Question: I was reading today’s Apples of Gold, and it was talking about the difference between the Israelites killing the inhabitants of Canaan versus those who believe that their “god” tells them to do the same. Here’s my question: a quote from the entry is, “...the Lord gave the inhabitants of Canaan more than 400 years to repent, but He eventually came to the point where He had to stop the unending sacrifice of infants and institutional outpouring of blood.” But if the reason for God’s judgment on the people group was the sacrifice of infants, why did He not have the Israelites save the babies? Why were they commanded to kill them, as well? I understand that the babies went straight to heaven, but considering that little children don’t have the capacity to understand good and evil, why did the Lord not have the Israelites just adopt the children and raise them with the knowledge of the true God instead of totally wiping the people group out?
Response: You bring up a good point that clearly shows the need for further elaboration concerning the sins of Canaan. Their sacrifice of infants was just one sin that was endemic in their culture. The Bible is explicit concerning the sins of the Canaanites, which included idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality.
Consequently, the Lord’s judgment was to execute these people. One commentator notes, “Israel’s response to Canaanite sin is a parable of how their own sinfulness empowered them to ape the sin of the Canaanites and thereby procure God’s judgment on them. For God does not show favoritism. Israel was warned not to let the Canaanites live in their land, but to completely destroy them (Ex 23:33; Dt 20:16–18), lest the Israelites learn the Canaanite ways (Ex 34:15–16). If they did not destroy them, the land would ‘vomit’ them out just as it had vomited out the Canaanites (Nm 33:56; Lv 18:28; Dt 4:23–29, 8:19–20)” (http://www.equip.org/articles/killing-the-canaanites/).
Regarding the little children, we have a difficult point to recognize. The part that is hard to comprehend is how a culture of death is inculcated into the very young. We have a glimpse of a modern culture in which that is happening in the case of the Palestinians. Here is a group of people who are literally taught from birth to kill Jews. The footage of children’s television programs with Muppet-like puppets wearing explosive belts and singing songs about rivers of blood and slaughtering Jews (men, women, and children) is hard to view. The images of the Palestinian crowd literally tearing two Israeli soldiers to pieces with their bare hands is an evil hard to comprehend.
And, considering the evidence of the sin of the Canaanites, it is understandable that even many young children would have already been corrupted. Consequently, if God wanted to remove their wickedness from the Promised Land, He couldn’t allow them to grow up following the example of their birth parents, which they had already witnessed.
Little children may not fully understand good and evil, but they clearly still can be influenced, and these early influences apart from the grace of God will certainly emerge as they mature. Deuteronomy:20:16-18, “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.”
The bottom line for those who know the Lord is not the “why” but the “what” of that which God does. He rarely tells us the “why” nor does He accommodate what anyone thinks or feels. He does things that are consistent with His character, which is perfectly righteous. What He does is confirmed by His righteousness and His love by His going to the cross and paying for the sins of every man, woman, and child.