Death as Judgement

One of the well known commandments is "Thou shalt not kill." However, it seems that death is the single most used judgement for violations of the Leviticus law.

Not only is killing sanctioned as an act of punishment for egregious violations, being put to death is also commanded for less abhorrent crimes, as in Leviticus 20:11;

If there is a man who lies with his father's wife, he has uncovered his father's nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death, their bloodguiltiness is upon them. (NASB)

Death for seemingly unknown reasons

During the Exodus God commanded that Israel slaughter nation after nation. Thousands upon thousands, if not millions, of people were put to death as Israel came in and took over the promised land. Why did God tell Israel to do this?

  • Can you explain why God commanded Israel to slaughter nation after nation?
  • @JonathonByrd I thought it might be somehow relevant to your question that God's "character" appears to change noticeably from the Old to New Testament. Make of it what you will.
    – Chelonian
    Sep 21 '11 at 23:25
  • 3
    List of all killing events (135 events, 2,476,636 dead according to the bible and 25M estimated deaths)
    – Sven
    Sep 22 '11 at 11:36
  • @JonathonByrd - I noticed your question and have found an answer that satisfies me 'in very few places' so added a post.
    – Mike
    Jun 21 '12 at 14:18
  • Also important to note that "Thou shalt not murder" is closer to what the commandment says.
    – zpletan
    Jun 21 '12 at 15:57

To preserve the sanctity of life

Genesis 9:6

Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

The Lord commands that those who commit certain sins must die because they have despised those made in His own image. It's also worth noting that one of the reasons for the flood (where all but 8 were killed) was the attempt to pollute mankind and introduce a demonic likeness (see Nephilim).

As punishment for a nation

Isaiah 13

1 The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see. 2 Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them, shake the hand, that they may go into the gates of the nobles. 3 I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty ones for mine anger, even them that rejoice in my highness. 4 The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together: the Lord of hosts mustereth the host of the battle. 5 They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the Lord, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land

If a nation ignores warnings from God of impending judgment if they fail to repent of their wicked ways then God must then act in judgment, otherwise how could we believe that any of His promises would stand?

In the passage above we also see evidence the God can use a pagan or unrighteous nation as an instrument of judgment. He also used Israel as an instrument of judgment against the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and the Jebusites because of the abominations they had committed.

Rejection of God

Hebrews 10:28

Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

While the physical death might seem severe, the real punishment is reserved until the dead are judged. This is still the case regardless of whether capital punishment is still in occurring. Though "God is not willing that any should perish", those who have rejected His offer of mercy will not only die but be cast into the place "where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched".

Because He is Sovereign

God allowed the sons and daughters of Job to be killed. Our natural inclination might be to protest that God is unjust (like Job's wife), however Job understood that the Lord is sovereign. Despite restoring a larger number of possessions, God blesses Job with exactly the same number of sons and daughters. When we grasp that our existence on this earth is fleeting we may, like Paul, look forward to the day when we can put off this tent.


You must remember that God as the author of life has some rights that we as humans do not have. If he should decide to end my life than he has the right where us mere mortals have not.

So I think in the biblical context the Israeli's who where commanded to kill where doing the bidding of God and not murdering of their own will.

As I have mentioned in a similar thread when God gives you a command it becomes your moral duty to perform the action and to go against it would be sinful.

I hasten to add that we should not easily accept it when people do bad things and say "God told me to do x, y and z."

These where isolated events in the Old Testament and where not the common way for God to operate. These events where always in tune with God's nature.

It is interesting to note that God postpone his people's return to their holy land for the inequity of the Canaanites was not complete. He sent his people into slavery for 400 years because the Canaanites where not yet wholly corrupt

A few quotes from this article


Genesis 15

13 And God said to Abram, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete."

  1. Just How Bad Were The Canaanites?

Until about 1930 most of what was known of the ancient Canaanites was what could be gleaned from the Bible. This is when archeologists discovered the Ras Shamra religious epic literature from Ugarit in North Syria. Thousands of clay tablets stored in what seems to be a library between two great Canaanite temples dating from the fourteenth or fifteenth century B.C. give a full description of the Canaanite religion.

Much of what was unearthed in this library would be "X-rated" even by today’s standards. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary gives a sanitized description of "lewd nature worship with immoral gods, prostitute goddesses, serpents, cultic doves, and bulls. El, the head of the pantheon, was the hero of sordid escapades and crimes. He was a bloody tyrant who dethroned his father, murdered his favorite son, and decapitated his daughter. Despite these enormities, El was styled "father of years" (abu shanima), "the father of man" (abu adami, "father bull"), i.e., the progenitor of the gods. Baal, the widely revered Canaanite deity, was the son of El and dominated the Canaanite pantheon. He was the god of thunder, whose voice reverberated through the heavens in the storm. He is pictured on a Ras Shamra stela brandishing a mace in his right hand and holding in his left hand a stylized thunderbolt. The three goddesses were Anath, Astarte, and Ashera, who were all three patronesses of sex and war. All were sacred courtesans. Other Canaanite deities were Mot (death); Reshep, the god of pestilence; Shulman, the god of health; Koshar, the god of arts and crafts. These Canaanite cults were utterly immoral, decadent, and corrupt, dangerously contaminating and thoroughly justifying the divine command to destroy their devotees."(3) "

The Cannanites where bad and it was God's prerogative to judge them. The only problem is that we have God using humans to enact his judgement, but as divine law theory teaches when God gives you a command it becomes your moral duty to do said thing.

He is not being morally unjust becuase he has the right to take the life of humans as he sees fit.

  • 1
    I really do not know why this is getting voted down.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 22 '11 at 14:20
  • Could you provide some citations? Sep 22 '11 at 16:27
  • rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video/RF_podcast/… is where you can find William Lane Craig say very much the same thing
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 22 '11 at 16:44
  • 2
    Okay. Can you put the relevant parts into your answer in case the link dies in the future? Sep 22 '11 at 18:10
  • 1
    If we don't accept bad things due to "God told me to x,y,z", why should we ascribe good things on similar terms?
    – Marc Gravell
    Sep 22 '11 at 21:07

The truth is while the gospel was largely 'veiled with types and shadows' under the Old economy God focused on manifesting His wrath for sin. He also showed His grace but this was not fully manifested until Christ was manifested in the flesh. So much capital punishment was one of the ways God showed His wrath for sin, as echoing thunderclaps of the result of the 'cursed' fall.

Although men have always been saved from Adam by faith in Christ and by grace, the gospel and the law do differ in many ways. This is one of them. The fact is, when a capital crime was committed under the Mosaic economy not only was the offender to be killed by stoning, strangling or fire, but he was to be hanged on a tree overnight.

22If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, 23you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. (Deut 21:22)

Now the New Testament picks up on this ‘curse’:

10All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” c 11Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” d 12The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” e 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” f 14He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

From this we see that it is clear that the extreme punishments of the Law were not just a way of managing the world, but were intentionally exaggerated to symbolize man’s curse under the Law. Even a rebellious child was subject to stoning. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) Have you ever hear of a very rebellious child being forced to come to Sunday school and then all the brethren pick up stones? I have asked this from my my own Sunday schools class. Of course this would only be done on ‘high handed’ deep seated rebellion to their parents, but that would include a 'son striking his father' or even sincerely 'cursing them' (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9). So let’s not pretend this was not very harsh. All that was required was two witnesses to launch in upon the execution.

John Owen captures the truth of it well;

It arose from the revelation of the sanction of the law in the curse. Hereby principally “the law gendered unto bondage,” Galatians 4:24; for all the people were in some sense put under the curse, namely, so far as they would seek for righteousness by the works of the law. So saith our apostle, “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse,” Galatians 3:10. This curse was plainly and openly denounced as due to the breach of the law, as our apostle adds, “It is written, Cursed is everyone who continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” And all their capital punishments were representations thereof. This could not but take a deep impression on their minds, and render them obnoxious unto bondage. Hence, although on the account of the promise they were heirs, yet by the law they were made as servants, and kept in fear, Galatians 4:1. Neither had they such a prospect into the nature and signification of their types as to set them at perfect liberty from this cause of dread. For as there was a veil on the face of Moses, —that is, all the revelations of the mind and will of God by him were veiled with types and shadows” (Owens Works, Vol 21, P504)

Of course Christ who 'hung on a tree' took away this curse symbolized by the many bloody stoning, strangling and burning under the old economy.


One thing to bear in mind is the roles of individuals vs. the roles of the state. Individuals aren't granted nearly as many rights to inflict punishment on other individuals as the state is. For example, here in the US, I'm not free to chase people down and demand money from them if I see them running a red light, speeding, etc. and I definitely don't have the right to forcibly lock them away in my basement or something, but the state has the right to penalize (usually in the form of money, jail time, etc.) people for those very same offenses.

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