God spares those who are truly repentant, those who truly love Him. Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, in their book Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God, offer several examples of Canaanites who were spared and who became members of Israel.
First, there is Rahab, the tavern-keeper in Jericho. Copan and Flannagan write:
The book of Hebrews states: ‘By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient’ (11: 31). Rahab was a Canaanite, yet she was spared because she was not like those who are disobedient, but rather responded in faith. The author of Joshua emphasizes that Rahab ‘lives among the Israelites to this day’ (Josh. 6: 25), 23 and Matthew lists her as an ancestor of both David and Jesus the Messiah (Matt. 1: 5).
Second, there is the example of Caleb, one of the two spies who gave a good report to Israel in Numbers 14. God says in Numbers 14: “Because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it” (Num. 14: 24).
Most readers, however, fail to notice Caleb’s background. Copan and Flannagan explain:
Caleb, though from the tribe of Judah, has a Canaanite background! The text refers to him as ‘Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite’ (Num. 32: 12; Josh. 14: 6, 14). Who were the Kenizzites? They were one of the seven nations in Canaan and were listed along with the Hittites and the Perizzites who lived on the land God would be giving to Abram (Gen. 15: 18– 20). These were the peoples God commanded Israel to ‘utterly destroy.’ Yet Caleb the Kennizite was one of the few in the nation of Israel to see the Promised Land because ‘he followed the LORD wholeheartedly.’
Third, we have the example of the Shechemites. In chapter 8 of Joshua, the Shechemites are included in Israel’s covenant renewal ceremony: “All Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark . . . the stranger as well as the native” (v. 33 NASB).
At Shechem, those who heard the Law being read included not only ‘the assembly of Israel’ but also ‘the strangers who were living among them’ (vv. 33, 35). Sprinkle notes, ‘Joshua 8: 30– 35 narrates a covenant renewal ceremony at Shechem despite the fact that Shechem was a major power during the Late Bronze Age as the fourteenth century B.C. El Amarna tablets from Egypt indicate. This suggested to [John] Bright that Shechem was absorbed into Israel rather than being conquered, and so the covenant renewal ceremony was on the occasion of additional people being added to the covenant.’
In part 3 of this series, we will look at even more evidence, provided by Clay Jones, that God spares those who repent.