Our apologist wonders whether the Israelites should have slaughtered all those people, regardless of what god said. Let's see what (s)he thinks?
The Israelites personally knew God to be just, righteous and wise.
Apart from the wholesale slaughter of others I hope?
Aside from knowing God through prayer and individual devotions, many generations of Israelites personally witnessed God's miracles. The generation that fought against the Midianites was the generation that had miraculously escaped from Egypt; the generation that fought the wars in the book of Joshua was only one generation later, and saw the parting of the Jordan River (Josh 3:7-17). Both generations experienced God's provision for them during the Exodus (Dt 29:5; manna was provided until the time of Joshua - Josh 5:12).
Might does not make right. Just because god is powerful enough to perform miracles doesn't mean that god is always morally right.
Finally, Moses explicitly taught the Israelites that God "is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he" (Dt 32:4).
Ah yes, the circular reasoning that god is just because he says so - not very compelling.
These things gave them reason to trust God even when he commanded them to do something they might otherwise refuse to do.
Sorry, but this just doesn't hold. It doesn't matter who is telling someone to commit genocide, you don't do it. Even if that someone is an omni-max deity. Surely god could come up with a better option than making you complicit in wholesale slaughter.
Furthermore, they understood that God has the authority to destroy a city, and that the best thing for them to do was to trust someone whose judgment and wisdom are far superior to their own.
No, god does not have this authority. No one does. The apologist here is blankly stating that god has the authority to do whatever god wants, regardless of the moral implications of it. But, once again, might does not make right, so by what authority would god have to perform immoral actions? If the action becomes moral simply because god says so, then morality is relative. If what is right is right regardless, then god is not the author of morality, and his actions here are immoral.
Some have argued that the Israelites should have decided that God's command was wrong and refused to carry it out.
Yes, it appears that they should have.
It is worth noting that God is unchanging (Mal 3:6), so the Israelites would have known that the just and righteous God they knew before was still just and righteous when he issued the command.
Considering that Malachi is the last book in the OT, I don't see how the Israelites would have known this passage before it was written or occurred. Still, simply because god says he's right doesn't mean he is.
However, let us suppose for the sake of argument that God could have issued an unjust command; for instance, ordering the Israelites to be sadistic by torturing babies and enjoying their pain. Sadism is inherently evil; there is no possible situation in which it could be right to take pleasure in torturing others. (The Israelites slew people with swords, which would have been one of the quickest ways at the time to kill someone, and were never told to enjoy killing; thus God's commanded genocide was not sadism.) Therefore the Israelites would have been justified in refusing to practice sadism.
This is, perhaps, the most sensible thing in here. Yes, the Israelites should refuse to engage in sadism. So, why does the author think they should not have refused to slaughter people indiscriminately? The mind boggles, and I can only think that this is a case of special pleading.
Since the Israelites had good reason to believe in God's moral perfection, omniscience and omnipotence, the best choice for them would be to trust that God had a better understanding than they of the situation itself and the moral rules governing it.
And, here the author leans on the "god works in mysterious ways" canard. Well, the last passages were all about how the Israelites could know that god was correct in the order, and now the author is admitting that they couldn't know and simply had to trust. Which, BTW, would be a case of begging the question.
The only way for them to be justified in not obeying God's command would be if the command were inherently evil and impossible to justify (though it must be cautioned that humans with their imperfect understanding could incorrectly decide a command was inherently evil).
So, genocide is apparently not inherently evil? It's about as close as can be, one would think, and I've seen no justification for it so far, especially since the author is now admitting that they had to take it on faith that god was correct in ordering these genocides. And, to top it off, the author then claims that we are so imperfect that we could incorrectly decide that something is immoral when it isn't...so I guess sadism is back on the table.
So, this has seriously devolved into a mishmash of begging the question, circular logic, and relying on simply having faith that god was correct.
For more in this series...