In Deuteronomy, we come across the command from God to Israel that they "must destroy them totally," speaking of the nations in the Promised Land. This has often been brought up by skeptics as a hindrance to them coming to faith in the God of the Bible.
To these skeptics, and maybe even to us, it sounds like God ordained genocide. Regardless of whether or not we find this passage difficult, there are a few things we have to remember as we consider what God is doing here.
The first is that these nations were extremely wicked. They were involved in child sacrifice and other heinous practices. The fact that they were sinners (like all other people) placed them under the judgment of God.
The second is that this was a unique period of time, as God was working through the nation of Israel and fulfilling His promise to them concerning the Promised Land. What God is commanding here is, therefore, not applicable to us today.
Third, God promised the same result to Israel if they didn’t follow Him. Our reading in Deuteronomy ends with God promising that He would destroy Israel in the same way that Israel had destroyed these other nations, if they didn't obey him. We shouldn't envision God as somehow hating these nations while loving Israel. God loves everyone but has to judge sin.
Fourth, the command of destruction is not as universal as it may seem on the surface, since God invites all people to join his family. Any person, including those from the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites or other people groups, if they acknowledged God as their King, could have joined Israel (see Rahab, Ruth etc.). Destruction would only be for those who placed themselves in opposition to God and Israel.
Finally, we may be tempted to create a divide between the God of the Old Testament and Jesus, but we can't do that. God is the same yesterday, today and forever and the Trinity has always been who God is. In fact, when we look at the words of Jesus, He speaks of eternal judgment more in the Gospels than all of the Old Testament combined. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are eternally full of love and justice. There are a number of difficult passages throughout the Bible, and we need to wrestle with them to understand what God may be doing. Even when we can't make sense of them, we should always submit before our God who is perfect and eternal, acknowledging that we are not.
Question of the day: What do you do when you encounter a passage of the Bible that does not make sense to you? Do you think this is the best response to your lack of understanding?
God, my Father, I thank You that You are eternal, perfect and all knowing. I thank You that You are always seeking my good even when I can't make sense of it. Help me to trust You when I am confused and love You, especially when life is hard. Thank You that I can trust You because of the sacrifice of Your Son and the gift of the Spirit. May your Spirit make clear to me what You are doing in my life and the meaning of Your Scriptures. Help me grow in my intimacy with You. Amen.