In our reading today, the Gibeonites deceive Israel, and the sun stands still. The Gibeonites prove that God will show mercy to those who will recognize YHWH’s lordship, even if they do so with cunning and trickery. Today let me continue to defend God’s righteousness in using Israel to expel the Canaanites. Today’s truth is: God intends for Israel to dispossess the Canaanites and kill those that fight Israel; but God does not intend the complete extermination of the Canaanites. This might be confusing based on the language used throughout Joshua, even in our readings today; Joshua “left no survivors there,” he won so that “no survivors were left,” and the city is “totally destroyed and everyone in it” (Joshua 10:30,33,37). The problem with our reading is we can easily forget what God told Israel long before this conquest. God makes clear in Exodus 23:27-30 and Deuteronomy 7:17-23 that He intends to “make all your enemies turn their back and run,” and also “little by little I will drive them out (emphasis mine) until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.” Even throughout Joshua, many Canaanites clearly remain in the land (Joshua 10:20, Joshua 11:22). This is not because Israel disobeys God, but because God did not intend complete annihilation. The entire book of Judges (Joshua’s sequel) relies on the premise that the Canaanites remained in the land. Even with events like the Gibeonite incident and Achan’s sin, we are not to believe that Israel failed in their mission in the book of Joshua.
What does all of this mean? If a Canaanite was killed by Israel, it was because he had not evacuated the cities or fled from Israel. Many Canaanites obviously left the cities, and God allowed such people—even those like the Gibeonites—to live, so long as they did not resist Israel and God’s plan to bless the world through them. Tomorrow, we will read about why the Canaanites were wrong to stay in the land or cities in the first place.