Bible Question:

Why did God command the Israelites to destroy entire people groups—genocide—in the Old Testament? 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—its own moral standard. The world’s moral standard is a faulty moral standard. The world’s morality is not God’s moral standard, and the world is increasingly becoming more evil. The world’s morality is faulty. Its standard of determining right and wrong is faulty because its moral rudder is evil and corrupt. Therefore, its standard of morality is evil and corrupt. This leads us to our question which is, “Why did God command the Israelites to destroy entire people groups?” What follows is a biblical answer to this question.

Our Sin Distorted View of Ourselves

When we come to the Bible, it is important to remember that God’s moral standard is significantly superior to our faulty and distorted concept of morality. Sadly, our world’s moral standard is self-centered rather than being God-centered. The world’s concept of morality changes with public opinion which drifts like the ocean currents.

As a result, murder of another human being – abortion – is considered to be okay. It is defended as a moral right. The world approves of lying as long as no one is hurt. This is the same rationale given for homosexuality, lesbianism, sex with animals or bestiality, and other sexual sins because these acts are considered acts of love. Increasingly, pedophilia is another “love act” that is increasingly be accepted. Often the criminal has more rights than their victim. Capital punishment is considered evil, since people find it offensive to kill murderers. Oppression of Christians and churches is acceptable, if you do not like them. In summary, the world’s moral standard is self-centered, with few exceptions.

Our Sin Distorted View of God

The Bible teaches that God is holy. Isaiah 6:3 repeats the word holy three times. It is a reminder for us that God is holy.

And one called out to another and said,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah 6:3 (NASB)

1 Peter 1:14-16 also reminds us that we are evil, but God is holy.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” 1 Peter 1:14-16 (NASB)

Jesus said in Luke 18:19 that only God is good. That is a serious statement that reveals we are not good people. We just think we are good.

Further, Romans 3:23 says that every human has sinned.


Our sin distorts our view of what is holy. It distorts our view of God. Sin is the opposite of holiness and cares only about itself. Like a tree that depends upon its roots for nourishment, pride is the root cause of sin. Our pride fuels our every sin.

Consequently, God hates man’s sin. He hates abortion, lying, sexual perversion, injustice, oppression of His followers and all self-centerdness. 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.

It is important to understand that sin is like a disease. But it is a disease that is present at birth and it continues to corrupt. We deceive ourselves. We justify ourselves. Here is God’s view of us.

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
I, the LORD, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds. Jeremiah 17:9-10 (NASB)

Psalm 50:21 surprises us when it reminds us that we think God is like ourselves!

These things you have done and I kept silence;
You thought that I was just like you;
I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.
Psalm 50:21 (NASB)

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. God is holy and we are not. Our sin colors our view of what is holy and of what is sin. People often call what is sin good and what is good sin!

Why DiD God Commanded Israel To Kill Nations?

Why Does God Punish and Kill the Wicked?

Before answering the question, “Why did God command the Israelites to destroy entire people groups?” we must answer the question, “Why does God punish and kill the wicked?” Does God enjoy killing people?  The answer is no!

God Does Not Take Pleasure in the Death of the Wicked

We must remember that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. Notice the message of Ezekiel 33:11.

“Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!'” Ezekiel 33:11 (NASB)

Lamentations 3:33 echoes this same truth. God does not enjoy punishing or killing the wicked because He knows that they will go to hell for eternity.

For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.
Lamentations 3:33 (NASB)

God Punishes Because People Are Wicked

Our God does not punish the wicked willingly. Genesis 6:5-7, 11-12 reminds us that God destroyed the entire world because it was incredibly evil.

 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

. . . .

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Genesis 6:5-7, 11-12 (NASB)

Why did God kill every human, except for Noah and his family (Genesis 6:8)? Genesis 6:9 says that Noah was a righteous man who walked with God. He and his family were saved from the flood because they were righteous, seeking to please God.

God Punishes the Wicked to Suppress Sin

Another important passage is Habakkuk 1:2-11. In this passage the prophet complains that God is not doing anything to suppress the wickedness that is occurring in the nation of Israel (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Verse 2 helps us understand the prophet is calling for justice. In verse 4 the prophet uses the word justice.

How long, O LORD, will I call for help,
And You will not hear?
I cry out to You, “Violence!”
Yet You do not save.

. . .

Therefore the law is ignored
And justice is never upheld.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
Therefore justice comes out perverted.
Habakkuk 1:2, 4 (NASB)

Then God responded in Habakkuk 1:4-11 by telling the prophet that He was bringing a nation to conquer and destroy many Israelites because of their sin. God was going to punish the evil doers – the wicked – for their evil deeds. Psalm 99:8-9 reminds us that our holy God forgives! but He also punishes the evil.

O LORD our God, You answered them;
You were a forgiving God to them,
And yet an avenger of their evil deeds.
Exalt the LORD our God
And worship at His holy hill,
For holy is the LORD our God.
Psalm 99:8-9 (NASB)

God would not be holy if He allowed evil to multiple and spread, causing more evil.

Romans 13:3-4 teaches us that God created governments to suppress evil. That is their primary reason for existing!  The message is that God hates evil. He will suppress it, but not completely. If He suppressed it completely, He would have to destroy everyone because we are all evil; we are all sinners. Today, we live with a perverted justice in our nations and cultures. The holy standard is perverted because our makeshift rudder of holiness is defective.

God Punishes the Wicked Because He Is Just

One of the attributes of God is His justice. All of His attributes are at all times in operation and perfect. While He is displaying His love towards people, He will be carrying out His justice. Often that means punishing those who have done evil.  Job 8:3 states “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?” Job 34:12 answers the question, “Surely, the Almighty will not act wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice.”  Psalm 37:28, “For the Lord loves justice and does not forsake His godly ones; They are preserved forever, but the descendants of the wicked will be cut off.”

Why Did God Command the Israelites To Destroy?

Why did God command the Israelites to destroy entire people groups? Why did the Lord want to destroy man?  The answer is that God is suppressing more wicked nations by using less wicked nations to carry o His justice.

Evil Nations Will Be Punished — Good Nations Will Be Protected

The principle is given to us in Jeremiah 18:5-11. In this passage God gives Israel the principle that He will deal with a nation according to its evil or goodness. He will protect it or destroy it. It depends upon a nation’s behavior.

At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it;  if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. Jeremiah 18:7-10 (NASB)

In this passage God warned His own people, the nation of Israel. But they did not listen and He brought another nation in to conqueror them (Jeremiah 18:11).

Why Did God Tell the Israelites To Kill the Canaanites?

God has applied this same principle to every nation, otherwise, He would not be a holy God.  That is why God commanded the Israelites to kill the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.

Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God. Deuteronomy 20:16-18 (NASB)

Why did God tell the Israelites to kill the Canaanites and other nations? Because they would corrupt the nation of Israel with foreign gods and do evil. Therefore, when the nation of Israel entered the Promised Land, Joshua ordered the Israelistes to kill everyone in the occupying nation.

This principle was applied to the northern kingdom of Israel and to the southern kingdom of Judah because they were evil. God used the Assyrian Empire to defeat the northern kingdom in 722 B.C. and the Babylonian Empire to defeat the southern kingdom in 605 B.C. because they had rejected God and worshipped idols.


The message is simple. God is holy and He hates sin. God will take the life of a person who has ultimately rejected Him. He will do the same to any persistently wicked nation. He will use a less wicked nation to destroy a more wicked nation. God uses nations to suppress evil. If God did not suppress evil, He would not be a holy God. That is, why the prophet Habakkuk was complaining against God. In essence the prophet was asking, “Are You holy?” Why are You not suppressing evil? Previously we referred to Habakkuk 1:2-11 where the prophet complained about the evil in the land. Now notice in Habakkuk 1:12, the prophet asked,

Are You not from everlasting,
O LORD, my God, my Holy One?
Habakkuk 1:12 (NASB)

He knew God was holy, but he could not understand why God was not doing anything, and God replied that He was. The nation would soon be judged. Therefore, the answer to the question, “Why did God command the Israelites to destroy entire people groups?” is that God is holy! He suppresses  and judges evil.

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?