Yesterday I took a look at the first reason why genocide in the Bible, while tragic, was also necessary and in no way made God a moral monster. Today, I want to look at another reason that should be mentioned when discussing the issue of genocide in the Bible.
Reason #2: Responsibility, Liability and Ability
John Frame, in The Doctrine of God, has an extremely helpful discussion of the differences between responsibility, liability and ability (pp. 119-131). Let me attempt to summarize the differences using an illustration.
I love cookies. Now say that my wife makes a big plate of cookies and says "Daniel, don't eat these cookies. I made them for a potluck supper we are having at church." Then say that as she is out doing chores I invite some friends over and as we are watching TV our stomachs begin to growl. My friends see the cookies and immediately say "Come on, Daniel. Let's eat those cookies." We begin to eat them and before you know it, they are all gone! "Oh no," I groan. "Hayley told me not to eat those cookies." My friends might respond, "We had no clue we weren't suppose to eat those!"
So who is responsible for the cookies being eaten? All of us. You see, we all took part in the act of eating the cookies so we are all responsible.
But who is most liable, that is, who shares in the results of our actions? Frame states, "Responsibility in the sense of liability, has to do with the results of our actions. But the results of our actions are never entirely the results of our own decisions. Events in the world have multiple causes, and of course none of us causes anything by his free decision alone." (126) In this case, then, my friends would be less liable than myself since I had information they were not privy to and I did nothing to stop them. They are responsible but less liable.
Now from responsibility to liability we also need to talk about one final thing: ability. To return to our cookie example, imagine that I am sitting alone, watching TV when a robber comes in and at gunpoint forces me to eat the entire plate of cookies. Am I responsible for eating the cookies? Yes. Am I liable? No, since I was forced to do it against my will. Again, Frame states, "So ability, to some extent limits responsibility."
Now let's apply this to our issue of genocide. First we should note that the nations that Israel is told to devote to destruction were completely responsible for their actions. In Genesis 15:16 we are told that God was holding off on destroying the Amorites. Why? "for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." They obviously had enough revelation to know that what they were doing was wrong since God says they are committing "iniquity."
Further, when you read through Joshua, it becomes apparent that the nations that were to be destroyed already knew of what Yahweh had done in the Exodus. Of course, this was God's intent from the beginning--the nations were to know that there is but One God. The Exodus demonstrates this mightily. Yet it also shows the absolute hard heartedness of these nations. My point here is simple: they knew the truth and were held fully responsible for their rejection of Yahweh. Further, they were held fully liable as well because they were completely able to choose rightly.
But God demands that the women and CHILDREN be put to death. What if the children were unable? Does this mean they should be absolved of guilt? Tomorrow, I will seek to answer that question more fully.