Question #348

What about all the people God killed in the Old Testament?

Hello, I am a Christian for the last 30 years. I belong to Christ’s church, (same as you) but, I still have some questions.

The God of the Old Testament seems different from the God of the New Testament. For several months now I have been reading the O.T. every night. God has killed a lot, A LOT, of people in the O.T. Guess, the flood was the most at one time, but I am not sure. How could a group of people capture a whole city and kill every thing alive? Seems, like this would make a person insane, doing, all that killing. Women, children, old folks, babies, etc. Why didn't God just wave his hand and put them to sleep. That way they would still be dead.

The Answer:

This question addresses the problem of evil in the world. Explanations and answers innumerable have been given over the centuries. George Bernard Shaw once said that if all the economists were laid end to end they would not reach a conclusion. In the matter before us many different conclusions have been reached. The conclusions of the believer will never satisfy the unbeliever and vice versa. But with that said, to quote scripture, “Come now, and let us reason together.”

One matter needs to be settled in the beginning. The standard of judgment assumed in the question is the inquirer’s concept of what man believes should have been done. We are all good at making that assumption. Any time that someone does something differently from the way we would have done it we tend to leap to the conclusion that the actor was wrong. While this may or not be the case where only men are concerned, it is never the case where God is concerned. The “do it my way approach” is based on the principle that God must do good with “good” being defined by man’s concept of what is or would have been “good.” The true principle is that “what God does is good.” That this is true can be seen by the fact that if God must do “good” as defined by anything other than His nature, then there is something greater than God – the standard external to Himself to which He must submit and that He must follow. Should He fail to submit and follow that standard He has done “bad” or “wrong.” God cannot do anything that is contrary to his nature. For example, God cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18) or be tempted (James 1:13). “God is not a man, that he should lie, Neither the son of man, that he should repent: Hath he said, and will he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and will he not make it good” (Numbers 23:19 ASV)? The standard by which man is governed and by which he will be judged is God’s standard: “Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the eyes of Jehovah thy God” (Deu. 12:28 ASV). The standard is the same in the New Testament (John 12:48). Only God is good (Mark 10:18), man is to learn His statutes (standards) and not vice versa (Psalm 119:18), and God does not change as does man (James 1:17).

How then do we explain God’s doing that which would be evil for us to do? First, we must understand that we must not attribute to God that which we would not attribute to ourselves. For instance, God directly inflicted punishment on people as in the flood (Genesis 6). How many of us have punished our children and thought (if not said), “This is for your own good.” In some cases we may have even done so to protect our good name. In the case of the flood, God saved the few who were righteous; however many innocents were also destroyed. He was not punishing the innocents, but they were caught up in the punishment inflicted on their parents who had become so evil that God would not permit such evil to continue. Could God have done it differently? What man can or dare say so? Who is man to question God? Can the potter not do with the clay that which pleases Him (Isa. 29:16; 64:8; Jer. 18:4-6; Rom. 9:20-24)? God’s glory had been assaulted and God’s punishment was inflicted on the evil doers in a manner that preserved the holiness of His nature. There is yet another universal judgment and punishment to come (2 Peter 3). This awaits even those destroyed by the flood, except for innocents (Matt. 19:14). Is God to be prohibited from doing that which He said He would do because men think it unreasonable?

By what standard and with what wisdom does man determine the just punishment for sinning against a holy God and spurning the gift of His Son? Is God not the only one who can measure the guilt and determine the just punishment?

Finally, we must remember that the only way that we can know why God either did or permitted some things is if He tells us. That which he has told us should teach us to hold our peace in His presence and know that that which He does is for the good of his people (Rom. 8:28) and the glory of His name. Scripture never blames God for evil or shows God taking pleasure in evil. (See Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11.) What then has He revealed?

  1. Consider the life of Joseph. His brothers were jealous of his, hated him sought to kill him, cast him in a pit, and then sold him into slavery (Gen. 37). But later Joseph could and did say that God sent him ahead to Egypt to preserve life (Gen. 45:5) and that while his brothers meant evil against him, God meant it for good so that many people could be kept alive (Gen. 50:20). The evil deeds belonged to the brothers but the overriding providence of God used those deeds for good. Both are affirmed by scripture.

  2. Take the delivery of Israel from Egypt. Scripture affirms that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8). It also affirms that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34). Some say that God only concurred in Pharaoh’s hardening of his own heart, and that may well be so. However, God promised to harden Pharaoh’s heart long before we are told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3). Is a better explanation that which we saw in the experience of Joseph – both divine and human agents can cause the same event? We know Pharaoh’s reason for hardening his own heart, but what was God’s purpose. Paul discusses that in Romans 9:17-18: “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth. 18 So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will be hardeneth” (Rom 9:17-18 ASV). God providentially hardened the hearts of the Egyptians to pursue into the Red Sea so that he would “…get…honor upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am Jehovah, when I have gotten me honor upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen (Ex. 14:17-18 ASV). The Psalmist confirms this truth (Psa. 105:25).

  3. These same principles apply to the destruction of the Canaanites (Josh. 11:20; see also Judg. 3:12; 9:23). Samson’s determination to marry a Philistine woman was “of Jehovah for he sought an occasion against the Philistines . . .” (Judg. 14:4).

Many other examples could be given, but perhaps the experience of Job summarizes it better than most. The Lord gave Satan permission to harm Job’s possessions and children. The evil was inflicted through the Sabeans, the Chaldeans, and a windstorm (Job 1:12, 15, 17, 19), but Job looked beyond these causes and said “Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: Jehovah gave, and Jehovah hath taken away; blessed be the name of Jehovah. 22 In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly” (Job 1:21-22 ASV). To blame God for evil he brought about through secondary agents would have been sin. Job does not do this; scripture never does this; neither should we.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)