Deuteronomy 7:1-4 (NIV)
1 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— 2 and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons.
Deuteronomy 20:16-17 (NIV)
16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.
Joshua 10:39 (NIV)
39 They took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors. They did to Debir and its king as they had done to Libnah and its king and to Hebron.
Some biblical passages either state that God commanded the destroying of women and children or imply God’s approval of such actions by the Israelites at war with other nations. See a list of OT passages here. Are there plausible explanations for how a good God could make such statements without claiming that God doesn’t have to live by the same morals as human beings? Who doesn’t know intentionally killing children even in times of war is immoral, though war is often “kill or be killed” and innocent lives cannot always be spared.
Also, we don’t have to necessarily suggest that imperfect biblical writers put words in God’s mouth at times. God’s love has never been controlling to disallow such views to creep in Scriptures, but Jesus when leaving this earth didn’t promise to leave a Bible but His spirit to discern what God is really like (Jn. 14:16). Only terrorists rationalize that a loving God actually commands killing others for personal beliefs held.
- Deuteronomy 7:1 speaks of driving out the enemy if war is necessary, but verse two speaks of destroying the enemy totally. If total destruction is the only option, you don’t write about driving out the enemy or advising not to make treaties or intermarry with a dead enemy (v.3). Deuteronomy 7:1-3 illustrates how extermination passages (i.e. Deut. 20:16-17) are to be understood within the context of initially driving out the enemy.
- Joshua speaks of utter destruction in Debir and returning to camp (10:39-43), yet the writer practically in the same breathe speaks of survivors from Debir being destroyed (11: 21). The writers weren’t mindless enough to contradict themselves as they sought to protect God’s integrity. The writers didn’t intend certain passages to be taken literally or unconditionally.
- It was common in non-biblical literatures in OT times to use warfare rhetoric. Exaggerated language is often used to induce fear and inspire victory. A US leader may say they will utterly destroy ISIS and anything having to do with ISIS. This doesn’t mean women and children will not be spared when possible. Exaggerated language is even used for God. God is said to have completely destroyed Judah at the hands of the Babylonians, yet this didn’t happen (Jer. 25:9).
- Moses ordered the Canaanites to be annihilated (Deut. 13:14-15), yet Joshua reports of many survivors. Deuteronomy and Joshua are clearly a literary unit as the last and first chapters speak of the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Joshua is said to have obeyed Moses’ commands (11:15), but many survivors were left. Moses didn’t mean literally to destroy all living beings if certain conditions existed.
- Many statements in literature are meant to be elliptical in nature. We write and speak all the time about certain subjects without also stating exceptions. God told Jonah to tell the Ninevites they will be overthrown in 40 days. Does Jonah not really speak for God or is God a liar because in fact Nineveh was spared? It is not stated but assumed if Nineveh changes from their evil ways God will forgive them. I may write to parents about the importance of always disciplining without mentioning in the same paragraph that sometimes discipline isn’t necessary when a child expresses extreme remorse.
It is reasonable to assume the Bible doesn’t suggest God approved of genocide or other moral atrocities. God always prefers peaceful alternatives than violence. God never intended for women and children fleeing to be hunted down and killed. There are times when certain nations cannot live together in peace. Many terrorists and those they have radicalized are not willing to live together with differences. Despite the loss of innocent lives, future generations may look back on the 21st century and accept nations invading lands inhabited by evildoers who seek power only to eventually destroy their own and people of other countries. God never condoned torture, rape, and beheading of the enemy. God never initiated war simply because other nations held different beliefs or refused to believe in the God of Israel. God will never promise a lustful afterlife at the expense of women.
Paul Copan and Mathew Flannagan in Did God Really Command Genocide?
Heath A Thomas, Jeremy Evans, Paul Copan in Holy War In The Bible