16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 20:16-18
Richard Dawkins, in his book, The God Delusion, asserts that the ancient Israeli army engaged in “ethnic cleansing” — those “bloodthirsty massacres” carried out with “xenophobic relish.”
I’ve had family members and friends, both believers and skeptics alike, question these passages and the meaning behind them. After all, how could a God who is all-loving and all-holy command such apparent atrocities?
“In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Genesis 15:16
Remember, that God held His people in Egypt as slaves for 400 years because the iniquity of the inhabitants of the land was not yet complete. As renown philosopher and Christian apologist William Lane Craig says, “These people were not yet so debauched, so reprobate, that God would judge them, so He held His people in abeyance until the iniquity of these Canaanite tribes was so pronounced; they were so vile and so evil that God finally used Israel as His means of bringing judgment upon these tribes. In the same way that God would later use pagan nations like Babylon and Assyria to judge His own people, Israel.”
By attacking Canaan, God brought righteous judgment on the deserving Canaanites. The Canaanites engaged in all kinds of sexual acts including incest, bestiality, ritual prostitution, and infant sacrifice. The Canaanite god Baal promoted false religion and religious prostitution (as well as shrine prostitutes). J. P. Timmons, Mysterious Secrets of the Dark Kingdom p. 114 (1991). Molech was a deity associated mainly with child sacrifices. Canaanite priests used drums to drown out the cries of the children being burned as sacrifices on the altar to Molech.
Also, as Christian theologian Paul Copan writes, “God was able to prepare a land for His people to create the proper religious setting to make sense of a coming Messiah who would bring redemption to Israelites and Gentiles alike.”
Thus, the destruction of the Canaanites was not racially motivated or motivated by a dislike of people from other countries, rather, it was a theological and moral mandate whereas the Creator of the Universe used his divine powers and judgment to further his sanctification of mankind.
As Christian apologist Frank Turek says, “Atheists are always asking God to stop evil and when He does, they complain about it.”