Bible Question:

Why did God command the Israelites to wipe out men, women, and children (males of all ages) of entire people groups (genocide) in the Old Testament on occasion? Surely, any nation that would do this today in the name of God would not be seen as doing a moral thing. How does Old Testament morality fit with New Testament morality? Are they the same?

Bible Answer:

A ship without a rudder drifts in the open sea without direction. If a makeshift rudder is attached later, the ship can be directed, but not as well as with the original rudder. God’s moral standard is the original rudder, and today the world is using a makeshift rudder or its own moral standard. The world’s moral standard is not the original one. It is not God’s moral standard, and the world is drifting. It is in trouble. Its standard of determining right and wrong is faulty, because its moral rudder is makeshift.

Moral Standards

When we come to the Bible, it is important to remember that God’s moral standard is significantly superior to our faulty standard. The world’s basic moral standard is self-centered rather than being God-centered. It says that no one should harm me and no one should stop me from doing what I want to do. That is how the murder of another human being – abortion – is okay. Only on rare occasions is the life of the mother in danger. The world accepts lying so long as no one is hurt. This is the same rationale given for homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, and other sexual sins. The world’s moral standard is self-centered, with a few exceptions.

But God’s moral standard is not determined by one’s culture. It is a moral absolute! God’s moral standard can be summed up in one word – holiness. Holiness is an absolute standard. Sin is the opposite of holiness and it cares only about itself. God hates man’s sin. He hates abortion, lying, sexual perversion, and all other sins. Holiness is the original moral rudder that God gave to us, but men and women have replaced it with a makeshift rudder of their own choice.

In answering your question, it is important to understand that sin is like a disease. It corrupts. Here are God’s words.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 1 Corinthians 15:33 (NASB)

That is why God wants murderers and rapists killed. This is God’s standard. On a few occasions, God ordered that some Israelites be killed in order to eliminate the spread of false religion among the Israelites.

Killing Men, Women, and Children

There are two places in scripture where God ordered specifically all the men, women, and children of another nation to be killed by the Israelites. The passages are as follows:

Sihon, King of Heshbon
Then Sihon with all his people came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz. The LORD our God delivered him over to us, and we defeated him with his sons and all his people. So we captured all his cities at that time and utterly destroyed the men, women and children of every city. We left no survivor. Deuteronomy 2:32-34 (NASB)

Og, King of Bashan
We captured all his cities at that time; there was not a city which we did not take from them: sixty cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates and bars, besides a great many unwalled towns. We utterly destroyed them, as we did to Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women and children of every city. Deuteronomy 3:4-6 (NASB)

The people who were killed in both passages were of the Amorite nation, and in both cases, they opposed the Israelites. Consequently, God ordered Israel to kill the men, women, and children of the offending cities.

In the first case, the Israelites came in peace and asked Sihon, King of Heshbon, for permission to pass through his land, but he refused (Deut. 2:26-27). Instead, Sihon and his army went to war against the Israelites. It was then that God enabled the Israelites to destroy them. The Israelites had only wanted to pass through their land.

In the second situation, the same thing occurs. Og, the king of Bashan, refuses to allow the Israelites to pass through his land and his army goes to war against Israel.

These men, women, and children were Amorites, but this was not genocide. The Israelites did not kill every man, woman, or child of the Amorites. The Amorites who were killed were those occupying the cities ruled by the two kings who would not allow the Israelites to pass through their lands. The Amorites were still in existence for thousands of years after these battles. This was self-defense.


God will take the life of a person who ultimately has rejected God. He will allow and has on some occasions caused, portions of nations to be killed because they have threatened His people – the Israelites.

Suggested Links:

Sin and Salvation – Discipleship Series
Why is the God of the Old Testament so violent?
Why Is God So Violent?
How can God’s view change so much from the Old to the New Testament?