Problem: God forbids and commands murder
Verses: Exodus 20:13, 1 Samuel 15:2-3; Status: Serious

The Sixth Commandment, found in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 is variously rendered as "You shall not murder" or "You shall not kill".

Yet there are various places in the Bible where God commands or seems to approve of murder. Not all killing is murder, of course, but in some cases it can be described as little else. Here's 1 Samuel 15:2-3:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.' (ESV)

Not only does this instruction to slaughter women and children contradict the Sixth Commandment, it's totally repellent in its own right, and at odds with the idea of a benevolent God.

A lot of apologists make much of the fact that the Amalekites were chronically at war with the Israelites for hundreds of years, quite probably inflicting similar horrors on them. But the children would clearly be blameless in that matter, and the women mostly so; and obviously nobody is responsible for events that occurred before their birth.

The strongest inerrantist argument I'm aware of is roughly as follows:

  1. The Amalekites were a persistent problem and had to be dealt with
  2. Upon killing the males, it would be impossible (in those days) to care for the captive women and children...
  3. ...unless God himself intervened to miraculously solve that problem, but God doesn't do large-scale miracles very often
  4. And so killing them quickly was the most merciful course of action possible.

My problem is, the murder of women and children still contradicts the Sixth Commandment. Instead of these murders, I suggest that an omnipotent, omniscient God could come up with subtle solutions to "the Amalekite problem" involving neither gross manifestations of divine power, nor evil atrocities - and being benevolent, he would prefer such a solution.

Other verses that involve the killing of innocents (apparently with God's approval) include Numbers 31:17-18, Deuteronomy 2:33-34, Joshua 6:21, Psalm 137:9, and many more. There are lists on the internet for those so inclined. In most cases God's approval is only implied (for example, Joshua 6:27 suggests God endorses the earlier massacre, and Psalm 137 is more of a prophecy than an actual event) but in 1 Samuel 15 the murders are explicitly ordered by God, making it the strongest example.

Updated: 2014-05-06

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