In Exodus 23:23, God says, “My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.” It seems from this verse that God is going to kill all of these people only because of their nationality. Is that what’s going on?
There are two things that we need to pay attention to. First, these people groups, commonly referred to by the largest of the groups, the Canaanites, have been warned by God to repent of their wickedness. The wickedness of Canaanite society was anticipated in Gen 15:16.
Their sins are described in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (see Lev 18 and 20; Deut 9 and 12), and include rampant incest, bestiality, and child sacrifice, just to name a few. Theirs is a desperately wicked culture that God had promised to destroy. God had been extremely patient with them, waiting for hundreds of years for them to repent, but they did not.
Second, the reader needs to continue on to verse 27-30 where God clarifies exactly what he means in verse 23. God’s plan is to drive them out of the land, little by little, year after year. This is what He means by the phrase “wipe them out.” Rather than killing the Canaanites, God’s primary plan is to push them out of the land so that they will not corrupt the people of Israel. Only the Canaanites foolish enough to stay behind will be attacked by the Israelite army.