Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
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Why does the Old Testament seem to be filled with violence and atrocities?

  1. The death of the first born: Does God condone the killing of children?

  2. The annihilation of entire cities such as Jericho?

  3. 1 Samuel 6:19 – “Then He struck the men of Beth Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. He struck fifty thousand and seventy men of the people, and the people lamented because the LORD had struck the people with a great slaughter.

  4. Deuteronomy 13:15 – “You shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it, all that is in it and its livestock—with the edge of the sword.

  5. Deuteronomy 3:6-7 – “And we utterly destroyed them, as we did to Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children of every city. But all the livestock and the spoil of the cities we took as booty for ourselves.
And much more….

This is especially pertinent when discussing the atrocities of Islam and the use of the sword.  Some of our youth look at the use of the sword by God in the Old Testament as a losing argument with Muslims.

Many people become stuck when they read a few passages where they see a glimpse of the wrath of God. It is frightening; and not knowing what to do with this fear, many begin to blame God as being unfair or harsh. Our father, David the prophet, while lamenting over his own sins, takes full responsibility for his transgressions and proclaims, if were at all possible, acquitting God of any injustice for his own sins and what he deserve as the consequences. This is the same wake-up call for each person. God is not the cause of our sins, but He provides us with the solution; it is repentance. Our sins are not just towards each other, but they are toward God. This helps us to understand why God is only harsh with those who refuse to repent:

"For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight --that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge." (Psalm 51:3-4)

God's mercy and justice are immeasurable. The atrocities that befell the people and nations mentioned were due to their shameless flaunting of their violence, promiscuity, and wickedness. When God struck them, His mercy was still evident in His justice, for they deserved far worse for what they had done. God desired to preserve humanity with a remnant of good to allow for His plan of salvation to be fulfilled. Humanity continuously tests God's patience. He is most merciful. Every chapter we read where God took vengeance on a person or a nation, it was always justified because evil and abominations had pushed the limit. Nowhere in the Holy Scriptures can any evidence be found where one repented and God did not take His wrath away. This attribute of God, Jonah the prophet was sure, and so he tried desperately to avoid preaching to the would-be penitents of Nineveh. Every event and every account where God executed judgment or a consequence, you will always find the reason; you will always see His patience; and you will always see His willingness to forgive, if the person/people would return and repent. Yes, it is conditional because God is Holy. Such has been the stubborn and arrogant heart of man, to willfully exhaust God's mercy. When God executed His plan of salvation, it was God the Incarnate Word who ultimately absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf. Where in Islam is God's mercy?

1) God does not condone killing, especially children (Read Psalm 139). Before the final plague, nine chances were personally given to Pharaoh to release God's people. God gave this evil man and his brutal nation many opportunities to save themselves from more plagues; meanwhile God's children continued to suffer. How could God turn away from their hurt and tears and leave them to Pharaoh's relentless abuse. When God appeared to Moses the archprophet in the burning bush, He assured him by saying, "I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows" (Exodus 3:7).

2) Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute. Yet, she was heroic and instrumental in the role of the annihilation of Jericho. If God was harsh and unfair, as some may be confused to think, would He not have destroyed Rahab the harlot along with the wicked of Jericho? God searches the hearts. The inhabitants of Jericho were evil and their children were of the same cloth. In the foreknowledge of God, He could not allow them to cause more damage on future generations. There iniquities would only cause gross immoral infection to the children of Israel and harbor further oppression. The harlot, who really only knew one way of life, opened her ears to hear about God (Josh 2:8-13). What did the people of Jericho do? This is a magnificent paradox; two valiant men of the children of God took refuge, out of all places, in the house of a harlot. This same harlot, would become the great-grandmother and ancestor to Christ, Himself. "Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, 'Go view the land, especially Jericho.' So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there" (Josh 2:1).

3) God instructed the people on appropriate behaviors. He had shown them His kindness and they witnessed first-hand His displeasures. Therefore, they knew His expectations to honor what is holy. Regarding the Holy Articles of God, He made it clear that reckless and irreverent behavior would be punished.

4) Deuteronomy 13:15, again reveals God's patient judgment on a nation that was perpetually immoral.

5) Deuteronomy 3:6-7, again shows God warring against evil which had been ongoing for generations. His mighty arm is not stretched against the poor sinner or the weak unbeliever, but against utter, prolonged, and worsening wickedness.
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