Why does God call Israel to kill people in Joshua and Judges?
Judges 1:2-3, “2 The Lord said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” 3 Then Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted me, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I in turn will go with you into the territory allotted you.” So Simeon went with him.”
It is easy to read Judges and think to yourself, “How could the God of Scripture send in Israel to conquer a people?” This part of Judges is hard because it isn’t like Israel is defending themselves from the Canaanites. The Lord is leading Israel to take this land and kill these people. That’s the 6th and 8th Commandment, “You shall not kill and you shall not steal.” What’s going on? Therefore, we need to remember a few things when we are studying Judges:
First, these wars described in Joshua and Judges are NOT ethnically motivated. It isn’t as though the God of Scripture hates a race or an ethnicity in the world, and He is using Israel to attack a specific race or ethnicity. In fact, there are Canaanites in the Scriptures like Rahab who play a pivotal role in the history of Israel.
Second, the wars described in Joshua and Judges are NOT for the expansion of Israel all over the world. These are not imperialistic purposes ordained by the God of Scripture. The description in Scripture is over one specific piece of land that is given to Israel by the God of Scripture ultimately to be a blessing to the world.
Third, the wars described in Joshua and Judges are carried out as God’s judgment toward the wickedness of humanity, and this is going to be hard to understand, but throughout history the God of Scripture does use people and governments as an extension of His judgment.
Therefore, we need to remember the God of Scripture knows the hearts and minds of all people, is a perfect judge, and one day Jesus will return to bring judgment against all wickedness throughout all of humanity, which means the wars in Joshua and Judges are moments in history when He brings that judgment early.
Now, that doesn't mean we can just walk around claiming to be an early gift of God's judgment upon the wicked. Of course not! Joshua and Judges is a unique point in history. The Scriptures make it really clear if anyone makes the claim today to bring judgment against the wickedness of humanity they are either lying, deceived, or mentally unstable.
It is possible one will read Joshua and Judges and say to themselves, "These people are so archaic! How could we learn anything from this point in history, or this part of Scripture." But, we must remember that our civility of 2018 makes it really difficult to understand the civility of the ancient world.
Today, we have democracy, law enforcement, court systems, and city structure that are not perfect, but they create a measure of civility that these people didn’t have at this point in history, which means we must not dismiss these parts of Scripture that are difficult, but instead approach them with humility and ask for God's wisdom to understand.
* Most of this content comes from the book "Judges For You" by Timothy Keller, pages 211-215