My brother and I were taught to look for proof, and back up statements with facts, examples and or reasoning. This led to the actual discovery of proof of biblical accuracy and inspiration. No other religion has proof. All other web pages on this site are because of that proof, including The Invasion Of Canaan.
We receive emails from both sides:
- Some say God’s command makes genocide justifiable, and that our
reasoningis watering down God’s word.
- Others say we are justifying or rationalizing genocide, and that our
Neither side has the complete picture from the Bible record and are quite fanatical in refusing to see what the Bible actually says happened. Most are caught up in the religious, moral or philosophical arguments and stop reading. They think a line here and there, plus second hand opinions are all they need to be authorities on this subject. No further examination or defence is necessary. How educated or rational is such an attitude?
The Bible does record a command from God to kill all the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7:1-5). It also records that most of the Canaanites escaped (Isaiah 17:9). This apparent contradiction makes further examination imperative. The results are in the article below.
There are those who claim the Exodus and Israel’s invasion of Canaan never happened. They say there is no archaeological evidence. See the page Archaeology Confirms The Bible Record, for the answer.
Many people have difficulty accepting the Bible’s account of Israel’s invasion of Canaan. If God is love, how could He order Israel to wipe out the Canaanites? The real problem is that people have difficulty accepting God’s judgement on evil.
For the atheist or unbeliever, death, dying, being killed, and genocide are some of the worst things that can happen, because they believe there is nothing afterwards. The believer begs to differ. Death, dying, or being killed is not the end. God will raise up the dead and then bring them to final judgement. (Revelation 20:12) In the face of death, the believer’s one comfort is God will make all things right (Revelation 21:4).
Most people find even a single murder disturbing. Wholesale slaughter is extremely upsetting. First we must see why the Bible called the Canaanites evil. Second, we must examine the Bible itself to see what it really says, not what people think it says. A study of the verses reveals an entirely different story. God did not issue a command for genocide, and Israel never intended to slay all the Canaanites.
Four hundred years before Israel, the Bible first mentions the Canaanites in Genesis 15:16. God was watching their increasing evil. Their behaviour and religion were both wicked. Genesis 18:16-19:29 tells the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities in Canaan where gangs and swarms attacked people for fun. God destroyed them, but spared one nearby city, Zoar, for Lot’s sake. From this one remaining city, their evil behaviour later spread throughout Canaan, and was eventually picked up by the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 18:9-21). It so incensed the rest of Israel they fought a war almost wiping out the Benjaminites.
Canaanite religion involved child sacrifice. It was a practice that increased the more their cities expanded. Unlike other ancient civilizations where such practices died out, the Canaanites perpetuated it.
Information on Canaanite human sacrifices...
- Child sacrifice at Gezer.
- Cremation jars filled with the bones of sacrificed children were fairly common in Canaan.
Were the Canaanites really evil? The Bible gives so few details it leaves the reader wondering. Unfortunately, most people have no idea how God views evil. They do not understand it and underestimate the danger. The Bible does not go into details because it does not want to perpetuate evil. God doesn’t want anyone copying the Canaanites. Nevertheless, Leviticus chapters 17 and 18 do give some hints. The Canaanites practised incest, homosexuality, had sex with animals, children, and burned their children as sacrifices all in the name of their gods.
Israel was a new nation just out of Egypt. God was teaching them to be a holy people (Deuteronomy 7:6, 28:9, Leviticus 19:2). They were entering Canaan, a land with religion and culture over 400 years old. Since the Canaanites were not about to change their ways, they would have to be removed.1
God Did Not Order Genocide
Several points concerning the Bible must be remembered.
- Even historians admit the Bible is unique. It was the first written record with a world view of history.
- It was the first record that dared criticize its own nation and kings. As far as this author knows, no other ancient record did this.
- It was written long before the concept of
political correctnessand way before our modern sensibilities. The Bible is brutally frank. It will not hide unpleasant incidents like ethnic cleansing.
God issued two specific commands concerning the Canaanites east of the Jordan River (Deuteronomy 2:26-36, 3:1-11) and several commands concerning Canaanites in general (Exodus 23:28-33, 33:2, 34:11-16, Numbers 33:50-56, Deuteronomy 7:1-5, 9:3, 11:23, 12:2-3, 20:10-18, Joshua 3:10, J13:6, 23:5). The two specific commands were for the conquest of the kingdoms east of the Jordan. Of the general commands, only Deuteronomy 7:1-5 demands the total destruction of the Canaanites. Deuteronomy 20:10-18 qualifies this by specifically mentioning the destruction of Canaanite cities. The others concern driving them out, destroying their idols and not making any treaties with them.
As will be seen later, Israel followed God’s instructions. The two Canaanite kingdoms east of the Jordan were completely destroyed, but the Canaanites on the west were not.
Now it makes no sense to
drive out the Canaanites and then
kill them. It makes even less sense to
kill them and then
drive them out. The most reasonable reading of these commands is that some of them were to be killed and the rest driven out.
Perhaps the most important point is that God’s angel2 did not insist on the total destruction of the Canaanites after the war (Judges 2:1-10). If slaying all the Canaanites was God’s command, the angel would have said so.
God’s angel also said he would no longer drive out all the Canaanites since Israel showed little interest in doing so. In essence, the divine command of conquest was rescinded. Because of disobedience, the Canaanites remaining were now allowed to stay. They would become a test for Israel’s faithfulness to God (Judges 3:1-6). It seems unlikely God would use the Canaanites in this fashion if they were fit only for slaughter.
The two following sections demonstrates Israel’s behaviour before and during the invasion of Canaan. A careful reading of all the verses shows genocide was not the goal.
Israelite Wars Before Canaan
Five conflicts listed below show Israel’s behaviour before the invasion of Canaan.
Arad, a Canaanite king in the Negev attacked Israel and captured some of them (Numbers 21:1-3). Israel destroyed Arad and his cities.
Sihon refused Israel passage, went out to fight and was defeated (Numbers 21:21-26). All his cities were destroyed. Men, women and children were slain (Deuteronomy 2:26-36). Israel took possession of his land.
The Amorites in Jazer were dispossessed (Numbers 21:32). No other details were recorded.
Og of Bashan fought Israel (Numbers 21:33-35). Sixty cities along with many walled and unwalled villages were destroyed. Men, women and children were all slain (Deuteronomy 3:1-11).
- Midian was destroyed for tempting Israel into idolatry (Numbers 31:3-19). All Midianite cities and encampments were burned. Only female virgins were allowed to live.
Israel’s first war was one of self-defence. They destroyed Arad, and his cities to rescue their own people. Their wars with Sihon and Og were also of self-defence. Neither Sihon or Og had to go out in force to fight Israel. They could have waited to see if Israel would violate their territory.
It could be argued Israel didn’t have to destroy the cities of these two Amorite kings after the battle. Turning away would have earned Israel the title of being the most restrained nation in history. As will be seen later, Israel could not turn away. But does a war that begins in self-defence and ends with the complete destruction of the enemy qualify as genocide? This falls in a grey area.
Three interesting points stand out in these five conflicts.
The Amorites of Jazer stand out because no mention is made of a battle, or of cities burned, or of men, women and children slain. The lack of information forces the reader to wonder what happened. Since the Bible did not shrink from recording the details in the other four conflicts, one would expect Jazer to be no different. The possibility is that there was no battle. Cities were not destroyed. The Amorites of Jazer saw what happened to Arad and Sihon and fled as Israel approached.
destruction of Midian has to be qualified with Judges 6:3. Midian was later one of the oppressors of Israel during the time of the Judges. This would not be possible if they had been completely destroyed (Numbers 31:3-19). Two possible conclusions can be suggested. 1) The destruction of the Midianite cities and encampments did not mean the destruction of all the people. 2) Only one branch of the Midianite tribes was destroyed.
Now the war with Og also stands out. It was the only one where the destruction of walled and unwalled villages was mentioned. Does this make it more of a
If genocide was the goal, would not the Bible have clearly recorded battles and destruction for all five conflicts? Even if the campaigns were all described as complete successes, the case of Midian shows appearances can be deceiving. In reality we don’t know how thorough the Israelites were in their war. If they were fighting nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes, they were only destroying those in their area. Genocide would entail pursuing all the other tribes.
The picture becomes clearer with the invasion of Canaan itself.
Yes, there was a strategy from the greatest general ever: God. He was not sending Israel in as a tidal wave of barbarians slaughtering everyone. Exodus 23:28, Deuteronomy 7:20, and Joshua 24:12 give the bare-bones strategy. God would send
hornets before Israel, driving the Canaanites out.
Scholars do not agree what the
hornets were, but The Word Biblical Commentary, volume 3 translated it as: panic-terror. (This agrees with Exodus 23:27.) In other words, God would scare the Canaanites into fleeing. The plagues on Egypt, the drowning of Pharaoh’s army, the destruction of Amorites east of the Jordan, and the crossing of the Jordan were all building an awesome reputation for God and Israel. This would spread panic among the Canaanites and make them flee without fighting. Israel would then drive them out.
The strategy worked. Rahab, the Canaanite at Jericho who hid Israel’s spies, said everyone was afraid of Israel (Joshua 2:11). This is repeated by the writer of the book of Joshua (Joshua 5:1). The vast majority of Canaanites were ready to flee. Isaiah 17:9 confirms Israel took over
[N.B. If God really wanted genocide, He would have begun preparing Israel for total war the moment they left Egypt. Nothing in the book of Exodus gives evidence of military training or preparation. God actually decided to avoid the road to Philistia because it would lead to war (Exodus 34:16). If genocide really was the object, Israel would not have given up war later, but they did. An entire generation grew up not knowing war (Judges 3:1).]
Invasion Of Canaan
The first two cities attacked in Canaan were completely destroyed (Joshua 6:18-19, Ch. 8). Jericho was a city
devoted to the LORD for destruction (Joshua 6:17). It was the only city specially designated with a title. In essence, God claimed one city out of 350 (see section on Thutmose III below). Ai, the second city, was the only city where the Bible gave a casualty report. Does the destruction of these two cities mean the same occurred everywhere throughout the invasion, or were they special cases? A further look shows Jericho and Ai were special cases.3 Total destruction did not occur everywhere throughout the invasion.
God did not say He would bring down the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6:5). He just said it would happen. The Bible also does not say the walls fell because of God (Joshua 6:20). Compare this with
God struck the Nile (Exodus 7:25) and
threw hailstones (Joshua 10:11). The Bible is clear when God actually says or does something.
If God did not bring down the walls of Jericho, and it wasn’t the work of an angel, it had to be a natural event, perhaps an earthquake. God knew it would happen and arranged for Israel to benefit. No one should accuse God of taking a personal hand in the case of Jericho.
Rahab’s house was either a part of the wall or on it (Joshua 2:15). Others would lean on the wall. Unlike streets planned with a grid, Jericho probably was crammed with houses. When the wall fell inwards, it could cause a domino effect.
The king and his ruling class would be at the palace with his most loyal troops. Most of the men would be drafted for defence of the wall. The stronger women and children might also be drafted to carry stones, arrows and boiling oil to hurl at attackers. Of the remaining population, the possibility exists they were at the wall too. Houses built against the wall would have only one front to defend and would be considered safest. In other words, most of Jericho’s population died in the quake, not from God and not from Israel.
Let’s be clear. The flood during Noah’s time was real genocide (Genesis 7:21-23). God destroyed the entire world. But He has every right to do so when He judges evil. Even if God personally took a hand, Jericho was not a world. Nor was it linguistically, racially, religiously, politically or culturally unique. It’s destruction was not the end of the Canaanites. Even so, God did leave a remnant for Jericho.
Jericho’s total destruction was meant to save lives. The Canaanites had already heard of Israel’s victories east of the Jordan (Joshua 2:10). This was a major reason why Israel could not turn away from fighting Sihon and Og. God was building a victorious reputation for them. After hearing of God’s
magical power bringing down the walls, no Canaanite would believe their cities were places of refuge. No one would heed the call of their kings to reinforce the cities. Only those with the most to lose, and only those most responsible for Canaanite evil would stay. Anyone else would run away.
This brings us to the next special case, to Ai, the second city to supposedly suffer
Some archaeologists say Ai was only partially occupied in 1456 B.C., the year of Joshua’s invasion.4 Others believe Ai was being fortified by Bethel in preparation for Israel’s advance.5 Including the Bible’s information gives a clearer picture.
Bethel immediately sent reinforcements to Ai the moment they requested it (Joshua 8:17). They did it without an alliance (Joshua 11:1-3). This indicates the two cities were closely related. If Ai was simply being fortified, it would not explain the presence of women. If it was only partially occupied, it would not have a population of 12,000 (Joshua 8:25). The only explanation is that Bethel was in the process of rebuilding Ai at the time of Joshua’s invasion.
For Ai to be genocide, the mother city Bethel would also have to be destroyed. But the destruction of Ai was not followed by the destruction of Bethel. The book of Joshua never says Israel laid siege to Bethel. There was no battle of Bethel. And yet, Bethel later appears in the list of conquered cities (Joshua 12:16). The simplest explanation is that the inhabitants of Bethel fled the moment they learned of Ai’s fall. Bereft of military power, knowing the Israelites were also cunning, and fearing another Jericho type collapse, they abandoned their city.
This was the way God wanted it. Destroy, or appear to destroy two cities with overwhelming force to discourage resistance and encourage flight. (If we’re going to talk about God being loving and wise, surely this would be one strategy. To say otherwise is to make God appear as a very poor general.)
Consider the following:
- Joshua took some cities in only one or two days (Joshua 10:28, 32, 35)
- These were cities with 40 foot high walls.
- No mention is made of siege tactics, equipment or even ladders and ropes.
- No miracles were mentioned in taking these cities.
- Thirty-seven men at Harlech Castle successfully withstood the entire Welsh army in 1294 A.D.
Joshua’s lightning victories were only possible if the Canaanite cities were severely undermanned. They were undermanned for two reasons. After Jericho and Ai, the Canaanites tried forming two alliances to meet Israel head on in battle (Joshua 9:1-2, and 11:1-5). Both alliances eventually failed (Joshua 10:9-10, and 11:7-9). The destruction of their armies was one reason the city walls were stripped of manpower. The second reason follows the first. Cities were viewed as deathtraps because of Jericho. After the alliances failed, most Canaanites refused to join their kings, fled, and saved their lives.
Ai was also a special case. This is the only battle where the Bible says Joshua pressed the attack, allowing the fighting continue until all the Canaanites were destroyed (Joshua 8:18, 20). In the entire book of Joshua, this is the only battle saying 12,000 Canaanites died. In the entire book of Joshua, the Bible never repeats this.
Were these events unique and specific to Ai, or do they apply to the entire conquest? Did Joshua press the attack throughout the conquest? Were tens of thousands of Canaanites slain for each city taken?
Critics of the Bible (and of God) insist it happened more often than not. This would make God and Joshua bloodthirsty savages.
Supporters of the Bible say this might be the only case. This would make God and Joshua extremely humane.
If genocide, blood and savagery was the point, this could explain the number of dead: 12,000. But if fails to explain why this is the only casualty figure in the entire book! If it was genocide, Israel would have been proud to count all the slain bodies they could find at every battle.
How do we know the Nazis massacred 6 million Jews in the period leading up to and including World War II? Because they proudly kept records of their
accomplishment and boasted of it. On some Egyptian monuments, the Pharaohs even boasted when they killed a handful of people. No number was too small for them.
No casualty figures appear in the rest of the book of Joshua because genocide and racking up a body count was not the goal.
The reason 12,000 died at Ai was because there was no escape. They were caught in the open. Their strong points of refuge were seized. They were attacked on several sides. Expected reinforcements from Bethel were ambushed and destroyed. Hemmed in, only a few managed to flee and were pursued into the wilderness.
There was no way Israel could ambush, or surround all the Canaanites in every battle. Faced with Israel’s superior numbers and overwhelming reputation, in most cases the Canaanites would break off the battle early. They would flee in so many directions and in such numbers Joshua would not bother pursuing them. This would also explain why so few battles were recorded in the latter part of the book of Joshua.
God’s fearsome reputation was established at Jericho. Similarily, fear of Israel’s military power was to deter Canaanites from attempting open battle. Israel’s invincibility was to have been established at Ai. Three thousand Israelites, backed by the angel, were supposed to win at Ai. Had this happened, the most likely scenario would be a head on attack, with the Canaanites breaking off battle early. There would be no way for 3000 Israelites to pursue them all. Most of the people of Ai would have escaped, and Bethel would not have been drawn into the fray. This would have saved thousands of lives, and convinced any other reasonable Canaanite in the region that fighting was not an option.
Unfortunately, this was not to be. One Israelite stole from Jericho what was supposed to be God’s. One greedy man ruined the perfect plan. Since God’s angel could no longer support them, they were initially defeated at Ai. This defeat convinced some of the Canaanites that fighting and winning was possible. Nevertheless, Ai became a different sort of lesson for the Canaanites. Stand, and be completely destroyed, or run before the tide of battle really turned against them.
Since the Canaanites couldn’t match Israel man for man, they tried alliances. They tried open battle, but had no staying power once Israel appeared to be winning. And they tried holding their cities as long as possible with as many as they could convince to stay. They still feared another Jericho, but they were further encouraged when it didn’t happen again. The latter part of the book is all about taking cities. As the book of Joshua progresses, it becomes clear Israel’s victories required more and more effort.
Are we to blame God for the death of so many Canaanites? Or are we going to blame one greedy man for ruining the plan? Or should we blame the Canaanites for defending an evil culture against all reason, and fighting even when there was no hope? In war, some cities are flattened while others survive intact. Sometimes it’s deliberate strategy, and sometimes it’s random chance. Jericho and Ai just happened to be the two cities chosen as examples.
The initial reaction of the Canaanites, to Israel crossing the Jordan, was to make their last stand in fortified cities. There was no way they could meet Israel’s numbers head on. Jericho foreclosed this option. Their second reaction was to use guerrilla tactics at Ai. This gave them their first hope of success. Their subsequent defeat crushed some of this hope, but not all. This produced two reactions.
The kings in southern Canaan formed an alliance (Joshua 9:1-2). If Bethel and Ai could hold off Israel in battle, perhaps a larger force would make them think twice about continuing deeper into Canaan. And if they were lucky, perhaps they could actually win.
The Canaanites at Gibeon chose a different route. For them, the risk of defeat and destruction was too great. They deceived Israel into making peace with them (Joshua 9:3-6, 15).
If God had really wanted genocide He would not have allowed the Israelites to be tricked. He would not have held the Israelites to their alliance with Gibeon (Joshua 9:26, 2 Samuel 21:1). N.B. God was completely silent during these events. We are free to obey or disobey His commands. We have to live with the consequences.
Turn this around and ask what the Gibeonites were thinking. If genocide was by divine command, would the Gibeonites have dared to attempt a peace treaty? After they disarmed, and let Israel into their midst, could they trust the Israelites to not turn on them? Would a contract with men supersede a divine command? What did the Gibeonites know about Israel, and about God? Were they that confident a treaty would hold? It becomes clear a peace treaty, especially one by trickery, is only possible if genocide was not the object.
Gibeon actually showed the other Canaanites what they had to do to keep their lives. Any Canaanite could now lie and say they were Gibeonites or were related to them. And if they couldn’t show they were Gibeonites, they could lie and say they were Hebrews sold as slaves to the Canaanites.
There is no knowing how many Canaanites chose this path, or like Rahab individually switched allegiance.
Total destruction did not occur everywhere throughout the invasion.
Let’s look at the rest of the conquest.
Six southern Canaanite cities were destroyed (Joshua 10). Only Hebron and Debir had neighbouring towns destroyed as well. The Bible gives no indication the other four cities had their towns attacked.
In Joshua 11, Israel fought the Canaanites in the north. Only one city is named: Hazor. It was the only city burnt. Other cities were attacked and destroyed, but no names, numbers or details were given.
If genocide was the invasion objective, each town, village or farm destroyed would have been another step of obedience. Every Canaanite seen on the roads, in the forests, on the mountains, in the hills, or by the rivers, would have been slain. If Israel had disobeyed, the Bible would have clearly said so. If Israel had obeyed such a command, each act of destruction would have been another victory. The Bible would not have been silent about their faithfulness. Since the Bible gives no hint of either case, it appears unlikely genocide was the objective. And if genocide was not the objective, Israel would not be attacking every city, town, village or farm. This fits the Bible record.
Now Thutmose III (Egyptian pharaoh 1501?-1447?BC) claimed over 350 cities in Canaan paid him tribute6. Perhaps his claim was an exaggeration, but we can be quite certain there were many cities in Canaan. The Bible account of Joshua’s invasion lists only a few cities by name. Does this mean Joshua’s invasion was small? The Bible clearly shows it was not small. Joshua 12 lists thirty-one conquered kings covering most of Canaan. Only the peripheral areas and plains along the Mediterranean were left unconquered (Joshua 13). It could be concluded that the invasion was directed against Canaanites with the greatest power and influence. Israel won the war once any possible rallying point was destroyed. Complete destruction of all the Canaanites was unnecessary.
From Joshua chapters 15 to 21, approximately 230 cities were allotted to the tribes of Israel, but the Bible is not clear how many were actually taken in battle (Joshua 13:1-7). Since Joshua 12 only lists thirty-one conquered kings (10% compared with Thutmose III), then the cities still held by Canaanites would have been over 90%. Genocide? Hardly.
If the 230 allotted cities were taken in battle, then and only then would Israel’s conquest be about 66% of Canaan. Is 66% of the urban population considered genocide when the majority lived outside the cities?
As stated before, the goal was to drive the Canaanites out gradually (Exodus 23:27-30). No battles were listed for hundreds of cities because they were not taken in battle. The Canaanites of these 230 cities left them deserted (see Isaiah 17:9), or were to be driven out later. This brings us to the next section.
Caleb, Hebron, & Debir
Hebron was part of the southern Canaanite alliance that formed after the fall of Jericho and Ai (Joshua 10:2-3). The king of Hebron died after the southern alliance was defeated at Gibeon (Joshua 10:26). Later, Israel attacked this city (Joshua 10:36-37). This is one of the rare times where the Bible says Israel attacked the towns associated with a city. Debir also fell around that time (Joshua 10:38-39).
If genocide was the command from God, why were Canaanites still at Hebron for Caleb to drive out (Joshua 15:14)? Weren’t they all slain? Even more important, why would any Canaanite return to a city Israel had taken? Didn’t the Israelites just kill everyone who was there? Were Canaanites stupid? The world today deals with millions of refugees afraid to go home. And why did Caleb have to fight Debir again (Joshua 15:15)? The only answer is that genocide was not the purpose of the invasion. Canaanites fled the cities in droves rather than risk being caught in another Jericho. They refused to join their king’s army and took shelter in the countryside. Not only did Israel leave them alone, some of the bolder Canaanites felt secure enough to return to the fallen cities!
The ancient world was not an urban society. Even if Israel destroyed every single city, over 90% of the population at that time lived in the countryside. What would happen to these people? A few would fight. Others would flee and return after the fighting. Many might stay in the countryside and hope for the best. This explains why most of God’s commands reiterated the need to drive the Canaanites out.
War And The Bronze Age
Was the ancient world a savage environment? According to Robert Drews, warfare in the Middle to Late Bronze Age was chariot warfare. Chariots were expensive, the high tech equipment of the age. Armies were small, usually numbering in the low thousands. Casualties were even smaller.8 This is why Ai was the only city to have 12,000 casualties. The number in itself was extraordinary. It was exceptional, and it also explains why Canaan could not resist Israel’s invasion. They had neither the manpower nor the soldiers to match Israel’s numbers.
Does this make the ancient Israelites more vicious and brutal than other people at that time? No. The average person is conditioned against killing another person even in the face of great danger. (See Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s book, On Killing. The US Army had great difficulty during the Civil War, and in both World Wars, getting troops to open fire. One might think pulling a trigger would be the easiest thing! Training someone to use a sword to kill is even worse.) Overcoming this conditioning produces a violence prone society, and serious psychological problems for the soldier. There is no evidence ancient Israel became such a society. On the contrary, Israel stopped driving the Canaanites out (Judges 1:27-36).
This is not just a
theory the author pieced together to hide what the Bible said. The facts from history, and from the Bible show it was not genocide. Isaiah 17:9 states the true situation:
In that day their strong cities will be like the deserted places of the Hivites and the Amorites, which they deserted because of the children of Israel, and there will be desolation.
In other words, God’s plan worked! Many Canaanites ran away. They ran away because they feared another Jericho, and another defeat like Ai.
All this is not to downplay or minimize the devastating impact of Israel’s invasion. Many people (men, women and children) were slain. In some cases even all livestock from a city were slaughtered. The Canaanite culture was evil and God wanted it removed. But He didn’t want everyone killed. He was not merciless. Gradually driving the Canaanites out of their land and into neighbouring nations where they would be the minority would force them to change their ways (Exodus 23:27-30).
If God commanded Israel to massacre all Canaanites, why were there still Canaanites at Hebron after the conquest? (Joshua 15:14) The Bible is only inconsistent if the mistaken assumption of genocide is accepted. The Bible is entirely consistent when allowed to speak for itself.
What about all the women and children? Or why did God include animals? The Canaanites corrupted men, women, children and animals in their practices (see Leviticus chapters 17 and 18 again). Those who were tainted by such practices could not be allowed to spread their practices to Israel. There was no way of guaranteeing they would not. What can you do with someone who will not change? In the ancient world, no one was well versed enough in the mind (doctors, psychologists, sociologists) to reform them. This is even true today. Worse yet, there was no way to identify them.
This means it was very likely some innocents were slain. Innocent women and children die as the consequence of a drunk driver’s actions. People are hurt by the consequences of actions and decisions made by others. Why doesn’t God stop it? In the case of Canaan, why didn’t He choose another path?9 Unfortunately, the freedom to choose means freedom to face the consequences. Free will would have no meaning if God constantly interfered. Innocent Canaanites died because for over 400 years their rulers refused to change for the better and grew worse. While other societies abandoned child sacrifice, they actively promoted it.
The Canaanites ceased to exist as a culture. They continued to exist as people in other cultures. In fact, this isn’t even
cultural genocide. Canaanite culture was imposed from the top, by cruel kings and a sadistic religious caste. It was the culture of the ruling class, the minority and the rich. It was not culture from the common people. Removing it hurt only the wicked.
Let’s put Canaan in perspective with other historical events. The Canaanites ceased to exist as a culture. They continued to exist as people in other cultures. We are actually much worse than the ancient Israelites and miserably short of God’s standards. The fire-bombing of Dresden, and the bombing of almost every major Japanese city in World War II, and the atom bomb left civilians no hope of escape. In the last two centuries, we have almost exhausted the planet’s resources, polluted the atmosphere, filled the oceans with plastic, stripped the soil of nutrients and driven to extinction dozens of tribal peoples, and untold species. The cultural heritage of these people and the genetic loss of these species is permanent. Surely we should be more concerned with extinction than with the destruction of an evil culture.
Israel’s invasion demonstrated God’s justice, mercy and practicality at work. He executed justice upon the Canaanite ruling class. They tended to live in the cities, and they were most responsible for the evil Canaanite culture. God granted mercy to the Canaanites outside of the cities, and to any who abandoned the old ways. They had their lives, but they would eventually have to move and give up all their sinful culture.10
If God never intended genocide, why give such a command in the first place? Perhaps the purpose is not to question or analyze God, but ourselves. What was ancient Israel’s response? More importantly, what would future generations do with it? The fault is not in God, or what He did, or even said. Those are excuses. The fault is ours if we hastily conclude without evidence or act irresponsibly.
He who believes will not be in haste. (Isaiah 28:16c)
Joshua 10:9-10 records Israel’s victory over the first Canaanite alliance with
great slaughter. Is this more than the 12,000 that fell at Ai, or is it less? Even more interesting is verse 11, where more Canaanites died from hail than from Israel. This changes the entire idea of
No casualty figure is given. A
great slaughter doesn’t have to be a large number of Canaanites being killed. It could be a description of how easily the Canaanites were slain when God sent hail. Verse 11 indicates more Canaanites died from hail than from the sword. Imagine Canaanite formations being wiped out en masse at strategic locations by hail, leaving them unable to regroup, communicate or even coordinate. Verse 19 indicates a sizable portion of the Canaanites managed to escape. In essence, God spared Israel from developing bloodthirstiness.
Since God sent hail, killing more Canaanites than Israel, does this mean God is bloodthirsty? Rather than always questioning God or Israel, look at the Canaanites. After the destruction of the kingdoms east of the Jordan, after the
show of power at Jericho, after the defeat at Ai, after the Bethelites fled, and after Gibeon made peace, there was no hope of fighting Israel and winning. Any reasonable person would run away. These Canaanites refused to see any reason.
One would think Canaanites so opposed to Israel would muster their alliance to attack Israel first. They did not. They went to attack Gibeon (Joshua 10:5). They didn’t want any other city making peace with Israel. They didn’t want any Canaanite leaving the fold. In essence, they attacked anyone who was willing to give up wickedness.
It would have been strategically wiser to attack Israel first. The Gibeonites most likely would have waffled on sending aid to Israel, and if they saw their fellow Canaanites winning, might have even rejoined them. The Canaanite alliance chose to attack Gibeon first because they understood any battle with Israel was most likely lost.
Standing up for what is right and good, even against hopeless odds, is admirable. Standing and fighting for wickedness is something else entirely. Hail was justified for their unreasonable stubbornness.
People assume the Bible condones genocide for several reasons.
- They read it carelessly and jump to conclusions. (Even believers do this!)
- They do not know God and do not trust Him. (They believe God is capricious.)
- They want to reject the Bible. (They’ve already made their conclusion and don’t want to change their thinking.)
- They want to use the Bible to justify themselves as superior. (Look how illogical and unreasonable those believers are!)
- They want to use the Bible to justify their own actions against other people. (They’re not believers; I can cheat, kill, and or oppress them.)
Don’t blame God, and don’t blame the Bible. Blame people for attributing to God what He has not said (or done). Blame people for misreading and misapplying the Bible. Blame people for setting up religions not based on God or the Bible. Please don’t blame God, and don’t blame the Bible. Put the blame where it really belongs.
Jesus himself said,
My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. (John 18:36 KJV) This means Christians do not fight for God’s kingdom here. It does not mean no Christian should fight now or ever fight, only that they fight on their own and for their own reasons. No matter how noble, or justified the reason, (or perhaps even ignoble and unjustified,) these reasons should never be confused as actually being God’s will. These are the actions of people.
Ancient Israel was chosen by God, and most people naturally assume there was something spiritually special about them, but they weren’t. The majority were unregenerate people, just like the rest of humanity (Deuteronomy 9:6-7). This raises the question whether God would have asked a true spiritual nation to do the same.
Unbelievers confuse the motives and actions of
believers with God. Some so called
believers reinforce or encourage the confusion by saying they speak and act for God or that they are acting on
God’s word. Unbelievers then attribute these actions to God, and accuse God of being cruel, capricious, primitive, vicious, and bloodthirsty. But this charge can only be made if God actually issued an open-ended command in the Bible for believers to commit genocide. No such verse exists in the Bible.
Those who criticize the Bible show their credulity in accepting any and all who claim they speak and act for God just so they can then blame Him or His word. And since they’d rather not know, they don’t bother checking the Bible to see if any such command exists. With faith they believe it is there (a true figment of the imagination).
When confronted with a strong showing that no such command from God ever existed, some of them switch topics and make another unsubstantiated claim. They say religion in general, or one in particular (usually Christianity) has caused much harm in the world, more harm than good.
This is a debatable point and actually not open to final verification. Since human history isn’t over, the final results aren’t available. And until recently, no comparison was possible (religion versus no religion) because for most of history people were religious.
However, we do have a comparison now. A system without religion (atheist) slaughtered, brainwashed, imprisoned, tortured, persecuted, and starved tens of millions of people for decades. Soviet Russia, communist China, North Korea and Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge are all examples of human systems without religion.
The increasing secularization of Western nations has led to unfettered capitalism where social welfare is sacrificed. Most social welfare standards were developed by religious people.
If religion was a major cause of humanity’s ills, then its removal should produce a visible benefit. The atheist and secular experiments produced the opposite! This proves religion is not the cause. The real cause is greed and pride.
King Saul was told by the prophet Samuel to destroy the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15). This is another Bible incident people claim is about genocide. But David also fought the Amalekites not long after (2 Samuel 1:1), and even after David’s battle with them, an Amalekite still appears (2 Samuel 1:8). Genocide? Hardly.
The Amalekites were a nomadic tribal people who attacked other people (Exodus 17:8, Deuteronomy 25:17-18, Judges 3:13). Their behaviour was unpredictable. They even attacked a Philistine area (1 Samuel 27:6, 1 Samuel 30:1).
The Amalekite wars of Israel, King Saul, and of David were meant to keep these raiders away from settled territories. They were no different from the wars Rome and China waged against the barbarians on their frontiers. Had Israel not fought with Amalek, the Amalekites would have made it a habit of wandering closer and closer, constantly raiding deeper and deeper. A strong showing of force, wiping out one or two sub-tribes, was the only way Israel had of convincing them to move elsewhere. Rome did it by sending their legions deeper and deeper into Germania. China did it by building a wall.
The Amalekite disappearance from the Bible after David is not evidence they were destroyed. They realized the settled nations were becoming too strong for them to attack and left the area.
- There are many who say the God of the Bible is a
bloody god. (He asked that the entire of Jericho be destroyed, and set aside for Himself.) Just because God revealed Himself to Israel and not the Canaanites, the Canaanites were now to be destroyed. They say this was most unfair.
We don’t know how many previous warnings God gave the Canaanites. We do know Sodom and Gomorrah had Lot and Abraham’s witness for years before they were destroyed. We do know Balaam of Peor and Jethro of Midian had some contact with God (Numbers 22:8, Exodus 3:1). We also know the Canaanites worsened over 400 years (Genesis 15:16). To say God did not give the Canaanites any chance is wrong.
At the same time, Deuteronomy 9:4-8 makes it clear God was removing the Canaanites because they were evil, and not because Israel was pure and holy. There is nothing in these verses for Israel to be proud or superior about. If not for God’s promise to Abraham, it could easily have been Israel on the list for destruction (Genesis 38:7-10). This is a warning for anyone today who thinks they are holy or pure.
The conquest of Canaan was a one time event by God’s command. This never happened again! A one time event is no precedent for waging
holy wars,extermination campaigns, land conquests or oppression. Those who quote the Bible for such purposes are misusing it.
- The entire conquest should be read with Joshua 5:13-14 in mind. Spiritual forces were behind many of the events. God sent an angel, a commander of His army, to lead the way. When something happens in the conquest, we should never assume it was God’s hand unless the Bible specifically says so. It could have been the angel. Some angels only operate in specific conditions (Revelation 9:15-16). Elemental forces associated with these angels will be terrible and impersonal. Again, don’t blame God for something an angel does, and don’t blame Him for an impersonal force like an earthquake.
- The Bible is very informative concerning the reaction of the Canaanites to Israel's invasion. If we accept the Bible record as factual, then the fall of Jericho was viewed as a miraculous event. When word of this reached the other Canaanite cities, people would flee the cities! Canaanite kings would demand their citizens defend their nation only to find no support for guarding deathtraps. This would make Israel’s conquest easier, and spare many lives on both sides. On the other hand, Israel’s initial defeat at Ai would encourage some of the Canaanites to try hold their cities with a small force. But even this was in line with God’s plan. Only the most fanatical Canaanites, those who had the most to lose when their civilization ended would perish.
- Stiebing Jr, William A., Out Of The Desert? (Prometheus Books, 1989), p142
- Daugherty, Martin J. et al., Battles Of The Bible (Amber Books, 2008), p19
- Clayton, Peter A., Chronicle Of The Pharaohs (Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1994), p110
- People in Assam and north eastern Indian states received text messages warning that minorities were being attacked. Thousands jammed train stations trying to escape. The Indian government was forced to ban the use of bulk text messages in order to stem panic. (August 17, 2012 news story from The Telegraph, last accessed March 2, 2015.)
- Drews, Robert End Of The Bronze Age (Princeton University Press, 1993), p49
- Could God have chosen another way? The possibilities are as endless as people’s imagination. But that’s another topic. The present focus is on the book of Joshua, and the real fact that there was no genocide.
- Everything should be from God’s perspective. According to God, there are some sins which are
beyond the paleso to speak. Leviticus chapters 17 and 18 lists some of these sins. Committing them cuts a person off from their people. Since Leviticus 17:8-11 applies even to the
sojourneror foreigner in Israel’s midst, and since the foreigner is not one of the congregation of Israel (even though God expects him to be well treated), this cannot mean the foreigner is cut off from Israel. It can only mean the foreigner is cut off from his native people. In other words, if it was a Hittite who committed one of these sins, in God’s eyes he was no longer a Hittite.
Even today, there are nations with laws that strip citizenship from individuals if it is deemed necessary. Thus in God’s eyes, the Canaanites who sinned weren’t even a people. The words culture, religion, race, or political group did not apply. There was no genocide.