, , , ,

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, at some point, you will confront the question “If God is a loving God, how could He at times command the Israelites in the Old Testament to kill men, women, and children of non-Israelites?” Hopefully, this article will dispel this inaccurate view. Richard Dawkins wrote from this viewpoint in the God Delusion: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction…” [1] Some of the things he contends is the God of the Old Testament was an “unforgiving control freak, a vindictive, and a bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser.”[2]

Phil Bradley/March 17, 2013

How and why would God sometimes command killing men, women, and children of whom the Israelites fought? My first point, of which I will not spend much time, is that God is the Creator of the universe. He has the right do you want He wants. Romans 9:21 reads, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”

My next point is, the one of my focus, God is a holy God. He demands holiness from His people. I want to lay some groundwork before I go back to this article’s question. Preachers often focus on the love of God, which is very powerful and important. In fact, a well-known Bible verse says “God is love” (1 John 4:8 KJV). Most notable, though, what often does not get the focus that it deserves is that our God is a holy God.

God is Holy

What exactly does the word holy mean? In the Old Testament, one of the Hebrew words for holy is qadosh (קָדַשׁ), signifying “to be sacred (ceremonially or morally); selected, pure, holy, consecrated, pious.”[3] The Bible stresses the importance of God’s holiness by expressing it in two different verses (Isa 6:3 and Rev 4:8.) These verses highlight this attribute of God in a thrice-repeated term for emphasis: “Holy, holy, holy.” Scripture does not stress God’s other characteristics this way. There is no “Love, love, love” or “Merciful, merciful, merciful.”


(Photo Credit: Jesus is the Word.org)

With our God being a holy God, He wants His people to be holy. Leviticus 11:45 reiterates God’s desire,” ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” In order to be holy, you need to be pure. In order to be pure, you must rid yourself of things in your life that will lead you away from purity. In this lies the problem of co-living with the people of Canaan. You cannot surround yourself with evil, without experiencing its effects.


Canaan with the Nations of the Land–Before Conquest

(Photo Credit: bible-history.com)

God Desires You to Be HolyDrive Out Evil from the Land

The Bible stresses the importance of God’s holiness by expressing it in two different verses (Isa 6:3 and Rev 4:8.) These verses highlight this attribute of God in a thrice-repeated term for emphasis: “Holy, holy, holy.” Scripture does not stress God’s other characteristics this way. There is no “Love, love, love” or “Merciful, merciful, merciful.” What were the sins of the people of the land? God is the only true God and He only is to be worshipped (cf. Exod 20:2-5). The people of the land worshipped idol/false gods. Along with worshipping false gods, they burned their children and practiced loathsome vices like sodomy and bestiality.[4] In fact, God said in Lev 18:24-25, “for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.”

God gave the Amorites time to repent. He told Abram “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen 15:16). The Amorites were one of the groups of people who inhabited Canaan, four hundred years before the Canaanite conquest. We are not sure what exactly the measurement “not yet full” means but assume that the Amorite society was evil, which kept adding to their evil deeds.

The Amorites did not repent of their ways. Since the Amorites and other people of the land continued in their evil ways, the Lord told the Israelites,  “But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and Jebusities; as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee: That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods: so should ye sin against the Lord your God” (Lev 18:24-25). Later, when the Israelites conquered the Promised Land, they did not completely drive out the people of the land. The Israelites kept some of them as servants. Since they did not drive them out, God let the people of the land remain. The people of the land would be “thorns in your sides and their gods shall be a snare unto you” (Judg 2:3).

Don’t Keep Sin Around You’ll Become Its Servant

A person cannot keep sin around and not have it destroy you. You cannot keep sin as a servant because evidently, you will become the servant. The Bible uses leaven to symbolize sin. In 1 Cor 5:6 it reads, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” If you leave even a little sin around, it is something that can destroy you. This is what happened to Israel.

Sin continued as problematic throughout ancient Israel’s history. Since the people of the land remained, the Israelites learned their ways. During much of the Old Testament, the Israelites would serve God for a while and then reject God and take up idol worship, which involved vile practices. This brought great judgment throughout ancient Israel’s history, being conquered many times with much suffering of which sin leads.

Killing of Children From the People of the Land

What about the killing of children of the people of the land? First, idol worship and the evil practices involved with it affected many children of native inhabitants.  These children, including babies, would keep the memory of the evil idolatry alive, which then would influence the Israelites. Also, though Bible does not say it, but possibly, the satanic strongholds that consumed the people of the land  gripped their children even before these youth came of age and knew right from wrong. This likelihood would have a great effect on the Israelites, too.

What does this mean for a Christian in the 21st century? In the Age of Grace, we are not to use violence to deal with sinful people, but we are to do whatever it takes to stop the effects of sin from destroying us.  What occurred in the Old Testament serve as examples we can use today. Apostle Paul mentioned certain things that happened in the Old Testament, and said “Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they were written for our admonition” (1 Cor 10:11).


Contemporary Application

In Matt 5:29-30, Jesus talked about the need to pluck your right eye and cut off your right hand if it “offend thee” (KJV) or “causes you to sin” (ESV). It is better for a member of your body to perish than your “whole body should be cast into hell.”  We should not start chopping parts of our bodies off, but we need to do whatever it takes to stop sin from getting an open door and destroying us.

You find examples of these as such. If God sets you free from pornography, do not keep any in your home. Also, the same goes with alcohol. Then again, If you had a sexual relationship with someone in the past, you cannot go hang out with them at his/her home. The issue is when you are strong in the Lord you can resist these things. However, when you get your eyes off the Lord, and are weak, those things tempt you to go back. If you leave the door open to sin, the chances are great that sin will enter.

I can imagine that it was a difficult task for the army of Israel to kill all the people in a city. Also, it is hard to kill the things that lead us to sin. It means giving up some things you love and ending or separating yourself from some relationships. It is about killing things that will separate you from Christ. It is hard to do, but it will be worth it.

Earlier on, I talked about the love of God. How does this article connect with the love of God? With the children of Israel and the children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, God has great love for us. God knows how sin destroys a person. Naturally, He desires to see His children avoid sin’s destruction. His commandments are not to bring us down, rather give us a blueprint for the greatest life possible. Since “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16 KJV), God does not want anyone to suffer because of sin. In fact, He wants “all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).


I pray this article helped you answer why God at times commanded the Israelites to kill all men, women, and children of their enemies. This article was about a specific situation in the Old Testament. Do NOT use this article to explain why bad things happen to children. It would be very destructive to the people who are hurting. For all believers, remember what 1 Thess 5:22 says: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”



[1] Richard Dawkins,The God Delusional (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), 51

[2] Dawkins, The God Delusional, 51.

[3] F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010), 872-73.

[4] Quartz Hill School of Theology, The Religion of the Canaanite, n.p. [cited 14 March 2013]. Online: http://www.theology.edu/canaan.htm


Phil Bradley, blog contributor, teaches theology at All Nations Leadership Institute.  Additionally, he serves as an assistant pastor with the Lighthouse Church of All Nations.