How do we understand violence in the Old Testament?

People often find the violence in the Old Testament off-putting. Why is there so much violence? And why does God seem to command it sometimes? In this video we look briefly at how we should understand violence in the Old Testament.

Key points…

  • We need to distinguish between two kinds of violence in the Old Testament.
  • First, the violence which people do.
    • We often read about violence in the papers – this is because the violence is factual! The Bible often reports factual violence without condoning it.
    • Why is it included? Because shows the depth of human sin.
    • Similar to the book Lord of the Flies, where the violence there is shocking holds up a mirror to human nature.
    • The violence shows us what human nature is like.
  • Second, the violence which God does or commands, e.g. the command to drive out the Canaanites and other nations from the Promised Land.
    • This command was giving because of the sin of the Canaanites (Leviticus 20:23). The command to drive them out was actually a judgement upon them.
    • The uncomfortable truth is that God’s character remains consistent across the Old Testament and New Testament: he is loving to those who trust in him, but he punishes sin and wickedness.
    • Compare Nahum 1:2-3, 7-8 with Revelation 19:11-21.
    • God will defeat his enemies in the end because he is just and cannot leave sin unpunished.
  • BUT – Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world but save the world (John 3:16-17). The offer stands open to anyone to come to him and not receive what our sins deserve, but to find forgiveness.

Explore further

There’s a whole session of the What is Christianity? course on the Old Testament.

Your questions answered

This is part of the Your questions answered feature. See that page for more videos in the series.

If you have a question about Christianity or the Bible, please send them in or comment below.

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