If the Israelites fulfilled God’s command to annihilate the Amalekites, Canaanites and Midianites (kill them all, part 1, Kill them all, part 2, Kill them all, part 3, Kill them all, part 4), why were some of the descendants still living among the Israelites 900 years later? They remained Israel’s enemies for centuries. Yet the Bible reports that ‘all were killed?’
To understand this riddle, we have to read the Bible carefully. For example, were all the Canaanites killed, or only those in the specific cities? The following gives us a clue to what happened.
#1. The refugee problem. People flee when danger or war looms. We read, ‘Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.’ The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, ‘This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.’ 1
The fathers would have instructed their wives and children to flee as the Israelites approached. They and those who stubbornly refused to leave, probably remained and were killed. 2 So the Bible is not wrong when it says all the people in a city were killed. It was those who remained in the cities that were killed, while the others fled and came back after the danger passed.
For example, the Jebusites were ‘destroyed’ by Joshua’s armies. 3 Yet a short while later, we read that the Benjamites could not dislodge the Jebusites. 4 Later king David, taunted by the Jebusites, overcame them. 5 It seems as if ‘destroy them all’ meant only those who were present at that specific time.
# 2. Only the main cities are on record. Another issue is that the Bible records only certain cities that were destroyed. In Joshua 15 is a list of more than a hundred towns and villages that were Judah’s inheritance. 6 Yet the Bible lists only a few main cities like Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron and Debir where all the people were killed. 7 Yet it is recorded that Joshua subdued the whole region. 8
‘Region’ must be understood as locally instead of a whole country. When Joshua was old, God told him, ‘You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.’ 9 When the Bible mentions subduing the whole region, it must have been local areas. The people fled, and later returned to be a thorn in the flesh for the Israelites. The Israelites mainly failed with the ‘mopping up’ initiatives. 10
The two reasons above explain why the descendants of the people in Canaan were still alive in the time of Ezra in 458 BC (900 years after the conquest). Careful analysis of the Bible, and comparison to what happens in times of war, reveals that the Bible is logical. Many enemies of God do not critically read the Bible, and only concentrate on the sensational, using one sided information.
- Numbers 22:4
- Judges 6:21; 8:26; 10:20,28;32,35,39-40
- Joshua 11:103, 12, 16; 12:10
- Judges 1:21
- 2 Samuel 5:6-7
- Joshua 15:21-63
- Joshua 10:28-40
- Joshua 10:40
- Joshua 13:1
- Judges 1:1-36