If you haven’t read the previous parts of this series, I suggest you do so before continuing here.
Again, here are the passages in question:
2 and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. (Deut. 7:2 NKJV)
16 “But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, 17 but you shall utterly destroy them.” (Deut.20:16-17 NKJV)
This answer is similar to the line of defense we looked at last time. God was not committing genocide when He ordered Israel to exterminate the Canaanites, He was executing divine judgment. The logic goes like this: just like God punished the wicked with the Flood in Noah’s day, and Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone in Abraham’s day, “the iniquity of the Amorites” is now complete for the Canaanites. And this response is inferred directly from Scripture.
16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Gen.15:16 NKJV)
In other words, the Amorites (aka “Canaanites”) weren’t quite wicked enough in Abraham’s day, so He had to wait for over 400 years until their sin could come to full fruition, and then God would be justified in eliminating their cancerous existence from the face of the earth.
This sounds like a plausible answer on a surface level, but it also creates several problems. Like with the “Canaanites were particularly evil” defense (Part four), how were they any more wicked than the surrounding nations? And how is this deserving of genocide? Also, if Abraham was in the land when God said this, why didn’t He send Abraham to the Canaanites like He did with Jonah to the Ninevites?
Again, how are the little children and babies deserving of total obliteration? And how does this sit with Ezekiel 18, where God declares that the children are not culpable for sins of their parents?
20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them. (Ezek.18:20 NIV -emphasis added)
Furthermore, in both Noah’s Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah, there was some warning or condition for showing mercy given before judgment. Not so with the Canaanites. There were no terms of surrender or peace afforded to them like there was with the surrounding nations (Deut.20:10-18). Actually, according to the text, such an offering was expressly forbidden (Deut. 7:2).
Once again, it would appear that the Canaanites’ unforgivable sin uniquely worthy of extermination was because of the land they were currently occupying.
It’s not genocide when God does it
I’ve personally heard this particular defense many times. The logic here is that God’s ways are higher than ours and His righteousness is not man’s righteousness. Therefore, He can do something and it’s called good, even if we did the same thing and it would be considered deplorably evil.
But it’s more like a father who gets drunk at night and beats his wife but tells his kids to honor and respect their mother.
Descartes said that God can do the logically impossible. While this is true, it’s not relevant here. We were all made in God’s image and given a conscience to know right from wrong.
14 Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. 15 They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. (Rom.2:14-15 NLT)
If we turned on the evening news and heard about a tribal warlord who ordered the slaughter of an entire village, everyone would outraged. He would be hunted down for his heinous crime as a diabolically evil murderer. There isn’t any circumstance under heaven where butchering little children wouldn’t be considered unspeakably wicked. Why then do we say that it’s something else when God supposedly orders it? What we end doing is calling evil good.
20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isa. 5:20 NKJV)
This defense is a perfect example of pushing the “delete” button in our brain (DLPFC – see part one ), and shrugging our shoulders while we conveniently sweep the whole issue under the theological rug, pretending it’s not really what it says it is.
I have no doubt that this defense is made with good intentions and motivated by a desire to glorify God. But that doesn’t mean the interpretation is sound. As C.S. Lewis said, this is just pious nonsense.
“You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power…meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words ‘God can.’ It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)
Back to my logical syllogism from part one:
PREMISE 1: Genocide is defined as: “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group….the deliberate destruction of an entire race or nation.”
PREMISE 2: God ordered Israel to kill “everything that breathes” in Canaan Land and show no mercy. This is “the deliberate destruction of a race of people.”
THEREFORE: According to a “flat” literal reading of this holy ban, God is a genocidal warlord. (He’s a warlord because He commands His people to commit genocide in an act of war.)
What we’re doing with the “It’s not genocide when God does it” answer is evacuating the the words of their meaning, making them nonsensical. Either God said “let nothing that breathes remain alive,” which makes Him a genocidal warlord, or the order didn’t come from Him. It’s that simple. It’s only not so because the worst kind of confusion is pious confusion! And the only reason we feel the need to propagate such absurdities about something so monstrously repulsive to our sensibilities is because we hold to a Bible inerrancy dogma.
We will continue down this murky trail next time. Hang in there. There’s light at the end of the tunnel (and I promise it’s not a train!)