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Gerard de VosCreated by Gerard de Vos
on 28-11-2007
Category: Bible related
Kill them all!

Why did God issue a command in the Old Testament, during the time of the history of the Israelites, to kill men, women, children and animals in the city of Jericho and some other cities in Canaan (‘...you must destroy them completely’, Deuteronomy 7:2)?

The Canaanites who were to be destroyed, were descendants of Canaan who was cursed by Noah for looking on his father’s nakedness (Genesis 10:24-26). In Genesis 15:13 Abraham is told that his descendants would have to wait to possess the promised land, since the Canaanites had not yet been given enough time to repent of their evil ways. When the Israelites invaded Canaan, the Canaanites were known for their immorality, idolatry and sacrificing of babies. They had not used their 400 years of grace to turn from their evil ways and God’s time of judgement had come. This history is a typological lesson. God’s plan is to establish an eternal, moral Kingdom, and His requirements are always the same: moral living, or eventual destruction.

During the time of grace the Canaanites were not left without witnesses of the true God. Abraham moved from place to place through Canaan (Genesis 12:8-9). Lot lived near Sodom (Genesis 13:11-12), but Sodom and Gomorrah did not learn anything from either Abraham or Lot (2 Peter 2:7,8), for they were completely destroyed for their immorality, illustrating the law of total destruction. Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18) lived in Jerusalem, and was a priest of God most High. Abraham did not take any of the loot from the kings when he rescued Lot, but said: ‘I have raised my hand to the Lord, God most High, Creator of heaven and earth....(Genesis 14:22). So surely they must have known about Abraham’s God. Abraham had dealings with Ephron the Hittite (Genesis 23). Isaac lived in Canaan; so did Jacob. Judah married a Canaanite woman (Genesis 38).

There were Canaanites who were supposed to be under the ban, but were saved when they turned to God. Rahab, the prostitute (an inhabitant of Jericho), told the Israelite spies, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you, and a great fear has fallen on us...We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you... and what you did to Sihon and Og...’ (Joshua 2:8-12). Though she was under the ban, she and her family were spared, and later she would be a part of the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

The case of the Canaanites demonstrates God’s mercy: he gave them enough time (400 years while the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt), and enough witnesses that He is the only true God, who requires moral living. Since Genesis 3 God has always punished sin. (Remember that God is always concentrating on a sinless society, since that is His character. This is why He sent Jesus: to make it possible for us to live moral lives with the help of the Holy Spirit.) All of history is moving towards a goal: God’s eternal, sinless Kingdom. He gives all nations the opportunity to live that goal, but if they fail, they are eventually judged (see the history of the Assyrians, especially in the treatment of Nineveh: they repented under Jonah’s preaching, but then forgot about God. After the prediction by Nahum, they were destroyed by the Babylonians. Likewise we have a succession of kingdoms who were super powers for a time, but became so decadent that they were overrun by the next nation, for example, the Babylonians, the Medo-Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, et cetera).

The question remains, is it right to kill men, women and children without mercy? The reason is that God hates sin, because it damages people: sacrificing children, the break up of the family because of immorality, carousing, murder, violence, rape, et cetera. Society finally disintegrates because of the effects of sin. This is a universal principle. All people will be judged. God cannot allow any accusations of unjust treatment of certain peoples. If the Canaanites could accuse God of being unfair, and not judging the Israelites, God would have no defence, since He is a fair, righteous God. That is why his treatment of all people are exactly the same: all know Him through the revelation in nature, the small voice of conscience, and through the Bible. Nobody has an excuse. Even the Canaanites had no reason to substitute the only true God for their Baals and Astartes. But God would of course not allow the immoral lifestyle of the Canaanites (inherited from their ancestor Canaan). They chose to deliberately oppose God and His people. Judgement was inevitable. The same happened to the Israelites when they forgot God. Loss of many family members, of possessions, and of their fatherland, and languishing in a foreign country for 70 long years was a high price to pay for emulating the Canaanites.

What is the lesson of the Israelites and Canaan? God will always judge sin. No one is exempt (Hebrews 3). There is going to be a judgment. And as surely as God’s enemies were punished, those who oppose Him today will be judged. In living action, God is warning us: ‘Do not take any chances with your eternal destiny’. ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts’. According to Revelation 21:8, there will be people who will not inherit eternal life. Eternal hell is the worse fate that can befall anyone!

"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinth 1:27