Answering common objections to the faith: a God who endorses genocide?

We’re going to try something new here at the blog: periodically, we’ll post a “common objection to Christianity,” and we want to hear how you would respond to that objection if somebody challenged you with it. Our intent isn’t to play devil’s advocate, but to let you share how you would respond when your faith is challenged.

If it helps, imagine that a close, non-believing friend is raising the objection, and that referring them to a book, sermon, or publication is not an option. They want to hear your answer, in your own words!

Without further ado, here’s the first “objection.” How would you respond if a friend made this statement:

“Passages like Deuteronomy 20, 1 Samuel 15, and Exodus 12 depict God ordering the death of many innocents along with the guilty—including countless children. This shows that God can be cruel and bloodthirsty, and disproves the Christian idea that He is a God of love.”

How would you respond to this objection?

Share your response!

24 Responses to “Answering common objections to the faith: a God who endorses genocide?”

  • A few weeks ago I wrote an article with the title Slavery and the Bible. In it I said that racial based slavery was indeed condemned by God and that the 19th century slave trade in America and Britain was in no way biblically justified since “person-stealing” was always forbidden by God. I also made the point that the Bible is the greatest human rights book of all time… This was obviously the most controversial column I have ever written because I received numerous responses. One of the first responses I got had less to do with slavery and more to do with person stealing and genocide but this is a common appeal to biblical contradiction. Many atheists/skeptics frequently accuse the God of the Bible as being wicked and say that God sanctioned genocide in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy God told the Israelites to kill all of the Canaanite men but to spare the women and children and to take them as their own. At first glance this looks to be a form of genocide and even person-stealing but when one takes a deeper look it is quite the opposite. To understand what is going on in any certain passage of the Bible it is essential to read more than just one verse. So what is really happening in Deuteronomy 20? First off, the Canaanites were sacrificing their children to their bogus god Molech; this is strictly prohibited by Yahweh (Lev. 18:21). Molech was a figure of an upright bull head with a human body and outstretched arms and a fire pit in his belly. During the sacrifices, loud flutes and trumpets were played to drowned out any unpleasant noises. Not only did the Canaanites sacrifice their children that were sometimes as old as eight, but they openly participated in temple prostitution and other infidelities. Many things that we would be consider horrific in our society today were likely pandemic in the Canaanite culture. If you want to know more about what was happening just read the story of Lot and his family in Genesis; Lot even had to protect the angels from the men of Sodom. The next problem was the Canaanites unrestrained bestiality. Because it was believed to please their god Baal, bestiality was a common activity. Because of this, oppression of women naturally became a major problem as well. Another very common activity in Cana was adultery and it happened frequently. Now it is not to say that adultery wasn’t against the law; it actually was… for the woman. For the man it was not forbidden; the woman was held responsible in almost every instance. Because of this there was almost complete liberty for the males but never for the women in Cana. Next to child sacrifice the most objectionable activity was that of incest. This sprang from worship of the god El who was completely incestuous. So what did God do to the Canaanites? He gave them fair warning! He actually told all of Israel that their idolatrous ways would be judged harshly. He even sent prophets to the people but the people did not change their ways. God is perfect in all of His ways and He knew that the ways of the Canaanites would eventually make the other Israelites turn to the false gods; and this actually did happened numerous times. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, even built alters to these idols because of the influence of those around him. Humans can be easily influenced by sin and of course God knows that. It should not be surprising then that God judged the Canaanites in such a harsh way. Yes God is perfectly loving but He is also perfectly Just and justice requires penalty for sin. God did not want to destroy the Canaanites, he even said so (Ezek. 18:23, 32)! God had a plan of salvation for mankind from the very beginning and this plan was to come through the Israelites. God’s plan required that the Canaanite immorality be destroyed so that it would not infect all of Israel. It may be hard for us in America to understand how God could have commanded the destruction of a whole people group but maybe that is because we are cold to sin. It is all around us, even the same things that God destroyed in Cana are here in the United States! We have websites for married persons seeking affairs; movies and websites for bestiality and homosexuality (which is a sin like any other) is even promoted! The bottom line is that God rightfully acted in justice when he destroyed the Canaanites. Yes the women and children were taken but this was not person-stealing. They were not made slaves; they were rescued and treated better than they had ever been treated in Cana. Just read Proverbs 31 and see how God wanted the women treated – they were (and still are) to be praised and honored, not oppressed like they were in Cana and in Middle Eastern Muslim countries today. God will destroy evil and He has made this known from day one. Thankfully He is patient with us because He loves us. For those atheists who say that the biblical God is wrathful they are right. God is in no way obligated nor does He promise to tolerate evil – He hates sin. He even destroyed the whole world in the Genesis flood because of sin. Is that any more wrathful than destroying Cana? Much of the time however God decides to shows His creation undeserved mercy (even in sin). I Corinthians 7:14 says; “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” This verse was true for the Canaanites thousands of years ago and it is true even today!

  • Ira Kirkpatrick says:

    I hope to write with compassion, kindness and understanding and pray for wisdom and knowledge to write this. The perverse, radical and cruel things that the Hittites, Amorites, Cannaanities, Perizsites, Hivites and Jebusites were doing and the hearts of them were worse than Hitler.

    They were all so ingrained with beastiality, Prostitution of all ages and sexes, living sacrifices and things I will not say in this forum.
    The God of the universe is a vengeful God and he did destroy the whole earth population except the ones on the arch and the water wildlife because things were so corrupt and sinful. He did create everything that even exists which included humans and he does have the power and authority to do what he wills. This is part of his omnipresence and omnipotence. We as Christians believe Gods will is more important than ours. All of everything is Gods and under his will, his grace, his kindness, his forgiveness and is confirmed by the blood of Jesus who did come and gave his life by the shedding of his blood for us to have and opportunity to receive his salvation unto heaven.
    As Christians we trust in Gods decissions because he knows all that has been, all that is and all that will be.
    We place all our trust in Him and His Power.
    I hope you can understand this.

  • Ray Dymun says:

    I had this question posed to me a couple of weeks ago and this was my answer:
    But in the end it comes down to a very dangerous preposition: Do I judge God? Defending Him or condemning Him, we implicitly say we know all that He knows, and we have the authority to make that judgment; both of which are incorrect. I can say to someone who would press me on this issue: “I don’t know why God would say or do something like that but what I do know is this; He has always had my best interest in His hand. Anytime something He allowed to happen has been unpleasant or painful to me, He has always made it right in the end.” One shouldn’t judge God, especially on one moment in history, especially before all the work has been completed and everything has been restored. That would be like judging a surgeon solely on how one felt during the first 24 hours after surgery. There is pain, bleeding, and swelling; one may even be on life support, but that doesn’t mean the doctor is incompetent. Likewise, we can’t gauge God’s actions based on the limited view we have; nor should we. He gives everyone general mercy by allowing them to enjoy creation and to experience life. Billy Joel had a song, “She’s Always a Woman To Me”; in that song he sings about how a woman that he is in a relationship with may treat others cruelly, but treats him well. Likewise God’s promises of special mercy and lovingkindness are given to those in relationship with Him. Would you criticize a friend’s spouse for not being romantically interested in you? Then why should you criticize God when you care not for Him?

    Do you believe what the Bible says? If yes,why don’t you believe what it says about God’s mercy and grace. If you say no,why should you care? It probably never happened then.

  • I would reference Romans 9:14-23. (NASB)

    “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!


    So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.


    So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

    You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”

    On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? (AP)The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?

    Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

    What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

    And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory”

  • mommyfirst says:

    Well, first I say that the people groups that were ordered to be killed by God’s people were evil, horrible people. God wanted the women and children to be killed because the women were just as evil as the men, and the children had already been exposed to the horrible things that the parents were party to, therefore the children were most likely already guilty of the same things the parents were guilty of. Also, these people groups were very critical and were against God and His chosen people.

  • Elizabeth Schmidt says:

    After God had given fair warning to repent and change their ways, he had to exact judgment on the idolaters who were sacrificing their children and committing other egregious sins. God was also keenly aware that if the Israelites did not destroy these communities of idolaters, but instead settled beside them, then the Israelites would learn and begin to practice these same behaviors (which to some extent they did anyway). Finally, God was teaching his children the consequences of sin……sin has far reaching consequences, even to those not directly involved in the action.

  • Sean Scott says:

    God cannot, and will not, put his blessing on sin. Sin, in God’s terms, is clearly defined by the Bible and it is ingratiated into all of His children to recognize sin (we know when we are doing something wrong, we feel guilt and shame). God loves all of His children and He will pour out His love, mercy, and grace upon those who truly wish to receive it and truthfully try to live by His word (we are imperfect and will fail — that is not an excuse to live sinfully — but God will forgive the imperfection of those who really live for Him.) God does not commit genocide, He is simply not blessing those who continue to live in sin and refuse to repent. It is the sin, not the person, that God hates.

  • agent 758 says:

    There was reason that God wanted these people utterly wiped out. Now the question is did Israel follow what God told them to do? The answer is no they did not so let’s look at what has happened. Israel went whoring after other Gods all through the Old Testament They were attacked by these people they were suppose to wipe out and to this day these descendants of these peoples are still attacking Israel. God had even said this would happen.

    Num 33:55 But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them [shall be] pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.

    For the last four thousand years or so these people have vexed the Children of Israel. The Israeli’s could kill a few hundred, or thousands upon thousands could and would die. They chose the latter and we can see all the blood that was spilled over the years.

    How would the Middle East be different today if those who were told to do something had just followed through on what God told them to do? When God says to do something you should just follow through and save yourself a hundred times maybe thousands of the times the misery.

    Look at what happened within Israel how many times does it state in the Old Testament that Israel was whoring after other Gods who these same people worshiped. How many times did God have to come to their rescue because they had abandoned God and they were in a mess because of it? Ever seen the artifacts from the houses in Israel when they do archeological digs and they find all kinds of idols in almost every house.

    It would have saved many lives if Israel had just done what they were told when it was originally told to them.

  • Gene says:

    God did, in fact, ordered those genocides but there is a principle involved that is often overlooked. While He is a God of grace and love He is also a God of justice. Man was created to bear the image of the divine, and for those cultures who persistently drag God’s name through the mud, so to speak, by thier unrelenting idolatry and sin, He extends grace to repent, yet there comes a day of Judgment if they refuse(Jonah, 3:4; Ge. 15:16; 18:22-33). One must remember that He judged His own people, Israel, for the very same things, the Babylonians bashed the heads of their children against rocks!(Eze. 16:44-58; Ps. 137:1, 8-9). God’s ultimate purposes for man and creation are Shalom, but judgment must preceed shalom, else shalom cannot come. Or to put it another way, shalom will one day come and God’s love and peace will be ever present to all people, but only because He judges those who persist in wickedness.

  • peg says:

    My first thought was, (are they innocent)? How do we know what they will become, only God knows. And then, what is death? Is it the end, or just the beginning. Did God really save them from a life that would lead to destruction? God is fair and just. The bible says so. If I believe everything in the bible, I know that God did not kill those women and children for no good reason. His ways are higher than our, and His thoughts are higher than ours. I cannot compare with Him, so I would have to say….I don’t know why God did that, but I know He loved them…John 3:16. Thank you, Peg

  • BJ says:

    I am glad to hear that you are raising this topic. I have been challenged as how to adequately respond. I look forward to hearing what you readers have to say.

  • Nozuko says:

    The Canaanites were like cancer or gangrene because of their idol worship, bestiality, etc. As harsh and unkind as it is to cut a part of the body with these infections, it saves the rest of the body. In the old testament people could not cast out demons and the only way to stop demonic activities was to destroy everything. God in His kindness to the rest of the human race commanded the Israelites to completely cut out the Canaanites.

  • Sometimes, when evil is so pronounced, God feels justified because it would corrupt his chosen people. They offered their children as sacrifices, engaged in cannabalism, among other things. If his chosen were to inhabit the land, they just can’t co-exist with such evil and survive. Sodom and Gommorrah were so corrupt, even the babies were.

  • Joel says:

    In the old testament we learn how the Jews perceived God. Some times they got it right, some times they got it wrong. When it came to war mongering, they had it wrong and we still have it wrong. Jesus came to set us straight. We are to love each other not kill each other. We are to give and not take, we are to forgive even suffer for others etc. The heart of the Bible are the four gospels. Don’t be confused by the rest of the Bible, it is a valuable reference and teaches us what not to do as much as what to do. Let the Holy Spirit And the words of Jesus be your teacher, don’t listen to men. In my opinion.

  • shad says:

    God never ordered the destruction of both inocent and evil in the land. He always put the different and offer option of escape for both evil and good in the land. Example- time of sodom and Gomorah,and all the evil nations that refused to heed to His warnings. God’s Love and love doesn’t hurt any. Mankind is either make or marred by their choice, that’s why Joshua said to Isrealites “Chose ye this day who you will serve, as for me and my house we will serve the living God”.

  • Kevin says:

    As with any war situation, the good guys, in this case the ultimate good Guy, will always seek to fight in such a way that it does the minimal damage necessary to quell the evil forces. Notice that the slaughter incidents in canaan were quite limited to certain people groups in a limited place and time. As most mentioned above, God knew what was needed to restrain the evil to the extent it needed to be. Killing everyone was never the rule but the exception to the exceptional circumstance. Love must act to put down evil for the greater good toward others.

  • Kevin says:

    One other thing to consider is that those children that have reached the age of accountability are sinners, at committing their first sin in that state, deserving of death as are we all.

    And although born with a sin nature, those who have not reached the age of knowing good from evil are gathered into the presence of God as part of His Kingdom.
    This point of witness about the nature of God’s Holy character as compared to man’s depravity must be emphasized to bring understanding to why God would have to kill some bent on evil to lovingly preserve alive many more who would otherwise be overwhelmed by that projected magnified evil if allowed to continue as would be more characteristic of an unloving deity.

  • Paradise says:

    the groups/people that God commanded to be destroyed in the OT were sinners to the max… who were going to live many years, they worshiped other gods, disobeyed God Almighty and there was no way they could be saved… they didn’t care, they could have trusted in God Almighty but, they didn’t… in the OT God warned the people constantly to turn from their evil ways. They had to be destroyed to question God is totally out of line… He is our creator and His ways are higher than our ways. God is a good god.

  • Amy says:

    Joel is so right about the how people’s perception in those ancient times affected how they viewed God. Warfare was viewed differently back then, and also how people viewed “gods” in general. There are strange descriptions in the Old Testament, saying God had burning anger, that He regretted decisions He made, and things like that don’t seem to be in the character of God.
    But Tanner Blankenship is also right, in that the Canaanites were so evil that even other people at that time thought they were the epitome of all things bad. God warned them, then He brought judgment.
    Any good parent knows that love without discipline is not true love.

  • Eugenia M Brown says:

    06/03/2010 Thursday 0908AM
    God is still the loving father that I was introduced to when I became of age to make my own life’s decision. The God that I know lets it rain
    on the just and the unjust.
    Ms Eugenia M Brown Houston Texas

  • Adam says:

    Does God still command us to destroy sinners?

  • David says:

    God surely is righteous, and when all the inhabitants of a city were killed according to God’s command, we can be sure that none of them would ever turn to Him. As for those who would, He did save them! One was Rahab, through whom even Christ was born! (Matt 1:5) “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with the ones who did not believe, having received the spies with peace.” (Hebrews 11:31) She turned to God and was saved, even becoming one of the children of Israel and thus also partaking of all that God gave to the nation of Israel.

    Many times our questionings of God simply stem from a stubborn denial of Him. When He allows some evil to go unpunished in this world, we say, “How can a good and all-powerful God allow evil to exist?”. But when He executes judgement upon evil, we say, “How can a loving God command His people to kill?” We just do not want Him to exist! That is, until He makes Himself known to us in His mercy and grace, and we accept Him, and there is no more doubt, but peace in faith.

    Luke 7
    31 What then will I liken the men of this generation? And what are they like?
    32 They are like children, the ones sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another and saying, We played the flute to you and you did not dance, we mourned to you and you did not weep.
    33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine and you say, He has a demon.
    34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking; and you say, Behold, a man, a glutton and drinker, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!
    35 And wisdom was justified from all her children.

    Acts 28
    25 Moreover, being in disagreement towards one another, they were leaving, Paul having said one word that, The Holy Spirit spoke well through Isaiah the prophet towards your fathers,
    26 Saying, Go towards this people and say, Hearing you will hear and never understand, and looking you will look and never see:
    27 For the heart of this people was fattened and the ears heard heavily and their eyes they closed, lest they might see by the eyes and might hear by the ears and might understand by the heart and might turn back and I will heal them.
    28 Therefore be it known to you that, to the nations the salvation of God was sent; they will hear.
    (Paul quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10)

    However, to act presumptuously without God’s explicit command is far worse than to sin consciously knowing full well that God disapproves, because to say “God says…” when God did not is to usurp God’s authority and make Him a liar. Let us hold first to what God put first: You will love the Lord your God in your whole heart and in your whole soul and in your whole mind. This is the first and great commandment, moreover the second is like it: You will love your neighbour as yourself.

  • Christopher Lund says:

    I wish I had a full and complete answer to this question, but of course I don’t. But perhaps I have a small piece of an answer.

    In Deuteronomy 9:4-6, the Israelites are getting ready to enter Canaan for the second time, and Moses says [my paraphrase]: “God is not giving you this land because you’re so great. You’re a stubborn, stiff-necked people. God is doing this because they are so wicked”.

    In Ezekiel 18, God twice says (vs. 23 and 32) that he does not enjoy the death of the wicked, but prefers when they turn from their wickedness.


    Now consider Numbers 14 in light of these two passages. In Numbers 14, the Israelites have explored Canaan for the first time. They see giants there, and the people freak out. “We’re going to die if we try to fight these people, the Lord can’t do anything for us, let’s pick a new leader and go back to Egypt”.

    And God, after some initial anger, says “I forgive them, but aside from Caleb and Joshua, not one of these people is going to live in Canaan”.

    And the people are like “wait our bad we’re willing to fight now”, but God isn’t willing to fight with them. The Canaanites beat the Israelites BADLY in their first battle, and the Israelites couldn’t try again for 40 years.


    God had just killed a LOT of Egyptians to get the Israelites out of Egypt. A LOT. First the people pelted with hail, then all the firstborn children of Egypt, and finally Pharaoh’s army. And now the Israelites wanted to go BACK?!

    I don’t think God took the Egyptians’ deaths lightly. I’m inferring, of course. But God had killed so many Egyptians, and inflicted so much suffering on the Egyptians, to get the Israelites out of there, and he was planning on killing even more Canaanites than Egyptians. And the Israelites didn’t really care! They wanted to go back to Egypt! They weren’t sure they wanted to go into Canaan! All those deaths of all those people meant nothing to the Israelites . . . but I think they meant something to God.

    Which is why he kept treating the Israelites so harshly when the Israelites rebelled! If Israel wasn’t going to trust him, wasn’t going to follow him, then their lives weren’t worth more to him than Canaanite or Egyptian lives, and he’s just as soon kill the Israelites in the desert than kill the Canaanites living comfortably in their homes. Only when they were somewhat actually willing to bear the title of “God’s people” was God willing to kill anybody else to make a place for them. And then every time Israel went back on their covenant with God, God was more than willing to give the land to somebody else (Babylon, Assyria, Rome, etc.) who might do better with it.

    So I guess my partial answer is that God didn’t take the genocide lightly, and felt the death of all those Canaanite and Egyptian people dearly . . . but that he still thought it was worth the incredible cost, still knew that he could do something better than he could otherwise.

    • David says:

      Amen! I had never appreciated what God did for His people in this way.. Actually I also read a few days after my initial post some verses very similar to what you mentioned: “Be careful to hear all these words which I command you, so that it may be well with you and your sons after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God. When Jehovah your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, be careful that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire of their gods, saying, How do these nations serve their gods, and I may do likewise? You shall not do so towards Jehovah your God, for every abomination to Jehovah, which He hates, they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Deut 12:28-31) Idolatry is not only an affront to God but also involves a terrible devotion to evil and the evil one, hence it is really God’s mercy that He removes such evil, so that those who would receive Him may be freed from the bondage of evil, and may enjoy true freedom and rest.

      And remember, not all out of Israel are Israel, but God shall call those not His people, His people, for the same Lord of all is rich to all who call upon His name. Praise Him!