Thursday, September 22, 2011

How do we make sense of the purging of the Promised Land?

This is part 2 of a continuing series on hard questions from the Old Testament. They have been adapted from a series of articles I wrote for my church's community groups. You can also read the introduction.

The purging of the Promised Land

On its face, Israel’s conquest of Canaan is probably one of the most cringe-worthy accounts that we read in the Bible. And to make it worse, it’s done under God’s direction! However, there are answers falling into two categories that give context and shed light on the whole account:

It probably wasn’t as bad as we think . . .
  • God seems to be more concerned with the utter destruction of the Canaanite religion than the Canaanite people. If this weren’t the case, God would not have allowed (and sovereignly planned) Rahab’s family or the Gibeonites finding shelter within the Israelite community.
  • As best as we can tell, Jericho, Ai, and other Canaanite cities were military strongholds with few if any non-combatants. “There is no archaeological evidence of civilian populations at Jericho or Ai.”
  • According to some biblical scholars, Joshua was likely writing in a form of exaggeration rhetoric commonly used by military leaders of his time. This ancient Near Eastern “war language” gives the impression that all the land was captured and all the Canaanites destroyed when something short of it was actually the case. (Consider Joshua 10:40-43)
. . . but what if it was as bad as we think?

  • The Canaanite people had been on a downward cycle of sin and depravity for over 430 years that included idolatry, incest, temple prostitution, adultery, child molestation and sacrifice, homosexuality and bestiality. (Deut. 12:29 ff)
  • The stories of Rahab and the Gibeonites show us that God had room in the covenants and the Promised Land for all those who feared God.
  • We are critical of the way God judges the evil Canaanites. However, we too quickly forget (and will be reminded next week) that God judged the evil Israelites in much the same fashion. God is faithful to both rescue and judge. This is a good warning to all of us who make light of the judgment of God.
For further reading: Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, Is God Just a Human Invention? (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications 2010) 179-181.


Ken Abbott said...

Good points. I'd add that as fallen human beings we grossly underestimate the heinousness of our sin before the eyes of a holy God (see Anselm on this point) and tend to excuse ourselves, thinking we're not so bad. We also dislike being beholden to a higher authority, one who holds the power of life and death over us.

Jared Totten said...


I absolutely agree. But since I am writing for a group whose spiritual walks vary widely, I tried to pick the arguments that would be most compelling to the most people.

Your argument, however, if accepted (as I do) trumps all the other arguments.