The Destruction of the Canaanites
Punishing evil doers is not unloving. Loving parents (Proverbs 13:24) and legal authorities (Romans 13:1-4) can justly administer punishment to law breakers. Likewise, the all-loving God can punish evil doers. Loving-kindness and corporal punishment are necessary for the protection of the innocent.
Before conquering Canaan, God commanded the Israelites to be merciful to strangers, saying, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart…. You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…. And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17-18,33-34; Romans 13:9).
The faithful Jew was expected, as are Christians, to “not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39) but rather “go the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41) and “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39). “Love,” after all, “is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10; Matthew 22:36-40). God is love (1 John 4:7-12) and He asks His children to be like Him (Matthew 5:48).
But when the cup of inequities of the Canaanites was full and there were no more redeemable qualities in them, God commanded the Israelites to punish them. Israel was God’s tool for judgment against the heathen Canaanites. The Canaanites were exceedingly evil: “Every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:31).
The Canaanites’ destruction was commanded to protect Israel. The Lord said, “Lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 20:18; 12:29-30). When cancer plagues the body, the affected area has to be cut off otherwise the sickness will spread and destroy the whole body. Likewise, God in His mercy was protecting Israel from these evil nations that threatened their existence.
However, God’s judgments were mixed with mercy. For example, when God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, God promised Abraham that He would spare the whole city in order to save ten righteous people there. Sadly, not even ten righteous people could found, so only “righteous Lot” and his family were saved (Genesis 18:32; Genesis 19:15; 2 Peter 2:7). Later, God destroyed Jericho, but He saved Rahab the harlot and her family in response to Rahab’s faith (Joshua 6:25; Hebrews 11:31). God will continue to consistently deal mercifully and righteously until the end of time.
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In His service,