In his book, An Encylopedia of Bible Difficulties, Archer defends the command of the Hebrew God to exterminate the Canaanites including their infants. He does not try, as many other Christian apologists have, to minimize the severity of the commands. He writes:
Such complete destruction might appear to be needlessly harsh, since it included infants who were too young to have committed overt sin, even though the older children and the adults may all have fallen into utter depravity. Should we not understand this severity to be the result of a savage Bedouin mentality on the part of the wilderness warriors rather than a punitive measure ordained of God? (p. 155).
His answer is an emphatic, No. It was ordained by the God he worships. He gives three explanations to justify the genocide.
1. The genocide was on a smaller scale than the destruction of Sodom and the flood of Noah.
If criticism there be, we should not stop there, for the destruction of Jericho was far smaller an affair than the annihilation of the populations of Sodom and Gomorrah and their allies in Genesis 19:24-25. And then again this volcanic catastrophe was far less significant in the loss of life than Noah's Flood, which, except for Noah's family, wiped out the entire human race (p. 155).
I like the honesty of Archer. If the Bible is inerrant, then we should understand that God has on more than one occasion brought about the extermination of whole people groups. The extermination of the Canaanites is really nothing new. How this is supposed to be a defense of the Canaanite genocide, though, is a mystery to me. It is on a smaller scale so therefore it is okay? In fairness to Archer, I don't think this is really what he means to imply. I think he means that God is sovereign and that when he gets ready to destroy his creatures, he has a right to do so. This is in effect the Calvinist argument.
2. The extermination of the Canaanites was necessary in the same way that radical surgery is sometimes necessary to remove cancer.
The loss of innocent life in the demolition of Jericho was much to be regretted, but we must recognize that there are times when only radical surgery will save the life of a cancer-stricken body. The whole population of the antediluvian civilization had become hopelessly infected with the cancer of moral depravity (Gen. 6:5). Had any of them been permitted to live while still in rebellion against God, they might have infected Noah's family as well. The same was true of the detestable inhabitants of Sodom, wholly given over to the depravity of homosexuality and rape, in the days of Abraham and Lot. As with the Benjamites of Gibeah at a later period (Judg. 19:22-30; 20:43-48), the entire population had to be destroyed. So also it was with Jericho and Ai as well (Josh. 8:18-26); likewise with Makkedah (Josh. 10:28), Lachish (v.32), Eglon (v.35), Debir (v.39), and all the cities of the Negev and the Shephelah (v.40). In the northern campaign against Hazor, Madon, Shimron, and Achshaph, the same thorough destruction was meted out (Josh. 11:11-14).
In every case the baneful infection of degenerate idolatry and moral depravity had to be removed before Israel could safely settle down in these regions and set up a monotheistic, law-governed commonwealth as a testimony for the one true God. Much as we regret the terrible loss of life, we must remember that far greater mischief would have resulted if they had been permitted to live on in the midst of the Hebrew nation. These incorrigible degenerates of the Canaanite civilization were a sinister threat to the spiritual survival of Abraham's race. The failure to carry through completely the policy of the extermination of the heathen in the Land of Promise later led to the moral and religious downfall of the Twelve Tribes in the days of the Judges (Judg. 2:1-3, 10-15, 19-23). Not until the time of David, some centuries later, did the Israelites succeed in completing their conquest of all the land that had been promised to the descendants of Abraham (cf. Gen. 15:18-21). This triumph was only possible in a time of unprecedented religious vigor and purity of faith and practice such as prevailed under the leadership of King David, "a man after God's own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22) (pp. 155-56).
Notice that Archer admits that innocent life was lost in Jericho and by implication in all the other campaigns. He says it is regrettable but necessary. Why was it necessary? Because the Canaanites, if allowed to live, would infect the "pure" religion of Israel. First, his answer doesn't solve the moral problem of God ordering the destruction of "innocents." If these people were truly innocent, they were not deserving of the punishment God commanded for them. If God can punish the innocent, then he is not just nor is he holy. Second, the Israelites "pure" religion was infected numerous times in their history, if the Bible record is to be believed; since God presumably knew this was going to happen, why did he order the extermination of whole people groups including the innocent ones who were part of those groups? If the reason was to protect Israel's religion, it didn't work and he knew it wouldn't work.
3. The Israelites did not have the "spiritual weapons" that Christians have.
In our Christian dispensation true believers possess resources for resisting the corrupting influence of unconverted worldlings such as were hardly available to the people of the old covenant. As warriors of Christ who have yielded our members to Him as "weapons of righteousness" (Rom. 6:13) and whose bodies are indwelt and empowered by God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), we are well able to lead our lives in the midst of a corrupt and degenerate non-Christian culture (whether in the Roman Empire or in modern secularized Europe or America) and still keep true to God. We have the example of the Cross and the victory of the Resurrection of Christ our Lord, and he goes with us everywhere and at all times as we carry out the Great Commission.This is one of the weakest arguments I have encountered to defend the Canaanite genocide. Since Israel did not have the "spiritual weapons" that Christian have, then they had to use physical weapons to destroy whole people groups? Playing along with Archer for a moment, whose fault was it that the Israelites did not have the "spiritual weapons" that Christians have? It was God's. The poor Canaanites just lived at the wrong time in history.
As New Testament believers, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual, "mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5). These weapons, far mightier than those of Joshua, are able to capture men's hearts for God; and we have no occasion as ambassadors for Christ to resort to physical weapons to protect our faith and land (as the Israelites were compelled to do, if they were to survive spiritually). But on the contrary we carry on a life-saving offensive as fishers of men, and we go after the unsaved and unconverted wherever they are to be found. But we must recognize that our situation is far more advantageous than theirs, and our prospects of victory over the world are far brighter than theirs. For this we can thank God. But we must refrain from condemnation of those who lived in the very different situation that prevailed before the Cross and recognize that they acted in obedience and faith toward God when they carried out his orders concerning the Canaanites (p. 156).
Gleason Archer might have been a very learned man, but his justification of the Canaanite genocides is lame. Many Evangelicals have done a better job of attempting to "defend the indefensible" than did he.