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Did God Command Genocide?

In the Bible we meet a God who is internally consistent, who is constantly limiting weapons, and stopping wars.

Introduction

(Read Joshua 10:38-42; 15:13-15)

Note: I acknowledge with gratitude my debt to the scholarship of William J. Webb and Gordon K. Oeste, in their work Bloody, Brutal and Barbaric?: Wrestling with Troubling War Texts(IVP Academic, 2019).

“So Joshua subdued the whole region … He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.”

Let’s pause and take this in. A person is commanded by God, the God you and I worship, to kill every person in the region—soldiers AND noncombatants, men, women, and children, grampa and the baby?

Imagine you are sitting at Starbucks with a friend, and the conversation comes around to religion. And your friend says, “I could never believe in a god who commands the kind of violence, the genocide! You see in the Bible. It’s repulsive.” How would you respond?

Many Christians kind of avoid this question and hope it doesn’t come up. Or maybe offer, “I don’t know. God said it, so he must have had a reason.”

At one time, that answer may have cut it, but it definitely hasn’t since 9/11. Ever since we in the US tasted what it’s like to have people wage a holy war against us, it’s impossible to think of Yahweh calling for one.

In fact, it was 9/11 that made Sam Harris leave his Ph.D. in neuroscience to write his bestselling book, The End of Faith. And one of his big points is this: Religion is a source of conflict.

That point has registered, and become one reason many young Christians have left behind their faith. As one Christian blogger wrote:

Why would a good God send his people to take land that belongs to another nation? Is this just one more example of ...

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Kevin Miller is pastor of Church of the Savior in Wheaton, Illinois,

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