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Bible passages that appear immoral today

Part 3 of 5: Murder of children

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Topics covered in this essay:

bulletMurder of children:
bullet Isaac (near ritual murder)
bulletThe first-born of Egypt
bullet42 little children
bulletAn entire family
bulletThe Midianite children
bulletBabies of Babylon

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The near ritual murder involving Isaac:

In Genesis 22:1-18, God decided to test the depth of Abraham's faith. God ordered Abraham to travel to the top of a mountain in the land of Moriah, and there murder his own son, Isaac, as a human sacrifice. At the last minute, after Abraham had immobilized Isaac and laid him on a makeshift alter, as he was about to stab his son to death, an angel appeared and ordered Abraham to stop. A ram which was caught in a thicket was used as a substitute for Isaac.

The passage assumes that God is not omniscient, because he did not know the depth of faith of Abraham without testing him in this way. The immorality of this story is the massive traumatic stress that both Isaac, his father, and mother experienced during this event. Compounding this is the willingness of a father to murder his own son. It is doubtful that either would have been able to function fully normally afterwards.

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Mass murder of the first-born of Egypt:

Exodus 7:3:

"...I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt."

Exodus 7:13-14:

"And he [God] hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said. And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh's heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go."

Exodus 12:29-30:

 "And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead." 

God "hardened Pharaoh's heart" to prevent him from giving into the requests of Moses to release his people from slavery. Because God made the Egyptian ruler resistant to the idea of freeing the Israelites, the pharaoh ignored a variety of plagues. Finally, God killed the first born of all of the humans and cattle in Egypt, except for those of the Israelites who had ritually killed a male lamb and daubed its blood over the doorposts of their homes. The death toll must have been enormous, as every Pagan family was affected. 

Mass murder of children is inexcusable by today's moral standards.

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Mass murder of 42 little children:

2 Kings 2:23-24:

"And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them."

Elisha, a Prophet, was ridiculed by some little children who called him a name like "old baldy". Elisha laid a curse on them in God's name. God appears to have responded to the curse by sending two bears out of the woods who tare (tore up, killed) 42 of the little children.

All countries, with the exception of the United States and a very few other states, prohibit capital punishment for youth offenders - no matter what their crime is. The U.S. at least waits until the convicted child is 18 before executing him or her. In this passage, God is seen to arrange the murder of dozens of small children for simply pointing fun at adult.

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Executing a whole family for the sins of the father:

Joshua 7:20-25:

"...Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel... And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor. And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones."

During the siege of Jericho, God had instructed Joshua to have the army avoid taking any loot from the city. Everything was to be destroyed. Only objects of silver and gold and utensils of bronze and iron were to be taken, and these were to be dedicated to God. Achan had violated these orders. He had taken and hidden a Babylonian robe, and a few thousand's of dollars worth of silver and gold. Because of Achan's sin, God allowed the Israelite army to be defeated in a battle for Ai, a small city close to Jericho. Many lives were lost. Achan confessed his sin. His punishment was death by stoning. Afterwards, his body was burned. But in addition to executing Achan, the Israelites stoned and burned his sons, his daughters, his animals and his tent. Apparently, his wife was already dead because she was not mentioned in this passage; otherwise she would have undoubtedly been murdered and burned as well.

There are three factors which are unacceptable by today's standards of morality:

bulletIn almost all of the developed world, with the exception of the U.S., capital punishment has been abandoned.
bulletEven where the death penalty is applied in the developed world, it is not used as punishment for theft.
bulletKilling of the thief's children for the crimes of the father is considered profoundly immoral.

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Mass murder of the Midianite children:

Numbers 31:1-18:

"...And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses, and they slew all the [adult] males. And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones...And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses...And Moses was angry with the officers of the host And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Ba'laam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the female children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves."

On God's instructions, Moses sent 12,000 soldiers against the Midianites. The army allegedly killed every adult Midianite male. This is in response to some of the Israelite men having had sex with some of the Midianite women. Moses then ordered them to slaughter in cold blood most of the captives, including all of the boys, while saving only female virgins. The latter were apparently to be retained for purposes of rape. The Midianite mothers were thus punished by having to watch their male children murdered in front of them. Then, they were themselves killed. Verse 35 talks about 32,000 virgin captives; this implies that there were probably about 32,000 boys killed.

Fortunately, other passages in the Bible imply that the above genocide and mass murder never actually happened. If it did, then the entire Midian tribe would have been wiped out. All the males and many of the females had been killed. Any children that the female captives later had would not be regarded as Midianites. Yet, Judges 6:1 implies that in the course of a single lifetime, the Midianites went from being totally destroyed to becoming a nation once more. Further, they were strong enough to take the Israelite nation captive for 7 years.

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Mass murder of Babylonian babies:

In Psalms 137:8-9, God is asked to bless those who would bash Babylonian babies against stones in an act of mass infanticide.

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See also Part 4 of "Bible passages that appear immoral today"

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References used:

  1. C.M. Laymon, "The Interpreter's one volume commentary on the Bible," Abingdon, (10\99), Page 158-159.
  2. J.D. Douglas, Ed., "New commentary on the whole Bible: Old Testament volume," Tyndale (1991), Page 398

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Copyright © 1997 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-JAN-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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