When you write blogs about faith in God as being the key to peace, confidence, joy, freedom, love and salvation you get a lot of comments from those who don't share your opinions. While most agree that peace, confidence, joy, freedom, and salvation are good things and things to pursue many disagree on the source of these good things. They believe that if you work hard enough, and are a good person (by human standards) that you will eventually get them. The only problem is that most, actually none, get them permanently. They can peace, confidence,a joy,,a semblance of freedom on a temporary basis but can never really feel the confidence of salvation from damnation.
Most of those people deny the existence of God and when given the evidence of the creation on the universe in its intricate design one of their fall backs is “If this God of yours is so loving how do you justify His ordering genocide?" Here are few of the scriptures these “biblical scholars” use.
Deuteronomy 7:1-6, 16 NIV When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord ’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. You must destroy all the peoples the Lord your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you.
Deuteronomy 20:16-18 NIV However, 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—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.
Joshua 11:10-14 NIV At that time Joshua turned back and captured Hazor and put its king to the sword. (Hazor had been the head of all these kingdoms.) Everyone in it they put to the sword. They totally destroyed them, not sparing anyone that breathed, and he burned Hazor itself. Joshua took all these royal cities and their kings and put them to the sword. He totally destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. Yet Israel did not burn any of the cities built on their mounds—except Hazor, which Joshua burned. The Israelites carried off for themselves all the plunder and livestock of these cities, but all the people they put to the sword until they completely destroyed them, not sparing anyone that breathed.
To be perfectly honest these scriptures and the subsequent violence associated with them are bound to bother you. If you're a follower of Jesus you're bound to wonder because didn't Jesus say to love your enemies.
Matthew 5:43-48 NIV “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Why is God declaring war and commanding to completely destroy the enemy, even seemingly innocent ones?
We'll let's start with the fact that the Bible says that the Canaanites were morally corrupt. They engaged in acts that would be considered criminal in any civilized society–incest, infant sacrifice, ritual prostitution, bestiality, as was described in Leviticus chapter 18. Plus God waited a long time for them to hear rock bottom.
Genesis 15:13-14, 16 NIV Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
Hyperbole Is Exaggeration Not Meant To Be taken Literally
We must agree that things like; “destroy them totally”, “destroy all the people”, “do not leave alive anything that breathes”, do appear to say that should be total annihilation. However if, as I have said over and over in my blogs you must read the Bible as you would any other literature, so you must read it in it's total context, and in light of the way that similar literature was written at the time a specific scripture was written. In the case of God’s commands to the Israelite's, with regard to their their attack and conquest of Canaan, you can readily see that these commands as written are hyperbole (exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally), and not literal. First, the Israel was commanded to “drive out” or “dispossess” the Canaanites, but this assumes Canaanites would be alive—not killed—if driven out. Second, the “utterly destroy” or “leave alive nothing that breathes” language is hyperbolic like other Near Eastern war texts of that day. Today when we say that our favorite sports team completely destroyed their opponents we know that simply means that they had an overwhelming victory. The basic idea is that the accounts of Israel’s early battles in Canaan are narrated in a particular style, which is not intended to be literal in all of its details and contains a lot of hyperbole, and literary expressions for rhetorical effect.
Let's look at our opening Deuteronomy 7 scripture again. Israel is first told to drive out the Canaanites, then to totally destroy them, and that's followed by commands not to intermarry with them or enter into business dealings with them. You can't marry someone that you destroyed.
The same applies to the stories in Joshua. In Joshua chapter 10 it says that Israel left no survivors in the cities of Hebron and Debir
Joshua 10:36-39 NIV Then Joshua and all Israel with him went up from Eglon to Hebron and attacked it. They took the city and put it to the sword, together with its king, its villages and everyone in it. They left no survivors. Just as at Eglon, they totally destroyed it and everyone in it. Then Joshua and all Israel with him turned around and attacked Debir. They took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors. They did to Debir and its king as they had done to Libnah and its king and to Hebron.
However later in chapter 15 we see these towns and they are still populated.
Joshua 15:13-15 NIV In accordance with the Lord ’s command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb son of Jephunneh a portion in Judah—Kiriath Arba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai, the sons of Anak. From there he marched against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher).
So what we see is that this fits with other ancient battle accounts by using non-literal hyperbolic language as part of the narrative style. So the word genocide doesn't actually fit when we see it doesn't match the other stories about Canaanites who did turn to the God of Israel like Rahab, and the Gibeonite which show that God was open to those who would turn to Him.
Joshua 2:8-9, 12-13 NIV Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”
Joshua 6:24-25 NIV Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house. But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.
Joshua 9:3, 9-10, 24-25 NIV However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, They answered: “Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan—Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth. They answered Joshua, “Your servants were clearly told how the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.”
As the book of Josiah, which details Israel’s entrance into Canaan and the subsequent battles in that invasion, end it is clear that the Canaanites were not totally destroyed.
Joshua 11:23 NIV So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.
Joshua 13:2-5 NIV “This is the land that remains: All the regions of the Philistines and Geshurites, from the Shihor River on the east of Egypt to the territory of Ekron on the north, all of it counted as Canaanite though held by the five Philistine rulers in Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron; the territory of the Avvites on the south; all the land of the Canaanites, from Arah of the Sidonians as far as Aphek and the border of the Amorites; the area of Byblos; and all Lebanon to the east, from Baal Gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo Hamath.
The first two chapters of Judges repeat the fact that Israel failed to even drive all of the Canaanites out of the land.
These accounts show God bringing justice on human evil at a unique time in history, and how He delivered Israel from being annihilated by the Canaanites. These battles were limited to the handful of people groups living in the land of Canaan. In fact Israel was commanded to pursue with all the other nations.
Deuteronomy 20:1, 10-15 NIV When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.
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Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.