Those who reject the claims of Christ are going to reject the Bible as a whole, so we are not surprised when we find non-Christians questioning the stories and teachings of Scripture. We are living in a funny age, however, when even many professing Christians want to cast the Bible in a negative light. It is not uncommon to find people who claim to be followers of Christ calling the character of God into question or rejecting the truthfulness of entire portions of Scripture because they believe certain biblical stories and events are contrary to God’s mercy. The story of the invasion of Canaan is one of those stories that prompts many people, including many professing Christians, to question the Scriptures. Charges that “God commanded genocide” are frequently uttered. I responded to that charge and why it is false in the first four parts of this series.
Even after responding to the charge of genocide, however, we still need to consider how the story fits into the broader biblical revelation of the character of God. Truthfully, the command to eradicate the Canaanites troubles many believers who have a high view of Scripture. Part five of this series looked at some things in the story itself that are evidences of God’s mercy even in the midst of judgment, helping us to see that the Lord was merciful even to the Canaanites. In this article, we will consider other aspects of God’s character that should make the story less problematic for those of us who submit to the Bible as God’s Word.
The Problem Is Us
When we encounter something that troubles us in Scripture, we are tempted to think that the problem is with the text or with the God who revealed it. In reality, the problem is us. Since God’s character defines what is good and right, the problem is never God or what He has said; rather, the problem is our misunderstanding or our refusal to believe that what God has said is true.
When it comes to the story of the invasion of Canaan, Dr. Derek Thomas said it best when he remarked that part of the reason so many people find the story ethically difficult is because we have such a low view of sin. To put it another way, we all too often do not really believe we are unholy and that God is holy.
My intent here is not to pick on anyone. I cannot tell you how many times I have failed to understand the depth of my sin and the degree to which God is opposed to it. But the biblical authors, at least when they set the text to writing, did not have the same problem. The prophet Habakkuk, for example, notes that God is so pure that He cannot even look at evil (Hab. 1:3). Habakkuk’s point is not that wickedness is invisible to God but that the Lord cannot tolerate evil in His holy presence. The Lord must destroy evil. He is thoroughly opposed to it.
What We Deserve
Habakkuk was talking not only about the “big sins”—murder, adultery, grand theft, etc.—when he said that God cannot tolerate sin in His presence. Scripture is clear that there is no sin so small that it does not deserve the wrath of God. Romans 1:18–3:20 tells us that the wrath of God is revealed against wickedness, and what does that wickedness include? Yes, it includes “big sins” such as murder and sexual immorality, but it also includes things that most people would not view as such a big deal, such as gossip and minor acts of disobedience that all children commit against their parents. Sin deserves judgment, so God owes sinners only His wrath. In fact, God has imposed death—both physical and spiritual—as the judgment for sin. This was first revealed to Adam (Gen. 2:17), but to this very day all of us know in our heart of hearts that everyone who practices sin actually deserves to die (Rom. 1:32). “The wages of sin is death” (6:23).