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Why did God ask Moses to kill the Canaanites when He commanded “thou shall not kill?

Topic: God

To Kill Versus to Murder

To kill and to murder are two different things. Murder is “the premeditated, unlawful taking of a life,” whereas killing is, more generally, “the taking of a life.” The misconception that “killing” and “murder” are synonymous is partially based on the King James mis-translation of the sixth commandment, which reads, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

However, the word kill is a translation of the Hebrew word ratsach, which nearly always refers to intentional killing without cause. The correct meaning of this word is “murder,” and modern translations render God’s command as “You shall not murder.” The Bible in Basic English should say: “Do not put anyone to death without cause.” Also, the same Law that forbids murder permits killing in self-defense. “If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed” (Exodus 22:2).

Why Did God Order the Destruction of the Canaanites?

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 commanded the destruction of the Canaanites to protect Israel from these evil nations that threatened their spirituality and existence.

When “the iniquity of the Amorites” was full, God’s judgment came (Genesis 15:16; 1 Kings 21:26). Moses commanded: “But of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). And Joshua did what Moses had told him (Joshua 10:40).

Israel was God’s instrument of judgment against the heathen Canaanites, who were exceedingly evil as seen in the following passage: “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). In addition to all kinds of wickedness, injustice and idolatry, the heathens practiced child sacrifice, which is well authenticated in history. Great wickedness coupled with the rejection of mercy demanded divine judgment (Deuteronomy 7:26).

The Canaanite’s destruction was commanded to protect Israel from adopting evil practices, which bring eternal death. “When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise’” (Deuteronomy 12:29-30). The Lord added, “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).

Judgment Mixed With Mercy

However, God’s judgments were mixed with mercy. For example, when God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, He promised Abraham that He would spare the whole city in order to save ten righteous people there. Sadly, ten righteous people could not be found there. Therefore, God saved the “righteous Lot” and his family (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 her faith (Joshua 6:25; Hebrews 11:31). Until the final judgment, God will consistently deal mercifully with all that seek Him. For He declares, “For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32). God loved man unto death. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). There is not greater proof of love than that (John 15:13).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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