Is the God of the Old Testament Cruel?
By David Cloud
Unbelievers have long used Israel's destruction of pagan nations in Canaan as evidence that the God of the Old Testament is unjust and cruel.
"When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly. But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire" (Deuteronomy 7:1-5).
The following facts must be taken into consideration:
First, God waited 400 years before judging these nations, which reminds us that He is very longsuffering.
"And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full" (Genesis 15:13-16).
These nations had the light of creation and conscience, and they also had prophetic light. There were prophets in the region such as Melchizedek and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and his sons. The Canaanite nations could have repented like Nineveh did, and God would have forgiven them (Jonah 3:5-10).
Second, the nations in question were devoted to every sort of vile moral perversion, including homosexuality, rape, incest, bestiality, and the burning of their children.
"And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. (Leviticus 18:1-3) ... Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness. Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife, to defile thyself with her. And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD. Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion. Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: AND THE LAND IS DEFILED: THEREFORE I DO VISIT THE INIQUITY THEREOF UPON IT, AND THE LAND ITSELF VOMITETH OUT HER INHABITANTS" (Leviticus 18:1-3, 19-25). "When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods" (Deuteronomy 12:29-31).
These nations were destroyed for their gross moral wickedness.
"For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. (Deuteronomy 18:12). "Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants" (Leviticus 18:24-25).
Consider the condition of Sodom and Gomorrah hundreds of years before God ordered the destruction of these nations. The men of Sodom surrounded Lot's house and tried to force themselves on the visiting angels (Gen. 19:4-9).
These pagan nations were proud and bold in their sin (Isa. 3:9).
It is not morally wrong for a holy, lawgiving God to punish those who willfully, flagrantly, and unrepentantly break His laws.
Those who charge God with injustice and cruelty for punishing wicked nations are hypocritical, because they themselves believe in law and order and support the punishment of those who commit crimes such as rape, theft, child molestation, and murder, particularly when those crimes are committed against them and their loved ones.
Men are quick to call for justice when they are offended, but they criticize God for exercising justice against sinners.
Three, God's judgments are warnings to others.
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and other Canaanite cities are warnings to those who will listen, even to these end times. This is emphasized in Scripture:
"And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly" (2 Peter 2:6). "Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 1:7).
Even in judgment, God is merciful. What He loves above all is mercy and what He is above all is a Saviour, but men must repent and turn to Him. That is His requirement, and the Creator has every right to set the rules!
Four, the Lord was merciful to those like Rahab who repented of their idolatry and put their faith in Jehovah God (Joshua 2).
The whole tenor of Scripture teaches that God delights in mercy more than in punishment. He "is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). He "will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).
Five, God is omniscient.
He knows all things. He knows the beginning from the end. He knows what people will do and the choices they make even before they are born and while they are still infants. It seems cruel and unreasonable for God to have children killed with their parents, but God knew what these children would do when they grew up, as He knew in the days of Noah.
Six, it was necessary for those wicked pagan nations to be overthrown so that Israel could be established in that land as a light to the world.
Had they been left alone, Israel would have been corrupted morally and religiously within a very short time (Deut. 7:2-6). The destruction of those nations was actually an act of great compassion on God's part. The pagan nations that were destroyed deserved what they got by persisting in their sin, and by exercising His righteous judgment on them God was providing blessing for the whole world. Through Israel, God gave the world His divine revelation in the Bible, and through Israel He brought the Saviour into the world to die for man's sin. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
Those who charge God with injustice and cruelty ignore the fact that God Himself paid the price demanded of His own holy law so that men can be saved. The heart of God was revealed in the amazing words that Jesus spoke from the cross in regard to the people who had so terribly, unjustly abused him: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." The God revealed in the Bible is the most compassionate Person in the universe. In fact, He is the source of all true love and compassion, but He is also a thrice holy, lawgiving God, and He cannot be judged by man's puny, inconsistent standards.
The original article can be found