Is God an ethnic cleanser? Can God be accused of hating certain people groups? Does God not value human life, even that of children? If you ask Richard Dawkins, he would probably point you to his remarks in The God Delusion:
…the ethnic cleansing begun in the time of Moses is brought to bloody fruition in the book of Joshua, a text remarkable for the blood thirsty massacres it records and the xenophobic relish with which it does so.
Quotes such as these, common on atheist websites and literature, reveal remarkable ignorance of the content of the Bible and of the general principles of hermeneutics. These principles of interpretation are not only applicable to the Bible, but to all of literature. If one intends to uncover the precise meaning of any ancient passage in any ancient document, it is obvious that certain rules of interpretation must be applied. Foremost among these principles is a proper consideration of the context. One must resist the temptation of interpreting ancient literature as if it were written in our modern times. The conquest passages are an excellent example of the need for sound interpretation principles. These passages are more than 3,500 years old. The world in 1450 BC was quite different from our world. A careful consideration of the context along with other key issues goes a long way in dissipating the criticism of contemporary atheists. A case study on the conquest of Canaan will make it abundantly clear that the God of the Old Testament cannot be accused of being a xenophobic ethnic cleanser.
We begin by affirming the obvious; you can’t separate a story from its narrative context. You cannot select a story, regardless of its content, without also accepting the explanation provided in the narrative itself. That is unacceptable in any academic field engaged in interpretation of the narrative genre. This consideration alone does not completely resolve the problem, but it allows the passage to be considered with a framework that facilitates understanding. In the case of the conquest of Canaan, the narrative context provides a completely different perspective than that of Mr. Dawkins.
[Read the rest of the article at Reasons for Hope.]