Okay, here is the question:
"A young Christian friend asked me how the God of the Old Testament could kill thousands of people, in order to give his people Canaan, or the promised land. The young lady gave Moses and Joshua as two examples of God instructing them how to kill people...I have to admit that today we would call this genocide."
Yes, this question is often a dilemma for newer Christians, I think this is because of the influence of liberal reasoning which has permeated everywhere. Liberalism sometimes causes some newer and younger Christians to think that God's love means that God is always soft and bendable to human wishes and desires - no matter what. They don't know their Bibles and can only equate "love" with 'softness', giving in, and an appeasing spirit. The influence of liberalism makes it hard for some to understand that biblical love is about Godly character. We need to understand that God's love is all-encompassing love. This sort of divine love encompasses considerations of judgment, justice and holiness too - these things are included in the love of God! So this divine love has regard for eternal principles of righteousness and justice - the 'quick fix' (so beloved by today's society) is anathema to it. Now human love can be a very fine thing but it is innately selfish (quickly proven by the fact that every parent loves their own children far more than anybody else's children), and it is essentially open to compromise.
So if we equate the easy compliance, ready compromise with the "human condition" and the soft, weak-charactered sort of 'love' of modern society with the love of God we are going to have a very poor understanding of what God is all about! Many, indeed, are finding that newer and younger believers are not able to progress in spiritual knowledge at all until they deal with this flawed concept of love. Many such people urgently need to enter into a deep study of the whole Bible.
In order to help this young lady, who has presumably only recently come to Christ, I think I would make 3 points here:
1. One can quote Romans 9:14-22 in order to point out that we are the creation of God who has complete sovereignty and jurisdiction over every created being. In other words, the thing molded in clay really has no right to question the Master Potter. This immediately confronts any concept of divine love which is compromised by liberalism and it illuminates the transcendence of God.
2. Regarding the divine instruction to wipe out the inhabitants of the Promised Land, a lot more is now known about those inhabitants of Canaan. In the days of Abram, the sins of these people had '...not yet reached full measure' See Genesis 15:16, NIV. But they were heading for a major fall. By the time of Moses and Joshua, those people were practising much evil including possibly child sacrifice on a major scale and also pagan temple prostitution. The Lord, in His perfect judgment (which is far above our human judgment) obviously considered it better - in order to avoid ingrained society-wide sinful behaviour passing to more and more generations - to simply wipe them out (actually, as you probably know, in most cases the Israelites did not wholly wipe out those peoples who later became a continual trouble to them). There is a roughly equivalent modern example: none of us can rejoice over the dropping of 2 atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 and the horrible suffering which they caused but Japan refused to surrender when given every chance - and, according to many who have carefully looked at this, those genuinely terrible bombs stopped the war with Japan dragging on another year or two. If that had happened, 3 times as many people would probably have died in that part of the world. Here, then, is an example where terrible - but mercifully swift - destruction probably saved thousands of lives, especially on the Allies side - and don't forget that the Allies were not the aggressors in World War II, rather, they reacted to save the world from the tyranny of the Nazis and of Japanese imperialism.
By the way, the Lord's dealing with the people of Canaan from the days of Abraham (Genesis 15:16), to the days of Moses teaches us a lesson about the patience of God. God may tolerate an especially evil society for a few generations but He will eventually bring them to judgment when their sins reach 'boiling point.' Even so with our modern society!
So God made a choice (which only He can ever make) that those people should be removed from the scene of Canaan in the time of Moses and Joshua, and that He (God) would deal with them individually at the time of the Great Judgment, which leads directly to my third point:
3. Every human being who has ever lived will one day be resurrected at the Great Judgment. Those who did evil simply because of following the influence of an evil society, but who were not inherently evil within themselves will fare far better and receive great justice at the Great Court of Heaven, whereas the incorrigibly evil will face that divine court in trembling and with no confidence at all. Notice Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:21-24; Luke 10:12; Luke 12:48; Romans 2:12-16; and Revelation 20:11-12. By the way, I find Luke 12:48 clearer in the NKJV than in the NIV. (In order to close a theological loophole, some evangelicals insist that all of these people are condemned, it is just that those beaten with 'few stripes' are somehow 'less condemned,' however, this can justly be considered to be a theological nonsense! These Scriptures appear to be far more hopeful about the eternal prospects of these people than some evangelicals would allow).
I hope that these comments will help you to explain to this young lady that God stands far above our human intellect, knowledge and understanding of "love."
Robin A. Brace, 2006.
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