Not even one chapter after the Israelites made the mistake of making peace with the Gibeonites and they are calling out for military help (vs6)! I can imagine Joshua sighing but to his credit he makes good on his promise and rushes to their aid against the five Amorite kings who have rallied against them and Israel.
Joshua isn’t making any mistakes this time and it’s recorded that he heard God speaking/guiding him (vs8) “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands”.
Joshua and his men are winning the battle as God intervenes and throws the foreign armies into panic (vs10) and rained down large hailstones on them (vs11) that killed more men than the Israelites did by the sword.
God is faithful, He does what He says He will do, He can be trusted!
Then Joshua speaks to God, and then speaks to the sun and moon telling them to stop in their places (vs12-13). What incredible boldness, and more incredibly God honours His leader’s faith and the sun and moon do stop in the sky with Scripture recording; “there has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.” (vs14)
God is all powerful, and God loves it when we put our faith in Him.
“Satan trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees.” W.Cowper
“Prayer is weakness leaning on omnipotence.” W. S. Bowd
The rest of the chapter records the various victories summarised in vs40;
“So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded.”
How is this ok? Why is there wholesale slaughter of the various indigenous Canaanite population in order to allow the people of Israel to occupy their land and God through Scripture seems to be ok with it?
What follows is an attempt to make sense of these questions:
- God gave a unique command to His people through Moses as they inhabited the Promised Land. They were to devote the people to Canaan to complete destruction. God set out laws for warfare through Moses, in which God distinguished between battles fought against cities outside the Promised Land (Deut. 20:10–15) and those fought against cities inside the land (Deut. 20:16–18). It is only the latter case that requires Israel to spare no one.
- God is judging the Canaanite people through Israel, God’s agent. Since all people are sinners, all are rightly subject to God’s judgment. The Scriptures give a moral rationale for the removal of the Canaanites, seeing it as divine judgment for their iniquities (Deuteronomy 9:5).
- God’s judgements through Israel, announce the moral nature of God to the whole world for their instruction. In ways that are not entirely clear, the faithful will participate with God in carrying out the final judgment on the earth (1 Cor. 6:2; cf. Ps. 149:6–7), and Israel’s bringing of judgment on the Canaanites foreshadows that great responsibility.
- God’s judgment allows no double standard: he did not base his choice of Israel on any merit of theirs (Deuteronomy 7:6–9), and God calls them to embrace his love faithfully. Unfaithfulness will lead to judgment upon Israel itself, whether at the level of the individual (Ex. 22:20) or the whole people (Josh. 7:11–12; Mal. 4:6; cf. Lev. 18:28). This cannot be called “ethnic cleansing,” since the treatment is just, regardless of ethnicity.
- God’s people are called to be a set-apart for Him, a holy people. Deuteronomy 7:3-11 makes it clear that God wants His people to be holy, to not be lead astray by those around them but that God will destroy those who hate Him (vs10).
- Finally, even though the laws about destroying the Canaanites are stated in an uncompromising and unconditional way the way Israel applied those laws apparently made room for some of the Canaanites to surrender and survive, particularly if they professed faith in the one true God (Rahab and her whole family; the Gibeonites are examples of this). This means that the appearance of implacability in these laws is just that, an appearance, and there is an implied allowance for exceptions. This is another point showing that, strictly speaking, the command given to Israel is nothing like “ethnic cleansing,” since ethnicity itself is not the reason for the action but lack or rejection of faith in the God of Israel is the issue.
This was a unique time, a unique command, Scripture doesn’t endorse genocide and ethnic cleansing which are indeed evil. This unique part of Israel’s mission is not repeated and no people today have any right to use them as a warrant to support injustice and evil.
(This post is based loosely on the ESV Study Bible’s notes covering this topic.)