Why were the chosen people of God in the Old Testament told to destroy all the nations in the Promised Land as they entered it, not sparing men, women or children, whereas in the New Testament we are called to make disciples of all nations? Human nature has not changed, has it? So why weren't the Israelites told to convert the lost cultures, teaching them to repent of their sins and turn to God? -- Michael Gavigan

You have noticed a major difference between the two testaments. The Old Testament, which is much more "physical," instituted a "state church": the people of God were one spiritually as well as politically. Under the New Testament, or new covenant, church and state are separate. Let me put it another way: Under the first covenant, whatever the people of God did, the government was doing. These days, we have no such authority: to collect taxes, wage war, apportion land, etc. And through Israel (the people of God under the OT), the Lord was punishing the Canaanites.

Several considerations are germane to this discussion:
* The Israelites were not chosen to do so because of their own virtue (Deuteronomy 9:4-6).
* Canaanite sin commonly included child sacrifice, male and female temple prostitution, incest, and more. (See Leviticus 18.) This was a heartless society, and their influence on Israel, God knew, would be sufficient to drag the new nation into spiritual darkness. Later, this is exactly what happened, as we see in the book of Judges. Israel only partially broke away from "the world." She even intermarried with the Canaanites and other pagan nations, as we see in Ezra and Nehemiah!
* The Canaanites as a whole were beyond reforming. For example, in the major city of Jericho, what was the occupation of the most righteous person? Rahab was a prostitute!
* Deuteronomy 20 contains important instructions on how (politically) Israel was to approach certain pagan cities. Notice the sharp distinction between Canaanites and those nations living outside the Promised Land.
* In the spirit of Exodus 19:6, the Israelites did in fact convert a number of people because of their example, such as Rahab. And yet their mission was not equivalent to ours. The people of God under both covenants had the same purpose, however: to enjoy a relationship with God.

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