Wednesday-Weird-Bible-Verse – Deuteronomy 7:2 – Show them no mercy

December 28, 2011 — 6 Comments

Deuteronomy 7:2 – "and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy."

* Two great book that address this very uncomfortable passage are "God Behaving Badly" by David Lamb and "Is God A Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God" by Paul Copan. 


Dan Kimball

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author of "Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus In The Mess of Organized Religion" and "They Like Jesus But Not The Church" . On staff at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA.
  • DanKimball

    This is one of the toughest things to address in the Hebrew Bible.
    Two great books which do study this is:
    “God Behaving Badly” by David Lamb
    “Is God a Moral Monster?” by Paul Copan

  • Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr

    This is one of those bits that’s been addressed in Torah study, and my take on it was always this: in this particular case, God was handing Israel a strategy to create a clean canvas to paint a new society upon. It’s harsh, but it was required if the children of Israel were to get rid of the foreign gods in the land He granted them. Pretty much one of the hardest to hear lines in Torah, but it was a necessity at the time.
    However, it was pretty specific – it was for the land granted them, not lands they conquored on their own.

  •!/thejstephens J

    I came across this via a Boing Boing blog post. I have to say I’m really impressed with the concept of having a section of this blog dedicated to making sense of Bible verses that are typically used in an attempt to discredit the Gospel by folks who are hostile to Christianity.
    The doctrine of God’s Holiness helps me personally make sense of verses like Deuteronomy 7:2, but it’s extremely offensive to just about everybody (but let’s be honest, isn’t Christianity a pretty offensive worldview). The bible teaches that God is supremely holy and has no tolerance for sin. In this verse alone, we have no context for what the people were like who were occupied in the land the Israelites were about to overtake, but we do know that these people were sinful. God is God, and He is accountable to no man. Some people He chooses to kill b/c of their sinfulness. Thankfully in addition to His holiness, He is also extremely loving and good. We see this at the cross, when Christ (God Himself) took the wrath that sinful people deserved upon Himself while simultaneously pouring out Holy wrath judging and punishing sin at the exact same moment. It’s seems like a paradox, but that’s the beauty of the Gospel. God is an extremely complex being and He will never be fully understood, but we must do our best to understand that he is both holy and loving. R.C. Sproul’s book, “The Holiness of God” is an excellent resource for more on this subject.

  • Rob

    How can anyone see the atrocities that the God of the Bible condones, and then argue that He’s good or loving?
    The God of the Bible is neither. This is someone who imposes His own absolute law, punishes people (and their families) arbitrarily for violating this law with death and torture, and then sends them to further torture after death. He kills children and sends plagues to people whose rulers disobey Him. As noted, He’s accountable to no one. He advertises how loving He is by offering to not torture people after death if they believe in the scapegoat of His Son’s death (or whatever interpretation of the crucifixion a person has.) And He insists we call loving, and good, and wise.
    How many words have been written to justify this homicidal, dictatorial behavior to people who know in their hearts that it’s morally wrong?
    One of the most pernicious aspects of religion is that it can cause good, moral, thoughtful people to defend immoral acts.

  • DanKimball

    Hi Rob!!
    I totally agree with you – that when reading the Old Testament there are seemingly actions that can paint God in horrible ways as you describe “homicidal, dictatorial behavior”.
    I would like to refer you to Old Testament scholars who know that world, language, culture etc. a lot more than you or I do and have written explicitly about this very thing.
    One book is by a philosophy professor named Paul Copan and he wrote “Is God A Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God”
    And the other is “God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?” by David Lamb a professor who teaches Hebrew and Old Testament.
    When you study the whole of the Bible and turn to scholars who can take us past our general surface reading of the Bible, it really helps us understand some responses to the understandable questions and challenges you raised. It isn’t “defending” immoral acts, but it is to try and gain scholarly insight as to what it is we are even reading and making conclusions about.
    If you ever were serious about reading them, I’d be happy to get copies and send them to you.
    Thank you SO much for taking the time to share your thinking here. It is greatly appreciated.

  • Rob

    Thanks for your reply!
    I’ve been interested in the Bible for a long time, and I’ve read a few books on the subject, but I’m very much an amateur. No doubt the authors of these books are much more knowledgeable about biblical times.
    Still, I’m hesitant to read them because it feels like a dodge. I mean, what I think you’re saying is that, despite the plain written words in the Bible describing behavior from God that we agree sounds horrible, an understanding of the culture and situation of the times will make it out instead that God in the Bible is loving and good. What I’d like first is some simple statement of how this could possibly be – not the full argument or anything, just something half-way plausible.
    One reviewer on Amazon describes a few of Copan’s arguments. “Narration does not imply endorsement.” Great, but there are plenty of times when God directly orders murder, or murders Himself, for example. Or this argument that it’s okay to “utterly destroy…the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.” because God thinks they’re wicked, or their faith will corrupt His worship among Israel, or because He was using some typical period poetic license and He only meant for the Israelites to kill some of them. These are terrible arguments – it’s not morally right to kill because you think someone is wicked, or because they’ll try to convince someone not to worship you, or to just just kill some of them. And maybe this isn’t a fair portrayal of what Copan says in these books, it’s just off of a (positive) review. Let me know.
    Unfortunately, it’s a pretty common tactic of apologists for religion to try to hide basic truth behind erudition and a flood of unrelated ideas. Look at the mishmash flood of irreconcilable ideas put forward to refute natural selection. And the argument as presented by the reviewer is similar (with many more points). I’m happy to spend some time grappling with the arguments because I think it’s important, but this kind of thing often feels more like a tactic than an intellectually honest approach.
    Anyway, I appreciate you taking some time. I hope you can understand why I find “read the book” to be difficult advice in context.
    Good luck with the rest of the series!