Did the Canaanites deserve to be judged or removed from their lands, and who gets to say? In 1966 Israeli psychologist, Georges Tamarin, undertook a study that would involve 1066 children between the ages of eight and fourteen. Dr. Tamarin presented the children with the story of the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6:1-27) and asked: “Do you think Joshua and the Israelites acted rightly or not?” About two-thirds of the children approved. However, when the name Joshua was replaced with General Lin, and Israelites were replaced with a Chinese kingdom existing 3000 years ago, 75 percent of the children disapproved of the slaughter. Do we judge the Nazi’s for attempted genocide, while giving Israel a pass?
First of all, we need to understand that Israel acted on the command of God, according to the Scriptures. God determined that the Canaanites and Jericho were ripe for judgment, and as the Creator of all mankind, he gets to be the Judge. Whether he is righteous in all his judgments is a matter I intend to discuss, but as God and Creator, he gets to have the last word, just as the men appointed to the Supreme Court of the U.S.A. get to have the last word concerning any crime committed. Whether or not their decision is the best one is another matter—but they get to have the last word in determining how our laws are to be interpreted.
One may ask, “Does this mean whoever God claims as his people have the right to do anything in his name, and be considered righteous in doing so?” No! in fact, Israel was often defeated when going into battle without the approval of God. For example, when God punished Israel for disbelief and refused to permit them to enter the Promised Land, and though Israel repented, those who went up to take the Promised Land were defeated (Numbers 14:41-45). Again, because of disobedience and self-reliance, they were defeated when seeking to take the walled city of Ai in Canaan (Joshua 7:1-5). Moreover, taking the Ark of the Covenant with them was of no avail, if the people didn’t act according to the will of God (1Samuel 4:1-11). God’s command for Israel to take the Promised Land from the Canaanites was a unique command. Nevertheless, it was not a permanent statute, showing they would keep the land forever, because God eventually judged his people and had them also removed. Therefore, the responsibility of good or evil in the case of removing the Canaanites from their land does not ultimately fall upon Israel, unless it can be shown there is no God. Rather it is God’s responsibility. He is both Creator and Judge of all mankind, and for better or worse he is responsible for what happened to the Canaanites.
Some argue that God is intolerant in saying he would not permit any other gods in his presence (Exodus 20:3). In other words the Mosaic Law demonstrates a denial of religious freedom. Therefore, the Canaanites were removed from the land. This accusation doesn’t present the whole story. First of all, when God judges the nations he does so because of their wicked behavior, not simply because they don’t worship him. If worshiping the true God were the only criteria, then only Israel would exist of all the nations. The other nations would have to submit or be destroyed. Not only doesn’t this make sense, it was never enforced throughout Biblical history. Amos, chapters 1 & 2, shows God judges the nations for the evil they do to people. Not one nation, including Judah and Israel, was judged for disbelief in the God of the Bible or for not worshiping him. Rather, they were judged for the evil they did to one another.
As for religious freedom, this is a modern point of view. In America the state is seen as granting religious freedom, not only so but deciding it is also appropriate to be free from religion. This has created a modern dilemma, because religious freedom is often curtailed in the name of freedom from religion. For example, a public school teacher cannot even be seen reading his or her Bible on school grounds, even if on break. Nevertheless, as it pertains to Israel, God entered into a covenant with his people, and this covenant was likened to a marriage covenant (Jeremiah 31:32). If Israel committed herself to be faithful to the Lord, their God, how could this be done in the midst of a brothel? If the fertility cults were permitted to remain in Israel, it would have been similar to permitting houses of prostitution to legally exist in any and every neighborhood in America. People will do what they see being done every day. We are imitators (cf. Genesis 1:26-27) of what we see. Common sense should tell anyone that monotheism and polytheism cannot peacefully coexist under the same laws.
 As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.