I followed up the conversation by collecting some blog resources that addressed the issue and thought they may helpfully serve others.
There are a few points worth remembering when trying to frame an answer here, we need to think hard about all of God’s character. What does it really mean if we affirm God is holy and God is just and God is judge as well as God is good and mercy and love?
A western liberal mindset recoils from God’s instruction to ‘leave none alive’ in Deut 20:16-17; fails to see the contemporary similarities in Deut 20:18 to not give air space to poisonous beliefs and would be approving of the command in Deut 20:19 not to destroy the trees. God can be infuriating in His unwillingness to fit inside our boxes.
I think it’s also worth bearing a few things in mind when considering ancient warfare so that we don’t miss the contemporary parallels. My point is, we like to think the world has changed since the times of ancient Israel. A quick scan of the news or 20th century history would suggest that kind of optimism is misplaced. Consider too, that when it comes to warfare the idea of non-combatants is a relatively new one, rhetoric concerning the defeat of an enemy doesn’t always match the reality on the ground (it’s not hard to find talk of the ‘destruction’ or ‘eradication‘ of ISIS in terms very similar to Deut 20:16-18) yet no one thinks that means every last man, woman and child should die. Lastly, the sad reality of war is that we are always ready to accept the deaths of ‘innocents’ if it means the defeat of a determined enemy in a just cause.
- Here is a summary of Chris Wright’s position in his helpful book The God I don’t Understand
- I find Tim Keller always helpful, here’s a summary of his view
- Kevin Vanhoozer makes some interesting points
- And it’s worth remembering that Jesus said some fiery things too
- The position that I’ve articulated when answering this question but never as thoroughly or as cogently is similar to this from Alistair Roberts
- If you want to read Copan himself but not the whole book or chapter then his position is here
- Did God order genocide?
- Is God a monster?
At the other end of the theological spectrum (which is not my position but it’s worth understanding) is this from Peter Enns or this and for some push-back on Enns position is this from Derek Rishmawy
Having said and read all that, it still remains a persistent and difficult question; what resources have helped you on this question? Leave your thoughts in the comments.