Why would God order the destruction of men, women, and children? Several reasons could be offered. First, God has the right to execute all people because all people are, by nature, fallen (Ephesians 2:3). Also, it could be that by destroying people at young ages, they will not grow up to be pagans and would then be saved. Third, in the context of God destroying people, entire groups of people in the Old Testament, it is to guarantee the arrival of the Messiah. Let's take a look.
"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,” (1 Samuel 15:2-3).
The Amalekites, who were descendants of Esau, had been longtime enemies of Israel. They fought against Israel at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8). Apparently, they "entertained a deep-seated grudge against them, especially as the rapid prosperity and marvelous experience of Israel showed that the blessing contained in the birthright [Jacob and Esau] was taking effect."1 They were a constant threat to Israel. Therefore, God said to Moses in Exodus 17:14, “Write this in a book as a memorial, and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
God lawfully has the right to execute judgment upon anyone. The Bible says that all people have sinned against God and are under his righteous judgment. Therefore, their execution is not an arbitrary killing, nor is it murder. Murder is the unlawful taking of life. Killing is the lawful taking of life. For example, we can lawfully take a life in defense of ourselves, our families, our nations, etc.
When God authorizes the nation of Israel to wipe out a people, it is a lawful execution due to their rebellion and sin against God. Furthermore, such extermination can be seen to be merciful by delivering the young into the hands of the Lord and possibly saving their souls by not giving them time to become "utterly sinful."2 Additionally, further generations that would have arisen from the perverse culture are likewise prevented from coming into existence and spreading their sin.
Finally, one of the reasons that the Lord is so strong in the Old Testament and orders the killing of people is to ensure that the future messianic line would remain intact. The enemy, Satan, began his attempt to destroy God's people in the Garden of Eden by also trying to corrupt the world (which led to Noah's Flood), by trying to destroy Israel with attacking armies, and by encouraging Israel to fall into idolatry by exposure to other cultures as well as intermarrying women from those cultures. The result of both the idolatry and the interbreeding would have been the failure of the prophecies that foretold the coming Messiah, which specified which family line the Messiah would come through. The Messiah, Jesus, would be the one who would die for the sins of the world, and without that death, there would be no atonement. Without the atonement, all people would be lost. So, God was ensuring the arrival of the Messiah via the destruction of the ungodly.
- 1. Jamieson, R., A. R. Fausset, and D. Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997, Ex 17:8.
- 2. There is debate on whether or not children are saved if they die early. This paper is not meant to answer that question but to pose a possible reason for God's destruction of the young.