Why did God command to destroy the Canaanites in the OT but said to turn the other cheek in the NT?

Hello E,

Thank you for contacting BibleAsk.

God is love but He is also just. The Canaanites were a brutal, aggressive people who engaged in bestiality, incest, and child sacrifice. The Canaanitessin was so wicked that God said, “The land vomited out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:25).  Israel was God’s instrument of judgment against the Canaanites, who were evil, almost beyond what we can imagine today: “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).

Their destruction was commanded to prevent Israel from following their ways and getting destroyed: “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.

But even in the judgments of the Old Testament, God is ever ready to save those that are willing to be saved. For example, when God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, God promised Abraham that He would spare the whole city if there were ten righteous people there. But ten righteous people could not be found. God did destroy those cities. But He saved the “righteous Lot” and his family (Genesis 18:32; Genesis 19:15; 2 Peter 2:7). And when God destroyed Jericho, He saved Rahab the harlot and her family in response to Rahab’s faith (Joshua 6:25; Hebrews 11:31). Until the final judgment, God will always offer mercy to all that repent.

When Jesus, in the New Testament, said that we are to “turn the other cheek,” He did not imply pacifism. Unlike the civil law of the eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, in Matthew 5:38, turning the other cheek refers to personal retaliation, not criminal offenses or acts of military aggression. Jesus did not mean to negate all God’s moral laws that protect us against violent crime or invading armies. But, rather He taught that there should be no place for retaliation in the believer’s life. Jesus didn’t deal with the civil laws in the NT because Israel was no longer in charge of of executing justice. Justice was administered by the Roman authorities.

God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Malachi 3:6). His ways never change.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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