By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
It is often claimed that the Bible condones genocide of entire people groups. This accusation is often utilized to discredit the Bible as being a source of objective moral values and duties. That is to say, that if the Bible is supposed to be the “Good Book”, then why does the God of the Bible seem so evil by commanding the people of Israel to wipe out the Canaanites in the Old Testament. This claim often shocks Christians who stay clear of the Old Testament, which unfortunately is a large number. Upon examination however, the Old Testament does in fact record God commanding that the Israelites take out the Canaanite people and those within the bounds of the Promised land. However, when considering the context of those commands things are not at all what the objectors make it out to be.
In providing an apologetic response to such claims it should be noted that to claim that the Bible supports and even commands genocide is to inject the debate with emotionally charged jargon. In reality, the Bible does not command or support genocide. First, there was no command in the Old Testament to eradicate the Canaanite people in their entirety. The command against the Canaanites was primarily to expel them from the Promise Land. They were permitted to live in bordering areas outside the bounds of the Promised Land. So the primary purpose was not to kill everyone in total but rather to disposses them from the land. The command to wipe them out and leave no survivor was what the Israelites were to do if they did not leave the land. If this still seems harsh, the apologist need not feel the need to defend the harshness of this command. It sounds harsh because it is harsh. The Canaanites were under God’s judgment for over 400 years of evil and abominable practices which God saw fit to judge.
One must consider also that coexistence with such people were not an option either as per Numbers 33:55: “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.” Furthermore, defeating the combatants and leaving many alive to live in the land would not have worked out either since no doubt the enemy forces would have regrouped and war would then ensue yet again. Ultimately, God as the judge, commanded the Israelites to do what they did as a judgment upon the Canaanites and as a fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. God is the giver and taker of life. He as the righteous judge is in the rightful position to execute judgment as he sees fit and when he sees fit to execute it. This was not genocide but a righteous judgement upon evil.