How Long Does God’s Mercy Wait?

Joshua 11:10-23
10And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms. 11And they struck with the sword all who were in it, devoting them to destruction; there was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire. 12And all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua captured, and struck them with the edge of the sword, devoting them to destruction, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. 13But none of the cities that stood on mounds did Israel burn, except Hazor alone; that Joshua burned. 14And all the spoil of these cities and the livestock, the people of Israel took for their plunder. But every person they struck with the edge of the sword until they had destroyed them, and they did not leave any who breathed. 15Just as the Lord had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses. 16So Joshua took all that land, the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland and the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland 17from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, as far as Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. And he captured all their kings and struck them and put them to death. 18Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took them all in battle. 20For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses. 21And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. 22There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. 23So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

The violence with which The Promised Land is taken overwhelms the senses. It would be easy for us to stand back and shake a judgmental finger at Joshua and his army (and at God Himself) for displacing all of these people; not only displacing them but killing them – all of them. Our sensibilities are assaulted because we’re so non-violent – right? (I’ll take a brief moment to mention millions of unborn children who are legally slaughtered each year because it would be “inconvenient” to allow them to live. But I digress.)

We must place the story of the conquest of Israel into the proper perspective. It take Joshua roughly seven years to accomplish the completion of this task.

Based on references to the age of Caleb, the length of the intensive conquest probably was about seven years. According to 14:7 Caleb was forty years old when the thirty-eight years of desert wandering began (Deuteronomy 2:14). That means that he was seventy-eight when Israel crossed the Jordan to conquer the land. According to 14:10 he is eighty-five when the years of intensive conquest seem to be over. This explains the often-used figure of seven years for the intensive conquest.
Harstad, A. L. ©2004. Joshua (pp. 466–467). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.

As the war continues, the Lord hardens the hearts of the Canaanites, just as He did with the Pharaoh. The Lord judges and the Lord punishes as He sees fit. We cannot see the Canaanites as innocent victims here. They had been given over 700 years to bow the knee before a holy God, repenting of their sins and turning to Him as Rahab and Gibeonites had done.

Genesis 15:16 indicates that God restrained his wrath at the Amorites from the time of Abraham to that of Joshua (some 700 years). This was a time of clemency during which they could have turned from their wicked ways, but they did not. Instead, they worshiped false gods and committed all manner of abominations. The hardening of their hearts so that they fought Israel when Joshua arrived was a later judgment from God that followed their refusal to repent. In their hardened attitude of hate toward God and his people, the Canaanites felt compelled by their sinful nature to fight. The Lord himself, at a time deemed right by him, used their hostile attitude for the good of his chosen people. In the Canaanites’ hardened condition, they finally did not have even a prayer before him or Israel.
Harstad, A. L. ©2004. Joshua (p. 468). Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House.

In the midst of this violence, we must bear in mind that the deaths of these people was not God’s first choice. He does not celebrate the death of the wicked. He in fact mourns that there was no repentance, as both the Old and New Testaments tell us.

Ezekiel 18:23, 32
23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

God’s mercy has extended to the earth since Adam and Eve first sinned. His mercy allowed Jesus’ blood to be spilled on our behalf and His mercy withhold His righteous wrath even today as He continues to delay Jesus’ return so that more and more people may turn to Him in repentance and belief. But just as His patience wore out with the Canaanites, so too shall He eventually bring it all to an End, and we shall see the Lord face to face. May the blood of Jesus cover us on that day.