**Note: This was a short essay I wrote for school, seeking to answer the question 'How should Christians view God's command to annihilate the Canaanites?'**
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. – Deuteronomy 7:9-10
God’s command to Israelites to annihilate the Canaanites is often misrepresented and as a result misunderstood. However, the Bible is clear on the motivation for the declaration of war. It has nothing to do with racism, nationalism, or prejudice. Rather, the annihilation of the Canaanites was “Yahweh’s judgment against [their] sustained wickedness, and rebellion,” (DeRouchie, pg 108). I will draw heavily upon Scripture throughout this essay, as understanding the text, as a whole, is our best hope for understanding the command to annihilate the Canaanites.
Judgment not prejudice
Israel’s war to annihilate the Canaanites was a war of judgment. Based not upon Israel’s righteousness, but “because of the wickedness of these nations, Yahweh [drove] them out,” (Deut 9:5). God further instructs the Israelites “that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people,” (Deut 9:6). Clearly God’s commands to Israel were not elitism, but judgment on God’s enemies, for God repays those who hate Him, by destroying them. Furthermore, in Moses’ farewell sermon he warned the Israelites that if they ceased from following God, that God would judge them using other nations.
Removing the snare of false gods
A constant theme with Israel throughout the Old Testament is their turning aside to serve the false gods of the surrounding nations. God in His infinite wisdom warned the Israelites of this danger years before they would actually take the land. In Exodus 23:31-33 God informs the Israelites “I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”
New Testament Insights
God is still in the business of rooting out wickedness. God’s hate of sin is not culturally bound, but rather transcends all peoples and time, no clearer do we see this than the New Testament. Consider 1 John 3:8 which reveals that “[the] reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth was to undo all that Satan had done. However, not until we first believe that we are sinners and deserving of the wrath of God, will the cross be glorious to us. Furthermore, if we do not see sin—of all kinds, particularly obstinate rebellion—as God views it, than we will wrongly interpret Israel’s duty to annihilate the Canaanites and Jesus’ death on the cross.
God’s command to the Israelites to annihilate the Canaanites was an act of judgment upon the Canaanites for their wickedness. This command was also a preventative measure, to keep the Israelites from forsaking God and serving the false gods of the lands. As Christians regardless if we completely understand the reasoning—judgment and prevention—for God’s commands to destroy the Canaanites, we need to trust His supreme wisdom and sovereign plan.