One grave problem for modern readers of the Torah is that God’s wrath was great, and He surely took it out on those who disobeyed Him. Of particular note is when His chosen people Israel are commanded to take over what became modern Israel, “Palestine”, Jordan, and parts of Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon.
God’s instructions are plain in Deuteronomy 7:
1 “When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves, 2 and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction.
“You must devote them to complete destruction.” Harsh times, one supposes, called for harsh measures? Later in Deuteronomy, in chapter 20, God clarifies what He meant by complete destruction:
16 But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.
God also includes the “why”: so that the Isaelites won’t be taught those “abominable practices.”
A modern term for one people killing all of another so that there will be no intermingling of ideas is ethnic cleansing. And yet it is God who is the author, in the plainest of terms. This isn’t a quirk of translation. The essential meaning did not change from the original Hebrew.
This is where so-called mainline churches leave the room. Their God is love, don’t you see, and would never ever countenance such a wicked thing as leaving alive “nothing that breathes.” This is the same God that sent His only Son to die on the cross like a common criminal, without raising a finger to resist?
Short answer is “yes.” God took pains from the creation through this very moment to show us how deadly serious He is. You may wish it were not so. You may claim that, somehow, God was a “vengeful” God in Old Testament times, then, somehow, went on some sort of a heavenly retreat with some Buddhists or somesuch, and became the God of love, who would not harm a fly.
No. Same God. Unchanging. What has changed is that we now think ourselves so smart, so modern, that we can assume that anything that happened thousands of years ago is, somehow, now better viewed through a modern lens.
Yes, it was ethnic cleansing. Why? I can only assume, based on the salvation history that’s been revealed to us, that God had to set the stage for Israel and Judah, and thence for the coming of His Son, Jesus. Hence the need to enable the ancient Israelites to get what might euphemistically be termed a “clean title” to the land of Israel.
To the land promised by God for a particular people. For a particular purpose. His purpose; not ours.