“Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:16)
The return of Israel to the Promised Land from Egypt would correspond with the “completion” of the iniquity of the Amorites. This is the meaning of the slaughter of the peoples of Canaan. God timed the arrival of his judgment with the fullness of the sin to be judged. Not before.
The appointed instrument of God’s judgment was the army of Israel. But God sees himself as the effective warrior behind the defeat of the Amorites. He says to Joshua, “I brought you into the land of the Amorites . . . and they fought with you; and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land when I destroyed them before you” (Joshua 24:8).
God did the destroying. It was by the hand of Israel, but it was the judgment of God.
In fact, God warned the people against pitiless pride in Deuteronomy 9:4-5: “Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you.”
In other words, this carnage is not about human injustice, but divine judgment.
One implication of this for us is that, as the church of Jesus Christ, we may not imitate Israel. The church is not God’s instrument of judgment in the world; it is his instrument of evangelization and reformation. We have no ethnic or geographic or political identity. We are “aliens and exiles.”
God’s dealing with Israel was unique in redemptive history. He chose them and ruled them as a demonstration of his holiness and justice and electing grace among the nations. But to the church he says, “My kingdom is not of this world; if it were, my servants would fight” (John 18:36).