According to Numbers chapter 14:11-12, the national god of Israel, Yahweh, once made up his mind to kill the entire population of Israel – about two or three million Israelites – but for Moses and his family.
The background is provided in Num. 13, a story in which Israelite spies discover monstrous Giants in the land to which Yahweh has brought them, after their escape from slavery in Egypt. After the spies describe these Giants, called Anakim, the Israelites get scared and decide to return to Egypt. Israel’s fighting men numbered just over 600,000, so together with those aged under 20, women, and Levites, there are some two to three million Israelites who God decides to kill in the story. Of course, it is just a fictional story, with no basis in reality. There never was a migration of two to three million people from Egypt; Egypt”s population never exceeded three million during the relevant period (the late Bronze Age). But despite the fictional nature of the story, as a story it does present a rather jealous and irascible god, who is eventually partially placated by Moses (Num. 14.13-20a), but who still decrees the deaths of two to three million Israelites aged 20 and over (except Caleb, who is oddly not previously excepted in Num. 14.11-12). That is, the story sees no contradiction in proclaiming grace and forgiveness in one breath and the genocide of all those aged 20 and above in the other.
After a century of genocides – including the genocides orchestrated against Jews, Armenians, and Tutsi – justified by various extreme nationalist ideologies, Numbers 13-14 should be read as an example of how human life can become worthless when viewed against some mythical Big Idea – whether that mythical Big Idea is “Yahweh is Almighty God” or “Germans are the Uebermenschen” or “the Tutsi are Hamite invaders from the north”. Allegiance to such ideas not only requires genocide, but perversely justifies it as a good, a kindness or “grace”.
However, those who cling to some Big Idea will of course still consider that genocide is justifiable. Jim West thinks that the death of every Israelite, in the story of Num. 13-14, is justifiable. And his position is as logical as it is absurdly unsound. For if the idea of a genocidal god is worth more to you than the lives of two or three million people, you too should support genocide. The obvious alternative, of course, is that ideas about Yahweh shouldn’t be taken seriously enough to justify the killing of any people, let alone an entire nation.