Many may reject the thought of a good God in light of all the violence in the OT. For example, I Sam. 15:3 reports God saying: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them: put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” Hundreds of OT passages seem to advocate evil behaviors in God’s name.
There are two basis viewpoints about God’s role in Scriptures. God either controlled the writers’ thoughts to perfectly represent God, or God did not control writers misunderstanding God initially and coming to a better understanding over time. OT writers were surely influenced by surrounding cultures where it was sacrilegious to not speak of God being all-powerful and controlling, thus contributing violent warfare actions to God.
I am not rationalizing all OT violence, but there are some possible explanations of many passages that seem to endorse immorality.
Many could rightly argue that the Bible advocates land-grabbing in God’s name. But, Deut. 7:1 talks of driving out the enemy while 7:3 says you must destroy the enemy totally. Extermination passages maybe are meant to be understood within the context of initially driving out the enemy. A writer doesn’t always include exceptions. Jesus wasn’t advocating spouse abuse or nations not defending themselves when saying turn the other cheek.
Joshua speaks of utter destruction in Debir and returning to camp (10:39-43), yet the writer in the same breath spoke of survivors from Debir being destroyed (11:21). Writers either mindlessly contradicted themselves or didn’t always mean to be taken unconditionally. Moses ordered the Canaanites to be destroyed (Deut. 13:14-15) and Joshua is said to have obeyed Moses’ commands (Josh. 11:15), but survivors were left. The Bible may not mean literally to destroy all living beings when possible to avoid.
We could understand some violence in the OT in light of the current terrorism that plagues our world.
If someone attacks my family I have every right to protect them. Terrorists threaten even their own with beheadings, rape, and other atrocities. Is it always wrong for a nation to wage war against evil leadership of other nations for the sake of those under the dictatorship? Despite the loss of innocent lives, future generations may look back on the 21st century and accept nations invading lands inhabited by evildoers who seek power only to destroy their own and people of other countries.
In a recent news article, generals commented they felt empowered to decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS. They were able to hunt down ISIS leadership and destroy them and their control. A US leader may say we will destroy anything to do with ISIS. This doesn’t mean women and children will not be spared if possible. But, innocent lives may not be spared to destroy evil, as terrorists use civilians as human shields to carry out their wicked goals.
War isn’t always avoidable and innocent lives cannot always be spared in a world inhabited by evildoers.
I am not arguing that we must always rationalize violence in the OT. We don’t have to assume OT writers always understood God correctly initially. It just is not God’s nature to coerce but attempt to influence overtime so choices are one’s own. God surely understands the threat of justice doesn’t change hearts but is a last resort to deter evil. But, I am not convinced God or moral humans can be total pacifists in the world we live in.