Why Did God Kill Children?
All Scripture references are from the World English Bible unless otherwise noted

 

Many Christians have been stumbled by the notion that some Bible passages reveal God commanding the death of children. Granted, in many cases the adults of the time were committing major sins, but why would the children need to be punished along with the corrupt adults? Does it make sense that a loving God would decree the death of children? Let's take a look at each of these situations on a case by case basis:

CANAANITE CHILDREN

Before jumping into it let's get the background on the situation so as to get a proper perspective:

God's special nation was Israel (Genesis 17:16, 19,Deuteronomy 7:6), the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 17:19, 25:26, 32:28). God promised to give the Israelites a special region, the land of Canaan, that was fertile and well watered (Exodus 3:8) (Since God owns everything – Psalms 24:1 – He can do this). Since God was planning to place His holy nation in Canaan this would require the clearing out of anyone who was corrupt and evil. Unfortunately, most of the people who were already inhabiting Canaan were among the corrupt and evil.

It is interesting to note that it wasn't due to the Israelites' righteousness that God chose to do this; no, instead it was due to the Canaanites' depravity which caused God to choose this (Deuteronomy 9:4-5). Let's get some light on the extent of this depravity: Some of the Canaanite religions practiced burnt live-child sacrifice to their gods (Deuteronomy 12:31). Imagine such inhumane butchery – giving your innocent children over to a god to be painfully burned alive in sacrifice! I dare to get brutally graphic just to bring this to the uncomfortable reality: Children were being burned alive in sacrifice to suffer the pain of their skin burning away into shreds, the fat under the skin melting, the pain of their blood coming to a bubbling boil, and the pain of breathing the fire into the lungs while trying to scream -- the desperation! Such actions must have sickened God; burning people alive was never ordained by Him nor ever came into His heart! (Jeremiah 7:31) And be aware, these weren't unhealthy, sickly or deformed babies that were offered for live sacrifice, for such an offering would be viewed as offensive to the god. No, instead a parent was required to give a healthy and robust baby to be put through the fire! (not that any baby deserves such a horrific death!) A culture in which parents accept such torturous murders against their own children is influenced by no one other than the destroyer of men himself, Satan.

But the Canaanites' depravity didn't stop with burnt child sacrifice; some of the inhabitants also practiced perverse sexual activities such as incest and bestiality (Leviticus 18:6-27, emphasized by vs. 24 and vs. 27). They also worshiped idols which were based on demons (Leviticus 20:6, 23, Deuteronomy 32:17).

Archaeologists have documented much evidence regarding the tortuous sacrificial burning of children, the rape of children, the forced prostitution of women, filthy bestiality, demon worship, and many other disgusting actions based on the worship of the Canaanites' false gods. Because these peoples were committing horrific, violent, and perverse deeds in the name of worship, and because the land was overrun with this assortment of Satanic thinking, God's Holiness required an extermination of these things.

When time came to clear out these Canaanites this meant war against all who didn't want to abandon these depraved actions. Interestingly, though, God did not decree that the Israelites go and clear out everyone all at once; instead, the Israelites were to take out each group, one-by-one, according to His instructions. In some circles it is thought that perhaps God wanted the other nations in Canaan to see what He was doing, thereby giving them a fair opportunity to change their ways before it became their turn for destruction.

Now this is where most people take issue on the topic: Although it makes sense to do away with the wicked adults who committed these heinous offenses, why did God decree the killing of the inhabitants' children on some occasions (Deuteronomy 20:16-18), but not on others (Deuteronomy 20:14-15)? And, at times, He even decreed that some children be killed while others live? (Numbers 31:17-18)

Although the normal, knee-jerk reaction is to cry "Foul!" on the destruction of the children, one must take the time to consider the severe repercussions of allowing the children of some of these satanic cultures to co-exist with God's Holy Nation:

    (1) It is a known fact that children who are raped and sexually abused by adults have an enormously high rate of becoming sexual abusers when they themselves become adults. In His great wisdom God could not unleash those broken children upon His people.

    (2) These sexually abused children became disease carriers; and many sexually transmitted diseases can lay dormant for years, even decades! (Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Hepatitis, Herpes, Syphillis, etc.). If these children were to be allowed to grow up and be assimilated into the Israelites they would unwittingly spread these diseases to their Israelite spouses and their unborn children. In God's great wisdom He could not unleash these plagues of disease upon His Holy People either.

(3) Also, there was no such thing as "closed" adoptions at that time. These Canaanite children would grow up and eventually become aware of, and curious about, their family roots and culture. As happens even in modern day adoptees these children would be drawn to their roots and begin slipping into some of the original practices of their forefathers. Since many of these Canaanite practices were vile, abhorrent, and perverse God couldn't let those influences of perversion, idolatry, and Satanic thinking take root within His Holy Nation.

Although these situations weren't the fault of the children God already knew that those children were irreversibly corrupted by the wickedness they had been raised in. Therefore, the Canaanite children who posed such dangers to the Israelites had to be slated for destruction, while the Canaanite children who weren't corrupted by these things were allowed to live (Numbers 31:18, Deuteronomy 20:14). In other words, God only ordained the destruction of those who would debase His Holy Nation, and spared those who didn't pose such a risk. Knowing that God knows exactly what's in a person's heart (1 Samuel 16:7, Acts 15:8-9), He is qualified to know which children would destroy Israel if allowed to live.

Keep in mind, though, that the destruction of these children was upon their parents' heads, and their religious leaders' heads, since they were the ones who corrupted these young ones. Although God isn't blaming the children for their corruption He still couldn't allow their corruption to destroy His Holy Nation. The parents and religious leaders of these children will certainly have a lot to answer for come judgment day. As for the outcome of these children on judgment day, the Bible is silent. However we do know that God is a merciful God who shows mercy on unbelievers (Romans 11:30-31), and that all who have lived do have a chance to be covered under Christ's blood; this would include these victimized children.

 

EGYPTIAN FIRSTBORNS

Long before the Israelites came to the land of Canaan they were bound in slavery to Egypt (Exodus 1:8-11). The ruling Pharaoh of Egypt was a tyrant who wouldn't allow the Israelites time off to go and worship the One True God (Exodus 9:1). In order to compel the Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to have their time of worship God caused ten separate plagues to occur, with time given in between each plague to allow Pharaoh an opportunity to let the people go (Exodus Chapters 8 - 11). It wasn't until the Pharaoh was hit by the final plague – the plague of death for the firstborn sons in Egypt (which included Pharaoh's son), that Pharaoh let God's people go (Exodus Chapter 12).

This is the issue: Since it was Pharaoh who was being the problem, why did his child – and everyone else's firstborn son – have to be the ones to die? (Note: the firstborn sons included firstborn adults as well as firstborn children, but for purposes of this topic we're just going to talk about the children)

The actual part that speaks of the plague of death upon the Egyptian firstborn sons is mentioned at Exodus 11:4-7:

(4) Moses said, “This is what Yahweh says: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt, (5) and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of livestock. (6)There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has not been, nor shall be any more. (7) But against any of the children of Israel a dog won’t even bark or move its tongue, against man or animal; that you may know that Yahweh makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel.

Soon afterwards, the plague came to fruition, as shown at Exodus 12:29-30:

(29) It happened at midnight, that Yahweh struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of livestock. (30) Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.

So, where is the the justice in all this?

Note that each of the ten plagues was a display of God's supremacy over the Egyptian false gods. For example, the Egyptian god Hapi was the god of the Nile; by turning the Nile river into blood Yahweh showed that Hapi was a powerless and false god. The Egyptian god Horus was the god of the sun; by inflicting three days of intense darkness on the Egyptians Yahweh showed this god to be equally powerless and false.

The Egyptians were a polytheistic society, meaning they worshiped numerous gods and goddesses on a daily basis. The only True God, Yahweh, chose to demonstrate His authenticity by overtaking these false gods in a very public and undeniable manner. These demonstrations were necessary in order to prove His omnipotence above all other gods.

If you read through the entire event of the ten plagues you will see that it is clear that Pharaoh could have stopped the plagues at any time simply by respecting God's rights to His own people. Instead, Pharaoh always agreed to let the people go, only to renege on the agreement each time a plague was retracted. As you can see from the chronology of events our God tried everything else first – saving human death as a last resort. God wasn't looking to kill all those people but the Egyptian king, Pharaoh, forced that hand.

The lesson here is that one must take God seriously; the True God cannot make empty threats for that would make Him appear to be as powerless as the false gods. Pharaoh forced God to fulfill His threat against the firstborns. If Pharaoh had backed down God would have called off the Angel of Death. We know this because God did this on another occasion: Jonah was sent to Nineveh to tell them to repent, or else God would destroy them. Nineveh repented, and God called off His plan (Jonah 3:1-10). If Pharaoh had done the same thing, Egypt could have been spared.

In essence, it was Pharaoh who actually killed these children, as his obstinance is what led to their deaths. And yet again I want to mention that the deaths of these children does not mean automatic damnation for them. Just as with all children who have died in the past, these ones are also quietly waiting in God's tender care until Judgment day, when Jesus Christ judges them for what was in their hearts, not for what Pharaoh did.

PSALMS CHAPTER 137

At Psalms 137:8-9, there are these shocking words:

(8) Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, he will be happy who rewards you, as you have served us. (9) Happy shall he be, who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock.

Most people are aghast at this passage, believing that God enjoys the death of children. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth as this piece is taken completely out of context. In order to understand what this verse is saying the reader must read the passage in full:

(1) By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yes, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
(2)
On the willows in its midst, we hung up our harps.

(3)
For there, those who led us captive asked us for songs. Those who tormented us demanded songs of joy: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

(4) How can we sing Yahweh’s song in a foreign land?
(5)
If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.

(6)
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I don’t remember you; if I don’t prefer Jerusalem above my chief joy.

(7) Remember, Yahweh, against the children of Edom, the day of Jerusalem; who said, “Raze it! Raze it even to its foundation!”
(8) Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, he will be happy who rewards you, as you have served us.
(9)
Happy shall he be, who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock.

Note that there is nothing here stating that it is GOD who will be happy with the killing of babies, nor is there anything here stating that God actually recommends this activity.

Also note that this passage is clearly allegorical: Note that verses 8 and 9 are speaking to the "Daughter of Babylon". Babylon was a powerful city (Daniel 4:30) to which the Jews were exiled to (2 Kings 20:14-18, 2 Kings 24:10), meaning that Babylon wasn't a person with an actual daughter. Although the city of Babylon was ruled by kings throughout it's time there has never been a ruling queen in Babylon, therefore this could not be speaking in reference to an actual queen either.

This begs the question: Since this piece about Babylon is allegorical, what does it relate to? First of all, Babylon was a thriving superpower whose influence readily spread into the areas around it (2 Kings 17:24), especially since Babylon was assimilating many of its neighboring regions (2 Kings 24:7,12). Because it's influence was continually growing upon the surrounding communities it was as though Babylon was producing "children" or “little ones”. This passage prophetically reveals that this great Babylon was doomed for destruction, which eventually came to fruition (Daniel Chapter 5). Because the great empire of Babylon was destroyed all its "little ones" were likewise destroyed; and the destroyers of Babylon were happy at the prospect of destroying these "children".

In short, this passage of Scripture is not literal, and nobody was happily wishing for real children to be dashed against rocks. This is pure allegory attempting to convey the horror and destruction that the city of Babylon and its "children" were to endure.


TWO BEARS

This passage is referenced at 2 Kings 2:20-25, and reads:

(20) He said, “Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it.” They brought it to him. (21) He went out to the spring of the waters, and threw salt into it, and said, “Thus says Yahweh, ‘I have healed these waters. There shall not be from there any more death or miscarrying.’” (22) So the waters were healed to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke. (23) He went up from there to Bethel. As he was going up by the way, some youths came out of the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldy! Go up, you baldhead!” (24) He looked behind him and saw them, and cursed them in the name of Yahweh. Two female bears came out of the woods, and mauled forty-two of those youths. (25) He went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

Again, another bout of child killing. What are we to make of this?

To begin with, this passage is a victim of shoddy translation among the various Bible versions. Where this version mentions "youths", other translations use these words:

"little children" (KJV)
"some boys" (CEV)
"some youths" (NKJV)
"young lads"
(ASV)
"youngfellows"
(TNIRV)
"little youths"
(YLT)
"group of boys"
(NLT)
"young [maturing and accountable] boys" (AMP)

...you get the point. Various translations can make this sound like anything from very young children to young adults, depending on the translation used.

It is worth noting that in ancient Jewish society a male was considered to be a “young boy” until he reached the age of thirty (this is why Jesus did not get baptized until that age -- Luke 3:23). According to the original Hebrew wording, the phrase used in this passage was "neurim qetannim ", which actually translates as "young men". This would mean that the group's age range would be from late teens to twenty-nine years old. This is supported in other Bible passages, as this Hebrew phrasing was also used at Genesis 22:12 in relation to Isaac (who was at least 20 years old, if you study the chronology of events), and Joseph (who was seventeen years old) (Genesis 37:2), and in reference to the army troops mentioned at 1 Kings 20:14-15. You can check this with any Hebrew interlinear text.

It is also worth noting that this incident with the bears took place at the city of Bethel. Although the city's name means "House of God", the inhabitants at this time were heavily into the worship of false gods. These people sacrificed their children to their gods, performed ritualistic orgies, and committed other heinous sins. King Jeroboam encouraged the worship of these false gods, making Bethel the capitol of idolatrous worship (1 Kings 12:27- 13:1). Bethel became so corrupt that the prophets began calling it Beth Aven (“House of Wickedness”) (Hosea 5:8).

So this sets up the scene: A large gang of young men from a terribly corrupt city is coming out to start trouble with Elisha – they certainly weren't coming out to give him a friendly greeting. Plainly, they were showing utter disrespect and contempt for God's holy prophet; which is the same as showing contempt for God's Word. Now, God had previously warned the people that those who showed hostility towards His Word would experience punishment times seven, as well as being taken by wild animals (Leviticus 26:21-22). Note that the number of youths mauled was 42 – a multiple of seven, and that a wild animal did take them. These young men started malicious trouble, and God simply kept His word, as should be expected.

Realize that if Elisha had been wrong in his assessment of the gang God would never have sent the two bears out to maul them -- that's not who God is (Psalms 7:9, 19:9, Luke 9:54-55). Because there are several accounts throughout Scripture in which people ridiculed prophets and nothing major happened, this account shows that more than a mere mocking was in the making.

What makes this situation worse is the fact that Elisha had just previously provided a miracle to the people by restoring their cursed water supply (shared between Jericho and Bethel 2 Kings 2:19-22)! In other words, after witnessing this miraculous restoration of their life-giving water supply they had the nerve to instigate trouble with Elisha. This was no mere slap in the face; that was outright denial of God's worthiness for appreciation and worship.

So then, what we have is a large gang of corrupt young men coming out to haze Elisha, even after he did the city a huge favour by miraculously restoring their essential water supply. Because there was such a large number of hazers it is safe to assume this was intended to escalate into something deadly. Elisha called down a curse upon them, most likely as a matter of self-defense, and God took care of the situation -- according to His previous warnings -- before Elisha could be harmed.

Clearly, this was not a case of immature little boys being victimized by a cruel prophet.

CLOSING COMMENTS

As we can see, all of the passages that seem to show God as a child killer actually do no such thing. What is shown is that those who disrespect God can expect him to act on His warnings.

As for the very young ones who were killed, note that God wasn't punishing those children; these young ones were simply the victims of others' bad decisions. This can be related to a child killed by a drunken driver: The child isn't being punished for the drunk driver's bad decision, the child is simply a victim of the driver's decision. Just as the drunk driver could have easily avoided the death by making better choices, so too the adults could have averted the deaths of their children by making better choices. And this is why, when the day of Judgment comes, God will judge these victims in mercy and love. They will not be held accountable for someone else's sins.


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