In part one, we surveyed the argument against the moral character of God by citing the Old Testament account of God’s judgment of the Canaanites. Furthermore, in part one, common misconceptions were brought to the surface, most notably, the character and practices of the Canaanites and God’s patience in dealing with them. However, these merely serve as foundations to the greater issue at hand, the “slaughter of the Canaanites.” While much hyperbole surrounds the actions of God towards the Canaanites, the question at hand is, did God command the slaughter of the Canaanites or did God command something different?
In Exodus 23:20-33 as God is addressing the nation of Israel, which is on the verge of crossing into the Promised Land. In the discussion about God’s moral character, it is vital to note the specific command seen in the text, which states,
“I will send my terror before you and throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make your enemies turn their backs to you…. little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possessed the land. And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines and from the wilderness to the Euphrates.”
From Moses’ statement in Exodus, God’s promise was to drive out the Canaanites from their land, little by little, until Israel possessed all the land. This is a crucial point for two reasons: 1) There is no command of genocide, 2) The occupation of the land had defined borders, which would be set. Genocide has no borders; perpetrators of such a crime search far and wide for those whom they seek to kill until the entire population is destroyed. The Israelites did no such thing. Furthermore, it should not be lost on the reader of the Old Testament text that the Israelites did in fact, attack military strongholds within the land of Canaan and there is no report of any women or children being killed, only those who stayed to fight Israel. Finally, there is no mention in the text itself of any women or children dying in these battles.
In summation, based on the command in Exodus, 23:20-33, we see that God’s command was not genocide, but rather, to incrementally, over time, drive out the inhabitants of the Promised Land until Israel’s borders were in place. The only people who died in these battles were those who stayed behind to fight Israel. While there are those who might sensationalize the command of God to drive the Canaanites from the Promised Land, evidence for genocide being commanded by God is lacking.
1) Has the information provided differed from what you’ve heard other people claim about God and the Canaanites?
2) Was God justified in giving such a command in your mind? Why or Why not?