One thing which I have always taken as a matter of course was that the Old Testament had definitive references to God ordering that Israel should completely eradicate one nation/ethnic group. Recently, however, it was pointed out that if you take secondary meanings to words in the passages, they merely discuss the Isrealites' defeat of indigenous populations, and in some cases the non-genocidal explanation is far simpler than the genocidal one.

One example is that in Joshua 10:39 there is the statement that all were slaughtered/destroyed. This implies that there should be none left alive in Debir. But then, in the same passage, it notes that Joshua's treatment of the Debir was exactly the same as his treatment of Hebron.

Now, this would seem to imply that Hebron should also be completely destroyed and all people there should be slaughtered. Instead, we find references Hebron as well-populated through the rest of Joshua and into Judges.

From this, I would read that the fact that Israel slaughtered everyone as a bit of an exaggeration. And if this one is an exaggeration, then it seems reasonable that more of the narratives would include at least some exaggerating. This leads to my question: What are the clear and definitive cases where God has commanded (and expected) the wholesale slaughter of a people?

  • 2
    -1: This question is actually off topic for this forum. While it has specific passages, it if fishing outside the boundaries of said passages rather than inquiring about a passage and its meaning. You may want to edit to avoid a VTC.
    – user2027
    Nov 24, 2014 at 22:54
  • 1
    @cwallenpoole As I recorded in my comment to the ShemSegar answer, the term 'genocide' is anachronistic in referring to the action of God's Divine Retribution. Otherwise, with a little editing it is a good question, and worthy of a good answer.
    – Tau
    Nov 25, 2014 at 4:45
  • @cwallenpoole You might use the Deut/Roman's scriptures as your 'case in point'.
    – Tau
    Nov 25, 2014 at 4:50
  • Allen - your wording of the question does not follow the guidelines of this website - notwithstanding, please click here for a discussion of this very sensitive subject.
    – Joseph
    Nov 25, 2014 at 16:22
  • @Tau , 'genocide' is anachronistic in the sense that people of that day would not have used that word. It is not anachronistic in the sense that it cannot be used to describe events of that time. Every modern word can be used to describe any past event, even if those events were before the invention of the word. All it has to do is accurately fit the definition.
    – cowlinator
    Sep 10, 2020 at 23:46

2 Answers 2


Genocide as word was not coined until 1944. But there is certainly evidence of God commanding the annihilation of an entire people, namely, the Canaanites.

The Canaanites against whom Israel waged war were under judicial sentence of death by God. They were spiritually and morally degenerate. Virtually every kind of perversion was a religious act: and large classes of sacred male and female prostitutes were a routine part of the holy places. Thus, God ordered all the Canaanites to be killed:

"And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain:" (Deut. 2:34;)

"And we utterly destroyed them, as we did unto Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children, of every city." (Deut. 3:6;), both because they were under God’s death sentence, and to avoid the contamination of Israel.

"But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee: That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the Lord your God." (Deut. 20:16–18;)

"And all the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey unto themselves; but every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, neither left they any to breathe." (Josh. 11:14)

There is also the case of the Amalekites:

"Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." (1 Samuel 15:2-3)

  • Were any of these subject to later qualification? The first ref. from Deut looks like it is a parallel to the second, which references Hebron, which was not entirely destroyed. Strongs also translated "destroyed" as "beat", which is entirely different. Nov 24, 2014 at 22:24
  • @cwallenpoole - Strongs didn't translate anything. He made an exhaustive concordance of the Hebrew root words in the Old Testament. "Beat" and "Utterly Destroy" don't even appear to have the same root word. The root word for "utterly destroy" is ḥā·rum (חָרֻ֖ם - Strongs 2763), which translates more closely to "disfigure". The root does not have the same meaning as the whole. For example, my first name, "Shem" (שם - strongs 8035) is the root word for "HaShem" (השם) which translates as, "The Name" and is used by jews when refering to God.
    – ShemSeger
    Nov 24, 2014 at 23:34
  • @cwallenpoole Divine Retribution appears as 'genocide' only because God's specific command, through His prophets specifies what punishment is to be exacted upon His enemies. There is no misunderstanding of "utterly destroy", indeed, there were consequences when they failed to do so. But "vengeance is mine, saith the Lord"(Rom. 12:19/Deut. 32:41); not the domain of men; therefore 'genocide' as a definition, although descriptive of the action, is anachronistic, since it doesn't take into account the sovereignty of God, but the action of men.
    – Tau
    Nov 25, 2014 at 4:39
  • @Tau: I agree that Genocide is anachronistic, and doesn't really apply. However, I disagree that it revenge being God's precludes God's use of people to exact that revenge--God does do this in Scripture, even using Angels too. Nov 25, 2014 at 20:55
  • @e.s.kohen I agree, God uses man to fulfill His Divine Retribution. The point being made, this is the agency of God; what man does is in agreement w/ God's plan.
    – Tau
    Nov 26, 2014 at 7:32

I am not certain if you mean "Genocide, as in Ethnic Cleansing," or "Genocide, as in Large Scale Slaughter."

1 Samuel 15: Then Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the Lord. 2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. 3 Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

God also commanded Israel to kill each other, too.. 3000 people dead... and that's not even counting the decimation of the Tribe of Benjamin.

Exodus 32:26, NASB: then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. 27 He said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.’” 28 So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day.

Don't get me wrong--Israel usually didn't always do what God said. Uriah the Hittite is a good example of Israel not killing every one ...

Deut 20:13, NASB: When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. 14 Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you. 15 Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby. 16 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. 17 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, 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.

I am pretty sure you get the idea ... the list goes on.

Question: But again, my question is, "How are you defining Genocide? Ethnic Cleansing? Or massive amounts of deaths? We can provide more specific/explicit answers depending.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.