Poor Canaanites?

The world has a long history of genocide. In 1990, civil war broke out in Rwanda, Africa resulting in the murder of around 1 million people. In 1976, under Pol Pot’s Communist Regime in Cambodia, as many as 2 million people are estimated to have been killed. Of course, the most widely-known genocide in history is Adolph Hitler’s extermination of more than six million Jews and other people from 1939 to 1945. But, the world’s worst genocide is attributed to Mao Zedong who terminated anywhere between 40 to 70 million people during his reign over Communist China (1949 to 1976). Most rational, sane people, despite their background, ethnicity, or religious beliefs, view these events as cruel, callous, and nefarious. It is considered a terrible crime against humanity.

So, if mass murder is horrible and unacceptable, then what about the destruction of the Canaanites in the Old Testament? (see Exodus 23:23; Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Joshua 3:10, 9:24) Wouldn’t that be considered genocide? How could a loving God instruct one group of people to kill and conquer another group? What are Christians to make of that? The answer is found in context. Here are three points to keep in mind:

God is Sovereign. The first thing one must understand is God is the Creator, we are the creation. He is the highest authority. Period. Thus, He has the right to do with His creation as He desires. His omnipotence might not sit well in some minds, but it doesn’t change the truth. God said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways … ” (Isaiah 55:8-9) It is foolish to try and judge God’s actions with human wisdom when we are not in a position to do so. “Indeed, 0 man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to Him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this? Does not the potter have power over the clay? (Romans 9:20-21)

God is Longsuffering. The second thing to understand is that God did not just make a impulsive or capricious decision to destroy the nations of Canaan. God is “slow to anger and great in mercy” (Psalm 145:8). He is ‘7ongsuffering …, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) God waited more than four centuries to bring judgment upon the inhabitants of Canaan. To Abraham, he stated, “the iniquity of the Amorites” was ‘not yet complete”‘ (Genesis 15:16). He knew their sin was getting worse! But, His patience has a limit. When the Canaanites’ iniquity was full, God used Israel as His agent of justice upon a barbarous culture. This is the lesson we must learn. His patience with impenitent sinners eventually ends, just like it did for the wicked world of Noah’s time, or for Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Abraham. In the same manner, it ended for the inhabitants of Canaan.

God is a Just Judge. Lastly, while we may not fully comprehend God’s eternal ways, or completely recognize that His patience is limited, He is still loving, holy, merciful and righteous. Yet, His love and mercy does not prohibit Him from punishing wickedness any more than loving, merciful parents, policemen, or judges might justly administer punishment to those who violate the rules or law. In fact, it would be unloving if God did nothing to sinners!

The people of Canaan were far from innocent! They practiced human sacrifice (murdering innocent children), worshiping idols, incest, bestiality, and were extremely hostile toward Yahweh. They were also fully aware of God’s expectations (if Nineveh knew to repent, so did Canaan – cf. Jonah 3:10; Joshua 2:10). They could have even saved their own lives, just like Rahab and her family did Joshua 2:1-4). Therefore, if a policeman, who has the authority (both from God and the government – Romans 13:1-4) to kill a wicked person who is murdering others, or a judge has the authority to sentence a depraved child rapist to death, then God certainly has the authority to sentence a wicked nation to execution. Loving-kindness and capital punishment are not contradictory.