Many people today, Christian & non-Christian alike, read about the God of the Old Testament and say, 'that can't be the same God of the New Testament!' ( in other words, even ), and some even suggest something as ridiculous as the Son of God ( Jesus ) toned His Father down a bit when He came onto the Scene!
Apparently the God of the New Testament is a kinder, gentler God than the God of the Old Testament was!
Okay, so the commands given to the Children of Israel concerning the Canaanites WERE pretty harsh; did Yahweh really command His People not to commit murder ( 7th commandment ), then command them to commit genocide on the inhabitants of the Land to which He led them?! It would certainly seem so! A closer and more sensible look, though, might help us to understand why our Gracious & Merciful God might command or even witness such a thing.
First off, we should ask ourselves, 'why would a just God order such genocide?' Well, the key here is the word 'just'. Scripture is full of references to how ungodly the nations were whom the Israelites were commanded to blot out from under heaven. Because Yahweh IS a just God, He was entirely in the right to order the extinction of these people!
At this juncture, you will likely hear arguments like 'how could a just God require obedience from a people to whom He had not given His Law?' I mean, the apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christians that 'where there is no law [ there is ] no transgression' ( Romans 4:15 ). So, if they had no Law, then how could their genocide be justified? The simple answer, of course, is that they DID have the Law! Quoting the apostle Paul again, in Romans 2:14, we see that 'when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves'. This is further cleared up when we back up a bit to the first part of Paul's statement, in verse 12; 'For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law'.
Obviously, the Law of Nature has been in existence since Nature itself has been in existence! By nature, without having to be told, people know when something 'just ain't right'. Now, granted, the nations around Israel were not expressly given Yahweh's Law, like Israel was, but they knew that certain things, bestiality & homosexuality, just weren't the way things work! It was because of the transgression of this Natural Law that the Caananites were to be exterminated, or banished from the Land!
Another reason that Yahweh ordered His Children so is that He wanted them to remain pure & holy to Him ( think of the modern wedding vow-'keep thee only unto him/her' ), and by ridding the Land of Caananite influence, the Israelites should have remained thus to their God! This obviously did not work out, on the whole, to that end, although it could well be argued that this was not the End promised in the first place!
And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Israel was meant to be a priest ( corporately ) to the nations around them; indeed, as God had told Abraham previously, 'In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed' ( Genesis 22:18a ( 12:3, 18:18 ). As with many of the commands of Yahweh, Israel misinterpreted His Law and acted like they were better than everyone else just because they had been chosen for this special purpose! ( Sound familiar? ) Was it God's purpose, then, for Israel to totally wipe out ( kill ) the Caananite population? No doubt there were certain Caananites that had practiced evil for so long that Yahweh had given them up to their evil passions and allowed them to fill up their cup of wrath before He exacted vengeance or punishment!
Although Israel did not totally rid the Land of idols as they had been commanded, they did have a good effect, to some extent, on the Caananites whom they failed to exterminate, and on the nations around them!
Because these Caananites were allowed to persist in their evil, they corrupted God's Children ( all but a Remnant ), but as a result, the Children of Israel were led into Captivity numerous times and through that Captivity, fulfilled the desired & promised End!
The Law of God, which included the 600+ statutes to the Children of Israel, was embodied in the Ten Commandments! Jesus later reiterated these commands in two words, 'you shall love the Lord your God', and 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself'. The whole Law & the Prophets was later seen to have pointed the Way to Christ; as Paul also wrote in another place ( Galatians 3:24a ), 'the law was our tutor [ to bring us ] to Christ'. Not only was this Law designed to bring His Children to Himself, but the Law given to them was in type; they were given this Law in such a Way so that they would recognize their Messiah when He came for His Bride! Those who kept His Law in accordance with the Will of Yahweh did recognize their Messiah, but even though the rest kept the Law, at least according to their own wisdom, because they had not kept it according to the Wisdom from Above, they missed Him when He finally appeared!
According to the apostle Paul, again, 'you are not under law but under grace' ( Romans 6:14 ). Paul did not say, please note, that there is no more Law, but simply that we are not under it, or condemned ( Romans 8:1 ) by its curse! Because Jesus, the Son of God, perfectly fulfilled the Law, being the End of the Law, we are clothed with His Righteousness and are no longer under the condemnation of the Law! ( Now, before I get into trouble here, I am NOT saying that we can transgress His Law with impunity, just that when we do ( on a daily basis ), we are not condemned because of the Grace of God ).
One name given to this 'New' Law is the Law of Love; as Jesus said, 'love the Lord your God', and 'love your neighbor as yourself'! This is not a new Law, it is the same Law given on Sinai; but like Jesus, it was Revealed in its fullness at His Advent; remember when He said 'You have heard that it was said to those of old', then 'but I say to you'? Jesus, in this list ( Matthew 5:21-48 ) set the record straight, so to speak, when He told those Pharisaical Jews what was really meant by His commands. It was the Spirit, not the Letter which rendered Life through their obedience!
Should we then keep the Law, or can we discard it as some have done, to their own destruction? Because we are not under Law but under Grace, can we ignore the Law of our Heavenly Father without consequence? It goes without saying that we cannot malign His Law without consequence! Just as any member of an earthly household, there are natural consequences for disobedience to the 'House Rules'! Again, if we do not follow the 'Rules of the Road', there are usually consequences, and often a price to be paid!
As we have seen, maybe not as clearly as we'd like, Jesus, in the greatest sense, WAS the Embodiment of the Law; He is Grace itself, He is Love itself ( I John 4:8 ) The Law, although nailed to the cross ( Colossians 2:14 ), just as Jesus was, interestingly enough, was not abrogated; it was finally Revealed in its fullness, in Grace & Love! The Law, as Jesus, died when it was nailed to the cross, like Paul said 'the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us', but Gloriously, just like Jesus, was Resurrected and shone anew, as a made New Creation!
Charrles Haddon Shank