Why all the violence in the Old Testament?

People often complain that the Old Testament is a book of violence and terror.  They give the wars king David fought, the Israelites’ battles with the Philistines and many other incidents, as examples.  They cannot understand why the Old Testament is so violent, while God is supposed to be a a God of love, peace and happiness.  So let’s consider some aspects of the Old Testament’s violence. 

#  Has the world ever known peace?  

There was a short period of peace for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in God’s presence.  Yet that peace was shattered when the evil one arrived.  By deceit he became the ruler of the world (Genesis 3).  Genesis 4 begins Satan’s violent reign when Cain murdered his brother, Abel.  That became the characteristic of this age: violence, murder, hatred and wars. 

#  Violence in history and the ‘modern’ world 

The Assyrians, Babylonians and the cruelty of tyrants through the ages are examples.  At present it is the violence in Iran, Iraq, Syria and other places, the destruction by ISIS and Boko Haram in Africa, the Rohingya persecution and others.  There is civil unrest in many countries, and that through the ages.  Why?  The answer is the character of the ruler of this world, Satan. 

#  What is Satan like?  

  • In the New Testament, Jesus gave a clear answer, ‘He was a murderer from the beginning….’ 1  Why is the devil so hateful and always tries to mess things up?  
  • Remember he forfeited his eternal life in God’s presence when he rebelled against God’s authority. 2  For that result he hates the God of peace.  He is a vengeful, warring influence, always bent of destruction, whether of families, individuals or nations.

#  The Bible is a book about reality, not a religious book. 

  • The Bible is not a fairy tale, it tells history as it happened.  Scripture explains the mess the world is in under the devil’s reign.  It contrasts it to the magnificent Redeemer, the Son of God who came to earth to crush the head of the devil. 3  
  • Jesus came to change it all (whoever wants to, can call on God to translate them out of the devil’s kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of light, through Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross 4).  When Jesus comes the second time He will inaugurate a new heaven and earth, the home of righteousness.  There will be no violence ever again on the new earth.  What a great future awaits those who make Jesus their Lord. 


God calls people in the midst of a fallen violent world, to become part of a nation under the headship of Jesus.  Then the new nation will get a new dwelling, a home of righteousness where Jesus will rule eternally. 5


  1. John 8:44  
  2. Mathew 25:41  
  3. Genesis 3:15; 1 John 3:8  
  4. Colossians 1:13  
  5. 2 Peter 3:13

The idols issue (not American but Canaanite)

In the Old Covenant, God promised a country, Canaan, to the Israelites.1  In the New Covenant, He also promises a country to believers, ‘… they are looking for a country of their own.’ 2  There is a parallel between the two ‘nations.’  

God prepares us with vivid historical pictures to make sure we arrive at that future country.  Scripture says, ‘For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.’ 3  What does God teach us through the example of the Canaanites? 

#  Two requirements for success to the Israelites

God gave the Israelites two commands that would ensure their successful conquest of their promised land. 

  • Obedience to His commands; 
  • Idolaters and their idols must be destroyed.  One of the Ten Commandments is, ’You shall have no other gods before me.…’ 4 

#  Two requirements for success to believers in Christ

The same ‘right of admission’ applies to the ‘New Covenant’ believers. 

  • ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command.’ 5 
  • Revelation 21:8 tells us specifically that no idolater will ever inherit the new heavens and earth.  Idols are a strong force.  We see it in the following description of the end times, ‘The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshipping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood – idols that cannot see or hear or walk….’ 6 

#  The problem with idols

  • God, the All-knowing Creator, tells us what is wrong with idols, ‘…These gods [idols] who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’ 7   
  • The fact of the matter is that idols destroy one’s future with God.  It is a serious issue.  That explains God’s seemingly harsh command to destroy the Canaanites. 
  • God wants people to be with Him eternally, not with the devil in the lake of burning sulphur. 

#  Another parallel  

Another parallel between the Israelites and the followers of Jesus:

  • Israelites: ‘For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.  The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession. 8
  • Followers of Jesus: ‘…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God….’ 9


  • God loves and cares for His people.  He knows what eternity with or without Him means.  He wants everyone to be saved and to be His children.  He knows how the devil lies to people.  
  • Unfortunately the punishment on the unrepentant Canaanites will also come on the unrepentant modern day unbelievers.  
  • But if we obey and destroy the idols, we will have ‘an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.…’ 10


  1. Genesis 15:18  
  2. Hebrews 11:14  
  3. Romans 15:4  
  4. Deuteronomy 5:7-8  
  5. John 14:15  
  6. Revelation 9:20  
  7. Jeremiah 10:11  
  8. Deuteronomy 7:6  
  9. 1 Peter 2:9  
  10. 1 Peter 1:4

Is idolatry an issue today?

We want to continue with the discussion of why God commanded the Israelites to kill the idolatrous Canaanites.  The New Testament sheds some light on the issue.  Two verses, in 1 Corinthians 10 explain why it is important for us today:

  • ’Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 1 
  • ’These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come.’ 2

#  What are the evil things the Israelites set their hearts on?  

What is so important that we are warned against it more than 3,000 years later?  Among others, Deuteronomy 4 explains, it was idolatry.

#  The idolatry of the Egyptians  

  • The Egyptians worshipped all kinds of strange looking animals while the Israelites were in slavery there.  Those idols did not help them when God paid them back for their cruel bondage of His people.  
  • God destroyed their country with the 10 plagues.  Their army drowned in the Red Sea and Pharaoh learned, in his death, that the God of the Hebrews is powerful and in complete control of history.  His idols could not save him. 

#  The danger of idolatry

  • History relates that when Moses was on the mountain with God, the people asked Aaron, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us.’ 3  Then they had a wild celebration and, ‘Moses saw that the people were running wild…’ 4  Three thousand Israelites lost their lives that day, and then God struck them also with a plague. 5
  • Idolatry destroys and invokes God’s wrath.  It took God 40 years in the desert of Sinai to get the Egyptian idolatry out of the hearts of the Israelites.  So when the Israelites were about to enter their promised land, they faced a new threat from the Canaanites who worshipped false gods.  
  • God knew the consequences of serving idols.  He wanted to spare them because He, as God the Father, cares for His children.   

#  Does the Canaanite case have a lesson for us?  

  • One of the definitions of idolatry is ‘extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone.’  Instagram statistics show how some of the celebrities of our time are idolised: Selena Gomez has 133 million followers on instagram; Christiano Ronaldo, 121;  Ariana Grande, 117; Beyonce, 111; Kim Kardashian 108; Taylor Swift 106; Kylie Jenner 104 million. 6
  • Please note that we do not begrudge those people their popularity or talent. However, Jesus is first and foremost, ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.…’ 7  He is the one to be idolised. 


Idolatry always leads to disastrous results.  Whether one’s idol is a physical object like the stars, materialism, immoral living, or the worship of people, it closes the way to eternal life with God. 


  1. 1 Corinthians 10:6  
  2. 1 Corinthians 10:11  
  3. Exodus 32:1
  4. Exodus 32:25 
  5. Exodus 32:26-28; 35
  6. L Keong and R Epstein, The Top 10 Most-Followed Celebrities on Instagram in 2018.  Marie Claire 21 February, 2018  
  7. Hebrews 12:2