Is God a Warmonger? (Part 1)
One common objection to believing the Bible I often hear is an objection to the slaughter of the Canaanite peoples during the time of the Israelite conquest of the promised land. The story of the Israelite conquest is not one that is easy on modern ears as we have seen a horrible century in which genocide has become an altogether too common occurrence. In all honesty, there are parts of the Old Testament are sometimes difficult to accept, especially as they relate to God’s character. I really wish some passages were not included in the scripture, and if I were writing them, they would not be. But that’s more evidence that the Bible is inspired by God. Stories that humans would cut out in effort to save God’s reputation as good and loving, God inspired to be included in his Holy Word in order to fully reveal his divine character. Maybe I’ll write more on that later, how about those tough to take passages? Take his command to King Saul of Israel,
Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction[a] all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. ~1 Samuel 15:3
Camels and donkeys? Children and infants? Really? Or how about this statement regarding Israel’s destruction of Jericho at God’s prompting:
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. ~Joshua 6:21
Is the God of the Old Testament a lover of war and destruction? Is God a warmonger who arbitrarily takes out his frustration on innocent people? Reading certain passages and not taking into account the whole testimony of the Bible one could get this impression. The conquest of Canaan strikes at our notions of justice and fairness. Why does God command his people to wipe out an entire race of people? How can God do that and still be considered just and good? Even more so, these passages often propagate the doubts of non Christians who are skeptical of God in the first place. But perhaps the issue of God and war in the Old Testament is more complex than we realize. Could there be other factors that we need to take into consideration?
1. First, it is a legitimate question to ask if God is a warmonger. Christians rightly condemn ethnic cleansing in other contexts and there is no warrant today for nations to destroy other nations in order to take their land. However, there are special features of God’s commands to Israel to “ethnically cleanse” the land of Canaan that make this event unique, and not to be imitated, and allow it to be seen as an act of moral obedience (or, as we will see disobedience) to God. The command of God to radically annihilate the Canaanite peoples is only seen as a “right action” when placed in context of God’s plan of salvation in general, and his particular calling of Moses to be his mouthpiece to the people of Israel (Exodus 3-4:17; Numbers 12:1-5).
Moses is identified as God’s unique choice to be the lawgiver for the people of Israel, and the commands given through Moses come directly from God’s own mind (Deut. 18:15-20). Believers accept God’s divine appointment of Moses to speak his will. Without the command from God, delivered through Moses, Israel would have no right to the promised land and their actions could only be seen as immoral and evil. A fundamental conviction of the Bible, and of Christianity, is that the God of the Bible is the creator of all there is, and therefore the owner of all lands. God has a right to distribute territories according to his good and holy will (Exodus 19:5; Psalm 24:1).
While it is a justified question to ask if God is a warmonger, when considering God’s ownership of all the lands of earth, not to mention people, livestock, and other animals, the answer must come down: No, God is not a warmonger, he is the creator of all things who can do with these things what he pleases according to his good and holy will.