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September 07, 2011


We are told by the Old Testament texts that God commanded the Israelites to invade the land of the Canaanites and run around the cities clubbing their men, women, and children to death. Deuteronomy 7 puts it as follows:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy (Dt. 7:1-2).

Unsurprisingly, some, in response to these texts, have adopted the burden of informing us of just how reasonable and moral all of this really is. “Those Canaanites were a pretty bad lot,” we are told, “and so OF COURSE God would command the Israelites to club their men, women and children to death.” The flood of Noah is often mentioned in these discussions, as though it made indiscriminate mass slaughter more reasonable to point out that God had arranged for it on multiple occasions.

Well how bad were they, and what are our sources for that? As far as I can tell, our sources for the moral character of the Canaanites are texts written by those who are depicted as slaughtering them! I guess inerrancy will come to the rescue and reassure us that there really is no problem with that anyway. And how much sense does it really make to punish a people for child sacrifice by clubbing their children over the head until they die? That’ll teach em how awful it is to kill their children! Clay Jones, on Stand to Reason’s radio show, shines as an example for Christian apologists everywhere by explaining that the Canaanite children were rebellious, and so OF COURSE God will command that they by systematically slaughtered. I mean, what other options does omnipotence have?

Well, couldn’t God just exercise his monergistic muscles and regenerate the Canaanites? Isn’t that within the power of omnipotence? Apparently not. As Amy suggests, God HAD to command the Israelites to systematically slaughter the Canaanites to protect Israel from the sins that God knew they would fall into anyway. So I guess God COULDN’T have acted unilaterally to regenerate the Canaanites and bring them into spiritual life. Perhaps the apologist will reply, “Well, God could have, but he had unknown reasons for doing it the way he did it.” Well if that’s what you’re going to say at this point, why not just say that from the beginning and spare everyone the attempts to offer specific moral justifications for genocide?

Amy ends her post by gesturing toward the salvation that this genocidal judgment produced. She says that “what began as a focus for Israel was always intended to end with the world.” Well, don’t be mislead by the term “world.” It’s not as though Amy is saying that God intended to save every human being. Quite to the contrary, Amy seems to think that God ultimately intended to save only a minority of humanity. The rest will inherit a future of unending horror that makes the slaughter of the Canaanites seem like a walk in the park. Again we are told that God has secret reasons for not exercising his monergistic regenerating muscles on behalf of most of humanity. A more appropriate title for her post, therefore, would be, “The Judgment that Led to Divine Abandonment.”

Guess you won't be singing come let us adore him!

Would you have been OK with God slaughtering Hitler and all the Nazi'z that participated in the Holocaust, ahead of time? Suppose Hitler at the time was a cute little 5 year old boy? Would you be OK with God clobbering cute little Adolph over the head and smashing his brains out, knowing what God knew? (I know, God did not--but just for illustration), if in the end it saved 6,000,000 Jews

Hard to imagine the omnibenevolent creator of the universe turning to genocide. Isn't he supposed to be the good guy?

It always seems to be the atheist who has to point out that genocide is what the people would have done. God could've done so much more--turn the Canaanites into birds, make their women sterile 50 years earlier, transport them somewhere else in the world, put up a force field to keep them away, ...

Seems like just a rationalization after the fact to me.

So what are you saying, Malebrache?

Are you saying God didn't instruct the Israelites to do what the text suggests? Are you saying God is evil for instructing them to do it? Are you saying God is evil because he did not save them, or perhaps unable to save them?

Ah yes, the Canaanite Genocide, that favorite target for atheists to complain about the God of the Old Testament...

What you won't hear from these atheists, though, is a good reason why we ought to condemn genocide at all. They're counting on you to have an a priori aversion, for, from a materialistic world view, the atheist has no principled reason to condemn genocide.

I think M's point would be to say that God did not actually instruct the slaughter, but He inspired Moses to write that He did. (As a side note, Moses may have thought God did instruct that.) God did this with the intention of appropriating a meaning to that text other than the apparent endorsement of genocide that we find there.

Have I got it Malebranche?

I don't agree because I think it implies direct deception by God in some cases, but I want to make sure your point is correctly expressed.

I think Patrick gets close to the right response. God sees all ends. The slaughter was the right course for God to command the Israelites given the historical and political context.

I remember reading Copan's "Is God a moral monster ?". He make a few points, and I have added some.

1- This an example of ancient war rhetoric. The same sort of thing as saying that your favorite hockey or football team is going to slaughter the enemy. You don't actually mean that the entire opposing team will die during the game.

2- Populations that were supposed to be completely wiped out show up afterwards, even 100 years later. I.e. The Hittites and the Jebusites

3- The "genocide" was often in attacks against military targets and the enemy population was generally given a chance to flee or surrender.

4- War 3000 years ago was waged under different rules than the 21st century. There was no Geneva Convention. There was no sitting thousands of miles away safely piloting a drone. If you didn't win you could expect to a) be killed in battle b) be hauled off into slavery or c) be slaughtered if being taken as a slave would slow the army down.

4- Most people didn't make it to adulthood. Those who did often didn't make it to what we call middle age, and were usually a bad harvest away from dying from starvation. They lived is societies without police, and when you left your home, you may not make it back at night without being murdered. I doubt they would have expected a large group of armed people moving into their territory not to try to kill them for their land unless killed first or driven away. Death was something they lived with everyday..

This was the same time period as the Trojan War. People thought of war differently. Even centuries later, the Assyrians were known to march into naughty towns, flay people alive, and then put up billboards all over the empire bragging about it. Move ahead another thousand years, the Anglo-Saxons were still treating murder as a fineable offense.

Expecting the Israelites/Canaanites to understand our objections is like expecting us to comply by the standard moral practices of the 51st century

Well said Meister.

I'm especially struck by item 3. There are a number of passages where the Israelites are told to leave none alive, where its pretty clear that what is being commanded is that they are to leave none alive on the battlefield. That falls well short of 'genocide'.

In all events, it's entirely possible that, had Israel followed the genteel policies that WE would like them to have followed, it would have been perceived by their hostile neighbors as a sign of weakness and invited further war and even more bloodshed.


Could you comment on WL's characterization of what you believe?

Is he portraying your viewpoint accurately?

Bob S-

It seems that your are telling us some of the things you might have done had you been God, e.g. turning the Canaanites into birds.

Unfortunately, you don't have the breadth of God's knowledge. There might be all sorts of reasons, maybe even some that would surpass our ability to get them, that God might have done things differently.

Given that God exists, He has manifestly created a world where things normally occur according to pretty fixed patterns (which we refer to as natural law). Where people don't just haul off and turn into birds. He could have made the world differently, of course. Or He could have interfered in that one case, just as He has in other cases. I don't know why He did it the way He did. I do know that He had His reasons.

Seems like device hypocrisy to me.

I know where you are coming from Wisdom Lover, with Malebranche's idea that God inspired the writers to think and write one thing while He actually meant another (this actually works on some level, esp., regarding prophecy) but I'm not sure you've understood him on an issue like this.

I think he would say that the writer of the OT text just simply got it wrong.


You could be right. I hope M. settles the matter.

I seem to recall his agreeing, at some point, that all of the text is inspired. If so, it seems like he would then have to say, in essence, that God didn't mean it the way that it sounds.

But my memory could be failing me. Perhaps he allows that some parts of Scripture are not inspired.

The Meister
"Death was something they lived with everyday.."

Not much has changed, has it? ;)

""Death was something they lived with everyday..""

Not that it has anything to do with anything, but that made me think of this ...

"Life is something we die to everyday..."

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