Recently, someone asked me how if God is such a loving God could he tell
the Israelites to go and totally wipe out entire nations of people (even
the innocent people). He also said that God showed favoritism toward the
Israelites in doing so which is something even Christians are not supposed
to do. I tried to explain to him that God was trying to protect his people
from being corrupted by the surrounding nations and their sinfulness but
he couldn’t understand how people trying to protect themselves from being
“polluted by the world” could then justify killing people as a means to do
so (especially as a directive from God).


I have answered this at the web site more than once, but let me take the
time to reformulate an answer to this, which is one of the most difficult
theological questions about the Bible. It is not hard to see the apparent
contradiction between the God who is defined as love and the God who asked
Israelto wipe out whole peoples; men, women and children. As it says in 1
John 4:16, “God is love.” Add to that the sayings of Jesus about how to
treat our enemies. He prescribed, “But I tell you, love your enemies and
pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) It does not take a
dyed-in-the-wool skeptic of Christianity to find an apparent contradiction
here. The view of God as very loving combined with his commandments to
love everyone, including our enemies seems to be in stark contrast, even
contradiction with God?s command to his people to wipe out whole
populations of peoples, especially during the time of Moses? conquest of

My answer will involve a few arguments, but let me say that even at the
end of this argument, I am still left somewhat troubled by the biblical
accounts of what the Jews were asked by God to do to the inhabitants of
Canaan. In other words, I can make a fairly strong logical argument for
why a loving God would call on Israelto do this, but in the end, my
emotions struggle to follow my logic on this. I am left uncomfortable
with the idea, even if I can explain it.

With that qualification to my answer, let me proceed to explain why I
believe that the scenario above (a loving God and his command to kill
whole communities) is indeed a contrast, but not a contradiction. First
of all, we, as humans, assume that death is an inherently evil thing. God
does not see it that way. Sin is evil. Rebellion against God is evil.
Selfishness, greed, sexual immorality and violence as well are all evil.
However, physical death is not evil. From God?s perspective, the death of
a human being is not an end but a transition. Death is not inherently evil
because it is not the end for a being with a soul. It is difficult for us
to understand, but it is not inherently evil for the lives of the
Canaanites to be ended, even in warfare. It is sinful to take a life in
anger or out of selfishness or greed, but to take a life because one was
commanded to do so by God is not sinful.

Having said that, it is not reasonable to deduce that it is just fine for
us to go around killing people. Far from it. However, it is not an
absolute that the taking of a life is evil. Consider the situation in
Canaanat the time the Israelites were about to enter to take possession of
it. The religious practices of the Canaanites were absolutely
despicable. Worship of Chemosh included “sacrificing” of babies in the
fire. Other gods were worshipped by performing sex acts with prostitutes
in the temples. There was essentially zero chance of anyone raised in such
a culture to become a righteous person or to end up with God for
eternity. Such cultures were abominable in God?s sight. As bad as things
seem to us in our own cultures today, Canaanin the fifteenth millennium BC
was worse. God?s justice and his love can at times appear to those who do
not understand him to be in contradiction. In the case of Canaan, both
his justice and his love dictated that something radical be done. We do
not have the right to judge or take vengeance. Period. “Do not take
revenge, my friends, but leave room for God?s wrath, for it is written:
?It is mine to avenge; I will repay?” (Romans 12:19) But God does have
that right. To quote Hebrews 10:30-31 (which is in the New Testament, by
the way) “Vengeance belongs to Me, I will repay, and again, The Lord will
judge His people. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of a
living God.

God had a chosen people. Israelwas chosen, not because God is
prejudiced or cold and heartless. Israelwas chosen because of a promise
as the result of the faith of Abraham. God made a promise to Abraham that
through his descendents all people would eventually be blessed (Genesis
18:18). It was God?s plan to give Abraham?s descendents a place?a
Promised Land. This was an act of love, as was the final working out of
that promise when God allowed his one and only son to be killed on the
cross in Jerusalem. There was no way for Israelto receive that land
without driving out or destroying those who occupied that land. In
ancient times, it was also impossible to control and live in an abundant
and fruitful land without an army and without willingness to use that army
to defeat one?s enemies. Israellived in a very violent world. They were
to rely on God for deliverance, but they were also commanded to fight
battles with weapons of war.

It is disturbing to me and I assume that it is disturbing to you that God
asked Israel to destroy the peoples in Canaan, but given the loving
promise by God to bless all people through Israel and through their
occupation of the Promised Land, what appears difficult for us to
understand begins to make sense. I assume that the children killed in
this sad affair are with God in heaven. I assume that all or virtually
all of the adults had the same eventual fate that they would have had by
virtue of the fact that they lived in a deeply corrupt and perverted
society. They are separated from God for eternity. God?s justice was
served by the military action of Israel. I will admit that it is harder
to see this, but I believe God?s love was also served by what Israeldid.

Bear in mind that God did not give Israelcarte blanch to go around killing
whomever they wanted to. Their charge was for a specific and limited
area, for a specific and limited amount of time. They were never given
encouragement or permission to build up an empire or to lord it over other
peoples. Their charge was to occupy the Promised Land as a special and
chosen people of God. If one studies the law, especially in Leviticus,
one will discover that Gods commandments were to avoid every kind of
violence, abuse of outsiders, outbursts of rage and so forth. To live as a
foreigner in Israelwas to live in more humane circumstances than most
people experienced in their native lands. God commanded his people to
very humane behavior in general. However, this did not preclude the
people using violence to occupy the Promised Land or to defend Jerusalem
and the templeof God.

To summarize, it is not unreasonable for people to raise questions about
the apparent difficulty of the nation of Israelbeing ordered by God to
wipe out entire populations of people. However, if one considers the
intent of God to bless all people through the descencents of Abraham and
if one considers the reality of life in the ancient Near East, the command
to occupy the Promised Land becomes a reasonable one. I list the premises
of this little essay below.


1. Our assumpt
ion that the death of a human being is inherently an evil
thing is not correct.

2. What is evil is that human beings rebel against God and sin against

3. There exist situations in which God?s justice trumps his love for
individuals and for peoples

with the result that God will bring physical judgment on both
individual people and peoples.

4. Although humans do not have the right to judge others as deserving of
life or death, salvation

or damnation, God does.

5. God?s plan to bless all humanity through Abraham and his descendents
is the greatest good

possible for humanity.

6. If it were God?s plan to send his messiah/savior through a special
people with a definite

political and religious history, this could not be done in the
ancient world without the use of

violent force.


Despite appearances to the contrary, the decision to destroy the peoples
of Cannan?men, women and children?was an act of both love and justice.

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