Was it OK to kill all the Canaanites? (Part 3 of 4)
In part 1 of this Q&A we saw that we should not AVOID the troublesome texts where God commands and Israel carries out the destruction of the Canaanites.
In part 2 we learned that the conquest of Canaan essentially involved the Israelites defeating a number of military strongholds (most of the Canaanites probably fled before or during the conquest).
The terribleness of these texts has not been eliminated. We are still dealing, here, with a divine command to wipe out whatever Canaanites remained in a land they had been occupying for centuries. We still need to think through how these texts fit with our understanding of God.
So, to complete our admittedly cursory response to this problem, I'd like to share 6 leading ways of understanding how these texts fit with our theology. I do not consider all of these options equally valid, so I encourage you to think them through prayerfully.
First, one could argue that this is simply the proverbial exception to the rule. Normally it is right to love our enemies, but in this case it was necessary for salvation history that Israel annihilate them and establish themselves in the Promised Land. I do not find this 'way out' of the problem particularly compelling. There are no blips in God's character. God is resourceful enough to bring about divine purposes without going against His own character.
Second, some would point out that God alone has the right to take lives when He sees fit (He is, after all, the owner of those lives). The Canaanites were rebels to the one true King. If God chose to use the Israelites as His instrument of judgment, that is divine prerogative. There is much truth in this line of thinking.
Third, we should admit that we get mad at God when He does NOT deal with evil. The Canaanites were clearly sin-full people. They were sacrificing children to their false gods. God stopped them from doing that by wiping them out. This is a strong point.
Fourth, some would suggest that we don't really need to reconcile stories like this to the enemy-loving God we find in Jesus. They claim that there are 2-sides to God's nature: A loving side & a wrathful side. The Old Testament majors on wrath. The New Testament majors on love. Each are equally valid revelations of God. Personally, I find this appraisal of the situation unsatisfactory. I believe that God's nature is love and discipline/judgment is a form that love takes in the face of rebellion.
There are some good leads here, but next week I want to conclude this series of Q&A's with 2 more very interesting insights that might go the furthest in helping us to understand texts like this.