2 Samuel 12:31—How can we justify David’s cruelty to his enemies?

Problem: This passage implies that David tortured his enemies, since he “put them under saws, and under axes or iron, and made them pass through the brick-kiln” (kjv). But torture is wrong, and Jesus said “love your enemies” (Luke 6:35).

Solution: Several things should be observed in response to this criticism. First, the kjv translation is open to this misinterpretation here. More recent translations clear up the difficulty. The nkjv correctly renders it, David “put them to work with saws and iron picks and iron axes, and made them cross over to the brick works.” Likewise, the niv says, David “brought out the people who were there, consigning them to labor with saws and with iron picks and axes, and he made them work at brick-making.”

Second, the writer is merely relating these events here—he is not necessarily placing his stamp of approval on them. As noted earlier (see Introduction), not everything recorded in the Bible is condoned by the Bible.

Third, the punishment of forced labor given to these vicious enemies of God’s people is not extreme. Considering the cruelties they unleashed on the children of Israel (cf. 1 Sam. 11:2; Amos 1:13), by comparison, their treatment was humane.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.