And God spoke all these words, saying:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:1-17)
These words from the Lord Himself are what comprise The Ten Commandments. The commandment we are concerned with in this post is the sixth commandment, which is Exodus 20:13 — “You shall not commit murder,” or “Thou shalt not kill,” as the King James Version (KJV) says.
Atheists often find reasons to attack the God of the Bible. One of the attacks made regarding Scripture is that the Lord tells the Israelites not to commit murder but then He goes and kills humans. “How then, can God get away with murdering human life while telling His people they cannot?” atheists ask. Those who question God in this are referring to God’s slaughtering of the people of Gentile nations that are sinful. When God gives the land of Canaan to the Israelites, they enter into the Promised Land knowing that other nations live there. God tells them that those nations are ungodly and that they are to slaughter them, not forge alliances with them, bow down to their false gods, nor intermarry with those other nations.
And yet, to determine if there is a violation of the divine law by God Himself, one must determine what murder is and whether or not God actually murders. This is what we will examine in this discussion of the sixth commandment.
To determine whether or not God violates the Sixth Commandment, we must examine the Old Testament passages where God commands His people to kill those of other nations.
God gives Abram the land belonging to other nations (Genesis 15)
In Genesis 15, the Lord gives Abram more information about the land he and his descendants will inherit:
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”
4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
6 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
7 Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”
8 And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”
9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. 14 And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. 18 On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:
“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— 19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:1-21)
The Lord tells Abram that he will have an heir by way of his own body, that his descendant would come from his loins. He wouldn’t have to make Eliezer his descendant, as Abram believed he would. The Lord tells Abram here in Genesis 15 that the land of Canaan is his to inherit, that his people will be enslaved in “a land that is not theirs” for 400 years, and then the Lord would judge the Egyptians and lead the Israelites out of bondage. In Genesis 15:15, the Lord tells Abram that he will die “at a good old age,” and Abram’s descendants “in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). The people will not get to claim the land just yet, but after the Lord leads them out and the “iniquity of the Amorites” is complete, they’ll get to return.
What does “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” mean? The Greek phrase αἱ ἁμαρτίαι τῶν Αμορραίων (hai hamartiai ton Amorraion) refers to “the sins of the Amorites.” In other words, their sin is not yet complete. What the Lord says here is that he is tolerating the wickedness of the Amorites until they sin to an extent that He will no longer tolerate their sin. What this tells us is that God is patient, longsuffering, and tolerant of the Amorites and other wicked nations. The Lord could have simply told Abram that He would give him Canaan, and blown the Amorites off the map right then and there. Rather than immediately terminate the Amorites, God tolerates their sin until it is “completed,” at which point He then destroys them. So, the key to understanding the atheist claim that “God violates the Sixth Commandment” is to understand that God is longsuffering and “puts up” with the sins of these wicked nations before He destroys them. God can’t be accused of getting a thrill out of slaughtering whole nations because, if He only wanted to slaughter them, He wouldn’t tolerate them for a long period of time. His longsuffering toward even the wicked nations shows us the great love of God — even for the wicked and ungodly.
God sends Moses to Egypt with a message (Exodus 4)
19 Now the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt; for all the men who sought your life are dead.” 20 Then Moses took his wife and his sons and set them on a donkey, and he returned to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the rod of God in his hand.
21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. 23 So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.”’” (Exodus 4:19-23)
Moses is the one God sends to Egypt to deliver His message to Pharaoh. The message states that God wants the Israelites to be free to worship Him, but that, if Pharaoh won’t let Israel go, then God would kill His firstborn.
Now, this is worthy of examination. God’s firstborn is Israel, the nation He created from Abram and Sarai (whose names are later changed to “Abraham” and “Sarah”). Israel is the firstborn son God created. The Lord refers to Israel as His son in Hosea 11:1, even though Matthew says that the passage is a double fulfillment referring to both Israel and Jesus (Matthew 1:13-15).
Israel was God’s firstborn; if Pharaoh continued to hold Israel hostage, then God would kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son. Exodus 12 tells us of the events that happen the night of the Passover meal. God waits until the night the people of God eat the Passover meal (consisting of bitter herbs, lamb/sheep/goat, and unleavened bread) to slaughter the firstborn of Egypt:
29 And it came to pass at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock. 30 So Pharaoh rose in the night, he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
31 Then he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, “Rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the Lord as you have said. 32 Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and bless me also.”
33 And the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, having their kneading bowls bound up in their clothes on their shoulders. 35 Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. 36 And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
40 Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. 41 And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years—on that very same day—it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. 42 It is a night of solemn observance to the Lord for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. This is that night of the Lord, a solemn observance for all the children of Israel throughout their generations. (Exodus 12:29-36, 40-42)
In Exodus 12:29-30, the Lord delivers on His promise: Since Pharaoh said “who is the Lord…?” and refused to free the Israelites, the Lord struck Egypt’s firstborn — both children and livestock.
Atheists and skeptics would say, “Why would God kill their firstborn?” But the real question is, “Why do atheists and skeptics point the finger at God and accuse Him of hypocrisy, rather than focus on the genocide, slavery, and abuse the Egyptians inflicted on the Israelites for 430 years? That’s the real question. If the Egyptians could beat, slaughter, and abuse the Israelites for 430 years, and then kill their male babies, the strength of the Jewish nation, then why is it God is deemed “unjust” by these same individuals? Hitler killed 6 million Jews, and if he were alive today, we’d demand he be killed for the few years of genocide he inflicted on the Jewish people. He inflicted pain for a few years and slaughtered 6 million Jews; the Egyptians held God’s people captive for 430 years and killed several hundred million Jews if not a billion Jews in that time. The number of innocent Jewish lives slaughtered in Egypt is a number we don’t have access to, but 430 years of forced bondage is a bad enough crime for the Egyptians.
God tells Israel to “Get Vengeance” on the Midianites (Numbers 31)
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”
3 So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm some of yourselves for war, and let them go against the Midianites to take vengeance for the Lord on Midian. 4 A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war.”
5 So there were recruited from the divisions of Israel one thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. 6 Then Moses sent them to the war, one thousand from each tribe; he sent them to the war with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the holy articles and the signal trumpets in his hand. 7 And they warred against the Midianites, just as the Lord commanded Moses, and they killed all the males. 8 They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of those who were killed—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. Balaam the son of Beor they also killed with the sword.
9 And the children of Israel took the women of Midian captive, with their little ones, and took as spoil all their cattle, all their flocks, and all their goods. 10 They also burned with fire all the cities where they dwelt, and all their forts. 11 And they took all the spoil and all the booty—of man and beast.
12 Then they brought the captives, the booty, and the spoil to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the children of Israel, to the camp in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho. 13 And Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation, went to meet them outside the camp. 14 But Moses was angry with the officers of the army, with the captains over thousands and captains over hundreds, who had come from the battle.
15 And Moses said to them: “Have you kept all the women alive? 16 Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. 17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately. 18 But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not known a man intimately. 19 And as for you, remain outside the camp seven days; whoever has killed any person, and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. 20 Purify every garment, everything made of leather, everything woven of goats’ hair, and everything made of wood.”
21 Then Eleazar the priest said to the men of war who had gone to the battle, “This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord commanded Moses: 22 Only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, 23 everything that can endure fire, you shall put through the fire, and it shall be clean; and it shall be purified with the water of purification. But all that cannot endure fire you shall put through water. 24 And you shall wash your clothes on the seventh day and be clean, and afterward you may come into the camp.” (Numbers 31:1-24)
In Numbers 31, Moses and the nation of Israel go to war against the Midianites because the Lord tells them to. Atheists and skeptics want to say that the Jews warred against the Midianites without reason, but that isn’t true. Moses tells us in the passage above what the situation is all about:
Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. (Numbers 31:16)
The incident of Peor relates to the account found in Numbers 25:
Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. 2 They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel.
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and hang the offenders before the Lord, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.”
5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Every one of you kill his men who were joined to Baal of Peor.”
6 And indeed, one of the children of Israel came and presented to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 7 Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; 8 and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel. 9 And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.
10 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal. 12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace; 13 and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.’”
14 Now the name of the Israelite who was killed, who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, a leader of a father’s house among the Simeonites. 15 And the name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi the daughter of Zur; he was head of the people of a father’s house in Midian.
16 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 17 “Harass the Midianites, and attack them; 18 for they harassed you with their schemes by which they seduced you in the matter of Peor and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a leader of Midian, their sister, who was killed in the day of the plague because of Peor.” (Numbers 25:1-18)
Numbers 25 says that the women of Moab invited Israel to eat, drink, and fellowship with them, and the children of Israel went and bowed down to the gods of the Moabites. God’s anger was kindled against Israel because the Lord told Israel not to bow down nor serve the gods of the nations in the land of Canaan (Numbers 25:1-3). Also, Zimri the Israelite brought a Midianite woman, Cozbi, into the camp to give the woman to a fellow Israelite in the camp. Phinehas saw it, grabbed a javelin, and went and thrust the sword through Zimri the Israelite as well as Cozbi the Midianite woman.
The incident at Peor was an event where the women of Moab caused the Israelites to sin, and then one of the Israelites himself tried to bring a Midianite woman into the camp — knowing full well that intermarriage between Israel and Moab was forbidden by God. The Moabites were leading Israel astray, as demonstrated by the fact that Israel had begun to worship the Moabite gods, and this was forbidden by the Lord. With the Moabites trying to induce Israel to turn away from God, Moab made itself an enemy of the God of Israel. Since Moab proved it would be a snare for Israel and an enemy of God, the Lord commanded that the Moabites be slaughtered.
Ultimately, Moab would’ve proved disastrous for the nation of Israel. It would’ve weakened Israel, pulled her away from her God, and could’ve likely enslaved Israel as Egypt did. Politically, Moab had more resources than Israel, which is one of the reasons why Israel wanted to befriend the nations around it. Israel was the smallest and weakest of the nations, not the largest and most powerful.
Israel defeats Sihon, King of the Amorites (Deuteronomy 2)
26 “And I sent messengers from the Wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon king of Heshbon, with words of peace, saying, 27 ‘Let me pass through your land; I will keep strictly to the road, and I will turn neither to the right nor to the left. 28 You shall sell me food for money, that I may eat, and give me water for money, that I may drink; only let me pass through on foot, 29 just as the descendants of Esau who dwell in Seir and the Moabites who dwell in Ar did for me, until I cross the Jordan to the land which the Lord our God is giving us.’
30 “But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass through, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into your hand, as it is this day.
31 “And the Lord said to me, ‘See, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to possess it, that you may inherit his land.’ 32 Then Sihon and all his people came out against us to fight at Jahaz. 33 And the Lord our God delivered him over to us; so we defeated him, his sons, and all his people. 34 We took all his cities at that time, and we utterly destroyed the men, women, and little ones of every city; we left none remaining. 35 We took only the livestock as plunder for ourselves, with the spoil of the cities which we took. 36 From Aroer, which is on the bank of the River Arnon, and from the city that is in the ravine, as far as Gilead, there was not one city too strong for us; the Lord our God delivered all to us. 37 Only you did not go near the land of the people of Ammon—anywhere along the River Jabbok, or to the cities of the mountains, or wherever the Lord our God had forbidden us. (Deuteronomy 2:26-37)
Sihon was King of the Amorites. Remember the Amorites? The Lord told Abram back in Genesis 15 that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete,” referring to their sins filling up to their fullest extent before God annihilated them. Here in Deuteronomy 2, Moses recounts how he and the Israelites requested their passage through Amorite territory without being harmed, that the Amorites sell them food and drink so that they could eat and drink and be nourished. The Amorites refused, but the Lord let them have victory over the Amorites.
Though Moses recounts Israel’s war against the Amorites, the Book of Numbers records the event as it happened in its fullest detail:
21 Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, 22 “Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into fields or vineyards; we will not drink water from wells. We will go by the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.” 23 But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and he came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. 24 Then Israel defeated him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the people of Ammon; for the border of the people of Ammon was fortified. 25 So Israel took all these cities, and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon and in all its villages. 26 For Heshbon was the city of Sihon king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab, and had taken all his land from his hand as far as the Arnon. 27 Therefore those who speak in proverbs say:
“Come to Heshbon, let it be built;
Let the city of Sihon be repaired.
28 “For fire went out from Heshbon,
A flame from the city of Sihon;
It consumed Ar of Moab,
The lords of the heights of the Arnon.
29 Woe to you, Moab!
You have perished, O people of Chemosh!
He has given his sons as fugitives,
And his daughters into captivity,
To Sihon king of the Amorites.
30 “But we have shot at them;
Heshbon has perished as far as Dibon.
Then we laid waste as far as Nophah,
Which reaches to Medeba.”
31 Thus Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites. 32 Then Moses sent to spy out Jazer; and they took its villages and drove out the Amorites who were there. (Numbers 21:21-32)
In Numbers 21:23, we see that Sihon would not allow the Israelites to pass through his land, but decided to go to war against them instead. Sihon and the Amorites initiated a war when Israel came in peace. According to context, Israel didn’t want to fight with the Amorites; they only wanted to buy food and drink from them and pass through the land, that’s all. Their desire to go to war against the Israelites means that the Amorites made themselves enemies of God and subject to His wrath — a choice the nation willingly made. Israel came in peace, the Amorites wanted war, so the Israelites are not at fault for fighting to defend themselves from Sihon. If Sihon had just let the Jews pass through in peace, the battle would’ve never taken place.
The Lord Gives Laws For City Capture (Deuteronomy 20)
In Deuteronomy 20, the Lord gives laws concerning wartime and the siege and plunder of various cities:
10 “When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it. 11 And it shall be that if they accept your offer of peace, and open to you, then all the people who are found in it shall be placed under tribute to you, and serve you. 12 Now if the city will not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 And when the Lord your God delivers it into your hands, you shall strike every male in it with the edge of the sword. 14 But the women, the little ones, the livestock, and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall plunder for yourself; and you shall eat the enemies’ plunder which the Lord your God gives you. 15 Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations.
16 “But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, 17 but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the Lord your God has commanded you, 18 lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.
19 “When you besiege a city for a long time, while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them; if you can eat of them, do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is man’s food. 20 Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, to build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it is subdued. (Deuteronomy 20:10-20)
In verses 10-15, the Lord gives laws concerning cities that He didn’t give into their hand; if those cities make peace with Israel, then they are to use the people as servants and make them servants. If the territories belong to the promised territory God gave them, they are to leave nothing alive:
16 “But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, 17 but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the Lord your God has commanded you, 18 lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)
“You shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them…lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.” This statement reveals that the purpose of annihilating the nations in the Promised Land was to prevent them from being a snare to God’s people. The Lord didn’t want Israel to turn to other gods, as the Moabites in the incident of Peor had enticed Israel to bow down and serve the gods of Moab. Israel was the smallest of the nations and felt forced into political alliances with these other nations to protect herself. The problem with these political alliances is that they weren’t just political, but also spiritual: when Israel allied with a nation, she was expected to let her sons and daughters intermarry with the sons and daughters of those nations; additionally, she was to worship the gods of those nations. Both of these things were forbidden by the Lord:
But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites— 2 from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.” (1 Kings 11:1-2)
23 For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. 24 You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works; but you shall utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars. (Exodus 23:23-24)
The evil deeds of those ungodly nations, with the “abominations which they have done for their gods” (Deuteronomy 20:18), are the reasons why Israel was to destroy them. Was God “evil” in letting these nations be destroyed, in commanding their destruction? No, of course not. Like the Amorites, these nations had done abomination after abomination, evil after evil, before the eyes of the Lord. And when the Lord had His fill of them, after tolerating their abominations for years, He finally decided to let them die in their sins. These ungodly nations were wicked, guilty of abominations and sins, and deserved the full wrath of God. How was God wicked to destroy these ungodly nations when they would only turn Israel against Him? Their desire to convert Israel to their gods and abominable practices makes them anything but innocent.
The Lord Reminds Israel to Annihilate Amalek
In Deuteronomy 25, the Lord tells the Israelites to get revenge on Amalek because he attacked the nation without cause when the people were coming out of Egypt:
17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, 18 how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget. (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
Amalek “attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God” (Deuteronomy 25:18). He attacked the nation without cause when they were weak and tired and unable to fight. In other words, Amalek wanted to annihilate the Jews when they were helpless. God has never been in favor of harming or attacking the helpless, especially His people. So, to atheists and skeptics who say that God violates the sixth commandment by telling Israel to wipe out Amalek, I ask this question: Is Amalek innocent? Is Amalek righteous? Is he an “innocent” soul that doesn’t deserve death? We all know the answer to the questions.
Joshua Kills the Amorite Kings, and Conquers Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, and Beyond
In Joshua 10, Moses’ successor and the Israelites continue their conquest of the land, as the Lord told them to. They killed the kings and people and destroyed the cities that the Lord told them to:
16 But these five kings had fled and hidden themselves in a cave at Makkedah. 17 And it was told Joshua, saying, “The five kings have been found hidden in the cave at Makkedah.”
18 So Joshua said, “Roll large stones against the mouth of the cave, and set men by it to guard them. 19 And do not stay there yourselves, but pursue your enemies, and attack their rear guard. Do not allow them to enter their cities, for the Lord your God has delivered them into your hand.” 20 Then it happened, while Joshua and the children of Israel made an end of slaying them with a very great slaughter, till they had finished, that those who escaped entered fortified cities. 21 And all the people returned to the camp, to Joshua at Makkedah, in peace.
No one moved his tongue against any of the children of Israel.
22 Then Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave, and bring out those five kings to me from the cave.” 23 And they did so, and brought out those five kings to him from the cave: the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon.
24 So it was, when they brought out those kings to Joshua, that Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said to the captains of the men of war who went with him, “Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings.” And they drew near and put their feet on their necks. 25 Then Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed; be strong and of good courage, for thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.” 26 And afterward Joshua struck them and killed them, and hanged them on five trees; and they were hanging on the trees until evening. 27 So it was at the time of the going down of the sun that Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees, cast them into the cave where they had been hidden, and laid large stones against the cave’s mouth, which remain until this very day.
28 On that day Joshua took Makkedah, and struck it and its king with the edge of the sword. He utterly destroyed them—all the people who were in it. He let none remain. He also did to the king of Makkedah as he had done to the king of Jericho.
29 Then Joshua passed from Makkedah, and all Israel with him, to Libnah; and they fought against Libnah. 30 And the Lord also delivered it and its king into the hand of Israel; he struck it and all the people who were in it with the edge of the sword. He let none remain in it, but did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho.
31 Then Joshua passed from Libnah, and all Israel with him, to Lachish; and they encamped against it and fought against it. 32 And the Lord delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel, who took it on the second day, and struck it and all the people who were in it with the edge of the sword, according to all that he had done to Libnah. 33 Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish; and Joshua struck him and his people, until he left him none remaining.
34 From Lachish Joshua passed to Eglon, and all Israel with him; and they encamped against it and fought against it. 35 They took it on that day and struck it with the edge of the sword; all the people who were in it he utterly destroyed that day, according to all that he had done to Lachish.
36 So Joshua went up from Eglon, and all Israel with him, to Hebron; and they fought against it. 37 And they took it and struck it with the edge of the sword—its king, all its cities, and all the people who were in it; he left none remaining, according to all that he had done to Eglon, but utterly destroyed it and all the people who were in it.
38 Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to Debir; and they fought against it. 39 And he took it and its king and all its cities; they struck them with the edge of the sword and utterly destroyed all the people who were in it. He left none remaining; as he had done to Hebron, so he did to Debir and its king, as he had done also to Libnah and its king.
40 So Joshua conquered all the land: the mountain country and the Southand the lowland and the wilderness slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel had commanded. 41 And Joshua conquered them from Kadesh Barnea as far as Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, even as far as Gibeon. 42 All these kings and their land Joshua took at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. 43 Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal. (Joshua 10:16-43)
Here in Joshua 10, we see that Joshua led the people into battle in various cities (Hebron, Eglon, Debir, Lachish, etc.), taking them captive and destroying all the citizens within the cities along with the cities themselves. And he did all of this because the Lord commanded them to: “So Joshua conquered all the land: the mountain country and the Southand the lowland and the wilderness slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel had commanded” (Joshua 10:40).
Keep in mind, these cities were those the Lord had given over to the Jews, those cities that practiced idol worship, those cities that engaged in abominations of various kinds. Atheists and skeptics see Joshua as simply slaughtering these cities without mercy, but these were cities that had practiced iniquity to the full. As for the five Amorite kings, they were to be killed because they were the Amorites. Remember what the Lord told Abram, that the Jews would stay in bondage until “the iniquity of the Amorites was full,” then they’d return to Canaan (Genesis 15)? What we see here is that the Israelites were now taking the land and annihilating the Amorites. Their sins had reached their fullness, and now, they were paying the penalty for their sin — by being killed and hanged on trees.
Joshua conquers more territories, brings rest to the land (Joshua 11)
And it came to pass, when Jabin king of Hazor heard these things,that he sent to Jobab king of Madon, to the king of Shimron, to the king of Achshaph, 2 and to the kings who were from the north, in the mountains, in the plain south of Chinneroth, in the lowland, and in the heights of Dor on the west, 3 to the Canaanites in the east and in the west, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite in the mountains, and the Hivite below Hermon in the land of Mizpah. 4 So they went out, they and all their armies with them, as many people as the sand that is on the seashore in multitude, with very many horses and chariots. 5 And when all these kings had met together, they came and camped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.
6 But the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow about this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” 7 So Joshua and all the people of war with him came against them suddenly by the waters of Merom, and they attacked them. 8 And the Lord delivered them into the hand of Israel, who defeated them and chased them to Greater Sidon, to the Brook Misrephoth, and to the Valley of Mizpah eastward; they attacked them until they left none of them remaining. 9 So Joshua did to them as the Lord had told him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire.
10 Joshua turned back at that time and took Hazor, and struck its king with the sword; for Hazor was formerly the head of all those kingdoms. 11 And they struck all the people who were in it with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them. There was none left breathing. Then he burned Hazor with fire.
12 So all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took and struck with the edge of the sword. He utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. 13 But as for the cities that stood on their mounds, Israel burned none of them, except Hazor only, which Joshua burned. 14 And all the spoil of these cities and the livestock, the children of Israel took as booty for themselves; but they struck every man with the edge of the sword until they had destroyed them, and they left none breathing. 15 As the Lord had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.
16 Thus Joshua took all this land: the mountain country, all the South, all the land of Goshen, the lowland, and the Jordan plain—the mountains of Israel and its lowlands, 17 from Mount Halak and the ascent to Seir, even as far as Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings, and struck them down and killed them. 18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. All the others they took in battle. 20 For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
21 And at that time Joshua came and cut off the Anakim from the mountains: from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel; Joshua utterly destroyed them with their cities. 22 None of the Anakim were left in the land of the children of Israel; they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod.
23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had said to Moses; and Joshua gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. Then the land rested from war. (Joshua 11:1-23)
In Joshua 11:20, we read that the Lord hardened the hearts of Israel’s enemies so that He could get the glory and they would not be shown any mercy in war.
20 For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Joshua 11:20)
The statement “For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts” (Joshua 11:20) should remind us all of Pharaoh. When Moses was sent to Egypt to rescue God’s people, the Lord told him that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart to display His glory before all Israel and all Egypt:
21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. (Exodus 4:21)
So the Lord said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land. 3 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. 5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” (Exodus 7:1-5)
8 So the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take for yourselves handfuls of ashes from a furnace, and let Moses scatter it toward the heavens in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 And it will become fine dust in all the land of Egypt, and it will cause boils that break out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” 10 Then they took ashes from the furnace and stood before Pharaoh, and Moses scattered them toward heaven. And they caused boils that break out in sores on man and beast. 11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses. (Exodus 9:8-12)
The Lord hardened the hearts of these evil nations, but these nations were already evil. They were evil by nature, so the Lord hardened their hearts, an action that was consistent with their own character and personal will. If the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh because Pharaoh was already evil and didn’t fear God (“who is the Lord?,” Pharaoh asked, meaning that he didn’t care for God at all), and the Lord hardened the hearts of evil nations, how can atheists and skeptics accuse God of being evil and violating the sixth commandment? For all the evil deeds of these ungodly nations and their worship of false gods, they deserved the wrath of God. Evil people deserve punishment, and righteous people deserve reward. If you say that you don’t believe that evil people deserve punishment, think about how many criminals you were glad to hear about that were placed in prison without the possibility of parole when they confessed to murdering an innocent bystander.
According to the count in Joshua 12, Joshua and the nation of Israel killed 31 kings total:
7 And these are the kings of the country which Joshua and the children of Israel conquered on this side of the Jordan, on the west, from Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon as far as Mount Halak and the ascent to Seir, which Joshua gave to the tribes of Israel as a possession according to their divisions, 8 in the mountain country, in the lowlands, in the Jordan plain, in the slopes, in the wilderness, and in the South—the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: 9 the king of Jericho, one; the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one; 10 the king of Jerusalem, one; the king of Hebron, one; 11 the king of Jarmuth, one; the king of Lachish, one; 12 the king of Eglon, one; the king of Gezer, one; 13 the king of Debir, one; the king of Geder, one; 14 the king of Hormah, one; the king of Arad, one; 15 the king of Libnah, one; the king of Adullam, one; 16 the king of Makkedah, one; the king of Bethel, one; 17 the king of Tappuah, one; the king of Hepher, one; 18 the king of Aphek, one; the king of Lasharon, one; 19 the king of Madon, one; the king of Hazor, one; 20 the king of Shimron Meron, one; the king of Achshaph, one; 21 the king of Taanach, one; the king of Megiddo, one; 22 the king of Kedesh, one; the king of Jokneam in Carmel, one; 23 the king of Dor in the heights of Dor, one; the king of the people of Gilgal, one; 24 the king of Tirzah, one—all the kings, thirty-one. (Joshua 12:1-23)
Does God Commit Murder?
The Sixth of The Ten Commandments forbids murder, but the question of the hour with atheists and skeptics is, “does God commit murder”?
Murder is defined as the taking of innocent life, but, as we’ve seen with the nations around Israel, they weren’t innocent. When the Lord kills Egyptians and drowns Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, He killed wicked and guilty people. The Egyptians had held Israel in physical bondage for 430 years. They were guilty of enslaving God’s people for so long, and their enslavement of God’s people deserved a just sentence.
The same can be said for the ungodly nations ending in “ites” (Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Amorites, Moabites, Ammonites, Girgashites, etc.), these nations that worshipped other gods and committed all sorts of wicked deeds. Is it murder to punish the guilty and wicked by slaughtering them? No, if you consider the Lord’s words in both the Old and New Testaments.
In the Old Testament, we see the Lord tell the nation of Israel not to murder the innocent and righteous:
7 Keep yourself far from a false matter; do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will not justify the wicked. (Exodus 23:7)
The innocent and righteous are not to be killed, but the Lord tells Israel to kill those who transgressed His law. In other words, within God’s nation of people, He had rules for justifiable homicide.
In Exodus, we read about an ox who gores humans to death and the death of its owner:
28 “If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, then the ox shall surely be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be acquitted. 29 But if the ox tended to thrust with its horn in times past, and it has been made known to his owner, and he has not kept it confined, so that it has killed a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If there is imposed on him a sum of money, then he shall pay to redeem his life, whatever is imposed on him. 31 Whether it has gored a son or gored a daughter, according to this judgment it shall be done to him. 32 If the ox gores a male or female servant, he shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. (Exodus 21:28-31)
Any ox that gored a man or woman was to be put to death. If the owner was aware of the ox’s dangerous tendencies but did nothing about it, then the owner was to be stoned along with the ox. And these laws were for the nation of Israel.
Leviticus 20 is a chapter devoted to offenses within the nation of Israel for which death is the penalty:
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Again, you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘Whoever of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who gives any of his descendants to Molech, he shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. 3 I will set My face against that man, and will cut him off from his people, because he has given some of his descendants to Molech, to defile My sanctuary and profane My holy name. 4 And if the people of the land should in any way hide their eyes from the man, when he gives some of his descendants to Molech, and they do not kill him, 5 then I will set My face against that man and against his family; and I will cut him off from his people, and all who prostitute themselves with him to commit harlotry with Molech.
6 ‘And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people. 7 Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. 8 And you shall keep My statutes, and perform them: I am the Lord who sanctifies you.
9 ‘For everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be upon him.
10 ‘The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death. 11 The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. 12 If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death. They have committed perversion. Their blood shall be upon them. 13 If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. 14 If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is wickedness. They shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there may be no wickedness among you. 15 If a man mates with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. 16 If a woman approaches any animal and mates with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood is upon them.
17 ‘If a man takes his sister, his father’s daughter or his mother’s daughter, and sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a wicked thing. And they shall be cut off in the sight of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness. He shall bear his guilt. 18 If a man lies with a woman during her sickness and uncovers her nakedness, he has exposed her flow, and she has uncovered the flow of her blood. Both of them shall be cut off from their people.
19 ‘You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister nor of your father’s sister, for that would uncover his near of kin. They shall bear their guilt. 20 If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness. They shall bear their sin; they shall die childless. 21 If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness. They shall be childless.
22 ‘You shall therefore keep all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them, that the land where I am bringing you to dwell may not vomit you out. 23 And you shall not walk in the statutes of the nation which I am casting out before you; for they commit all these things, and therefore I abhor them. 24 But I have said to you, “You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. 26 And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.
27 ‘A man or a woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones. Their blood shall be upon them.’” (Leviticus 20:1-27)
What we see in Leviticus 20 is that there were transgressions of the Law that were met with the death penalty. The Lord didn’t just kill ungodly nations and the people within them; He also killed those within His own people that transgressed His law. This shows the righteous character of God. Atheists and skeptics can’t say that the Lord showed favoritism in His law, because He didn’t. This chapter also shows that the nation of Israel was to participate in the righteous judgment of God by stoning the person themselves. God gave the Law, but He expected His people to implement it. Whenever someone committed a sin worthy of death, each Israelite in the camp was to pick up a stone and throw it at the person. This was to remind them that, if they sinned against God in the same manner, they would experience the same judgment.
There is little left to add to this idea of slaughtering the ungodly and wicked. The Lord never murdered anyone, because murder involved slaughtering the innocent. The Lord didn’t kill the innocent; He killed the wicked and ungodly nations and their citizens, acting in righteous judgment and bringing wrath on nations that worshipped other gods and turned His people Israel from the God of Israel to those false gods. And the Lord dealt the same punishments to Israelites when they sinned and committed the most abominable of offenses. The Lord demanded the lives of Israelites and citizens of other nations when His law was transgressed. Exodus 23:7 is where the Lord says not to “kill the innocent and the righteous.” The nations God slaughters, however, are wicked and ungodly, and they are not innocent and do sin and evil all the time. They are worthy of death, while those who do not transgress and commit abomination kept their lives.
Atheists and skeptics don’t have a problem with God punishing the guilty and wicked so much as they struggle to understand why God would even allow death penalties as punishments for transgressors. And yet, today, we would demand the life of a mass murderer for his or her crimes against humanity, would we not?
Atheists and skeptics struggle to study the Old Testament deeply, enough to distinguish between murder and righteous or justifiable homicide. They read the surface text and approach the subject of homicide and murder without reading words in context. One must place murder in context to determine whether killing is classified as murder or not. What does one mean by murder? In the New Testament, the government, the authorities, have the right to “bear the sword” and use it to kill transgressors (Romans 13:3-5). So, if all killing is bad, then why is it that rulers, political authorities (our modern-day law enforcement) have the power to “execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:4)? Remember, the authorities have the power to enforce the death penalty on mass murderers, for example, and their power is God-given; so, not all killing is murder. It is generally characterized as homicide, but not all homicide is cold-blooded murder.
Beyond their surface reading of the text and their denial of context (which they violate in order to accuse God of being evil), they struggle to understand and accept the sovereignty of God. Divine sovereignty is the atheist’s and skeptic’s greatest struggle with God.
They have a problem with God, with His being in charge and in control of all that happens in the world. They struggle with His Law, they fail to understand that He is sovereign to set His Law as He pleases. They also fail to understand that God’s Law reveals His righteousness, that He is not evil and wicked as humanity is evil and wicked. God’s Law reflects Himself. He does not kill the righteous and innocent, so His Law forbids it. And since He mandated death, the shedding of blood, for the remission of sins, He also gave His Son to show His great love for the world. And in the Old Testament, we see that when God executed His wrath on someone and killed them, He did so because the individual transgressed His law and committed an abomination, something He told the person to never do.
So, in the final analysis, the atheist and skeptic may not like God and may try at every turn to deem Him a moral monster, but God once again escapes their claims because of His righteous judgment. God does not kill the innocent and righteous, but the guilty and wicked. God doesn’t violate the sixth commandment by executing righteous judgment and wrath on guilty nations that worship false gods, sacrifice their children to other gods, and commit all kinds of sins and iniquity.
The sixth commandment retains its meaning, and it, as well as the other nine commandments, continue to reflect the divine character.