Question: The Bible tells us that God is a God of love, but how can we harmonize that with the fact that He commanded the nation of Israel to utterly destroy their enemies – men, women and children (Deuteronomy 7: 1, 2)?
Answer: Following Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the time had arrived for them to enter Canaan. God had a right to give Canaan to the descendants of Abraham, for we read, “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 24: 1). God had three reasons for commanding Israel to destroy the little nations that occupied Canaan:
(1.) The Canaanites were descendants of Noah’s grandson Canaan. They were not ignorant savages, but quite civilized peoples who, after the manner of the Sodomites, had become degraded and corrupt by engaging in all forms of idolatrous worship and wicked practices. Had God permitted them to live and to intermingle with the Israelites in the land, by intermarriage, etc., the Israelites, whom God intended to develop, would have been injured.
(2.) God intended to make types of Israel and the Canaanites: Israel pictures Spiritual Israel, and the Canaanites picture the weaknesses and imperfections of the fallen nature. The Israelites fight against, and destruction of the Canaanites prefigures Spiritual Israel’s fight against, and eventual victory over the weaknesses and imperfections of the fallen flesh. On an even larger scale, this type pictures the blotting out of the blemishes of sin, and the gradual uplifting of God’s faithful restitution people in the Millennial Kingdom.
(3.) When these Canaanites were slain they became unconscious, and will remain so until their awakening from the sleep of death in the Millennial morning, as our Lord’s Word declares, “All that are in the graves shall hear his [our Lord’s] voice, And shall come forth” (John 5: 28, 29). They will come forth as members of the world in general, with an opportunity to attain eternal life, if obedient. God’s having them put to death was a mercy, for had they lived longer, they would have become more degraded, making their uplift out of sin even more difficult in God’s Kingdom.
From the above considerations, we see that no injustice was done to the Canaanites by the Lord’s decree. They suffered no more than, if as much as, if some pestilence, famine or other common disaster had come upon them. They suffered the death penalty just as the whole human family suffer it. And our confident hope respecting them and all mankind is built upon the fact that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son to redeem all from the curse or sentence of death which came upon all through Father Adam’s disobedience; and that He who redeemed the world is shortly to bless all the families of the earth with a gracious opportunity to come back into harmony with God, back to human perfection.