Way too often, the God of the Bible punishes people not for what they’ve done, but for what other people have done.
God’s law says if you find a person who has been killed, and you don’t know who did it, you can just blame it on a cow. Break the cow’s neck, and God’s bizarre sense of justice will be satisfied.
One time, God thought the Israelites deserved to die… but since he was biased in their favor, he decided to punish a bunch of other nations instead. God makes people drink from the cup of his wrath whether they deserve it or not.
God said because the king of Judah had broken a promise, the troops of Judah would be killed.
The book of Obadiah is all about what God’s planning to do to Edom. He says he’s going to turn everyone against that country and completely devastate them, and there will be no survivors. Why? It’s because of violence against Israel, but apparently the Edomites aren’t the ones who actually committed that violence. They just stood aloof while other nations invaded Israel. But God thought Edom was “like one of them”, and that was enough to make him want to kill all the Edomites.
Jesus (who the Bible says is God) found a man possessed by a legion of demons, which were tormenting the man. When Jesus confronted the demons, they expected to be tortured, or at least banished from the area. But Jesus didn’t end up punishing the demons at all. Instead, he let them do just what they wanted, which was to possess someone’s herd of 2000 pigs and make them drown themselves. So the innocent pigs died, and the innocent owner of the pigs lost his livestock. The demons, meanwhile, remained on the loose, let off the hook and free to continue causing trouble.
The Bible says God made an innocent man suffer and die for everyone else’s sins.
God had an angel kill Herod Agrippa because his subjects thought he was a god. Herod himself never said he was a god. God just killed him immediately after some other people said he sounded like a god. He didn’t even give Herod a chance to say what he thought about it.
Punishing the victim
Moses said if Pharaoh didn’t let his Israelite slaves go, God might start killing the helpless Israelites. Despite the obvious fact that it wasn’t their fault that they were staying in Egypt. In fact, it wasn’t even Pharaoh’s fault. It was God’s fault.
Just when it starts to sound like God cares about the well-being of widows and the fatherless, God shows that he really doesn’t. He’s responsible for people being in those situations in the first place. God says he’ll punish people who mistreat widows and the fatherless by making their wives widows and their children fatherless. If God really cared about helping people in bad situations like that, he wouldn’t be putting more people in those situations.
God said if a man committed certain crimes against his family, God would punish his family.
God’s law says if a man dislikes his wife and slanders her, part of the punishment is for the woman to have to stay married to the man who hates her as long as he lives. It’s the same when a man rapes an unmarried woman. God says you have to “punish him” by forcing the woman to be married to the rapist as long as he lives.
When false prophets were prophesying lies to the people, God said he was going to banish his people and let them die.
God told the people of Nineveh that he would leave them no prey on the earth. Apparently he intends to punish one city by killing everyone else in the world.
If one person gets angry at another, that’s likely because the latter did something wrong. But who does Jesus say will be judged? The angry person.
The book of Revelation says God is going to send lots of people to hell to punish them for being forced to worship the beast and receive its mark.
Punishing people for what he made them do
The Bible says God forces people to do evil,1 and then he punishes them for what he made them do. He overwhelms people with delusions to make them believe lies… and then he sends them to hell for not believing the truth.
God repeatedly made Pharaoh too “stubborn” to do what he was telling him to do. And then he repeatedly punished Pharaoh for being stubborn. After God finally decided to let him let the Israelites go, another king refused to let them pass through his country on their way to the promised land. But that only happened because God had made him “stubborn” too. And since the king wouldn’t let them through, God had his people kill everyone in that king’s country.
When Balak’s men summoned Balaam, God told Balaam to go with them. Then God got angry and tried to kill Balaam for going with them.
God says he is responsible for false prophets who perform miraculous signs to convince people to worship other gods. God sends those prophets to test his people. But God also says those prophets have to be killed for doing what God sent them to do. And he’s going to send at least one such prophet to hell to be constantly tortured forever.
Eli tried to get his wicked sons to repent, but God wouldn’t let them change their ways, because then he wouldn’t get to kill them.
God told David to take a census, so he did. Then everybody started acting like that was somehow a sinful thing to do. So God decided to punish David for obeying him. (And of course, God’s idea of “punishing David” was to kill 70,000 other people who had nothing to do with it.)
When Shimei pelted David with stones and called him a murderer, David said he couldn’t argue with him, because God had told Shimei to say that. Yet when Solomon later had Shimei killed, Solomon described it as a divine punishment for how Shimei had treated David. So apparently God told Shimei to curse David and then had Shimei killed for cursing David.
God got Baasha to destroy the family of Jeroboam. Then he got angry at Baasha for destroying the family of Jeroboam, and decided to have Baasha’s family destroyed too. God did the same thing again later, when he punished the family of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel. Jehu had destroyed the family of Ahab in Jezreel because God had told him to.
God said if any righteous people started doing evil, or if any wicked people continued doing evil, God would kill them… and then blame Ezekiel for their death. And unless God made a very poor choice of an analogy to describe this situation, it sounds like even the part where people start sinning is actually God’s fault.2 But God thought it was obviously all Ezekiel’s fault if anybody ever sinned and died. Ezekiel should have warned everyone that doing bad things is bad, and then nobody would have done bad things!
At one point, God decided he didn’t want anyone to prophesy at all. He said the only people who would be prophesying would be people he had enticed into prophesying… and even then, he would destroy them, because he doesn’t want anyone to prophesy!
God said he was going to send a prince named Gog to attack Israel. Then when Gog attacked Israel, God would get angry and disarm Gog, send people to attack him, bring down hail and burning sulfur on him and his troops, and feed him to the wild animals. And set his homeland on fire.
Another time, God was very angry with the nations he had sent to punish his people. If they had only done exactly what he wanted them to do, he would have been a little angry with them for some reason. But since they did too much of what he wanted them to do, he was very angry.
God said he tried to start a great new nation, but it didn’t turn out very good, so he decided to destroy his people for his own failure. Just like he had previously tried to do with humans in general.
Jesus blamed the experts in the Jewish law for burdening everyone with so many difficult laws. If it’s that hard to obey all God’s laws, isn’t that God’s fault? God found fault with the people because there was something wrong with the first covenant… even though according to the Bible, that covenant was the work of God, not people.
Jesus, who intentionally kept his divine identity secret, said God was going to let Jerusalem’s enemies destroy their city and their children for not knowing that Jesus was God. God says one day he’s going to gather all the nations to conquer Jerusalem. Then he’ll turn around and fight against the nations he sent, and make their bodies rot while they’re still living.
God said he would pour out his wrath on man and beast because the people of Judah were worshiping other gods. But were the animals worshiping other gods? God said similar things about killing the men and beasts of Edom and Egypt. What had the beasts done? God wiped out the beasts, the birds, and the fish because there was too much cursing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery in the land of Israel. Were the animals the ones doing those things?
God said he was going to punish Babylon by starting a fire that would consume not just Babylon, but everyone around it. And when he found Jerusalem to be corrupt, God decided the whole world needed to burn.
God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but he got on a ship to go to Tarshish instead. So God tried to get all the sailors killed, who didn’t even know what Jonah was up to.
Revelation predicts that God will punish people by having the world’s water supply turned into blood. He’ll do this because “they” have shed the blood of his people and his prophets. Really, EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD has done that? I don’t think so.
Some people don’t seem to be able to tell the difference between individuals being guilty and the whole group of people those individuals belong to being guilty. It looks like God is that kind of person.
God condemned all people because of one sin of one man. Even people who never sinned themselves.
When God was planning to destroy the city of Sodom, Abraham was concerned that God might kill good people along with the evil ones. He negotiated with God until God said that if there were ten righteous people in the city, he wouldn’t destroy them. But disappointingly, Abraham stopped there, leaving us with no reason to think God wouldn’t kill nine innocent people just for being in the same city as evil people. If you don’t think that sounds like something God would do, just look at all the similar (but far worse) things he does in the Bible:
God repeatedly punished all the Egyptians and their children and their animals and even their slaves for Pharaoh’s decision3 to keep the Israelites captive. Even though the Egyptian commoners themselves were friendly to the Israelites.
God declared that the Midianites were enemies and had to die, just because one Midianite woman had sex with an Israelite man. (Which no one had ever even said she wasn’t allowed to do.) This happened to occur while the Moabites were leading the Israelites into sin. But the Midianite woman had nothing to do with that as far as I can tell. And the rest of the Midianites certainly weren’t to blame for any of that. There was absolutely no reason to declare war on them.
Sihon refused to let the Israelites pass through his country, because God made him “stubborn”. So then God had his people kill everyone in Sihon’s country.
With God’s encouragement, the Israelites nearly wiped out one of their own tribes. They killed tens of thousands of Benjamites (including all the women), and left only 600 survivors. And they did all that just because some men did something bad in a Benjamite city once.
One time, some Philistine soldiers captured the ark of the covenant. So God punished a bunch of civilians who were not guilty of stealing the ark, giving them tumors and killing them. God uprooted whole cities because enemies of David lived there.
God said he would repay everyone who lived in Babylon for what they had done to Jerusalem. It hardly seems likely that every single person in Babylon was actually guilty. God’s planned punishment for Babylon included having people rape the women and kill the infants. I think we can assume the infants were not the ones who had done anything to Jerusalem.
Nahum said God was going to send an overwhelming flood to make an end of Nineveh, just because one person from Nineveh was planning to do something wicked.
Collective punishment of the Jews
Moses had to remind God not to kill all the Israelites just because one of them had sinned. God didn’t remember his lesson for long, though. If a few tribes rebel against God today, he’ll be angry at all of Israel tomorrow. God threatened to destroy the whole land of Israel with burning sulfur if one tribe, one clan, or even one individual worshipped another god.
If the king doesn’t obey him, God says he’ll abandon his entire chosen nation. If God hadn’t made a promise to David, he would have destroyed the whole nation of Judah just because one king was evil. But even good king Hezekiah wasn’t good enough for God, which made God get angry at all of Judah again.
God threatened to kill his people because Moses counted them (when God told him to). The only way they could avoid being killed for what God made Moses do was to give God money. God told David to take a census too, and then he said he was going to punish David for obeying him. But then he killed tens of thousands of commoners instead.
God once killed some of Aaron’s sons because he didn’t like the way they made offerings to him. Then Moses told Aaron and his remaining sons not to mourn for the dead sons. He said if they did, God would get angry and kill them… and maybe all the other Israelites, too.
God got angry at all of Israel and got 36 men killed in battle, just because one man had done something that God hadn’t yet said was okay to do. Another time, God told Saul to kill all the Amalekites for the sins of their ancestors. But Saul only killed… all but one of them. So to punish Saul for barely “disobeying” him, God gave his whole country into the hands of their enemies.
God thought king Jehoahaz was evil too, so he let the kings of Aram severely oppress Israel for a long time to punish his people for having an evil king. God wanted to destroy his people, and sent raiders from several nations to destroy Judah for what King Manasseh had done… when Manasseh had already been dead for decades.
Ahab was the most evil king Israel had ever had, but of course God couldn’t punish just the evil guy. Instead, God withheld rain for three years, causing innocent people to starve all throughout Israel and beyond. Then Ahab made a treaty with the king of Aram instead of killing him like God wanted him to do. So God decided to punish all the Israelites for that too.
Because the priests and prophets of Judah were murderers, God let the whole nation be conquered.
Just like the Babylonian babies, God thought Israelite babies needed to be killed. The Israelites had rebelled against God, and those babies were Israelites! So the babies must have rebelled against God, and needed to die.
Jesus told a parable where a king sends his servants to a city to invite some people to his son’s wedding. Instead of going to the wedding, the people he invited decide to kill his servants. So the king (representing God) burns down the whole city (representing Israel).
Punishing the family
God sent Aaron to the top of a mountain to die without ever entering the promised land. He claimed that Aaron and his brother Moses had both rebelled against him at Meribah. But all that had really happened there was that Moses had done a miracle slightly differently than he was instructed. Aaron had nothing to do with it.
According to God’s law, a man is to be held responsible for vows his wife breaks. God threatened to punish disobedient men by getting other men to rape the women they were engaged to. And God made Pilate’s wife suffer a great deal for what Pilate was going to do.
God’s chosen king Jeroboam was evil, so God chose a new king for Israel. He had the new king kill all of Jeroboam’s relatives and slaves. Then God decided that king was evil too, so he did the same thing to the new king’s family. Later, God had Jehu do the same thing to King Ahab’s relatives and slaves,5 and then God punished Jehu’s family because Jehu had done that.
For the sins of their fathers
God killed Pharaoh’s son because of what Pharaoh did.
One time, some men tried to rebel against Moses. So God had them stand together with their wives and children, and then made the earth open up and swallow them all.
Another time, one man did something that God hadn’t yet said was okay to do. God demanded that the people destroy that man, so they stoned him to death, and then they stoned the rest. Who are “the rest”? Only one person had angered God at that time. But apparently the people brought his sons and daughters along, and stoned them too. And then burned them. Then God was satisfied and stopped being angry.
God told Saul to kill all the Amalekites for what their ancestors had done hundreds of years in the past. But Saul only killed all but one of them. To punish Saul for barely “disobeying” him, God killed not just Saul, but also his sons.
One of Saul’s sons survived being killed, and became king. But then some of his own men killed him, because his father had tried to kill David. The men who killed him said they were doing God’s work.
David got Uriah killed after stealing his wife, so God tortured and killed David’s baby. And he made sure the rest of David’s descendants would constantly be violently attacked as well. God doesn’t love the children of adulterers.
Solomon wisely displeased God by worshipping other gods. So instead of punishing him, God waited until after Solomon was dead and then took most of the kingdom away from his son. God didn’t want to actually punish Solomon for what Solomon did, because he liked Solomon’s dead father too much.6 The new guy God chose to be king of Israel, Jeroboam, also worshipped other gods. So God killed his young son Abijah, who was the only good person in his family.
Ahab was the most evil king Israel had ever had. But since he fasted and stuff when God threatened him, God decided not to punish him at all, and to punish his son instead. A prophet said that because Ahab had gotten someone killed just because Ahab wanted his vineyard, Ahab would lie dead in that vineyard. But Jehu claimed that he was fulfilling that prophecy when he killed Ahab’s son and threw him into the vineyard.
A priest tried to make the prophet Amos leave the priest’s town. Then Amos told him that God said the priest’s sons and daughters were going to fall by the sword.
In one of Jesus’s parables, a man is unable to pay off his debt to the king. So the king, who represents God in this metaphor, decides to sell the man and his wife and children as slaves.
For the sins of their parents
After recounting God’s laws to the people, Moses told them what God would cause to happen if people didn’t obey him. The consequences included their children being cursed, taken captive, and eaten.
Job said that God should of course punish people for their own sins… but that it was well-known that that’s not what God actually does. Instead, God makes children go blind and starve because of what their parents did. God confirmed that what Job said about him was true. David, on the other hand, approved of God punishing the children of the wicked.
Jeremiah praised God for bringing the punishment for the parents’ sins into the laps of their children after them. He said God didn’t like what some of his people said… so he decided to bring an enemy nation to devour their sons and daughters. Some people threatened to kill Jeremiah, so God caused a famine to kill their sons and daughters.
God told Ezekiel a story where for some reason God marries two sisters who are prostitutes. Then when he remembers that he doesn’t like people like them, he brings a mob to kill them and their sons and daughters.
Hosea said when God’s people turned away from him, he tried to stop them from having any children. But apparently God wasn’t confident in his ability to do that… so he decided he would also kill every child they did manage to have. Because the people of Samaria had rebelled against God, their little ones would be dashed to the ground.
Isaiah said God was going to punish a woman by killing her husband and children. Joel said because of what foreigners had done to God’s people, God was going to sell their sons and daughters to the people of Judah. Micah said God was going to punish people by making their children go into exile. Nahum compared people in Ninevah to lions filling their lairs with their prey. And he said God was going to have their young lions killed with the sword.
In the vision of Revelation, Jesus said a false prophet named Jezebel was leading people astray. So Jesus said he was going to strike her children dead. That way everyone would know that he repaid everyone according to their own deeds!
For the sins of their ancestors
God cursed all snakes to have to crawl on their bellies and have humans for enemies, because of what their ancestor did.8 And God cursed women in general with painful childbirth and sexism, because of what their ancestor Eve did.
Because some Amalekites attacked Israel once, God decided that all their descendants should be treated as enemies forever.
God bans people from his assembly for the crime of having a forbidden marriage in their ancestry ten generations in the past. And he bans descendants of Ammonites and Moabites, because they have some ancestors who weren’t nice to the Israelites when the Israelites were trying to destroy all the nations in their path.
God promised that Eli’s family would always be his priests. But then he decided he didn’t like what Eli’s sons were doing. So he broke his promise and put a curse on all of Eli’s future descendants instead.
To punish Saul (who was already dead) for breaking Israel’s promise not to massacre the Gibeonites,9 God subjected the whole country to a famine for three years, until atonement could be made. The remaining Gibeonites told David he could make up for what Saul had done by letting them kill a bunch of Saul’s descendants. So he did, and then God was willing to end the famine.10
To punish evil Ahab’s son for what Ahab had done, God had Jehu kill all Ahab’s descendants.
The prophet Elisha’s servant asked someone for gifts for Elisha that Elisha hadn’t actually asked for. So God gave leprosy to that servant and all his descendants forever.
God got angry at the people of Judah because their ancestors hadn’t obeyed all of God’s laws (because the book they were written in had gotten lost). And even after King Josiah got the people to obey God’s law again, God was still angry because of Josiah’s dead grandfather. As long as Josiah lived, he and all his subjects obeyed God’s law, but the previous generation had not. So God decided to punish… the later generations. (And to kill righteous Josiah so he “wouldn’t have to be punished”.)
The Jews who returned from exile with Nehemiah failed to keep the Sabbath law. But God had already been punishing them because their ancestors had done the same thing.
David approvingly wrote about God wiping out the descendants of his enemies. Isaiah said God wants people to slaughter children for the sins of their ancestors. Just like how God repays people not just for their own sins, but also for the sins of their ancestors.
Jeremiah told the Israelites that God was going to bring a great disaster on them. But they couldn’t think of anything they had done wrong. God explained that he was actually punishing them because their ancestors had broken his law. Jeremiah said his people were bearing the punishment for their ancestors who had sinned and died.
Shemaiah the Nehelamite was a false prophet who encouraged rebellion against God and got God’s prophets locked up. So God punished him and his descendants, making sure they all died.
Malachi told some corrupt priests that because of them, God was going to rebuke their descendants.
The Pharisees mentioned disapprovingly that their ancestors had killed prophets. Then Jesus acted like they were condemning themselves as murderers by saying that. He absurdly blamed his generation for the killing of all the prophets and righteous people who had ever been killed. And he said the people of his generation would probably go to hell because of that.