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Bloodthirsty God?

Christian, tell me why do you worship such a bloodthirsty God, who is always sending fire and brimstone onto anyone who offends him?
Because…God delays judgment to provide time for repentance, and shows all the mercy that He can. But justice demands that He eventually deal with evil. He can’t let it go on forever; that wouldn’t be right or fair or true to His holy character.

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Those are strong, angry words. They also happen to conveniently overlook God’s persistent mercy toward anyone who admits that they need it. He even came in person to bear all the well-deserved wrath on behalf of anyone who is willing to accept that gift 1. But other than that……. !!!

Why Are We Upset?

There are indeed actions described in the Bible that seem harsh to us…as Monday-morning quarterbacks and without having a fraction of God’s perfect perspective. That sense of harshness usually comes down to something resembling “That’s not fair.” But where do we get the idea of “fair”? What makes us think that there is such a thing, that there is a standard for how people should be treated?

In a blind-chance, natural-selection, pure-evolutionary world (like the one Richard Dawkins would have us accept), the concept of “fairness” would never come up 2. Nor would it make sense in any other worldview: Everything is relative? Each person has their own truth? We aspire to be a drop in the endless ocean of “the one”? None of those gives a universal standard of right and wrong, justice and injustice.

That idea embedded within us comes from our being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Obviously, the Source of that Image knows the meaning of “fair” more deeply and accurately than we do! Still, for the sake of due diligence, let’s look at some of the more prominent examples of “harsh” judgments in the Bible.


The story of Noah and the great Flood is told in Genesis chapters 6-8. The harsh part is:

Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.

Genesis 7:23 (See verses 17-23 for more context)

That’s a bit over the top, isn’t it? Before you decide that, however, back up to a few verses in chapter 6 (emphasis added below).

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Genesis 6:5

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.

Genesis 6:11-13

If you take the genealogies in Genesis 5 at face value, all of this corruption happened in only 10 generations from Adam (Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah). The human race was already destroying itself, completely corrupt, evil and filled with violence.

What was a just God to do? What He did was stop evil from continuing to spread, while saving the one righteous man and his family.

Apparently, there was a hundred-year span while Noah was building the ark: Noah was 500 years old at the start of the story in Genesis 5:32, and 600 years old when the flood came in Genesis 7:6. Also, Genesis 6:3 says that God will “not strive with man forever” but that “his days shall be one hundred and twenty years“, possibly another way of giving a grace period and timeline. But even with Noah’s 100-year example, it seems that none of his fellow men changed their ways or asked to be included. At the end of that time, God still had to say that “you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time” (Genesis 7:1).

God, being the sovereign Creator, was under no obligation to put up with that kind of wickedness. But God, being the loving Creator, provided a way out for the ones who trusted and obeyed Him.

Sodom and Gomorrah

We first meet the town of Sodom in Genesis 13:1-13. Abram (later named “Abraham”, and considered the father of the Jewish race) and his nephew Lot were traveling, living the nomadic lifestyle that today we would call Bedouin as they moved their flocks and herds from pasture to pasture. Between the two of them, it was difficult to find sufficient pasture land all in one place, so they decided to go separate ways. Abram went west to the land of Canaan; Lot went east to the Jordan valley and settled in Sodom. Even then, the Bible tells us that “the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD.” (Genesis 13:13).

Later, in Genesis 18:16 through 19:29, we see the main story. As with the Flood, there is a harsh part:

Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground….the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace.

Genesis 19:24-25, 28

That’s a bit over the top, isn’t it? Before you decide that, however, again back up to earlier in the story. In sequence, we see that:

  • God told Abram that “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.” (Genesis 18:20)
  • Abram asked God to spare the cities for the sake of just a few righteous men: “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?….Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked…Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:23-25)
  • Abram did a countdown: “What if there are 50 righteous men? Maybe 45? 40? 30? 20? Just 10? God said that he would not destroy the cities if 10 righteous men could be found. (Genesis 18:26-33)
  • God’s two messengers went to Sodom, and prepared to camp out for the night in the town square. Lot invited (actually insisted) for them to spend the night at his house instead. (Genesis 19:1-3)
  • All of the men of the city “young and old, all the people from every quarter” surrounded Lot’s house, insisting that he give up the visitors for a homosexual gang-rape. (Sorry, but that’s what it says in Genesis 19:4-5.)
  • Lot tried to protect his visitors, even offering his virgin daughters as substitutes. (Genesis 19:6-8)
  • It didn’t work. The crowd turned on Lot also. His angelic visitors pulled him back to safety inside the house, and struck the attackers with blindness. (Genesis 19:9-11)

After all that, what was a just God to do? What He did was destroy a hotbed of evil while (again) saving the one righteous man and his family.

  • The messengers warned Lot to get his family out of the city. Lot tried to get his sons-in-law to go, but they didn’t believe him. (Genesis 19:12-14)
  • The messengers practically dragged him out of the city and shoved him toward safety. They even held off the city’s punishment for an entire day until Lot was out of range. (Genesis 19:15-23)

God, being the sovereign Creator, was under no obligation to put up with that kind of wickedness. But God, being the loving Creator, provided a way out for the ones who trusted and obeyed Him.

Conquest of Canaan

When God first called Abraham, He promised that he would be the father of a great nation that would be a blessing to the entire world, and that would live in the land of Canaan. Over 400 years later, Moses’ successor Joshua led Abraham’s descendants in moving into their long-promised homeland (Joshua 1:1-6).

In this story, the harsh part is that there were people already living in this promised land of Canaan. God commanded the Israelites:

When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places; and you shall take possession of the land and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it.

Numbers 33:50-53

Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you…

Deuteronomy 20:16-17

In obedience, Joshua led military campaigns that killed or enslaved the city/states of:

Typical descriptions are like that of Jericho: “They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword….They burned the city with fire, and all that was in it.

That’s a bit over the top, isn’t it? Yet again, before you decide that, back up to earlier in the story.

In His first promise to Abraham, God mentioned the evil of the people in the region, saying “the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:13-16). The end of the sentence from Deuteronomy 20 above is verse 18: “so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.“. God told the Israelites:

It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Deuteronomy 9:5

What were the Canaanites doing that was so bad? We learn that from what God told His people NOT to do when they entered their promised land.

You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes...Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants.

Leviticus 18:3, 24

The list of things that the Israelites were not to do, for which the Canaanites were being punished, included incest, homosexuality, and bestiality (Leviticus 18). Those prohibitions are repeated in Leviticus 20, with the additions of human sacrifice to the idol Molech 3, as well as occult practices such as mediums and spiritists. Other common idols in Canaan were Asherah 4, a fertility goddess (with accompanying sexual rituals), and Baal, who also required human sacrifice 5.

With all that, what was a just God to do? What He did was punish the evil, both of the Canaanites and of the Israelites who copied them.

Even here, mercy was extended. For instance, Rahab of Jericho, who believed in God and helped the Israelites, was spared when her city was destroyed (Joshua 2; Joshua 6:22-23). Many of the city/states mentioned above had the option of peace (Deuteronomy 20:10-13) but chose not to accept it (Joshua 11:19) 6.

Because Israel disobeyed and left some of the pagan worshippers alive (Joshua 15:63, Joshua 16:10, Judges 1:27-36), they were caught up in the same idolatry and immorality just as God had warned. Judges 2:11-15 is just one of many passages over several hundred years of history, where Israel was punished for that disobedience and the resulting corruption. Eventually, God allowed Israel to be conquered and carried off into captivity in Babylon for 70 years before bringing them back to their land again.

God, being the sovereign Creator, was under no obligation to put up with that kind of rebellion. But God, being the loving Creator, gave hundreds of years of warnings and quickly forgave each time that Israel sincerely repented. He punished only after all other efforts had been exhausted.

End Times

Our final example has not happened yet, but it will. There will come a time when God will put a stop to all evil. Toward the end of John’s vision recorded in the book of Revelation, he saw:

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds...And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:11-12,15

That’s a bit over the top, isn’t it? One last time, before you decide that, back up to earlier in the story.

This scene happens at the end of all history. Mankind has had the examples from the Bible, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and over 2000 years of the church spreading God’s good news. During the years immediately preceding the scene above, there have been miraculous plagues and other warnings. Those who have trusted Jesus have been pulled away to be with Him. There has been a great battle where Jesus defeated the forces arrayed against His people Israel, followed by 1000 years of His peaceful reign, then yet another great army attempting to overcome Him. (I’ve done a series of posts that go into more detail on this subject. You can find them from the End Times article.)

After all that, what is a just God to do? What He will do is completely eliminate evil and all who persist in it, while rescuing those who trust Him to a safe forever home.

As in the earlier scenarios, there will have been warnings and multiple chances to turn back to God. And as before, anyone who does turn back will be accepted and forgiven, thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf.

As always, God, being the sovereign Creator, is under no obligation to put up with that kind of rebellion. But, as always, God, being the loving Creator, provides a way out for the ones who trust and obey Him.

Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?

God hates the sin that destroys us, the people He loves. That sin must be judged. God holds off as long as possible, gives as many chances as He can, is quick to be merciful and forgive when asked, and finally, sent Jesus to take the weight of sin onto Himself. But when all of that is still stubbornly refused, those who determinedly cling to their sin leave God with no other alternative. It’s not bloodthirsty: It’s justice, and nothing else would be fair.

The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. See more in these articles (although, actually, most articles on this site touch on the topic): God’s Not Fair, Trinity and Incarnation, Lamb of God, Jesus, only Jesus
  2. The gazelle doesn’t like being eaten by the lion, and the lion doesn’t like going hungry when the gazelle gets away. But neither of them whine that “That’s not fair!”
  3. Molech was worshipped by having children “pass through the fire”. One description is that the child was laid onto the hands of a bronze statue above a fiery cauldron until the child died from the hot metal and fell off into the fire. See more here, here, and here.
  4. See more here and here.
  5. See more here.
  6. See more here.

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