Why Is There So Much Death and Killing in the Old Testament?

Everybody dies.  We only have 3 recorded cases of people not dying.  Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus.  (Jesus died and resurrected but then didn’t die again, everyone else that resurrected assumedly died again later.)  So I suppose the real question is, why does God seem to be so involved with the death and killing of the Old Testament?  Well once again, I’ll be a smart-aleck (this expression comes from a combination of “Alex” and “Trebek” – the smartest living man on earth.) God is involved in every single death ever.  He’s in control of everything.  But I understand the sentiment to the question.  The Old Testament seems a little heavy on world-wide floods killing almost everyone, the Spirit of God killing the first-born sons of the Egyptians, the Israelites killing every man, woman, and children in Jericho, and a few dozen other examples.  So why is there so many Murder/Death/Kills in the Old Testament?  Here are my thoughts:

1) God Is Establishing that He Keeps His Covenants

The 2 biggest covenants in the Old Testament to understand how God interacts with people are the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant.  God’s Covenant with Abraham essentially says: Israel will become a great nation, God will bless those that bless them and curse those who curse them, and that a descendant of Abraham’s will bless the whole earth.  #Jesus  The Mosaic Covenant, i.e. the Law, is basically a you’ll be blessed if you obey and punished if you disobey type of covenant. I would dare say, in most Old Testament circumstances, if God is either bringing death or destruction or calling on someone to bring death or destruction the reason is to punish them for hurting Israel or disciplining Israel for their disobedience to the Law. Either way, it’s God keeping His covenant.  We have to remember that God is for God.  And He has put His name on Israel.  Heck, the descriptor of Him for many years was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  If someone is hurting Israel, God’s reputation is at stake if He doesn’t come to the rescue. Likewise, if everyone knows that Israel belongs to God and they are disobedient, how can God not respond to that?  The comforting news is, God never breaks His promises.  And I could easily say that the purpose of the Old Testament in every story is to give physical proof that God doesn’t break His promises.

2) God Is Establishing How He Feels about Sin

One thing that would be hard to miss in the Old Testament is that God hates sin, evil, and the like.  He deals harshly with everyone when it comes to their wickedness.  He sometimes allows it to continue for His plans and purposes, but you better believe their sin will be punished.  God is essentially setting up a structure and standard for dealing with the problem of evil.  We know sin must be punished.  To be in God’s presence, sin must be atoned for.  God documents thousands of situations through thousands of years of human history what God does to sinful man.

3) God Is Establishing What Grace Provides Humanity

Now sure, God’s grace is perhaps more clearly seen in the New Testament but it’s still all over the Old Testament.  The fact that God allowed animal sacrifices to even temporarily atone for sins is God’s grace.  God also warns people of coming judgement, and His punishment not always coming immediately is God’s grace.  Likewise, Him allowing people any kind of redemption is His grace.  But the Old Testament beautifully sets-up the cross in the New Testament – God’s once-for-all atonement for mankind’s sins.  The rest of the New Testament then explains how and why forgiveness was extended to those who believe.  We won’t understand “salvation” unless we understand what we are being “saved from.”


A) Maybe the New Testament is not much different?

I think there are several circumstances that would seem to fit right into the Old Testament narrative.  I think of Ananias and Sapphira lying about giving “all” their money to the church and then dropped dead.  Or when Herod Agrippa was eaten by worms for accepted praise that should have been directed to God.  Or even Jesus himself warning that if you deceive children that your punishment will be worse than being drowned in the ocean with a millstone around your neck and fish will pick the flesh from your bones (ok I added the last part but Jesus definitely might have said it potentially, maybe).  There isn’t a lot of ink put towards it in the New Testament, but the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. was as cataclysmic event as there is in Israel’s history.

B) Maybe the New Testament is covering too small a period of time?

There are several spots in scripture where there are 400-year time jumps, 80-year time jumps, so on and so forth.  The stories in the Old Testament are out-of-the ordinary, crazy-scary, and miraculous.  The story in the Gospels is about 30-years in length, then most of the New Testament letters are being written for another 30 years after that.  The stories surrounding the Exodus were certainly extreme and grandiose, but I’d say the New Testament has a typical murder/death/kill quotient to most other centuries in Israel’s history.

C) Maybe the New Testament is actually more extreme?

In fact one event is positively cataclysmic.  Jesus’ crucifixion is horrific because of all the death recorded and not-recorded throughout the Old Testament and all of time, none of those people were innocent.  They all deserved death.  No matter what degree of wickedness they were (on the standard scale of Mother Theresa to Hitler.)  Jesus is the only person that didn’t deserve to die.  Him being killed was the all time worse crime.  Pair that with the descriptions of Hell (worse than the fiery furnace, worse than getting eaten by she-bears, worse than being swallowed up by a hole in the ground.)  The Old Testament gives very little description on eternal damnation for those who have rebelled against God; yet the New Testament and Jesus himself use robust imagery to try to convey the horrors of the eternal Lake of Fire.

In Conclusion, the Old Testament is dealing with a very physical covenant whereas the New Testament is dealing with a very spiritual covenant.  In a physical covenant, God must act physically with very outward, present-day consequences.  Yet in a spiritual covenant, God will act on a much more spiritual basis.  We fight not against flesh and blood but principalities and powers.  When we look at the cross we actually see the transition between the two.  Jesus’ death was very physical, but there was a ton happening spiritually.  The Father was pouring out His wrath on His Son. Jesus was paying the debt incurred for the sins of the world.  As Jesus rose from the dead beating sin and beating death we can see a clear message of seeing what he physically and literally did and now we must believe in the spiritual implications.  Thus we enter into a new spiritual kingdom not made with human hands, where we are the living stones that are to be built up.  We have spiritual armor like faith and the Words of God. We no longer will be called upon to act in violence, for our Kingdom is no longer of this world. Amen.

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