Genocide in the OT

One of my best friends, an Anglican who also writes pseudonymously (for much more noble reasons than I, who am merely too cowardly to deal with not-very-likely professional ramifications; he’s planning on entering into work where a Christian identity would be directly counterproductive), is blogging through the Bible. He’s run into the problem of modern notions vs. the brutal conquest of Canaan. Go check out his latest post, and browse around. There’s a lot of good writing to be found in his older stuff.

WFO writes:

Even if the culture as a whole is said to be under God’s righteous judgment, what about individual justice? Surely the babies, if nothing else, should have been spared and cared for. What good is it if they are rescued from the furnaces of the idols only to have their throats cut by Israelite swords? I have no argument against this, and I shudder at the thought of those little ones.

Yet if we cannot (and must not) give up our firm convictions on individual justice, we must at least try to understand the ancient notion of collective identity. Nations and peoples were defined in terms of the strong personalities of their archetypes – Jacob, Esau, Anak, Amelek, Midian, Hercules, Romulus & Remus, etc. Sometimes their founders were even worshiped as gods. The cultures were very conservative, with their distinct character being passed from one generation to the next.

I sometimes wonder whether there is more to this than we like to think. Isn’t it curious that so much of what see as our own personal tastes, ideas, and opinions seem to fit key trends and movements (or counter movements) of our time? Even our personal individualism is an expression of a key American archetype. Most other cultures even today understand this better than we do, and hold individual Americans accountable for the actions of their country. Why shouldn’t they? We certainly benefit from our country’s actions – why should we not share the responsibility?

I am haunted at times when I find an old Indian arrowhead on my parents’ land. These are the artifacts of the people who were once here – peoples all but destroyed today. I can say it’s not my fault, but like it or not, I enjoy the lush beautiful land that their great grandchildren will never see. Is this just? Were the former inhabitants wicked enough to warrant their dispossession? If not, is there to be a reckoning? Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

My only response is: without a notion of individual justice, much more can be rightly justified. That sounds cruel and heartless, but if you think of a baby Amelekite as opposed to an Amelekite baby, it makes a difference. I too recoil at what I read in Joshua and elsewhere in the Old Testament, and I think our Lord would be pleased that we recoil. We’ve imbibed His teachings about the least of these, and about the salvation of the Gentiles. But, those would not have been possible had not Israel been successful–had not the Father kept His promise to Abraham.

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2 Responses to “Genocide in the OT”


  1. 1 Wonders for Oyarsa June 5, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Well shoot, thanks for the link! I trust you recognize some of this from our conversation the other night?


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