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Does the Bible say God kills?

Those who maintain that the Bible doesn’t describe God killing may do so by arguing that the verses where it says God kills do not mean what they say. Rather, they claim that either a secondary agent like Satan, angels or natural or spiritual laws do the killing and not God.

Or they claim ancient peoples misunderstood how God operated and so traced all things – good and bad – back to God. It was not God killing people – it was a misunderstanding of how the world really worked. 

The following passages seek to look more carefully at relevant verses and categorize them.  Some verses fit into the categories already described. Other verses do not.  This list is not exhaustive. There are many more verses that could be sited.

But first, it is important to remember that, although these verses describe God killing or threatening to kill people, they should not be understood to mean that God takes pleasure in killing.

Eze 18:23 ESV  Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

Eze 33:11 ESV  Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Lam 3:31-33 ESV  For the Lord will not cast off forever,  32  but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love;  33  for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.

Instances where God explicitly claims responsibility

These are passages where the author is conveying what God Himself has said. I am assuming here that God does not want us to think wrongly about Him. What He says, as opposed to what some Biblical authors might say, is accurate and clear. So the argument that ancient peoples did not understand God clearly is not relevant here since God is speaking directly to us.


Deu 32:39 ESV  “‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

Amo 2:3 ESV  I will cut off the ruler from its midst, and will kill all its princes with him,” says the LORD.

Lev 23:26-30 ESV  And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  … 30  And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people.

David’s punishment for taking a census

2Sa 24:11-16 ESV  And when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,  12  “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the LORD, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’”  13  So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.”  14  Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”  15  So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men.  16  And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

  1. What is about to come on Israel was something “offered” by the Lord. 
  2. This was not the simple outworking of a spiritual or natural law – David had to choose which punishment he wanted.
  3. David recognised it was better to “fall into the hand of the Lord” (2 Sam 24:14) than to endure war with his enemies. This again eliminates secondary causes and explicitly connects what is about to happen to God.
  4. The author states explicitly what God has already said explicitly – “the Lord sent a pestilence” (2 Sam 24:15) resulting in the death of 70,000 men.
  5. Note finally that there is a secondary cause given – the angel of the Lord. This passage is clear that even though a secondary agent killed the people, it was what God offered, or gave, them.

God kills with the sword

Amo 9:1 ESV  I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said: “Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake, and shatter them on the heads of all the people; and those who are left of them I will kill with the sword; not one of them shall flee away; not one of them shall escape.

  1. This passage is included in this category and not in the ‘secondary agent’ category even though it is said they will be “killed with the sword”.
  2. God is a Spirit and although He could, there is no reason to think that it is God Himself killing people with a physical sword.
  3. What God is saying (remember it is God speaking) is that He will be the One sending and strengthening an army to to kill the people of Israel. Thus it is God who kills with the swords of men. 
  4. This passage sheds light on the passages below where secondary agents are said to be responsible.

Jesus declares that God kills

Luk 12:1, 4-5 ESV  In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.  5  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

Mat 10:28 ESV  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

  1. This passage is included here because it is Jesus, who is God, speaking about God the Father. 
  2. Jesus was addressing His disciples (v1)
  3. The context is physical human death. That is, we should not fear those people who are trying to kill us. Who should we fear?
  4. Jesus says we should fear God. Why? Because He is the one who kills and can then also damn to hell.
  5. The point of this passage is that it is God who is doing the killing, not a secondary agent and not natural causes. Even though murders and Satan and disease and earthquakes can kill we are not to fear them. Or rather, we are the fear God more than them.

Instances where the context requires that God is directly responsible

Deu 28:63 ESV  And as the LORD took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

  1. The passage is contrasting two activities. In the same way that God was responsible for the good they experienced, so He would be responsible for the ruin they experienced. If the ‘good’ came from God then so did the destruction.

Sons of Korah

Num 16:29-33 ESV  If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me.  30  But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.”  31  And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart.  32  And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods.  33  So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.

The context is that some men were not happy that Moses had “exalted himself” (Num 16:3) and his family to the special service in the tabernacle. They believed that God had chose “every one” and that so they had a right to serve in the tabernacle. What follows with Aaron’s staff that budded and the killing of the Sons of Korah is described as the Lord making abundantly clear who He had He chosen.

  1. The words “if they are visited by the fate of all mankind” explicitly excludes secondary agents as the cause of death.  Even though these men and their families died through a natural event, God wanted every one to know that it was not a result of natural law.
  2. The words “if the LORD creates something new” explicitly connects what is about to happen to the Lord Himself. Moses (and God) were at pains to let Israel know that this was no accident.

The people who complained about Korah

Num 16:41-50 ESV  But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD.”  42  And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared.  43  And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting,  44  and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  45  “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces.  46  And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.”  47  So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.  48  And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.  49  Now those who died in the plague were 14,700, besides those who died in the affair of Korah.  50  And Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, when the plague was stopped.

  1. Interestingly, the people said that Moses “has killed the people of the Lord” (Num 16:41). They would soon find out that it was not Moses.
  2. v41 describes the visible presence of God appearing on the tabernacle. God was drawing the people’s attention to Himself.
  3. v44 God Himself declares that he will consume the congregation.
  4. v46 describes “wrath going out from the Lord”. It is clear that this not Satan’s wrath or Moses’ wrath. Nor is a natural event like a famine to blame. This is something that “has gone out from God”.

Instances where God is said to be responsible

Gen 7:23 ESV  He [God] blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.

Gen 19:24 ESV  Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. … 29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.

Gen 38:7 ESV  But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD put him to death.

Gen 38:10 ESV  And what he did was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death also.

Exo 4:24 ESV  At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death.

1Sa 2:6 ESV  The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

1Ch 2:3 ESV  The sons of Judah: Er, Onan and Shelah; these three Bath-shua the Canaanite bore to him. Now Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death.

1Ch 10:14 ESV  He did not seek guidance from the LORD. Therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.

Isa 65:15 ESV  You shall leave your name to my chosen for a curse, and the Lord GOD will put you to death, but his servants he will call by another name,

2Th 2:8 ESV  And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.

Rev 19:21 ESV  And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him [Jesus] who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

Instances where secondary agents are responsible

Num 22:31-33 ESV  Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face.  32  And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me.  33  The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.”

Jdg 14:19 ESV  And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house.

1Sa 2:25 ESV  If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death.

2Ki 19:35 ESV  And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.

Isa 37:36 ESV  And the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.

Act 12:23 ESV  Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

Instances where the Lord commands people be put to death

Exo 31:15 ESV  Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.

Exo 35:2 ESV  Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.

Lev 24:16-17 ESV  Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.  17  “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.

Num 15:35-36 ESV  And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.”  36  And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses.

Deu 13:5 ESV  But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

Deu 13:9-10 ESV  But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people.  10  You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Deu 20:13 ESV  And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword,

Jer 50:21 ESV  “Go up against the land of Merathaim, and against the inhabitants of Pekod. Kill, and devote them to destruction, declares the LORD, and do all that I have commanded you.

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