God said what?! – Part Five

light_tunnelWe’re now in the middle of our journey down this particular theological rabbit hole, looking at common answers given to justify the genocidal implications of the Canaan conquest narrative.

If you haven’t read the previous parts of this series, I suggest you do so before continuing here.

Again, here are the passages in question:

and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. (Deut. 7:2 NKJV)

16 “But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, 17 but you shall utterly destroy them.” (Deut.20:16-17 NKJV)

Zeus_ReligionIt was divine punishment, not genocide

This answer is similar to the line of defense we looked at last time. God was not committing genocide when He ordered Israel to exterminate the Canaanites, He was executing divine judgment. The logic goes like this: just like God punished the wicked with the Flood in Noah’s day, and Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone in Abraham’s day, “the iniquity of the Amorites” is now complete for the Canaanites. And this response is inferred directly from Scripture.

16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Gen.15:16 NKJV)

In other words, the Amorites (aka “Canaanites”) weren’t quite wicked enough in Abraham’s day, so He had to wait for over 400 years until their sin could come to full fruition, and then God would be justified in eliminating their cancerous existence from the face of the earth.

This sounds like a plausible answer on a surface level, but it also creates several problems. Like with the “Canaanites were particularly evil” defense (Part four), how were they any more wicked than the surrounding nations? And how is this deserving of genocide? Also, if Abraham was in the land when God said this, why didn’t He send Abraham to the Canaanites like He did with Jonah to the Ninevites?

Again, how are the little children and babies deserving of total obliteration? And how does this sit with Ezekiel 18, where God declares that the children are not culpable for sins of their parents?

20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them. (Ezek.18:20 NIV -emphasis added)

Furthermore, in both Noah’s Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah, there was some warning or condition for showing mercy given before judgment. Not so with the Canaanites. There were no terms of surrender or peace afforded to them like there was with the surrounding nations (Deut.20:10-18). Actually, according to the text, such an offering was expressly forbidden (Deut. 7:2).

Once again, it would appear that the Canaanites’ unforgivable sin uniquely worthy of extermination was because of the land they were currently occupying.

dad_lectureIt’s not genocide when God does it

I’ve personally heard this particular defense many times. The logic here is that God’s ways are higher than ours and His righteousness is not man’s righteousness. Therefore, He can do something and it’s called good, even if we did the same thing and it would be considered deplorably evil.

But it’s more like a father who gets drunk at night and beats his wife but tells his kids to honor and respect their mother.

Descartes said that God can do the logically impossible. While this is true, it’s not relevant here. We were all made in God’s image and given a conscience to know right from wrong.

14 Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. 15 They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. (Rom.2:14-15 NLT)

If we turned on the evening news and heard about a tribal warlord who ordered the slaughter of an entire village, everyone would outraged. He would be hunted down for his heinous crime as a diabolically evil murderer. There isn’t any circumstance under heaven where butchering little children wouldn’t be considered unspeakably wicked. Why then do we say that it’s something else when God supposedly orders it? What we end doing is calling evil good.

20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isa. 5:20 NKJV)

delete_keyThis defense is a perfect example of pushing the “delete” button in our brain (DLPFC – see part one ), and shrugging our shoulders while we conveniently sweep the whole issue under the theological rug, pretending it’s not really what it says it is.

I have no doubt that this defense is made with good intentions and motivated by a desire to glorify God. But that doesn’t mean the interpretation is sound. As C.S. Lewis said, this is just pious nonsense.

“You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power…meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words ‘God can.’ It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)

Back to my logical syllogism from part one:

PREMISE 1: Genocide is defined as: “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group….the deliberate destruction of an entire race or nation.”
PREMISE 2: God ordered Israel to kill “everything that breathes” in Canaan Land and show no mercy. This is “the deliberate destruction of a race of people.”
THEREFORE: According to a “flat” literal reading of this holy ban, God is a genocidal warlord. (He’s a warlord because He commands His people to commit genocide in an act of war.)

What we’re doing with the “It’s not genocide when God does it” answer is evacuating the the words of their meaning, making them nonsensical. Either God said “let nothing that breathes remain alive,” which makes Him a genocidal warlord, or the order didn’t come from Him. It’s that simple. It’s only not so because the worst kind of confusion is pious confusion! And the only reason we feel the need to propagate such absurdities about something so monstrously repulsive to our sensibilities is because we hold to a Bible inerrancy dogma.

We will continue down this murky trail next time. Hang in there. There’s light at the end of the tunnel (and I promise it’s not a train!)

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 41 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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16 Responses to God said what?! – Part Five

  1. Lance says:

    You know Mel, anyone who grew up without the years of Christian doctrinal methodical rigorous indoctrination, would see these explanations (last two posts) as the insane ramblings of a psychopathic or sociopathic escaped mental patient…. Or a brainwashed robotic puppet repeating its programming. Sorry, you can delete this comment if you like. I had a moment.

  2. Ok…you peaked my curiosity with the first several posts. I want to throw something at you (not literally, but figuratively) and see if it sticks. There is a teaching, which I’m not sure where I stand, that the Sons of God (fallen angels before being bound in Tardis) had relations with the women of the land. The men birthed were the giants in the land. The Amorites (Canaanites) were of this group.

    Genesis 6: 1..Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.

    3 And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” 4 There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

    5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

    You asked the question, “How were they any more wicked than the surrounding nations? And how is this deserving of genocide? Also, if Abraham was in the land when God said this, why didn’t He send Abraham to the Canaanites like He did with Jonah to the Ninevites?” Is it possible that their wickedness was such that they were unable to be turned to repentance? And, is it possible, God was completing the task of ridding the earth of these exceedingly evil men?

    Again, I’m just throwing it out there to see if something sticks.

    • Mel Wild says:

      An interesting answer. I vaguely remember someone using this before, but it’s not a common one. Three problems come to mind off the top of my head. The first is somewhat unrelated to the question. Where did the giants come from if the Flood wiped out everyone except Noah and his family? (That will have to be another discussion for another time).
      And the second is, the giants were only a very small percentage of the total population in Canaan when Israel invaded. It would make sense for God to tell them to kill all the giants, but kill “everything that breathes” in the land?
      Third, if the Canaanites were so beyond repentance, then why did the one Canaanite they did actually talk to (Rahab) ask for mercy? Almost seems like the harvest field was ripe! 🙂 Not to mention, she ends up being the great-grandmother of David, and a direct ancestor of Jesus.
      Anyway, thanks for your input here. A good question to consider. Blessings.

  3. Der Krieger des Lichts says:

    This is a very important topic. The problem is, that the limited ego-mind (another word for it: Edging God Out :P) can’t understand God. All our images about God are distorted through the, often non-loving and fearbased, projections of the human ego. However, the true reality of God is pure Love. We can know Him in truth only, if we remove the blocks to our awareness of loves presence. We must sacrifice our ego, the false self, in love, to know Him and our True Self (Christ) in Him.

    • Mel Wild says:

      That pretty much sums it up when we look at how people saw God in the ancient world. But it’s still true today, found in the worst forms of religion. To use Thom Stark’s book title, we project our “human face” onto God instead of seeing Him as He really is. The New Testament revelation about God is found in Jesus Christ. No one actually knew God as He really is before Jesus, and we only know Him through Jesus (Matt.11:27; John 1:18; 14:7). And knowing Jesus is knowing love, for God IS love!
      Thanks for your comments. Blessings.

      • Der Krieger des Lichts says:

        There is a beautiful poem by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who is speaking to God: “I came out alone on my way to my tryst. But who is this that follows me in the silent dark? I move aside to avoid his presence, but I escape him not. He makes the dust rise from the earth with his swagger; he adds his loud voice to every word that I utter. He is my own little self (false self/ego*) my Lord; he knows no shame. But I AM (True Self*) ashamed to come to thy door in his company”


  4. Cindy Powell says:

    Trying to catch up on reading and very much looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel! Keep on keeping on Mel – it is good to think 😉

  5. “We’re now in the middle of our journey down this particular theological rabbit hole” Wow, halfway through, huh?
    This all is so thought-provoking, and gives an entirely different light to the Old Testament. And (I hope I’m not spoiling things to come), as I read Enns’ book, I see this more clearly. He gives an example of contradictory Proverbs as a prime example of the Bible not as an owner’s manual, but as a book that helps to teach us wisdom – to think on our own. More and more, I’m getting that.

    • Mel Wild says:

      “In the middle” of the common answers given (started with part three). Only seven parts total. 🙂 Of course, this is vast subject that’s been going on for about 2,000 years!
      Yes, Enns’ book is good. There are a lot of other scholars also writing along those lines in the last ten years. Some are better than others, but I think we are growing in our understanding of these perplexing dilemmas in Scripture. There are so many contradictions that God wants us to uncover so we will wrestle with them, with Him, instead of sweeping them under the theological rug and hoping they’ll go away. It’s a much deeper way of engaging in the text.
      Thanks for your encouragement, Susan, as always. Blessings.

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