Justin Taylor of Between Two Worlds has written a powerful and authoritative article for New Attitudes on the the justice of God and the genocide of the Canaanites in the Old Testament. I could not agree more with his seven points. In particular, I think everyone needs to grasp this point, number seven:
7. The destruction of the Canaanites is a picture of the final judgment.
At the end of the age, Christ will come to judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 4:5), expelling them from the land (the whole earth). That judgment will be just, and it will be complete. That is the day â€œthe Lord Jesus [will be] revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thess. 1:8â€“9). Amazingly enough, Paul asks the Corinthians something they seem to have forgotten, if they once knew it: â€œDo you not know that the saints will judge the world? (1 Cor. 6:2).
How does this work? What will it look like? I really donâ€™t know. But Godâ€™s Word tells us that Godâ€™s people will be part of Godâ€™s judgment against Godâ€™s enemies. In that way, Godâ€™s command of the Israelites to carry out his moral judgment against the Canaanites becomes a foreshadowingâ€”a preview, if you willâ€”of the final judgment.
Read in this light, the terrible destruction recorded on the pages of Joshua in Godâ€™s Holy Word become not a â€œproblem to solve,â€ but a wake-up call to all of usâ€”to remain â€œpure and undefiled before Godâ€ (James 1:27), seeking him and his ways, and to faithfully share the gospel with our unbelieving neighbors and the unreached nations. Like Job, we must ultimately refrain from calling Godâ€™s goodness and justice into question, putting a hand over our mouth (Job 40:4) and marveling instead at the richness and the mystery of Godâ€™s great inscrutable mercy (Eph. 2:4). At the end of the day we will join Moses and the Lamb in singing this song of praise:
â€œGreat and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.â€ (Rev. 15:3-4)