Monday, November 7, 2016

Part Three: Why God is still a good God in light of His commands to "wipe-out" the Canaanites in the Book of Joshua

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Deuteronomy 20:16-18 "Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, 18 so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God."

Note: The reader can link to a fuller, more detailed version of this post by the same title at the other blogsite at:

Introduction and Review:

The last two posts have aimed to offer a response to those who accuse Yahweh of being a "moral monster" for His command for the Hebrews to defeat and "wipe-out" the Canaanites. Skeptics and more particularly, the so-called "New Atheists", have attempted to use these texts and a basis for calling into question the moral integrity of the God of the Bible and the character of scripture itself. In the minds of such skeptics, the Bible endorses immoral practices such as "ethnic-cleansing". So how can we navigate the response and discussion of these issues as Christians who are concerned for the souls of those who oppose the Bible as well as demonstrating the reliability of God's character and the scriptures? The goal of today's post is to suggest a way of "framing" or navigating this "thorny" issue in light of these considerations. 

Suggesting a way of framing the discussion regarding Yahweh's commands to destroy the Canaanites in the Book of Joshua

1. Extra-biblical resources that corroborate the history detailed by Joshua 

To begin, one critic has tried to allege that when the Bible reports the immoral and spiritual degradation of Canaanite culture, it does so as propaganda and that there is scant to no outside evidence supporting such a notion. Is that true? When we consider the sources outside the Old Testament that refer to the Canaanite culture, it’s practices and the situation of Canaanland during the time of Joshua and the Conquest, we can look at some of the following ancient documents and/or writings:

A. The Tel El-Amarna corresponsdance between the Canaanite peoples and the Egyptians during the 13th century. In these letters (really tablets) we see the appearance of the Hebrews (called in the tablets the Hapiru).1

B. The discoveries at Ugarit in Northern Syria unearthed numerous tablets with a language akin to ancient Hebrew called the Ugaritic. Scholars have deciphered this language and have found it helpful in discerning Hebrew idioms in the Old Testament. It is here we get more information about the Canaanites and their religion, being that the peoples of Ugarit were closely related.

C. According to the Archaeological Study Bible, page 182, other Archaeological discoveries in the Phoenecian city of Carthage, Moab, Ur of the Chaldees and the like reveal a centuries old pattern of child sacrifices in the region of Canaan, confirming both the Biblical record and reasons as to why the Israelites would later practice such abominable activities in the latter parts of the Old Testament. They had picked it up from their Canaanite neighbors.2

D. The Ras-Shamra Tablets contain information relating to Canaanite worship practices and deities. Dr. Gleason Archer lists all of the deities and some of the practices described in these tablets which help reconstruct the picture of Canaanite culture that we see most fully revealed in the Book of Joshua.3

2. The Mercy and Long-suffering of God is displayed right along with God's Justice and Holiness

In noting the extra-biblical sources that corroborate the cultural context of the Book of Joshua, we can now consider the character of Yahweh Himself. The Old Testament teaching about God’s holy character, long-suffering mercy and covenant relationship with His people must be considered if correct interpretation of Joshua is to be achieved. 

In reading Joshua, there are indications that the Canaanites were aware of Yahweh's deliverances of Israel from Egypt, as indicated by Rahab's testimony in the second chapter of Joshua.

3. The concept of Holy war is different from the historic practice of genocide.

Deuteronomy 20:15-18 depicts the rationale of Yahweh in his instructions to Moses for Joshua and the people. God did not want his people to be influenced by their neighbors (Deuteronomy 7:1-5). As a Holy set-apart people, they were to be Holy as He is Holy.

The moral and spiritual conditions in Canaan had deteriorated to such a level as to cross the line where God hands them over to their own base desires and to be set apart for judgment. 

Whenever one reads the texts that speaks of God devoting or dedicating something to destruction, Romans 1:18-31 can be used as an interpretive lens for assessing the downward spiral of moral and spiritual degradation. 

4. Understanding the Concept of "Holy War" in the Bible and How Yahweh Could Still Show Mercy 

The stark contrast between the holy and the profane is central to the Biblical concept of God’s Holiness. The Wrath of God, which is God’s Holiness in action, describes what God hates and is really His love and goodness expressed in relationship to that which is profane and contrary to His character. To love sin or to embrace injustice would make God not a good God. If God were not Holy and did not express His wrath, then He could not be good and be loving. This idea may seem repugnant to a secularized view of reality that denies the God of the Bible or any worldview that does not view God as Holy. God declared Holy War only on those nations and cities who had crossed the line on two main fronts:

a). They ignored previous warnings that came through a prophet or prior judgments God enacted on nearby cultures and

b). were engaging in practices that polluted the land spiritually and posed significant moral and spiritual contamination of other cultures.

Jeremiah 18:8 states – “if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.” Two most prominent examples are Rahab in Joshua 2 and the Ninevites in the Book of Jonah.

Whenever an individual (such as Rahab) or a city (like Ninevah) did repent and respond to God’s revelation, God would relent His anger and based upon His equally balanced characteristics of love and mercy spare that individual or city.

More next time...


1. Dr. Gleason Archer. A Survey of the Old Testament Introduction. Moody Press. 1985. Pages 271-279

2. The Archaeological Study Bible. Zondervan. 2005. Page 182

3. Dr. Gleason Archer. A Survey of the Old Testament Introduction. Moody Press. 1985. Pages 271-279

4. Walt C. Kaiser Jr. Toward Old Testament Ethics. Zondervan. 1991. Page 268.

5. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Moody Publishers. 1980. Page 741.

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