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Why did God command Israel to destroy the Canaanites?

God’s Command

God commanded Israel to destroy the Canaanites: “’When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them.”

“You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the LORD will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly.”

“But thus you shall deal with them: you shall destroy their altars, and break down their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images, and burn their carved images with fire. “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:1-6 also 12:2-4; 20:10-18; 25:17-19; Exodus 23:32; 34:12).

It was not God’s will that His chosen people should forever stay separated from the heathen nations. But this should only continue until they had learned to obey God and trust Him. Fellowship with idolaters was a great danger to their spiritual state. The Lord wanted His people to be a light to the world, but so long as they were ready to embrace the practices of the heathens it was best for them to be separated. But when this danger is gone, the Israelites would be ready to witness to the true God to all the world (Exodus 24:12; Numbers 33:52).

Israel’s failure

Unfortunately, Israel failed to destroy the Canaanites around them. “Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities, but the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land. And it happened, when the children of Israel grew strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out” (Joshua 17:12–13 also Judges 1:27–33).

The Canaanites resisted the efforts of the Hebrews to move them. They applied the military rule of divide and conquer. And the Israelites unbelief and fearfulness did not allow them to put forth the needed effort and obey God’s command. Had they done that, the Lord would have given them full victory.

God’s Response

The Lord said to Israel: “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you’” (Judges 2:1–3).

God had done mighty deeds for His people by delivering them from Egyptian bondage and establishing them in the Land of Promise. But their ingratitude was apparent in the religious apostasy that had become boldly evident within the space of only a few years. Israel had openly disobeyed in important matters that God had specifically commanded. Consequently, these Canaanites stayed in the land of Israel as a snare to the Israelites. The hardships recorded in the Book of Judges are the result of the disobedience in the Book of Joshua.

A Lesson to Learn

The principle of separation from the world is clearly given in the Scriptures (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:1–3; Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:10; Philippians 4: 3). Throughout the history of God’s children, the breaking of this principle has unavoidably led to spiritual apostasy.

Because there is a great difference between believers and non-believers, the Lord clearly taught that there should be no binding relationship between them, whether in marriage, in business, or otherwise. The Bible calls for a clear separation from sin and sinners (Leviticus 20:24; Numbers 6:3; Hebrews 7:26).

Every union in which the character, beliefs, and interests of the Christian lose anything of their integrity, is prohibited. The Lord instructs, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

However, the Bible does not forbid all association with unbelievers, but only the association that would lessen the believer’s love for God, and corrupt his thinking, or to lead him to deviate from obedience. Believers are not to avoid their family members and friends that are not believers, but to fellowship with them as living examples of to show the truths of the gospel and to reflect the character of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:9, 10; 7:12).

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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