As we work our way through some of the theories about how God can condone and command violence in the Bible, we come to a view which basically states that the violence is exaggerated.
The basic premise is that we misread the Bible when we think that the Israelites actually killed all the Canaanites (or whatever people group is in view). Sometimes the Bible is exaggerating in the number of people that were killed while other times the Bible says that all the people were killed when in fact they were not.
Then there are those cases where the terminology for “destruction” need not refer to death, but could refer to something else, such as being forced to leave the land or make the decision to join forces with the Israelites.
In other words, this position has several elements and perspectives, depending on which book you read or which scholar you listen to, but the main elements of this theory are described below (Note: Many hold various versions of this view, but you can read one summary of it on the Eternity Bible College blog).
Others Could Join Israel
First, God’s ultimate goal was for the conquered people to repent of their sin, see that God was worthy of worship and obedience, and join with Israel in following Him. Examples of this are found in some of the Egyptian people who joined with Israel at the Exodus (Exod 12:38), Rahab siding with the Israelite spies against her own people and then becoming one of the Israelites after their conquest of Jericho (Josh 6:22-23), and the Gibeonites choosing to be servants of Israel rather than face annihilation (Josh 9:9).
The Canaanites were Driven Out
Secondly, when people did not side with God in this way, God did not actually command the Israelites to kill and slaughter those that remained, but to “drive them out” of the land, that is, to force them to leave the land of Canaan and go elsewhere (cf. Num 21:32; Deut 9:1; 11:23; 18:14; 19:1; 23:27-30; etc.).