Why all the Canaanites were not killed

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 4People flee in war 2), 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. 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.


  1. Numbers 22:4
  2. Judges 6:21; 8:26; 10:20,28;32,35,39-40
  3. Joshua 11:103, 12, 16; 12:10
  4. Judges 1:21
  5. 2 Samuel 5:6-7
  6. Joshua 15:21-63
  7. Joshua 10:28-40
  8. Joshua 10:40
  9. Joshua 13:1
  10. Judges 1:1-36

Mercy in judgement – Why were Rahab and the Gibeonites not killed?

RahabWhy were Rahab and her family, as well as the Gibeonites saved when God commanded that the Amalekites, Canaanites and Midianites should be destroyed?

#1. Rahab. When Joshua sent two spies to Jericho, she hid them so that the elders of the city did not find them. She told the spies, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.’ 1 She asked them to spare her life and those of her family, in return for her kindness to them. The Israelite army saved her and her family when they invaded Jericho.

Rahab’s history does not end there. She married one of the Israelites and is part of the genealogy of King David.  That means she is of the ancestry of Jesus.2  Not a bad record for a Canaanite woman, bound for destruction! As she said, ‘When we heard of it [God’s miraculous acts on behalf of His people], our hearts melted and every one’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.’  3

She proved herself a woman of faith and is one of the heroes of faith in Hebrew 11:31.

#2. Gibeonites. Another group who also benefited from God’s mercy was the Canaanites of Gibeon. When they heard that the victorious Israelite army was approaching, they made a plan to save themselves. They deceived Joshua and the leaders by pretending that they live far away, but wanted peace with Israel. They said, ‘Your servants have come from a far country because of the fame of the Lord your God. For we have heard reports of Him….’  4  Joshua and the leaders did not enquire of the Lord, but made a peace treaty with them. 5

When the Israelites later found out that they had lied to them, they wanted to destroy them. Yet because of the oath, they could not do it. They made them woodcutters and water carriers for the house of the Lord. 7

The history of the Gibeonites does not end there. They were exiled to Babylon with the Israelites. However, when the Israelites were allowed to come back to the their country after 70 years, they also came back.  People from all four the Gibeonite cities came back. 8

Just to put it into perspective, they must have been content to serve the Lord as woodcutters and water carriers, as proven by the fact that they came back voluntarily, and were known as Israelites. 9


Strangely, Dr Richard Dawkins never mentions these facts in his tirade against God. What is the lesson? Read the Bible in totality, not just a few selected verses.

In our next blog we will give attention to  another interesting Biblical fact that is seldom discussed.


  1. Joshua 2:8-9
  2. Matthew 1:5
  3. Joshua 2:11
  4. Joshua 9:9-10
  5. Joshua 91-27
  6. Joshua 9:21
  7. Joshua 9:23
  8. Ezra 2:25, Nehemiah 7:25
  9. Ezra 2:2b and Nehemiah 7:7b
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