As we continue through the account of Joshua – we have entered one of the worst periods of bloodshed and destruction the Bible has to offer. While it was Moses’ job to lead the Israelites out of Egypt – introduce the Law – and lead them across the desert for 40 years… it is up to Joshua to lead the campaign of the cleansing of the Promised Land. These series of events seem to confuse many people who rightfully acknowledge that, by cleansing the Promised Land they were effectively decimating and exterminating an entire group of humanity – namely the Canaanites.

Typically, when one is reading of these events, the question of fairness and mercy arises. “How can a loving God order His people to kill all of these humans – even women and children?” Or as one author puts it, “This divine command to exterminate from the face of the earth all men, women, and children belonging to the seven or eight nations of Canaan is one of the most frequently raised objections to seeing God as just and loving in the Old Testament. How can God’s fairness and mercy be seen in such blanket and wholesale condemnation of entire nations? “

Let’s ignore the major issues which present themselves when we begin to question God and His “fairness”. Instead – let’s take a quick look at human history, the culture of the people who inhabited Canaan at hat time, and finally how it all fits together.

To begin – we must remind ourselves of what human life had been like prior to the Israelites entering Canaan with sword in hand. Rom 5:13 tells us that “[To be sure] sin was in the world before ever the Law was given, but sin is not charged to men’s account where there is no law [to transgress]. “ What this is saying is that, for an extended period of time – from Adam to Moses (about 2000 years) – God was not holding sin in judgement against humanity. He was instead operating in grace and mercy… attempting to woo people back to His ways that had been rejected in the Garden. (This does not mean the effects of sin were not present. These effects – as stated in Rom 5:14 – was death… and people still died due to sin during this time frame). All this verse is telling us is that it wasn’t GOD who was judging them… just the natural consequences of life apart from the LIFE.

So from Adam to Moses – man was not being judged by God for their sin. But, instead of God’s mercy causing man to return to Him – it allowed them to wander further and further away. It is told of us how bad things get when describing the generation before the Flood as “every imagination and intention of all human thinking was only evil continually “ (Gen 6:5). Apart from God – history tells us – mankind only gets worse… not better. God waited 2000 years for this to be proven wrong… yet it only proved true. The only fix for sin is Jesus – and He couldn’t come without someone of faith to bring Him.

This brings us to the Canaanites. These people were living under this “age of grace” so to speak. They were a part of a world which had strayed completely away from God. They had built the Tower of Bable (Gen 11) and were under the impression they did not need God nor His guidance. They had developed into a culture that was purely evil… in every sense of the word.

For starters, the people living the in the region of Canaan practiced a crude and debased form of ritual polytheism. (This means that they worshiped a group of “gods”). These false-gods were all in the image of gross immorality and gore. They were built around myths which involved immense bloodshed and violence – thus the people adopted a culture which mimicked these examples. The practices of sodomy, bestiality, (as well as child sacrifice), were all a normal part of their religious (and cultural) lives.

They were not good people… actually they were quite far from it.

The results of this blatant ignorance toward God and vile lifestyle was that the “land itself vomited out it’s inhabitants”. Lev 18:24-28 tells us exactly why the Canaanites were destroyed. (In essence – one could argue it wasn’t God that judged them… but the Land itself rejected them. The Bible also repeatedly tells us that the Israelites were not selected by God due to their own goodness or righteousness – but instead due to God’s goodness and mercy alone (Deut 7:6-8). That same mercy gave the Canaanites 40 years of warning as the Israelite army progressed towards them to repent and return back to God. Rahab herself admitted that the inhabitants of the land had heard of the God of the Israelites and what was coming… yet she was the only one who repented and turned back to God (Josh 2:10-14).

God brought the Law into effect – and began to punish the sins of humanity because He had no other choice… mercy was not working. The only answer for sin is Jesus. It brought God no joy to use the Israelites to cleanse the land – yet the future aspects were much bigger then the present pain. The Canaanite people were part of a much larger issue of wanton sin and lawlessness… in need to correction before it grew too late.

Which brings us to today… We currently are living BACK under the age of mercy and grace which is the character of God. Unlike the first 2000 years – Jesus had come and paid the penalty for sin. Death has been conquered – and the grave is empty! THAT is why bad things happen today and seemingly evil people are not judged. It is God’s mercy which withholds – because He longs for everyone to return to Him… and this can only happen through Jesus.

So as we read the accounts of Joshua and his destruction of the Canaanites – may it remind us of the heart of God – mercy, grace, love – and the immense need for Someone to take the penalty for sin away.

May it turn us toward Jesus.

(If you are interested – you can read more about the Canaanites here.)


Be Fruitful & Multiply,