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Five minutes on the conquest of Canaan

I wasn't asked about the conquest of Canaan during Thursday's debate. But if I was, here  are 5 minutes worth of thoughts prepared in advance. (Quite a bit was taken from Paul Copan's Is God a Moral Monster?)

There’s not a Christian in the world who doesn’t read Scriptures like Deuteronomy 20:16-18 without a lump in their throat.  But this jarring sensation does not come in spite of their Christianity, but precisely because of it. Christians don’t need to step outside the bible to learn the infinite and intrinsic value of human life. We don’t need humanist ethicists to tell us how to treat our enemies.  Jesus Himself has taught us:

“Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, bless those who curse you, bless and do not curse them, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, if your adversary sues you for your coat, give him the shirt off your back, don’t pick up the sword, those who live by the sword will die by the sword, my kingdom is not from this world otherwise my followers would fight for me but my kingdom is not from this world, the kingdom of heaven is within, etc, etc.”

Atheists haven’t taught Christians to be sensitive to the spilling of blood, Jesus has.  And, never forget, Jesus has taught both believers and unbelievers of the West exactly the sensibilities that make these ancient stories so difficult to our ears.  We look back at these three and a half thousand year old stories and find it almost impossible to think ourselves into their war-like worlds.  A massive reason for that is the advent of Christianity.

Nonetheless, the Christian is faced with Jesus who tells us both to put down our own swords and to take up His book - the Old Testament.  Jesus emphatically tells us that these Hebrew Scriptures are His Scriptures.  We cannot have Him and not His book.  So how then do we read it?

Well as we go back to the OT, what we see are Canaanite cultures involved in child-burning levels of evil.  For four hundred years they are engaged in repugnant spiritual and moral wickedness. And, having given them four hundred years to repent of it - considerably longer than any other "just war" ever launched! - God visits them with a one off, unrepeatable judgement.

And it has nothing to do with ethnicity.  This is not genocide, there is nothing racial about this.  It’s about spiritual and moral evil which, when the Israelites are guilty of it, they too are conquered by foreign nations.  What we see is a God who gives the Canaanites 400 years to repent.  Every Canaanite who ever sought mercy from the Israelites was granted mercy.  It's true that, prior to the conquest, there is language of total destruction and “giving over” whole cities to the LORD, actually the language of “driving out” the Canaanites precedes and predominates over language of “wiping out.”  Copan argues that this is militaristic hyperbole that, even within the Bible, is fulfilled in non-literal ways.  i.e. the Canaanites just weren't wiped out (nor were the Korahites).  The narrative of the wars does not describe non-combatants being killed (Copan argues that Jericho and Ai were fortresses - military installations if you like).  And when Joshua sums up his achievements he considers that he's done what Moses had commanded - this, in spite of the Canaanites not even being wholly driven out, let alone "wiped out."

Now there is still a bloody intensity in these stories that confronts our placid, peace-time sensibilities.  And there is a fearfulness to the judgement of God falling here in history.  But if we tell God he should do more about the evil of this world and then He gives us a one-off, unrepeatable pre-figurement of His righteous judgement – we can’t then complain at His intervention!  God can bring judgement.  God does bring judgement.  God will bring judgement.

If you read the OT you realise God is not a Rotarian.  He’s not an old softy.  There is blood and fire and justice to the Living God.  But when you read the NT you get the same.  Jesus is not Sweet.  But neither does He allow us to take justice into our own hands.  Jesus absorbs the fire and the justice on the cross.  He sheds His own blood for His enemies and as He does so He prays “Father forgive them.”  The Kingdom He brings is one of cheek-turning, enemy-forgiving, love. There is blood-shed in Christ's kingdom - but it's our own blood shed in place of our enemies.  There can be no Christian genocide.  That is a contradiction in terms.

On the other hand, what is it about atheism that absolutely rules out mass murder? What if it really achieved a greater goal for the species?  What if it would preserve more favoured races in the struggle for survival?  Is it at all possible that a mass murderer could justify their actions as consistent with a thorough-going atheism?   They wouldn't win humanist of the year, that's for sure.  Certainly, no atheist I know wants to do such things, nor do they want to provide any justification for it.  But can such evils be perpetrated consistently within atheism?  I contend that the answer is yes.  Therefore the problem of genocide does not lie in millennia old Hebrew wars.  It lies in the here and now.  And the answer is not to jettison Jesus or His book.  Instead we need to return again to the Crucified PeaceMaker.


9 thoughts on “Five minutes on the conquest of Canaan

  1. Pastor Laurel

    Please, I am asking you all in Australia to pray for believers here in America...I fear we are heading into Judgement for the sins of this nation. We have recieved the President our sins deserve. If we do not turn from this path, I fear we shall be no more. I know that sounds dire, but the people are not listening and many "liberal christians" follow blindly the piper...God help us, have Mercy! Crying out to those who truly believe...pray for those who have tried to stand for Truth and Israel.

    For Messiah Yeshua and His Kingdom Pastor Laurel Anderson

  2. Glen

    Pastor Anderson, I will indeed pray for you. Your faith seems to be misplaced. America is not the people of God. Obama is neither the Messiah nor the devil. The Republicans are not the hope for the US. And hurricanes are hurricanes. Do not let winds that are here today and gone tomorrow shake you. Jesus is LORD. There is eternal safety in Him. Forget your politicized moralisms - they blind you to the gospel. In a couple of days when the winds have passed and the election's been won and life goes on I really pray you'll get on with the true business of pastoring - Proclaiming Jesus Christ, the only true sovereign.

    In Him

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  4. Steve Martin

    God comments, Glen.

    How proud are we when we believe that our little corner of the world holds God's focus more than other places.

    God loves and is concerned for this entire orb and all upon it. His wrath, however, is being poured out for ALL iniquity. We reap what we have sown and that includes the land and the seas and the weather and the sinners who are upon this earth.

    There's no hope for us, in the end, without our Savior. But in Christ Jesus, we do have authentic Hope and a real future of wholeness...with Him.

  5. Emma

    Hi Glen

    Thanks for this post. I've just been having a debate with an atheist who brought up this exact passage. In the discussion, he said that why were children commanded to be killed if one of the reasons of God's judgement was that the Caananites were sacrificing their children? How would you respond?

    Blessings, Emma

    Sent from my iPad

  6. Glen

    Hi Emma,

    Copan (link below) would say 'militaristic hyperbole' - and understood to be such within the bible's thought-world. Wholesale destruction of that 'culture of death' is the intention. We might say "Wipe them from the face of the earth." "Destroy them, root and branch" etc, etc. What you see when they carry it out is explicitly the deaths of kings and combatants. And mercy offered to any household or nation that sought it.

    When push comes to shove, you can say the Judge intervenes at some point in everyone's timeline. And He has that right.

    But I don't think it gets to "shove" as straightforwardly as some make out.

    Copan's book might be good for you and/or your friend:

  7. Cal

    Thanks Glenn, I especially like your pointing out that the Living God is full of blood, sweat and justice. Our King knocked down tables and drove out the bandits who made God's promise of atonement a mockery. He had to bear the sins of the world that His Father placed upon Him in order to bash down the doors of Death, remove its keys and smash the serpents head once and for all.

    His Weapon? Self-Sacrificial Love.

    It truly is a mystery (as in the Greek "Mouth-Shutting").

    All Glory to the King!!

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