Was God Immoral When He Commanded Israel To Destroy Canaan?

Skeptics and critics get a lot of mileage in criticizing the Bible regarding the commands in the Old Testament to kill all the people of Canaan. God told Joshua to utterly destroy all the inhabitants of Canaan, including men, women, young children, and the elderly. In Jericho, God even told Joshua to kill all the livestock. The critics claim this is genocide, racially-motivated hatred and the killing of innocents, and claim it makes the God of the Bible unworthy of worship.

A few responses:

  • The people of Canaan were not innocent. They practiced many forms of evil, including child sacrifice to their idols. The venereal disease alone would have provided a possible source of death if it had not been eradicated.
  • The land of Canaan actually belonged to the descendants of Jacob, who owned it back in Genesis when they left for Egypt due to a famine. So the ownership of the land of Canaan was at best in legal dispute, and the Israelites had a legal claim to the land.
  • God had given the Canaanites many years to repent and change their ways. We do not have a detailed record of all of God’s communication, but based on the other passages in the Bible about how God communicates to pagan lands, it is safe to conclude that God gave the Canaanites plenty of advanced warning, which they rejected. For example, the book of Jonah tells us of God’s message to the people of Nineveh, Nineveh’s repentance, and God’s mercy.
  • Joshua failed to carry out God’s commands to kill all the inhabitants of Canaan. As a result, Israel was plagued for centuries with idol worship, pagan religious rituals, and the resultant murders and judgment. If Israel would have killed all of Canaan, it would have saved lives later and would have resulted in the good of God’s message being lived out to many peoples.
  • Since the people of the land of Canaan were so evil, if God had not killed them, He would have been guilty of being an unrighteous judge, allowing evil and not punishing it. So the skeptics and critics are actually trying to put God in a paradox in which He would be guilty of either choice He made.
  • As pointed out by Geisler & Howe, children who die before the age of accountability go to heaven. After the age of accountability, people are held guilty and without repentance will go to Hell. So taking the children to heaven could be viewed as an act of God’s mercy.

So while the destruction of the people of the land of Canaan was awful and ugly, it was indeed a necessary act. At the very least, the people of Canaan were not innocent, and the claims of modern critics about God’s actions are unfounded. God is always holy, righteous, and good, but does not always do things that we find pleasant.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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16 Responses to Was God Immoral When He Commanded Israel To Destroy Canaan?

  1. Pingback: Does the Old Testament Present a Different View of God Than the New Testament? | Thomistic Bent

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  4. Arkenaten says:

    One doesn’t even have to read past the title.
    Oh, yes indeedy he was . A meglomaniacal, genocidal despot.
    And this is what you worship…..Good one!

    • humblesmith says:

      This comment seems to be all too typical. You make fun of not reading past the title, but I have no evidence that you’ve read any more than that. You do not respond to the arguments, call a few names, and leave. While there are atheists who think more than this, it appears too many of the current batch do very little more than this.

  5. Pingback: Why Kill Canaanites? | Thomistic Bent

  6. Nate says:

    This is ridiculous, but I’ll leave the discussion on your more recent post about this: Why Kill Canaanites?

  7. Pingback: Was God Immoral When He Commanded Israel To Destroy Canaan? A resounding yes | Random thoughts

  8. People like you make me absolutely certain that the god of Abraham is THE biggest source for harm and evil in the world. It takes religion to justify genocide. You admit that it’s nasty, cruel, vile, unthinkable even, yet because your imaginary sky daddy says it’s okay you think it has to be done. The Neuremburg defense does not work. Any being that says kill every living thing over in that land is not worth the sweat on my ass. Your god is a genocidal murdering megalomaniacl piece of shit. You are detestable for even thinking that this deity is worthy of worship and worse for saying that whatever this fuckwad YHWH wants is okay with you. I bet you’re all in with the people that think the holocaust in WWII was evil but if your god does it then it’s all okay. What a waste of flesh you are that you can think like that. Yes you, I’m insulting you! That is disgusting.

    The destruction of the people of Canaan was _NOT_ necessary. It is simply what a blood thirsty genocidal megalomaniacal god wanted. This YHWH fuck is supposed to be omnipotent, such that with a few spoken words the universe came into being. With fewer words than he spoke to Joshua he could have cured all disease in Canaan and rid the Canaanites of wrong thought or simply made them move on to other lands. No, that is not what YHWH wanted. He wanted the land soaked in the blood of the Canaanites. There is no way to interpret this story without accepting that YHWH was/is a genocidal fucktard. To beat that he is supposed to have known that 2000+ years later his followers would have to defend his genocidal ways… making them look like complete brainless lackies. These same lackies are certain that they will be in the favor of their god when they die… but their god changes his mind often enough and when they get to their heaven they just might find out that he’s back to only favoring the Jews again.

    I have noticed that your god never shows up to do the dirty work himself. No, he sends floods, fire, plagues, storms, and incited humans to kill each other in his name. It is like your god just doesn’t give a fuck, at least not enough to show up himself. Apparently your deity joker is not omnipotent because he needs humans and nature to do his bidding. Why, it’s just like if your god didn’t exist at all and sickos like you use your imaginary friend to justify all the horrors that you want to visit on other humans. You act like you don’t have to have any morals at all if you can blame it on your god. You are disgusting. Your god story is disgusting. SICK SICK SICK fucks.

    Genocide is evil. Guess who is recorded as the first to commit genocide? Yes, your god. That’s the kind of love he has for humans. That you think you’re special to him is so laughable it makes my head hurt. Go on, worship your devil. Pray that he never gets tired of sickos like you. Pray that his wrath is never turned on you. Live your life looking over your shoulder to make sure he isn’t mad at you or simply wants to give your land to someone else, or your wife, or your family… He can always get a replacement for you… you’re nothing. You have the morals of an evil tyrrant and it would not surprise me that if there is a god, you’ll be the first in his hell. People who try to justify genocide with such flagrant disregard for life over such trivial things are disgusting and among the very first to deserve punishment.

    Did you ever, for even just a minute, think that maybe this life on Earth given to you by your god is a chance for you to choose good over evil… even if your god did the evil? You’ve chosen evil… what makes you think you deserve anything that could be called good or reward. You’re disgusting.

  9. Mike says:

    Dude, after reading your justification I can safely deduce and confirm that you are completely out of your mind and have been indoctrinated since childhood. You have lost your capacity of reasoning saying these words.

    No matter how awful the Cananites were, killing their children is wrong, or maybe better, killing is wrong. Full stop.

    If you want to justify God’s killing to make him fit your own theories about him that he is merciful and holy then you are way out of your mind.

    If it was Hitler we were talking about, then you would have condemned him, but just because this dude’s name is God, you tremble from fear and search an excuse for his atrocities.

    I don’t care were little kids go when they die, I just do not kill them no matter what their parents have done. Do it yourself, stand in front of a 3 year old kid and try to kill him because his father is a mob/innocent… Would you really have the balls to look him in the eye and kill him because his parents are sinners? May you rot in hell (if there is any)

    • humblesmith says:

      Perhaps you would want to search for Canaan in the search box of this blog, and deal with the issues instead of avoiding them and appealing to emotion. I’ve found using reason much more preferable to emotional persuasion. I think the emotion and rhetoric, instead of logic and reason, is used because it’s easier, and because dealing with the logic is harder.

      • Mike says:

        No mate, no emotions used here, but purely simple logic which you fail to use. As usual of any Christian or Theistic people, you haven’t addressed my challenge or even tried to reply to my questions.

        CAN YOU STAND IN FRONT OF A 3 YEAR OLD KID AND TRY TO KILL HIM BECAUSE HIS FATHER IS A MOB OR A “SINNER”? Just a simple question that requires a simple answer: YES or NO

        If YES then you are the evil in flesh and bines

        If NO, then you have debunked your God.

        • humblesmith says:

          The answer is no, and God is not debunked, nor is my position compromised. The reasons are due to what is already stated in this post and others on Canaan, and my comments, which seem to have been ignored while this one issue is hashed and rehashed. If you want the reasons why, see the several references on this blog to Canaan, or the writings of Paul Copan, the several good articles on Probe Ministries website, or the many publications by Christians on the problem of evil.

          The post here still stands, as it is unrefuted.

          (please note comment policy)

  10. Pingback: God, Job, and Little Johnny: A Lesson on Our Heavenly Father | Thomistic Bent

  11. Peyton says:

    1. You cite child sacrifice as one of the serious evils of the Canaanites. If you are concerned about the human rights implications of this culture killing SOME of their children every generation (I’d have a problem with that too), doesn’t it seem pretty crazy to right this wrong by killing ALL of their children? Clearly if you’re committing genocide, it isn’t for the wellbeing of the children you’re wiping out. If you do believe that killing children is merciful because they can go to heaven, then you should not have a problem with child sacrifice in the first place, as the Canaanites are simply sending their own children to heaven.

    2. Try applying your arguments to the modern day. Don’t they sound a little bit silly and maniacal? If someone told you they were trying to wipe out a modern polytheist society for being “pagan” and “evil” because “God told them to,” wouldn’t you think that person was psycho? Wouldn’t you think that person was pretty straightforwardly evil? How could you trust that God had told them to do this? That they weren’t hearing voices? That they weren’t using God to justify their own personal hatred? Why is this different because it happened a really long time ago?

    3. Since when are land disputes an excuse for genocide? Land is a commodity. It is easily divided and shared. And in this case it was peacefully acquired by the Canaanites in the absence of the Israelites. So how can you possibly justify killing an entire population over a commodity? I hope we can agree that human life is more sacred than a plot of earth.

    4. One more thought: perhaps the reason for the Canaanites causing harm to the Israelites in later generations should not be attributed to the fact that they were not fully eradicated, but to the fact that they were seriously wronged in the first place. If no one had ever attempted to wipe them out, perhaps there wouldn’t be these hard feelings between the Israelites and the Canaanites.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    • humblesmith says:

      As pointed out in the post, in the end, the people of Israel disobeyed God and did not kill all the Canaanites. As a result, the idol worship, including child sacrifice, prostitution, and most likely the resulting disease, influenced Israel, who adopted the practices. A fair and complete reading of the Old Testament reveals this. Issues like the Canaanites cannot be taken in isolation, which is what is often done. So when Israel did what modern critics ask to happen, more people died and more lives were destroyed. If they would have done what God said in the beginning, this would not have happened.

      1. Regarding child killing specifically, a few points are needed. The Canaanites were not killing their children to send them to heaven, they were killing them to appease a false idol, in spite of God most probably warning them, as the post states. Next, people have a habit of re-creating their ancestors practices, as demonstrated by modern pagan religious movements. Since there is no good way for a human to decide perfectly which people are guilty and which would grow up to be righteous instead of murderous, and since the Canaanites had refused to change, the Israelites had little choice.

      Next, of all those who have an issue with killing the Canaanites, I’ve heard none who propose a way to administer justice to them. Keeping the Canaanites alive ended up in the problems I’ve already stated, and makes God guilty of not dealing with evil……..which is the very problem that critics accuse God of….namely, not stopping evil. Somehow the critics never seem to address this issue, but merely point out the part they don’t like, i.e., God killing Canaanites.

      Next, if it were us making the decision to turn our backs on an entire nation, I would agree with your first point. All people are flawed and make poor judgments, and therefore it would seem pretty crazy for us to decide to right a wrong by killing an entire people group. But since God proved Himself many times to have righteous judgment, we can trust Him this time to judge rightly. Again, the evidence of this is proved by Israel not obeying God and not killing the Canaanites, and a worse problem being created. God’s ways are always shown to be correct.

      Still further, two tribes did not enter the land of Canaan as God commanded, but disobeyed and stayed on the other side of the Jordan river. By New Testament times, they were in full rebellion against God, disobeying God’s laws and having demon-possessed people in their midst.

      2. If someone today stood up and said “God told me to xxx” then we would respond the same way Israel did with Moses and Joshua. When the miracles showed them to be speaking the truth, and when their prophecies came true, then we would know to believe them. None of the prophets merely stood up and said “Thus says the Lord ….” without a corresponding fulfilled prophecy or miracle. (as an example, see here) For more proof, look at what happened to the people who questioned Moses with exactly the same criticism as you suggest.

      3. If a land dispute were the only issue, you might have a case. Yes, land is less important than humans. The greater issue is that these people had stolen the land, refused to give it back, and rather than Israel influencing Canaan for good, the Canaanites influenced Israel for evil.

      4. Nice theory, but the facts differ. The people of Canaan were murderers, preying on weak and innocent people long before Joshua….see Deuteronomy 25:17-19. They were also lairs and deceivers, as demonstrated by Joshua 9.

      I’ve found that those who have issue with God’s commands against Canaan are inconsistent and want to wink at holiness and justice. In the end, much of the problem is, perhaps surprisingly, because none of us really understand holiness. See here: http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/holiness-and-the-justice-of-god/

      I have written much on this blog on Canaan……simply search for it in the search box.

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