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     One of the events that many critics and sceptics use consistently to spotlight God’s seeming cruelty is His verdict against the Canaanites. After Israel’s

deliverance from Egypt, the Israelites were to go to the land of Canaan and clear the land of all Canaanites: men, women and children.

"When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them: (Deuteronomy 7:1-2)

     Consequently, atheists and other critics point to God’s sternness as evidence that the God of the Bible is not at all a God of love, but a God of violence and destruction. But is this really the case? What if God would have dealt with the Canaanites differently? What if He had shown mercy toward them? Would that have made Him more credible as a God?

     What critics do not seem to understand is that God is not just Love—God is also righteousness. God is a Holy Being who demands of individuals and the nations at least a modicum of decent and righteous behaviour. If, on the other hand, they chose the way of extreme degeneracy and refuse to change, though He is very patient, He ultimately will intervene drastically to clean out the terminal cancer.

     To make sense of this topic, let’s, first of all, look at God’s longsuffering attitude toward the Canaanites. In Genesis 15:16 God tells Abraham what would have happened to his descendents centuries later. He explained to him that the Egyptians would have afflicted his progeny for “four hundred years,” and that, finally, they would have achieved deliverance (Genesis 15: 13). Why did Israel have to wait that long? Because, God explains, “…the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (V. 16). Clearly, God waited hundreds of years before the Amorites became degenerate enough to deserve total destruction. But the day came when God could bear their degenerate ways no longer and decreed that their end had come.

     The next critical question we must ask is: “How degenerate and deserving of destruction were they?” God explains in detail why the extirpation of the Canaanites had become essential:  “And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants” (Lev. 18:25).  The people of Canaan had reached such an extreme level of degeneracy that, figuratively, the land itself would vomit them out.  God, furthermore, describes the Canaanite actions as abominable: “For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled” (Lev. 18:27).  Being "abominations," their actions to God had become impossible to bear and beyond redemption.

     In Leviticus chapter 11 we find a clear explanation of the extreme degeneracy of the people of Canaan. God prefaced the chapter with the following injunction: “…After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances” (Lev. 18:3). He then proceeds to enumerate a long list  of possible incestual relationships that God warns Israel to stay away from. Incest, in fact, abounded among the Canaanites. This was one of the revolting trends in that society that Israel was not to emulate.

     But the chapter proceeds to list other more heinous sexual sins that were proliferating among the Canaanites: Sexual activities during a woman’s period (V. 19); Adultery (V. 20); Homosexuality (V. 22); and most revolting of all, bestiality (V. 23).

     But there is more--much more.  The Bible describes the Canaanites as people who passed their children “through the fire” (Deut. 18:10). What does that signify?  In Jeremiah we find that, later on, when Judah adopted Baal worship, they too adopted the ways of worship of the Canaanites: “They have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal”(Jeremiah 19:5). “Passing children through the fire” was, therefore, the abominable practice of offering children as holocausts to the false gods of Canaan. This was a common practice among the Canaanites that totally revolted God and that helped bring about His final verdict.

     God warned Israel to destroy the Canaanites so as not to be influenced by their wicked ways:

Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 18:24-30)

     Unfortunately, Israel did not heed the order given by God and did not “utterly” destroy the Canaanites and settled, instead, beside their remnant for centuries, absorbing their evil ways and finally becoming just like them. This very grave mistake finally led to untold suffering, because of the great curses that befell them, as listed in Deuteronomy 28 and their final expulsion from the land.

     At the beginning of this analysis we asked the question: “What if God had not decreed the destruction of the Canaanites?”  From the start, God’s aim was simply to protect Israel from influences that would have led to their degeneracy. If God had not decreed the destruction of the Canaanites, God would have allowed and approved a snare upon the people of Israel. Israel would have become like the people of the land and would have invited upon themselves the same fate, just as it happened.   Israel did not heed God’s injunction and did embrace the ways of the people of the land. Thus they were severely punished and, like the Canaanites, they, also, were "vomited" out by the land.

     What, therefore, seems to be an example of harshness and cruelty is, in fact, a perfect example of God’s longsuffering, of His hatred for evil and Hid final drastic intervention, if evil becomes obdurate and entrenched.


From, IS GOD CRUEL? -- An In-Depth Analysis of God's Apparent Acts of Cruelty in the Bible


Noah's Flood

Sodom and Gomorrah

Lot's Wife

Destruction of Canaanites

Jephtha's Daughter

David's Punishment for the Census

Israel's Captivity

Removal of Foreign Wives

Ananiah and Sapphira

Paul's Suffering    

The Catastrophes of Last Days


(No Follow up)

Booklet cover: Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Why Does God Allow Suffering?