Some parts of the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation are very unpleasant. If you become offended by anything, please read An Attempt to Explain Gruesome Bible Passages.
The purpose of the Old Testament seems to have been mainly to try to scare lawless societies into behaving decently, giving up the cruel ways the Bible says they were guilty of. Hence much of the gruesomeness, which is at least in part meant to warn people committing cruel and hurtful actions to change.
2 Timothy chapter 3 (NLT)
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right.
1 Corinthians chapter 10 (NLT)
1 I don't want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, what happened to our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. God guided all of them by sending a cloud that moved along ahead of them, and he brought them all safely through the waters of the sea on dry ground. 2 As followers of Moses, they were all baptized in the cloud and the sea. 5 Yet after all this, God was not pleased with most of them, and he destroyed them in the wilderness.
6 These events happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did 7 or worship idols as some of them did. For the Scriptures say, "The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged themselves in pagan revelry." 8 And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. 9 Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. 10 And don't grumble as some of them did, for that is why God sent his angel of death to destroy them. 11 All these events happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us, who live at the time when this age is drawing to a close. 12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin.
Here are some other Old Testament stories that can be used as examples and warnings, in the same way. They're certainly a gruesome way of getting the point across that compromise about the essentials of treating people decently - the essence of all Bible commands - is not an option. They do it by describing acts that it can easily be argued were very far from decent indeed. They weren't written down for people who could be encouraged to treat people with consideration and kindness by a few positive words. They're meant for people who are more likely to behave ethically if they're scared into it, or it's impressed upon them in a sobering way just how seriously the commands are meant.
Deuteronomy chapter 4 (TEV)
1 Moses said to the people, "Obey all the laws that I am teaching you, and you will live and occupy the land which the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 Do not add anything to what I command you, and do not take anything away. Obey the commands of the Lord your God that I have given you.
Deuteronomy chapter 7 (TEV)
1 "The Lord your God will bring you into the land that you are going to occupy, and he will drive many nations out of it.
Deuteronomy chapter 9 (NLT)
4 "After the LORD your God has done this for you, don't say to yourselves, 'The LORD has given us this land because we are so righteous!' No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is doing it. 5 It is not at all because you are such righteous, upright people that you are about to occupy their land. The LORD your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfill the oath he had sworn to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 6 I will say it again: The LORD your God is not giving you this good land because you are righteous, for you are not - you are a stubborn people.
Numbers chapter 20 (NLT)
1 In early spring the people of Israel arrived in the wilderness of Zin and camped at Kadesh.
Numbers chapter 20 (GWT)
2 Since the community was without water, they came together to confront Moses and Aaron. 3 The people complained to Moses and said, ... 4 Did you bring the LORD's assembly into this desert just to have us and our animals die here? 5 Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us into this terrible place? This is no place to plant crops. Even figs, grapes, and pomegranates won't grow here. And there's no water to drink!"
6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting. Immediately, they bowed with their faces touching the ground, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 "Take your staff, then you and your brother Aaron gather the community. Right before their eyes, tell the rock to give up its water. In this way you will give the community water from the rock for them and their animals to drink." 9 Moses took his staff out of [the tent in] the LORD's presence as he had been commanded. 10 Then Moses and Aaron assembled the community in front of the rock and said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring water out of this rock for you?" 11 Moses raised his hand and hit the rock twice with the staff. Water came pouring out, and all the people and their animals drank.
12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "You didn't trust me! You didn't show the Israelites how holy I am! So you will not bring this congregation into the land I'm giving them." 13 This was the oasis of Meribah [Complaining], where the Israelites complained about the LORD and where he showed them he was holy.
Numbers chapter 27 (NLT)
12 One day the LORD said to Moses, "Climb to the top of the mountains east of the river, and look out over the land I have given the people of Israel. 13 After you have seen it, you will die as Aaron your brother did, 14 for you both rebelled against my instructions in the wilderness of Zin. When the people of Israel rebelled, you failed to demonstrate my holiness to them at the waters." (These are the waters of Meribah at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.)
15 Then Moses said to the LORD, 16 "O LORD, the God of the spirits of all living things, please appoint a new leader for the community. 17 Give them someone who will lead them into battle, so the people of the LORD will not be like sheep without a shepherd."
18 The LORD replied, "Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him. 19 Present him to Eleazar the priest before the whole community, and publicly commission him with the responsibility of leading the people. 20 Transfer your authority to him so the whole community of Israel will obey him. 21 When direction from the LORD is needed, Joshua will stand before Eleazar the priest, who will determine the LORD's will by means of sacred lots. This is how Joshua and the rest of the community of Israel will discover what they should do."
22 So Moses did as the LORD commanded and presented Joshua to Eleazar the priest and the whole community. 23 Moses laid his hands on him and commissioned him to his responsibilities, just as the LORD had commanded through Moses.
Joshua chapter 1 (TEV)
1 After the death of the Lord's servant Moses, the Lord spoke to Moses' helper, Joshua son of Nun. 2 He said, "My servant Moses is dead. Get ready now, you and all the people of Israel, and cross the Jordan River into the land that I am giving them. 3 As I told Moses, I have given you and all my people the entire land that you will be marching over.
Joshua chapter 3 (TEV)
1 The next morning Joshua and all the people of Israel got up early, left the camp at Acacia, and went to the Jordan, where they camped while waiting to cross it. 16 and the people were able to cross over near Jericho.
Joshua chapter 6 (TEV)
1 The gates of Jericho were kept shut and guarded to keep the Israelites out. No one could enter or leave the city. 2 The Lord said to Joshua, "I am putting into your hands Jericho, with its king and all its brave soldiers. 17 The city and everything in it must be totally destroyed as an offering to the Lord. 18 But you are not to take anything that is to be destroyed; if you do, you will bring trouble and destruction on the Israelite camp. 19 Everything made of silver, gold, bronze, or iron is set apart for the Lord. It is to be put in the Lord's treasury."
20 ... Then all the army went straight up the hill into the city and captured it. 21 With their swords they killed everyone in the city, men and women, young and old. They also killed the cattle, sheep, and donkeys. 24 Then they set fire to the city and burned it to the ground, along with everything in it, except the things made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron, which they took and put in the Lord's treasury.
Joshua chapter 7 (TEV)
1 The Lord's command to Israel not to take from Jericho anything that was to be destroyed was not obeyed. A man named Achan disobeyed that order, and so the Lord was furious with the Israelites. (Achan was the son of Carmi and grandson of Zabdi, and belonged to the clan of Zerah, a part of the tribe of Judah.)
2 Joshua sent some men from Jericho to Ai, a city east of Bethel, near Bethaven, with orders to go and explore the land. When they had done so, 3 they reported back to Joshua: "There is no need for everyone to attack Ai. Send only about two or three thousand men. Don't send the whole army up there to fight; it is not a large city." 4 So about three thousand Israelites made the attack, but they were forced to retreat. 5 The men of Ai chased them from the city gate as far as some quarries and killed about thirty-six of them on the way down the hill. Then the Israelites lost their courage and were afraid.
6 Joshua and the leaders of Israel tore their clothes in grief, threw themselves to the ground ..., and lay there till evening, with dust on their heads to show their sorrow. 7 And Joshua said,
"Sovereign Lord! Why did you bring us across the Jordan at all? To turn us over to the Amorites? To destroy us? Why didn't we just stay on the other side of the Jordan? 8 What can I say, O Lord, now that Israel has retreated from the enemy? 9 The Canaanites and everyone else in the country will hear about it. They will surround us and kill every one of us! And then what will you do to protect your honor?"
10 The Lord said to Joshua, "Get up! Why are you lying on the ground like this? 11 Israel has sinned! They have broken the agreement with me that I ordered them to keep. They have taken some of the things condemned to destruction. They stole them, lied about it, and put them with their own things. 12 This is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies. They retreat from them because they themselves have now been condemned to destruction! I will not stay with you any longer unless you destroy the things you were ordered not to take! 13 Get up! Purify the people and get them ready to come before me. Tell them to be ready tomorrow, because I, the Lord God of Israel, have this to say: "Israel, you have in your possession some things that I ordered you to destroy! You cannot stand against your enemies until you get rid of these things!'
14 So tell them that in the morning they will be brought forward, tribe by tribe. The tribe that I pick out will then come forward, clan by clan. The clan that I pick out will come forward, family by family. The family that I pick out will come forward, one by one. 15 The one who is then picked out and found with the condemned goods will be burned, along with his family and everything he owns, for he has brought terrible shame on Israel and has broken my covenant."
16 Early the next morning Joshua brought Israel forward, tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was picked out. 17 He brought the tribe of Judah forward, clan by clan, and the clan of Zerah was picked out. Then he brought the clan of Zerah forward, family by family, and the family of Zabdi was picked out. 18 He then brought Zabdi's family forward, one by one, and Achan, the son of Carmi and grandson of Zabdi, was picked out. 19 Joshua said to him, "My son, tell the truth here before the Lord, the God of Israel, and confess. Tell me now what you have done. Don't try to hide it from me."
20 "It's true," Achan answered. "I have sinned against the Lord, Israel's God, and this is what I did. 21 Among the things we seized I saw a beautiful Babylonian cloak, about five pounds of silver, and a bar of gold weighing over one pound. I wanted them so much that I took them. You will find them buried inside my tent, with the silver at the bottom."
22 So Joshua sent some men, who ran to the tent and found that the condemned things really were buried there, with the silver at the bottom. 23 They brought them out of the tent, took them to Joshua and all the Israelites, and laid them down in the presence of the Lord.
24 Joshua, along with all the people of Israel, seized Achan, the silver, the cloak, the bar of gold, together with Achan's sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys, and sheep, his tent, and everything else he owned; and they took them to Trouble Valley. 25 And Joshua said, "Why have you brought such trouble on us? The Lord will now bring trouble on you!" All the people then stoned Achan to death; they also stoned and burned his family and possessions. 26 They put a huge pile of stones over him, which is there to this day. That is why that place is still called Trouble Valley.
Then the Lord was no longer furious.
Joshua chapter 8 (TEV)
1 The Lord said to Joshua, "Take all the soldiers with you and go on up to Ai. Don't be afraid or discouraged. I will give you victory over the king of Ai; his people, city, and land will be yours. 2 You are to do to Ai and its king what you did to Jericho and its king, but this time you may keep its goods and livestock for yourselves. Prepare to attack the city by surprise from the rear."
3 So Joshua got ready to go to Ai with all his soldiers. He picked out thirty thousand of his best troops and sent them out at night 4 with these orders: "Hide on the other side of the city, but not too far away from it; be ready to attack. 5 My men and I will approach the city. When the men of Ai come out against us, we will turn and run, just as we did the first time. 6 They will pursue us until we have led them away from the city. They will think that we are running from them, as we did before. 7 Then you will come out of hiding and capture the city. The Lord your God will give it to you. 8 After you have taken the city, set it on fire, just as the Lord has commanded. These are your orders."
9 So Joshua sent them out, and they went to their hiding place and waited there, west of Ai, between Ai and Bethel. Joshua spent the night in camp.
10 Early in the morning Joshua got up and called the soldiers together. Then he and the leaders of Israel led them to Ai.
25 ... The whole population of Ai was killed that day-twelve thousand men and women. 27 The Israelites kept for themselves the livestock and goods captured in the city, as the Lord had told Joshua. 28 Joshua burned Ai and left it in ruins. It is still like that today.
Deuteronomy chapter 5 (TEV)
1 Moses called together all the people of Israel and said to them, "People of Israel, listen to all the laws that I am giving you today. Learn them and be sure that you obey them.
Deuteronomy chapter 7 (NLT)
1 "When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are all more powerful than you. 2 When the LORD your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them, and don't let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters. 4 They will lead your young people away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and he will destroy you. 9 Understand, therefore, that the LORD your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and constantly loves those who love him and obey his commands. 10 But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who hate him. 11 Therefore, obey all these commands, laws, and regulations I am giving you today.
Since these and some of the following quotes may be found particularly offensive, here is a link to an article on such commands which tries to make the case that they weren't as bad as they sound, because many of the inhabitants of the nations soon to be under attack would have been able to migrate away from their land before the Israelites arrived because they would have been given warning that they were on the way. They would apparently have found it much easier to migrate than it would be for people today, since they were semi-nomadic, according to the article. It claims that there is evidence that the Canaanites had a violent and degenerate culture, and says that the Bible indicates that it was this that God wanted the Israelites to destroy rather than the people themselves, partly so they wouldn't influence the Israelites to start committing such things as human sacrifice and prostitution, as the Canaanites did in the worship of their gods. The article points out that many people would stop doing those things if they had to leave their worship centres and were assimilated into other cultures. To read it, visit:
How could a God of Love order the massacre/annihilation of the Canaanites?
To give examples of some of the types of gods the Canaanites may have worshiped, which were similar to those of other Pagan cultures, and the kinds of practices they were involved in, which were also performed in other Pagan nations, here are a couple of articles about the Celtic culture:
Deuteronomy chapter 12 (TEV)
29 "The Lord your God will destroy the nations as you invade their land, and you will occupy it and settle there. 30 After the Lord destroys those nations, make sure that you don't follow their religious practices, because that would be fatal. Don't try to find out how they worship their gods, so that you can worship in the same way. 31 Do not worship the Lord your God in the way they worship their gods, for in the worship of their gods they do all the disgusting things that the Lord hates. They even sacrifice their children in the fires on their altars.
Deuteronomy chapter 20 (TEV)
16 "But when you capture cities in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, kill everyone. 17 Completely destroy all the people: the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, as the Lord ordered you to do. 18 Kill them, so that they will not make you sin against the Lord by teaching you to do all the disgusting things that they do in the worship of their gods.
Deuteronomy chapter 23 (TEV)
21 "When you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not put off doing what you promised; the Lord will hold you to your vow, and it is a sin not to keep it. 22 It is no sin not to make a vow to the Lord, 23 but if you make one voluntarily, be sure that you keep it.
Numbers chapter 30 (TEV)
3 When a young woman still living in her father's house makes a vow to give something to the Lord or promises to abstain from something, 4 she must do everything that she vowed or promised unless her father raises an objection when he hears about it. 5 But if her father forbids her to fulfill the vow when he hears about it, she is not required to keep it. The Lord will forgive her, because her father refused to let her keep it.
6 If an unmarried woman makes a vow, whether deliberately or carelessly, or promises to abstain from something, and then marries, 7 she must do everything that she vowed or promised unless her husband raises an objection when he hears about it. 8 But if her husband forbids her to fulfill the vow when he hears about it, she is not required to keep it. The Lord will forgive her.
9 A widow or a divorced woman must keep every vow she makes and every promise to abstain from something.
10 If a married woman makes a vow or promises to abstain from something, 11 she must do everything that she vowed or promised unless her husband raises an objection when he hears about it. 12 But if her husband forbids her to fulfill the vow when he hears about it, she is not required to keep it. The Lord will forgive her, because her husband prevented her from keeping her vow. 13 Her husband has the right to affirm or to annul any vow or promise that she has made. 14 But if, by the day after he hears of the vow, he has raised no objection, she must do everything that she has vowed or promised. He has affirmed the vow by not objecting on the day he heard of it. 15 But if he later annuls the vow, he must suffer the consequences for the failure to fulfill the vow.
16 These are the rules that the Lord gave Moses concerning vows made by an unmarried woman living in her father's house or by a married woman.
Numbers chapter 30 (TEV)
2 When a man makes a vow to give something to the Lord or takes an oath to abstain from something, he must not break his promise, but must do everything that he said he would.
Joshua chapter 9 (CEV)
1-2 The kings west of the Jordan River heard about Joshua's victories, and so they got together and decided to attack Joshua and Israel. These kings were from the hill country and from the foothills to the west, as well as from the Mediterranean seacoast as far north as the Lebanon Mountains. Some of them were Hittites, others were Amorites or Canaanites, and still others were Perizzites, Hivites, or Jebusites.
3 The people of Gibeon had also heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai. 4 So they decided that some of their men should pretend to be messengers to Israel from a faraway country. The men put worn-out bags on their donkeys and found some old wineskins that had cracked and had been sewn back together. 5 Their sandals were old and patched, and their clothes were worn out. They even took along some dry and crumbly bread. 6 Then they went to the Israelite camp at Gilgal, where they said to Joshua and the men of Israel,
" We have come from a country that is far from here. Please make a peace treaty with us."
7-8 The Israelites replied, " But maybe you really live near us. We can't make a peace treaty with you if you live nearby."
The Gibeonites said, " If you make a peace treaty with us, we will be your servants."
"Who are you?" Joshua asked. " Where do you come from?"
They answered: 9 We are your servants, and we live far from here. We came because the LORD your God is so famous. We heard what the LORD did in Egypt 10 and what he did to those two Amorite kings on the other side of the Jordan: King Og of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth, and King Sihon of Heshbon. 11 Our leaders and everyone who lives in our country told us to meet with you and tell you that all of us are your servants. They said to ask you to make a peace treaty with our people. They told us to be sure and take along enough food for our journey. 12 See this dry, crumbly bread of ours? It was hot out of the oven when we packed the food on the day we left our homes. 13 These cracked wineskins were new when we filled them, and our clothes and sandals are worn out because we have traveled so far.
14 The Israelites tried some of the food, but they did not ask the LORD if he wanted them to make a treaty. 15 So Joshua made a peace treaty with the messengers and promised that Israel would not kill their people. Israel's leaders swore that Israel would keep this promise.
Joshua chapter 9 (TEV)
16 Three days after the treaty had been made, the Israelites learned that these people did indeed live nearby. 17 So the people of Israel started out and three days later arrived at the cities where these people lived: Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath Jearim. 18 But the Israelites could not kill them, because their leaders had made a solemn promise to them in the name of the Lord, Israel's God. All the people complained to the leaders about this, 19 but they answered, "We have made our solemn promise to them in the name of the Lord God of Israel. Now we cannot harm them. 20 We must let them live because of our promise; if we don't, God will punish us. 21 Let them live, but they will have to cut wood and carry water for us." This was what the leaders suggested.
22 Joshua ordered the people of Gibeon to be brought to him, and he asked them, "Why did you deceive us and tell us that you were from far away, when you live right here? 23 Because you did this, God has condemned you. Your people will always be slaves, cutting wood and carrying water for the sanctuary of my God."
24 They answered, "We did it, sir, because we learned that it was really true that the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to kill the people living in it as you advanced. We did it because we were terrified of you; we were in fear of our lives. 25 Now we are in your power; do with us what you think is right."
26 So this is what Joshua did: he protected them and did not allow the people of Israel to kill them. 27 But at the same time he made them slaves, to cut wood and carry water for the people of Israel and for the Lord's altar. To this day they have continued to do this work in the place where the Lord has chosen to be worshiped.
2 Samuel chapter 21 (NLT)
1 There was a famine during David's reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the LORD about it. And the LORD said, "The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites."
2 So King David summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal, had tried to wipe them out.
3 David asked them, "What can I do for you to make amends? Tell me so that the LORD will bless his people again."
4 "Well, money won't do it," the Gibeonites replied. "And we don't want to see the Israelites executed in revenge."
"What can I do then?" David asked. "Just tell me and I will do it for you."
5 Then they replied, "It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in Israel. 6 So let seven of Saul's sons or grandsons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the LORD at Gibeon, on the mountain of the LORD."
"All right," the king said, "I will do it."
9 The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the LORD. So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest.
10 Then Rizpah, the mother of two of the men, spread sackcloth on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented vultures from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night.
11 When David learned what Rizpah, Saul's concubine, had done, 12 he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and asked for the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan. (When Saul and Jonathan had died in a battle with the Philistines, it was the people of Jabesh-gilead who had retrieved their bodies from the public square of the Philistine city of Beth-shan.) 13 So David brought the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed. 14 He buried them all in the tomb of Kish, Saul's father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin.
After that, God ended the famine in the land of Israel.
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If you have found parts of the Old Testament or the Book of Revelation offensive, please read An Attempt to Explain Gruesome Bible Passages.
The selections of Bible quotations have been put together by Diana Holbourn.
Throughout this series, wherever the initials TEV appear, they stand for Today's English Version (The Good News Bible).Other initials: