When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.
However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.
Deuteronomy 20 vv 10-18
I'm not going to lie - this passage bothers me.
This week my European history lecturer who specialises in the Holocaust, among other things, was telling us about mass killings throughout history. He read this out as an example of genocide and instead of feeling like I had a legitimate case to feel offended or attacked, I couldn't help thinking - Wow. That's kind of a good point.
How does this passage connect with the Jesus of the gospels?
The standard explanations that people offer for this sort of passage seem to be:
(a) How dare you question God?
(b) If they didn't do that, those tribes would wipe them out later. There would be implacable enmity between these tribes and Israel.
(c) That's okay and unproblematic, because it's genocide for a good cause.
Well, in response to (a) - That's not good enough for me. I am aware of the principle behind it which is essentially good, I think, but in this case, it's not enough. I don't think God wants us simply to ignore bumps in the path. He wants us to climb over them, not around.
And (b) - isn't it possible that genocidal actions by the Israelites would help create this implacable enmity?
Finally (c) - NO. NO. No way! I have spent my entire year reading the writings of people who tried to make that same excuse for the brutal murder of millions in the Soviet Union and there is no way I'm ever going to raise that as a valid argument.
To be fair, my lecturer did not read out the last verse, about these tribes teaching them to fall away from God. Which is at least a reason I can understand.
Still, I don't feel entirely comfortable about it. Probably no one should. Don't worry - I'm not losing my faith or something. This is one of those Issues that comes up for me every now and then and takes a bit of thought and discussion and prayer. I'll keep you posted.
Any two cents to offer?