The Extermination of the Canaanites
Joshua 10:40
So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings…

So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded. The attributes of God are the foundation of religion. From the relation in which we stand to Him as His creatures some regards are due to Him; but this relationship of inferiority could not of itself suffice to demand that entire devotedness to His services, that complete surrender of our affection which we denominate religion. God's requirement (as stated in Deuteronomy 10:12) can only be justified by reference to the perfections of His character. If there be the least flaw, implicit trust cannot be expected of us. Herein all heathen systems of religion are defective, presenting to us a deity whom we cannot worship, a creature maimed, liable to the same passions as ourselves. The Christian religion bears traces of its Divine origin in the grandeur of its conceptions concerning the character of God. There is a height that dwarfs into littleness the puny gods invented by man; there is a many sidedness of view which could not have been the product of imagination. Just and holy, merciful and gracious, all knowing and Almighty, the Creator and Sustainer, a Friend and Judge, our Father and King, such He is declared to be. Hence it is that those objections are felt to be most serious which are urged, with any show of reason, against the reality of God's perfections. Especially when His benevolence is challenged do we fear lest the dark shadow becloud the skies and chill our hearts. Now, in the text there is an account of a sweeping destruction executed on the south of Canaan by command of God. No quarter was given. So dreadful the desolation that some have called it cruelty. And though it is not incumbent on us to justify all the ways of God, yet as some are led from passages like the present to entertain hard thoughts of God, it may be well for once to look the implied objection calmly in the face. A command from God may render that action lawful and right, which done with.. out His authority would be deserving of reprobation. He is the Lord and owner of life. He gave, and it is His to take away. He commits no more injustice than when a parent redemands from his children the goods of which they are making an improper use. The text is therefore no excuse for the unauthorized seizure of the land of one nation by another, or for those violent acts for which no direct behest of God can be alleged. These were single detached commands against particular foes. There was no injunction "to cultivate the principles of treachery or cruelty;" "none of these precepts are contrary to immutable morality "(Bp. Butler). When an army was led blindly into Samaria the king said, "Shall I smite them?" "No," answered the prophet Elisha in effect (2 Kings 6:21, 22). On another occasion the prophet Elijah had rebuked King Ahab because he had allowed a king to escape, whom "the Lord had appointed to utter destruction." The reason of the case alters the nature of the action. The extermination of the Canaanites was a punishment for wickedness. See Leviticus 18. "The land is defiled... vomiteth out her inhabitants." The very earth stank with their practices, and yearned to be rid of its unhallowed burden. "Ye shall not walk in the manners... for they committed all these things, therefore I abhorred him." Again, in Deuteronomy 18., "Because of their abominations the Lord doth drive them out from before thee." So also Deuteronomy 9:5. It is to be remembered that the things censured were not merely occasional acts, but abominable customs. Indeed, the odious practices were a part of their religion, incorporated into their most solemn services. So degraded had they become. A considerable period of respite had been granted, but without avail. God had said to Abraham, "The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." When the cup of iniquity was filled to overflowing, then did the righteous fiat issue. During that period warnings of the severest character were given. Sodom and Gomorrah perished in a terrible manner, and later the kings of Og and Sihon had fallen. Still no repentance. It is useless to say that the warnings were not sufficiently distinct. We see the same indifference today. Men destroy their health by sinful habits, grow worse and worse. Do they need a Divine hand on their shoulder or an actual voice in their ear to warn them? The warning is plain, if only they will attend to it. But no I and the fearful end arrives. The method of punishment adopted was one of which the nations of Palestine would not complain, since it was in keeping with their own conduct. They would find no injustice done them. They would defeat other nations and dispossess them of life and territory if they could. They believed in the tenure or lease of the strong arm. Granted, therefore, that God was executing righteous judgment, the prevailing code removes all charge of cruelty. The judgments as well as the favours of God must be conditioned as to form by men's surroundings. In legislating for the Israelites, whilst we expect and find such purity and such an anticipation of the opinions of modern times as justly entitles the "the law of Moses" to be considered a revelation from God, yet would it have been Quixotic to take no account of prevalent opinions and tendencies, to demand of the Israelites exactly what Christianity now demands after so many centuries of civilisation. There is no change, therefore, in the character of God, no advance in wisdom or love supposed, only such a difference of reputation as is necessitated by a due regard for the condition of those to whom Divine commands are given. We must not, therefore, talk of a contradiction between the spirit of the gospel maxim, "love your enemies," and the precept followed in the text as seeming to say, "act with barbarity." As a rule, God's judgments here do not distinguish degrees of guilt. Famines and pestilences of old times scourged a whole neighbourhood. So in the present instance the sword visited all with punishment. Let us not forget, however, that these judgments are not final. Nothing is determined respecting the ultimate state of those involved in the general destruction. Minute discrimination is for the other world. Is not God's love exemplified even in the stern precept of the text?

1. Love to surrounding nations. This terrible example might prove beneficial The only proof to them of superior power was prowess in war. This alone could bring them to acknowledge that the God of Israel, "he was Lord."

2. To His own people. The danger was lest the Israelites should be contaminated, and after events showed the wisdom of God's command. The people were so easily seduced from their allegiance to Jehovah, And God was impartial. He threatened that if the Israelites did evil, their fate should be similar.

3. To the whole world. Since if the chosen people had utterly lost the truth, the light would have been universally extinguished. Through Israel the promised Messiah was to Come. Woe to the world if the way were blocked up, and no Saviour appeared dawning as the Sun of Righteousness on this benighted earth. Many lessons may be drawn. We learn the authority of God, and His hatred of sin. Ours is no emasculated religion. If God were a being of kindness only, then kindness with sin would mean total misery. "Except we repent, we shall all likewise perish." When we look at His anxiety for the welfare of His people, and the preparation made for the gift of His Son, we are taught "the goodness and severity of God" (Romans 11:22), - A.

Parallel Verses
KJV: So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded.

WEB: So Joshua struck all the land, the hill country, and the South, and the lowland, and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but he utterly destroyed all that breathed, as Yahweh, the God of Israel, commanded.

The Old Camp and the New Foe
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