Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword
(Joshua 6:21 – ESV)
(Joshua 6:21 – ESV)
It is often misunderstood as to why God had ordered the Jews to kill all the inhabitants of Jericho and certain other people they were warring against. It happened more than once. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey'" (1 Samuel 15:3). These slaughters are often used as an objection against Christianity, or at least against the “Old Testament God”. If one is not careful it can seem like a good argument. Many Christians I have known have not known how to answer this accusation. How can God be so good when He ordered His people to slaughter innocent babies? If He is loving and righteous, how could He?
Well, lets look at this from a different perspective, a more complete understanding. First of all, this wasn’t always the case. Also, have you ever considered that God also allowed most of His own people to die in the wilderness, before they entered the Promised Land? God was against rebellion and unrighteousness, and meted out punishment against His own people, before they ever crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. More than 1 million souls that didn’t believe they could take the land, because of the giants (Numbers 13-14), died in the wilderness, save those under 20 years of age, and Joshua and Caleb, who believed in God’s promise.
Now the people of Canaan, like the Amalekites and others, were guilty of abominable sin and had filled up the cup of God’s wrath already, so it wasn’t like they were innocent. But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). Perhaps by having children killed, God was sparing them worse punishment than they would have had if they had grown to maturity and committed more injustice and gross rebellion. Even so, before we can ask, “how could He” about the Canaanites, how about His own people? God allowed all those deaths in the wilderness.
Why does God order the annihilation of entire nations in the first place? Some were peoples who possessed the Promised Land, which God gave to Israel. The primary reason stated above is that these peoples are exceedingly wicked. If they are not totally wiped out, they will teach the Jews their sinful ways and thus bring them under divine condemnation. God was against rebellion, and was preserving the birth line of the coming Messiah, both by filtering the Jews, and the killing of the others.
That may seem like a wholly unsatisfactory answer to you. However, consider this: this slice of redemptive history must be looked at within the overall context of God’s plan. And that plan included pouring out His wrath upon His own Son to pay for our sins. So before you can ask about the Canaanites, and the Jews before them, how about the fact that God poured out His wrath upon the sinless Son of God?
Love must be seen in its full context. If you had a child learning to ride a bike, and you were that day going to remove the training wheels, you would realize that they might fall, and skin their knees. They would be hurt, and would be very angry with you. However, you know that in the long run it was good for them. You knew the big picture. They might be mad for a while, perhaps a long while, but when they learned to ride that bike they would be glad you helped them learn how.
God gives us the big picture of redemption, and all we have to do is look at the cross to see that God is vitally concerned about punishing sin. Yet he allowed His own Son to pay for that sin because He is also vitally concerned about demonstrating His love. So instead of looking at only those early moments in redemptive history, be sure to look to the climax of it, Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, dying on a cross to reconcile you to a loving God.
So there is an answer to, “How could He?” It is because He loved us.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).