[This is a much longer entry than normal given the subject nature]
The last century witnesses three famous genocides:
A genocide is a horrendous thing and is when one group seeks to exterminate another (litterally genos [people], cide [killing]), and this is often done because of hate, greed, land disputes, etc.
Then we turn to the Old Testament and find passages like this concerning Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land as part of God’s plan for Israel and the redemption of a lost world:
“16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 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.” (Deuteronomy 20:16–18)
*Note v.18 is a clue to understanding this, to which we’ll return
Yikes! That sure looks like genocide to me; cased closed, I cannot believe in a God like that. But hold on, let’s take a closer look.
Now some seek to get around the idea all together, either in a bid to disbelieve in God or to seek to find a God of their liking.
Some denied these events ever happened as recorded in Joshua. But then archaeology came to the defence of the Bible to demonstrate that it did and they had to change their tune. This is what happened with the destruction of a city called Hazor (see Joshua 11:10–11), which the critics were quick to point out how archaeology did not support this verse; that is until fresh archaeological digs in 2013 revealed a complete layer of ash signifying total destruction.
These events happened, so we can’t brush them off as if they didn’t.
These events tell us something about God’s word. It is true because He is truth. Whatever it positively commends, in fact or faith, can be trusted, for, “Every word of God proves true.” (Prov 30:5).
Then there are those professing Christians who pretend that if they ignore it the difficult questions will go away. Like a host of issues some find uncomfortable in the Bible (divorce, gender and sexuality, criminal justice matters, etc); if we just wish them away hard enough they’ll vanish before our very eyes! The problem is that they don’t and people seeking truth will see the shallowness in the attempt and hunger for answers. (Not to mention such an approach, that cuts out portions of Scripture we disagree with, take away what God has inspired and put in for our benefit. It tampers with the Word of God. [2 Ti 3:16; Acts 20:27]).
Others try another route to get out of dealing with these difficult passages, let’s go with they don’t actually mean what they say! Let’s consider the non-violent meanings of the passages like these. Problem, it means what it says. That when it says “devote to destruction” that is what is meant, reinforced by archaeology. Those who are troubled by passages about sin or judgement usually lack a sufficiently robust biblical worldview to understand them and answer the question of why.
So let’s finally ask—head on--What exactly happened? Why did it happen? What does it teach us? In so doing we’ll see it’s not something to be decried as an unethical problem, but actually points us to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
What exactly happened?
In order to receive the Promised Land, the Israelites were to invade and destroy the Canaanites cities, all of the different ‘ites’ who were there. Returning to Dt 20:16–17, we notice a number of important things:
Why did it happen?
The justness and rationale behind these ‘problematic’ verses, begins to evaporate more quickly when you answers this. There are two stated reasons:
Thus, the rationale is a blend of judgement and protection.
And we should also note that in cities outside the Promised Land, the Israelites were to offer terms of peace, Deuteronomy 20:10. And even amongst the Canaanites whom they were called to destroy, there was still the possibility of escape. The condition was this: fear the Lord! This was the case with Rahab (Jos 2:8–13, 6:22–5), she was spared; and the Gibeonites (9:26–7), they were spared; why, because their evil hearts melted and they feared the LORD, turning to Him.
What does this all teach us?
All of this challenges the misguided notion that the god of the OT is different from the god of the NT. That in the OT He is an angry and violent God and in the NT He is loving and gentle god. But such a view fails to see the love and grace and provision of God in the OT and His wrath and justice in the NT! The Bible speaks of 1 God, who never changes. (See this blog). ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild’ spoke more on the subject of hell and judgement than anyone else in the Bible (A fact many overlook); that anyone who rejects salvation through faith in Him is assured of an eternal and conscious punishment away from the presence of God.
Lk 13:5b- I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
But I’m not that bad, I’m not like those nasty Canaanites, I’m a good atheist! Well, Atheism is just like the idolatry of the Canaanites, it pushes God out, which is the greatest of all sins.
John 1:12- But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
But ‘I’m not immoral’ (‘I might not be moral, but I’m certainly not immoral’) like those nasty Canaanites. But sinners aren’t like kittens either, because we don’t know God, are hearts are far from Him and from them flow all kinds of evil (Mk 7:21). All our good deeds are like filthy rags b/c even if we do them, they’re not done in faith.
The cherem of the Canaanites—total destruction— is a picture of HELL, the eternal destruction that awaits all who do not come to fear the Lord & call upon Him for salvation. This is how these difficult passages have been viewed by Christians through the ages.
Whilst some will continue to decry what the Bible says because it says the unbeliever will not have forgiveness or eternal life, it is in light of this shocking reality and sobering news—that Light SHINES FORTH—this good news!!! “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21). No matter what you’ve done or who you are! Acts 2:21!!! Why, because justice was accomplished on the Cross for the believer so you could go free. Jesus endured HELL so you might gain HEAVEN!
He died the death we deserved to die so that by believing we might have life in His name!
Friends, don’t decry the Bible or its sobering message, don’t put up road blocks to faith that have no reasonable grounding; but accept in faith that these ‘destruction’ passages are given by God for your instruction and benefit, so that you might not perish but find everlasting life.