On God and Judgment Against the Canaanites

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greenbaggins

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This is a highly provisional, subject to much revision, initial foray into the question of God's judgment on the Canaanites, and modern objections to it.

1. Most importantly, humans are not in any sort of position to be the judge over God. See C.S. Lewis's famous essay "God in the Dock" for the money quote: "The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the bench and God is in the dock.” Any claim to be the judge over God is the very height of hubris, and reflects a non-Christian attitude towards God and towards His Word.

2. One unwarranted and unbiblical assumption underlying a critique of the conquest of Canaan is that the Canaanites were innocent, at least in terms of the women and children. There are no innocent people on earth (Romans 1-2 conclusively prove this). The argument can be modified to suggest that even if they weren't innocent, at least they didn't deserve what happened. This underplays the seriousness of sin by an infinite amount. The smallest sin deserves an infinite punishment because of the infinite dignity of the Person offended (God). To illustrate this, I typically use the idea of a slap in the face. Slap a hobo on the street, and what are the consequences? Probably not many, as the hobo might even be used to such treatment. Slap your neighbor, and you might get a fight on your hands. Slap a police officer, and you can get charged with a crime. Slap the President of the US, and you get put in jail for a long time for treason. The exact same action has completely different consequences depending on the dignity of the person slapped. Now consider that any sin at all is a slap in the face of the God of the universe, and we can quickly come to realize that God owes nothing good to anyone. The only way to escape this answer is to posit Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism, both heretical and unbiblical options. There were no innocent Canaanites, and the only ones who actually feared God were spared (Rahab and family, and the Gibeonites).

3. Genesis 15:16 provides a very important key for understanding the conquest of Canaan. In the midst of God's promises to Abraham, God shows what is actually His patience and longsuffering character (NOT bloodthirstiness) towards the Canaanites. The reason why Abraham is not allowed to take immediate possession of the Canaanites is that it is not time yet. God is long-suffering, despite what is said above in point 2. Therefore, when the invasion finally happens, it is actually evidence of great mercy that it didn't happen much sooner, as the Canaanites actually deserved.

4. Regarding the "victim rape" of the Canaanite women, firstly, there is no record of any Israelite actually taking a wife from the Canaanites during the conquest (the laws regarding that event could actually be interpreted as a warning against doing such). No other ANE laws, to my knowledge, have such injunctions (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). In fact, given the climate of the time, the laws Moses puts into effect regarding such marriages are evidence that the Israelites are supposed to treat the Canaanites with far greater mercy than any Canaanite tribe would have treated each other or Israel. The humiliation of the Canaanite woman is even mentioned as one of the reasons why the Israelites needed to treat them with compassion.

5. Regarding the violence itself, it is folly and delusion to judge a situation that happened over three thousand years ago by standards that are derived from modern culture. Anachronism is the inevitable result. The only way responsibly to interpret the Bible's record on this matter is to use the Bible's own standards and evaluation as the way to interpret the Bible's record. As a result, modern critiques of the conquest that are negative towards the conquest are engaged in eisegesis of a very narrow-minded, judgmental, self-righteous, un-self-aware, sort.

6. It is also important to recognize that Israel was a theocracy, exercising both church and state offices, a situation that is not true of the modern church. Israel had the power of execution in a way that the church does not. For a good treatment of how these passages apply today in the realm of spiritual warfare, the best treatment of the biblical-theological movement I have seen is that of Tremper Longman (both in God is a Warrior, and in the Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide volumes).

7. The end result is that God brought judgment on the Canaanites for their idolatry, while simultaneously fulfilling His own promises to Abraham in giving the promised land to Israel. In this His righteous judgment and His mercy are simultaneously evident both in His treatment of the Canaanites and in His treatment of Israel. In the former case, God showed the Canaanites mercy by not executing judgment much earlier, while showing His justice by punishing the sin of idolatry. In the case of the Israelites, God showed justice in doing what He said He would do, but showed mercy in giving them a land they could never have been said to deserve.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Lane,
Any thoughts on the typological significance of this act of judgment as a foreshadowing (and thus warning to wider humanity) of the final judgment, when the sins of humanity are full? It's also striking to me that the pattern of herem warfare was not Israel's normal pattern subsequently - the conquest was a unique event.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Lane,
Any thoughts on the typological significance of this act of judgment as a foreshadowing (and thus warning to wider humanity) of the final judgment, when the sins of humanity are full? It's also striking to me that the pattern of herem warfare was not Israel's normal pattern subsequently - the conquest was a unique event.
Iain, I am totally on board with those typological aspects of herem. One could profitably trace a typology of judgment starting with the earliest types of baptism (see Fesko's work on baptism), including the Flood, of course, and going on through the herem to the cross, and the predictions of Revelation. I like Longman's approach on its application to spiritual warfare today for the current already-not yet stage of redemptive history. I also agree on the unique aspects of the conquest.
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
I’ve also noticed the mentions throughout the Pentateuch that the Canaanites had heard what God had done for Israel and seemed to be fully aware that the land was theirs by promise. Does this imply an extreme wickedness of those who hardened their hearts and resisted?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I’ve also noticed the mentions throughout the Pentateuch that the Canaanites had heard what God had done for Israel and seemed to be fully aware that the land was theirs by promise. Does this imply an extreme wickedness of those who hardened their hearts and resisted?
The ungodly now have (for many of them) come to awareness that judgment awaits, and a casting-out from the blessings they have been enjoying rent-free on God's real estate. I don't know that the Canaanites had any more extreme wickedness in their resistance, than does anyone today who expects to continue to benefit from that for which he is not properly thankful as long as possible.
 

JimmyH

Puritan Board Senior
This is a very timely post for me to read. I needed to 'hear' it. Having gone through the book of Joshua last month, in the M'Cheyne 1 year plan, and being troubled by the violence against the Canaanites. This morning the sermon was on Deuteronomy 13. God through Moses commanding us to charge father, mother, sister, brother, best friend who would lead us to worship other gods to be killed. To destroy a whole city, every man, women, and child, and burning it and all that is in it to ashes, if the city departed from the faith to worship gods which we have not known.

It's tough stuff for someone raised in the USA in the 20th century. I've always accepted it as Scripture, but at the same time felt uncomfortable with it. Thinking what do unbelieving people, especially young people, hearing the Gospel think when they get to these historical narratives ? Will it be a deal breaker? It was for Thomas Paine in writing The Age of Reason.

After church this morning I came home and read Matthew Henry's commentary on Deuteronomy 13 and that helped a lot. He pointed out that the command to destroy the city was restricted to those that were part of Israel, not the pagans outside. Also that in the history of Israel no such event ever occurred, and finally how Abraham was able to reason with God before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Then I was skimming the PB and came across Reverend Lane's post, and that has helped shed even more light. Having grown up in the time of Billy Graham, and a ME centered Gospel, it is easy to overlook that it is about the Kingdom of God, that all have sinned and fallen short of His glory, and deserve eternal damnation. Modern presuppositions are difficult to overcome, but Reverend Keister's OP has given me a believer's perspective that I had to struggle to find until I reading it this afternoon. Many thanks !
 
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