The Genocide Question

Joshua 11-12

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
November 2019

We have been studying the book of Joshua chapter by chapter and we come to some chapters today that don’t seem that interesting, relevant or practical. They read a little like dry military history. They contain a list of places no one knows and a list of kings that no one knows anything about.  We are going to look at what is in these chapters.  We will see that these chapters are very important.

These chapters contain Joshua’s final battle and they raise some very deep questions. They raise some deep ethical questions to think about.  What is all of this bloodshed and war all about?  Why all of the slaughter and death? They raise some questions about God.  Does God sanction genocide?

Does God harden people’ hearts? He hardened the hearts of some Canaanites in this chapter. The God that most Christians worship would never do this. He is a God of love. He would never harden anyone. What is that all about? We will look at some of these questions. We will also look at practical applications. How do these chapters apply to us?

Joshua is divided into three parts. Do you know the three parts of the Book of Joshua? In the first part, the Israelites ENTER the land (Joshua 1-5). In the second part, they TAKE the land (Joshua 6-12). In the third part, they DIVIDE up the land (Joshua 13-22).

They do not enter the land until Joshua 4 and then the men get circumcised and they all celebrate the Passover. They began taking possession of the land when the wall of Jericho fell down in Joshua 6.

By the end of Joshua 12, the whole land is conquered. The nation is theirs. They conquered everything and the last sentence of Joshua 11 says, “Then the land had rest from war” (Joshua 11:23 NIV). This was Joshua’s the last battle.   It was his final battle and the result of the battle was peace after years of fighting.

So Joshua took this entire land: the hill country, all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, 17 from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and put them to death… So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses (Joshua 11:16-17, 23 NIV)

The enemy posed a real challenge to the Israelites.  They were TALLER than they were. Joshua 11 describes the defeat of the Giants, which sounds like a football team. They defeated the “Anakim” (ESV) or “Anakites” (NIV) in Joshua 11:21-22. Forty years earlier, this group TERRIFIED most of the spies (Numbers 13:28-33). They were known for being tall (Deuteronomy 2:10).

They were a race of giants who lived in the land of Canaan. The spies seemed like grasshoppers compared to them. Joshua was not afraid of them. He went in and wiped them out. He did not just kill some of them. He killed all of them.

At that time Joshua went and destroyed the Anakites from the hill country: from Hebron, Debir and Anab, from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua totally destroyed them and their towns. 22 No Anakites were left in Israelite territory (Joshua 11:21 NIV)

They were BIGGER than they were. Five nations from the north banded together to fight Israel. In the last chapter, five nations came against Israel’s ally, the Gibeonites. Now five nations are coming against the Israelites. It was a coalition led by a man named Jabin (Joshua 11:10).

When Jabin king of Hazor heard of this, he sent word to Jobab king of Madon, to the kings of Shimron and Akshaph, 2 and to the northern kings who were in the mountains, in the Arabah south of Kinnereth, in the western foothills and in Naphoth Dor on the west; 3 to the Canaanites in the east and west; to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites and Jebusites in the hill country; and to the Hivites below Hermon in the region of Mizpah. 4 They came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots—a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. 5 All these kings joined forces and made camp together at the Waters of Merom to fight against Israel. (Joshua 11:1-5 NIV)

Jabin was the King of Hazor, one of the main Canaanite cities in the North. It was a town in Judah in located in Upper Galilee. Some say that this was the home of Judas Iscariot. He may have been from Hazor. Hazor is called Kerioth Hezron in Joshua 15:25. Iscariot probably means “a man of Kerioth” in another language (Greek).

The Israelites were outnumbered. The Canaanites had more troops. This was five nations against one. Israel was the underdog. Josephus says, “the number of the whole army was three hundred thousand armed footmen, and ten thousand horsemen, and twenty thousand chariots.” [1]

They came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots—a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. 5 All these kings joined forces and made camp together at the Waters of Merom to fight against Israel. (Joshua 11:4-5 NIV)

They were not only bigger and taller, they were STRONGER. They had better weapons to fight with. They had horses and chariots. They had what we would call today tanks. They had the technological advantage. They had more troops and better weapons, but they still lost. In fact, the city of Hazor was burned with fire (Joshua 11:13).

They did not win those wars overnight. Joshua 11:18 says, “Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time” (NIV). It took several years. It took some time. Scholars estimate that it takes five to seven years for them to do this.

Joshua did not wait until they attacked him. He went on the offensive. He did not wait around to get attacked. When he found out that an enemy was planning on attacking him, he attacked them first.

He won because God was with them. The Israelites had God. If you had God, it didn’t matter if the other side had better weapons and more troops and were taller than they were. God gave them into the hand of Israel (Joshua 11:8 NIV).  In fact, the whole city is burned to the ground (Joshua 11:11, 13).

Today, I want to look at three objections that unbelievers have about the conquest of Canaan. We have looked at some of them before, but I want to look at them again. There are three common objections that many people have to the Book of Joshua.

Three Objections to the Conquest of Canaan

1. The Israelites stole land in the conquest of Canaan

The Canaanites were there first. They had been there for at least four or five hundred years, perhaps longer. They were the indigenous people. The Israelites were the usurpers. They were the foreign invaders to their land.

They are stealing land. Nations can do that. They steal land from other nations. We call it imperialism. Critics would say that it is no different that what the white man did in the US when it took land away from the Native Americans who were living in North America.

In the Israeli-Palestinian debate, many use this same argument today. They say that the Palestinians were there first, and they might be right. Scientists have recently discovered through DNA that some people in Lebanon are descendants of the Canaanites. [2]

Palestinians today are a diverse group, but at least some Muslims in the Middle East had ancestors who were in the land of Israel first. Is this argument valid? How would you answer it?

This one is very easy to answer. Who was there first does not matter. It is completely irrelevant. God was the one who created the earth. He owns it. He owns every part of it. It is His. It is His creation. He can do what He wants with it. He gets to decide because He is the Creator.

God created the earth and told the Jews that they could have the Promise Land. He could have given them land in any part of the earth. He could have given them land in China or the US. He gave them land in the Middle East. It doesn’t matter if people are living there, He still owns it and He can do what he wants with it.

The earth is the Lord’s, and EVERYTHING in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. (Psalm 24:1-2 NIV)

In Joshua 11, the Jews are receiving their INHERITANCE from God. This is the first time we see the word “inheritance” in the book, and it is used about forty-three times. This is NOT about IMPERIALISM. It is about INHERITANCE. So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. (Joshua 11:23 NIV)

2. The conquest of Canaan was just a Jewish jihad

Is this Joshua’s jihad? Is this Joshua’s holy war? How is what Joshua did here any different from what ISIS does? How is it any different from the savages in the Middle East who behead people? Moses killed only two kings. Joshua killed thirty-one. Read Joshua 12.

Some would say that the most violent prophet in history is not Muhammad but Joshua. The Jews call him a prophet. He was not only a military leader. He was a writer of Scripture. In fact, they put the Book of Joshua in the group of books called “The Prophets.” How would you answer this objection?

It is completely different. This is NOT a jihad in the name of God. It is NOT people fighting for God. This is God fighting for people. This conquest was not Joshua’s idea. It was not the idea of the Israelites. God told them to do this. God is not telling Muslims in the Middle East to kill anyone. They do not have divine authorization to do anything.

Muslim terrorists murder innocent people in cold blood. They think they are doing a good deed and will be rewarded. They are just committing cold blooded murder. God never told them to kill anyone. In fact, He told them NOT to do this. God’s Word prohibits murder. It is a violation of the Sixth Commandment.

3. The conquest of Canaan makes God a monster

Saying God authorized this, only raises one more question. Doesn’t this make God unjust.  God does three things here that raise all kinds of questions.  One, God authorizes, not only killing but mass killing.

He seems to sanction, not just murder but mass murder, divinely sanctioned mass-murder.  Entire groups of people are killed violently at the command of God.  Innocent women and children are massacred with the sword.  They are wiped out.

Critics say that the Bible not only contains violence; it actually sanctions violence.  It sanctions ethnic cleansing.  It sanctions genocide. How could a God of love do this?  How could He order the massacre of the Canaanites? How could He order the slaughter of thousands?

The Israelites went into a town and killed everybody, men, women and innocent children.  They did not just conquer them.  They killed them and they killed them all and told the Israelites to take the spoils.

They left “NO survivors” (Joshua 11:8).  They killed EVERYTHING that breathed (Joshua 11:11, 14, 21).  The Canaanites were TOTALLY DESTROYED (Joshua 11:11).

They were killed WITHOUT MERCY (Joshua 11:20).  That sounds a little barbaric, killed without mercy.

To critics, this sounds like mass murder.  It sounds like genocide.  It sounds like war crimes.  How could a loving God do this?

How could He order the massacre of the Canaanites? How could He order the slaughter of thousands? The Israelites went into a town and killed everybody, men, women and innocent children. They did not just conquer them. They killed them.

Two, these Canaanite killings by divine authorization were WITHOUT MERCY (Joshua 11:20). That sounds a little barbaric, killed without mercy.  How could a loving God do this? Where is the mercy of God? Where is the love of God?

Three, God not only does God wipe everyone out and kill everyone but He HARDENS their hearts.  How could a good God harden people’s hearts? That doesn’t sound fair. It doesn’t sound right. God tells us in Scripture not to harden our hearts and here God hardens the hearts of these Canaanites. If God is a God of mercy, where is mercy in Joshua 11? Joshua 11 seems to say the exact opposite. There is NO mercy in this chapter.

For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them WITHOUT MERCY, as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Joshua 11:20 NIV).  What God does in this passage may be a challenge for some people.  What would you say?  How do you answer this?

Answering the Skeptics

1) God has the right to take human life at any time.

It is not murder for God to take life.  He created life and can take it at any time.  God can give land to anyone because He is the Creator and He can take human life at any time because He is the Creator.  God sent a worldwide flood that wiped everyone out.  This is not genocide but capital punishment. He is the Creator.  He judges people because of sin.  It has nothing to do with race or skin color.  This is not genocide.  It is judgment.

2) God has the right to authorize people to act on His behalf

Sometimes, God judges people directly (like the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah). He sends fire or water down from heaven and wipes people out in divine judgment.

Sometimes, He uses people who act as instruments of divine judgment. He uses the state the execute murderers.  When the state executes a mass murderer, it is not committing murder.  It is acting on God’s behalf as his official representative.

3) God is a God of mercy, as well as judgment

There is no mercy in this chapter (the critics are right), but God is still a God of mercy.  The same God who judged the Canaanites rather harshly gave them time to repent.  He gave them a LONG time to repent.  He gave them over four hundred years.  God is still a God of mercy. That is where free will comes in.  This judgment was not inevitable.

The Canaanites could have repented long ago, so you don’t need to feel sorry for them.  Rahab repented and so could they, but they chose not to do so.  In fact, they only got worse and worse as time went on.  There is There is no mercy or grace in the fires of hell but God is still a God of mercy and grace.  When people reject His mercy and grace, they suffer the consequences.

4) God never causes anyone to sin.

He does not force anyone to sin or even tempt anyone to sin. He does not take soft hearts of people who love God and want to serve Him and make them hard.  He does not take the heart of a godly man and make him ungodly.  These Canaanites already had hard hearts.  Child sacrifice was part of their religion.  They had hard hearts for hundreds of years and got progressively worse as time went on.

5) God never violates human free will

God does not force people to do anything against their will.  God did not force people to crucify Jesus in order to fulfill the plan of God.  They did what they wanted to do.  He did not force Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery to get him to Egypt so he could save the whole family.

These Canaanites hated the Israelites.  They wanted to attack them but attacking them led to their own destruction.  God hardened their hearts by giving them over to their own sin to do what they want to do (cf. Romans 1:24-27).  God did not harden their hearts not by forcing them to do anything against their will.  He did not harden their hearts by forcing them to do anything that they did not want to do.

 Applications for Today

These chapters are all about killing and war but that is not the message for us. What is the application for us from these two chapters?

1. If God makes a promise, He keeps it

Sometimes we have to wait for the promises. We do not always get them right away. God promised Abraham a son but he had to wait over twenty years for that promise to be fulfilled. He promised his descendants land and they had to wait hundreds of years for that promise to be fulfilled. God keeps His promises. We will see this later on in the book.

2. If God is with us, we do not have to fear

God told Joshua not to be afraid. The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, because BY THIS TIME TOMORROW I will hand ALL of them, SLAIN, over to Israel. (Joshua 11:6 NIV)

This was the fourth time that God told Joshua not to be afraid (Joshua 1:9; 8:1; 10:8; 11:6). You are going to fight a war. There are more of them and they had greater weapons but don’t be afraid. He had a word from God that he was going to win the battle.

When we are doing what God has called us to do, when we are obedient to God, like Joshua, we do not have to be afraid either. God is with us. Jesus promised to be with us to the end of the age. He will never leave or forsake us.

3. If we obey God, we can expect to face some problems

Even though God gave them the land and told them that it was theirs, they still had to conquer it. God may give you a job. He may open some doors for you, but you still have to apply for it. They had some work to do as well. God gave them the land, but they still had to take possession of it. They still had some giants to fight.

God may have given them the land but there were people living in it at the time. They had to fight battles. They had to win wars and, to win wars, they had to use some military strategy.

4. If we do what God tells us to do, we will be successful

Joshua 11 ends with Joshua’s success. He takes the entire land (Joshua 11:23). Joshua was successful because He did exactly what God told him to do. He followed the divine battle plan. He didn’t come up with his own plan or try to do something different. He didn’t achieve success immediately. It took years. He had to work hard. If we are obedient to God, we will be successful, if we do everything God tells us to do in his Word.

[1] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 5, 1.18 (

[2] See and

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *