Deuteronomy 20:16–18—Were the captives to be spared or killed?

Problem: In Deuteronomy 20:11, 15, Moses commanded the Israelites to spare the lives of their captives and make them servants. But only a few verses later he instructs them to “let nothing that breathes remain alive” (v. 16).

Solution: The general rule was to make captives of the people conquered. Only in the specific case of the “seven nations” of Canaan were they to exterminate them (see comments on Josh. 6:21). This was because of their “abominations” which were so obnoxious to God that the land “vomits out its inhabitants” (Lev. 18:25).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.