God commands mortal sin? 

In defending the truthfulness of the Bible, Christians often justify the genocide of Jericho with arguments such as...

The defense ...My comments ...

The Canaanites were totally depraved. God destroyed them so they would not corrupt the Israelites.

Just War Theory does not allow for attacking someone merely because they might corrupt you.

Innocent adults were spared (Rahab and her family).

We don't know whether or not there were other innocent adults. We don't know whether all the relatives of Rahab were innocent.

Innocent children will naturally have to bear the consequences of the sins of their parents.

This does not justify murdering them.

God commanded them to execute his sentence of capital punishment on the Canaanites.

God can execute anyone he wishes anytime he wishes without commanding someone to commit a mortal sin on his behalf.

The entire population (except babies and infants) were armed and fighting.

Perhaps so. Perhaps killing armed children is justified in this context.

This is just the way warfare was done back then.

This does not justify committing mortal sin.

Perhaps the women and children had already fled the city.

Why was Rahab still there?

I assume...

My Assessment...

Just War Theory

The ingredients for a just war; and its limits...

  1. War is only for defense; if someone else attacks you. This assumes that all the national borders established in past times are sustainable and just.
  2. The effects of the attacker are severe enough to warrant war. This assumes you are not bothered by an aggressor who slowly whittles away your nation over time.
  3. Can't wholesale wipe out innocents and their cities and property. Once war starts, it is not a free-for-all.
  4. Some include forbidding a preemptive strike when it is known (suspected) the enemy plans an attack.

I am not promoting or supporting the Just War Theory; there are many different variations of it. I'm merely using it for purposes of analysis of the events of Jericho and other events of the Old Testament.

In the Jericho incident, the conditions for a just war would not have been met without God's miraculous intervention. Some facts...

  1. The inhabitants of Jericho did not attack or threaten the Israelites, but they likely would have if the Israelites had attempted to peacefully settle near Jericho.
  2. The Israelites merely walked around Jericho. While this was threatening (since the Canaanites had heard of God's miraculous intervention on Israel's behalf, and since there were so many of them) it did not constitute an actual threat. Israel did not have the means to scale the walls and would have been massacred if they had attempted it.
  3. When the walls fell, both sides were in danger and had no choice but to fight or flee.
  4. Genocide is never acceptable.

Capital Punishment...

One defense of the actions of the Israelites is that they were executing the sentence of capital punishment on God's behalf. Even so, I see no possible justification for the wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants of Jericho. If God wanted to annihilate Jericho, he should have sent an angel to do it.

The Biblical Account...

The massacre of Jericho described in the biblical book of Joshua was clearly genocide...

And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass [donkey], with the edge of the sword. (Joshua 6:21)

But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth. (Deuteronomy 20:16)

Everyone was killed, including innocent women and children. I suppose it is possible that the women and children had already left the city, but why was Rahab still there?

Christian Justifications...

Some Christians justify the actions of the Israelites in performing genocide against the Canaanites based on what they claim is a literal interpretation of the Bible. But the moral law is very clear; genocide is never just. A few claims...

  1. That God was using the Israelites to punish nations for wickedness. Certainly the Canaanites were guilty of wrongdoing. But this does not justify genocide by the Israelites.
  2. That God was protecting Israel from the corrupting influences of its soon-to-be neighbors. But it is unjust to exterminate a nation so that they won't corrupt you. Genocide is never justifiable.
  3. This genocide served as a warning to other nations. But just because genocide has this benefit doesn't make it justified.
  4. God preserved the righteous; those who accepted God. But just because a few innocent people are spared doesn't make it okay to perform genocide on the rest.
  5. Children receive the punishments of their parents; some even say that the children were guilty because the culture at large was wicked. The small children certainly were not guilty of any crimes, so executing them was unjust. Perhaps the women and children had previously evacuated (but why was Rahab still there?)
  6. It was God's will for the Israelites to take possession of the land. It is true that God was giving them the land. But it is not true that God ordered them to perform genocide.

My Assessment...

God didn't command the Israelites to perform genocide against Jericho: Moses and Joshua did...

The city [Jericho] shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live. (Joshua 6:17)

These are Joshua's words, not God's. Notice carefully that it never says, "thus says the Lord God".

But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee: That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)

These are Moses' words, not God's. Notice carefully that it never says, "thus says the Lord God".

He [Jesus] saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. (Matthew 19:8)

Not everything that Moses taught and commanded the Israelites was from the Lord. And Joshua merely repeated what Moses said.

And the LORD spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan; Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places: And ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein: for I have given you the land to possess it. (Numbers 33:50-53)

Note that God did not command Moses to commit genocide on the people of Jericho, merely to possess the land. They could have done this in other ways...

But God provoked them into a war with Jericho by commanding them to get near the walls and then knocking down the walls, thereby initiating a just war.

God worked out a scheme in which the Israelites were justified in attacking the inhabitants of Jericho...

The LORD said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour. . . . When they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him. (Joshua 6:2,5)

Since the Israelites were near the city when the walls fell, they would be attacked by the inhabitants of Jericho if they didn't fight. A clever way for God to initiate a war without commanding the Israelites to attack them unprovoked.

Note that God did not command them to perform genocide.

God sometimes blesses the decisions of religious leaders even when they are wrong. There are plenty of examples in the Bible (e.g., David). And there are plenty of examples in church history (even some popes and bishops).

God gave the land to the Israelites starting with Abraham. But the Israelites gave up the rights to the land by abandoning it for so long starting with Joseph's reign in Egypt. They should have returned to the land much sooner, but they got too comfortable in Egypt. They should have remembered God's command to their ancestors that they were to inhabit the land. In spite of this, God was determined to give them the land so he found a way (requiring miracles).

God's Judgment...

When God seems to do bad things: As judgment for people's wickedness God allows demons access to this world — all they know how to do is steal, kill, and destroy. Because the bad thing happens, it can be said that God does it since he does everything (nothing is outside his will, except evil).

Perhaps the destroying angels in the book of Revelation and elsewhere are not good angels at all.

My Musings...

I killed a mosquito and carefully took a moth outside. The mosquito was the enemy, possibly could transmit a deadly disease; the moth just a nuisance, eating fabric. Surely if destroying enemies is right for us, it's right for God. Also, we must kill to eat; certainly carnivores must.

Did Jesus kill fish to eat? If not, he ate fish that had once been living.

Whether God performs genocide on peoples that corrupt his covenant people? Why would he do this yet allow corruption from within, from the spiritual leaders who bring in spiritually toxic teachings and practices?