CT Discusses a Genocidal God

How do we reconcile the loving God of the Old Testament with the harsh God of the New Testament?

28356That’s how I begin God Behaving Badly but the most recent edition of Christianity Today (July/August 2013) flipped the question around, asking how to reconcile the wrathful, legalistic God of the OT with the loving, gracious God of the NT.  I think that’s the way people are used to hearing it asked.

I love the fact that CT is addressing this subject.  We don’t talk about the problematic texts in the Bible enough, but atheists like Richard Dawkins are bringing them up in public forums.  Christians unfortunately don’t have good answers, probably because these subjects never get discussed in church.  I hope CT gets something started here.

CT addresses the topic with four articles:

1) A short intro by editor Mark Galli, “A Paradox Old and New.”  He mentions God Behaving Badly (thanks for that), as well as books by Paul Copan and Eric Seibert.  In the online version this article appears at the end of the Buchanan article (see next).

2) “Can We Trust the God of Genocide” a pastor’s (Mark Buchanan) response.

3) “Gentiles in the Hand of a Genocidal God” (titled “We are all Rahab Now” in the print version) by a philosophy professor at Eastern University.

4) “Learning to Love Leviticus” by Christopher Wright, one of my favorite OT scholars.

While we’re on the subject, here’s my take on the Canaanite Genocide, from Relevant Magazine (Sept-Oct 2011), “Reconciling the God of Love with the God of Genocide.”  To get the whole article, you’ll need to register with Relevant (or email me).

Here’s the CT excerpt of God Behaving Badly, the dreaded wedgie for a wedgie story:

When do you discuss the problematic God of the OT?  At church, Sunday school, dinner with your family, or never?  


  1. I skimmed the article by Mark Buchanan. He mentioned how a former student was challenged by a verse in Hosea. In working on the issue, however, Buchanan didn’t mention the context from which this verse was taken. While God is quite irate and threatens some terrible stuff against Israel, we note an incredible heart-wrenching struggle. It’s almost as if God’s wrath and compassion are fighting an internal battle inside God’s heart. What will God do? Unleash horrible punishment, or woo and re-woo God’s wayward child? Sometimes I think God’s threats are a little bit like the ones I make to my own children–they are born of indignant love and incredulity that my child doesn’t trust my love. I don’t want to imply that God can blow his top like a mere mortal, but, well, maybe he does from time to time.

  2. Hewson, I agree. When God gets angry it gets our attention, like it did for Moses in Exo. 4 (the first time the biblical text records God’s anger). I really liked Buchanan’s first story, but it would have been good to talk more about the context of Hosea (God is like a cuckold whose wife (that’s us) keeps sleeping around.) I get tired of wishing that Bible teachers would talk more about the context of a passage–it makes the story stronger, and reduces the likelihood that the text will be misconstrued. Cray’s article, while lacking a powerful story, makes a great power–we are like Rahab, not Israel, in the book of Joshua. We deserve death (the wages of sin…). Thanks for engaging in a thoughtful manner.

  3. Our Pastor here in Canada did a sermon series on OT genocide starting off with this pregnant quote by Richard Dawkins that slammed God as bloodthirsty and a megalomaniac and stuff. I loved it.

  4. Patricia, yeah, I include that quote at the beginning of God Behaving Badly (p. 13). Although, Dawkins does the same thing that Christians do, sort of. He ignores all the positive stuff in the OT, most Christians ignore all the negative stuff. Both are misrepresentations of God.

  5. Genocide was not the object of Israel’s invasion, and there was no Canaanite genocide.

    God said he would send terror upon the Canaanites (Exodus 23:27). How do you send terror? By creating an awesome reputation for God, and an invincible

    one for Israel. The plagues on Egypt, the defeat of the Amorites east of the Jordan, and the crossing of the river were all to convince the Canaanites they were

    not to fight, but run.

    After Jericho and Ai, most Canaanites were too afraid to defend the cities and fled.

    Just put yourself in their position after hearing of the “magic” that Israel wielded at Jericho.

    The evidence can be seen in the following:

    1) The 5 city alliance of the Gibeonites decided on guile rather than risk conflict. They offered to be slaves to Israel as long as they were spared.

    2) The Canaanite kings tried two alliances in open battle rather than depend on their walls.

    3) Israel took some cities in 1 or 2 days (Joshua 10:23, 32, 35). Compare this with 37 men at Harlech Castle holding off the entire Welsh Army in 1294AD. This was only possible if the cities were severely undermanned. No miracles or tactics were recorded.

    4) Isaiah 17:9 tells us many of the cities were deserted as Israel approached.

    5) If genocide was the goal, no Canaanite would dare return to any city after Israel had taken it. And yet, Caleb found some in Hebron to drive out (Joshua 15:14).

    6) Joshua chapters 15 to 22 lists approximately 260 cities allotted to the tribes, all with no record of battles or sieges.

    7) Thutmose III, pharaoh of Egypt circa 1500BC claimed over 350 Canaanite cities paid him tribute. Joshua 12 lists 31 kings and their cities defeated (less than 10%!)

    8) There is no archaeological evidence of massed graves in Canaan for that time period.

    There is no record in the book of Joshua of attacks on people in the countryside, on the roads, hills, forests etc. Compare this with recent history: Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and Nazi Germany, where there were attacks everywhere. Compare Joshua with 15000 people fleeing various cities in India when they received fake text messages of attacks on minorities.

    God built a formidable reputation for Himself in Egypt, and an awesome one for Israel over 40 years in the wilderness, culminating with the destruction of the Canaanites east of the Jordan. An invincible reputation was supposed to be established at Jericho and Ai. This would have forestalled any resistance and saved lives. Too bad one greedy man stole what was reserved for God at Jericho, and Israel suffered an initial defeat at Ai. This encouraged some Canaanites to fight.

    God directed Israel against the strongest and most organized of the Canaanites. Once they were defeated, further killing was minimized. Only those Canaanites most responsible for the evil culture, and those who had the most to lose would have stayed and fought. These were slain to the last man or woman. It was the genocide of a wicked culture, not the genocide of a people. The people who ran away were later driven out.

    Should this be called cultural genocide? Even today, some nations in the world have laws where citizenship can be revoked, and people deported. God has His own thoughts on religion, culture, race, and politics. Leviticus chapters 17 and 18 lists sins that God says “cut off from his people”. Since this applies even to foreigners, it means foreigners are cut off from their own nations, and not just from God or Israel. In other words, people who commit those sins were not considered a religion, culture, race or political group. We can go by what the world says, or we can go by what God says. Incest, child sacrifice, and gang rape are not a culture.

    (Perhaps it should not be even called a culture. This was a culture imposed from the top by cruel kings and sadistic priests. This culture did not arise from the common people, who were poor and uneducated.)


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