Apologetic Wednesday: Killing In the Name of God

I can still remember the moment completely fresh in my mind. It is as if it happened days ago. It has been replayed several times since in the years past. I was a sophomore in college. It was about 9:30 A.M. and my phone rings jolting me upright. My mom, her voice shaken, instructs me to turn on the television. I fumbled for the remote to the TV, and I am greeted with two buildings, smoldering. I see a smoking number 11, the twin towers, set in the foreground of an otherwise serene blue morning sky. I will never forget the events surrounding that morning. How could I?

We know that the September 11th tragedy was the result of jihad, the Muslim holy war. Islam has often spread its message at the tip of the sword. Those that do not bend the knee to Allah taste death. It is often argued that there is no difference between Islam and Christianity in this fashion. Sure, there have been wars fought in the name of Christianity, but there have been wars fought in the name of every ideology under the sun. Does this mean that espousing Christianity leads to violence? Within Christianity there is absolutely no compulsion of religion. What is interesting is the fact that the wars fought in the name of Christianity (Crusades) are actually the antithesis of what Christianity teaches and believes. People can attach a name to anything, in this case war, but this does not mean that doing so is correct. People often put a black mark on Christianity’s record by claiming to be Christians and then acting in a manner that is not in accord with the teachings of Christ.

Christianity teaches love and promotes peace. It is Christianity that entreats one to love their enemies. On the contrary, if one assumes a completely naturalistic worldview it is more difficult to condemn the disregard for life. Hitler was greatly influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, who is famous for the coining the phrase “God is dead.” Nazism was an outgrowth of Nietzsche’s work. If Christianity is lived out based on its teachings then selfishness, murder, and harm to others is prohibited. In fact Christianity teaches people to love, give, and help those in need.

So what about in the Old Testament when God commanded the Israelites to conquer Canaan? How is that not compulsion of religion? Isn’t this the exact same thing that Muslims do today? How is the conquest of Canaan any different than the ethnic cleansing done by the Nazi’s or modern day Jihad? Let’s look at God’s command to ancient Israel as found in Deuteronomy 20.

However, you must not let any living thing survive among the cities of these people the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.  You must completely destroy them—the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite—as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that they won’t teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.

God’s command here definitely does not appeal to our modern day sensibilities. We often see God as a laid back, passive sort of friend. Shirts use to be sold with the slogan “Jesus is my homeboy” emblazoned across the front. This passage does not jibe well with the “Jesus is my homeboy” mentality of the modern mind. While God is all loving, he is also just. His law has teeth.

So how do we differentiate between ethnic cleansing, holy wars, and the Old Testament account of the Hebrews conquering the promise land? First, we must remember that God is the giver of life and he can take life as he sees fit. God certainly owes no one any explanation for his actions, but I think His actions in this situation can be better understood when examined properly. It is important to note at this point, however, that as with all human life, God could take the lives of the Canaanite people whenever he saw fit.

We do know that God allowed the people of Canaan to flourish for over four hundred years. He withheld judging them until their debauchery reached the point of no return. What was the moral atmosphere within Canaan? The inhabitants of the land engaged in incest, ritual prostitution, bestiality, and child sacrifice. Blood, violence, and distorted sexuality were all a part of Canaanite religion. Was God just in judging the land? I think He was. Yet we still find that he allowed them hundreds of years to flourish, but their morality continually declined.

What happened in ancient Israel cannot be extrapolated into modern times. The mandate to conquer the Promised Land was a direct edict from God. This can no longer happen. No new special revelation can be given. Man is no longer under Theocratic rule. So what happened during the Canaanite conquest was limited in historical and geographical scope.

We should also notice that when Israel subdued the land, Rahab, an inhabitant of Canaan, was spared and joined the Hebrews. Had this been ethnic cleansing, Rahab would not have been spared. If Rahab was spared, could others have not of been spared as well? In fact, we are unsure whether other people were repentant and spared as a result. We find that this was not an ethnic cleansing, this was God’s judgment. God’s dealings with the inhabitants of the land had nothing to do with race; it had everything to do with the morally depraved state of the people and the evil acts that they committed.

It is also interesting to note that Israel’s army was a ragtag band of warriors. The victories over the inhabitants of Canaan were to be seen as victories of God. The Hebrew people were also instructed not to plunder the conquered people, so the war on Canaan had nothing to do with financial gain.

We need to be aware of the fact that God was not picking on the people of Canaan. He judges evil regardless of whose life it is present in. He judged the Canaanite people right along with Israel. God does not gloss over moral transgressions. He is longsuffering, patient, and full of grace, but he always judges sin and evil. This is important for us to be aware of because we are no exception. God will judge the evil in our lives, and land, just as he did the ancient people of Canaan. He has been gracious to us for quite some time. When will we feel the force of His judgment? That is for Him to decide, just as it was with the people of Canaan.

Thus, we can see that the ancient Hebrew conquest of the Promised Land greatly differs from ethnic cleansing or holy war. It was limited to a specific point in history and geographic location. It was judgment for sin, carried out by God. The people had been given ample opportunity to turn from wickedness, and people could still be spared during the conquest if they were willing to turn to God.

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.


  • teeps says:

    I agree with you, but how would you explain the killing of infants and children to the skeptic who would see this act of God making him a moral monster? How did the infant/child sin and deserve judgement?

    • Josh Fults says:

      It is hard not to read this ancient story through modern eyes. I would still assert that God can give and take life as He wills, because He is the author of life. Yet, we must also keep several things in mind. The first being that God could not allow the mixing of remnants of a pagan nation with Israel, which was to be Holy and set apart. The Christ would eventually come from Israel.

      Also, had the race continued how much harm would have befallen these children? The moral conditions were pretty bleak. So in the long run, how many of these kids and their kids would have been met with violence in the name of the pagan religion.

      We also know that when children die before accountability they spend eternity with Christ. So in essence, their killing was actually their salvation.

  • Joe says:

    I must ask you my brother how do we know what the age of accountability is?? Especially when the scripture says that we are sinners from birth?? The fall of Adam in the Garden set the pace for Mankind(the fall of man)(federal headship)(total depravity) – our default location is Hell……. W/O Christ’s blood imputed to our accounts we are hellbound and will not escape the righteous judgement of God. I believe the scripture teaches that the salvation of the Heads of the Family which is the Husband or Wife is sufficient for all of the household.(1 Corinthians 7: 12-16) If the mother or father of the Child are non believers and the child dies in infancy the Child “will” go the way of his or her parents. I am not saying this way of thinking is concrete, because salvation is for the Lord to distribute to His chosen people. i wont beat this into the ground or die on this hill because its not a damnable issue. Just wanted to arrouse some thoughts.

    • Josh Fults says:

      I do not think there is an special number where a child suddenly becomes culpable. I think the “age of accountability” is when a child can use reason and logic and understand the concept of sin and atonement.

      I understand the imputation of sin, but we must also consider the fact that God is just and loving. 1 John 2:2 states that “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.” I am not reformed in my theology.

      The passage you cite in I Corinthians is about separation in marriage, according to my understanding.

      As Paul said in Romans 7:7, “I would not have known sin if it were not for the law.” If a child cannot understand that they are sinners how can they be expected to do anything about it. I think God being the gracious God He is applies grace to children, as stated in I John 2:2, to them prior to their being able to understand what sin is.

      Also, what do we do with passages like 2 Samuel 12, where King David’s son dies in infancy and he says, “But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

      I believe God treats children as innocent. They are still fallen and sinful, but God chooses to apply grace on their behalf just as he does those who accept him.

      Thanks for your thoughts, They made me think a little deeper.

      Always a pleasure Joe!

      • Joe says:

        Hey Josh-
        More food for thought –
        In the old testament Numbers 14:20-35 – the Lord speaks about an age of accountability in verse 29. The age of 20 yrs old (and upwards) is spoken of by God Himself saying that those who were “grumbling against him” would not enter into the land of promise. It is my understanding that this land of milk and honey is a portrait of Heaven the Christian’s promise and the journey to that land is a portrait of the process of sanctification. With that being said could we possibly equivicate the age of accountability spoken of by God in the passages of Numbers’ to todays Christian experience?? I am just throwing it out there.

        by His Grace

    • Josh Fults says:

      I think that is an interesting observation. My understanding as that the “age of accountability” is more of a point where one is capable of “reasoning with God”. I think this puts it a different ages. That point may be age 7 for some or 13 for others. John MacArthur has some interesting thoughts on this subject and research far more extensively than I. I will say, I kind of want to read his book on the topic!!!

      Always love interacting with ya on these topics bud!

  • Keith says:

    A couple of flaws that I see … 1st, keep in mind however barbaric the Crusades became, they began as a reaction to defend against Islamic aggression to annex non-Muslim territory. 2nd, much of your argument is meaningless, and this out by substituting “Allah” for God and changing the place names. It is ironic that your 7th paragraph, for example, could just as easily be spoken of America from a certain Islamic standpoint.

    • Josh Fults says:

      I feel your criticism is unfounded here. There are indeed differences between Islamic holy war and the Canaanite conquest.

      Islam kills anyone who is not Islam. If you do not recite “There is no god but Allah” then you are an enemy of Islam. The Hebrew conquest was based on God’s judgment on moral depravity. This conquest was not a means of propagating the Jewish religion, it was to carry out God’s judgment. To which, if Yahweh was God, He could use any means He so desired to carry out said judgment. If Yahweh is not God, then this is moot and one has no right to question God’s character because He is non-existent. We also know this was not ethnic cleansing based on hate because Rahab, at the very least was spared.

      Fighting holy wars in Islam is the standard. In Islam they view the world in two camps: those subject to Islam, and those with whom Islam is at war. If you aren’t Muslim you are the enemy. The conquest of Canaan on the other hand was an isolated event in history. It was an unusual circumstance and certainly not an axiom to be emulated. Therefore, one cannot appeal to biblical scripture in support of fighting others in order to subdue them and convert them to Christianity.

      Thus there is a vast difference between the current state of Islam and the ancient historical conquest of Canaan. One cannot make a biblical case for using war to spread the Gospel. If one reads the gospel they find that love and kindness are the means with which to spread the gospel.

  • […] Killing In the Name of God | Josh Fults | joshfults.com It is often argued that there is no difference between Islam and Christianity. Sure, there have been wars fought in the name of Christianity. What is interesting is the fact that the wars fought in the name of Christianity (Crusades) are actually the antithesis of what Christianity teaches and believes. Read Post […]

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