Yet when they approached the land that God had promised, He instructed them to not only defeat them, but to annihilate them. These are some of the hardest passages to digest because they seem to contradict the loving God we know.
But the Bible makes it clear that these people groups which the Israelites were called to destroy had chosen to give themselves over to every type of sin. This was the same land where Abraham encountered the High Priest Mechizedek hundreds of years before, so at one time there had been an understanding of God and His righteousness. It is in the region where Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed by God for similar types of sin, yet those warnings had vanished like a mist over the next several hundred years.
God was not randomly choosing people to destroy, He was bringing divine judgment on those who violated His Holy standards in the most egregious ways. The history of the people of Canaan reveal that their idolatry included adultery and incest, bestiality, homosexuality and homosexual rape as a means of military dominance, and child sacrifice.
The Israelites were chosen to bring God's judgment on these people in the same way that God brought judgment through the flood, through the plagues on Egypt, and later, when they embraced the same types of sin, upon Israel through the Babylonians. God's use of Israel for this judgment was not to elevate them as being perfect, the Bible is very clear they were not.
But God provided the Israelites, and through their recording of scripture, each of us, with a clear understanding of His law and the consequences for societies that continually reject it. The Bible provides numerous examples of nations that were overthrown because of God's judgment on their sin. And, in truth, many nations today are coasting on God's grace.
It's tempting for us to do the same thing. Because God hasn't brought judgment on behaviors that we know are counter to His will, we assume that maybe He changed His mind. It's not all that bad to lie . . . to be entertained by the things that offend God . . . to harbor anger and bitterness toward others.
The God of the New Testament is all about forgiveness, right? Yes. Jesus came to free us from judgment -- but not to free us to continue to live in sin without judgment. To free us from judgment by setting us free from the shackles of sin. Hebrews 10:26 tells us, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God."