Monday, November 15, 2010

The “Genocide” of the Canaanites

In The Age of Reason (1794), Thomas Paine wrote, “Whenever we read the obscene stories…the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which…the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent if we called it the work of a demon, than the word of God.”

Now, “genocide” has become the word of choice of almost every “new atheist,” especially in regards to God’s instructions to totally annihilate the Canaanites residing in the land promised to Israel. Even the "Christian" evolutionist Karl Giberson parrots this indictment:

“In The God Delusion [evolutionist and New Atheist Richard] Dawkins eloquently skewers the tyrannical anthropomorphic deity of the Old Testament—the God that supposedly commanded the Jews to go on genocidal rampages and who occasionally went on his own rampages, flooding the planet or raining fire and brimstone on wicked cities. But who believes in this deity any more, besides those same fundamentalists who think the earth is 10,000 years old? Modern theology has moved past this view of God.”

Therefore, it’s imperative that the believer is prepared to respond (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3; 2 Cor. 10:4-5), rather than to fearfully flee and avoid any further contact.
In the Christian Research Journal, Clay Jones responds,

• “The ‘new atheists’ call God’s commands to kill the Canaanites ‘genocide’, but a closer look at the horror of the Canaanites’ sinfulness, exhibited in rampant idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality, reveals that God’s reason for commanding their death was not genocide but capital punishment.”
(“Killing the Canaanites,” vol.33/#4, 31)

Indeed, God had nothing good to say about them. Instead, He continually warned Israel against their practices:

“Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife and defile yourself with her. Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion. Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.” (Leviticus 18:20-24)

Jones’ own research agrees with the Biblical assessment of the Canaanites:

“Like the Ancient Near East (ANE) pantheons [of gods], the Canaanite pantheon was incestuous. Baal has sex with his mother Asherah, his sister Anat, and his daughter Pidray, and none of this is presented pejoratively…There should be no surprise that bestiality would occur among the Canaanites, since their gods practiced it…There was absolutely no prohibitions against bestiality in the rest of the ANE.” (32)

If their Gods were their role models, we shouldn’t expect that the Canaanites would rise an iota above them, either sexually or according to any other moral measure. These revelations also support the Biblical account of the entire male population of Sodom attempting to rape Lot’s two male visitors (Genesis 19). In Genesis 18, we were told that if God had found just 10 righteous people in that town, He wouldn’t have destroyed it. Evidently, they weren’t present! (The blinding and numbing power of sin is so powerful that when Lot tried to warn his “sons-in-law” regarding God’s immanent destruction of Sodom, they thought he was “jesting” (Gen. 19:14). Evidently to them, Sodom wasn’t such a bad place, which would warrant divine judgment. It was home! Indeed, we eventually become complacent, even to the most blatant and destructive forms of criminality!)

However corrupted the Canaanites might have been at this point, God had informed Abraham that He would give them an additional 400 years, “for the sin of the Amorites [Canaanites] has not yet reached its full measure" (Genesis 15:16). Meanwhile, despite all of the miraculous evidences that this just and righteous God had manifested to Canaan and the surrounding nations, none of these nations ever confessed and repented of their ways.

God had performed wondrous miracles in Egypt “that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16). And the whole “earth” did hear about what had taken place and also of the Israelite conquests before entering into the Promised Land. However, rather than leading them to reassess their sinful lives and the God of Israel, they formed military alliances to resist the Israelite onslaught. However, one prostitute in Jericho did respond appropriately to the evidence and was rescued:

“We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.” (Joshua 2:10)

Jones is right. It wasn’t a matter of genocide but of capital punishment meted out to a hardened and unrepentant people. In fact, there is no account in the entire Bible of an individual or a people who sought God’s forgiveness, and it was refused! Israel’s God had another reason to not wait any longer in bringing judgment upon the Canaanites:

"Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.” (Exodus 34:15-16)

Sadly, Israel didn’t always take this danger seriously, even after seeing God’s judgments, and brought upon themselves what had happened to the Canaanites, as their God had warned:

“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him, he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites.” (Judges 10:6-7)

Generally, at this point, the atheist will complain that a real god wouldn’t be so punitive because human beings don’t deserve such punishment. But how can we blame God, when we too have our punishments and jails. How can we blame God for being judgmental as long as we are judgmental! Perhaps, once we find a better way of dealing with unacceptable behavior – bringing criminals to court, or failing students, or firing employees – that we can point the finger at God.

There is also another reason that the skeptic scoffs at the judgments of God. Peter explains that the scoffers of his day “deliberately forget” about God’s judgments (2 Peter 3:3-8; 2:4-9), sensing in them their own doom. If they forget or dismiss these as myth, then the skeptics can assuage their troubled conscience regarding any future prospects of divine judgment against them (Romans 2:14-15; 1:18-32).

However, there’s a more difficult problem. The Canaanites had babies, who hadn’t yet done evil. Doesn’t their destruction violate God’s claims of being a just God? I’ll try to make some suggestions:

1. One theologian suggested that if God created them, He has every right to take them away, and whenever He wants. He returns us all to the dust. It’s just a matter of when. (In light of this, the skeptic’s beef is against death itself!) In the same way that I can destroy my painting, God has a right to destroy His own workmanship.

The skeptic will respond, “A painting is very different than a sentient being!” Of course, this is true, at least to us. But for the God, who can create innumerable “children of Abraham from stones,” there is little difference in terms of our intrinsic value. Instead, we are valued because our Creator has placed His love upon us, and He has promised to be just. It’s not because we think ourselves so wonderful that we are wonderful, but because He thinks we are!

Again, the skeptic will respond, “How is justice served by killing an infant?” This is the essence of the problem. However, God has a lot of room in which to work – all eternity – to right any “injustices.” Curtailing our lives by 70 years – we all are going to die anyway – is nothing in comparison to a potential eternity. Some theologians have strenuously argued that all children who die before the “age of accountability,” will be in heaven eternally. Although this idea is appealing, its Biblical support is arguable.

2. Nevertheless, we still remain with the question, “How is justice served by killing an innocent infant?” We can respond with another question: “Is justice truly served if God communicates to the Hitler’s of this world that the implications of their crimes will not touch their children?” In fact, life itself teaches us that children have to suffer for the follies and punishments of their parents (Num. 14:33). This knowledge should make us all the more diligent to do right! As a probation officer for 15 years, many probationers would understandably tell me, “I now have a wife and children, and so I have to get my life together for their sake!” Perhaps it is according to the wisdom of God that our children’s fate should be so closely tied to our own! Perhaps our understanding of justice is too truncated.

3. God has promised to lay upon the children the sins of the parents. Anyone can see the consequences of this promise. We inherit the sins and weaknesses of our parents through an invisible process of osmosis (Exodus 34:7). Perhaps we might find that by unlocking the secrets of epigenetics, we will find the mechanism of this transfer. (We now understand that lifestyle- induced changes to our epigenetics will be passed on to our progeny.) If this is the case, then it might follow that the Canaanite children have already been irreversibly tainted with the sins of their parents – sins that would eventually corrupt Israel. (However, I don’t think that this should now be a concern, since, by coming to Christ, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9; Titus 3:5) and also our children (1 Cor. 7:14)).

These are not explanations of why God had also ordered the destruction of infants. I must admit that I don’t fully understand and can only hope to offer possibilities. However, those who have learned to trust in our Lord, trust Him enough to know that He will reconcile everything justly and lovingly!

Our Savior wouldn’t be so punitive if there was no hope, no remedy for evil. One pastor, Carlton Pearson, claimed that he had turned away from the Biblical God because He thought that God lusted after the destruction of the wicked. Instead, the opposite is true:

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11).

No comments:

Post a Comment