Did God Command Genocide?



Question: Did God command genocide in the Old Testament?

Answer: Nope. Here's why:

Israel was only instructed to annihilate the Canaanites who remained in Israel

Deuteronomy 7:1-2 says

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations… and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you, and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.

Notice the words, “drives out before you many nations.”

In Exodus 23 he says it this way.
"I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.  And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you."

God explained that he would drive out the people of Canaan. Notice that the verses don’t tell the Israelites to pursue the Canaanites to foreign lands as they run, but instead to focus on those who are in “the land you are entering to possess.” So if there were Canaanites who had already fled due to God's efforts to drive them out, Israel was not to be concerned with them. 

However, against whatever Canaanites remained Israel was to wage a total war of annihilation. To a large extent they did wage that war, but it was confined to the land that they possessed. They couldn’t annihilate Canaanites in lands they didn’t control. 

Leviticus 18 says that the land “vomited out the nation that was before you.”

So God explains it by saying, the land vomited the Canaanites out. So once again this is an image of migration. Therefore, the peoples that the Israelites faced were those who refused to leave, but it is reasonable to think that many people were displaced and became refugees in other surrounding regions. That is always the result of war.  

Notice what else Deuteronomy 7 says, 

“The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once,”

If the Canaanites were allowed to leave the region, and the Israelites were only conquering them little by little, you can imagine that there would be a mass migration over many years. 

So the people of Canaan had plenty of time to flee and save themselves. 

what's more:

Canaanites had the option of becoming part of the nation of Israel. If they denounced their gods, became circumcised, and began to follow the Jewish law, then they could integrate into Jewish society. 

So, no, I would say that the conquest of the land was far from genocide. In fact, the people who were there had a lot of opportunities to save themselves, and it seems that God had done quite a lot to make sure they could save themselves. Those who were killed in the Hebrew conquest were those who were stubborn and didn't believe God's judgment against them. 

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