Cane noticed some writing on the Israelite genocides in the Old Testament and gave a solid response (read it). I’m going to write on the topic as well. This post will also tie in with my earlier post, The Holocaust: God Loves the Jews.
First, we must remember that God is good and God is good. Good is defined in relation to God, He is the absolute measure of good apart from which good becomes meaningless, so whatever God does or orders is good.
To try and judge God or His works is arrogance, nothing more. To try to hold judgment over His commands is error. To try to explain away, minimize, or apologize for His works and His orders is to attack God’s righteousness. To think that God’s commands present a problem is not a problem of God, but rather a deficiency in your own understanding and own morality.
How dare Christians take their modern liberal morality and try to impute it on God, then wonder why God falls short in their judgment. This is moral pride, nothing more. Christians who do need to read more Job:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7 ESV)
The question is not ‘why did God command this evil?’ That question assumes that man has the right to judge God’s work as evil. The right question is ‘what can we learn about God’s goodness from this command?’
Second, to think the genocide at the behest of God is murder is a grave misunderstanding of the law. Murder is unlawful killing and God’s law is the highest law. If God orders a killing, it is by definition lawful, and is therefore, by definition, not murder.
To even think it theoretically possible that God can order murder is to put human law above God’s law and to assume that humans have the right to judge God. That is sinful pride.
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:20-24 ESV)
Finally, the good of the genocide of the Canaanites is easy to see if one looks to the eternal rather than the temporal.
The iniquity of the Canaanites had come to completion, they had given themselves fully to Moloch, the dark god of the Ammonites. As a race the Canaanites had damned themselves through their offerings of their children to the fire. The sons of the Canaanites, at least those who were not themselves sacrificed, would follow in the sins of their fathers and damn themselves. To kill them in the name of Yahweh, before they could reach the age of reason and damn themselves, saved them from both the fires of Moloch and the fires of hell.
Death was the greatest mercy those children could receive for it would keep them from eternal damnation.
On top, of this, leaving the Canaanites and Ammonites alive would have led to their bringing the rebellious Israelites into the worship of Moloch, damning the Israelites alongside them. Even as it was the Israelites occasionally fell to Moloch. How much worse would it have been had the Lord not ordered their destruction.
They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. (Jeremiah 32:35 ESV)
To conclude, to ask the question concerning the slaughter of the Canaanites in the manner the question is usually asked is both sinful pride and too focused on the temporal. It is putting one’s own morality, one’s own understanding, and one’s own law above God, His understanding, His morality, and His law. Instead of judging God by their limited, temporal standards, Christians should focus on learning of the eternal good from God and His commands.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.
(Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV)