Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A quick response to those who criticize God and His commands to "wipe-out" the Canaanites in Joshua

Image result for book of Joshua
Joshua 11:11 "They struck every person who was in it with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them; there was no one left who breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire."

One of the most attacked areas of the Bible by critics is in the Book of Joshua and its surrounding context. More specifically, critics will contend that God is a "Moral Monster" who commands genocide. In past posts on this blogsite, I have offered a more extensive treatment in responding to this indictment on God's character and credibility of the Biblical text through a four-part series found in the following links:





Today's post is designed to give a very short summary of the above series so that readers can give a "thumbnail sketch" of the Christian response to critics who continue to accuse Yahweh of injustice and immorality.

1. God's holiness and mercy must be considered.
God gave the Canaanites over four centuries to repent of their ways. When a prostitute named Rahab did repent in Joshua 2, God spared her. God's holiness is never factored into critics' arguments. God as a holy God means he cannot stand the sight of sin nor will he long tolerate injustice. The Canaanite culture were known for such practices as child-sacrifice. God was responding to an evil perpetrated by the culture. Ironically, those who claim God never does anything about evil and suffering end up crying "foul" when in the overall context of Joshua, He actually addresses the issues at hand.

2. Holy-war differs significantly from Genocide
Whenever we consider the details of what constitutes holy war and compare it to genocide, it is comparing apples to oranges. Genocide is a merciless, random act of ethnic purging by another people group for political purposes. Holy war in the Bible was moral purging and included an extended pre-history of God giving space for the culture to turn from their extreme wicked practices. Genocide does not include possible mercy. Holy War can be reversed if the culture repents of its ways. Jeremiah 18:8 states – “if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.”

3. Ask the critic if they have read the book of Joshua and its surrounding Bible books
In addition to considering God's character and the distinctions between holy war and genocide, one may tactfully ask in a non-condescending way where or not the critic has read the Book of Joshua. Often-times it is very easy to criticize something which one has not read but chooses to criticize based upon here-say. Certainly challenging the critic to read the wider context within which Joshua is set may seem like a tall order. However, atheistic criticisms of Christianity are sometimes due to shoddy scholarship or simply not reading the text in question. 

4. Consider much of the language of Joshua as a form of "hyperbole" or over-exaggeration designed to get the point across
Christian apologist Paul Copan specializes in what can be difficult to interpret texts like Joshua (read more of Paul Copan's material at: ( In his research, as well as the observations of others, many of the cases where we find God commanding the Canaanites to be "utterly destroyed" is part of the rhetoric of holy-war. In many cases, not everyone was destroyed. Perhaps a King, representing the entire nation was executed or the army of the opposing nation. Much like in the sports world today, when one team is being interviewed after a game, they may say something to the effect: "we slaughtered everybody tonight". All listening to such rhetoric understand the players to be utilizing a figure of speech called "hyperbole" or "over-exaggeration" to get across the point that their victory was without question. Copan supports his observations by paralleling literature from the same time-period, illustrating that the Book of Joshua was as much a product of its time as it was of the Holy Spirit. This particular response is helpful, however, caution must be exercised in employing this particular observation, since there are those occasions where the Hebrews did indeed wipe out a given city and its inhabitants.

5. The Canaanites were not innocent
Often critics will cite that the Canaanites never saw the judgment of God coming upon them. However, scholar William Lane Craig observes:

"By the time of their destruction, Canaanite culture was, in fact, debauched and cruel, embracing such practices as ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice.  The Canaanites are to be destroyed “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20.18).  God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel" (Read more:

6. The issue of Joshua and the Canaanites does not do away with the existence of the Biblical God
In light of the above responses, we can offer one final response: namely, to say that God did something morally wrong is to assert belief in an objective moral laws, which requires God, the objective lawgiver! Again we can quote scholar William Lane Craig on this score:

"I’ve often heard popularizers raise this issue as a refutation of the moral argument for God’s existence.  But that’s plainly incorrect.  The claim that God could not have issued such a command doesn’t falsify or undercut either of the two premises in the moral argument as I have defended it:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

2. Objective moral values do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

In fact, insofar as the atheist thinks that God did something morally wrong in commanding the extermination of the Canaanites, he affirms premise (2).  So what is the problem supposed to be?"
(Read more:

Closing thoughts:
Today we considered a short explanation and response to critics who convict God of wrong-doing in the book of Joshua. We considered the following five responses one could give:

1. God's holiness and mercy must be considered.

2. Holy-war differs significantly from Genocide

3. Ask the critic if they have read the book of Joshua and its surrounding Bible books

4. Consider much of the language of Joshua as a form of "hyperbole" or over-exaggeration designed to get the point across

5. The Canaanites were not innocent

6. The issue of Joshua and the Canaanites does not do away with the existence of the Biblical God

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