April 15: “The Prohibition of Murder and the Conquest of Canaan”

9 Minute Read


Joshua 11:1–12:24
Luke 17:11-37
Psalm 84:1-12
Proverbs 13:5-6


Joshua 11:15 (CSB): “Just as the LORD had commanded his servant Moses, Moses commanded Joshua. That is what Joshua did, leaving nothing undone of all that the LORD had commanded Moses.”


Periodically, I will begin an informal Sunday evening or Wednesday evening Bible study with what I have periodically called, “Quiz the Pastor.” It’s an opportunity for anyone to ask any question they have regarding what the Bible has to say about a matter.

A few weeks ago, a lady in our church said something like this:

“Pastor, I’ve got a question. The Bible tells us in the Ten Commandments that murder is wrong. And yet we read in the book of Joshua how the Israelites went into Canaan and killed everyone. Men, women, and children had lives that were wiped out as the Israelites moved on to the next city to continue their conquest. How are we to reconcile the prohibition of murder with what the Israelites did?”

I will have to admit that I love these kinds of questions. I believe that the Bible can hold up to absolutely any scrutiny. I also believe that faithful Jesus-followers will not gloss over these matters but will seek understanding.

So, I began my answer by defining murder.

Exodus 20:13 (CSB): “Do not murder.”

This command does not prohibit the killing of animals for food or clothing (or for the Old Testament sacrifices). We read in Genesis 3 that God killed an animal in order to cloth Adam and Eve and we continue to read throughout the Old Testament that animals were killed for food and clothing.

This command does not prohibit the killing of animals in order to protect oneself, other helpless individuals, or one’s property. Just one of the many instances where this took place was when David stood before King Saul and spoke of how he had killed lions and bears as he protected his flock of sheep (1 Samuel 17:34-35).

This command does not apply to someone who kills another human being accidentally. There were provisions made in the Old Testament to protect someone who unintentionally took someone’s life (Deuteronomy 19:4-7; Joshua 20:1-6).

This command does not apply to capital punishment – when society justly takes the life of someone who has committed a grievous crime (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:4).

This command does not apply to killing that happens during times of war (Romans 13:4). Clearly, we see God’s tolerance of killing that happens in wartime (during a ‘just war’) as we read through the historical books in the Old Testament that recount Israel’s conquest. In fact, we hear Jesus say in John 18:36 that if His Kingdom was of this world (it isn’t), then His followers would take up swords and fight.

So, we’ve looked at quite a few exceptions.

But, there is one more person who IS the exception. He is God. God is not above the prohibition against murder simply doesn’t apply to Him.


Because the Lord is the giver of life and the taker of life. Not a single person was died who hasn’t been called though death’s door by God.

God is the One who has taken the life of every single person who has ever died.

1 Samuel 2:6 (CSB): “The LORD brings death and gives life; he sends some down to Sheol, and he raises others up.”

Job 1:20-22 (CSB): “Then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.’ Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything.”

Since God is the giver of life and the taker of life, all of the Canaanites were alive because of God. Further, they were all going to die because of God. God, who reigns supreme over all of Creation, is the One who gives life and the One who takes life.

So, we realize that if all of the Canaanites had died of old age, we would see no moral problem with that. And yet it would have been God who took their life from them.

But, when we observe that an army went into Canaan and took the lives of men, women, and children, and thus hastened the time of their imminent death, we cannot help but wonder at the moral quandary.

… until we realize that God, who alone has the right to take a life no matter the circumstances, commanded the Israelites to take the lives of the Canaanites.

The Israelite army wasn’t acting on its own desires. The Israelites were following the commands of the One who had the right to take every single life.

Joshua 11:15 (CSB): “Just as the LORD had commanded his servant Moses, Moses commanded Joshua. That is what Joshua did, leaving nothing undone of all that the LORD had commanded Moses.”

Joshua 11:23 (CSB): “So Joshua took the entire land, in keeping with all that the LORD had told Moses. Joshua then gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. After this, the land had rest from war.”

So, it is my conviction that the Israelites were not guilty of murder since they were submitting to and obeying the commands of the Lord, the only One who always has the right to take someone’s life.

But the question then becomes: “Well, if God could command the Israelites to literally wipe out the Canaanites from the Promised Land, has this set a precedent? Is it possible that God would do this again? Is it possible that another army would be led by God to wipe out men, women, and children?”

My answer, informed by my understanding of Scripture, is a resounding “No!” … at least for now.

Israel was a theocracy as they wandered through the wilderness and then as they took the Promised Land. God was their leader and they were to follow His commands.

This form of government will not happen again until Revelation 20:4-6 when Jesus comes to reign on planet Earth. It will be a time when He brings justice upon planet Earth while seeking peace upon the earth. After the 1,0000 years, Satan will rally the unsaved forces of earth against King Jesus … and Jesus will finally and ultimately render death and judgement upon them (Revelation 20:7-15).

But, this is the final time that He will administer death. In Revelation 21-22, we see that a new heaven and a new earth are created where there will be no more death.

And this tells us about the kind of God that we serve. Death is not His desire. Death came about because of the sin of Adam in Genesis 3. And while death is now our experience and our God has the right to take life anytime He so chooses, He will one day have a Creation where death has died. Death will be no more.

That is the ideal that we all, including God, look forward to.

Revelation 21:3-4 (CSB): “Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.”

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I have an incredible wife that God gave to me on May 10, 1997. Since then, the Lord has blessed us with three wonderful boys. I am also the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Polk City, Florida.

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