Many have claimed that God cannot be a loving and just God while commanding such harsh and violent things to be done in the Old Testament. Some have used the book of Joshua to state their point. God had given the children of Israel commands on numerous occasions to destroy whole nations of people. He would instruct them to kill all the men, women, and the children without showing any mercy. How does the Christian answer such claims?
A study of this sort must begin with a proper understanding of the nature of God. We must realize that God is holy, just, and righteous. He “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4), but He cannot tolerate rebellious sin while maintaining His righteous attributes. God has set forth laws for man to live by since creation. Those who choose to live by His laws will be blessed, while those who rebel must be punished according to His justice. Those people whom God had ordered destroyed in the book of Joshua had gone the way of those living just prior to the world wide flood. They had absolutely rejected God. Paul spoke of how this happens in Romans 1:18-32.
God had promised Abraham the land of Canaan, but He told him that it would be after his people grew in a distant land for four hundred years. God said, “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:13-16). The term “Amorites” was commonly used in the Old Testament to refer to all the tribes in the land of Canaan. God, in his perfect foreknowledge and wisdom, knew that all the people of the land of Canaan would at one point turn completely against Him. They had not yet done that at the time God spoke these words to Abraham, but God foreknew that after the four hundred years their iniquity would be complete. This means by that time the Amorites would be in such a wicked state that God knew none of them would ever repent or stop rebelling. Even though God knew they would become totally wicked, He patiently waited while giving them every opportunity to repent until they came to the point where he knew none of them ever would.
The next question commonly presented is usually regarding God’s command to kill the children of all those people as well. How could God command innocent children to be slaughtered? We must remember that God knew the state of those people’s wickedness as well as how the children would grow up in that environment to be just as wicked, if not more, than their parents. Actually, we see God’s justice and love displayed in his command to kill the children. The children were not yet accountable (Eze. 18:20), and would be spiritually saved for eternity (Matt. 18:3). God knew with His infinite wisdom and foreknowledge how those children would grow up to be, and did what was best for them spiritually. Israel had to be separated from the wickedness of the Amorites to preserve the seed line of the coming Christ. We do not always understand God’s ways, but we must have faith that He always does what is best for all of mankind in regards to their eternal well being. -Ed