Why did God command the destruction of the Canaanites in the book of Joshua?
The question of why God commanded Israel to destroy the people of Canaan in the book of Joshua can be summarized in the following points: War against Canaan was God’s judgment over these peoples because God told Abraham in the book of Genesis 15 that “the iniquity of the Amorites [was] not yet complete.” The “Amorites” is an expression used in the Old Testament for all the peoples who were living in Canaan, and here God was revealing his intention to judge these nations. Another important point is that it was to protect Israel from mixing with these nations and worshiping their idols. It was also to cleanse the land from which Israel would become the light to the nations. One more important point is that the command to destroy the Canaanites was only related to the nations within Canaan. Regarding the nations outside of Canaan, there are very clear instructions that Joshua should not fight against them, but rather offer them peace. We read about this, for example, in Deuteronomy 20… Another important point is that the wars against Canaan and the destruction of the Canaanites was not an authorization for jihad. This was not for all times and places. On the contrary, these were very specific commands related to a specific time during the history of redemption. We have to understand the role of these wars in the context of God’s revelation of the history of redemption, which reaches its climax in the person and work of Christ. This war played a role in preparing for the work of Christ in the unfolding of the history of redemption. So, it’s not a license to wage wars of total destruction against unbelievers for all times and locations. Also, these wars were not repeated, not afterward in the history of Israel or even before these wars. God never repeated his command for Israel to completely destroy certain people or certain nations. It was only for the days that Israel was to conquer the land and settle in it during Joshua’s time. The last point is that in this war — in the destruction of the Canaanites — the Canaanites were evil, so it was a small picture of God’s greatest judgment, which will be in the last days. God will execute his just judgment on all the people and nations that rejected salvation through Christ. So, this war was like a small picture or type of a more horrific war that God will accomplish over the evil angels and the evil people who rejected salvation through Christ.