In some places the Torah tells the Israelites about to enter the Land of Israel to expel all its inhabitants. For example, in Numbers 33:52-33:55:

You shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you… You shall clear out the Land and settle in it, for I have given you the Land to occupy it. If you do not drive out the inhabitants of the Land, then those whom you allow to remain will be as spikes in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they will harass you in the land in which you settle.

Yet in other places the Torah says to kill the inhabitants outright:

Deuteronomy 7:1-4

You must doom them to destruction: Grant them no terms and give them no quarter. You shall not intermarry with them... for they will turn your children away from Me to worship other gods.


Deuteronomy 20:16-18

You shall not keep alive anything that breathes… You shall utterly destroy them … lest they lead you into doing all the abhorrent things that they have done for their gods.

So which is it? Expel or kill? It cannot be both. If you expel, you do not kill. If you kill, you do not expel. How do our commentators resolve the apparent contradiction?

In the end the Israelites did neither:

Judges 3:5

And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

Could it be because they were confused about what they were supposed to do?

  • I recall a commentary about Datan and Aviram who were rendered poor that poverty is akin to death. Maybe driving them out and depriving them of their belongings is (effectively) synonymous with death so it wasn't that complex.
    – rosends
    Apr 17, 2019 at 16:34
  • 1
    1. We don't learn Halochos from Psukim 2. If you ask practically look at Rambam A"Z and Melachim.
    – Al Berko
    Apr 17, 2019 at 16:54
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    Wait, whose translations is it? You have a serious problem not quoting the original Hebrew and relying on a lousy translations. For example Sefaria's says "you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy all their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their cult places."
    – Al Berko
    Apr 17, 2019 at 16:57
  • The last quote from Deu 20.16 should start with "כִּי־תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל־אֹיְבֶיךָ" and it speaks of war only.
    – Al Berko
    Apr 17, 2019 at 17:09
  • "Could it be because they were confused about what they were supposed to do"? I don't understand: Given (at least) three alternatives (expel them, kill them, or let them remain), you're suggesting they chose the option that they were explicitly told would result in the natives being stings in their eyes and thorns in their sides, harassing them in the land in which they lived? I would have thought doing eeny-meeny-miny-moe between the other two options would have been a significantly better course of action.
    – Tamir Evan
    Dec 6, 2019 at 4:37

2 Answers 2


The Ohr HaChaim points out this contradiction and suggests two possibilities:

והגם שאמר הכתוב בז׳ עממין (דברים כ טז) לא תחיה כל נשמה, כאן מדבר הכתוב חוץ מז' עממין הנמצאין שם, ולזה דקדק לומר את כל יושבי הארץ לומר אפילו שאינם מז' עממין

והורשתם את כל יושבי הארץ, "You are to drive out all the inhabitants of the land, etc." Even though the Torah says in Deut. 20, 16 that: "you must not allow a single soul (of these seven nations) to survive," in this instance the Torah does not speak of the seven Canaanite nations but about others who lived amongst them. This is the reason the Torah chose its words carefully, i.e. "all the ones who dwell in the land," that the Israelites were to drive out even those people who lived there who were not members of the seven nations.

או אפשר שחוזר על אומה שאין כח בהם להורגם שישתדלו להורישם ולא יניחו מהם בארץ

Alternatively, the Torah refers again to a nation which the Israelites do not possess the strength to kill. At least they should ensure that they would leave the land and not remain in it. (Sefaria)


In his Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Malakhim, chapters 5 and 6, Maimonides says that the Israelites must make peace with the Canaanites if they are able to do so.

Deuteronomy 20:10 states:

“when you approach a city to wage war against it, you must propose a peaceful settlement.”

If the Canaanites agree to the peace and observe the basic laws of civilization (the Seven Noahide Laws,) the Israelites must accept them with peace. Maimonides explains that this was Joshua's first move when he entered Canaan. Three letters were sent, allowing them to flee, make peace, or wage war. A lot chose war, especially in the case of the Gibeonites.

Maimonides says that the Israelites were not required to kill any Canaanite offering peace.

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