The Problem of OT Genocide


Richard Dawkins once described God as:

“…the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

The ethics of the OT and in particular the commands to eradicate the Canaanites from the promised land, the so called commands to commit genocide or ethnic cleansing are a strong reason for disbelief in the God of the Bible today.

Today we want to spend some time thinking about the commands of God to enter the land, dispossess the Canaanites of the land, and the commands to put to death, the men, women and children. Joshua 6:15-21, records the fall of Jericho. ‘On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. 16 And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. 17 And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. 18 But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” 20 So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. 21 Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.’ A similar record is found in Josh. 8:22-25 in the fall of Ai.

How can a God who loves sinners and seeks to save them be reconciled with this sort of thing in the OT?