Does God command genocide? (GBB 11)

Does God command genocide?

One of the most difficult questions that face people who believe that the Bible is the word of God is, “Why does God command his people to wipe out the Canaanites in the book of Joshua?”  It looks like he’s commanding genocide.  Isn’t that the crime that qualifies Hitler as the worst person of all time?

After reading God Behaving Badly, Ryan Hamm at Relevant magazine asked me to write about the Canaanites.  So, I took some material from chapters 2, 4 & 5, modified it and improved it.  The article just came out in the most recent edition of Relevant (September-October 2011).  Title: “Reconciling the God of Love with the God of Genocide.”

Here’s the link to the issue.

I start with two arguments that don’t really help resolve the problem (one appealing to liberals, one appealing to conservatives) because they don’t take the text seriously.  Then I give five arguments that make more sense and take both the text and the problem seriously.  I conclude with a few words of advice.  But I don’t “solve” the problem.  This is not one that will ever easily go away.  But even in the midst of the Canaanite slaughter, we see images of hope and a movement toward Jesus.

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6 comments

  1. God’s Judgement fell on the Cannanites because that nation filled up the cup of their sin’s where God used the Israelites as instruements of His Judgement.. Just like How He Sovereignly Chose to Wipe out Sodom and Gommorah, because that country also, behaved badly and filled up the cup of their sin and God executed His judgement using the Angel to strike that place with a great light of divine Judgement. God’s detirmination of Divine Judgement is just and Holy. Hitler was wicked and atheist in his extermination of the Jews in gas chambers.

    The Question should be, Does God Execute Judgment on ungodly nations? And the answer is absolutely YES!

  2. Joseph, Yes, that’s one of the reason I mention in the Relevant article. They were punished. and Scripture makes that point strongly. But there are a few more things to say about the issue. God judges, but he is also slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Thanks for the comment.

  3. I have a question from this article, and my ignorance of the Old Testament details will be put on full display. The question: was there a prophet in Canaan warning them of the destruction? If so, where can I go to read about that?

  4. Adam, that’s a great question. There may have been a prophet in Canaan, but the text doesn’t clearly mention one. Perhaps the closest is Balaam (Num 22-24) who Balak the Moabite king tried to hire to curse Israel. Balaam couldn’t do it because he could only say what God told him, which was a blessing on Israel, and indirectly a curse on Israel’s enemies. Rahab in Judg 2, 6 also knew a lot of what had happened in Egypt to Pharaoh by YHWH, so the Canaanites clearly knew what God had been doing for Israel.

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