My Apologetics study Bible included an article by Matt Flanagan entitled, “Does The Bible Condone Genocide?” He tells us the ancient writers used “extravagant exaggerations” as was common in literature at the time. Flanagan sites the fact that the Bible reports some of the nations (like Canaan) continued to have citizens even after it tells us they were wiped out. Therefore, the report of the genocide was exaggerated for literatures’ sake.
Which, to me isn’t so much exaggeration as it is disobedience. The Israelites may have wiped out a village or two, but obviously didn’t do a complete job elsewhere. The hard truth is that in Old Testament scripture, God didn’t only condone genocide, He commanded it.
Now, before you get too angry with me, or angry with God, you need to take a look at the whole picture. Here is what seems to be overlooked by some:
When you approach a city to fight against it, make an offer of peace. If it accepts your offer of peace and opens its gates to you, all the people found in it will become forced laborers for you and serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you but wages war against you, lay siege to it. (20:10-12)
Before the Israelites went to war against a city they were to offer a peaceful solution. God wanted those people to come to Him on His terms, and be saved. Their refusal cost them their lives.
There are two things I take away from this today:
- God will not demand nor condone genocide after the cross. Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the Law, and made it plain our enemy is no longer flesh and blood. His kingdom is spiritual. We must protect His spiritual kingdom by eradicating sin from among us with the same completeness the Old Testament Jews were told to eradicate people who rejected God. We will not be commanded to kill people. We are commanded to destroy sin in our lives.
- The Jewish people had to fight against Canaanites during their entire existence as recorded in the Old Testament. Had they obeyed, and truly dealt with God’s enemies like He told them to, their lives would have looked a lot different. Better. Peaceful. The same goes for us. How much grief do we face when we simply play around with sin, when we hold on to that sinful thought or feeling, when we aren’t exactly honest, or when we tolerate sin even in small doses? The Canaanites didn’t just go away on their own. And neither does sin.
Yes, it’s hard to even think about the genocide God ordered in the Old Testament. But these were not innocent people. They were people who would rather die in their sin than accept the peace God offered if they’d only surrendered.
That sin you are holding onto isn’t innocent, either.