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Bible passages that appear immoral today

Murdering people. Examples of
religious intolerance: Part 4 of 5

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Topics covered in this essay:

bullet Murdering people because of curiosity:
bullet For looking at/into the Ark of the Covenant
bullet For looking back at Sodom
bullet Murdering people for doing the right thing:
bullet For saving the Ark of the Covenant from damage
bullet For taking a census as ordered by God
bullet Religious intolerance:
bullet Murdering people for worshiping another God
bullet Mass murder of men involved in inter-faith relationships
bullet Murder of 450 priests
bullet Murder of those who reject Jesus

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Murdering people for looking at/into the Ark of the Covenant:

1 Samuel 6:19:

"And he smote the men of Beth-she'mesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter."

The "ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts" is an oblong box constructed by the Israelites before they arrived in Canaan. It housed the ten commandments. It was sometimes carried into battle, to assure victory. As related in 1 Samuel, the Philistines captured the ark, and moved it among three of their cities. Each city suffered from a disastrous plague. The Philistines return the ark to the Israelites. Some people looked at or in the ark, presumably out of curiosity, and were killed by God. In all, 50,070 men died (and an unknown number of women and children). In addition to that death toll were the Philistines who died of the plagues.

One liberal commentary on the Bible states that the King James Version and many other translations of the Bible mistranslate this verse; the victims looked at the ark, not into it. 1

Most developed countries have abandoned the death penalty. Of those few which still use the death penalty, it is reserved for cases of murder, not for looking the wrong way or looking at the wrong items.

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Murdering a person because she looked the wrong way:

Genesis 19:12-26:

"And the men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides? son in law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place For we will destroy this place...he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed...he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt."

Interpretations of this passage differ:

bullet Religious conservatives generally believe that God decided to destroy the adults, children, infants, newborns, and buildings in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because the men in the town wanted to engage in homosexual acts.
bullet Religious liberals generally believe that God decided to exterminate the townspeople because they were uncharitable to strangers and to the poor. Their desire to "know" the angels was not a sexual invitation. It was a desire to humiliate the angels by a physical attack -- publicly raping them.

Two angels were sent to Sodom. One of their tasks was to rescue Lot (because of his righteousness), and his wife, daughters and sons-in-law (presumably simply because they were part of Lot's family). The angels ordered the family to flee from the city and to not look back until they reached the mountains. Lot negotiated with the angels, who agreed that they only had flee to a nearby town, Zoar. Once Lot and his wife had reached Zoar, had met all of the instructions of the men, and were safe, Lot's wife turned to look back at the devastation -- at Sodom which contained the remains of her sons-in-law, her more distant relatives (if any) and her friends. God killed her and changed her to a pillar of salt.

As mentioned above, modern moral systems do not assign the death penalty for people who look the wrong way. Also, God apparently did not honor the contract that Lot and the angels negotiated.

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Murdering a person for attempting to save the Ark of the Covenant:

1 Chronicles 13:7-11:

"And they carried the ark of God in a new cart out of the house of Abinadab: and Uzza and Ahio drave the cart...And when they came unto the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God. And David was displeased, because the LORD had made a breach upon Uzza: wherefore that place is called Perezuzza to this day." See also 2 Samuel 6:6-11.

Perezuzza means "breach of Uzzah."

David and his retinue were transporting the Ark on a cart, in violation of God's instructions that the Ark was to be manually carried by priests (Numbers 4:5 & 6; 10:33-36; Psalms 68:1 & 132:8).). They came to the threshing floor of Chidon (according to 1 Chronicles) or of Nachon (according to 2 Samuel). One commentary on the Bible says that either the oxen who were pulling the ark stumbled, or the ark was tilting and about to be upset because of the incline. Then, "...reacting instinctively, Uzzah put his hand on it to keep it steady." 2 We know little about Uzza or Uzza as he is called in 2 Samuel, except that, according to Ezra 2:43-49, he was a Nethinim -- a temple servant who performed menial work in the sanctuary. 3

God took immediate action. However he did not punish the individual(s) in leadership positions who were responsible for ordering that the ark be improperly transported and thus endangered the ark. God killed the temple servant Uzzah/Uzza because he had touched the Ark. The guilt of the leaders responsible was transferred to the menial servant. David had every right to be displeased.

Again, in modern times, we don't kill people for touching religions objects, particularly if it is an instinctive action, particularly if it is done in good faith to save a precious object from damage.

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Murdering people for taking a census ordered by God:

2 Samuel 24:1-15:

"And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah...Joab and the captains of the host went number the people of Israel...So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men...Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee... seven years of famine...thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days' pestilence in thy land...the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel...and there died of the people seventy thousand men." See also 1 Chronicles 21:1-14.

God ordered King David to conduct a census of all of Israel and Judah. (1 Chronicles states that Satan, not God, provoked David to count the people). This was accomplished. They counted 800,000 men in Israel and 500,000 men in Judah. (The 1 Chronicles account specifies 1.1 million in Israel and 470,000 men in Judah; The tribes of Levi and Benjamin were not counted). For some unstated reason, David felt that he had performed a sin. God agreed, and gave David three options as punishment for carrying out God's orders.  He chose either famine or pestilence. 70,000 men and an unrecorded number of women and children died of a plague. 

It is difficult to understand why God would consider it a sin to take a census that he had ordered. God had ordered earlier enumerations without considering them sinful. By modern morality, it is difficult to see why a plague should be sent to kill citizens whose only crime was to be passively counted by government officials. 

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Murdering people for worshiping another God:

Exodus 32:1-4:

"And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings...And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt."

Exodus 32:26-28:

"Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD's side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour. And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men."

Exodus 32:35:

"And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made."

Moses went up Mount Sinai but did not return. The people thought that they had been abandoned, and asked Moses' brother Aaron to create a statue of a Pagan God that they could worship. They, in effect, decided to change their religious allegiance from Jehovah (who they felt was unreliable) to a Pagan God that they were familiar with and might be more dependable. Aaron created a golden calf - a common Pagan fertility symbol in the Middle East at that time. The people started to worship it. When Moses returned he ordered the only loyal tribe, the Levites, to wander through the camp and kill men and their wives - presumably those that had cooperated in the calf worship. Later, God sent a plague to kill more people.

God had responded to the people's desire to change their religious beliefs by killing off thousands of them. This contrasts with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and current laws in most of the countries of the world which allows individuals full freedom to change their religion.

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Mass murder of men involved in inter-faith relationships:

Numbers 25:1-9:

"And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods...And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun...And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation...And when Phinehas...saw it, he rose up...and took a javelin in his hand...and thrust both of them through...So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand."

The Israelites stayed with the people of Acacia. They were Midianites who worshiped Baal of Peor. Some of the young male Israelites started to date local women. This advanced to include sexual activity and attending Pagan religious observances with their new girlfriends. Eventually, many Israelites also went to religious services in which Baal was worshiped. God was angry and told Moses to execute the tribal leaders of Israel and to desecrate their bodies by hanging them up in the sun. Later, a male Israelite brought his Midianite girlfriend into camp. Phinehas, a grandson of Aaron, murdered them by driving a single javelin through of their bodies. This double homicide appeased God who stopped a plague. The total death toll was 24,000 from the plague plus the tribal leaders who had earlier been executed and desecrated.

In modern times, inter-faith and inter-racial relationships have become relatively common. This is one manifestation of a multi-faith culture, and is generally quite acceptable to those of liberal and mainline religious faiths, and to secularists. 

However, many religious conservatives stress the importance of their children marrying within their faith group. The penalty for marrying outsiders may be hard feelings and perhaps ostracism, shunning, or excommunication; it does not involve the murder of the offending couple.

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Murder of 450 priests:

1 Kings 18:17-40:

"And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim. Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table...And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken...Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God. And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there."

Three religions were active and officially recognized in Samaria under King Ahab: the worship of Asherah, Baal and of Jehovah. Asherah was a Canaanite Goddess; Baal was a title of the Syrian God Hadad. There was a famine in the land, that prophet Elijah blamed it on the Baal worship encouraged by King Ahab. Elijah calls for the gathering on Mount Carmel of 450 priests of Baal, 400 priests of Asherah, and himself, representing Jehovah. He orders a competition between the priests of the Baal and Jehovah, to decide which is the true deity. Two altars are prepared, each with wood for fuel and a ritually killed animal as a sacrifice. The priests of Baal call on their deity without success to light the fire. Later, Jehovah responded by sending a blast of fire to consume the animal, the wood and even the stones of the altar. Elijah ordered the unsuccessful priests of Baal to be taken prisoner. They were taken to a nearby brook and slaughtered.

In modern times, the mass murder of priests of another religion would be considered a very serious crime; in the U.S. it might be prosecutable under the Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987 (the Proxmire Act).

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Murder of those who do not follow Jesus:

Luke 19:27:

"But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me."

This is a curious verse. It and verse 14 seems to have been tacked onto the Parable of the Talents concerning the use of money by the slaves of a nobleman (Luke 19:12-26). Both verses seem unrelated to the parable itself. The verses may not have been included in the original autograph copies of the Gospel of Luke, but added by a later copyist. The parable also appears in Matthew 25:14-30 without the murder threat. More details

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  1. C.M. Laymon, "The Interpreter's one volume commentary on the Bible," Abingdon, (10\99), Page 158-159.
  2. J.D. Douglas, Ed., "New commentary on the whole Bible: Old Testament volume," Tyndale (1991), Page 398.
  3. "Nethinim," Bible Encyclopedia, at:

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See also Part 5 of "Bible passages that appear immoral today"

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Copyright 1997 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-JAN-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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