Did God Command Genocide? (Part VI)

This is the final post in a series examining whether or not God commanded Israel to commit genocide in the conquest of the Promised Land.

A Way Forward

Fall of JerichoGiven Ancient Near East warfare terminology, “driving out” language, and an emphasis on the destruction of the heads of state, it seems that the vast majority of Israel’s wars recorded in Joshua are non-genocidal wars against the wicked tribes of Canaan who are being punished in order to stop their crimes. This is not to suggest that God did not command the people of Israel to fight against the Canaanites. Nor is it to advocate that God did not use language of total destruction when telling the people of Israel how to conquer the land. Nor does it mean that the people of Israel always appropriately followed God’s commands during the conquest. And finally, it does not mean that it is not possible that God actually deemed total destruction appropriate in some instances. What I really want to emphasis from this study is that when trying to understand the Israelite Conquest of Canaan, we must consider the warring context of the Ancient Near East and carefully examine the biblical record before coming to conclusions about the possibility of genocide recorded in Joshua.

I offer three final suggestions for making some sense of whether or not God commanded genocide:

Read Contextually: this is (more or less) what I have been attempting to do over the past two weeks. Make sure that you understand the wider scope of what is going on before rushing to judgments about what God commanded or the Israelites did when conquering Canaan. Look for hyperbole and rhetoric and don’t just take stories at face value.

Read Canonically: Read stories of Old Testament conquest in the light of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament, where we are warned of the ills of trusting in armies more than God and are given a greater commandment, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Look for Spiritual Applications: That is, focus on the deeper messages of God’s power, faithfulness, and ability to conquer all evil—that in reality and that in the spiritual realm—rather than trying to concoct how God might be telling you (or your country) how to destroy certain people groups. When it comes to ethics (i.e., how to treat our enemies, other people groups), look at large swaths of scripture (again, think canonically) rather than focusing on specific passages (remember, verses are a relatively new thing to the Bible—don’t assume that God’s message shouldn’t come from a whole book of the Bible).

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