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Old Testament Stories of Killing That Shock Us

“We took all his cities at that time, and we utterly destroyed the men, women, and little ones of every city; we left none remaining” (Deut. 2:34).

“And we utterly destroyed them, as we did to Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children of every city” (Deut. 3:6).

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (I Sam. 15:2-3).

Who can read these words without feeling unnerved? God is a good God and yet He commanded the Israelites to kill not only evil men and women but also innocent children. How can this be?

This is not a subject we like to think about. As preachers and teachers we usually say little about it. We are afraid these Scriptures will weaken our faith. Children and new converts might stumble at these verses and become unbelievers. But then we tell them to read the Bible—all of it, from Genesis to Revelation. Inevitably all who read the Bible encounter such verses and think, “I understand why the wicked adults were killed, but what about the children?”

I am not recommending that we make a hobby out of this topic. We need to use discretion in addressing such serious matters. But we cannot ignore them. These stories are in the Bible and the questions about them are real.

You might say that the little children were better off dying young. If their parents had lived the children would likely have become just as evil as they were. On the other hand, if only the parents were executed then an enormous number of children would have been orphans. Perhaps it was a merciful thing for them to die. They are all in that land of rest now.

That reasoning might give some comfort, but it doesn’t change the fact that God ordered the taking of innocent lives.

We might call attention to the fact that God expelled Adam and Eve from the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24). As a result all of us die—even children. But we are not talking about natural deaths.

Skeptics and atheists shove these verses in our face and ask, “How can you believe in a God and a book like that?” But the question needs to be turned back on them. What is wrong with killing little children if there is no God?

Muslims argue that jihad is no different from what the Israelites did to their enemies. But there is a huge difference. The Israelites lived in a day when God spoke directly. God gave no such message to Muhammed.

No matter how we look at this, we must come back to who God is. God is the giver of life (Acts 17:25, 28). If God as our Creator has the power and the right to give life, then He has the power and the right to take life—even innocent life as in the case of the children who died in the flood and other calamities sent from God. This is a painful and frightening admission. But the alternative—that there is no God or that God does evil—is both illogical and unbiblical.

Why God made a world with life and death is a mystery, but perhaps when we leave this world we will understand it better.


West End church of Christ, March 3 2024 bulletin article


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