In the Ten Commandments, the Lord God says: you shall not murder. Yet a little later, He summons the Israelites to kill all the inhabitants of Jericho. How can this be?
God’s commandment states: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). That is not the same as you shall not kill. The Bible doesn’t totally forbid killing people. The Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for several crimes. It is thus not forbidden to kill, it is forbidden to murder, which means to kill people unlawfully. This makes the answer to our question a whole lot easier.
God is Lord over our lives
If God kills people, or lets them be killed, this is not unlawful but righteous. In the first place, this is righteous since God has the absolute right to determine life and death. We don’t have a right of life. “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why have You made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay?” (Romans 9:20-21)
In the second place, this is righteous because God often kills people (or orders they be killed) as a judgment over their sins. This was the case with the inhabitants of Jericho. They sacrificed their children and practiced all kinds of occult rituals. “Whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you” (Deuteronomy 18:12).
God is righteous
In the third place, this is righteous because we know that God is righteous and always acts righteously. That we don’t always understand Him, is due to our being finite and Him being infinite. We shouldn’t be so arrogant to think that we can judge God. He knows everything. We know very little. If we ever think God condemns lightly, let’s remind ourselves that His love goes so far that He gave His only begotten Son over to death to take away our sins. Yes, God punishes sin. But He primarily punished His Son in our place, so that we don’t have to undergo the punishment anymore.
God kills people. That doesn’t fit most people’s image of God. But more important than holding our reassuring self-made ideas, is to learn what the Bible teaches us about God. The judgment of God over Jericho offers us a glimpse of what the last judgment will be like. When Jesus comes back, He will inflict vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
That is a severe warning for us and for all humanity not to reject Jesus, but to accept Him as our Redeemer and Lord. If you do so, these other verses Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica apply to you as well: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).