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Was It Morally Right for God to
Order the Killing of the Canaanites?
by Clarence Lavender


1993 / January-February



The Bible teaches that God never does anything wrong. God is never out of control but always does things consistent with his holy and just nature. "Now therefore let the fear of Jehovah be upon you, take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with Jehovah our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of bribes" (2 Chron. 19:7). There must be good explanation when God orders the death of people, some of them women and innocent children.

THE DESTRUCTION OF THE CANAANITES

Those who question the ethics of God concerning the destruction of the Canaanites, or any other judicial decision made by God, fail to take into account six things:

1. They ignore the reason given for the destruction of wicked people, "that they teach you not to do after their abominations which they have done unto their sons" (Dt. 20:18 ).

2. The only way a person can accuse God of wrong is to be equal with God. No mortal can make the same judgments God makes because he does not have God's view of things or his knowledge.

3. The Canaanites were grossly immoral. The justice of God demands punishment for sin. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). God must show his righteousness in punishing the wicked or violate his own nature (Rom. 3:23-27 ).

4. A person would have to be omniscient to know that what happened to the innocent children of guilty parents was not the best thing that could have happened. The alternative here may be to grow to adulthood and become malignant blights in the society of men like their parents.

5. Punishment here may be in recognition of what the Canaanites had earned. When it became clear they were past redemption, their destruction occurred.

6. Punishment was deserved by the Canaanites, whereas it was not in the case of the Holocaust--which was only a vendetta by Hitler and the Nazis against the Jews.

It was dedication to continual wickedness that marked the Canaanites for extermination. The scriptures uphold the justice and righteousness of God even in his command to eradicate the Canaanites.

Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land; but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Dt. 9:5).

God's call for Israel to destroy "the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite" was not traced to the Jews' moral superiority or their number, but to fulfill his promise to Abraham and his seed. God was preserving a lineage through which the Messiah would come and all nations be blessed.

There had been a patient waiting from Abraham's time for the sin of the Amorites to reach its full measure. "But in the fifth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full" (Gen. 15:16 ).

The Canaanites were singled out for severe treatment to prevent Israel and the rest of the world from being corrupted. "Of the cities of these peoples... thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth... that they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so would ye sin against Jehovah your God" (Dt. 20:16-18 ). When people burn their children in honor of false gods, practice sodomy, bestiality, and all forms of wickedness, the land itself begins to vomit them out (Lev. 18:25-30 ). The modern world would do well to heed the warning (Rom. 8:22 ). Objection to the fate of these nations is really an objection to the highest manifestation of the goodness of God. Greene likens this action on God's part, not to doing evil that good may come, but doing good in spite of certain evil consequences, just as a surgeon does not refrain from amputating a gangrenous limb, even though in so doing he cannot help cutting off healthy flesh.

A husband agrees to abort a tubular pregnancy. The purpose of the abortion is not to take the life of the child, but to save the life of the mother; besides the child could not survive in any case. The doctor knows that in destroying cancer cells healthy cells will be destroyed. His purpose is not to kill good cells but bad ones; yet in trying to save the person from the spread of cancer, good is destroyed, but it could not have survived regardless.

At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it: If that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it: If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them (Jer. 18:7-10).

Canaan had a forty-year countdown. They heard of the events in Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, and what happened to the kings who opposed Israel along the way. We know they were aware of such events, for Rahab confessed that these same events had terrorized Jericho and that she, as a result, had placed her faith in the God of the Hebrews (Josh. 2:10-14 ). The destruction of the Canaanites was based on the same principle by which the whole world was judged in the universal flood and that by which the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were judged. Usually those who object to these events are those who deny compatibility of the doctrine of eternal destruction with the mercy and love of God. God's character and the acts he requires are fully consistent with everything that both Testaments teach us to expect in our God. The problem usually centers in a deficiency in our view of things and our inability to properly grasp the whole of the subject.

(Clarence Lavender's address is P. O. Box 306, Christianburg, VA 24073.)
 



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