Deuteronomy 20:10-18 ESV

10 “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. 11 And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. 12 But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 And when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, 14 but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you. 15 Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. 16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.

Joshua 6:20-21 ESV

20 So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. 21 Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.

It's undeniable that a plain reading of these passages suggests that God commanded the complete annihilation not only of the adult inhabitants of Canaanite cities but also their children. Slaughtering children is universally recognized as a profound moral evil. If a group of soldiers were to invade our city, break into our homes, and kill and slaughter everyone, including babies and children, our fundamental moral instincts would undoubtedly recognize it as an egregious atrocity. In light of this, how can such actions be reconciled with the concept of a loving God?

If under any other circumstances, our moral compass would unequivocally condemn the slaughter of children as profoundly wrong—arguably the epitome of wrongdoing—why should the slaughter of Canaanite children be viewed as an exception? How could such a command be considered the most loving, just, and benevolent action that God could have taken?

To encourage objective answers, I'm primarily interested in exploring theodicies found in Christian literature (please provide references where applicable).

Note: My question has been prompted by recent discussions on YouTube, namely, William Lane Craig Defends the Canaanite Slaughter and "It's Horrific" | Reviewing WLC's Defense of the Slaughter of the Canaanites w/ Akin and Rauser.

A related passage from Psalm 137

8 O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! 9 Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!

I thank @NigelJ for the suggestion.

  • 1
    One new line of defense is that the writing of the account is a hyperbole characteristics of ancient writing, consistent with archaeological evidence that there was no such destruction (such as evidence with the city of Jericho). Of course this defense may discount the inerrancy doctrine, depending on our willingness to read the text differently, i.e. that the inerrancy lies in the true theological message of God leading the rise of the Hebrew people after exodus from Egypt. Sorry, don't have time to write a good answer, and to violate the norm of SE of answering in the comment. Commented Mar 27 at 13:18
  • I can answer that but what is theodicies? My own answer is that it is a modern Marxist view of false equality which tries to exempt the guilt of a wicked group or nation by arguing there are children involved in our target. Children shouldn't be counted as isolated they are not gonna grow up isolated but under the indoctrination of that evil tribe or nation of Canaan. Also see palwatch dot Com. War cannot distinguish between children. They are the wicked enemy of tomorrow. Thus, it's wrong to assume equality, it is not sin to massacre evil.
    – Michael16
    Commented Mar 27 at 16:07
  • 2
    This is a question about the Righteousness of God. The real question is : why is it being questioned ? 'Undeniable' ; 'profound moral evil' ; 'unequivocally condemn' . . . . . make a very clear assumption.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 27 at 17:20
  • @NigelJ I invite you to watch this and this.
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 27 at 17:31

3 Answers 3


Admittedly this is very difficult material which must nonetheless be dealt with rather than shoved under the carpet. It is always dangerous to put God in the dock without careful reading. These things happened to them for an example but they are written down for our admonition (1 Corinthians 10:11).

When you draw near to a city to fight against it. Near and far away cities are the two categories. Terms of peace are offered to both. If the terms of peace are accepted by either then verse 11 applies and no one is killed (this gets missed a lot):

And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you.

This was not at all an uncommon nor a bad way to live in ancient times, as a vassal city or state.

If the terms of peace are refused and that city makes war against you then the response differs between the two categories:

  1. Far away cities (that Israel is not given to inhabit) are conquered by killing the fighting aged men and taking women, children, and goods as plunder.
  2. Nearby cities (intended for habitation) are conquered by killing everything that breathes.

The reason given for the different response towards a nearby city that refuses the terms of peace and instead attacks is:

that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.

These are cities that have refused God's terms of peace (offered through Israel); terms which he was not obligated to offer in the first place to cities that were filled with "abominable practices" to their gods (child sacrifice was common in Canaanite worship (among others)):

with full knowledge and understanding they themselves offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan; but should she utter a single moan or let fall a single tear, she had to forfeit the money, and her child was sacrificed nevertheless; and the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums took the cries of wailing should not reach the ears of the people. - Plutarch

And God is interested in facilitating and protecting the purity of the people who have made peace with Him; who have accepted His terms of peace.

How could such a command be considered the most loving, just, and benevolent action that God could have taken?

As mentioned above, it is often missed that the first thing that happens is that an offer of peace is made to a group that does not deserve it. This should make us think of the Gospel of peace wherein the most loving, just, and benevolent thing was accomplished: An offer of peace to a humanity universally at enmity with God through the sacrifice of His own Son in our place:

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven - Colossians 1:19-23

Remember that not all in Jericho were killed and Rahab need not have been the only one spared. The people of Jericho had seen Israel coming for a long time and they were afraid of both Israel and her God (Joshua chapter 2). Her fear of God caused her to respond in faith to the saving of her whole family while the rest of the city responded in refusal unto destruction. So we each have an offer of peace from God to contend with and only today in which to choose. Shall we open to Him or wall up/refuse/attack.

God is not unjust in either salvation nor destruction. He is benevolent and loving in offering terms of peace to His enemies. He is longsuffering in enduring refusal and attack while He continues to offer peace to those who have yet to choose.

  • 1
    Okay, but this answer says nothing about the children. Can you edit it to address specifically the morality of slaughtering the children?
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 27 at 14:15
  • 2
    @Mark It's tough subject matter to wrestle with. The Canaanites were slaughtering some of their own children as a way of life and those that weren't slaughtered were growing up learning that it's okay to do so. God approached them with an offer of peace if they would give up their practices and live under his rule. They refused. Therefore every child in that city was going to be either a sacrifice or a child killer or at least in favor of the practice already. Commented Mar 27 at 16:48
  • 2
    @Mark A reasonable person, faced with the truth of the word of God, would then question the validity of their own 'moral intuition'. The history of Adam and his progeny indicates, without exception, that their 'moral intuition' is utterly and irrevocably mislaid and askew. The Righteousness of God is something else, altogether.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 27 at 18:06
  • 2
    @Mark Well, that is a matter of faith. Of being a believer in God ; rather than a critic. Of being a true seeker after the Person of God ; rather than a bystander on the periphery.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 27 at 18:51
  • 2
    @Mark Other peoples erranties are their problem, not mine. Life is very simple when one trusts in God and believes his word. But that requires love. For faith is borne of love.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 27 at 19:38

It is the fact of history that Adam and his progeny have erred and strayed like lost sheep, Psalm 119: 174-176.

It is a fact that 'there is none righteous, no - not one', Romans 3:10-12,Psalm 14:1-3,Psalm 53:1-3.

It is true that 'there is none good but God', Mark 10:18.

And his goodness is expressed by his own word, in the mouth of those whom he chooses to speak on his behalf . . . . . .

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 18:25 KJV]

To slay the righteous with the wicked would not be right.

The two accounts of creation in the early chapters of Genesis demonstrate that creation is not an end in itself.

Neither the heavens, nor the earth, nor all that is upon earth, nor humanity itself, exist for their own sake ; for their own fulfillment, for their own pleasure or for their own individual purpose.

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. [Revelation 4:11 KJV]

This is the everlasting gospel, Revelation 14:6 :

Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. [KJV]

Fear God, and give glory to him . . . . and worship him.

The creation is not for man and his pleasure and his purposes and his thoughts and his will and his assumptions and his 'moral judgment'.

It is for God. It is not an end in itself, but a means to a far greater development, beyond the imagination of humanity.

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. [1 Corinthians 2:9 KJV]

For his purpose is in his own Son. His purpose is to bring many sons to glory, Hebrews 2:10.

And, in ancient times, an arrangement was made to demonstrate that everlasting gospel on earth, within a single, chosen nation but for all the world to see.

To maintain that, it was necessary to prevent other nations destroying that testimony.

And also, the promised seed would come of that nation and thus that also must be preserved and not be allowed to be prevented from happening.

For these grand, these Divine, these immense, these heavenly, these spiritual, these glorious purposes was Israel raised up among the nations.

And the nations fought against such at their own peril.

If the nations loved their children, they would have submitted, they would have surrendered, they would have become aligned, they would have been sensible.

That they chose to fight against God almighty resulted in their own catastrophe.

  • 1
    Even Adam was not created because he 'deserved' to live but for God's glory. +1 Commented Mar 27 at 19:59
  • "That they chose to fight against God almighty resulted in their own catastrophe." — True, but in this case the "they" and the "their" have different antecedents. It would have been the city's rulers that chose, and the city's ordinary citizens that suffered. Commented Mar 28 at 0:45
  • 2
    @RayButterworth Nobody has to remain in a city. Nobody has to comply with a city's rulers. All are individually culpable. And the head of a family is responsible and culpable for the family under his headship. I disagree with you entirely and robustly. They are all culpable, ' branch and rush', as saith the Prophet Isaiah. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do rightly ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 28 at 5:24

According to the fire-and-brimstone denominations, after death these victims will go on to being tortured throughout eternity. And supposedly by a loving God. I can't imagine how they can reasonably answer this question.

But for those denominations that don't believe in doctrines involving immortal souls going to eternal bliss in Heaven or eternal torture in Hell, this is not a difficult question.

Revelation 20:4–6 tells about a second general resurrection at the end of the Millennium, when all that have lived without having been called to salvation will be resurrected. They will then live in the Kingdom of God and learn his way of life, and almost all will accept the gift of salvation.

Those few that refuse God's holy spirit will be permanently destroyed, while everyone else will become immortal spirit beings.

Given that context, consider what these slaughters really mean.

The actual deaths themselves might be horrible, but each individual will experience a loss of consciousness, death, and then in the blink of an eye find themselves restored to life in a paradise, tended to and taught by angels and other people that have been saved and transformed into spirit beings.

From the perspective of anyone observing the deaths, it will be terrible, but from the victims' perspectives it will be wonderful. It really isn't the cruel experience that it appears to be.

See the "How Eternal Life Will Ultimately Be Offered to All" chapter of What Happens After Death? | United Church of God for a much fuller description.

  • 2
    I think you’ve done a pretty poor job dichotomizing so called “hell-torture” denominations and denominations that just don’t believe in heaven or hell. Most well educated believers in hell will tell you that it is torturous on the unbelievers own doing. They willing separate themselves from Gods graces for eternity. The opposite is the case for heaven.
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Mar 27 at 14:02
  • @LukeHill hill says "it is torturous on the unbelievers own doing". What exactly did a six-year-old girl that died in Australia in 500 BC do to deserve being tortured for all eternity? What kind of a god would even think of doing something like that? Commented Mar 27 at 20:32
  • most of those Christians which affirm the biblical existence of hell do not deny the possibility of someone who did not hear the gospel had the possibility of being saved (see the second Vatican council).
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Mar 27 at 20:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .