December 6, 2020

When Joshua led the people of Israel into the land of Canaan, the walls of Jericho fell. We even sing about it in Sunday schools, but many look at this event as the beginning of ethnic cleansing or genocide of the Canaanite nations.

God commanded to literally wipe out the Canaanites from the face of the earth so that the Israelites could take possession of this land.

The books of Joshua and Judges describe the sequence of wars and how the Israelites thus followed God’s commands.

At the same time, many come to the following conclusion: If a Good God exists, He would not have commanded something as cruel and merciless as genocide. This conclusion made many people lose their faith. Many atheists raise this question at the earliest opportunity.

Before we touch on the Israelite invasion of the land of Canaan, let’s take a look at a key event that took place 400 years before the invasion.

In Gen. 12:1-3, God promises Abraham that all the tribes of the earth will be blessed through his descendants. As a result, Abraham became the forefather of the Israelite nation and, eventually, Jesus Christ Himself. Part of this blessing included the ultimate inheritance of the Canaan land. This is stated in the book of Genesis 15:18-21 “On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates — the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

When the time came to take possession of the land, the Canaanite tribes were already living there. We know from historical records that those nations were extremely depraved.

In Lev. 18:20-30 God said that they are guilty of many abominations, such as adultery (sexual immorality), child sacrifice, homosexuality, incest and bestiality (i.e. sexual intercourse between a person and an animal). And then the warning words of the Lord to the people of God sound like this, “Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants.” (Lev. 18:24, 25) Further, God Himself says that these vile deeds were practiced by those nations, “… (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.” (Lev. 18:27-29)

But here we can clearly see that the Lord warns His own chosen people not to commit these abominations, otherwise they will be destroyed too, like any other nations that do such abominations. We know the history of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah very well. We know their end. That tells us a lot about God’s character who is holy.

Before touching on the question of whether the arrival of the Israelites was genocide, let’s turn to the dictionary and find the definition of this word. Genocide is the extermination of certain groups of the population, entire nations for political, racial, national, ethnic or religious reasons (came from the German language, and in turn, borrowed from the Greek. “Genos” means “clan”, “origin” and Latin “cedere” means “to kill”). In plain language, it is the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.

Was this command from God political in nature? Racial, national, ethnic? As we read about this, we see that it wasn’t. Was religion the reason? You might think, “It looks like that.” Even so, no, it was not. Just consider this, the Israelites were surrounded by numerous nations and tribes who worshiped various kinds of idols, and God did not give such a command referring to those nations. Apparently the reason for that command must have been weighty. And that reason was an abomination. It is one thing to worship idols, and to lead a peaceful and rather moral way of life, and another thing is when abominations cross all the boundaries of human dignity.

In addition to all those abominations, the Canaanite nations practiced idolatry, witchcraft (magic), and fortune-telling. Deuteronomy 18:9-14 tells us about this. “When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you.” They literally got mired in the occult, and so deeply that they began to pass their children through the fire. In other words, reaching the point of insensibility and callousness in their hearts, they practiced the sacrifice of people, and not some strangers, but their own children. Having discovered this today, we would have demanded justice by punishing such cruel criminals.

Of course, God did not want God’s people to settle in such a morally fallen and corrupt society. He wanted to settle Israel in the Promised Land in order to fulfill the intention of Christ’s coming to redeem all mankind. He wanted to physically, morally and theologically separate them (holiness) in order to convey the message of the True God hundreds of years before Christ came. Yet unfortunately, Israel often fell into sin, imitating the customs of those nations.

By virtue of corruption and moral decline, God thus fulfilled His judgment on them, giving a command that confuses many:

“But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the Lord your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.” (Deut 20:16-18)

Judgment was carried out on the inhabitants of Canaan. And this did not mean at all the racial or ethnic superiority of the Jewish people over those tribes. This is clearly stated in Deuteronomy 9:5 “It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Since God knows the future, He knew that the time of the inheritance of the Promised Land coincided with the time of the fulfillment of God’s judgment on those nations.

Now, based on this, was God’s command cruel and immoral?

Many Christians are confused by this fact, because genocide is associated with events such as the Holocaust led by brutal dictators. Was it immoral? What was the motive?

Even in our civilized world, in a country like the United States of America, the death penalty is still practiced. Many people approve of the imposition of death sentences by judges against sinister criminals. And if there is a just God, then even more so, He has the authority and right to carry out His judgment on sinners.

As we can see from the Bible, the Lord judged these nations because of their sins. It was not an undeserved act of killing innocent people, as it happens in the world when people initiate genocide.

Skeptics hate this kind of logical reasoning. It’s disgusting for them to hear it anyway. But the skeptics themselves do not live the way they “preach.” They approve of homosexual marriages, and sometimes even pedophiles, claiming that they were born that way and should satisfy their needs. Then the question arises, “What would you do if your daughter or your son became a victim of rape by a pedophile?”

Therefore, the Perfect God, all the more, has the right to make such a judgment, but people do not. Only God can judge fairly, because He knows the heart of man.

Skeptics might ask, “So why destroy every single one? Were the Canaanites the most terrible people that they deserved such extermination? They are not guilty. They only followed what their parents taught them. God would have given more chances to repent. If the parents were such, then why blame children?”

Only God knows the depth of the corruption of the human heart, and whether such people will repent at all or will they do abominations with even greater insatiability. When God destroyed the world with water, He said, “… every intent of the thoughts of his (man’s) heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) When you study all those abominations and atrocities ever committed in the human history, one has only to wonder how cruel we can be without knowing God and His morality and holiness, His goodness, mercy and love. It is because of love and mercy for us that He performs His judgment, so that such nations do not spread their outrageously depraved culture, and thus, more children do not suffer.

In Gen. 15:16 God told Abraham that several more generations would pass before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, saying “But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” In other words, there is a certain measure for when God begins to execute His judgments. We see this in the Old Testament and in the book of Revelation and in Acts in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. We are not heart-discerning enough to tell whether or not it was right for God to do that.

Often, also in Christian circles, they deny or do not want to know, or even recognize the just side of God, since He can be a Jealous God, a consuming Fire and even Destroyer (Ex. 34:14; Heb. 12:29; 1 Cor. 3:17; Ezek. 7:9).

If it were not for the justice of God, nothing would have made nations reconsider their ways and turn to good. Please note, without God, a person does not know what is right and what is wrong. The human history repeatedly bears witness to this fact. Only the fulfillment of the judgments of God stops people from atrocities. Imagine what would happen to us now and what the world would look like if tyrants achieved their intended goals?

May God be accepted by us as the Scripture says about Him!

Max Volkov in Christ