What About Those Biblical Commands to Destroy Other Nations?


My understanding of Torah commands me to distance myself from fanaticism of any stripe.

And yet the Torah tells us to “completely destroy” the Canaanite nations. “Your eye shall have no pity upon them! (Deuteronomy 7:1-16)”

Passages like this are an embarrassment. They give ammunition to anti-Semites who claim that the God of the Hebrew Bible is a God of vengeance and violence.

Why then do these passages appear in our Bible?

They teach us to have zero tolerance for the social and religious practices of the ancient pagan world that included orgiastic rites and the horror of human sacrifice.

It was not an easy sell!

The Torah reminds us that when was Moses gone a bit too long on Mount Sinai the Israelites demanded Aaron make them a Golden Calf to worship. (Deuteronomy 9:9ff)

These “embarrassing” passages are the Bible’s way to teach that God makes a Covenant with us. God demands that we administer justice fairly, have special regard for the poor, the orphan and the widow, and treat the stranger with dignity and respect.

Only by doing these things do we glorify God.

Only by doing these things do we become “the light of nations (Isaiah 49:6),” the example God wants us to be for the entire world.

But there are still forces of evil that we must destroy.

Terrorist groups, vicious drug cartels, traffickers in human slavery and their ilk around the world demonstrate by their actions that fundamental human values mean nothing to them. These are the modern antecedents of the nations God commanded us not to pity. It becomes the duty of civilized humanity to destroy them

No, God does not want us to wipe out people because they are different. But God emphatically demands that the forces of good rise up to root out the forces of raw evil that enslave so many.


9 thoughts on “What About Those Biblical Commands to Destroy Other Nations?

  1. I disagree. What the Lord commands is to destroy what these nations stand for. As I recall the Canaanites were sexual deviants, no sexual restraint of any kind. And yes, that needs to be destroyed.


  2. Torah also says: “do not be like the Egyptians from were you left and do not be like the Canaanites to where you go.” In other words, treat each other well with respect and live with dignity.


    1. The hardest part is often just to stand your ground. The enemies would have us compromise, and if so, we lose. If G-d says it’s wrong, it’s wrong and that settles it.


  3. And how do you know what God really says? Do you believe Torah is a verbatim account of God’s words? If so you operate on a completely different set of assumptions than those that underlie my book and the essays I write.
    For me the purpose of life is to struggle with what God wants from us and try to do it. The Bible beautifully represents the struggles of our ancient forbears. Reading those struggles is of enormous value.But we dare not assume the historical and scientific veracity of the Bible’s stories. Taking the Bible literally is a form of idolatry known as “Bibliolatry.” “For me that is as great sin.


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