Question: How are we to make sense out of the apparent “genocide” passages in the OT where God commands the killing of men, women, children and even infants?
The term “genocide” refers to “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.” Extermination is the goal of genocide. This is not, however, the goal given to the Hebrews by God in the Bible. Here is God’s instruction to Moses for claiming the Promised Land:
Deut. 7:1-2 When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.
The land of Canaan was home to the seven people groups listed above. God had promised this piece of real estate to Abraham and his descendants over 400 years earlier. At that time Canaan was populated by nomads, sheikdoms and fortified towns, such as Sodom and Gomorrah had been. The word translated “nations” (Dt. 7:1) describes clusters of people who belonged to a common tribal family line, and who settled in a loosely defined area. The Jebusites, for example, settled in the mountain region in the vicinity of what would later be known as Jerusalem.
All of these tribal groups developed into their settlements and fortified cities after the land had been promised to Abraham, and during the 400 years of Hebrew captivity in Egypt. Even the Hittite Empire, the largest of the seven “nations”, came into existence around the time of Abraham’s death (1821 B.C.), having spread south from modern day Turkey into Canaan.
The Lord, however, had set aside this land for the Hebrew people, the descendants of Abraham.
Ps. 24:1 The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it…
From the beginning, God’s plan for the human race was to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28); but the Promised Land He reserved for His own people as their inheritance (Dt. 4:37-38). Moses was instructed to “drive out” the people groups who had settled there (Dt. 7:1). Those who resisted were to be utterly destroyed. On this one small plot of land God would establish for Himself the kingdom over which He would rule, establishing His throne through His appointed human line. God’s purpose is not the elimination of the nations but the unity of nations one day under His lordship as earth’s rightful King.
Ps. 86:9 All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name.
It was for this purpose—the establishment of the Kingdom of God on this earth—that the Promised Land was set apart. One day…
Rev. 11:15 “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
Resistance is futile…God’s love is forever!