Wars in the Bible- Old Testament
The Christian author, Norman Geisler, commented on the subject of violence in the Old Testament with the example of the Canaanites:
“With reference to the Canaanites author Norman Geisler has commented: ‘This was a thoroughly evil culture, so much so that the Bible says it nauseated God. They were into brutality, cruelty, incest, bestiality, cultic prostitution, and even child sacrifice by fire. They were an aggressive culture that wanted to annihilate the Israelites.’
The first thing to mention is probably the fact that God gave the Canaanite people sufficient time to repent of their evil ways—over 400 years (Genesis 15:13-16). The Book of Hebrews tells us that the Canaanites were “disobedient,” a phrase that implies moral culpability on their part (Hebrews 11:31). The Canaanites were aware of God’s power (Joshua 2:10-11, 9:9) and could have sought repentance. The example of Rahab and her family is a sure proof that the Canaanites could have avoided their destruction if they had repented (Joshua 2). God’s desire is that the wicked turn from their sin rather than die (Ezekiel 18:31-32, 33:11).
Still didn’t God also command the Israelites to kill non-combatants? The biblical record is clear that He did. Here again, one should remember that while it is true the Canaanite women did not fight, this in no way means they were innocent, as their seductive behavior in Numbers 25 indicates (Numbers 25:1-3).
However, one question still remains: what about the children? This is not an easy question to answer but several things should be kept in mind in this regard. First, no human person (including infants) is truly innocent. The Scripture teaches that we are all born in sin (Psalm 51:5, 58:3). This implies that all people are morally culpable for Adam’s sin in some way. Infants are just as condemned from sin as adults are.
Second, God is sovereign over all of life and can take it whenever He sees fit. God, and God alone, can give life and God alone has the right to take it whenever He so chooses. In fact, He ultimately takes every person’s life at death. It is not our life to begin with but God’s. While it is wrong for us to take a life, this does not mean that it is wrong for God to do so. We intuitively recognize this when we accuse some person or authority who takes human life as “playing God.” God is under no obligation to extend anyone’s life for even another day. How and when we die is completely up to Him.
Third, an argument could be made that it would have been cruel for God to take the lives of all the Canaanites except the infants and children. Without the protection and support of their parents, the infants and small children were likely to face death anyway due to starvation. The chances of survival for an orphan in the ancient Near East were not good.
Finally, and most importantly, God may have provided for the salvation of those infants who would not have otherwise attained salvation if they had lived into adulthood. We must remember that the Canaanites were a barbarous and evil culture. If those infants and children had lived into adulthood, it is very likely they would have turned into something similar to their parents and been condemned to hell after they died. If all infants and young children who die before an age of moral accountability go straight to heaven (as Christians believe), then those children are in a far better place than if God had allowed them to live and grow to maturity in a depraved culture.
Surely the issue of God commanding violence in the Old Testament is difficult. However, we must remember that God sees things from an eternal perspective, and His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). The Apostle Paul tells us that God is both kind and severe (Romans 11:22). While it is true that God’s holy character demands that sin be punished, His grace and mercy remain extended to those who are willing to repent and be saved. The Canaanite destruction provides us with a sober reminder that while our God is gracious and merciful, He is also a God of holiness and wrath.”
(Reproduced by permission from http://www.gotquestions.org/ )