I was listening to a podcast on genocide in Scripture recently. The question will sooner or later come across our ears, by someone outside the church and most certainly from those within the church. Text such as these:
Death of the Firstborn – “So Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.’” (Exodus 11:4–7 ESV)
women, child, and infant – “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction 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 15:1–3 ESV)
There are others but the idea is obvious, God has either commanded or sent out the execution of death upon those people that were hostile to him and Israel. The people he sent judgment against were not exclusively soldiers but included women, children, and infants.
Thoughts on these passages are voluminous no doubt. It moves the heart and the disturbance is felt in our conscience as we immediate try to ease ourselves by flying to theological categories or even liberal critics who deny the authority and accuracy of Scripture, to somehow rescue God from this apparent crisis. One of the observations I made was that God doesn’t ask to be rescued from our opinions on his acts, God doesn’t question his decision. He doesn’t think of alternative measures to bring about the desired affect. “Love wins” isn’t the moto of Israel while they’re under Egyptian oppression.
The other observation I see is the response of Jesus and his view of these accounts. Jesus doesn’t try to defend God. He makes no excuses for tragedies of his context (the murder of the Galileans and the tower of Siloam Lk 13) rather uses them as an example of the fate for those who don’t repent. Jesus doesn’t deny that Sodom and Gomorrah happened but uses their destruction as an example of the devastation that is planned for the enemies of God who do not repent.
What is it about these accounts of destruction that are so disturbing? We don’t care so much about the warriors of Egypt destroyed by the waters but the idea of soldiers going out against innocent women and children are different. The difference is that they are innocent (in our eyes). I have some thoughts about this presumed innocence as well but that is besides my point here. The death of innocent ones moves us, concerns us, causes questions.
Here I see the greatness of the Cross of Christ all again for Jesus was the greater and true innocent one that was crushed by God for his people. He was the Son of the King (Pharaoh) and the son of the slave girl (Mary). He was the innocent one (women, children, and infants) that the people of God killed (Saul’s army). Jesus is innocence and righteousness and he goes to the Cross because it was the will of the Father. The Cross is a great cosmic tension that on one hand we pray Jesus will fulfill, and on the other hand cry as he does because it’s our fault. The Cross is where justice is carried out on the innocent. The Cross is where God is exposed to the tragedies of all of those stories that we question. This doesn’t erase the discomfort of the killing commands in the Old Testament but it should make us stop and ask ourselves if we understand what happened at the Cross.