This series has sought to challenge the idea that God ordered genocide in Canaan. I’ve used Rahab, the Gibeonites, and even Jonah as examples of the fact that God doesn’t need to say He’ll show mercy in order for people to understand that He will.
But now, we need to examine some of the Old Testament passages in which God orders Israel to kill every man, woman, and child, because they appear to directly contradict Israel’s behavior during the campaign in Canaan.
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you … then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire.”
“But in the cities of these people that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction … as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.”
These two passages echo several others, including Exodus 23:23-33 and 34:11-16, Numbers 33:50-56, and Deuteronomy 12:29-32.
The last passage ends with the following:
“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to or take from it.”
Now these passages sound awful. It’s almost as if the Lord was personally handing people a reason to completely ignore the Bible … as well as Jesus himself. God commands Israel to show no mercy; He even specifies that they were not to add to the commands they’ve received.
Showing mercy to their enemies sounds exactly like that, though. So was Israel sinning against God, based on these passages?
I submit that she was not. Here’s why:
You’ll notice that the common pattern among all of them is that Israel was not to show mercy to the people of Canaan because Israel would be led astray by other gods. She was not even to leave standing the religious relics and worship centers of these gods. That’s how seriously God treated the threat of idolatry.
However, if certain Canaanites opted to abandon these gods and confess Israel’s God as their own, then I think Israel (and God Himself) would have had no problem sparing their lives. In fact, this is what happened.
Rahab not only helped the spies but identified their God as her own.
The Gibeonites lied about who they really were, but this appears to be the only point on which they were untruthful. Twice in Joshua 9, their words bear witness to the fact that they, too, had turned to the living God. They even explained their motivation for lying to Joshua:
They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you–so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing.”
Why did the Gibeonites lie?
Because they took God’s commands seriously.
(In some ways, they took God’s words more seriously than Israel’s first batch of spies to Canaan. Most of them returned, convinced that Israel would never be able to take the land because its inhabitants were too powerful.)
These people had turned to God. And God, in turn, turned His mercy toward them.
God dealt with Canaan in the exact same way He deals with us all: He is willing to show mercy toward everyone who turns to Christ.
He desires that everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
All are invited.
Even the worst of His enemies.