Does God promote abortion and infanticide in the Old Testament?

The Bible plainly lays out an ethic regarding human life that, when applied to the issue of abortion, stands firmly on the side of the innocent, unborn human baby and forbids the killing of the child (see our article HERE). This is why, throughout history, those who have believed the Bible have also stood against prenatal infanticide on biblical grounds (as demonstrated HERE, HERE, and HERE). So no, the biblical God does not promote abortion nor infanticide. Yet, there is a common argument on internet forums that claims that, in certain Old Testament judgment passages, God does promote such things. Let us, therefore, consider these texts in context and consider what they actually mean.

Documenting versus Promoting

The ancient world could certainly be a cruel and brutal place, and the Bible often describes the harsh realities of that world in detail more vivid than we might wish. The books of the Old Testament tell about instances of rape, murder, torture, child sacrifice, and even cannibalism. But accurately reporting such events is not the same thing as promoting them. These actions occurred, but they are never held up as a positive moral example. The biblical authors tell us that they happened, but they do not condone them. Thus, when we find texts where it is reported that soldiers of one nation "ripped open pregnant women" or "dashed children against the rocks," it would be absurd to leap to the conclusion that these actions are being praised or promoted as moral ideals. For example, when we read that:

"Then Menahem struck Tiphsah and all who were in it and its borders from Tirzah, because they did not open to him; therefore he struck it and ripped up all its women who were with child," (2 Kings 15:16).

It would be ludicrous for us to assume that Menahem is being held up here as a positive, moral figure. Indeed, this is how the man is described:

"In the thirty-ninth year of Azariah king of Judah, Menahem son of Gadi became king over Israel and reigned ten years in Samaria. He did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart all his days from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin," (2 Kings 15:17-18).

The narrative means to show how evil Menahem was. That is the whole point! These were the grim realities of ancient warfare, and the Bible accurately reports them, but it certainly does not promote them. The pro-abortion objector will claim, however, that there are certain judgment passages where God seems to approve of these actions. These examples are worthy of a closer look.

Hazael of Aram

One very instructive example is the matter of Hazael, who became king of Aram. The LORD specifically tells His prophet to anoint Hazael king of Aram for the explicit purpose that Hazael would take up his sword against Israel to punish them for their own sins (1 Kings 19:15-18). God intends to use the violence of Hazael as a form of judgment on His people. Yet, we would be wrong to conclude from this that God morally approves of Hazael's actions. God often uses the evil of one people to punish another, but the evil is still evil, and God will ultimately punish it as well. Notice how the scene is described when Elisha actually meets Hazael:

"Hazael said, 'Why does my lord weep?' Then he answered, 'Because I know the evil that you will do to the sons of Israel: their strongholds you will set on fire, and their young men you will kill with the sword, and their little ones you will dash in pieces, and their women with child you will rip up.' Then Hazael said, 'But what is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?' And Elisha answered, 'The Lord has shown me that you will be king over Aram,'" (2 Kings 8:12-13).

The text does say that Hazael will rip open pregnant women and dash little ones to pieces, but it also explicitly calls these actions evil. God gave His people over to Hazael's murderous violence for a time as a judgment on Israel, but the actions of the armies of Aram were still evil and God still justly punished them as well:

"Thus says the Lord, 'For three transgressions of Damascus and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they threshed Gilead with implements of sharp iron. So I will send fire upon the house of Hazael And it will consume the citadels of Ben-hadad,'" (Amos 1:3-4).

And as Amos pronounces God's judgments on the nations, he condemns these same cruelties in others as well:

"Thus says the Lord, 'For three transgressions of the sons of Ammon and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead In order to enlarge their borders. So I will kindle a fire on the wall of Rabbah And it will consume her citadels Amid war cries on the day of battle, And a storm on the day of tempest,'" (Amos 1:13-14).

Thus, while God may sometimes use the evil of one nation to punish another, God does not approve of the evil itself and will ultimately bring judgment on that evil as well. God handed Israel over to Hazael for a time, but that was not approval of Hazael's actions. God afterward punished Aram and Hazael for their evil.

Assyria and Israel

Another example to which critics often point comes from the prophet Hosea, who writes:

"Samaria will be held guilty, For she has rebelled against her God. They will fall by the sword, Their little ones will be dashed in pieces, And their pregnant women will be ripped open," (Hosea 13:16).

The situation here is similar to the last. Because of Israel's sin, God is going to give them over to the violent wrath of an evil nation, a nation from whom he otherwise would have protected them. If we read the whole chapter, we see that God reminds them how He has cared for and protected them for centuries since He delivered them from Egypt, yet the have rejected Him. God then says:

"It is your destruction, O Israel, That you are against Me, against your help. Where now is your king That he may save you in all your cities, And your judges of whom you requested, 'Give me a king and princes'?" (Hosea 1:9-10).

God also rhetorically asks "Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death?" (Hosea 14a). They have rejected God as their helper, so God will not help them. Hosea then describes what the kingdom of Assyria will do to them. This is not praise or approval of Assyria's actions. It is simply the awful reality. Indeed, that God actually despises and will punish Assyria's violent cruelty is made clear elsewhere:

"Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hands is My indignation, I send it against a godless nation And commission it against the people of My fury To capture booty and to seize plunder, And to trample them down like mud in the streets. Yet it does not so intend, Nor does it plan so in its heart, But rather it is its purpose to destroy And to cut off many nations," (Isaiah 10:5-7).

So, while God allowed Assyria to be His "rod of anger" to punish "the people of [His] fury," God did not ever approve of their effort to "destroy and cut off many nations." Assyria's violence against pregnant women, unborn children, and others brought God's wrath upon them.

Blessed will be the one?

Perhaps the most popular passage to which critics will turn is the imprecatory 137th Psalm, in which the Psalmist closes by saying:

"How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones Against the rock," (Psalm 137:9).

Does the Bible really teach that God blesses someone for smashing babies? It sounds horrible, doesn't it? It's supposed to. When we read the entire Psalm, especially with the historical context in mind, there is a point to the graphic language chosen here that does not at all represent approval of this kind of behavior. The Psalm opens:

"By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion," (Psalm 137:1).

This is a song of mourning, remembering the violence the Jews faced when the Babylonians sieged their city and drove the survivors into captivity in a distant land. The Psalm seems to have been written by a first-generation survivor of the atrocity who is recounting the events and promising to remember his home. He writes:

"Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion,'" (Psalm 137:2-3).

As they drove the impoverished and starving Jews across the countryside, the Babylonian soldiers mocked them. Adding insult to injury, they ordered them to sing songs of mirth (i.e., happy songs) about Zion, the home that was burning in ruins behind them, the land these Jews would not live to see again. This band of refugees had seen horrors inflicted on their people, especially their women and children, that we cannot imagine. They had lost families and homes. They were likely starving from the siege and exhausted from the forced march. Many were wounded. Now, what dignity they had left was under assault by the arrogant and ruthless men who had taken everything from them. They hung their harps on the trees and refused to sing the songs of Zion in captivity.

"How can we sing the Lord’s song In a foreign land?" (Psalm 137:4).

This does not mean giving up their culture or forgetting their home or their ways. The Psalmist is clear that he is not forsaking Zion, only that it would be wrong to sing such songs while living in exile. He pronounces a curse on himself if he should ever forget Jerusalem and acclimate to Babylonian culture:

"If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy," (Psalm 137:5-6).

He then cries out to God for justice not only on the enemies who did this but also on their neighbors who rejoiced in it:

"Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom The day of Jerusalem, Who said, 'Raze it, raze it To its very foundation,'" (Psalm 137:7).

Finally, in a dark irony, the Psalmist gives his oppressor the song of "mirth" he demanded, a "happy" song that is really a prayer for justice and judgment on these wicked oppressors:

"O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, How blessed [literally "how happy"] will be the one who repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed [literally "how happy"]  will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones Against the rock," (Psalm 127:8-9).

Thus, this song is not meant to literally speak positively of such wicked actions. It describes the worst of what the Babylonians had done to them (i.e., violently murdering their children), and in agony cries out that the same would be done to them. In other words, that they would receive an equal punishment for the wickedness they had done. The "blessed" or literally "happy" language is an ironic play on the soldiers' demand for a "happy" song. The Jews would be "happy" again only when Babylon was overthrown and saw justice for their great evil. This is, indeed, what happened. God raised up yet another wicked empire and gave Babylon over to them, as it was prophesied concerning Babylon:

"Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; Their houses will be plundered And their wives ravished. Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them, Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold. And their bows will mow down the young men, They will not even have compassion on the fruit of the womb, Nor will their eye pity children," (Isaiah 13:16-18).

But again, as in our examples above, God's use of one evil nation to punish another evil nation does not constitute approval of the evil. The Medes, too, were eventually punished for their atrocities.

Conclusion

The Old Testament reports some horrendous acts of evil men, and sometimes God willingly gave people over to such evil deeds as judgment, but God never approved of the evil, and the evil acts will all be punished. None of this provides the slightest basis whatsoever for defending the voluntary killing of our own unborn children. If anything, we should find in it a warning for what judgment God might give us over to if we do not repent of shedding the blood of the most innocent and helpless among us.