The following was written in response to a question posted on the “Second Worst Bible Verse.” The application and study of apologetics is sometimes an arduous one, but hopefully the ending conclusions and on going debates are fruitful for all involved.
“I have a big problem with this. The apologetic, or excuse, or whatever on this website basically boils down to “it was expedient” to kill babies. If The Lord our Almighty God told you to pick up a sword and stab an infant, under what conditions would you obey, and can you describe the moral decision behind it? Is life sacred? If murder is OK, under which conditions is it OK? We’re not talking war, we’re talking infanticide. I don’t get it, and it tears me up. I’ve asked and asked my pastors, folks on the internet, whatever. I usually get answers like “It was the culture of the time”. OK God doesn’t change. He is, was, and will ever be what HE is. So the culture of the time doesn’t excuse as commandment of God. “they’ll go to heaven”? Seriously? Can I just murder any infant in the face with a sword so they’ll go to heaven and spare them a possibly hard life? I’m being absurd here, to illustrate the absurdity of the position. So. I don’t get it. I want to understand this. I want to make this make sense with what I believe.”
Thanks for waiting patiently for my response, Jeramy . First, the study of apologetics is not about offering “excuses” but rather giving defensible reasons and explanations based on in-depth study of Biblical text, science, history, archeology, and culture. It is anyone’s prerogative to disagree with an apologist’s reasoning. However, as with any discussion, in order to be productive it would help if both sides, including the one in opposition, spent considerable time studying the topic from as many vantage points as necessary in order to come to a well thought out argument. I’m not saying you have not done that, I’m just hoping that you have.
Secondly, I appreciate your question and the concern you have in regards to its implications. Of course I have struggled with 1 Samuel 15:3 as well as many other Biblical verses – that is after all part of the reason I began this blog. I think I have come up with reasonable and acceptable explanations of this Biblical text. While you may not like any of the offerings, it is ultimately up to you to reconcile your own conclusion based on your own study and prayer (if you are a believer).
Nowhere in the exploration of 1 Samuel 15:3 did I mention “it was expedient to kill babies.” There are many examples of great men in the Bible that “picked up swords” to kill both by the command of God and against the implicit and explicit desires of God. Abraham, in perhaps one of the best known tests of faith ever recorded in the Bible was called by God to kill his own young son, Isaac. Of course we know the ending to that story. Abraham in faith and obedience was willing to kill Isaac, but of course God did not allow him to do so. But what you must understand and what might be incomprehensible to the average Christian or nonbeliever is that Abraham was one of the greatest men of faith that ever lived. He knew God was Holy and perfect and that God, who gave him Isaac against all odds in the first place, would provide whatever means necessary to insure the best for both he and his son. Abraham, although unimaginably difficult, was willing to kill Isaac because he knew God – The creator of EVERYTHING. Abraham knew it was foolish to question the very one that created the dirt we walk upon, the stars in the sky, and the very hearts that beat beneath our chests.
You ask in what case would I do such a thing if God asked ME? Well, thankfully God has never asked me and I think it highly unlikely He ever would. I am not a man comparable to the likes of Abraham. And God would never ask me to do something I am either unworthy to do or incapable of doing. But most importantly, God has already told me what He wants me to do in His word; “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your Word” (Psalm 119:9). The primary way God talks to us today is through His Word (unlike Abraham, Moses and others in the Bible). “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). I don’t think we as Christians should expect or look for God to audibly speak to us, but rather allow His written word to speak to us. If, however, someone wants to say that God commanded them verbally it is up to them and all interested parties to test that “so called verbal command” against the written Word that has already been tested and withstood the test of time in both prophecy, accuracy, and application. So in response to your question “what would I do if God asked me?” Well, God has not asked me. And if He did, I would test it against His word. But as explained, that’s not going to happen, so let’s move on to your next question.
You ask “Is life sacred? If murder is OK, under which conditions is it OK?” Yes, of course life is sacred. And no, murder is not OK. However, according to the Bible, killing is OK under certain circumstances. There are various definitions of the words murder and killing. The Hebrew word used in the sixth commandment “ratsach” means an illegal killing (i.e., one that lies in wait to kill without legal or sanctioned approval by God himself – in the case of Biblical times). The English word “Kill” is too broad and unless taken into context is often misinterpreted. One can study the Hebrew text of the sixth commandment and discover quite clearly that killing was certainly acceptable but murder was not.
Now to address the specific Biblical text in question in light of what has already been addressed. 1 Samuel 15:2-3 reads “2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” Cultural and historical implications absolutely have a role in understanding this verse and to suggest that we (or God for that matter) should not take into account the history of the Amalekites is at the very least naive. I’m not sure any text could be understood with clarity if the relevant factors are not explored. Does it make interpretation and understanding more time consuming and difficult. Most certainly. But if accurate answers are expected, the appropriate research and hard work must be put into seeking out all the variables involved. Matthew 22:37 not only calls the believer to love God with all of our hearts and souls but also our minds. Christianity is not just a feel good superficial religion, but a close and personal understanding of the creator and this requires much mental exercise.
History tells us in both secular text and scripture that the Amalekites were ruthless beyond measure by coming up at the rear of camps and killing the most infirm of women, children, and the elderly. They would kill for the simple pleasure of taking their goods – not for protection or future security, but for spoil. The Amalekites were known to be the most cruel and cowardice band to have existed at the time. They killed whenever, however, and whoever they came across, but they particularly hated and sought after the Israelites. Both secular and Biblical history also reveal that the Amalekites required any and all living offspring to avenge any nation or group that attacked them. In fact, the Amalekites had attacked Israel many times over a period of three hundred years. Obviously God gave the Amalekites many chances to repent and become better people – even at the cost of losing HIS people – the Israelites. But the Amalekites, not just the men, were taught to kill and hate the Israelites and they kept coming back time and time again to kill and plunder. But yet God kept giving them time to change. Until, that is, 1 Samuel 15:3. Their time was up and God had given them enough chances. Since the human culture of the Amalekites demanded that the living offspring would continue to kill and plunder no matter how many chances they were given, God finally decided it was time to end the vicious cycle. Obviously, the only way to end it was to kill everyone. Because only killing “a select group” never stopped the revengeful and killing machine the Amalekites were.
Would it have been more “humane” for God to allow the Amalekite women and children to live if it meant even more people dying for hundreds of years to come? Personally, I think not. My study of humanity reveals to me that God’s way was of course the best way. In the long run less people die, less wars, and less ruthless murder at the hands of a nasty and never changing people known as the Amalekites. Ultimately if there is an all knowing God, he would of course know the best plan of action to take. We humans, less than all knowing, come up after the event and struggle to make sense of it with our limited finite minds. If God is not all knowing, then the point is mute and none of this really matters and we might as well eat, drink, be merry and forget all about it. Either God is who He says He is or He is less than. Luckily for us, God did give us minds and the ability to work and think and therefore discover that perhaps God really does know best after all. If you don’t like what God chooses to do and you think you know better than Him, then so be it. We are not robots and we have the free will to think and believe as we wish. The choice is yours, but like the Amalekites, God gives us all many chances. He loves us enough to see his own people killed if it means that we might turn and follow Him. In fact, He allowed His own son to be killed that we might discover His amazing and unequaled love and turn to Him. But also like the Amalekites, there is a judgment day coming for those who refuse to repent. God is patient, but He will not watch His people be murdered forever.
If you have not turned to God, I hope you will continue to seek Him out. Study, read, and pray, and the God who allowed His own son to be killed for you, will in fact reveal Himself to you. Keep asking the hard questions as you have done here. The Bible is the only holy book in the world that says to “test all things and hold onto that which is true.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21. All other so called “holy” books would not dare make such a statement because they do not stand up to the test. Thank you for your questions and giving me another opportunity to learn more about the God I love so much. Even if I have not satisfied your appetite, I’m sure that if you are sincere, God himself eventually will.