Cruelty In The Bible?
God kills His own people, the people of Jerusalem
THE HUMANIST CLAIMED CRUELTY: Ezekiel 9:4-7 has this harrowing account: And the Lord said unto him, Go through . . . the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark. . . .
We know from answering similar objections that God is not cruel or unjust. The question in this case is, what is the context? Why is God doing this? In the other examples we looked at God was wiping out Israel's enemies. But, here in Ezekiel it's Jews who are being killed. What is going on?
To begin with, it is wrong to say God is commanding that people be killed. That is not what He is doing. Who are the "men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations?" They are the men who had been faithful to God. What God is doing is saving them from death. The mark identified the penitent... those who were weeping over sin. And they were marked to protect them.
Why did they need protection?
We need to know the context... what has going on?
God had told Israel what they needed to do and how they needed to live. But Israel had continually turned away from God, ignored His laws, and turned
to other gods (idolatry). Israel had even been directly warned through Jeremiah the prophet (Jeremiah 25:11-12). But Israel continued in her idolatry and rebellion against God... and finally God needed to judge Israel. This judgment included 70 years of captivity by the Babylonians.
Keep in mind Ezekiel is seeing a vision (Ezekiel 8:1). God is showing him what will happen. Ezekiel is "caught up in the spirit," so he is seeing things in the spiritual realm. Here's what he sees: verse 9:2 describes six men who come from the direction of the upper gate, with weapons for slaughter in their hands. These men represent Babylon.
Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful empire of that time. No army could stand against them. God had protected Israel, but the time had come for that protection to be withdrawn. God even left the temple (Ezekiel 9:3), showing that Israel now had exactly what they wanted, total freedom from God. They no longer had God's blessings nor His protection.
But, not every Israelite had turned against God. So God protected those who still sought righteousness, and had turned from idols, by placing a mark on their foreheads.
As we saw in other examples in which God was dealing with Israel's enemies, God allowed those who were sinning time to correct their behavior. But, eventually there must be justice. God cannot overlook sin,. even when it is His chosen people who are sinning. Evil must be punished. So judgment comes on Israel, with God protecting those individuals who did not deserve judgment.
The judgment (aka. punishment) does not involve God killing people. What God does is give Israel what they want, He withdraws from Israel. Without His protection things happen as they naturally would... Babylon invades, kills many, and carries off the remaining Jews into captivity.
That is what Ezekiel is seeing in his vision. The verses in question, Ezekiel 9:4-7 are describing part of that vision, which shortly would become reality. It is a vision showing how God will protect the righteous.
If we keep reading we see how Ezekiel responds to this vision. He pleads with God over the vast size of this judgment, and God replies, giving the reason He is doing this:
Then He said to me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great, and the land is filled with blood and the city is full of perversion; for they say, The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see! But as for Me, My eye will have no pity nor will I spare, but I will bring their conduct upon their heads. - Ezekiel 9:9-10
Because of the conduct of the people of Israel, God is bringing this judgment on them. It is a just and fair judgment.
Conclusion: God is not cruel, but just. Those who do evil will receive justice, even His own chosen people.
Next example: Hosea 13:16 describes a punishment from the Lord: Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.
Is God's punishment of Samaritans unjust. Click here for the answer.