Does The Bible Approve of Ethnic Cleansing?

Does The Bible Approve of Ethnic Cleansing?

Consider Deuteronomy  20:16-18: “However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God”.

Now, history, and the Bible, tells us that the Canaanites were scumbags of the worst order. They were sexual deviants and often sacrificed children to pagan gods. So, we’re not talking about innocent schoolchildren here. Hang on a minute though, does that justify widespread genocide? They were still humans, ‘created in the image of God’ surely? Tough questions. Before we get there we must remember that it was God who commanded that they face his judgement in this fashion. They were idolaters and in Exodus 20:3 God is clear that people are to ‘have no other gods before Me’. So, these guys were up for judgment for both these reasons – religious idolatry and sexual immorality.

Well, that’s a bit intolerant isn’t it? What about diversity and pluralism? What about us all just getting along and loving one another and respecting one another’s point of view? Maybe, If you’re a Christian your question is: ‘Why doesn’t He do the same today given that things are almost as bad, if not worse, in our day and age?’ Let’s not water down how serious these sins were. Idolatry is nearly always linked with demonic activity in the Bible. Take Deuteronomy 32:15-21 (ESV) as an example:

They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
   with abominations they provoked him to anger.
17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
   to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
   whom your fathers had never dreaded.
18You were unmindful ofthe Rock that boreyou,
   and you forgot the God who gave you birth. 19 “The LORD saw it and spurned them,
   because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.
20And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them;
   I will see what their end will be,
For they are a perverse generation,
   children in whom is no faithfulness.
21 They have made me jealous with what is no god;
   they have provoked me to angerwith their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are no people;
   I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.

What we have here is a clear picture of the spiritual warfare God has always been engaged in against his enemies who have sought to entrap and lead His people away from true worship. This is no small thing and that is why God’s judgement is so harsh to our human eyes. But in the light of His perfect ways it is necessary to purge evil from His sight and to protect His beloved people. Rather than disgust us, these verses should encourage and comfort all true Christians.

These passages teach us something about the holiness of the God of the Bible. These ‘judgement’ passages only illustrate at a microscopic level the ultimate and terrible judgement that is on its way. Jesus Christ is coming again and the judgement on that day will be terrible, swift and unrelenting on those who treat His Holy name and live as the Canaanites of old did. We must remember that there are no innocent people in the world. The Apostle Paul was clear about this in Romans 1:19-20.

Yet, people like Dawkins look at passages like this in the Bible and call it evidence of ‘ethnic cleansing’. He sees it as barbaric that a so-called God of love could do these things. Is he right? What difference is there, for instance, between this account and what happened between the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda? What makes one evil and the other right?

Well, for a start ethnic cleansing is a loaded term, isn’t it? That sort of behaviour is driven by a deep-seated hatred of another culture and race. Xenophobia did not drive the Israelites to crush the Canaanites. The glory of the honour of God Almighty was their motivation. It had nothing to do with race. In fact, God wrote laws into the scriptures to safeguard foreigners and strangers living within Israel (Leviticus 19:34ff; 24:22; Num. 35:15). So not exactly the behaviour of a hate filled  xenophobe is it? In the first 3 chapters of the book of Romans we see that God punishes all people, regardless of race, for their evil and wickedness in His sight. The Old Testament, likewise, is filled with the condemnation and punishment of His own people for falling short of His Holy and Perfect standards. Pick any prophet and read all about it!

On the contrary, God loved the nations and He commanded His people to do likewise. But He will not stand for sin. He will not tolerate it. He will judge it. And we can stamp our feet all we like and cry out about how unfair it is, but His judgement will be swift and just. We can pretend like the God of the Old Testament is foreign or distasteful to us and we can gloss over these stories or feel uneasy about them but that would be missing the point.

The war rages on, even today. Right now as you have been reading these words there is a spiritual battle going on all around us that makes this stuff look like a child’s birthday party. Thankfully, we have a defeated foe. Crushed by Christ on the cross. Dealt a mortal blow as He rose again triumphant over the grave. This is just a mop up operation as we wait for our King to return. But the principles remain the same. Evil and idolatry must be rooted out from amongst us. They must be dealt with viciously. God will have no part with them and we must not allow ourselves to be seduced by the temptations of sin for a season. We must cling to the cross, the bloodiest, most brutal reminder of what it cost Him to bring us life.

You’ve got to love this stuff even if it sometimes gives us a headache thinking about it!