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  • Writer's pictureKatie Rose

Was it OK to Kill the Canaanites? (Part 1 of 4)

Let's be honest...the Bible contains some troubling texts. Not least of these are the numerous Old Testament passages calling for the complete annihilation of the Canaanites in the land promised to the Israelites.

Here are examples of the command/fulfillment:

"In the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them." (Deuteronomy 20:16-17)

"He [Joshua] left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded." (Joshua 10:40)

These verses cause us to imagine the Israelites going into Canaan and killing every man... every woman... every child... every animal. If we aren't troubled by this language, we should check to see if we have a beating heart.

How do we reconcile this kind of language with the enemy-love that Jesus taught in the New Testament? I think there are good answers to this question, but it will take a series of Q&A Friday's to tackle this topic. Today, I simply wish to dismiss what I would consider BAD responses to the apparent problem.

First, it is tempting for Christians, when they get stuck with a problematic passage in Scripture, to claim that it's just a MYSTERY. Surely we can't know everything, but this issue is too important (it speaks to the character of God) and we're just being too lazy when we refuse to even grapple with this issue.

Second, some Christians (recognizing these texts as troublesome) have implicitly (or even explicitly) suggested that, perhaps, the God of the Old Testament was a DIFFERENT (FALSE) GOD. This simply will not do. Both the Old & New Testaments, we believe, are inspired texts that reveal the one true God whose character never changes.

Third, it is now popular among some Christian scholars to argue that Israel was simply WRONG... that God had not commanded this apparent genocide... Israel only thought God said it. This response, however, wreaks absolute havoc on the doctrine of inspiration and the trustworthiness of Scripture (since the texts specifically say God commanded the ban on Canaanites).

Fourth, it was popular in the early church (and is becoming popular again) to suggest that these passages were only meant as ALLEGORIES. From this perspective, the passage is not meant to be taken literally... nobody was actually killed... it was just an allegory for the spiritual battles that we must go through to get to the metaphorical promised land of holiness. This argument, however, fails to recognize the genre we're dealing with (historical narrative). An actual military conflict took place.

These responses to the apparently problematic texts just won't do. Next week, we'll consider some very important realities that we need to understand in order to adequately respond to this issue.

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