How Not to Treat Other People
Have you encountered the "theological problem" of violence in the bible, particularly genocide, before? If so, how have you handled it?
"Whatever we do, we certainly can't hide under a blanket and wish this away." (location 489)
Those Wicked, Horrible Canaanites
The Canaanites are decedents of Noah's youngest son Ham, who was cursed by Noah because he saw his father (Noah) naked. Genesis 9:20-27
Canaanites occupy the land that God promises to Abraham he will give to his decedents a hundred years later. Genesis 12:4-7
What is your reaction to God's instructions on what to do with the Canaanites?
"the extermination of the Canaanites is not an afterthought. According to the Bible, Israels's God planned it from the days of Noah and the flood, and he carries out the plan with bracing determination and precision, patiently encouraging and even training the troops to get it done." (location 578)
If Jesus Sends People to Hell, What's So Bad About Killing Some Canaanites??
"God is the sovereign king of the universe, and his unfathomable will is not to be questioned by puny mortals, so shut up about it." (location 591)
"Sure, Jesus talks about loving your enemies, but Jesus also talks about throwing sinners into hell to burn forever."
Our view of hell comes from medieval Christian theology.
In the Gospels the word we think is "hell" is Gehenna, which is a Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew ge' hinnom meaning "Valley of Hinnom," an actual valley located just outside the walls of Jerusalem.
Gehenna refers to God's punishment to come upon his own people for ailing to recognize God's presence and follow God's ways. Jesus, preaching to his fellow Jews, jumps all over this symbolism.
The only time a Canaanite makes it into the New Testament, and she becomes a model of faithful persistence, her faith in Jesus led to her daughter's healing.
To sum up: leave Jesus out of it. Nothing Jesus said or did is worse than God telling Israelites to kill Canaanites.
"But does this mean that God's hands were tied, that he he had to buy into the system?"
The biblical writers believed God is a warrior who likes waging war against the enemy and acquiring land.
God's Nicer Side
It is true that the Old Testament portrays various sides of God in diverse ways.
An example is the book of Jonah
"My only point is that these stories don't erase God's command to exterminate Canaanites." (location 714)
Worst. Sinners. Ever
The Canaanites got exactly what they deserved because they were utterly morally corrupt.
There are other examples of sin in the bible equivalent to that which the Canaanites did that did not result in extermination.
"However immoral the Canaanites were, the real problem isn't what they did, but where they did it." (location 735)
To leave any Canaanites alive would (1) contaminate the land and (2) threaten Israel's devotion to their God.
"If we were reading a story like this in some other religious text, we'd call this genocide, ethnic cleansing, and barbarous, pure and simple." (location 764)
Is there a better way to think about Canaanite extermination that doesn't get God cheaply off the hook?
It's a Tribal Culture Thing
God never told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed God told them to kill the Canaanites.
If true, why is the story in the Old Testament at all and how would it have been heard at that time?
Israel's culture was shaped by their tribal neighbors.
"We are the good guys, and all of you out there are the bad guys."
Similarites to how a story carved on a ninth century BCE stone monument from Moab. (location 809)
Failure to "put to the ban" everyone and everything as directed by your god was a great way to make your god extremely angry.
"Israel was an ancient tribal people, and they thought and acted like one. But knowing that doesn't really solve our problem, does it?" (location 824)
Digging for Answers
"Biblical Archaeologists are about as certain as you can about these things that the conquest of Canaan as the Bible describes did not happen."
Where did the biblical story of the conquest come from?
Possibly from a series of smaller skirmishes that the story tellers exaggerated over time.
God Lets His Children Tell the Story
Why would the Israelites write a story about God that isn't true -- and what are we supposed to do today with a Holy Bible that makes up lies?
If God is behind scriptures -- if the Bible is God's Holy Word -- and if we, too, are to meet God in its pages, why would God allow himself to be cast in the role of a majorly hacked of tribal deity if he wasn't?
"The Bible -- from back to front -- is the story of God told from the limited point of view of real people living at a certain place and time." (location 899)
If the writers had somehow been able to step outside of their culture and invent a new way of talking, their story would have made no sense to anyone else.
"God lets his children tell the story."
"These ancient writers had an adequate understanding of God for them in their time, but not for all time. " (location 943)
For Christians, Jesus, not the Bible, has the final word.
Why This Chapter Is So Important and So Dreadfully Long
For most, God ordering, sanctioning, or carrying out mass killings in the Old Testament is the most awkward issue that troubles them about the Bible.
Some contemporary atheists hail it as exhibit A for the utter stupidity of any faith in the God of the Bible.
When ancient Israelites wrote as they did about the physical world, they were expressing their faith in God in ways that fit their understanding.
So that's why this chapter looks the way it does -- to put right in front of our eyes the antiquity of the Bible, and to see how embracing that antiquity is the beginning point for exploring the Bible as it is, to accept the challenge to investigate even some of its darker pathways, and so to begin learning how we, too, can embrace Israel's story for our journey.