Speaking the Truth in Love

Questions Sincere Muslims Ask – But what about the violence in the Old Testament?

The violence encouraged in the Quran disturbs me. But what about the violence in the Old Testament?

First, let me point out that God, as Creator, holds the right and power to give and take life: “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32:39). This is why (in Hebrew) the sixth of the Ten Commandments reads, “You shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13). The common English translation, “You shall not kill,” isn’t specific enough.

A murderer has contempt for human life. He is motivated by hatred and selfishness. Murder is, always has been, and always will be wicked. It was wicked of Cain to murder his brother Abel (Gen. 4:1-12). And it was wicked of David to arrange the death of Bathsheba’s husband to protect the secret of his adultery with her (2 Sam. 12:1-13).

But sometimes killing isn’t murder. Killing an intruder to protect yourself or your family isn’t murder (Exod. 22:2). Executing a criminal guilty of a capital offense isn’t murder (Gen. 9:6). And killing enemies in a just war isn’t murder. The first war described in the Bible involved Abraham. His nephew Lot was taken captive by an alliance of Babylonian kings that had invaded the Jordan valley. Abraham led the trained men in his household against a far larger army and, with God’s aid, defeated it. No doubt, Abraham and his men killed many enemy soldiers. But Abraham wasn’t a murderer.

Deciding when war is or isn’t justified can be difficult. On the one hand, it seems obvious that war is just when a nation is defending its own people against invasion or helping an ally threatened by invasion. On the other hand, it seems that going to war simply to seize wealth or territory is evil.

To people of faith, it also seems obvious that any war is just if the true God ordains it. In the centuries before Christ, God used warfare to fulfill his promise to bless all nations through Abraham. A military campaign dispossessed the Canaanites and secured their land for Israel, the descendants of Abraham’s grandson Jacob. This war was God-directed and assisted (Josh. 1:1-9, 10:11). Archaeological finds show that the Canaanites were people given to every kind of evil (including the sacrifice of innocent babies). God predicted the fall of Canaan several centuries beforehand. He promised Abraham the land but said the sin of its inhabitants wasn’t yet complete (Gen. 15:13-16).

God also used warfare to preserve Israel as a nation until the Messiah came. This explains the famous battle between David and the Philistine champion Goliath (as well as many other less familiar biblical accounts). David was fighting to protect Israel from invasion.

On numerous occasions the Lord disciplined his own people with the sword. When Israel rejected him and turned to idols, God inflicted death by war to bring his people to repentance—again so that the nation would be preserved. In 585 BC, for instance, the Babylonians assaulted Jerusalem, broke down its walls, burned the temple, took thousands of captives, and killed many others (2 Chron. 36:14-20).

But here are some things God never authorized his people to do: He never told Israel to seek the conquest of the world. Comparatively speaking, the land given to Israel was a tiny patch on the world map. God never told Israel to grab as much territory as possible. And God never told Israel to rape women seized in battle. Hebrew men were permitted to marry captives, but these women were to be treated with respect (Deut. 21:10-14).

War is still just under certain circumstances. Government is an institution ordained by God, and one of its powers is the sword (Rom. 13:1-4). A nation without military protection is doomed.

But the God of the Bible no longer directs war or miraculously aids it. This is because God has fulfilled his promise to Abraham. His Seed (or descendant), the Christ, has come. The Jewish people served God as missionaries, carrying the gospel to nations all throughout the Roman world. The new Israel is composed of all those who trust and follow Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 9:6). The true Israel is the church. And the church isn’t a political organization.

Jesus teaches all his followers to live their lives in peace as much as possible. True disciples are kind, humble, and compassionate—even to their enemies (Rom. 12:9-21). When I was a little boy, an older man named Orville Cross and his wife, Nellie, befriended me. I liked to hear his stories. During World War II he fought overseas. I don’t remember where. But I do remember that he violated army regulations to share his food rations with the hungry children of the enemy. His love for those little kids was motivated by his knowledge of Jesus.

If Allah is the true God, and if the Quran is really his word, and if he directly authorizes Muslims to slaughter innocent people, then going to war in his name may seem justified. But Jesus teaches us to judge a teacher by his “fruits,” that is, by the results of his teaching (Matt. 7:15-16). So what are the fruits of Islam? The history of Islam is a story of bloodshed. Muslims themselves have suffered the most. Think of all the evil things done in the name of the Quran. Women are slaves. Women are raped. Women are beaten or executed for being victims of rape. Children are molested. Innocent people are blown to bits.

If a Christian is cruel and hateful, he isn’t really a Christian. He isn’t following the scriptures or the Lord who inspired them. But if a Muslim does horrible things to other people, he is taking the Quran literally.

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