Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Old Testament Violence (15) - Defence against Attack

Although the Israelites were over zealous in slaughtering the inhabitants of Canaan, this does not mean that is never a justification for war. There were a few times when the nations attacked Israel and defence was justified.

Sihon King of Heshbon is an interesting example. Moses sent a message to him asking if his people could pass by. Moses promised that they would stay on the main road and pay for any food that they used.

Let us pass through your country. We will stay on the main road; we will not turn aside to the right or to the left. Sell us food to eat and water to drink for their price in silver. Only let us pass through on foot (Deut 2:27-28).
Moses did everything possible to avoid picking a fight with them Heshbonites. He offered to pay for food and grazing. However, the heart of King Sihon was hardened. He responded to Moses’ request by sending his army out against the Israelites at Jahaz. God spoke to Moses and promised to defeat this army.
The LORD said to me, "See, I have begun to deliver Sihon and his country over to you. Now begin to conquer and possess his land (Deut 2:31).
The Lord helped the Israelites win this battle. Deuteronomy does not describe how God intervened, but Moses describes the outcome.
At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors (Deut 2:34).
This verse seems to imply that the Israelites destroyed all the men, woman and children, but that is not the full story.

Firstly, there is no evidence that God commanded them to destroy everyone. God allowed the Israelites to defend themselves, if when they were attacked. He assisted them in these situations. However, he never commanded them to annihilate the women and children when they were defending themselves.

If they had destroyed all the woman and children, Moses would have been disobeying God. However, Moses was not disobedient. This is just another example of a verse being translated harshly for no reason. The last three words literally say “We left none to remain”. This is not the same as “no survivors”. Moses may have been saying that they drove the people out and allowed no one to remain in the towns of this land. He was not claiming to have slaughtered all the women and children. This view is confirmed in Judges 11:23, where Jepthah sent the Ammonite king a message about the land taken from Sihon.
Now since the LORD, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over?
This confirms that the Israel did not destroy the people of Heshbon, but drove them out before the people of Israel. The harsh translation of herem in misrepresents Moses actions.

A further confirmation is the Greek version (Septuagint) of Isaiah 17:9, which says that the Hivites and Amorites deserted their cities.

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