Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Is there Jihad in the Old Testament?

By Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D.

I received this email from Rajib H. who wrote the following letter to me. One of the problems in the letter is quoting a verse in the Old Testament without any context. Someone has said something like quoting a verse out of context is a pretext for mis-understanding.   So it is here.  Surely the death of anyone anywhere who is not an evil person is a sad thought.   For evil people there is little remorse over their demise.  Life is a gift of Yahweh and this life is to be respected.  Murder of innocent people is an insult to Yahweh who made humans in his image.   So let’s read the email and see what can be said about it. 

From: Rajib H. (rajib_h… 

Greeting to brothers and sisters, i think that you should know who started jihad, massacared, genocide. so  that here are a list of biblical verses who deal with counter intiutiveness.

Joshua 11:10-11, 6:21, 10:25-28
Judges 1:17, 3:28-29

All these things has orderd by the God of the bible to make massacared and genocide on innocent earliest dwellers with the strict order to kill every man, women and even childrens. Tesfaye you may see these veres and say to me as many christians does by saying '' this was not about religion but this was about territory(land) unlike you muslims do'' But the truth is just look at the following verses which shows these killings (massacards) has been done for the sake of religions or faith not for territory(land).

Exodus 32:27-29, 22:19-20

Dear Rajib H.

You are claiming that jihad began in the Old Testament.   I suppose that the first thing we must define is jihad itself.  What is jihad?   The term is not in the Old Testament.  However, it is found in the Muslim culture. The concept of fighting is an important idea in the Qur’an. Check the following: 

“And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism: i.e. worshipping others besides Allah) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah Alone [in the whole of the world]. But if they cease (worshipping others besides Allah), then certainly, Allah is All-Seer of what they do.”  (8:39 Hilali-Khan translation, also in the following quotations) 

“It is not for a Prophet that he should have prisoners of war (and free them with ransom) until he had made a great slaughter (among his enemies) in the land. You desire the good of this world (i.e. the money of ransom for freeing the captives), but Allah desires (for you) the Hereafter. And Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.”  (8:67)

“Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (9:29)

“It is He Who has sent His Messenger (Muhammad SAW) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam), to make it superior over all religions even though the Mushrikun (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah) hate (it).”  (9:33)

“Jihad (holy fighting in Allah's Cause) is ordained for you (Muslims) though you dislike it, and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.”  (2:216)

“So, when you meet (in fight Jihad in Allah's Cause), those who disbelieve smite at their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly (on them, i.e. take them as captives). Thereafter (is the time) either for generosity (i.e. free them without ransom), or ransom (according to what benefits Islam), until the war lays down its burden. Thus [you are ordered by Allah to continue in carrying out Jihad against the disbelievers till they embrace Islam (i.e. are saved from the punishment in the Hell-fire) or at least come under your protection], but if it had been Allah's Will, He Himself could certainly have punished them (without you). But (He lets you fight), in order to test you, some with others. But those who are killed in the Way of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost,” (47:4)

Mohammed was the model of jihad participating in a number of battles and planning others.

The respected biographer, Muhammad bin Ishaq, one of Islam’s greatest scholars wrote about Mohammed’s call to jihad and the battles he planned and fought.  (The Life of Mohammed, by Mohammed bin Ishaq, trans. A. Guillaume, Oxford University Press, 1967, pp. 281-490)

The same prescription is given in the traditions about Mohammed:

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle was asked, "What is the best deed?" He replied, "To believe in Allah and His Apostle (Muhammad). The questioner then asked, "What is the next (in goodness)? He replied, "To participate in Jihad (religious fighting) in Allah's Cause."... (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 25)

What are the effects of this teaching in the Qur’an and the hadiths?  Under the leaders who succeeded Mohammed  the Muslims continued what Mohammed had done in Arabia.  About three years after Mohammed died, Damascus fell, Antioch fell the next year, and two years later, in 638, Jerusalem fell.  By 642 all of Egypt had fallen and the conquest continued for years to come until the Muslims were stopped at the battle of Tours in AD 732.   Not only did the conquest move west but also east.  The slaughter was horrible.  Everywhere people were killed, enslaved, women raped, and there was destruction of nations and cities.  In terms of lives lost the estimate has been made that 270 million people have been killed by the Muslims since the time of Mohammed (see here). 

Jihad has been practiced against people of all kinds of nations, all kinds of belief system, and for 1400 years.   It is still going on in modern times against anyone who is a non-Muslim. 

Hopefully, we now know what Jihad is in the Muslim sense.

Now we must turn to the story of the Bible to see if there is any kind of jihad there. You claim that it is not about land, but about religion.  If you will read the verses below you will discover that it is about land in the very beginning of the story of Abraham in which Yahweh promised the land.    In your statement, you have overlooked the history of the Old Testament.  You must read the whole story. Let’s begin with Abraham and what Yahweh promised him.  We will have to look at the whole chapter:

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."   But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"   And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir."

And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir."   And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."   And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

And he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess."   But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?"

He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon."   And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half.   And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.   As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.   Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.   But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.  As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.  And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."   When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.   On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,   the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites,   the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,   the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites."    (Gen. 15:1-21 ESV)

If you care to think about this passage you can find a background to the passages you quoted without regard to any context.  Abraham’s offspring would be in Egypt all that time as pilgrims then would be enslaved before being liberated by Yahweh.  All this time would amount to over 400 years.  This is the patience of Yahweh concerning people who sinned greatly against his holiness.   A variety of idolatries were practiced, even human sacrifice to Molech, temple prostitution in the worship of Baal, and many other sins.           

Does 400 years seem like impatience?   There seems to come a time when judgment must fall and Yahweh is the one doing the judgment.   In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah the time came.   In the case of the inhabitants of Canaan the time came.  The pronouncement of judgment is seen in the following passage.

“When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites  and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out,  you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces.  You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you.”  (Exodus 23:23-25)

If you care to consider these verses, there are limitations on the judgment.  It is restricted to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites.  No one else!!  There is no reference to Babylon, there is no connection to any other nation except these listed. There is no command to wipe out the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Arabians, the Persians, or anyone. There is no command to conquer the world and force or compel it to become Jewish.

Once this judgment was passed there are many commands about welcoming and protecting the sojourner in their midst.

Before the events of judgment on these groups we have the words in Exodus,

“... but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” (Exodus 20:10)  

“You shall not wrong a sojourner  or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)

These were non-Jews and there was respect for them.

Part of the reason for the judgment upon Jews centuries later announced by the prophet Ezekiel was,

 “The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice.”  (Ezekiel 22:29)

The last prophet in the Old Testament declares God’s word,

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 3:5)        

One more perspective is important for seeing what happens in the Old Testament concerning judgment.  Here the issue is that after 400 years Israel is used by Yahweh to bring judgment on these people.  However, Israel is warned that if they are disobedient to Yahweh they will be judged.  The prophets of the Old Testament announce again and again that God’s judgment is coming by means of another nation destroying them.

“Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, "Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets."   But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God.   They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them.   And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal.   And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.   Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.   Judah also did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced.   And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight.  When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the LORD and made them commit great sin.   The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them,   until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day. (2 Kings 17:13-23)

The view of history is expressed also in the following passage:

“So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria,  and he took them into exile, namely, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, to this day.” (1 Chronicles 5:26)

Jeremiah, the prophet also declares God’s activity in judging Israel by another nation.  Not only was Assyria punished by Yahweh’s use of another nation, but that nation would be punished also for its sins.  The following passage declares this:

“Israel is a hunted sheep driven away by lions. First the king of Assyria devoured him, and now at last Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has gnawed his bones.   Therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing punishment on the king of Babylon and his land, as I punished the king of Assyria.” (Jeremiah 50:17-18)

Not only would the Babylonians come as Yahweh’s judge on Israel, but the sin of the Israelites would be such that Yahweh declares He will make them a terror to themselves.  Note the following passage:

“For thus says the LORD: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon.  He shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall strike them down with the sword.” (Jeremiah 20:4)

The warnings from Yahweh had been made repeatedly and the most sacred place in Israel was Jerusalem and its temple.  The judgment of Yahweh was that the city would be destroyed and the temple burned.

“For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the LORD: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.” (Jeremiah 21:10)

The punishment on Israel would last for 70 years in their captivity in the land of Babylon and then they would return to Israel.  At the end of the period of time, the captive people would be free because Babylon would fall and that kingdom would be no more.

“Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste.”  (Jeremiah 25:12)

The punishment or visitation of its iniquity upon Babylon was executed when the city was taken, after a long and difficult siege, by the allied Medes and Persians under Cyrus’ command. This was in 538 BC, just 68 years after Jerusalem was taken by Nebuchadnezzar for the first time. From the time of the fall of Babylon the sovereignty passed to the Medes and Persians.

No, I don’t think jihad began in the Old Testament.  It began with Mohammed.

We should now look at the passages of Scripture that are used to suggest jihad in the Old Testament.  The first is:

“... then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, "Who is on the LORD's  side? Come to me." And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel, 'Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.'”  And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.” (Exodus 32:26-28)

What has gone on here?  The word of Yahweh to Abraham was in the process of being fulfilled.  After years of slavery in Egypt they are now being delivered. They have knowledge of the plagues on their masters in Egypt, they have experienced the Passover in which their first born children are saved in the night of the Passover, they have experienced deliverance from Pharaoh’s army at the Sea, they have experienced daily food that Yahweh provided out of nowhere, they have seen His provision of water, they have seen Yahweh’s presence day and night and in the most awesome way at Sinai where Moses was given the Law.  They also have been grumbling, complaining, rebelling, and wanting to return to slavery in Egypt rather than being free in the land that was promised to Abraham.  Some of the people persuaded Aaron to make an idol out of their jewelry and they regarded the idol as the god who brought them out of Egypt.  (32:4)   

These were direct insults to the mercy and grace of Yahweh. What ingratitude!! What thoughtlessness!!  How warped were their reasons that they could know all this and turn against Yahweh.  In light of this, the rebellious were dealt with. They were judged for their iniquity.     There is no command to the Levites that they should pursue other nations to forcibly bring them under the rule of Yahweh.  Neither has there been a command to the nation or people of Israel to do that. It seems reasonable to think that the idolaters were the only ones killed since there were still people left to continue the journey.

The second passage is:

“Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death. Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the LORD alone, shall be devoted to destruction.”  (Exodus 22:19-20)           

First, this is a passage that relates to the life of Israel in its strictest sense.  These people were chosen by Yahweh to be a blessing to the world, and one of these blessings related to the promise of the Messiah that would come in their midst, foretold by the prophets in the Old Testament.  Yahweh wanted a faithful people.  Second, there were lots of idol worshipers in the world in those days and there was no jihad called for against them.  The list of people, Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites,  the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,  the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites, were the only ones singled out for judgment. Third, idol worship can do no good for anyone and the demands are immoral.  Some of these people sacrificed their children to the gods,  others were involved in temple prostitution as in the case of Baal worship, and the gods gave nothing in return.  Fourth, why would one turn from a Being who delivered you from slavery to an idol that could do nothing in response?  Fifth, idolatry was like a cancer that would spread through the whole body of people if it were not stopped. Sixth, again, it must be emphasized that this was a very limited command related to the people of Israel, not other cultures. There were old cultures, Indian, Chinese, and others that were idolaters and nothing is pronounced against nations away from Israel.

The third passage is:

“And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms. And they struck with the sword all who were in it, devoting them to destruction; there was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire. And all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua captured, and struck them with the edge of the sword, devoting them to destruction, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded. But none of the cities that stood on mounds did Israel burn, except Hazor alone; that Joshua burned.”  (Joshua 11:10-13)

This passage gives an example of Yahweh using one nation to bring judgment on the evil nation whose time had come.  The same idea relates to Israel later when the Assyrians are bringing judgment on the northern Kingdom and the Babylonians were bringing Yahweh’s pronouncement of judgment on the southern kingdom, or Judah.  If Yahweh cannot judge his creation, who can?   If one must condemn Joshua and his people, then one must also condemn the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Rather, the Old Testaments describe Yahweh as the Lord of History and Ruler of His Creation.

The fourth passage:  

“And Joshua said to them, "Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the LORD will do to all your enemies against whom you fight."  And afterward Joshua struck them and put them to death, and he hanged them on five trees. And they hung on the trees until evening. But at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set large stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day. As for Makkedah, Joshua captured it on that day and struck it, and its king, with the edge of the sword. He devoted to destruction every person in it; he left none remaining. And he did to the king of Makkedah just as he had done to the king of Jericho.”  (Joshua 10:25-28)

This passage fits into the same category of the one above and the comments related to it.

The fifth passage:

“Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.  But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, "Go into the prostitute's house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her."”  (Joshua 6:21-22)

Rajib listed only 6:21, but the context of the story is interesting in many ways. First, it was an act of Yahweh who brought down the walls.  Joshua’s people only marched around the city for 7 days blowing the trumpet but it was Yahweh who brought down the walls. Second, it was again the people coming to re-claim the land promised to Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob.  These were the people who were in Egypt in slavery, not anyone else connected to Abraham. Third, it is interesting that a prostitute’s life was spared by her faith and commitment to Yahweh’s people.  Her faith in Yahweh saved her.  She was not stoned. There is forgiveness for prostitutes.  Is there forgiveness for prostitutes in Islam?

The sixth passage is:

“And Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they defeated the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath and devoted it to destruction. So the name of the city was called Hormah.”  (Judges 1:17)

This passage still relates to the campaign to take possession of the land that Yahweh had given them.  

The seventh passage is:

“And he said to them, "Follow after me, for the LORD has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand." So they went down after him and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites and did not allow anyone to pass over.  And they killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped.   So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.”  (Judges 3:28-30)           

The book of judges has a theme of “each man did what was right in his own eyes,” and general deterioration of loyalty to Yahweh is described in the many chapters.  The theme is repeated many times in which the people fall away, the judgment of Yahweh takes place  allowing invaders to come and enslave them until they are desperate and cry out to Yahweh to deliver them.   In this case, the Moabites had come and subjected the people for many years.

When they repented of their sins, Yahweh raised up a leader who brought deliverance and in this case they were fighting for their country again.  The enemy was killed and they had rest and peace for 80 years before another falling away took place and the process was repeated.

In conclusion, the concept of jihad as the Muslim world views it does not exist in the Old Testament. The  fulfillment of the promise to Abraham involved Yahweh’s judgment on the peoples there.   Yahweh is still Lord of history!!  To understand the Old or New Testament one must read the whole story.  

Thanks for writing.  If you have other questions I would try to answer them.

Blessings, Dallas