Monday, August 04, 2008

Old Testament Violence (7) - Evict the Canaanites

Moses repeated God’s promises to Israel in Deuteronomy 7. Most commentators say that God was telling the Israelites to totally destroy the Canaanites, but this is not correct. Moses begins by repeating God’s promise to drive the inhabitants of Canaanites out of the land.

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 (Deut 7:1).
This is quite straightforward. God will “drive out” these seven strong nations and the Israelites will take possession of the land.
The confusion comes from the next verses.
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 sons away from following me to serve other gods (Deut 7:2-4).
The phrase “destroy them totally” is “herem”, but the message in the rest of the paragraph shows that “destroy” is not the appropriate translation in this context. Moses’ message was that they must have nothing to do with the Canaanites. They must not make a treaty with them. They must not marry them. This would not make sense, if all the Canaanites had been destroyed, as there would be no one to marry and no one to make a treaty. In this context, herem would be better translated as “totally separate from them”.
When the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must totally separate from them. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them.
God would deal with the Canaanites. The Israelites should avoid all contact.

Moses is very precise about what should be destroyed.
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 (Deut 7:5,6).
God wanted the Israelites to destroy the idols and all sacred things that belonged to the previous inhabitants of the land, but he did not want the people destroyed. He would deal with them himself.
The LORD your God will clear away these nations (Deut 7:22).
Moses also explained how God would expel the people of Canaan.
Moreover, the LORD your God will send the hornet among them until even the survivors who hide from you have perished. Do not be terrified by them, for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God…throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed (Deut 7:20,21,23).
The Lord will bring confusion, discomfort and vexation upon the Canaanites. He will send hornets among them to fill them with terror. They would realise that a mighty God is with the people of Israel and they will flee or hide. The word “perished” in verse 20 is “abad” which comes from a root meaning “wander away” or “escape”. The word “destroyed” at the end of verse 23 is not “herem,” but “shamad”. It can mean “come to nothing”. That is the fate of the Canaanites. They would escape in every direction and cease to be a people.

Rahab described the fulfilment of this word. She describes her people’s response to hearing about what God had done.
When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below (Jos 2:11).
The spies reported to Joshua,
All the people are melting in fear because of us (Jos 2:24).
When they arrived at Jericho, the spies’ words were confirmed.
Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in (Jos 6:1).
God had filled the Canaanite nations with fear and trepidation.

Moses message was confirmed in Deuteronomy 9. He warned the children of Israel that they must not take credit for gaining the land, even though it belonged to a people who were mighty and strong. God would go ahead of the Israelites as a consuming fire and subdue the Canaanites. God might destroy some of the Canaanites, if he chose, but the Israelites should drive them out of the land. Bereft of land, they might perish, but the Israelites were not given permission to slaughter them.

The children of Israel must not take credit, because the victory belonged to the Lord. He was the one who was thrusting the people out and driving them off their land. Moses message was very clear. The people living in the land were not to be slaughtered, because God would drive them out. This was God’s judgment on their wickedness.


Gene Redlin said...

I know this comes from your Anti War Theology, so I will wait right here and see how you deal with the Prophet of God, Samuel and Saul's sin.

Why do I hear the bleating of sheep and who is this King here???

You are putting a smiley face on a deeper spiritual reality. We are not to drive out or evict sin allowing it to live around our life, we are to put it to death permanently.

Taking no prisoners. The lesson from the Children of Israel in Canaan is much different from what you are proposing. Putting to DEATH the sin in our lives is the mandate, not driving it out.

RonMcK said...

This is not an anti-war theology. It is a "trust in God" theology, not a trust in man theology. God actually came through pretty well at the Red Sea.

It is also reading what the scriptures say, not reading what some people would like them to say.

With regard to sin, things are not as simple as you say. Putting sin to death is just one image used in the New Testament for dealing with sin. There is also plenty about getting rid of sin. See Eph 4:25-32. Col 3:7 says that we must get rid of things like anger, etc. To be more precise, we put our sinful nature to death by getting rid of sinful behaviour.

We expel evil spirits, we do not kill then.