On Killing in the Old Testament
Q. How can you possibly claim to defend the New Covenant "Law" when that Law, which was supposedly inherited from the Old Testament, condones the killing of unarmed women and children?
A. We receive questions about Old Testament practices quite often from people desperately trying to understand the God of the Law of Moses. And as you will have read in our numerous publications we have always defended the Law as being perfect, pure, and holy (Rom.7:12). And we will always do so.
The question you ask is, however, legitimate, if the motive is to truly understand. It is not easy for us living at the end of the 20th century to understand conditions that obtained when Israel invaded Canaan, though within a couple of generations I would not be at all surprised if the same barbarity that prevailed in pagan Canaan does not obtain in many Western nations. Only the other day I saw a report about a software game which had been banned from the United Kingdom which involved the user using a rifle in his bedroom window to assassinate children in the windows of a block of apartments opposite. As many of our readers will know, Satanists have been offering up sacrifices of babies and small children in their demonic rites for some time though this has got considerably worse in the latter half of this century. The problem of child pornography on the Internet is another serious problem.
In considering an emotive subject such as you raise we must necessarily be aware of various things before making an intelligent and compassionate comment. To begin with, Christians believe that our physical existence here is but an means to and end, and is not the end itself. Whilst life is sacred and must be protected, there are certain times when preservation of life as an end in itself becomes an obstacle to human salvation rather than its facilitator.
We must also remember in our treatment of this topic to look from God's perspective and not man's. Life on earth was designed with a purpose -- to provide an environment for spiritual growth not possible in a purely spiritual environment. Though originally a paradise (called Eden), its demise was foreknown by God and the resultant fallen world is an integral part of God's plan for man's progression. Its pains, sufferings and (sometimes) contradictions exist to put the soul through various tests. On its own, such a scenario might seem barbaric were it not for the fact that every soul which lives on this world has come here by personal choice. No-one was compelled. Thus a correct understanding of the doctrine of pre-mortal spiritual existence is essential to the equation of factors which must be considered in answering the question of why God ordered the extermination of entire heathen nations when Joshua invaded the Promised Land.
This act of extermination, which revolts our western sensibilities (mine included), is, for some reason, regarded as more horrific when man is the instrument of extermination rather than God Himself directly. We have the nightmare of the Jewish and Cambodian holocauts too fresh in our minds, to which have been added by the horrors of genocide in Rwanda. But we must be careful not to equate men's acts of terror with God's acts of mercy.
"An act of mercy?!" you might cry out. Very much so. Today we speak of euthanasia, or mercy killings which, though opposed by this Church, are not regarded as wrong in many quarters. One of the Australian states recently legalised it. There is an increasing number of people who, watching the pain and suffering of loved ones with terminal illness, feel it is only right to end their lives for their sakes. One can be sympathetic to such a position even if one does not necessarily agree with it.
There is a difference between "mercy killings" and killings brought about by vengeance, greed, or other base motives. The SS Einsatzgruppen, who systematically butched Europe's Jewish population, were rank murderers. But people are not so sure when it comes to issues such as capital punishment. People are hestitant, justifiably, because of the fear of sending innocent people to their deaths, as has, alas, happened. Better that a 100 murderers go free than one innocent man be unjustly condemned. From a human perspective, who can disagree?
But God's view of death is not the same as ours. Our days on earth are numbered. God has already determined how long our mortal span is to be and how we are to die. We are horrified when we hear of brutal murders and we cry out at the seeming injustice of it all, especially when the victim is a child. But we sometimes forget that not all people are ordained to live complete lives here. Sometimes souls have short missions here on earth and do not need to grow up to maturity. In all cases, however, they will grow up to maturity in the resurrection to enjoy full lives in the Millennial earth. Some are taken by natural causes, some by disease, some by murder, some by "accident" -- whatever the way, their time is up. Hard though this is to reconcile emotionally sometimes, we must remember that we do not have the eternal perspective. Our vision is limited by local events -- God sees the whole picture and the whole need, and when He ordains the physical death of an individual, there is purpose and love behind it. God is not callous or arbitrary, even though events may seem callous and arbitrary to us -- nothing escapes the divine eye and nothing is purposeless. Though God does not necessarily bring about the termnination of life directly, sometimes He does. And we have the Universal Flood as a case example.
Compared to the massacre of "innocents" under Joshua, the Flood must, in the eyes of the spiritually unenlightened, seem like a galactic holocaust. Millions perished; only eight survived out of a whole planet. But the flood was absolutely necessary. The Bible says that "all flesh was corrupted", meaning that not only had humanity sunk into the depths of depravity, but that it had been genetically interfered with. You will remember how rebellious angels came to earth and had intercourse with humans creating a race of evil giants, some of whose genes presumably survived in Noah's Eight, for we read of various giants like Goliath menacing God's people. The testimony of the ante-diluvian (pre-flood) era is that when the human race descends to a certain level of depravity it cannot be recovered. This is called, in the scriptures, "ripening in iniquity". Thus the extermination of the earth's population was an act of mercy and love to those who were waiting to be born on earth. What hope could there have been for billions of unincarnated spirits in the pre-mortal world if the only flesh they could incarnate into was corrupt?
Again, we must ever remember that death is not the permanent extinction of a life but its removal to another place shorn of a material exterior. Those who perished in the Great Flood were ministered to by Christ when He went to the spirit world to preach to those who were "in prison". Thus the destruction of all but eight of the human race was as much an act of mercy to future generations as to those who themselves perished.
Men make their plans, good as well as evil, but God permits or denies these plans. We are given agency to act for ourselves but our agency to interfere with the lives of others is severely restricted. If we are permitted to do evil to others then there are other factors involved. God did not, for instance, permit the Nazi terror to triumph -- it was permitted to go only so far, for purposes only partly understood by us. But we can be sure that those who perished were ordained to perish, both for their individual salvation and for those around them who participated in those terrible events.
Our walk in this life is principally one of faith and we need not always expect to obtain a human rational explanation of everything, as the great Patriarch Job found out. He experienced terrible suffering but the result was that he came to a knowledge of God. He, like us, is given the choice to react positively or negatively to life's difficult circumstances -- to continue to acknowledge God's sovereignty in trust or to deny Him completely. That is, after all, why we are here.
But let us return to Joshua's invading armies and the command to purge the land of all aliens by the sword. It sounds ruthless and hard-hearted on the surface until we understand exactly what the conditions in Canaan were at that time. We must also remember that Joshua's troops were not committing acts of revenge -- they were simply executing God's commands.
Let us remember that the ancient Canaanites were steeped in the worst form of pagan depravity. They offered their newborn infants "to the fire". What that means is that they literally fried babies alive to the demon god Molech. A metal altar was brought to red-hot temperature and their babies were literally laid on them whilst still alive. This was a routine practice, a daily observance in their devilish temples. Prostitution and homosexuality were endemic. Murder, violent robbery and rape were common place. There was little of what we would call a human "conscience" left because this had become so hardened. The young inherited the depraved flesh of their parents and were themselves wicked. "Even young children?" you might ask incredulously. Yes, even young children. As in many war-torn and demon-savaged countries today, children were in the forefront of sin, imitating their parents. We read of the occasional violent robbery of old people, the murder of children and babies, by young teens, even 10 year-olds, in the West. In the days of Joshua such was commonplace in Canaan.
It is not easy to paint this horrible picture but we must do it. God's command to slaughter the Canaanites was not a massacre of innocents, as was the crime of Herod in Bethlehem. "But what about babies?" you will ask. Aren't they innocent?
In the religious tradition I was brought up in we were taught that small children under eight were without sin. They may not be aware or conscious of sin but they are very definitely the same inheritors of Adam's fallen nature as all of us. You don't have to be conscious of being a murderer to be one -- you can be a complete zombie without being fully conscious of being a murderer, but that does not alter the fact that you are. Someone once wisely said that you do not need to teach a child to be naughty -- it will learn that itself with the greatest of ease, but teaching it to be good is a long struggle.
Please do not think that I am comparing our children with the Canaanites' children -- we have not reached thst stage of depravity yet, even though we are undeniably heading towards it. What I am saying is that the flesh those spirits who incarnated as Canaanites infants was so badly corrupted that they didn't stand a chance to work out their salvation. The flesh was so depraved and fallen that the meaning of free agency became lost. In other words, that genealogical line was of no further use to spirits incarnating on earth to work out their salvation. It was altogether too corrupt.
I repeat, the extermination of every man, woman and child was an act of mercy to the souls living in those bodies (to prevent them falling into even greater degradation and spiritual destruction) and an act of mercy to those they influenced. Israel did not obey the command -- they permitted many Canaanites to live and sowed the seeds of their own self-destruction. The abominable practice of Molech, with its heathen child-sacrifices, was allowed to continue unchecked.
I admit that I still shudder when I think of any child being put to death -- I doubt I could do it. The thought is utterly sickening to me. I woudn't want to, and I praise God that I will never have to. That judgment will be carried out by the Lord Himself when He returns and wipes out a third of the human race by fire for the sake of the human race is attested to in the Bible. There will be no more executionary armies.
But let us not be stupid or fall back to sentimentality. When we see the young of almost all creatures it often evinces an "ahhh!" from us. Baby rabbits, puppies, kittens, elephants, etc., all evoke sypathy and maternal protectiveness. It's an instinct God has given to us. But that is not all.
Sin, in its beginning stages, seems innocent enough. The intimacy of an adulterous relationship may seem fantastic for a while but the result is always grief and pain. Sin, the Bible teaches us, originates in our thoughts but is conceived in our hearts. And we are warned that the heart is desperately wicked. Once conceived, it grows up to adulthood. What is the best thing to do -- strike while the sin is yet young or engage in a gargantuan struggle when it reaches full maturity? Little things lead to big ones, small sins to large ones, corrupt baby flesh to adult flesh. Do you see what I am saying?
Humanist psychologists have tried to prove this notion wrong. But whilst our envionment truly does shape us continually, our genes and our inherited sinful tendencies shape us far more. It is possible to show that the sinful tendencies of parents are inherited by their offspring even when those offspring are physically isolated from their parents. Unrepented and un-overwon sins are passed down in the flesh. It is called the "sins of the fathers" and, if we are to understand the Bible correctly, can be passed down for many, many generations, seven being about the length of time taken for a sin to be fully disappated.
We are not God, and our thoughts and ways are not as His. Therefore be very careful in how you judge Him, for this is surely an even greater sin. What God says is right. The debate, for New Covenants Christians, ends there. For the rest is but a long spiral of doubt to eventual disbelief or a watered-down faith.
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 26 February 1998
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