Sharia Law a person may be put to death for openly converting from Islam to Christianity. Would that death, though lawful according to that nation, be considered murder? I believe it would be murder; but the guilty party would be the one enacting the law. Israel’s government, especially under Moses, Joshua, and the God-fearing judges, was a theocratic society—meaning God was the king, lawmaker, and commander in chief. There is no parallel society today, nor do I think that any society is supposed to be like that today.
God would, of course, be the best lawmaker. But, make no mistake; he made laws in order to achieve what He was purposing for that time. Therefore, many of things that were enacted were not specifics for all societies at all times. God, through the Old Testament society was developing a theme of the coming Christ. Part of what was had to take place in order for the perseverance of the nation of Israel was harsh and brutal battles. It was the nature of that portion of the world to fight for land and dominion (it’s always been that way). Unless Israel responded it would get absorbed into the other cultures. In that case, the Messiah would have had little to no context in which to arrive. Furthermore, God would not have kept up His end of the bargain to preserve Israel. And if He didn’t preserve physical Israel, it would be rather hard to trust Him to preserve the New Israel, spiritual Israel. If God is as a Father to the people He chose to reveal Himself through, then He would desire to protect them. Protection was not a passive exercise for the people. It meant being on the defensive and going on the offensive at times.
God used wicked nations to judge the wickedness of others. How much more could He use His designated people Israel to combat the wickedness of other nations? It’s a little strange and ironic that secular history celebrates the rise of such empires as the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the British, and eventually the United States. When looking at the size of Israel (about the size of New Jersey), it’s plain to see that there was not an intent for world domination.
I think that the revolt that freed the Israelites from Egypt and the battles that took over an unimaginably wicked nation of Canaan should be celebrated—even more so than similar civil freedoms in other nations. We celebrate Independence Day, but many frown at the fact that Egyptian soldiers died on the exodus of the Israelites. We celebrated when free democratic societies began to settle where the overbearing USSR used to dwell. We refused to allow China’s oppression to flood through parts of Southern Asia. We celebrate the efforts and courage of the American forces. Yet many still question and shun the idea that Israel would establish a healthy society and guard themselves from poisonous cultures wanting to overthrow them.
How many people actually died in these biblical events is anybody’s guess. By its size it was probably not among the major wars of the world at that time. Of course, we wish it could have been less—or none at all. (Of course, then the insult would be that Christians are pacifists, and irrelevant to real world societies.) Most likely it was not a wiping out of all the innocent bystanders that they could get their hands on. If there were mistakes made by Israel—and I believe there were quite a few—it was out of rebellion against their Commander.
(Leaning largely on Paul Copan’s work) Battles were focused on military outposts. And if the opposing side tried to gain an edge by putting women and children in the midst of the battle, then it’s their own stupidity that can be responsible for those innocent deaths. Some deaths occur by unfortunate association. Also according to Copan, forewarnings were sent to the opposing armies: “Get out of here or in X days we will attack. Possibly Copan’s main thesis is that the language is specific to terminologies of war. We appear to have parallels in sports. “The Thunder totally destroyed Los Angeles last night.” How come Los Angeles is still there then? How come they both play again tomorrow? (Why was Canaan utterly destroyed and then fighting again soon after?) This “softening” may be true, but I don’t know how necessary it is to vindicate God.
As I said earlier, there is no parallel society. God may still use certain nations (including wicked ones) to judge other nations. But since we don’t have the office of prophet to speak forth God’s intent on those things, we don’t know which occurrences constitute this. Governments decide when to go to war. This has led to millions of deaths, but that is not a way to gauge the wickedness of governments. So the belief in God is not leading to wars and deaths. We fight and kill out of desires for power, ideas, jealousy, greed, and wickedness. If all nations were whole-heartedly following the prince of peace, I’m confident that there would be no wars. As it is, there is no evidence of Evangelical Christian groups killing others over religious differences. (The apostate Catholic state-church can be discussed elsewhere.)
So, unless you have been given the authority from officers above you to enforce a death sentence, you have no right to kill another person. (We can acknowledge that the law allows for killing in the rare case of having another life, or multiple lives, threatened.) When we take into account these clauses, we have no business condemning Israel for the deaths which resulted from the establishment of their nation. God was truly, in consistency with His nature, fully lawful in the commands which established a nation with a purpose.