How Could God Kill Thousands of People in the Old Testament?

After an article about Ai, I had a dear friend ask me how God could kill thousands upon thousands. He said it was hard for him to believe that God would want this. I appreciate this question and respect him for asking it. When we examine the Scriptures, we see that God wants folks to examine, test, and ask questions like my friend did (Isa. 1:18; Matt. 11:29; Acts 17:11; Eph. 5:10; I Thess. 5:21; Rom. 12:2). Below is my answer to my friend’s question. I print it here in the hope that perhaps this answer might help others who have had the same question.

It is hard to imagine God telling the Israelites to kill another nation, but I have to remember that this is part of a larger context. It is not God randomly saying He wants to kill one group or another for no reason.

God had been patient with these people for at least 400 years. Go back to Abraham and read this in Genesis 15:1-17 where God promises to give the land of Canaan to Abraham but says he cannot have it now “because the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” When God saw that the people would no longer repent, then He took them out of the land. Therefore, when the Israelites came there under Joshua’s leadership to take the land of Canaan, it was a fulfillment of God’s promise, yes, but it was also as a punishment for the sins of the Amorites, Jebusites, Canaanites, etc.

We see a similar theme through the rest of the Old Testament. Even the Jews would be allowed to be killed at times and taken into captivity because of their sins before God. When they refused to repent, they would be handed over to another nation for a while until they repented. We see this described in Judges 2:11-23. Also, when God gave over the northern tribes of Israel to Assyria, or later, the southern tribes over to Babylon, it was because of their sins and their refusal to repent (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.).

God would overthrow Babylon later for similar reasons. God has a way of making folks face the consequences of their sins. This is true of individuals, and this is also true for entire nations of people. Read Daniel 4:31-32 about Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.

Read Romans 1:21-32 and you’ll see a synopsis of God’s dealings with the Gentiles over the years as they continued to sin before God. Especially notice v. 28. These people were given over when they got to the point they didn’t like to retain God in their knowledge.

I believe these things recorded in the Bible are also for our learning (Rom. 15:4). We need to understand that God keeps His word and that He will not allow sin to go unpunished. We learn that one day if we are in sin and away from God, we will be lost in Hell. Individual people will be judged –when He judges and shows how they had sinned before Him for years and years and years.

So, that is what we see happening in the Bible in places like Ai, and many others. This is not the acts of a random or vengeful God, but the act of a just and righteous God who has said these people have lived in sin and refused to repent for too long and must answer for what they have done.


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