When I set aside time to write about topics I often try to research what’s already been written or said and what questions people have about God, leadership or life. For analytical people like myself, the evidence is pretty clear about the amazingness of Jesus. However, Jesus quoted the old testament, therefore we have to deal with what the old testament says. What about all those people who were killed because God was angry? If you’ve never experienced the realness of God this question can cause a great deal of confusion. Why would a loving God kill innocent children and women?
There are multiple head-scratching moments in the old testament. However, in one seemingly brutal case, God commands his people to kill and exterminate an entire people group, the Canaanites. How could a loving God command genocide? It brings up more questions.
Why Would God Kill Those Who Might Not Know About Him?
You might read the old testament narrative and find it hard to understand why God would want the Israelites to wipe out the inhabitants of the land. What about people who don’t know God exists? I know that these scriptures can be tough for many to deal with as it relates to reflecting the loving nature of God. Paul spends some time writing to Roman believers about God’s judgment. It can provide a small bit of comfort to know that God has provided an answer in His word about people that have not heard about God.
The two big takeaways from Romans 2 is that God judges supremely and that those that don’t know Him or have ever heard about him will be judged based on their inner thoughts and their obedience to their conscience. I’m not in any way suggesting that there is another “way” to Heaven, but rather that we have to have faith that God is loving and supremely just. I’m sure He will deal with all of us in a loving way.
The basis of their destruction was because it was absolutely clear how dangerous their practices were and how influential the culture could be in their life. You might argue like Abraham and ask about the righteous and the innocent. I believe the truly innocent children inherit the Kingdom and therefore make it to Heaven. Surely a God of love would deal with people lovingly, right?
In fact, that’s exactly what he did.
One way to read this scripture is that God loved the Canaanites so much he delayed his chosen people from entering the promised land to give them an opportunity to change. By the time the Israelites had gotten there, 400 years had passed and the Canaanite society had gotten so morally corrupt that child sacrifice was a way of life.
We read this account and others and feel like God is ruling unjustly. However, the whole point of this particular command was that it was the culture that God was wanting to eliminate. The entire nation was so fallen that they were harming children and others. The power of culture is amazing in our own businesses, our families and communities. It’s not just a reference to where you’re born (or some boardroom word) but how you talk and what’s accepted as right and wrong. Culture is so powerful that God had to wipe out the world with a flood and destroy cities with fire.
It turns out that many of the commands in the Bible have hyperbole. In the excellent Bible series, “The Bible Project,” they illustrate this point well. As they put it, God couldn’t warn the Israelites about intermarrying and doing business with Canaanites if, in fact, He commanded a genocide.
When Joshua starts marching around Jericho, one of the cities that God is so angry about that He says it should never be built again, there is already one family that has been saved. Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute not only was spared but ends up as David’s great grandmother.
In another instance, an entire group of people (the Gibeonites), surrender and are spared.
Why not just let them live their life?
We read these accounts in the old testament with our new millennia eyes and wonder, “why couldn’t God just let them do their thing. Yes, they were murdering their own children but that’s their business.”
When Jesus came, He didn’t come and hang out with the saintly, instead, He hung out with thieves and prostitutes, the poor, the cripple, and the marginalized. What I love of Jesus is that He’s for the underdog. He didn’t come to help society’s winners, He came to help the proverbial losers and to call the winners out to help them too.
In the case of the Canaan genocide, I believe He wanted the Israelites to feel the weight of the task at hand. Justice was demanded in this situation. Almost as if God was saying, “Here is this great evil. This evil has corrupted this people group beyond anything I can do. I’ve tried for 400 years to bring them back to me. As you remove these people from the land let it be a reminder to you of how easy it is to fall into evil patterns and culture. A culture so profoundly evil that it kills the innocent and the marginalizes many.”
Maybe God didn’t just want the influence of the culture removed but He wanted to protect the weak and innocent.
It’s worth noting that although we credit Joshua with the conquering, it was one supernatural battle after another. While no one can confirm at this point, it’s certainly possible that God supernaturally kept deaths to a minimum.
Would We Make The Same Decision?
All of this is so hard to take in because many of us that ask this question come from the Western world. We sit in our air-conditioned homes and wonder how could a loving God do this.
That time was amazingly violent and the culture of that time period valued lives differently than we do currently in the west. In one historical account the idea that the community needed to shout praises to their god Molech based on the volume of the children’s screams from the furnace. Women were possessions, daughters were bargaining chips and the poor were slaves.
When we see the atrocities in the world do we not want to respond in the same way? Should we turn the other cheek when it comes to ISIS? How about the warlords in Africa that kill parents and use children as war slaves? Would you have sympathy for the person that took your children into the world of sex trafficking? God (the same one from the old testament) commands us to love and forgive even this! Yet, I don’t know that I could do that.
God sees us as His children and He saw the Canaanites in the same way. He sent Jesus, not just so that we could have eternal life, but through a relationship with Him, we could be able to forgive those that hurt us. He sent Jesus so that we’d have a way to influence the culture and impact the world.
When philosophers and even the Bible fail to answer my questions I fall back to this. I believe in Jesus. He believed in the Bible. Therefore, I must honor the Word and continue to study it, especially if I don’t have an answer to a question. I know God is Just and He is loving. I must trust that whatever the command was at the time that His plan was for humanity and not against it. However, as the owner and creator, it’s His prerogative to do whatever He wants.