September 23, 2020

Difficult Scriptures: The “Genocidal” God?

By Chaplain Mike

Some of the most difficult stories in the Bible are those which portray God ordering the annihilation of entire nations or groups of people. This appears prominently, for example, in the Book of Joshua, when the Hebrews defeated the Canaanites on various occasions to take control of the Promised Land.

How do you deal with these texts?

In the following video, Tremper Longman III discusses “The Genocidal God” and gives us his understanding of a theological framework in which we may read these stories. He suggests that one key is to read them in the light of what the entire Bible teaches about the subject of God’s judgment.

What do you think of his explanation?

Is our struggle today more with the overall idea of God’s wrath and judgment than with specific historic instances of it recorded in the Biblical history?

If Longman’s perspective makes sense, is it still a problem for you that God chose to use human instruments to execute his judgment in the Biblical accounts?

Let’s talk.

Tremper Longman III is Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is also a visiting professor Mars Hill Graduate School, Westminster Theological Seminary, and Fuller Theological Seminary. He lectures regularly at Mars Hill, Regent College in Vancouver and the Canadian Theological Seminary in Calgary.

The Wilberforce Fellowship has collected several of Longman’s video clips on their channel on YouTube.


  1. I do know what you are saying, but on the other hand…

    how logical is it for God to become a man, live a pefectly obedient life to the Father, and then suffer and die on a cross…all that his tormentors and killers could be forgiven?

  2. They had a very interesting conference on this at Notre Dame a little over a year ago, and the presentations were videotaped and then put on line. Interested folks might want to check it out:

    If you click on “Curley” under “Individual Sessions” (toward top of the page), for instance, you can watch & hear Edwin Curley presenting the challenge in very strong terms, and then also hear a very interesting response to that from Peter van Inwagen. But lots of good stuff in some other sessions, too.

  3. Suppose, conceptually, that God is all male. He presents himself that way after all: The Father . What does that actually mean? Well it may mean that he is all outward. He is all forward. He is not introspective. He does not question his actions or thoughts for their relative worthiness. He sees a town like Sodom and decides to destroy everyone and everything. The only way he sees another prespective is for a human/female/introspective element to be placed in the mix. That is Abraham who has the audacity to question. Now God amends his plan. ‘Alright I won’t kill everyone.’ The human acts a a conscience in this case; an introspective (female) voice that says , ‘Am I doing this right? Is there another avenue or a way of seeing this besides my own?’ Perhaps this is part of the mystery of what we were created for in the first place. We are created in the image of God. He can see Himself when he looks at us.

    • Had a heaping helping of feminist Kool-Aid, Chris?

      • It’s more of a Jungian anima/animus thing – not feminist at all. Feminist sensibilities would posit that God is a woman. I am saying that God is as He describes Himself – a distinctly masculine ( as we understand the term anyway because there is neither male nor female in heaven) being. Jung in his 1958 Answer to Job discusses this at length. Why did God brutalize Job who was minding his own business and living righteously? It is a question that goes to the very depths of the nature of God. It is a very unwieldy question and I think the answer is very jarring and seemingly contradictory to what we say about God. The question is what kind of God would order genocide. This is the sort of thing Paul described as meat and not milk. I think God’s ultimate purpose in creating humanity is for us to ultimately know these answers and become equals with God, knowing good from evil. He is creating for himself a suitable help mate. He is extracting a rib. We are the bride. What exactly is our function as bride? We are a reflection of Him. Is God missing something that we fulfill? I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions but I can say that I consider it my life’s work and purpose to know God. Unless we want to say that the scriptures are errant and mistaken, then we have to say that we worship the very God who ordered these genocides and that we consider Him to be light and love personified. That sounds like something a psychotic would find troublesome. That means to me that another light must turn on. In much the same way that physisists have turned the natural world on its head and undone centuries of accepted thinking, the bride of Christ must be open to what he is saying to bring forth a revolution in thinking about the nature of God and man. Frankly, in the end, it will be the same thing He has always said. God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth……God so loved the world……that they Father may be one even as you and I are one. Psalm 45 says that he greatly desires our beauty. He’s got a real hankering for humanity; a complete obsession. What is it about us that He needs and wants? If we know that then we know something about Him that we didn’t know before and maybe that helps explain the violence.

  4. I’m with “Eagle” here as far as the comments he has made. I thought I was a Christian until I studied the Old Testament in depth with a well-known group study. I still enjoy reading the essays and comments at this site, but right now I’m totally turned off by, “the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” mentality. The brutality in the Old Testament ranks right up there with that of the Koran.

  5. We think of the motiviation for genocide as the elimination of a race or ethnicity because they are in the way of / are a threat to another race or ethnicity.

    In the story of the Canaanites at Jericho, to me the most amazing event is Joshua 5:13-14, where Joshua encounters apparently some type of man/angel with a sword, and he asks the angel “are you for us or for our adversaries?”

    “NEITHER, I come now as a captain of the host of the Lord.”

    So from this perspective, the whole incident was not about genocide as we typically think of it… God was not “for” the triumph of one people group over their enemies. He was up to something else – – His own agenda.

    • That’s a pretty weak argument you’ve got there. At the end of the day, one group of people got dead, en masse, because of who they were. Seems like you’ve run away from the term “genocide” only to smack your head on the reality of the fact of “genocide”.

  6. In most cases, these people never died because of who they were. It was not true genocide because the race of the people had nothing to do with it — it was their actions. For instance, the Amalekites were killed by the Isrealities. Why? Because they were a marauding nomadic tribe that was deliberately trailing the Israelites (who, incidentally, had no interest in their territory), and killing off stragglers like children and the elderly. Although Israel had warned them, allowed them to immigrate into their society, etc., these people continued to pray violently on the Israelites. So the men were removed, to prevent further bloodshed.

    That leaves you with an interesting predicament. What to do with the women and children? This was a nomadic people group that relied on its raids. Without the men, the women and children would have died slowly, painfully, and excruciatingly in the desert, whether from starvation, thirst, heat, or wild animals. The Israelites proceeded to mercy-kill them, a fate which history shows was preferred (and sometimes requested!) by people of the time. There were no social institutions to draw the Amalekites into Israel. They would have ended up poor and dead either way in or outside of Israel.

    Yes, it’s hard, and it’s tragic. But this is a very different world and a very ethically loaded situation. If you REALLY want to understand the dynamics of one of these situations (Amalekites), read the links below. Anything I’ve said here is a very condensed and abbreviated attempt to shed light on the issue. By no means is it a complete resolution. But one needs to consider the simple secular basis for some of these wars as well.

    • Just a note on what might appear to be a contradiction. Amalekites were indeed allowed to immigrate into Israel, but this is not what I refer to when I speak of “social institutions to draw the Amalekites into Israel.” There is a difference between a person or family voluntarily entering a society with some degree of independence and initiative and an entire city’s worth of destitute women and children being forced in at once. Really, it would be much better to just read the links instead of go off of my butchered synopsis.

  7. Oh boy, oh boy.
    I don’t care to calculate how long it’s taken me to work my way through the comments here, but it is an excellent read!
    I do believe that this is maybe THE central question for our faith, certainly as far as apologetics is concerned. Let’s face it, this is our ‘weak spot’, and everyone knows it.

    Anyway, working through the comments, here are some ideas that were new and interesting to me:
    – that life ‘down here’ is not everything, and the infants who died were going to ‘a better place’ (nice try, but that could also be a good defence of abortion)
    – Human shields: the women & children were not cowering somewhere in houses, but were actively/passively involved in the warfare. I guess that would be consistent with their apparent child welfare ethics (as witnessed by passing their children by the fire).
    – Hyperbole: ‘Men, women & children’ would be equivalent to ‘lock, stock & barrel’. I like this one.

    But on the other hand…

    I have often found myself wondering: “does God do collateral damage?” It does seem like in the OT: apart from a few ‘chosen’ individuals who get special treatment, the others are just pushed around and dispensed with like cattle. I remember one preacher saying that “God is not civilized”. This is a scary thought, but it’s not illogical.

    Maybe God just doesn’t do dainty; he doesn’t hold out his little finger when he drinks his tea; he doesn’t drive a car? Maybe he is more horses, sweat, knives, swords, dirt and blood?

    Maybe we’re just too ‘nice’, while the rest of the world is closer to God’s reality: in the hunger, pain and violence of life down here. How often do we seriously say “come, Lord Jesus”? Not often. Life is just too comfortable.

    Now, if you want more than scary – terrifying – you could read Arthur Katz’s book “The Holocaust: Where Was God?”. I’ve never yet managed to get further than the first chapter, because his thesis isn’t that ‘God was there with those who suffered’, nope, he says that ‘God did it’; that it was the same God as the OT, still acting on the same covenant with the Jews, still judging “en masse”, still acting via sinful agents to bring his people into line. I really ought to read it, but it’s fairly unbearable for poor civilised little me…