You’re in a conversation and someone says, “If God is so good, how could he command genocide in the Old Testament?”
What would you say?
In Old Testament passages such as Deuteronomy 7, God commands the Israelites not only to drive out the people who lived in the land of Canaan, known as the Canaanites, but also to take over their land and destroy them all.
If God is so good, how could He command His people to do such a thing? The next time you’re in a conversation and that question comes up, remember these 3 things:
First, God’s command for Israel to drive out the Canaanites was not race-based, but behavior-based, as the Canaanites engaged in acts that would be considered criminal in civilized societies.
Second, God is willing to work with people where they are, not where they ought to be. He works within messy human cultures to move them towards redemption.
Third, the Old Testament’s mention of many Canaanite survivors shows that its “total-kill” language is simply Ancient Near Eastern exaggeration or hyperbole.
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Sources and Further Reading:
Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense Of The Old Testament God. Ada, Michigan: Baker Books, 2011.
Immorality of the Canaanites: Lev. 18, 2 Kings 16:3; Dt. 18:10-12; 1 Kings 14:24; Dt. 23:17-18; Gen 38:21-22.
God’s concern with the immoral worship and culture (not race-based): Dt. 7:1-5
Israel’s comparative military weakness: Dt. 4:38: cf. 9:1.
God doesn’t desire judgment or afflict willingly: Jer. 18:8; 27:12-14; Lam. 3:33; Ezek. 18:31; 33:11; Jonah 4:2.
The dominant language of “driving out” and “thrusting out” the Canaanites, indicating further that “extermination” passages are hyperbolic (cf. Exod. 23:28; Lev. 18:24; Num. 33:52: Deut. 6:19; 7:1; 9:4; 18:12; Josh. 10:28, 30, 32, 35, 37, 39; 11:11, 14).
Israel was to “dispossess” the Canaanites of their land (Num. 21:32; Deut. 9:1; 11:23; 18:14; 19:1).