Did God Really Command Israel to Kill Entire Nations?
In this brief essay, I attempt to provide an alternate Biblical reply to this question and demonstrate how and WHY early Bible writers attributed things to God, which later Bible writers changed and attributed to Satan.
Here’s an example.
Samuel stated that God provoked David to take a census.
Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he provoked David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2 Samuel 24:1)
But later on in Chronicles, we were told that it was Satan.
Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 24:1)
And then to complicate things further, Samuel told us that this act was a SIN and that God punished David for obeying Him! See 2 Samuel 24:10:
But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, “I have SINNED in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” (2 Samuel 24:10)
So God provoked David to sin? This goes directly in the face of James:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. (James 1:13)
How Are We to Make Sense of All This?
Calvinism and Judaism hold that Satan’s incitement of David is one and the same as God’s incitement because Satan (and humans) is under God’s complete control and is, therefore, a direct agent of God.
Arminianism, on the other hand, (emphasizes that God’s will can be rejected), insists that the Hebrews often used active verbs to express not the doing of the thing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do. In other words, throughout the Bible, God’s allowance of something to take place often is described by the writers as having been done by the Lord. What God allows, He does! This language, we are told, is metaphorical. And this argument has merit.
But I think that there is a third explanation that makes more sense in this case.
The book of Chronicles (450BC) was written 500 years after Samuel (975BC), and so, had access to more information (revelation). Thus, the earlier account was edited: so it was Satan, not God who provoked David to take the census.
You see the existence of Satan and warring spiritual beings was revealed for the first time in the Old Testament during the Persian control of Israel! Israel knew nothing about this before that time.
Let me illustrate with Daniel 10.
When Was This Chapter Written?
In the third year of Cyrus, King of Persia, a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had an understanding of the vision. (Daniel 10:1)
Daniel received a new revelation during the reign of the Persians.
What was the content of this new revelation?
It was about “a great conflict”!
Where was this “great conflict” taking place?
Not on earth!
12 Then he said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer.
13 But for twenty-one days the Spirit Prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael one of the archangels came to help me, and I left him there with the Spirit Prince of the kingdom of Persia
14 Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come.” (Daniel 10:12–14 NLT)
A supernatural being comes to Daniel during the Persian rule and provides him with a new revelation, concerning a great conflict in the spiritual realm. Every kingdom has a spiritual spirit prince ruling it. Now, the prince of Persia was at war with Israel. And Michael and the revealing angel were with Israel in the war.
This Idea Is New Revelation, and It Was Given at the Time of the Persian Domination!
Chronicles was written at this time as well.
You see, the book of Chronicles was written during the Persian domination of Israel, and it was at this time that Israel for the first time was exposed to Zoroastrianism, the Persian religion.
Zoroastrianism is Persian in origin. It is monotheistic in having a single creator god, has dualistic cosmology in its concept of good and evil where supernatural spiritual beings are at war. Significantly, Zoroastrianism entered recorded history in the 5th-century BC; at the very same time Israel was under the control of the Persians.
So it’s now, for the first time, that Israel was exposed to the idea of Satan and good and evil spiritual powers at war. Significantly, all the references to Satan and good and evil, warring spiritual powers in the Old Testament are found in passages that were written at this same time. See Job 1-2; Zechariah 3; Daniel 10; 1 Chronicles 24.
So the author of Chronicles lived at a time that Israel was first exposed to the idea of Satan and a cosmic heavenly battle.
He now could look back on Old Testament history and could see that what Samuel attributed to the “anger of the Lord” was in fact not the lord but Satan. So the Chronicler changed the story in light of further revelation.
“The anger of the Lord” in Samuel was nothing less than Satan himself. The “wrath of God” in the Old Testament has a secondary important meaning—which is also a figure of speech.
Consider this passage. God is predicting that Israel, soon after entering the Promised Land, will desert Him and turn to other gods. In response to that, God announces that He will unleash His wrath against His people. But as we look closely at what is written, we are surprised.
16 And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them.
17 Then MY ANGER will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’
18 And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods. (Deuteronomy 31:16–18)
The wrath of God is the withdrawal of His protecting presence. It describes what happens to them when He hides His face. God does not actively do anything when He releases His wrath. The destruction comes from the consequences due to other nations and gods. The wrath of God is an ancient figure of speech that describes the consequences that come as God withdraws and allows us to experience what happens when we insist on leaving Him. See also Ezekiel 16:27, 28, 39.
This Is What the Book of Chronicles Is Saying.
All the violent supernatural activities attributed to the wrath of God in the Old Testament were actions that were not of God but Satan (other gods)—the archenemy of God and His people. The wrath of God is what happens when humans sell themselves out to Satan, and God steps back. This is the retrospective insight of Chronicles.
Prior to the time of Chronicles, Samuel and the prophets knew nothing about the existence of Satan and warring supernatural beings. So any supernatural events were by default attributed to God! And Chronicles moves one step forward: “No! We didn’t know it, but it was, in fact, Satan who provoked David not God!”
But even this revelation was not full and complete.
You see, Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3, both written during the time of Persians, tell us that although Satan is an independent accusing being, he still works in cooperation with God. He is presented as a member of some spiritual council and acts as an aggressive prosecuting attorney.
Job 1-2 makes this point clear. Satan is presented as asking God permission if to strike Job’s possessions and family. God grants consent. Satan then leaves the heavenly court and releases his fury. Here we see a progression in thought in the Old Testament. God does NOT directly strike people—Satan does! Nonetheless, it is still with divine consent and cooperation.
This is as far as the Old Testament goes. A distinction is made. God is not the one actively punishing people—it’s Satan, but he does work in cooperation with God. This is where the revelation of Satan closes in the Old Testament.
It’s not until Jesus arrives that the role of Satan is fully clarified.
Jesus makes it clear that Satan has never worked in cooperation with God. He has been at odds with God from the very beginning—from the time he sinned.
You are of your father, the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)
Satan is a liar and murderer. He has been from the very beginning. When he speaks, he does not represent divine consent or cooperation—he speaks independent from God. He has always been at odds with God.
Jesus, by contrast, came to give life; Satan came to kill (John 10:10).
Jesus came for the specific purpose to pull apart Satan’s kingdom. Satan’s kingdom is at war with God’s—he is not operating with divine consent and cooperation.
26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?
28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:26, 28)
There is no cooperation or consent going on here.
Satan and God are directly opposed and have been ever since he rebelled.
When we read violent stories in the Old Testament, we need to read them through these enlightened lenses. It’s not God who kills but Satan. It’s not God who gives consent to Satan but human beings as they give themselves over to him through their unguided destructive choices.
Later Bible writers reveal the truth. The “anger of the Lord” did not describe something God ever actively did. In this case, this phrase was used because the early Bible writers knew no better.
When later Bible writers had more information, they edited the earlier story and clarified the matter as regards the real agent.
This clarification was a step in the right direction, but the full destination and truth came with Jesus who drew a definite line in the sand.