As we walk through Joshua at Orlando Grace Church, the elephant in the room is God’s commanding the deaths of entire groups of Canaanite people. Why would God do this? Is the God of the Bible promoting genocide? More than one genocidal movements have pointed back to this book to justify the horrible things they were doing. Is this a God we can trust at all?
God’s Righteous Judgement
The first thing we have to understand is that this is God’s righteous judgment on truly dreadful people. We have evidence from the Bible and modern archeology that proves they not only engaged in, but boasted about the most barbarous of acts including incest, bestiality and child sacrifice.
God Is Patient
We must first see, though, that God was exceedingly patient with them. If you go back to Genesis 15 where God is promising this land to Abrahm, God shows His patience saying,
“And they [the Israelites] shall come back here [the promised land] in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” – Genesis 15:16
Did you see that? The sin of the Amorites (who comprised part of the Canaanite people) is not yet to the point of destruction. So God doesn’t bring His judgement on the Amorites until it has gone too far.
We see the same thing play out with Sodom. Abraham pleaded for mercy on the city by asking, “What if there are 50 righteous people in the city?” God responded, “I’ll show mercy if there are 50.” You get the feeling at this point that Abraham knows there are not 50, so he asks for 40. God says He will show mercy if there are 40. What about 20? What about 10? Here, again, God is showing His patience with a rebellious people.
Not An Ethnic Cleansing
We also need to understand that this isn’t an ethnic issue, it is a sin issue. If this were truly an ethnic based judgement, Rahab and her house could have never been saved. So, no one can accuse God of any kind of race based genocide here.
Two Birds, One Stone
The Israelites were simply the instrument God used to execute His judgment. It wasn’t as if the Israelites were some banner of faithfulness and morality who deserved the land more and had the moral right to wipe another group off the map. God could not be more clear about this.
“Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them [the Canaanites] out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. – Deuteronomy 9:4,5
God chose the Israelites for the land and, very separately, God chose to eliminate the Canaanites. So, in a way, He’s killing two birds with one stone here.
First, God is the only one who can execute judgement like this on a city or people group. No modern people can use the book of Joshua to justify their moral superiority or desire to take land from another group of people. Sadly, this was a justification that fueled European colonialism and the displacement and slaughter of Native Americans in the way of the Manifest Destiny of the United States.
Second, it’s worth noting that a disdain for a God who would judge sin is a more modern and distinctly Western position. It is only as our culture increasingly looks like that of the Canaanites that we begin to cry foul on a God who would judge such a culture.
Third, we should see the destruction of the Canaanites for their sin as a picture of the destruction we all deserve. Only because the better Joshua, Jesus, took that destruction on Himself, in our place, are we free to walk into the better promised land of the New Heavens and New Earth.