I have an Old Testament exam next Tuesday morning and I have been trying to study for it this week. Last night as I was going over my notes on the book of Joshua I found a section discussing the slaughter of the Canaanites and the justice of God. Many people question how a loving and kind God could call for the slaughter of an entire nation of people.
Here are some points that need to be kept in mind when thinking on this topic. The Canaanites were followers of a religion that was an abomination to God, and they were also great at sharing their religion with others. The Canaanites had been given a good amount of time to choose to follow God (He'd restrained himself from destroying them for over 400 years, Gen 15:16). The judgement on the Canaanites served as a warning of the final judgement, much the same as the flood and the destruction of Sodom had done earlier. The story of Rahab illustrates quite clearly that God was still willing to offer mercy to any Canaanite who would renounce their false gods and turn to Him.
But the reasons that really struck me were that God needed to destroy the Canaanites because human life holds such value for Him (the law given in Deuteronomy strongly shows the value God places on human life, and the book of Joshua reinforces this with God's commands to have cities of refuge to which people can go to prevent blood being shed wrongly or needlessly). The Canaanites religion debased and degraded people. The world of Noah's day was destroyed because of it's violence (Gen 6:13) and Sodom was destroyed because of it's immorality (Gen 18:20; 19:4-5) but the Canaanites religion included both of these. Among other things their religion included child sacrifice and 'sacred' prostitution. God's verdict was that it was an abomination so vile and all pervasive, and the danger of His own people being corrupted was so great, that it could only be dealt with by wholesale destruction.
As I pondered this I began to think of comparison's with our own culture. We may not sacrifice children 'post-birth', but our culture murders thousands of children before they are born. The Canaanites and other ancient cultures offered child sacrifices to ensure a good harvest or some other blessing from the gods (in other words to benefit themselves), our culture murders children for much the same reasons; because it is inconvenient to have a child, or too expensive, or gets in the way of a career, or because they may not be perfect, etc.
Then I pondered the immorality issue. I'm not sure I need to go into this. All you have to do is turn on a TV, watch a movie, walk into a shopping centre, read a newspaper, etc, and you'll see the problems with our society's morality.
We are on the other side of the New Testament, so we are not called to destroy the people who live around us, but I think we need to remember that we have an important message of hope and salvation for them so that on the final judgement day they are not condemned as the Canaanites, the Sodomites and the people of Noah's day were.
Also, as a parent, I think that the Deuteronomic call to teach our children God's ways still stands strong, and I find myself pondering what ways society influences my children. Am I fulfilling my parental duty? Am I teaching my children what is required and helping them to be able to judge for themselves the difference between God's standards and the worlds standards?
Am I allowing society's standards to influence our family, or am I being faithful to God's standards? The issue in the media recently over "ethics classes" in schools comes to mind. Do I want my children being taught society's ethics? Are they the same ethics that God teaches? Are we called to be "politically correct" all the time?
I have lots of questions, but I don't necessarily have the answers. I will have to ponder them more some other time as I need to move onto studying 1 & 2 Samuel. I'm sure there will be no questions raised in there about social and cultural influences on God's people . . .
Thanks to my class notes for some of the info on the slaughter of the Canaanites.