This introductory article in our mass murder in the Bible series offers a few examples of those who exterminated others in order to accomplish their selfish goals. Our bloody kings of ancient Israel and Judah article discusses how certain rulers over God's people abused their power through the massacre of innocent people. In our New Testament homicides piece, we delve into a few first century examples of mass bloodshed, including one commented on by Jesus!
Our war in the Bible article briefly covers situations where our Creator allowed, and even encouraged, humans to kill (which is different than murder) to fulfill his will. This series also studies the occasions when God's wrath motivated him to end, directly, the lives of many at one time (e.g. the flood). Our last study, entitled "Saved by Grace," discusses examples of how our God's mercy saved a mass of people from certain death.
The first one
Who, chronologically, carried out the FIRST mass murder of innocent humans mentioned in God's word? Maybe not so surprisingly it was Satan the devil! We find the record of his act in the book of Job, the oldest section of Scripture, written around the 1660s B.C.
In Job 1 we are told that God allowed Satan to test the supposition that Job only acted righteously because he was rewarded for doing so. Limited only by not being allowed to harm his life, the devil moved to destroy all that Job owned and loved. One of his targets was Job's seven sons and three daughters. While they were all gathered at the oldest son's home a mighty wind came and blew against the abode. The fast moving air caused the roof to collapse and kill all those inside (Job 1:2, 12, 18 - 19).
Who, in Scripture, were the first recorded people to murder a mass of innocent humans? The answer is Simeon and Levi, the second and third oldest sons of the patriarch Jacob! Their over-the-top response to a legitimate crime committed against their sister cost their descendants a significant inheritance in the Promised Land.
Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, is raped by a man named Shechem (see Genesis 34). After the crime, His father Hamor attempts to negotiate with Jacob's family regarding allowing Dinah to become his son's wife AND having their families intermarry. Jacob's sons, angry at what happened, seek revenge rather than justice. They initially agree to the proposal under the condition that Shechem, Hamor, and all the men that live in their city circumcise themselves. On the third day after the mass circumcision, Jacob's sons Simeon and Levi enter the city and murder ALL the men (including Shechem). Simeon and Levi's descendants are foretold, by a dying Jacob, to be scattered among the rest of Israel as punishment for their violent behavior (Genesis 49).
The children of Israel multiplied greatly after they migrated to Egypt from Canaan (Exodus 1:1 - 7). They soon grew larger in number than the Egyptians. Pharaoh, in an attempt to curtail the further growth of Israel's power, ordered all midwives who helped deliver their babies to murder any male child that came out of the womb. Fearing God, the midwives quietly refused to carry out Pharaoh's order of mass extermination (verses 15 - 17)! Egypt's leader, after it became obvious his initial plan failed, ordered all Egyptians to throw into the Nile any newborn Israelite child that was male (verse 22). It is unknown how many lives were lost under this second plan.
Grasping at greatness
Abimelech, one of Gideon's many sons, thought he deserved to rule over God's people (Judges 9). After convincing the men of Shechem of his "greatness" they offer him seventy pieces of silver from a local pagan temple. Abimelech uses the money to hire men to murder sixty-nine of his seventy brothers (Jotham, the youngest, escapes). Soon after this horrific event he is considered, by many, to be Israel’s king. After he rules for just three years the people of Shechem rise up against their king. Their efforts, however, are in vain as Abimelech (who now has a mass of supporters) slaughters most of the city's inhabitants.
Murder, whether it happens to a mass of people or scattered individuals, sadly happens with regularity around the world. The country with the highest raw number of illegal killings, based on data available to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), is Brazil (55,574 in 2015). They are followed by India (41,623 in 2014) and Mexico (20,762 in 2015). The countries with the highest murder rates (per 100,000 people), in 2015, are El Salvador (108.64) and Venezuela (57.15). The lowest rates are in Singapore (.25) and Hong Kong (.30).
Articles in this Series
The Wrath of God - War in the Bible