Destroy – definition

Sanctuary definition - a place for God?
Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

This page deals with what it means to destroy especially as it applies to God and includes “destruction” – the result of that action. See the destroyer definition for who the destroyer is.

Traditional Legal Model – While God is a God of love, to satisfy justice and for the good of man, He, at times, has to personally and directly destroy unrepentant sinners.

Biblical Healing Model – Yes, God does destroy as the Bible plainly says He does, but He destroys in the sense of not restraining or preventing the natural consequences of man’s choice and actions from occurring.

Definitions for “destroy” and “destruction” are virtually the same between modern dictionaries and the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary.

To Destroy Does Not Always Mean to Kill

To be clear, when the Bible speaks of people being destroyed it is not always meaning that they were killed

“And the Amorites, which dwelt in that mountain, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and destroyed you in Seir, even unto Hormah.” (Deut 1:44)

God is talking in that verse to Israel. Yet it says they were destroyed. To destroy obviously does not always mean to kill or God wouldn’t be talking to them.

Who Moved?

 As pointed out in the definition of “the destroyer,” God’s default role is to act as a protector. If people are under God’s protection at one time and then they are not, what changed, who initiated a change, who moved? Did God move away or remove his protection and, if so, why would He do that? Or did the people move out of or away from God’s protection? Here is a verse that describes this in general terms in regard to Israel:

“O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.” (Hosea 13:9)

In the case of Israel, this puts the blame where it belongs. We will look at some obviously-destructive events in scripture to show how destruction, commonly attributed to God, happens. In some of the most obvious examples, warning was given and the destruction could have been averted. In those examples, we can look at who could have “moved” to avoid the destruction.

The Flood

“And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.” (Gen 6:7)

“And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Gen 6:13)

Recently, I received a comment on one of my posts related to this topic saying:

“… I have also noticed that instead of reading the Bible for what it really says, there is a tendency of reading thoughts and ideas into it. …”

The commenter was urging me to understand the words “I will destroy” literally. The problem is that the commenter is only reading the verse for what it says, rather than reading the Bible for what it says. The Bible also says:

  • “… God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
  • “… Love your enemies …” (Matt 5:44)
  • “… do good to them that hate you …” (Matt 5:44)
  • “The Lord is … not willing that any should perish …” (2 Peter 3:9)
  • “… every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4)
  • “… neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” (Isa 55:8)

So the commenter is reading into the Bible thoughts that, while they are actually expressed in literal words, may not be intended to be understood literally. Aside from the clues listed above, there are idiomatic forms in the Greek and Hebrew languages that must be taken into account. This is especially true of the principle that God is often said to do that which He merely permitted or allowed of which there are numerous examples in scripture. Since there are so many factors influencing the meaning of the word “destroy” we need to allow the Bible to define its own terms. Had God directly destroyed the world there would be some serious contradictions with the verses in the list above. So we need to look for more clues from the Bible about the meaning of “destroy” when used in connection with God. Here is one connected to the flood:

“Hast thou marked the old way which wicked men have trodden? Which were cut down out of time, whose foundation was overflown with a flood: Which said unto God, Depart from us: and what can the Almighty do for them?” (Job 22:15-17)

The suggestion is that God could not do anything for them because they wanted nothing to do with Him and He respects free choice. Listen to the audio (part 4 at this link) of an excellent discussion What’s Love Got to Do with It?

This verse is very important in understanding the reasons for the flood:

“And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Gen 6:13)

Notice that “the end of all flesh” had “come before” God. In other words, He could see it coming. “The end of all flesh was coming” “for” or because the earth was “filled with violence.” The people had become so violent that the human race was headed towards its end, towards extinction.

“And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” (Gen 6:3)

Most versions suggest 120 years was to be the new maximum lifespan yet this was before Abraham who lived to the age of 175 and Noah himself lived to 950 years. In fact, Methuselah who died at age 969 was still alive when the message was given.

Why would God, when talking about striving with man to change his violent ways, suddenly switch to talking about his lifespan (which would be irrelevant anyway if man, through violence, was exterminating himself?) Clearly, God was referring to the time He would plead with them (largely through the witness of righteous Noah) to change their ways and avert the flood.

In holding off the flood for all those years, warning of the coming flood, striving with man to change his ways and providing an ark of safety God was offering protection from the flood. Man chose to “leave” God’s protection by saying to Him “depart from us” and by not getting on the ark. It does not make sense that God would do so much to save from a natural disaster only to personally administer its effects to kill people.

Sodom and Gomorrah

“And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.” (Gen 13:10)

“For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us [angels] to destroy it.” (Gen 19:13)

Right away the question arises – did God Himself personally destroy Sodom and Gomorrah or did angels? This suggests there may be something else going on.

The threatened destruction looked something like this:

SodomThere was fire and brimstone ready to fall on Sodom and the other cities. Was there a possible escape from that threat? What move could have been made to escape destruction? The obvious escape would have been to leave the city as Lot and his family did and as was offered to Lot’s sons-in-law (Gen 19:14) But was there another “move” that could have been made? There is a strong suggestion in Abraham’s conversation with the Lord that even a few people repenting and turning to righteousness would have spared the whole city. Abraham pled with the Lord asking if Sodom could be spared if there were even fifty righteous people there. The Bible account has Abraham bargaining for the city to be saved if fewer and yet fewer righteous were found. Here is his last plea:

“And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.” (Gen 18:32)

One wonders what would have happened if Abraham had bargained further. So the destruction of the cities could have been avoided if even a small number of the people there had “moved” by turning to God.

God’s feelings at the loss of Sodom and the other cities of the plain are reflected by this verse:

“How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee , Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah how shall I set thee as Zeboim mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.” (Hosea 11:8)

God was very sorry for how things turned out in those cities and it pained Him greatly to have to simply deliver them up to destruction because of their rejection of Him.

In one description of the destruction that followed notice that it is described as “vengeance” but that vengeance is described as being a result of eternal fire.

“Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7)

Another clue suggests one mechanism that may have played at least a part in how the destruction occurred:

“And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath:” (Deut 29:23)

That verse could certainly be seen to support that God actively destroyed the cities but the use of “anger” and “wrath” in connection with God’s actions needs to be understood according to the Biblical definition of those terms, not ours. See how the wrath of God mentioned in Rom 1:18 is manifested in Rom 1:24, 26 and 28 and also the definition of wrath and the many examples of God’s wrath. So the mechanism suggested is that God “left” only in the sense of honoring the free-will choice of man to reject Him.


“And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown (Strong’s H2015).” (Jonah 3:4)

In that verse, the term “overthrown” is used but that same original word was used to describe the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah:

“And he said unto him, See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow (H2015) this city, for the which thou hast spoken.” (Gen 19:21)

“And he overthrew (H2015) those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.” (Gen 19:25)

“And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow (H2018, noun form of H2015), when he overthrew (H2015) the cities in the which Lot dwelt.” (Gen 19:29)

Obviously, the threatened overthrow of Nineveh was a reference to destruction. As Jonah entered Nineveh it was under threat of destruction. It was not destroyed so we could ask: “what changed” or “who moved?” It was the people of Nineveh, not by leaving the city, but by repenting that allowed God to continue to protect the city.

“So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.” (Jonah 3:5)

What God did not do was to remove His protection and allow Satan to destroy the city.

“And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” (Jonah 3:10)

The evil He said He would do would not have been done by Him even if it did happen. God saying He would do what He only permitted to happen is a very common idiomatic expression in the Hebrew. Really, it is saying that because of their repentance He did not allow the destruction to happen.


“And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.” (Job 2:3)

This story is a little different in that God did remove His protection by allowing

Satan to destroy much of Job’s family and possessions. Reading the accounts of the meetings in heaven shows that this was a special challenge brought by Satan against Job and God Himself.

God was not responsible for the destruction even though Job’s servants, his friends and even Job himself understood it that way.


So, in the stories of Noah’s flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Nineveh and Job we see that God did not destroy; He did not cause destruction. His role is always to protect but He will always honor free will even if people reject Him.

Return to the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary Index

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