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Hard Things: Judgment & Killing Babies

Q: Why did God order Israel to kill the babies of its enemies? 

This is one of the most difficult questions a person can ever ask a pastor or Bible study teacher. It’s a question that no one wants to answer, but it requires some in-depth study in order to give that answer. Today, I’m going to try to answer that question while examining the larger issue at stake with such a question. It’s a question of God’s justice, or perhaps better termed, his justness. 

The Answer

The answer to this question is not an emotionally satisfying one. But there is an answer. There are times when God judged people in the Old Testament that included children. 

  • Noah’s flood killed everyone on earth, including children. 
  • God declared that Egypt’s firstborn were to die before freeing Israel from slavery. 
  • God ordered Israel to wipe out the people in the Promised Land, that included children. 

God also used Israel to enact judgment on an unrighteous nation. However, when it didn’t happen as God intended, then Israel ended up paying a hefty price. There is probably no better example of this than with Israel’s archenemy, the Amalekites. 

The Lord spoke to king Saul. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel, and donkey’” (I Samuel 15:2-3).

Saul was commanded by God to destroy the Amalekites. God was to use Israel to judge that nation. However, Saul did not destroy them as he was commanded. As a result, the Amalekites lived to harass Israel later in their history. They attacked the camp of David before he became king and made off with their property and families. 

Centuries later, a descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites, Haman, tried to have the Jewish people destroyed completely (in the book of Esther). 

Had Saul obeyed the Lord and destroyed the Amalekites, none of this would have happened. We can see this as a model for God protecting his chosen nation, Israel, from their enemies. When God ordered Israel to destroy the nations in the land of Canaan, he was doing the same thing, destroying nations that would have led Israel away from God and into idol worship, or, perhaps, try to destroy Israel in the future. Even in the New Testament we see that God is in his rights to inflict punishment on the enemies of his people. Notice this from II Thessalonians 1:6, “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you.” In fact, look at the context of II Thessalonians, it describes what Jesus will do when he returns to judge his enemies.

“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (II Thessalonians 1:5-8). 

Now comes the big question. What happens to these children who are caught up in the judgment of their parents? I believe they go to Heaven because they are not held accountable for the actions of their parents. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). 

Children are not held to eternal account for their parent’s actions. Nor are they held to account for what they “might have” done if they had grown. Jesus words affirm what God told the prophet Ezekiel: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20). 

Now that we’ve addressed the issue of God and genocide, let’s take a deeper look at the real issue at hand. That is, is God a just God?

God, the Just God

Justice is the practice of all that is right and just. God’s character is just; this means that God always practices what is right and just.

“Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25)

We’ve seen in previous studies that God’s character is always true, faithful, good, and righteous. God’s good character is always perfectly dependable. Thus, when God judges a person, or takes action to discipline us, we can know that he always acts rightly, with justice.

  1. How do you sometimes view the actions of others? Do you want God to judge them?
  2. When you see wrong in others, do you see the same traits in yourself?

Justice according to the Bible is that which is fair and impartial. The Bible describes God has “no respecter of persons.” This means that God does not show favoritism or partiality.

“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15).

“You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:19-20)

“So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality’” (Acts 10:34). 

God evaluates or judges all people equally and fairly, according to the same standards. He does not have one standard of behavior for different people, nations, or cultures. He does not show favoritism based on behavior or nationality. God judges all people by the standard of his character and acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ.

  1. Sometimes we want special treatment because of things we have done, or not done. Yet everyone at some time believes they deserve special treatment. Describe ways this is right or wrong in your view.
  2. Should a person receive special treatment such as eternal life if they have lived a moral life, but rejected God’s only Son as their Savior?

God’s justice is also his fair and righteous judgment whereby he condemns some people for their sin, and he forgives others.

“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy… What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:14-16, 22-24).

As the only righteous and just judge, God has the right to judge whether we will be condemned or receive eternal life. What responsibility do you think this truth requires of you?

Jesus, the Just Savior

Jesus practiced all that was right and just. As the image of the invisible God, all of Jesus’ thoughts, feelings, and actions were always right and just.

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30).

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:15, 19-20).

Since Jesus Christ is the Son of God in human form, the very nature and character of God are found in him. Jesus is the perfect reflection of God’s behavior toward man.

  1. Though it would be right and just for God to condemn us for our sin, Jesus instead chose to take our punishment on the cross. How do you think this was just?

Jesus Christ judged all men fair and impartially. He never showed favoritism in judgment to anyone. Jesus was able to judge justly because he saw what was in the hearts of men.

“Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). 

“In his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26).

It is impossible to deceive or persuade the Lord Jesus to do something that is unjust or wrong. Since he knows all things, and sees the hearts of men, he cannot be fooled or negotiated with. He therefore judges us according to all that is true about us.

  1. Think about your life, experiences, and behavior. How do you think that God judges your life?
  2. Will God judge you based upon your behavior?

Since Jesus is the Just Savior, he is also the Just Judge. He has the authority to condemn those who reject him, and he has the authority to forgive those who embrace him.

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles” (Matthew 12:18). 

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). 

“For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life” (John 5:22-24). 

Though Jesus came as our Savior to take the penalty for our sins on the cross, he is also our judge. Since he took our penalty for us, he has the right to determine who will receive the salvation that he purchased on our behalf.

Becoming a Just Person

We can know we are living in a right relationship with God, and that we reflect his character in us when we act justly toward others.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (I Peter 1:14-19).

 A sign that we have a right relationship with God is that our behavior is changing and conforming to his moral character. When we seek to do justice because we understand that God is a just God, then we demonstrate our commitment to knowing his ways and obeying him.

  1. Does your character always reflect that of Jesus Christ?
  2. What changes do you need to make to your life to become more of a just person like the Lord Jesus?

The scripture commands that we love one another and love our enemies, but it also insists that we judge all things rightly, without favoritism.

Since God has shown us mercy without favoritism or partiality—meaning that he has shown us mercy based upon his grace and not our good or bad deeds—he insists that we also treat others the same.

  1. How can your behavior be like the Lord Jesus’ in your relationship to others?
  2. Offering others the good news about Jesus is a way of showing God’s fairness. How can you demonstrate who Christ is to others?

Since God, through the Lord Jesus will judge all men rightly and fairly, we must evaluate ourselves rightly to see if we have a right relationship with God.

The scripture teaches that certain people are condemned to eternal punishment while other people are blessed with eternal life. The basis of judging whether we are condemned or saved rests solely on receiving the free gift of salvation from our sins paid for by the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross.

Tom Terry is head of Global Broadcast Strategy for JESUS Film Project and serves as Global English Station Manager for Trans World Radio. Tom is also the author of several books, including Bible studies, and "Like An Eagle," his biography about living in Mongolia for ten years.
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