Does the Bible promote ethnic cleansings?

Hi friends,

For the webinar we just hosted on talking with our friends about doubt, we didn’t get to some questions.

One of them asked about the “ethnic cleansings, battle slaughters and violence in the OT.”

For instance, consider 1 Samuel 15:1-3,

Samuel told Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over his people Israel. Now, listen to the words of the LORD. This is what the LORD of Armies says: ‘I witnessed what the Amalekites did to the Israelites when they opposed them along the way as they were coming out of Egypt. Now go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Do not spare them. Kill men and women, infants and nursing babies, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

How do you understand these verses?

Do they demonstrate that the God of the Old Testament is unworthy of our worship?


One of the common errors in judging the Scriptures is to take a text out of context. And by context, we mean the whole lot of it: from the historical, cultural, chapter, book, and whole of the Bible context, among others. This specific Scripture is one where we need to see in its historical and whole of the Bible context.

This particular text’s historical context can be found in Exo.17:8, Israel’s very first wilderness battle. Deut.25:17,18 sheds further insight into how egregious the Amalekites’ actions has been against Israel’s most vulnerable people. And to think that the Amalekites are also of Abrahamic lineage (via Esau’s descendants, Gen.36:12) makes their war crime against Israel all the more appalling.

The whole Bible context on this would be God’s very character of immutability and justice. As God has promised to utterly judge the Amalekites’ atrocious act of war against the newly liberated nation (Deut.25:19), His just character demands that the wronged should be given justice, and the wrongdoers punished. Having decreed the Amalekite’s annihilation, and after (approximately) 400 years of reprieve without the Amalekites repenting, (1Kgs.6:1), the Lord will never change His judgment when the time is due for retribution.

Taking these contexts into consideration, we would find a God truly worthy of reverential fear and unwavering trust. He is gracious and merciful enough to allow the Amalekites plenty of years to repent. The Lord would have changed or delayed their judgment (as He did with the Nineveh, during the prophet Jonah’s time). But He is also thorough enough to make a satisfactory judgment on the wrongdoer.


For the longest time, I often failed to keep my resolution of reading through the Bible each year because of passages such as this one in the old testament. I would either end up doubting the goodness of God or the accuracy of the Bible, neither of which were helpful for my spiritual growth. So how are we to go about it? @dennis raised great points of understanding the immediate context, the larger biblical context and the character of God. I expound a little more on what he shared and add a couple more thoughts from my understanding.

Who were the Amalekites? The Amalekites were descendants of Esau, who walked away from the covenant of God that defined Israel. Esau gave up God’s promises, his birthright in exchange for a shortsighted desire of fulfilling his appetite. Amalekites attacked Israel despite it’s peaceful attempts at coexisting. They attacked Israel from the beginning in Exodus 17, Numbers 14, Judges 3, 6, 7, and they continued attacking Israel for several hundred years after 1 Samuel 15, in the book of Esther through Haman, descendant of Amalekite King Agag.

Is God against non-Israelite ethnic groups ? Absolutely not…God seems to bless anyone who is willing to obey Him. He shows no favoritism. When God chose Abraham, he was a Chaldean from a family of idol worshipers. Some other examples where God blessed non-Israelite ethnicities are - Rahab the Canaanite, Ruth the Moabite, the deceptive Gibeonites who experience God’s blessing through Israel (Joshua 9). Though God chose Israel to be a conduit of a greater blessing to all nations we see no favoritism in God’s approach to Israel. God was consistent in executing justice with Israel as well, because Israel too endured punishment for disobedience. For example - see story of Achan in Joshua 7, book of Judges. Had the Amalekites obeyed God, I believe God’s dealing with Amalekites would have been entirely different.

Why does God order the killing of infants? The most likely reason is that God knew that these these infants would grow up to be rebellious as their forefathers to oppose Israel and God’s plans. This proves to be true in the story of the Amalekite Haman in the book of Esther. Though God watches over His plans, He is not without mercy. God did not allow the Israelites to attack nations that lived at peace with them (Deut. 20: 10-13). Amalekites however failed to choose peace and opposed Israel time and again which led to their judgment.

Is God unjust in protecting His plans ? What looks like injustice with our myopic earthly view, in God’s grand scheme is the means of salvation to everyone. For out of Israel, came our promised savior and Lord. Through the grace and mercy in Jesus, we not only get what we do not deserve like the Israelites did but we also do not get what we justly deserve as the Amalekites.

Also, God being the ultimate judge, He is in complete control of every earthly life lost and He will be always just when it comes to a soul’s eternal fate. On this side of eternity, without having the whole picture, we are really not in a position to make judgements about God. The commands of God in the old testament in 1 Sam 15 can in no way be used to justify modern day ethnic cleansing. In our modern times, the choices of ethnic cleansing are being made by egocentric people rather than by a holy God.