How Could God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?

 Justin Taylor answers the question “How Could God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?”

This is a good, hard question. The way we answer it will both reflect and inform our understanding of justice and mercy.

The question is about what happens in the book of Joshua when God commands Israel to slaughter the Canaanites in order to occupy the Promised Land. It was a bloody war of total destruction where God used his people to execute his moral judgment against his wicked enemies. In moving toward an answer it will be helpful to think carefully about the building blocks of a Christian worldview related to God’s justice and mercy.

Justin fleshes out these 7 main biblical points as the building blocks for his answer from Scripture:

  1. As the maker of all things and the ruler of all people, God has absolute rights of ownership over all people and places.
  2. God is not only the ultimate maker, ruler, and owner, but he is just and righteous in all that he does.
  3. All of us deserve God’s justice; none of us deserve God’s mercy.
  4. The Canaanites were enemies of God who deserved to be punished.
  5. God’s actions were not an example of ethnic cleansing.
  6. It was necessary to remove the Canaanites from the land.
  7. The destruction of the Canaanites is a picture of the final judgment.

He finishes with:

Read in this light, the terrible destruction recorded on the pages of Joshua in God’s Holy Word become not a “problem to solve,” but a wake-up call to all of us—to remain “pure and undefiled before God” (James 1:27), seeking him and his ways, and to faithfully share the gospel with our unbelieving neighbors and the unreached nations. Like Job, we must ultimately refrain from calling God’s goodness and justice into question, putting a hand over our mouth (Job 40:4) and marveling instead at the richness and the mystery of God’s great inscrutable mercy (Eph. 2:4). At the end of the day we will join Moses and the Lamb in singing this song of praise:

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

(Rev. 15:3-4)

You can read the article in full here.

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