Killing of the Canaanites: What Does This Say About God?

by Robert Driskell · Print Print · Email Email

There is no denying that God, in the Old Testament, commanded the nation of Israel, His chosen people, to exterminate many nations of people. Atheists use this fact to condemn the character of God. They say they refuse to believe in any being that could be so cruel and heartless. The passages that record God’s command to slaughter the Canaanite cities have even caused many Christians some confusion. I probably will not answer every question in this short article, and even some of the answers I give will not satisfy everyone, but I do hope to present a solid biblical argument for the goodness, holiness, love, and justice of our Creator God.

God is Judge, not man

Who is more qualified than the Creator to decide how long one lives? God gave us life, and He has the right to take it away. Here we encounter the issue of authority. Christians believe that all authority belongs to God (Matthew 28:18, Romans 13:1, Colossians 2:10). The non-believer has no objective authority. Their authority is based on the current societal perception of morality. However, what is good and right or what is bad and wrong changes with society’s opinions.

This was God’s judgment carried out on the people of Canaan using the chosen people of Israel.

This was God’s judgment carried out on the people of Canaan using the chosen people of Israel.

William Lane Craig reminds us God is not subject to our judgment of His actions; He has no moral obligations except to Himself. Humans do not have the right to do whatever we want. Craig writes, “For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God”…God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative” (Reasonable Faith . com; Question and Answer Archive, Question #16).

We must keep in mind, also, that Israel did not decide to exterminate the Canaanites, God did. Israel received direct word from God that they should do this. This was God’s judgment carried out on the people of Canaan using the chosen people of Israel.

Those on whom God pronounced judgment were wicked

What is right and moral is known to all (Romans 1:18-23), but was rejected by the Canaanites to such an extent that they cut pregnant women open and burned their children as sacrifices to their pagan gods (Leviticus 18:21, 24, 25, 27-30). Other ungodly acts routinely engaged in by the Canaanites included adultery, bestiality, and homosexuality (Leviticus 18:20-30). These people were not clueless about their responsibility to God; rather, they openly mocked His lordship and committed horrible acts that even the most hardened of us would deem worthy of judgment. God, as judge, used Israel to carry out His judgment on these people.

God had given the Canaanites opportunity to repent

Rahab spoke of having heard about Israel’s great God and His mighty miracles. This news had terrified the city of Jericho and Rahab had put her faith in God (Joshua 2:10-14). It is reasonable to believe that other people had heard what Rahab (and Jericho) had heard, thus giving them the opportunity to repent and be spared. Thus, they were all without excuse for not worshiping God.

The Canaanites had hundreds of years to either repent and follow God or to reject Him and follow idols and false Gods. For the most part, they chose to rebel against God. These nations were cut off to prevent the corruption of Israel and the rest of the world (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). When a nation starts burning children as a gift to the gods (Leviticus 18:21) and practices sodomy, bestiality and all sorts of loathsome vices (Leviticus 18:25, 27-30), they, “…are storing up wrath for [themselves] on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5 ESV). There had been a patient waiting from Abraham’s time “for the sin of the Amorites…[to reach] its full measure” (Toward Old Testament Ethics, Walter Kaiser, Jr., p, 267,Zondervan, 1983). For the Canaanites, it was time for God’s judgment.

The Canaanites were the only people God commanded the Israelites to destroy

Israel was not allowed to treat other nations as they treated the Canaanite cities. Israel was not commanded to deal with all other nations the same way they dealt with the Canaanites. For example, God commanded the Israelites, in Deuteronomy 20:10-15, to offer conditions of peace rather than extermination to all others. However, the verses that follow, namely verses 16-18, disallowed the same offer to be given to Canaan. In fact, the Hebrew wars with other nations (except Canaan) were designed to be only in self-defense (Toward Old Testament Ethics, Walter Kaiser, Jr., p, 267, Zondervan, 1983).

God always offered the possibility of redemption

Every forecast of prophecy of doom came with an implied ‘unless’ attached to it: “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it” (Jeremiah 18:7-10 ESV). A biblical example of this would be God’s treatment of the city of Nineveh. God had decided to judge Nineveh because they were evil (Jonah 1:2). However, the city repented, turned to God, and God did not judge them. Presumably, the Canaanites could have done the same thing. They could have repented of their evil, followed God, and been spared judgment.

Conclusion: What does this tell us about God?

  1. God considers sin to be a terrible, vile thing. Sometimes we humans view sin too lightly. We think of sin as just little mistakes that God might chuckle at or as something He might shake His head at in disappointment. However, God’s dealings with the Canaanites show us that God takes sin very seriously. It is an affront to His holiness and lordship, and He deals with it justly and with finality. One day we will all stand before God as He judges us.
  2. God is the righteous judge, jury, and executioner. By this, I mean that not only does God have the right to judge us, but also His judgments are never wrong…He never makes a mistake in judgment. It is God who created us, He gives us our every breath, he set the standards by which we are to live, and He has the right to carry out judgment whenever, wherever, and however He sees fit. To attempt to require God to answer to us is like the pot attempting to pass judgment on the potter (Romans 9:20-22).
  3. God loves us and is patient with us. God gave the Canaanites hundreds of years to repent and cease their evil practices. They refused and even increased their depravity. The biblical record is clear; God cares deeply for humanity; He has a special tenderness for the poor and downtrodden. He even said He would spare the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if but ten righteous men could be found there. God spared Nineveh when they repented. God saved the Christian-hunting Saul, changed his name to Paul, and inspired him to write much of the New Testament.
  4. God offered the greatest act of love ever known, when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die on a cross for the sins of humanity. Far from being the murderous tyrant that atheists want us to believe He is, God loves us more than we can imagine. God’s attitude towards us it that He, “…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4 ESV), and He does not want anyone to, “…perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).

No matter what God does, all of His actions are guided by His sovereign will and the fact that He, “…so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).

Read more about God:

22 Christian Quotes and Sayings About God

Resources – The Holy Bible, English Standard Version “Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack Wellman May 6, 2013 at 10:39 am

Great explanation Robert. I believe this is a stumbling block for many, even Christians, but when I read the last 3 chapters of Job, who are we to question God in the first place but you have shown that God is always just and the justifier. Thank you my friend.


Robert May 6, 2013 at 11:39 am

Thank you, Jack,
You’re absolutely right about this topic being a stumbling block (or simply something left uninvestigated) for many Christians. It is also an argument I’ve heard AGAINST Christianity. It goes something like this: “I could never believe in a God who kills people” or something to that effect. There is only one true God mentioned in the Bible, He is a loving and just God, and He did everything the Bible says He did, so there is a reason WHY He did the things He did. I believe that the answers are in the Bible, if we will just take the time to look for them and pray for His guidance as we look. God bless you, brother.
Yours in Christ,


Joe Sewell June 8, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Well, as you wrote in the article, Robert, it’s something people who don’t want to believe in God anyhow use as a justification for their rejection of God. More often than not, they have already rejected Him, because they themselves want to be the sole authority of their life. Isn’t that what Satan wants? Isn’t that what caused Adam and Eve to fall? Nothing has changed.


Tom February 2, 2019 at 10:33 pm

Joe who was this satan because the curses that fell upon so called snake in translation it says wizard plus YAHAWAH said to so called snake cursed above all cattle and upon thy belly shall thy go they say Adam and Eve were not the first people there’s proof in the Bible of that , it all says the other nations are like spit unto YAHAWAH god other than adamaites please explain


Jack Wellman February 3, 2019 at 8:27 am

Hello Tom. Thank you for your comment. There is no Scriptural evidence that any humans existed before God created them. The Bible says Adam and Eve were created first and that’s the truth, so I am not sure where you are getting your information from, but it’s not from the Bible.

Bill Snyder May 6, 2013 at 7:34 pm

I agree with Jack, excellent explanation. It’s my understanding that with the rampant immorality, std’s took off like wild fire through these civilizations.Children & animals both infected. With the Hebrews coming in contact with these diseases, how long would it have taken for a fledgling nation, of what, approximately 3 million, to be decimated?


Robert May 7, 2013 at 7:03 am

Thanks for reading and commenting. I fear that our nation is headed for much heartache because it seems that we are turning into a people that welcome sinfulness and perversion and act as if they are normal. We need to pray for the lost and be the voice of God to a lost and hurting people. God bless you, Bill.
Yours in Christ,


Vince Latorre May 10, 2013 at 9:16 am

You make some great points here, Robert. I think people who have trouble with God’s judgment of the Canaanites don’t think about how He is portrayed in the Old Testament as a God who does not enjoy bringing punishment on people, but deeply desires them to repent. Over and over He is spoken of as a God who is longsuffering and slow to anger. But His justice must be done, because that’s who God is, a just God. And I’ll bet if He didn’t bring judgment on the evil deeds of men in the Old Testament, people would then accuse Him of being too soft and unjust.


Robert May 10, 2013 at 11:50 am

Hi Vince,
Thank you for reading and commenting. You are absolutely right in your comment. Too many times (and often I am guilty of this), we expect God to act like we think He should act instead of how He says He wll act. It is so hard for us NOT to play god. Thank you for your insightful comment.
Yours in Christ,


Sheila May 13, 2013 at 2:39 am

Being a christian, this message is not only important for the non believer, but for us too. Rebelling against God in our own lives, can lead us into the same situation that the Canaanites had. God is not only just, to do whatever it takes to make us see what we are up to, or doing to ourselves that will cause us harm, but He is also faithful to correct us when we need it.
It’s sometimes hard to see how we make excuses for ourselves, but we must understand, that because He loves us, He will find a way to help us stay close to Him, no matter what it takes.


Robert May 13, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Thank you for reading and commenting, Sheila,
You are absolutely right. We Christians must be aware that there are many ‘idols’ and many temptations in our culture today that we can fall prey to. We should be wary to keep close to our Lord and Savior. God bless you.
Yours in Christ,


Sheila May 16, 2013 at 12:46 am

I must admit that reading this, had an impact on my thinking. The Lord has been “refining” my thinking lately, and this really did clear up a many things for me. I never questioned my Lords word, or his commandments, however I had not realized the “excuses” I would sometimes make, or that I didn’t realize I was doing. It was only God’s nudging, and what you wrote, that made me finally realize what I was doing. I know that He sent me here to see what He was trying to show me. I thank you with all my heart, for being a faithful servant, and sharing God’s message with us. Thank you Lord for bringing me here, I now understand.
He is so faithful, and again, thank you for sending His word around the world.


Robert May 16, 2013 at 8:24 am

I am honored, and humbled, to know that I have been used by God to encourage you in your walk of faith. God bless you.
Yours in Christ,


Joseph Turbeville August 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Very well written. One additional thought…. In those days in the land of Canaan were giants (mighty men of old) the descendants (Nephelim) of the fallen angels who desired the daughters of men. Could it be that for this “hybrid” race there was no grace, no mercy as they were not human?


Robert August 21, 2013 at 7:14 am

Thank you for reading and commenting, Joseph,
I have read several differing explanations concerning the “Nephilim” and, and who they were, and I don’t really know which is the better explanation. So, I really have no idea how to answer your question. This may be a question that remains unanswered for me. God bless you, brother.
Yours in Christ,


Joe Sewell August 21, 2013 at 11:55 am

As Robert points out, the precise meaning of “Sons of God” in Genesis 6:2 is up for debate. Some believe they were, indeed, fallen angels. Others think that they were of Seth’s lineage, while the “daughters of man” were descended from Cain. Then there are those who believe that they were aliens from outer space.

No matter who they were, they existed prior to the flood and afterward, and their actions were reprehensible to God, so much so that only Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.


Tate Robinson May 14, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Hi, my name is Tate, I am 14, and used this wonderful site many times before to answer many of my questions. however , this is something I still cant comprehend. The fact that there is nothing to regulate gods actgions is like comparing these events to an atheist who does evil things because he believes there is no afterlife in which he would be punished. God would not do anything evil or sinful ever, even to accomplish a good goal. I am sure you already agree with this.

So that means that what God did was not evil because these people deserved it. If so, then why can we not kill people, even if they are evil? Because god doesn’t have to abide by are laws(even though these laws are equal to moral code and are sinful to break, does these mean god is allowed to sin)? It starts this circular motion where I cant find a real answer. Also, how can the killing of children in he old testament be justified. I have read enough books proving the authenticity of the bible, so for me this is more in search of explanation then reason to believe.

As you mention a lot, it is difficult to establish the tone of a typed message, but pleas do not see this as an attack or an accusation, but rather a person searching to find answer. Thank you, god bless, Tate


Jack Wellman May 14, 2015 at 3:11 pm

Hello Tate and you have a very good question and one that is asked frequently about God seeming to condone killing children. In 1 Samuel 15:2-3, God commanded Saul and the Israelites, “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'” God ordered similar things when the Israelites were invading the promised land (Deuteronomy 2:34; 3:6; 20:16-18). Why would God have the Israelites exterminate an entire group of people, women and children included?

This is honestly a very difficult issue. We do not fully understand why God would command such a thing, but at the same time we trust God that He is just – and recognize that we are incapable of fully understanding a sovereign, infinite, and eternal God. As we look at difficult issues such as this one, we have to remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9; Romans 11:33-36). We have to be willing to trust God and have faith in Him even when we do not understand His ways.

Probably the most difficult part of these commands from God is that God ordered the death of children and infants as well. Why would God order the death of innocent children? (1) Children are not innocent (Psalm 51:5; 58:3). (2) These children would have likely grown up as adherents to the evil religions and practices of their parents. (3) By ending their lives as children, God enabled them to have entrance into Heaven. We strongly believe that all children who die are accepted into Heaven by the grace and mercy of God (2 Samuel 12:22-23; Mark 10:14-15; Matthew 18:2-4).

Again, this answer does not completely deal with all the issues. Our focus should be on trusting God even when we do not understand His ways. We also have to remember that God looks at things from an eternal perspective, and that His ways are higher than our ways. God is just, righteous, holy, loving, merciful, and gracious. How His attributes work together can be a mystery to us – but that does not mean that He is not who the Bible proclaims Him to be.

As for killing babies…abortion has killed over 60 million babies since Roe v. Wade and this is 100 times more than what happened in the Old Testament and that is 33 thousand daily, 131 every hour! Worldwide, multiply that by by about 35! Cold, hard facts about abortions in the U.S: One baby is aborted about every;

26 seconds
137 every hour
3,304 every day
23,196 every week
100,516 every month
1.206,192 every year

Now we can ask why? Mankind has been so seriously grievous and to compare their reasons (mankinds reasons) to God is not the same at all. Make sense Tate?


Jack Manhattan March 12, 2020 at 3:59 pm

So the take away is that abortion is morally fine cuz genocide is morally perfect. Sweet.


Jack Wellman March 12, 2020 at 6:08 pm

Your conclusion is not even rationale my friend. No where is it stated that abortin is morally fine. It is murder and I have said as much, so please re-read this article or the comments and try to make more sense since you are seriously offbase and your comments are quite offensive.


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