Why Doesn’t God Spare the Innocent?

24 Jan
Mercy - 1

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Many Biblical critics are repulsed by God’s treatment of the Canaanites, no doubt intensified through their ignorance of context. Nevertheless, they raise questions which need to be answered. It is never prudent to permit accusations questioning God’s integrity or mercy to go unanswered. Such a thing would lend unwarranted credence to those accusations. So, why didn’t God simply spare the innocent among the Canaanites? Why did God command through Moses that no one should be shown any mercy (cf. Deuteronomy 7:2)?[1] This Scripture seems to contradict what other Scriptures claim about God’s love for mankind. How should we address this argument against God’s integrity and love for mankind?

The fact is Abraham, himself, asks a similar question of God in Genesis 18 just after God revealed to him his intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Notice:

And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:23-25 KJV – emphasis mine)

So, the question, itself, isn’t a bad one or even unexpected. He sincerely wondered about why God would do such a thing and was horrified in the face of apparent injustice. The problem is that Abraham had a difficult time seeing the heart of God. He spent his whole sojourn in Canaan learning about God’s integrity and love. Such a thing must be learned; it isn’t self evident, and in learning one needs to exercise both sincerity and patience.

The fact is Sodom and several other cities were destroyed despite Abraham’s intercession for them. Yet, it is astonishing that we find his prayer wasn’t entirely without success. Lot and his daughters were saved alive from God’s judgment upon the cities in the plane (2Peter 2:6-8)! Therefore, God is interested in saving the innocent, but this is often forgotten by folks offering a cursory judgment of his works in the Bible.

The Scriptures tell us that God has no pleasure in destroying the wicked. He says he will refrain from executing his judgment, if repentance is made (Ezekiel 33:1-12). In fact, this is exactly what occurred in the story of Nineveh in the book of Jonah. Jonah preached that God intended to judge them, but the Ninevites repented and God delayed his judgment for another generation (Jonah 1:1-2; 3:3-10), which judgment takes place in the book of Nahum.

Herein, we have a picture of God, “the Judge of the earth”. He judged the cities of the plane in Genesis 19, but would have spared them had there been found ten righteous people among them. Nevertheless, he did spare righteous Lot and his daughters (2Peter 2:7). God’s integrity is borne out in the book of Jonah where he intended to destroy Nineveh but repented of his intentions (Jonah 3:10), because the king of Nineveh and his people repented of their evil and cried out to the Lord for mercy. Why, therefore, didn’t God do the same in the case of the Canaanites? Well, there is every reason to suppose he did exactly that!

First of all, God commanded that Israel displace the Canaanites, drive them out (Numbers 21:25, 31-32; Exodus 23:28). Those who refused to go (viz. the military and the governing families) were to be destroyed without mercy. They were even to be hunted down, if they escaped the battle with their lives (cf. Deuteronomy 7:2, 20). Rahab’s confession in Joshua 2:1, 9-14 shows that not only will God be merciful to those who repent among the Canaanites, but he gave them plenty of warning of his impending judgment. They had 40 years to migrate to other lands or even to repent and stay in the land as Rahab did (cf. Uriah the Hittite who fought in the army of David the king of Israel – 2Samuel 11).[2]

We need to ask how Rahab knew about God’s intention to give Canaan to Israel? Her understanding may indicate that Abraham’s other descendants, Ishmael, Esau, and the sons of Keturah (Abraham’s concubine after the death of Sarah, his wife), may have told the Canaanites of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moreover, Rahab confessed that everyone had heard of God’s judgment upon Egypt and were greatly distressed over the judgment they perceived coming their way. Certainly, many of the wise among the Canaanites would have fled before Israel came into their inheritance. Nevertheless, many others were shown mercy by being driven out of the land with their lives. God is merciful even in his judgments, because he loves mankind.


[1] This study is based upon a much larger study of Glenn Miller’s who hosts the Christian Think Tank website. His study can be found HERE.

[2] The Hittites were among the tribes of Canaan whom Israel was commanded to drive out (Exodus 23:23; Deuteronomy 7:1; 20:17). The fact that he has honorable mention in 2Samuel shows that he repented and embraced the God of Israel as his God.

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Posted by on January 24, 2016 in apologetics


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