This is a good, hard question. The way we answer it will both reflect and inform our understanding of justice and mercy.

In the book of Joshua God commands Israel to slaughter the Canaanites in order to occupy the Promised Land. It was a bloody war of total destruction where God used his people to execute his moral judgment against his wicked enemies. In moving toward an answer it will be helpful to think carefully about the building blocks of a Christian worldview related to God’s justice and mercy.

1. As the maker of all things and the ruler of all people, God has absolute rights of ownership over all people and places.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) “and the sea and all that is in them” (Act 14:15). This means that “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). As God says, “All the earth is mine” (Ex. 19:5) and “every beast of the forest is mine” (Ps. 50:10). God’s ownership of all means that he is also free to do as he wishes over all things. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3). Within this free sovereignty God “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of [each nation's] dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). God has Creator rights, and no one can say to him, “What are you doing?” (Job 9:12).

2. God is not only the ultimate maker, ruler, and owner, but he is just and righteous in all that he does.

Abraham asks God the same question that we are asking, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). The implied answer is, “By all means!” This is the flip side of Paul’s question in Romans 9:14: “Is there injustice on God’s part?” Paul’s answer: “By no means!” Moses will later proclaim, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut. 32:4).

It is commonplace in our culture to ask whether this or that was fair or just for God to do. But if you stop to think about it, the question itself is actually illegitimate. Merely asking it presupposes that we are the judge; we will put “God in the dock” and examine him; God must conform to our sense of fairness and rightness and justice—if God passes the test, well and good, but if he doesn’t, we’ll be upset and become the accuser. Perish the thought. As Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “all God’s ways are justice”—by definition. If God does it, it is just. (And since the triune God is inherently relational, the Bible says that God is love—and therefore all of his justice is ultimately born from and aiming toward love.) To think otherwise is the ultimate act of arrogance, putting your own mind and opinions and conceptions as the ultimate standard of the universe.

This does not, however, preclude humble questioning and seeking in order to gain greater understanding. While it is ultimately illegitimate to ask if God’s ways are just in securing the Promised Land, it is perfectly appropriate and edifying to seek understanding on how God’s ways are just—whether in commissioning the destruction of the Canaanites or in any other action. This is the task of theology—seeing how various aspects of God’s truth and revelation cohere.

3. All of us deserve God’s justice; none of us deserve God’s mercy.

As noted above, God is absolutely just in all that he does. The only thing that any of us deserve from God is his justice. We have broken his law, rebelling against him and his ways, and divine justice demands that we receive divine punishment in proportion to our traitorous, treasonous rebellion. It is fully within God’s rights to give mercy, but he need not give it to all—or to any. It is also helpful to note that in biblical history, an act of judgment on one is often an act of mercy for another (e.g., the flood was judgment on the world but a means of saving Noah; the plagues were judgment on the Pharaoh but a means of liberating Israel). Likewise, the destruction of the Canaanites was an act of mercy for Israel.

4. The Canaanites were enemies of God who deserved to be punished.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”—”None is righteous, no, not one”—and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23; 3:10; 6:23). Therefore if God destroyed Adam and Eve after the fall he would have been entirely just. When he wiped out over 99.99% of the human race during the time of Noah, he was being just.

Sometimes we can mistakenly think that God just wanted to give his people land and kicked out the innocent people who were already there. But in reality, the Canaanites were full of iniquity and wickedness, and God speaks of the land vomiting them out for this reason (cf. Gen. 15:6; Lev. 18:24-30; Deut. 9:5). All of this is consistent with the fact that God “avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land” (Deut. 32:43).

It’s also important to note Deuteronomy 9:5, which says that Israel’s possession of the land and the Canaanites’ being kicked out would not be due to Israel’s righteousness, but would rather be on account of the Canaanites’ wickedness. God very pointedly tells Israel that if they do not follow the Lord and his law, then they will suffer the same fate as the nations being vomited out of their land (cf. Lev. 18:28; Deut. 28:25-68; cf. also Ex. 22:20; Josh. 7:11-12; Mal. 4:6). God gave his special electing love to Israel (cf. Deut. 7:6-9), but his threats and promises of punishment for unfaithfulness show his fairness and his commitment to justice.

5. God’s actions were not an example of ethnic cleansing.

The Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) provides laws for two types of warfare: (1) battles fought against cities outside the Promise Land (see Deut. 20:10-15), and (2) battles fought against cities within the Promised Land (Deut. 20:16-18). The first type allowed for Israel to spare people; the second type did not. This herem practice (the second type of warfare) meant “devotion/consecration to destruction.” As a sacred act fulfilling divine judgment, it is outside our own categories for thinking about warfare. Even though the destruction is commanded in terms of totality, there seems to have been an exception for those who repented, turning to the one true and living God (e.g., Rahab and her family [Josh. 2:9], and the Gibeonites [Josh. 11:19]). What this means is that the reason for the destruction of God’s wicked enemies was precisely because of their rebellion and according to God’s special purposes—not because of their ethnicity. “Ethnic cleansing” and genocide refer to destruction of a people due to their ethnicity, and therefore this would be an inappropriate category for the destruction of the Canaanites.

6. Why was it necessary to remove the Canaanites from the land?

In America we talk about the separation of “church” and “state.” But Israel was a “theocracy,” where church and state were inseparably joined and indistinguishable, such that members of God’s people had both political and religious obligations. To be a citizen of Israel required being faithful to God’s covenant and vice-versa.

The covenant community demanded purity, and egregious violations meant removal (e.g., see Deut. 13:5; 17:7, etc). This also entailed the purity of the land in which they were living as God’s people, and failure to remove the unrepentant from the land meant that the entire nation would be pulled down with the rebellious, resulting in idolatry, injustice, and evil (e.g., Deut. 7:4; 12:29-31)—which sadly proved to be the case all too often under the old covenant.

Christians today are not in a theocracy. We are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11) with no sacred land in this age. We live in the overlap of the old age and the age to come—”between two places” (in the creation that groans—after the holy-but-temporary Promised Land and awaiting the holy-and-permanent New Heavens and the New Earth). In this age and place we are to respect and submit to the governing authorities placed over us by God (Rom. 13:1-5)—but they are not, and should not be, a part of the church (God’s people called and gathered for Word and sacrament). Furthermore, God’s gift of specific, special revelation to the whole church has now ended (cf. Heb. 1:1-2: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son”). These factors combine to ensure that nothing like the destruction of the Canaanites—required for the theocracy of Israel to possess the physical land—is commissioned by God or is permissible for his people today.

7. The destruction of the Canaanites is a picture of the final judgment.

At the end of the age, Christ will come to judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 4:5), expelling them from the land (the whole earth). That judgment will be just, and it will be complete. That is the day “the Lord Jesus [will be] revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Amazingly enough, Paul asks the Corinthians something they seem to have forgotten, if they once knew it: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? (1 Cor. 6:2).

How does this work? What will it look like? We don’t know for sure. But God’s Word tells us that God’s people will be part of God’s judgment against God’s enemies. In that way, God’s command of the Israelites to carry out his moral judgment against the Canaanites becomes a foreshadowing—a preview, if you will—of the final judgment.

Read in this light, the terrible destruction recorded on the pages of Joshua in God’s Holy Word become not a “problem to solve,” but a wake-up call to all of us—to remain “pure and undefiled before God” (James 1:27), seeking him and his ways, and to faithfully share the gospel with our unbelieving neighbors and the unreached nations. Like Job, we must ultimately refrain from calling God’s goodness and justice into question, putting a hand over our mouth (Job 40:4) and marveling instead at the richness and the mystery of God’s great inscrutable mercy (Eph. 2:4). At the end of the day we will join Moses and the Lamb in singing this song of praise:

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Rev. 15:3-4)

The discussion in the Introduction to the book of Joshua in the ESV Study Bible is helpful in thinking through this issue. For a more in-depth treatments, see Paul Copan’s article, “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?

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Comments:


129 thoughts on “How Could God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?”

  1. John Dyer says:

    Justin,
    Thanks for taking time to think through some hard questions.

    One suggestion I have is that I’d like to see this grounded in Trinitarian theology before even referencing justice. The reason is that when we say, “Everything God does is by definition just,” it sounds very much like the way the Muslim scholars address Allah’s seeming capriciousness. Like Christian theologians, Muslims don’t want justice to be an external power to which Allah must adhere and come under, so they are forced to justice simply in terms of Allah’s will and action. Similarly, they cannot say that Allah possess the attribute of love because love requires an “other” which did not exist before creation.

    However, Christian theology differs in this regard because we can say that the triune Godhead has always been “relational.” This allows us to say that “God is love” meaning the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit is love. It also allows us to ground justice in his intra-relationality rather than merely in his will and action.

    Anyway, not meant to be a critique, just a possible way to adjust the argument.

    Blessings,

    JD

    1. J.R. says:

      Good point, John. Thanks.
      (also, I loved your book From the Garden to the City.)

    2. John Dyer says:

      Glad to hear it JR. Great additions from you below.

  2. Thanks for your post, JT!

  3. Thanks for the post Justin. For an excellent example of how these truths can be preached in a powerful way, I would recommend the following message:

    http://illbehonest.com/holy-war-is-god-guilty-of-genocide-ryan-fullerton

  4. J.R. says:

    Justin, good post. Perhaps, one item is missing from this framework, however. That would how we might see Christ and the cross bearing on the topic. Christopher Wright has a couple of excellent chapters in his book “The God I Don’t Understand”. He points in his later chapter that there are three crucial ideas that we can communicate to clarify: 1) the backdrop of the ANE culture itself, 2) the framework of God’s sovereign justice (which you’ve done), and 3) the framework of God’s plan of salvation.

    He writes: “I have to read the conquest in the light of the cross. And when I do … I see one more perspective. For the cross too involved the most horrific and evil human violence … The crucial difference, of course, is that, whereas at the conquest God poured out his judgement on a wicked society who deserved it, at the cross, God bore on himself the judgement of God on human wickedness, through the person of his own Son – who deserved it not one bit.”

    Basically, Wright states that even in the earlier accounds, scripture foresees swords being turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks (Is2:4), because it is told as a story of an inclusive salvation, ie, the inclusion of foreigners like Rahab the Canaanite within the line of Jesus (Mt 1:5; Heb 11:3; James 2:25). Later in the OT narrative, we find Ruth the Moabite and others included. The final vision of the Bible is not for the eradication of the nations, but their salvation. Canaan’s defeat is a moment in this larger trajectory, leading to the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2).

    I would add to that covenant narrative of what is called the “seed battle”. In the case of Canaan’s defeat, we see a picture of the war between Satan’s seed and the Messiah’s seed. Now, that Christ has come, our battle is no longer with flesh and blood, but should be just as fierce when it comes to killing sin. The Canaanites in as sense can be seen as a representation our great enemy of our souls. Some people think that that type of ideology is too allegorical; however, it is exremely Biblical, because we are told that we are all God’s seed who are in Christ, Abraham’s descendents, etc.. Only thing is, now the bloodline is no longer traced biologically. If we are in Christ, we have been fully and completely adopted into the family of God – true sons of the living God. It’s a powerful imagery, and I can imagine how Christians can not see this in the Canaan story. Maybe I’m too conceptual.
    Thanks for reading.

    Also, the link to the Paul Copan article was also very helpful in regards to speaking with the new atheists.

  5. Caleb G. says:

    Regarding #2. “God is not only the ultimate maker, ruler, and owner, but he is just and righteous in all that he does.”
    Justin appeals to Abraham “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25), but in the context Abraham is trying to dissuade God from wiping out Sodom and Gomorrah. Thus Abraham (and I would argue all people) have an intuitive sense of right and wrong. We intuitively know that killing infants is wrong. (I welcome response to this, but please do not sidetrack the discussion by bringing up abortion. Yes, that is an important topic, but it tends to function as a red herring in these discussions) Problem is that passages in the Joshua and the Pentateuch portray God as commanding that infants and women be slaughtered.
    Certainly people can be wicked and perhaps deserve death immediately, but can you in good conscience advocate the slaughter of infants? Would you kill your infant if God told you do so? You may say, “God would never do that now.” But if he did it in the past, theoretically, he could do so in the future.

    Justin says ““Ethnic cleansing” and genocide refer to destruction of a people due to their ethnicity.” Ethnic cleansing yes, but genocide can also refer to the destruction of a people due to an ideology. In this sense what the Israelites did to the Canaanites is genocide. This is clear when referencing the practice of herem. Herem is the practice of offering something as a burnt offering to a deity (in this case YHWH), as Justin says “devoting to destruction.” Thus when YHWH commands that all the people, animals, and things in Jericho should be “herem”, this means in effect that the people in Jericho should be offered as human sacrifices to YHWH.

    The tension does not just come from our own moral judgments, but also from the teachings and example of Jesus. When Jesus said to love our enemies and let the little children come to him, this stands in marked contrast to commands to “let nothing that breaths remain alive” including infants.

    These arguments do not even touch of the issue of the archeological issues of taking the conquest as a straightforward historical narrative.

    For a more extended critique of Justin’s points and Paul Copan’s article, see Randal Rauser’s papers “Three Theses on God and Devotional Child Killing” and “‘Let Nothing Breathing Remain Alive': On the Problem of Divinely Commanded Genocide”
    http://randalrauser.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Three-Theses-on-Devotional-Child-Killing.pdf
    http://randalrauser.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Rauser11.1.pdf
    Note that Rauser says these things as a theologian and apologist, not as someone trying to discredit Christianity or the Bible.

    1. steve hays says:

      Rauser simply rejects OT theism and the authority of Scripture. Rauser rejects Yahweh.

      It’s futile to drive a wedge between Jesus and the OT, for Jesus reaffirmed the OT as the word of God. Likewise, it’s futile to drive a wedge between Jesus and Yahweh, for Jesus is Yahweh Incarnate.

      Also, keep in mind that Jesus is the eschatological Judge of unbelievers as well as the Redeemer of believers.

      To say that herem is human sacrifice is equivocal and deceptive. Human sacrifice has connotations of appeasing gods through killing humans. That’s a pagan concept.

      1. George R. says:

        My, my, my, Mr. Hays.

        Brother in the Lord, blessings and peace.

        But my simple mind has an itty bitty question for you:

        How many people have been SAVED by your mighty fine and mighty nice talk about all this egghead apologetics?

        Now remember, Brother! I am just a simple brother in the Lord who didn’t study with D.A. Carson or devote my life to Kewsickian Theology! I might have missed something.

        But I don’t think I missed this point: We can either spend our time serving the Lord and having faith. Or we can squander it trying to debate eeny weeny points of apologetics on a blog.

        I will pray for you to stop speaking on behalf of the Lord and to have more faith and do more good work!

        (By the way, Brother. Has all your apologetics work brought dozens to the Lord? Blessings! I am only asking, just as as simple brother who loves our Lord!)

        Have more faith, boy.

        AMEN, SON.

        1. steve hays says:

          How many people have been saved by you leaving snarky comments at Justin Taylor’s blog?

          1. George R. says:

            I’ve saved numerous souls by preaching the GOSPEL, son.
            Not by writing mighty fine posts about noodlings in apologetics.

            82 souls won to date for and by the Lord.

            What about you, son?

            1. steve hays says:

              The question was How many people have been saved by you leaving snarky comments at Justin Taylor’s blog?

            2. steve hays says:

              I’m not your son.

              1. George R. says:

                Son,

                When you can claim to have helped more than 82 people come to the Lord THEN I will address you as “sir.”

                Until then, son, you best be shining my shoes.

                I am still waiting to hear how many people the Lord has saved through you.

                Sounds like a big goose egg! HOO BOY!

                Now, brother, I think the Lord is using me tonight to humble your obviously hard heart.

                You keep responding to all these posts with your mighty fine theologies but you haven’t saved a soul! MERCY, SON!

                That is why I call you SON. Because you are still a BOY in the matters of FAITH and the GOSPEL.

                Now go get me a beer, son!

                Just teasing, brother! A little Christ-like ribbing!

                BLESSINGS

            3. steve hays says:

              Somehow I doubt God let you check out a copy of the Book of Life. Since you haven’t read the names therein, you have no idea who you’ve saved.

              BTW, the Holy Spirit saves sinners, not you.

            4. Kathy Snyder says:

              You have not saved anyone – it is God who redeems by changing a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Beware of pride.

          2. Jennifer says:

            Steve Hays,

            I, too, am interested in how many you have brought to faith in Christ. You strike me as a very intelligent man. Deeply so. But you do come off as rather curt and smug. Kind of like a Christian version of David Letterman. I think such smugness and sarcasm extinguishes the love that should be present in Christians. You seem very bitter about something, Steve.

            What do you say, Steve? I will pray that God soften your tone and help whatever problems you have.

            In Christ,

            Jennifer

            1. steve hays says:

              I prefer my Bible to your crystal ball.

              1. Tim says:

                LOL! Zero, I take it?

              2. Zeb says:

                HAHA! Sounds like we are discovering the root of Steve’s bitterness.

                All apologetics and no salvation!

            2. Michael says:

              How many people did Paul bring to Christ? Peter? John?

              Arminian logic at its best!

        2. Marc S. says:

          Your comments reek of sarcasm and do not relflect any kind of “Brother”ly love.

      2. Caleb G. says:

        Steve,
        I can understand your perspective. I once would have said similar things. I also can come across as arrogant. Lord have mercy. But as I have studied them I see that snub answers like yours fail to wrestle with the words of Scripture itself.

        “Rauser simply rejects OT theism and the authority of Scripture. Rauser rejects Yahweh.”
        This is a non-starter because it appears to me that you are asserting that anyone who interprets these narratives or the character of God differently is not a Christian.

        “It’s futile to drive a wedge between Jesus and the OT, for Jesus reaffirmed the OT as the word of God. Likewise, it’s futile to drive a wedge between Jesus and Yahweh, for Jesus is Yahweh Incarnate.”
        I could be wrong, but I don’t recall where the Scripture ever refer to themselves as the Word of God. The Word of God usually means a verbal proclamation not something written down.
        You can make rhetorical statements about a wedge, but the fact still remains that the God revealed in Jesus who commanded us to love our enemies and let the children come to him, stands in start contrast to commands to “let nothing breathing remain alive” including infants.

        “To say that herem is human sacrifice is equivocal and deceptive. Human sacrifice has connotations of appeasing gods through killing humans. That’s a pagan concept.”
        By pagan do you mean originated in non-Israelite cultures? If so animal sacrifice and circumcision are pagan concepts. The word herem is used in the Old Testament to indicate an act of devotion to a deity, in this case YHWH. In some places this refers to destroying material items. Do a word study as to how this word is used throughout the Pentateuch. It is portrayed as a sacrifice. In Joshua the whole city Jericho was to be “herem” – devoted to destruction, including the men, women, and children inside. Thus the book of Joshua portrays the killing of the inhabitants of Jericho as a sacrifice.

        1. steve hays says:

          Caleb G.

          “This is a non-starter because it appears to me that you are asserting that anyone who interprets these narratives or the character of God differently is not a Christian.”

          That’s a typically ploy. However, Rauser doesn’t offer an alternative interpretation of the narratives. Rather, he rejects the narratives. He takes the position that the narratives falsely ascribe certain commands to God. That’s not interpreting the narratives differently. That’s interpreting the narratives the same way, but disbelieving them.

          “I could be wrong, but I don’t recall where the Scripture ever refer to themselves as the Word of God. The Word of God usually means a verbal proclamation not something written down.”

          You should read some of Warfield’s classic essays on the inspiration of Scripture, where he documents the equation.

          “You can make rhetorical statements about a wedge, but the fact still remains that the God revealed in Jesus who commanded us to love our enemies and let the children come to him, stands in start contrast to commands to ‘let nothing breathing remain alive’ including infants.”

          i) Executing the Canaanites wasn’t hateful. You’re creating a false dichotomy.

          ii) For some odd reason, people like you single out a one command of Jesus, while ignoring others. Jesus didn’t merely command us to love our enemies. He also commanded us to love our neighbors and honor our parents. But there are situations in which loving your enemy conflicts with loving your neighbor, if your enemy is threatening your neighbor (to take one instance).

          iii) Commanding the execution of Canaanite children isn’t an indictment of Canaanite children. Collective judgment is not a personal judgment on each individual in the collective. For instance, some devout Jews suffered horribly as a result of the Babylonian Exile. God wasn’t judging those individuals. But since human beings are social creatures, it isn’t possible to visiting divine judgment on a corrupt society without a degree of innocent suffering.

          “By pagan do you mean originated in non-Israelite cultures?”

          No, I didn’t say that.

          “The word herem is used in the Old Testament to indicate an act of devotion to a deity, in this case YHWH. In some places this refers to destroying material items. Do a word study as to how this word is used throughout the Pentateuch. It is portrayed as a sacrifice. In Joshua the whole city Jericho was to be ‘herem’ – devoted to destruction, including the men, women, and children inside. Thus the book of Joshua portrays the killing of the inhabitants of Jericho as a sacrifice.”

          You’re simply repeating the same mistake you made before while failing to interact with my argument: “Human sacrifice has connotations of appeasing gods through killing humans.”

    2. J.R. says:

      Caleb, thank you for Rauser’s article on Divinely Commanded Genocide. I finished reading it and thought that he made some excellent arguments.
      However, two things that I clearly disagree with him about are:
      1- when he says that Copan’s defense which assumes “that a culture can reach a threshold of irredeemable moral corruption after which point the only answer .. is mass extermination” is “a highly suspect assertion”, I think he misses the crucial element. Which is God’s omniscience. Sure, the Israelites are not qualified to make that judgement, but clearly God (Yahweh) does here (and again in Sodom). So, on this point, he is not convincing.
      and
      2- when it comes to Rauser’s judgement that “Genocide is always a moral atrocity”, again, I remain unconvinced. For any man to inact genocide upon another nation, ethnic group or race of people is of course heinous. He does not engage at with the contextual backdrop of the ANE culture, which is one huge key to understanding the text. Nor does he consider any salvific implications, such as the moral atrocity of the cross of Christ, and how that truth speaks into the narrative.

      Like I said, I do think Rauser has given us some excellent things to ponder; however, he misses concepts that I consider to be pre-eminent (ie, God’s sovereignty/omniscience and the historical redemptive overlay of the story in light of the Cross of Christ.)

      1. Caleb G. says:

        J.R.
        Thank you for your constructive criticism. Your post is a good example of a civil comment that I wish many others would follow.

        1-Can humans make true moral judgments? Certainly some humans are psychotic, but most people have an intuitive sense of right and wrong. Historically this probably arises from our biology, but from a Christian perspective one could argue this is an aspect of the image of God in humankind. I can know that some things are wrong even if I do not have perfect knowledge. I know intuitively that commanding the slaughter of infants is wrong, just as Abraham had a sense of right and wrong and didn’t just accept YHWH decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah without advocating on their behalf.

        2- Is or is not the statement “Genocide is always a moral atrocity” a universal moral judgment? If it is universal, which you seem to grant since you agree that for a person/nation to commit such an act would be heinous, then it was wrong back during those times also. To say that it was ok back then smacks or moral relativism. I agree that we must consider these narratives in light of the ANE cultural background, but in other cases we would decry human sacrifices and widow burning even though such practices were acceptable in that culture.
        From a political perspective, Jesus was crucified as an insurrectionist, a Roman terrorist as it were. From a theological perspective, Jesus willingly giving himself up to death for others stands in stark contrast to the actions of the Israelites going into a country and slaughtering women and infants. I can conceive of punishing wicked individuals, but I cannot conceive of extending this to include the slaughter of infants.

        Again, thank you for your civil interaction.

        1. steve hays says:

          You can’t appeal to “universal moral intuitions” to sideline certain OT commands, for the OT writers didn’t share your moral intuitions. If they did, these commands, which you find so offensive, wouldn’t be there in the first place. Your appeal to universal moral intuition is self-refuting in this context, for the very context furnishes evidence to the contrary.

    3. steve says:

      It’s called radical discontuity this view is dealt with a bit in the book, “Show Them No Mercy”. See especially Longman’s view for he utilizes Kline’s “Intrusion Theology” which is noted in point 7. To Steve’s point Jesus reaffirms God the Father’s right to judge for it provides a natural progression of God’s future and ultimate judgement. God will judge people again yet no one will decry God’s injustice when he does. The question in reference to children being killed also assumes that they were ultimately under God’s curse. However, what if they were still considered a child of the covenant – obviously the text doesn’t allow for this conclusion – but the question is valid none the less.

  6. RS says:

    give CS Lewis credit for “God in the Dock?”

  7. James says:

    What do we say to secularists who ask us how this is different from Muslim jihad?

    1. steve hays says:

      Since your question is not an argument, we don’t need to say anything.

      1. Lou G. says:

        It’s essentially the same question that John Dyer asked and it has validity, even if you don’t like it.

        1. steve hays says:

          A question doesn’t have validity–only an argument, even if you don’t like that distinction.

          1. Lou G. says:

            Your so-called distinction is a non-starter.
            1-Jesus taught by asking many questions. http://zondervanbibles.com/sites/default/files/cms/carr/173_questions_jesus_asked.pdf
            2-I’ll also assume that all of your precious coddling in the ivory towers of RTS, while you earned your “MAR” and mastered the finer points of presuppositionalism, precluded you from ever being introduced to, the otherwise universal concept used in classrooms and courtrooms across our great country, known as the Socratic method. Nice.

            1. steve hays says:

              There’s nothing to respond to. It’s incumbent on the questioner to how explain how he thinks OT herem is like jihad, before we can explain how they differ. It’s not my job to make his argument for him, then refute it.

              1. just some guy says:

                Mr. Hays,
                It’s not your job to nit-pick at every statement and question in this comment section either. The apparent similarities between God’s commands in the OT and Muslim jihad are clear enough that his question should be able to stand on its own without needing more explanation. Someone who appears to be as intelligent as you are should be able to fill in the holes on his or her own.

                And while you may be attempting to bring more specificity and precision to the thoughts in this discussion board, you are discouraging thoughtful conversation over an important question. You are frustrating people.

                This is a blog comment section, not an academic setting. Adjust your demands for precision in question-asking accordingly. Assume the best of people and what they are saying instad of tearing apart which adjective or preposition they chose to use.

                Or nit-pick at what I said.

                For everyone else, maybe it’s time we reflect on Matthew 7:6.

              2. steve hays says:

                No, I don’t assume “the best of people” who impudently impugn the moral integrity of God’s word. The proper attitude is to assume the best of God’s word.

                No, you’re not entitled to stipulate “apparent similarities between God’s commands in the OT and Muslim jihad are clear enough.”

                If you’re going to level that accusation against the Bible, then it’s incumbent on you to articulate the alleged similarities.

  8. anaquaduck says:

    The blessing of Theology & a good defence of Scipture. Modern thought tends to think in terms of judge,jury & executioner, based on how we may feel about something, often without hearing all the sides with a bias that assumes if it is from the past & especially to do with Christianity,it lacks integrity.Trying to match it or better it by false accusations & manipulation.

    In putting ourselves & our logic above Gods we offend & are just as guilty as the Canaanites, yet in Christ’s mercy & rule I am free to serve in the freedom of the kingdom.

  9. Jonathan says:

    A lot of question begging and too much Theology. Not enough logic and Philosophy. This article isn’t going to convince a single non-believer.

    1. steve hays says:

      Ironic criticism considering the fact that your comment contains no philosophy or logic.

      1. Jonathan says:

        Why do I need logic in my sentence? After all, the Bible says that we are to give a defense of our faith. I’m assuming you take the Bible as your axiom and you think it’s infallible? If that’s so, than I don’t see any reason why you’re looking for a Philosophical argument when I can just point you to a Bible verse and you’ll take the argument, which is what Justin Taylor is doing.

        1. steve hays says:

          Since you were complaining about the lack of philosophy and logic in Justin’s post, it’s time for you to lead by example.

    1. Here’s a much more plausible interpretation of the biblical accounts concerned.

      1. steve says:

        Sigh- The only problem with that “plausible account” is that the article deals nothing with Deuteronomy 2 which notes the exacting of herem as well as the law itself which instructs how herem will be conducted. It doesn’t follow that God in one book gives law for conducting herem and then assume that when herem is conducted it was stylized exageration.

  10. Jonathan says:

    Of course God has “the right” to destroy whatever he wants. Natural disasters and other calamities are a reoccurring feature of human existence. The problem in this story is that “God” allegedly ordered humans to act on his behalf, and thus we have the grizzly specter of tribal hordes enthusiastically hacking little children to death with clubs and axes. To proclaim the gruesome display holy and good, requires balls, and the careful philosophical contortions of a Sophisticated Theologian . This post fails on the latter count. In fact all credible biblical scholars and archaeologists recognize that the Pentateuch was written hundreds of years after the supposed events occurred and is not a historical account of the formation of Israel. So there is no need to twist oneself into a pretzel defending the indefensible.

    1. steve hays says:

      Thanks for systematically assuming what you need to prove.

      1. Caleb G. says:

        Jonathan states the problem crudely perhaps, but the basic point still stands. That the Pentateuch was written hundreds of years after the events they portray is the consensus of scholarship. This does not guarantee that the scholarly consensus is right, but it does put the burden of proof on you, Steve, so show that they are wrong.
        For a summary of these issues and how a Protestant might work through them, I recommend Peter Enns’ essay in the book The Bible and the Believer.

        1. steve hays says:

          That’s not the consensus of scholarship. That’s only the consensus of liberal scholars. So your appeal is arbitrarily selective.

          Consensus doesn’t create a presumption that consensus is true. That’s viciously circular. Consensus is not a substitute for argument.

          I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. What conservative scholarship have you read?

          The fact that you recommend Peter Enns tips your hand.

  11. George R. says:

    Brother in the Lord,

    Well, my, my, my.

    That is a mighty fine and sophisticated post there, brother.

    I appreciate your committment to our Lord, brother. Blessings!

    But I have to admit something.

    I think it is despicable to try and speak on behalf of the Lord in the way that you have just done.

    Do you think that Our Lord needs a tiny human like yourself defending HIM? That is like a flea trying to protect a dog from getting whacked with a rolled up newspaper! You have me laughing, boy!

    Now again, I love you as a Brother of the Faithful. Blessings!

    But how come you just don’t PREACH what HE taught us: the GOSPEL.

    Boy, you don’t need all this fancy and highfaluttin stuff! Who are you trying to impress? FALLEN MAN? SHAME ON YOU!

    They either get the Gospel or they don’t, brother.

    And then I realize: how can I DEFEND HIM when I AM THE ONE CLINGING TO HIM? I obviously need HIS defense and He does NOT need mine. We cling to Jesus to defend our proud hearts and prideful minds from feeling the need to ‘defend’ Him from unbelievers.

    Don’t you remember Jesus’ response when Simon Peter drew a sword to defend Him? I am slapping my knee while laughing because if He doesn’t need protection from Roman soldiers…why would he need protection from some skinny unbelievers in America? What? Are they going to throw their iPad at Him? Are their doubts going to hurt him?

    Tell me when God ever tells us to defend Him.

    It can’t be done.

    God never tells us to defend Him and it is outright arrogance and too much thinking about the faith and not living it that creates this flawed thinking.

    Now, I am but a simple minded man, Brother Taylor. You have to realize that I don’t have a PhD or a D.D. or a ThD. In fact, I might not want one because all those extra letters wouldn’t fit on business card!

    I ask you to consider the repenting of speaking for Our Lord.

    Just be a simple believer and God will do the rest. Cause God and I are going to laugh if you try and do HIS work!

    AMEN!

    1. Molly says:

      George, do you not realize that many people, even those who claim to be Christian, use the argument that because God told the Israelites to kill people, it’s ok for us to kill people. I’ve even heard that logic in pro-choice arguments; those who claim that it is an ambiguous discussion because it appears that God flip-flops on how He feels about murder. Your appeal to just “stick to the Gospel” isn’t helping to further anything; it’s a call to just stick to the milk and not delve in to the meat. Clarifying that God is sovereign and has the right to do whatever He please with creation is part of the Gospel! Otherwise you might as well take a marker to the entire Old Testament and the Epistles.

      And your sarcastic and patronizing tone isn’t Christlike either. You are mocking, not contributing.

      1. George R. says:

        My, my, Sister in the Lord.

        Do you chastise me for wanting to be like our Brother the Apostle Paul? Shame on you.
        Would you rather I tickle the ears of the congregation with the high falutin apologetic noodling of men like Copan and Taylor?

        Now the boy might be fine with the Lord. I think he is. But boy is that boy being foolish by spending so much time trying to speak on behalf of God.

        God is LAUGHING right now about these attempts to explain HIS WAYS.

        He doesn’t NEED us explaining His Ways.

        Tell me how you know HIM better than all the others Dolly.

        Now, sister, I realize you may be put off since you read so much of that mighty fine theology. I bet you have a library with men like Bavinck and Piper and mighty fine theologians like D.A. Carson.

        But I count them all rubbish when they stray from the Gospel and try to beg the modern world to accept the ways of the LORD.

        GUESS WHAT? THE LORD DON’T GIVE A HOOT ABOUT WHAT THE MODERN WORLD THINKS OF HIS WAYS. HE IS BECAUSE HE IS. GET IT!?!?

        It is so simple that even my little old mind without a PhD can comprehend it. Can you?

        I think these theologians and seminarians are becoming a dangerous influence on the Church.

        How many souls is a sophisticated gentleman like John Frame saving compared to the average humble preacher without a DD or PhD or without having read Van Til? I bet it ain’t many. Johnny Frame is probably shaking in his frame because the country pastor has saved more souls than Him! HOO BOY!

        Steve Hays, same with you, son. Save more souls and quit trying to impress modern secular humanists by noodling about obscure theology.

        1. steve hays says:

          Your Hee Haw impersonation wears thin in a hurry. Do you think that’s clever?

          1. Jacob says:

            Considering that he made you reply…yes, he probably does!

            1. Steve says:

              Two things: Ironically George does not realize he is doing the same thing he accuses Justin of – defending God! Second, people keep attributing this post to Justin Taylor’s authorship its not. It’s a post from an article in the ESV Study Bible that he is using. Stop attributing Justin to the author – technically they are not his arguments rather his endorsements? Ironically George does not realize he is doing the same

              1. Jacob says:

                WOW! George really got under your skin, huh?

                You keep having to defend yourself against perceived slights? Just let it go, Steve. The Bible tells us to be still and know that God is God. Be still and let the negativity pass you by.

  12. anonymous says:

    Thank you so such for this article. It is very helpful and much needed. It has been so grievous to read recent blog opinion exchange on this – grievous 1)that some think human opinion and reasoning can render judgment on God and 2)that it is apparent there is much ignorance about what the bible says and how the whole of it informs, such as you lay out in this article.

    Thank you so much for serving the Lord and for contending for the faith in this way. I have filed this article for future use.

    Yes, Lord,who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy.

    …the Lord said: 4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand…. 33 Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? ….35b Do the lightning bolts report to you, ‘Here we are’?…8a Would you discredit my justice? 11b Everything under heaven belongs to me…read whole chapters Job 38-40…..if it is a matter of justice, who can challenge God? Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. Job 1:22;Job 9:19b Job said 3b Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42

  13. The Apostle Paul said, “For it is written in the Law of Moses: ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us… (1 Corinthians 9:9-10a)” Clearly, the law of Moses *was* talking about oxen, but the Apostle Paul said that God was talking about something else. In the same way, I don’t believe God ever condoned genocide. Back then that’s what people did, but God was speaking over their shoulders to me, telling me to put to death the misdeeds of my flesh.

  14. Jonathan says:

    Most Christians’ logic regarding the Bible (not mine though)

    This is so true, it’s scary:
    1. “I believe in the Bible”
    2. Why? “Because the Bible is true”
    3. Why believe the Bible? “Because the Bible says it’s true”

    1. steve hays says:

      Do you have anything beyond a malicious caricature?

  15. Gabe says:

    Defending that God is just in commanding the annihilation of the Canaanites is irrelevant. A person can be just in doing a thing but not be good in doing a thing. The real question is, “How is God good in commanding the annihilation of the Canaanites?” Knowing that God is good, we can expect Him to do and not to do certain things. For example: we are reasonable in thinking that God would not command someone to rape a child. Similarly, mass slaughter that includes noncombatants, women, and children, seems like something that God would never command His people to do, because it seems like a moral atrocity. When we hear of events like this in any other context than the Bible (Rwanda for example), we think of them as moral atrocities. Also, aside from the obvious harm done to the Canaanites, how could the souls of the Israelites not be harmed by having to execute such grisly behavior? So what we need is a robust defense that God’s injunction to annihilate the Canaanites was and is consistent with the perfection of God’s goodness. I believe that God did command the annihilation of the Canaanites, because I believe the Bible, but do not know how to defend the commands as good.

    1. steve hays says:

      Even if you could explain away the commands, that’s superficial. Thousands of children die every day from preventable causes. Some children die in natural disasters. God could prevent their premature death without violating anyone’s freewill. Some children die of cancer. God could prevent that without violating anyone’s freewill.

      If you think God commanding the death of children is a problem, so is God allowing the death of children.

      If, on the other hand, God is justified in allowing the death of children, then he’s justified in commanding their death. If they die at God’s command, someone else carries out the command, but God is behind the command. If they die of disease or starvation or natural disaster, God is ultimately behind their death. By not intervening, God ensures the outcome.

      If you think the Bible is a problem, the world is a problem. Escaping the Bible doesn’t enable you to escape the world.

      1. Gabe says:

        Hi Steve,

        Thanks for your response. I disagree that “God allowing x” is the same as “God commanding His people to perform x.” For example, God allows people to sin, but He does not command His people to sin. God allows rapists, but He would never command people to perform rape. God’s allowance that people sin is not a threat to His goodness, but for God to command people to sin would be inconsistent with His goodness.

        I do not think the Bible is a problem. I just think it is hard to understand sometimes.

        1. grateful says:

          Gabe, thank you for saying that God would never command people to perform rape. As a survivor, it’s one of the areas I wrestle with the most — the extent of God’s participation in my suffering. I long to believe that God didn’t command my rapists to rape me but that He feels the same grief and pain I do, or at least feels it with me.

        2. steve hays says:

          Gabe,

          I’m using your own framework. How is God good in allowing X, but not good in commanding X? What is the morally relevant difference? Why is one consistent with divine goodness, but the other is not?

          The question at issue is the death of children. You brought that up. Very well, then. How is God good if he allows children to die from preventable causes, but not good if he commands them to die?

        3. steve hays says:

          Let’s take a NT example. Take Matthew 2. God foreknew, when he inspired Micah to deliver that prophecy, that God was painting a bull’s-eye on the back of the little kids in Bethlehem, hundreds of years later. God knew that Herod was going to use Micah’s prophecy as low-tech GPS to track the whereabouts of the Christchild. And Herod would murder all the kids to give himself a margin of error.

          In fact, that probably bought Joseph some time to whisk Jesus and Mary out of Israel, while Herod’s henchmen were following the lead. Instead of looking for Jesus elsewhere, they were looking for Jesus in Bethlehem, but he had skipped town by the time they arrived. There’s a sense in which those children died so that Jesus would live. They deflected attention away from Jesus. Indeed, Herod probably called off the manhunt after massacring the children of Bethlehem, on the assumption that Jesus was somewhere among the pile of victims. He had all of them killed to make sure he got Jesus in the process.

          Yet there’s another side to the story. There’d come a day when Jesus would die for others. Lay down is life so that others would enjoy eternal life. Sooner or later, all of us will die. The only hope any of us has, including the dead children of Bethlehem, is through salvation in Christ.

          1. Gabe says:

            Hi Steve,

            Thanks for your extended response. I don’t think the issue is simply “the death of children,” the issue is the mass killing of children.

            You seem to be arguing that if God allows a person to carry out any action, He might as well have directly commanded the person to perform that action. But surely you don’t believe this. We would have to conclude that every sin God allows a person to commit might as well have been directly commanded by God, which is nonsense. For example, God allowed that Shechem rape Dinah in Genesis 34. But God did not directly command Shechem to rape Dinah. God did not desire for that to happen, or command for that to happen. Shechem’s action was contrary to God’s character. Similarly, Herod’s slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem was sin, was evil, was not commanded by God, and was contrary to God’s character. God’s character is portrayed, as you rightly described, in how God redeems that heinous action. So the question remains, how can God then command the Israelites to slaughter infants, actions that seem similar to that of sinful Herod, and not compromise His character?

            1. steve hays says:

              Gabe

              “Thanks for your extended response. I don’t think the issue is simply ‘the death of children,’ the issue is the mass killing of children.”

              Thousands of children die every day around the world. If your objection is to children dying en masse, that happens all the time. Children are killed by murder, accident, disease, starvation, &c.

              Therefore, even if you could explain away the OT commands, you still have the real world situation to deal with. If children dying outside of Scripture is consistent with God’s character, why does Scripture present a special problem for God’s character?

              “You seem to be arguing that if God allows a person to carry out any action, He might as well have directly commanded the person to perform that action. But surely you don’t believe this. We would have to conclude that every sin God allows a person to commit might as well have been directly commanded by God, which is nonsense. For example, God allowed that Shechem rape Dinah in Genesis 34. But God did not directly command Shechem to rape Dinah. God did not desire for that to happen, or command for that to happen. Shechem’s action was contrary to God’s character. Similarly, Herod’s slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem was sin, was evil, was not commanded by God, and was contrary to God’s character. God’s character is portrayed, as you rightly described, in how God redeems that heinous action. So the question remains, how can God then command the Israelites to slaughter infants, actions that seem similar to that of sinful Herod, and not compromise His character?”

              i) To begin with, there’s no point discussing the issue in purely hypothetical terms, as if we were asking whether God would command such a thing. For the Bible does, in fact, attribute such commands to God. So we already crossed that bridge. There is no turning back. Clearly the Bible regards such commands as consonant with God’s character.

              All sides of this debate agree that Scripture attributes these commands to God. There are then different reactions to these Biblical ascriptions.

              You have Christians like Justin Taylor and Christopher Wright who defend the traditional interpretation as well as the moral propriety of God’s command.

              You have some Christians like Richard Hess and Matt Flanagan who question the traditional interpretation.

              You have liberals and atheists who accept the traditional interpretation, but reject the authority of Scripture.

              ii) Keep in mind that I don’t think God was commanding evil.

              iii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, the command to execute Canaanite children was an evil command. What makes that an evil command?

              Is it evil because it wrongs those who are tasked to carry out the command? Is it wrong because it makes them do evil?

              Or is it wrong because of the harm done to the victims? Or both?

              If the latter, children are harmed every day under God’s governance.

              iv) Let’s compare two different scenarios:

              a) A police chief orders his officers to make businessmen pay protection money to the police.

              b) A police chief knows that his officers are extorting businessmen to pay protection money to the police, but turns a blind eye to the shakedown racket.

              I don’t see a moral difference between what the police chief commands and what he allows.

              v) Back to Mt 2. God allowing Herod to massacre the kids was clearly in keeping with God’s character. If that was out of character, why would God allow it?

              In addition, God did more than letting it happen. God set into motion the conditions that would result in that outcome. God knew how Herod would use Micah’s prophecy. God was also responsible for the existence of Herod. God opens and closes the womb. So God intended that to happen.

              You can only deny that by denying other things. By denying God’s foreknowledge. By denying God’s providential role in conception and gestation (e.g. Ps 139).

              vi) Or take the Babylonian exile. That resulted in the death of many Jewish kids. Read Lamentations.

              Yet God didn’t merely permit that to happen. Lam 2 attributes that outcome to God. It makes God ultimately responsible. God was punishing covenant-breakers (Lam 4:10; cf. Deut 28:25,53-57). Babylonian and Assyrian kings attack Israel at God’s instigation (Isa 10:5ff.). They are instruments of his judicial will.

              vii) We need to distinguish between God’s intentions and the intentions of the perpetrators. God’s intentions are just, whereas the intentions of the perpetrators may be just or unjust.

              We also need to distinguish between something that’s sinful, and the good use that God can put to something that’s sinful.

  16. James says:

    My question is an honest one. I’m believe God is righteous and sovereign…what He commanded was just. Now fast forward to today, you have a bunch of Muslim guys declaring jihad and doing things which we say is deplorable, what would I say to someone who asks why what God commanded in the OT was not equally deplorable to the commands which the Muslim says he is carrying out by the will of allah? No offense Steve Hays, but I feel you swept my question under the rug by stating a question has no validity (sorry Jesus!), so anyone else who has an answer would really help a brother out! Thanks!

    1. Daryl Little says:

      James,

      At the least, a right answer would be that when a false god “commands” something it is nothing more than a sinful man doing what he wants in the name of his god.
      When the true God commands something, well that makes all the difference in the world.

      So on it’s face, the problem the Muslim (or the defender of the Muslims) has is the problem of who is God, not why can’t my god do what your God does.

      So the question, like in the reformation, is really one of authority, not one of “what’s the difference”.

      If Yahweh and Allah are simply competing God’s, with equal authority, then the Muslim’s question is valid and reasonable.

      I would back the discussion up and not debate “My God’s command vs your god’s command.”

      James White has a lot of good material on this subject.

    2. steve hays says:

      You haven’t given me anything to respond to. You need to formulate an argument. If you think jihad is comparable to herem, you need to spell out how you think they are comparable. Don’t throw out vague, unspecified comparisons, then demand that others should refute them.

  17. Matt says:

    Justin, I REALLY appreciated this article and am VERY grateful for it, particularly what you said concerning ethnic cleansing vs. a war on those who hold to an ideology. The main difference I see is that while a person cannot change his or her ethnicity and/or genetic makeup, a person can always change his or her ideology and behavior based upon new information. Those who actually repented were pardoned and rescued. This is definitely NOT genocide/ethnic cleansing by ANY definition. I am continually amazed by God’s mercy and how He continues to hold out the offer of repentence and forgiveness in Christ to the most unrepentant, snarky, disingenuious, and vile of sinners, myself included. The problem isn’t God or His righteous judgment, it’s how few people actually take His offer of mercy seriously and act on it! Luke 13: 1-5 comes to mind…

  18. Daryl Little says:

    Justin,

    Great article.

    It seems to me that the trouble people have with this (as is plain in the comments) is, as Gabe said, we know God is good and yet these commands don’t seem to be so.
    So our start point has to be that because the commands come from God, they are good. Full stop.

    Good on Gabe for admitting that he knows that God did actually command what Peter Enns (and others who don’t believe the OT to be true) claim he didn’t. And further, for admitting that it’s a struggle to get ones head around it.

    Of course it’s a struggle. But at the end of the day we need to admit that it doesn’t blemish God’s character in any way to say that He did what He says He did.

    My OT Survey prof, told us on the first day of studying Joshua something like this:

    “To get through these next couple books, you’ll need to come to the place where you can imagine an Israelite soldier running a helpless old man through with his sword, or killing a mother and her family, and understand that what the soldier is doing is pleasing to Yahweh.”

    Even writing that causes me to have a bit of a visceral reaction but it’s true. Otherwise God is unjust, and we know that is impossible.

    The Bible is plain, He is the potter and we are the clay. As I tell my kids, if you make a bunch of Lego people, and your brother or sister breaks them, then they get in trouble. After all the Legos aren’t theirs.
    But if you break them, no one blinks an eye. Because you made them.

    But somehow we don’t want to allow God the same freedom with us, His Legos.

    Funny how the sovereignty of God seems to good to so many, until the rubber meets the road. Then, suddenly, its wrong.

    1. Lou G. says:

      Excellent observations, Daryl. I was thinking about some of those ideas myself, but since I’m not nearly as eloquent as you were, I’m glad you wrote it – better than me:)

  19. Chris says:

    What a refreshing God-centered take. I’ve been reading Copan’s popular level apologetic Is God a Moral Monster? and his pleading strategy to see God and Israel’s laws as at least better than the surrounding ANE nations and their gods seems so paltry and weak compared to the view presented here. All of this has stirred big questions for me about the proper place and role of apologetics. To what extent must we simply say: this is the God who has revealed himself. Will we follow, love, believe, and submit to him or demand that he fit our philosophical criteria first?

  20. Great post save one objection… the Gibeonites were not an “exception”. They did not “repent”, but resorted to trickery to save their lives. This is a perfect example of mistaking self-serving remorse for repentance. Joshua should have killed them as well, even if it meant breaking his oath.

  21. Jonathan Kiel says:

    Brothers and sisters,

    Some of the comments on this blog post are neither charitable nor uplifting, but are patronizing and condescending. I realize that we, as Christians, can have “in house” arguments that are often heated. However, I would urge many of the previous commentators to meditate on the Scripture references that Justin offers as “guidelines” for his comment section.

    Let’s use these types of discussion to sharpen one another as iron sharpens iron – not to bring others down or lift ourselves up.

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

    “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6).

    “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:37).

    “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).

    “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).

    Speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15, 25).

    “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

  22. Mark B. Hanson says:

    JT – very interesting, despite some of the comments in the meta. One thing I find missing from this conversation about women and children is the concept of “common wrath”, parallel to common grace (Matthew 5:45).

    Chtistians living in a particular culture may not be individually spared sufferings that may be part and parcel of that culture (infant mortality, arbitrary government) – in fact, we are instructed to expect such things to happen. The wrath of God that sent mostly idolatrous Judah into Babylonian captivity was no respecter of individual holiness – every person was caught up into it. We may not like the “corporateness” of this, but this is part of what it means to be a tribe, culture, people or nation (and which we like to forget).

    In like manner, when God judges an aggregate people, his judgment involves all the people there, whether they are innocent of that group’s particular sins or not. Babylon was thrown down, their children were dashed on the rocks and women taken by their attackers, even though they did no battle.

    Now we know that God’s judgment can discriminate among those in a group under condemnation – think of Rahab, or Israel during the latter plagues of Egypt. Is it unjust when he doesn’t do so? Is it unjust when he pronounces such a judgment in advance (as he does at Sinai)?

    Is it unjust when God uses an unrighteous people to judge his own nation? Then why would it be unjust when God uses his own people to judge an unrighteous nation?

  23. AStev says:

    I think the point cannot be stressed enough that God repeatedly told the people “I will drive them (the canaanites) out ahead of you”. Many, if not most, of the Canaanites fled the Israelite advance. It was only the die-hard stalwarts who would have to be dealt with. Of course, Israel didn’t deal with them as they ought to have, and so they ended up dwelling side-by-side with the die-hard stalwart holdouts of wicked Canaan.

    1. steve hays says:

      That’s a good point which is often overlooked.

  24. Regarding #3: God commanded genocide at the fall. We all die at least once by his command. But then there is the resurrection.

  25. jimmer says:

    When asked this question by unbelievers I take them to Gen 15:13 & explain that I understand their questioning what God did and then I explaim my struggle with how long He waited to judge by highlighting their (Caananites) sin. Then I turn the conversation to how long He gave me to repent & how long He has given them to repent before He will judge … Then I explain grace & the cross … pretty favorable responses actually.

    1. J.R. says:

      Thanks Jimmer. I appreciate that reference quite a bit and how you are able to turn the conversation. I will try to remember this as well.

  26. J.R. says:

    I also found a reference online to the introduction to the book of Joshua, out of the ESV Literary Study Bible. I thought is was an helpful supplement to JT’s exceptionally good original post:
    http://www.esvliterarystudybible.org/search?q=Joshua+1

  27. James Bradshaw says:

    Since “everyone deserves God’s judgment” while (I assume) you consider yourself to be one of “God’s people”, doesn’t that imply you have the right to kill … well … anyone who ticks you off because you consider them an “enemy of God”?

    In any rate, I see no difference between your warped theology and that of the Muslim fanatics. Same murderous mindset … different god.

    1. steve hays says:

      i) Your statement is illogical. For instance, a soldier can be guilty of some offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That doesn’t give me a right to punish him. I’m not a military tribunal.

      ii) Likewise, universal guilt doesn’t imply instant retribution.

      The fact that you “see” no difference between our theology and Muslim fanatics is just your unargued opinion.

  28. James Bradshaw says:

    By the way, there are numerous passages that note that “God’s armies” were to say everyone, including infants and children. What crimes could a toddler commit for them to be deemed worthy of having their bodies sliced open with a sword?

    1. steve hays says:

      Corporate judgment doesn’t imply that everyone is guilty. If the parents are guilty, the child can’t survive alone.

      1. James Bradshaw says:

        “If the parents are guilty, the child can’t survive alone.”

        Who says they have to be left alone?

        Raise and care for the children of the parents you just killed in the name of God.

        1. steve hays says:

          The soldiers who killed the parents should raise the kids? And how would that work out once the kids were old enough to realize their adoptive parents killed their biological parents?

    2. anaquaduck says:

      In a way humanity represents an army opposed to God, trashing His world & ways, hence the judgement. The Israelites were no better (hence the warning to them also) but God was bringing about the restoration beginning with Israel. In doing so & in His own timing, he sent His son, who also experienced the justice system of Rome & the wrath of God.

      Is a child, woman or man any less innocent because of their age or gender, as far as the heart goes, God says no.God is acting as not only a judge but also a teacher & parent.

      The lessons can be hard & heartbreaking but am I going to tell the creator of the universe I know better & understand all things visible & invisible…No I am going to trust in Him.

      Human life is valued by God (Cain & Abel)more than we realise & more than modern society with its bent on individualism & rights(which can be good & bad) but this may be the difference between international warfare & personal hatred which according to the Bible also has a spiritual significance.

  29. Cindy says:

    I wonder if Steve Hays has a wife. Hmm, his grouchy posts might just hint at the answer! ;)

    Steve, try and be more charitable. Your posts lack love. I suggest that you read the letters of Francis Schaeffer to see how a real apologist and intellect responds lovingly to criticsm.

  30. There is no godly love without truth. The only thoughtful comments here this evening aimed at arriving at truth belong to Steve Hays and it seems that commenters think that ad hominem arguments based on asserions that he is unloving are loving…

    …unless they are trying to demonstrate what unloving behavior looks like. Yet how odd is that?

    1. Tim L. says:

      Jim, were you being serious? From where I sit (as a PCA associate pastor who gets asked this question fairly often by potential new members and those new to the doctrines of grace outside of our church), John Dyer, Gabe, Daryl Little, JR, AStev, and Jimmer surely have added much more of value to this whole conversation — by giving the Truth in Love. They have also biblically sought to address common objections that arise from this topic, which the original post possibly overlooked.

      Conversely, if Mr. Hays’ contributions were deleted from the meta (and the subsequent retaliatory replies to him), this thread could have served as an awesome resource.

      Unfortunately, I am unable to commend this link to those who may have benefited the most.

      1. Robert says:

        Hello Tim L.

        You wrote:

        “Jim, were you being serious? From where I sit (as a PCA associate pastor who gets asked this question fairly often by potential new members and those new to the doctrines of grace outside of our church), John Dyer, Gabe, Daryl Little, JR, AStev, and Jimmer surely have added much more of value to this whole conversation — by giving the Truth in Love. They have also biblically sought to address common objections that arise from this topic, which the original post possibly overlooked.”

        I agree with you, while I do not agree with every comment that has been made here about how to handle this issue, I do believe that we need to thoroughly discuss this issue as it does come up a lot. Ideally, Christians ought to be able to discuss this in a rational and civil way to their mutual benefit: since we will all come across this issue when sharing our faith or engaging in apologetics.

        You also wrote:

        “Conversely, if Mr. Hays’ contributions were deleted from the meta (and the subsequent retaliatory replies to him), this thread could have served as an awesome resource.”

        This is correct, Steve Hays has not made the discussion what it potentially could have been. But this is no surprise considering the source. Steve Hays repeatedly engages in his hostile and condescending rhetoric, especially with those he disagrees with (which is everyone who does not think just like he does: for example he regularly declares Roger Olson and Randal Rauser to be unsaved individuals and regularly attacks them). He is very smart and knowledgeable but at the same time very bitter and hostile and mean spirited. He has been like this for years on the internet. Many have encouraged him to tone down his rhetoric and try to write in a more loving and at least civil manner (to no avail so far). He has been challenged repeatedly to repent of his hostile manner of posting, and he never repents of it. The best thing to do is consider his points and try to separate them from his manner of delivery as he does make some good points and again is very knowledgeable.

        Cindy wrote:

        “I wonder if Steve Hays has a wife. Hmm, his grouchy posts might just hint at the answer! ;)”

        Steve Hays is a fifty three year old man; he is unmarried and has no children. He lives with his mother and takes care of her. He is not a pastor or elder or leader in any local church setting. He is not a teacher or professor and so he has lots and lots of time to interact on the internet. That seems to be all that he does.

        Cindy also wrote:

        “Steve, try and be more charitable. Your posts lack love. I suggest that you read the letters of Francis Schaeffer to see how a real apologist and intellect responds lovingly to criticsm.”

        Francis Schaeffer is actually a good role model for Hays and others who want to engage in apologetics to emulate. Schaeffer while extremely intelligent and knowledgeable, was also humble and a servant who dealt graciously and lovingly with others (including those with whom he disagreed). Schaeffer was a very good example of what an educated and knowledgeable Christian serving in apologetics can be. Those interested in apologetics can learn from his example. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have had him post here in this discussion?

        Again this is an issue that does come up and will come up, and we have to be ready to give good and biblical answers on this.

        Robert

        1. steve hays says:

          i) It’s striking that Robert resorts to trading in malicious, thirdhand, unsubstantiated gossip. Gossip-mongering is a sin.

          ii) Second, Robert’s priorities are striking. Rather than take the opportunity to explain and defend OT ethics, Robert prefers to attack someone who is explaining and defending OT ethics.

          iii) It’s also striking that Robert comes to the defense of Randal Rauser and Roger Olson, even though both men routinely attack OT ethics. Indeed, Rauser has done a post attacking Justin’s defense of OT ethics. Robert attacks those who defend the word of God while defending those who attack the word of God. What does that say about his ultimate priorities?

          It’s unfortunate that commenters like Robert and Pastor Tim are diverting the discussion away from the topic of the post.

          1. Robert says:

            Steve Hays wrote:

            “i) It’s striking that Robert resorts to trading in malicious, thirdhand, unsubstantiated gossip. Gossip-mongering is a sin.”

            What I shared is told to me by Hays’ friends. It is factual information.

            He may have his reasons for publicly denying these things to be true. But I think I know why He does not want others to know about this. It is embarrrassing for him. He posts all over the internet. Others have more responsibilities than he does (e.g. actual ministries, marriages, families, local church involvement, etc. etc.) which do not allow them to engage in prolonged and protracted discussions all over the internet as Hays does. The picture of a 53 year old man, without the responsibilities the rest of us have, spending hours and hours on the internet spewing out posts in the manner in which he does so, is not a very pretty picture.

            Several commentators have expressed concern about his manner of posting. Seems to me that his life circumstances explain why he bahaves as he does.

            “ii) Second, Robert’s priorities are striking. Rather than take the opportunity to explain and defend OT ethics, Robert prefers to attack someone who is explaining and defending OT ethics.”

            My problem with Hays is not that he is “someone who is explaining and defending OT ethics”.

            My problem is the manner in which Hays posts in his interactions here and elsewhere.

            Others here have posted and been “explaining and defending OT ethics” and I appreciate their comments. I also have friends who are active in apologetics and I appreciate their “explaining and defending of OT ethics” (e.g. Greg Koukl from STAND TO REASON, check out his article dealing with this issue in a recent ediction of his SOLID GROUND newsletter).

            “iii) It’s also striking that Robert comes to the defense of Randal Rauser and Roger Olson, even though both men routinely attack OT ethics. Indeed, Rauser has done a post attacking Justin’s defense of OT ethics. Robert attacks those who defend the word of God while defending those who attack the word of God. What does that say about his ultimate priorities?”

            I made reference to Rauser and Olson as they provide two good examples of the hatefulness and inappropriateness of Hays’ comments. Both Rauser and Olson are professors who have produced books and thoughtful articles and materials. While we need not agree with them on everything, and have the right to express our disagreements where we disagree with them. I do not appreciate how Hays publicly and repeatedly has declared them to be nonbelievers. Hays is completely out of line and in no position to be making this judgement.

            And if anything, rather than publicly attacking others and Christian scholars as unbelievers, he needs to take care of the beam in his own eye first. When he deals with his hatred and bitterness and hostility towards others (an on going problem that he has been manfesting for years on the internet), perhaps then he will be in a better position to comment on others. Until then, he needs to repent of his sinful manner of posting and stop the unjustified personal attacks of others including Christian scholars like Olson and Rauser.

            Robert

      2. steve hays says:

        First of all, it’s striking that a PCA pastor would presume to launch into a public, unprovoked attack on a commenter who’s not a member of his church, who is not under his care. Perhaps I need to contact Pastor Tim’s presbytery about pastoral misconduct.

        Second, when Justin does a post defending a controversial teaching of Scripture, this garners a varied reaction. A good pastor needs to exercise discernment in distinguishing between different types of respondents, just as the NT distinguishes between different types of respondents.

        Some of the commenters here are either theological liberals of the Peter Enns variety who simply reject the inspiration of Scripture, or outright atheists. That calls for a different response than Christians who affirm the authority of Scripture, but seek a clearer understanding of these passages.

        It’s common for militant atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins to attack OT ethics. And members of the religious left pick up on that. There’s a growing movement within “evangelicalism” to simply reject “offensive” teachings in Scripture. That needs to be opposed.

        If an atheist smears the Bible by comparing herem to jihad, it’s perfectly appropriate to require the atheist to specify in what respect herem and jihad are allegedly alike.

        Pastor Tim is welcome to explain what statements I’ve made that are substantively wrong.

        1. Caleb G. says:

          Steve Hays,

          Is this a true statement? “Steve Hays is a fifty three year old man; he is unmarried and has no children.”

          If so, then if God told you to kill your toddler, would you do it? I realize you might say, “God would never do that today.” I understand that, but please directly answer the following question: if God ask you to kill your toddler, would you do it?

          If it is true that you take care of you mother, then also please answer the following question: “Would you kill your mother if God told you to do it?”

          1. Daryl Little says:

            Caleb G.,

            Not sure those are fair questions to ask of a man who is being pushed onto the defensive already…

            But I’ll answer for may part. If I knew, as Abraham did, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was God, then, with fear and pain and great questioning, I would, I hope.

            But, since God no longer speaks apart from Scripture, the question is a bit like asking what you would do if God told you to have an affair…

            So, not a fair question since we know that such a situation is impossible. And not a fair question since, as Corrie Ten Boom reminded us, God doesn’t give us the ticket until we’re about to get onto the train.
            If He commanded something like that of one of His people, you can be sure that the grace to obey would come with it.

          2. steve hays says:

            I don’t comment on gossip.

            As to the hypothetical question, Matt Flanagan has a good treatment of that issue:

            http://www.mandm.org.nz/2013/02/divine-commands-and-psychopathic-tendencies.html

        2. Tim L. says:

          Dear Mr. Hays,
          This will be my only reply to you.

          First, I’m deeply sorry if you felt that either you or Jim were being attacked. My intention was not at all to attack anyone, but merely to make some constructive obeservations based on the facts as revealed within the comment thread. Yet, I can see how my statements may have seemed personally offensive to you and probably could have hurt your feelings. Next time, I will try harder to find a softer, less offensive way to make my point regarding helpful comments in the meta, so to be extra careful not to upset anyone.

          On an additional note, you wrote that, “a good pastor needs to exercise discernment in distinguishing between different types of respondents.” However, if you will read my comment, you will see that I actually did just that by commending commenters like Gabe, Daryl Little, JR, AStev, and Jimmer. I did deliberately leave off some of the others as an actual exercise of discernment. So, I’m not sure why you felt it necessary to counsel me on that score. However, I thank you for taking the time to provide that reminder and information to me for future edification.

          Finally, since you are eager to contact my presbytery regarding how I have handled myself in this comment section, would you first please be so kind as to tell us where you are a church member and how we might contact those to whom you are accountable? You are a memmber in good standing, aren’t you? And accountable to elders in a local church, correct?

          Again, thank you for your time and consideration. Grace and Peace to you in the Lord.
          May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. — Numbers 6:24-26

          1. steve hays says:

            I didn’t say anything about hurt feelings. You made personal accusations which you have yet to back up. Either document your accusations or retract them.

            1. robert's rules says:

              Hays,
              Tim L didn’t make any personal accusations. You, on the other hand, threatened: “to contact Pastor Tim’s presbytery about pastoral misconduct.”

              Time to put on your big boy pants.
              Either pony up to accountability or put down the shovel and stop digging.

              1. steve hays says:

                Presbyterian polity has set up official channels for dealing with issues like this. Are you saying the Presbyterian system is childish?

              2. robert's rules says:

                Of course not. Why would I tell you to put on your big boy pants and pony up if I thought the system was childish?

                Come on. You pulled out the “I’m going to report you” card. Tell Tim and the rest of us who you are accountable to, so we can get this ball rolling, if you want to. Or you can just put down the shovel and stop digging the hole that you’re in.

          2. steve hays says:

            “My intention was not at all to attack anyone, but merely to make some constructive obeservations based on the facts as revealed within the comment thread.”

            You didn’t make any constructive observations. Justin did a post defending the morality of God’s command to visit judgment on the Canaanites. That immediately came under fire from various quarters. In this thread, I’ve presented several arguments defending the morality of God’s command.

            You haven’t done that. What you did, instead, was to attack a layman who’s defending the word of God. Then you took issue with another commenter.

            1. steve hays says:

              If you want to get the ball rolling, feel free to volunteer the contact info for your church. Time can do likewise. Pony up.

              1. robert's rules says:

                First, what are the charges that you wish to lodge against Pastor Tim, the exact charges that make him guilty of pastoral misconduct?

      3. Tim, yes, I’m serious. Right or wrong, the method of approaching Steve’s arguments last night (and somewhat this morning) was less than charitable. If one is going to hold someone else to a standard, real or perceived, one should hold oneself to the same standard. I didn’t see that done.

        Also, I agree that Steve Hays often engages in polemic arguments. Such is often expected in theological debate whether we like it or not. Our culture these days has produced people whose skin is too thin. Nevertheless, his substantial quality is inscrutably logical. It doesn’t follow that his marital or living status has anything to do with the substance of his arguments. If your concerns are pastoral, that’s one thing. Don’t condemn someone for pursuing truth sans pastoral concerns who is not a pastor.

        1. Tim L. says:

          Jim, thanks for the reply. While I certainly don’t expect everyone to approach every issue with the sort of pastoral care and judgement that I mentioned, I do believe there are biblically Christian ways of engaging in polemics that apply to all believers. Certainly, each will have his one style or emphases; however, the idea that a person defending the doctrines of grace would resort to ad hominem attacks and generally mean-spirited, accusatory methods in the name of theological debate should never, ever be.

          I understand that there are those who will disagree with me on this score. I was merely attempting to point out that, as a matter of Christian witness, I could not commend this thread as a resource to my people.

          In regards to the ascribed inscrutable logic, I do not see any evidence of that from him in this thread and believe that other gents like Gabe, Jacob, Lou, and others have done well enough in exposing serious weakness and miscalculations.
          Thanks for the exchange. I’m off now.

          1. steve hays says:

            Tim,

            Since you’ve chosen to make some very personal, public accusations, it’s incumbent on you to document your allegations. What specifically are you objecting to? Give me some verbatim quotes.

            BTW, your own comments are oddly accusatory for someone who objects to an accusatory tactics.

            1. robert's rules says:

              Like what?
              Tim hasn’t made a single personal accusation (even though you have accused him of “pastoral misconduct”).

              1. steve hays says:

                You’re hardly impartial. In addition, like Tim, you’ve diverted attention away from the defense of God’s word to personal sniping. Was that your intention all along?

  31. J.R. says:

    I have an another approach to working with this question, which goes along with my previous comment about the historical-redemptive picture & bringing to bear of the cross of Christ.

    So, everyone likes to bring up how God commanded the annihilation of the Canaanites to object to either the validity of the Bible or God’s character. Yet, we have another “bookend” account in the Old Testament where God commanded Saul, through Samuel the prophet, to annihilate the Amalekites:
    1 Samuel 15:1-3 – “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have and do not spare them but kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

    So, if we are perhaps left wondering why those with unanswered objections to the Canaanite annilation do not bring the case of the Amelekites up alongside the Canaanites, perhaps it is because we know exactly what the outcome was for Saul and Israelites when they did not obey God with regard to Amalek.

    The answer is found in a somewhat unassuming place: the Book of Esther.
    We are told there that King Xerxes elevated Haman, the Agagite, descendent of the King of the Amalekites, giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles, the same position that the prophet Daniel had once occupied. From this high position, Haman set out on his quest to annhilate the Jews. Satan was working through Haman’s hate and rage, through bloodline of the Amalekites, to try to kill off the seed of the woman from which the Messiah would be born. So, when Saul disobeyed God generations earlier, he had no idea the long term implications he would be creating for Mordecai’s generation.
    Interestingly, in God’s Providence, the pole that Haman had set up to use to impale Mordecai, the Jew, ended up being the pole on which Haman himself would be put to death.

    The reason why having these bookend accounts in mind is helpful is because we are able to see the difference between the obedience of Joshua and the disobedience of Saul. Of course, once the Messiah was born, the necessity of preserving the biological bloodline in the manner given to Joshua and Saul no longer exists. This is good news.

  32. I have to take issue with the point that says the Canaanites were wicked anyway. Really? All of them? Including the babies? I realize that the Canaanites as a People writ large were committing atrocities. But not all individuals were equally guilty.

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Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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