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.