The word genocide gets thrown around a lot when people try to criticize God and the clearing out of the Promised Land. Richard Dawkins particularly likes it, especially when trying to dodge debates with William Lane Craig.
That term fails on a couple of levels, not the least of which is that these people were thoroughly guilty. They had done all sorts of things such as sacrificing their children on super-heated metal images of their gods (see Leviticus 18 for a laundry list of things these charmers had done for 400 years).
I highly recommend this link for an overview of the Canaanite issue: We Don’t Hate Sin. So We Don’t Understand What Happened To The Canaanites. Too many Christians try to apologize for God and rationalize away the meaning of the text. I remember one guy teaching a Bible study who insisted that God didn’t really say that, but the Israelites made it up to rationalize taking over the land. This is far too common.
The question that remains is what do you think of God for commanding such a thing? Does God have a right to do with His creation as He pleases? If you have a problem with the selective judgment of the Canaanites then how do you feel about the almost complete destruction wrought by God of the whole world during the Flood? And how do you feel about the impending destruction of everything at Armageddon?
Too many people made themselves god and the arbiters of what is good and evil, and even those standards are flexible and incoherent.
We need to look to God for what is truly holy. He is the Lord of the universe, and He sets the terms and conditions. His terms of surrender are wildly generous, but you must come to him on his terms, not yours.
P.S. Speaking of God’s holiness, you can currently get a free Kindle version of The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul! (You don’t have to have a Kindle to read it — you can use the PC Version of the Kindle).
39 thoughts on “About those Canaanites . . .”
Thanks Neil for writing this. You are so right, the people of God are so afraid of saying what the Bible says, that they will make things up, realizing they are joining with those who sin in Romans 1:18 and following. We need not be afraid of what Scripture says when we understand what we truly deserve. Let Dawkins scoff. There are a few verses that deals with that as well. In other words, God doesn’t love Dawkins unconditionally and have a wonderful plan for his life. God’s judgment and wrath rest upon Dawkins and all unbelievers. WE hope and pray the God will show the man grace, but God certainly doesn’t have to.
Since this question has been answered many times over, it is senseless for atheists to keep bringing it up. It’s as if none of them want to bother researching the issue, rather they would just like to make assertions about how horrid God is. When the evidence for a position has been published for so long, in is unconscionable for these so-called scholars to refuse to do their homework as they continue with prejudicial conjecture as their only stance.
I have always found it odd that atheists will bring up such judgments at the hands of the Israelites, but not similar judgments directly from the hand of God (the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc). I am not sure what difference it makes from the point of view of the recipients of those judgments (“Really now, I don’t mind being incinerated by sulfurous ash, just don’t run me through with a sword!”) .
Also they ignore the time allowed for various cultures to come to repentance – I think in the case of the Canaanites it was some 400 hundred years. If our leaders expressed such patience in meting out retaliation against those who attacked us, they would be considered negligent by many – imagine:
“Mr. President, when do you plan on dealing with Al-Qaeda for the Sept. 11th attacks?”
“I’m thinking about four centuries from now, give or take a decade or two. Give them sometime to re-think their beliefs.”
Understood this way, we see God’s amazing patience and desire to see sinners repent. We also see that with God’s willingness to mitigate His judgment against pagan cultures based on the pleas of Abraham, and the preaching of Jonah.
Also, I think our sense of modern individuality rebels against cultural judgment. We see our fates very individualistically, and chafe at the notion that my fate in this life may be tied to the fate of the society in which I live. I think Christians often miss this to, but I think it is critically important, because if it is true, then it means it desperately matters that we be agents for righteousness in our times (Salt and Light), lest we and our children suffer the fate of our culture as a whole, at least in this life.
Of course atheists aren’t concerned with context, or truth for that matter, but they are looking for cudgels to batter the faithful, so it is unlikely additional information will mitigate this.
Well said, sir!
Then in a materialistic worldview, “genocide” (or whatever it was) has the same morally neutral qualities that earthquakes and such have. Just molecules in motion doing things based on what previous molecules in motion did.
I acknowledge that’s a tough one and worthy of further study. I do think something, or someone, can transcend the sum of its parts, but I suppose that a materialist still has to explain why even that should matter. But then again, if you take the view that everything has to matter, mere existence can no longer be regarded as “good” in and of itself. I hold the view that it is good, in and of itself, and that forms the basis of my worldview. If existence does not matter without some sort of transcendent validation, the question is pushed back to “why should that validation even matter?” Who validates the validator?
How do you define “good”? That again is an arbitrary and subjective idea without the objectively good person – i.e. God – to define it.
How do you know God is good?
Because he is the definition of good. What is your definition of good? It has to be arbitrary and subjective.
Then praising his laws and actions makes no sense. Saying “God is good” is as pointless as saying “God is God” or “good is good”. And it’s no less arbitrary.
No, it is NOT arbitrary to say God is the ultimate Good, whereby our standards are based. He exists whether you want to acknowledge him or not. But you have no standard to base what is good – just your opinion, which would not be the same necessarily as someone else’s. I see most liberals believing Obama ruining the nation through his economically disastrous policies is actually something good! Liberals in general think promoting and sanctioning sexual immorality is good, while those countries who have done so much longer (Sweden, e.g.) are disintegrating inside. Arbitrary ideas of goodness wreak havoc on society.
The problem with this is that when atheists criticize the judgment of God via the Israelites they are assuming God’s existence ‘for the sake of the argument’ – so the same would be true when God uses water or sulfur to judge a people group. So their criticism is inconsistent on this point.
But more to the previously raised point, the real criticism atheists have is that God would judge an entire culture for the actions of the leaders of that culture. But I would argue secularists actually accept cultural consequences in principle. For the sake of argument, take global warming – secularists argue that because of the choices of our predecessors and economic and political leaders, we will all suffer the effects of global warming. Now a baby hasn’t contributed in any significant way to ‘global warming’ yet they suffer the consequences as well. Innocents aren’t immune to the consequences of our choices. Indeed we use this as an argument for and against certain actions – we must do or not do something “for the children”.
In much the same way the principle we see at play theologically is simply this – if we as a society choose, or allow our leaders to choose to do evil as a matter of practice, everyone in the society will suffer as a consequence. The consequences God directs may be via ‘natural’ disasters or through human agents, but that consequence is consistent. It is also moral – it’s just a collective moral consideration instead of an individual one. This shouldn’t be a problem for the unbeliever because as I pointed out secularists already accept collective responsibility for actions.
Of course God is eminently fair in this regard because a society can choose to turn away from their evil behaviors and mitigate the consequences – and we see a number of examples of this as well in the OT, as I pointed out. Of course atheists cherry pick in this regard, completely ignoring the fact that all of the judgments chronicled in the OT were completely avoidable.
I could accuse you of the same inconsistency if you don’t praise God for every natural event that happens. Unless you’re Pat Robertson, you probably don’t say to yourself “my, what a great tsunami that was, thank you Jesus!” But I could argue that he’s more consistent than you.
Btw, I have quite often heard atheist criticism of God’s supposed use of natural disasters, including both the flood and Sodom. I can only speak for myself, but I place more emphasis on human actions because that is where religious ideas make their impact on the world. It seems important to me that if the things that religions claim are true are not, then those claims should not necessarily be informing political and military decisions, depending of course on the nature of the proposed action. But all actions should be judged on their nature, not the nature of the one supposedly informing the action.
As a Christian I am always obligated to praise God for His wisdom and sovereignty, but nothing compels me to be thankful for others misfortune, in large part because I know I am a sinful person as well. S my position on this is more than consistent. But even if it weren’t it is irrelevant, because that wouldn’t make the atheist position consistent – that sort of fallacious argument is referred to as a tu quoque.
Well to the degree an atheist would criticize God for judging people with some natural disaster (and I do not claim all natural disasters are such a judgment – I am referring to those events in Scripture so designated) said atheist is making an argument against God’s sovereignty and authority to act as judge. Now obviously an atheist would be compelled to deny such authority because to admit otherwise would be a denial of the fundamental motivation for being an atheist – absolute self-determination. Giving this conflict of interest, it is hard to understand whether a determined atheist could consider the issue rationally.
Once one agrees that God, as Creator o all life and the only truly objective measure of what is right, would have the authority to determine when His creatures would cease to exist or the manner of that ceasing, then most of these objective become moot. But obviously an atheist could never admit this and remain an atheist.
What evidence, outside of the Bible, exists to show the Canaanites were so awful?
(full disclosure, I know the answer, but I want to see what you say)
Is it not possible that these stories were made up to justify genocide?
You appear to be familiar with the evidence about the nature of the false gods they worshiped and the simple and logical inferences that could be derived from those archaeological facts, so I’ll skip that part. (If you don’t know about them, I’m sure you can find them.) For others interested, see Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan.
Could the stories be made up to justify the clearing of the land? (It wasn’t genocide either way.) In a hyper-technical sense, I suppose so. I mean, it is a fallen world and people frequently lie.
But anyone who has actually read the Old Testament would get a good laugh out of anyone implying that it was written to make the Israelites look good. If they were trying to justify their actions and create some sort of spin then you’d have been able to read the OT in about 30 minutes.
You seem to have missed my point.
I’ll try and reword – is it possible that THIS INCIDENT was spun to give the impression that the Israelites were doing the ‘right thing’?
You see, there’s zero external evidence to support these stories (and they are just that, stories) and plenty to suggest that the Israelites didn’t actually defeat the Canaanites at all, due to *being* the Canaanites.
I suggest you read ‘The Bible Unearthed’ by Finkelstein and Silberman
No, you need to re-read my reply. It is all there.
You need to do the study, not me. You even buy the myths about Christianity being a copycat religion, which is another just-so story like your comment above.
As an ex-Christian, I know all the stories that you are obliged to believe despite their lack of evidence.
I am amused, and slightly saddened, by the insanity Christians show when trying to justify atrocities.
You must have missed the “stories” that address the perseverance of the saints and how we can’t lose our salvation. I don’t mean to nit-pick, but if you aren’t a Christian now then you never were one. I have no doubt that you claimed to be one and maybe thought you were one, but if you aren’t now then you never were. And that isn’t a “No True Scotsman” fallacy, that is a clear teaching of Christian theology.
And it is a strawman to say we have no evidence. I, like many others, converted from atheism/agnosticism because of the evidence. The appeals in the book of Acts were to facts and logic. We can point to facts of history that ground our beliefs — http://tinyurl.com/ykzpu42 .
When you say things like you do it really tips your hand that you aren’t taking this seriously. If you think we have some facts wrong then that is one thing, but to say we’re being insane is just silly.
If you were consistent with your worldview you’d “know” that your materialistic philosophy was 100.00% responsible for my “erroneous” conversion from atheism to believing the “facts” of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So it would be irrational of you to criticize the necessarily deterministic machinery that led to both of our views.
Darwinian evolution selects for the ability to survive and not for truth or rationality, so you have no rational reasons to trust your ability to reason rationally.
In a materialistic worldview you have no grounding to claim that anything is an atrocity in any objective moral sense.
I was very glad to see Adam publish this post on our blog. In the comments section of a separate post on our blog an atheist had accused me of neither reading nor understanding my Bible – on his view, if I did, I would see that God is a moral deviant, unworthy of worship. It was nice to be able to point him directly to something else and can only hope he reads it and modifies his position.
Reminds me of the atheist (“Micky” or something, I think was his name) who stopped by this blog a few months ago and opened his argument by wanting to know if Neil and his readers thought it was OK to kill children or stone gays, or something like that. When we responded, “No, of course not,” he acted like we’d fallen into his carefully laid trap: “Well, the God you worship did those things and/or commanded them to be done, so gotcha.”
The guy particularly seemed to have it in for me, simply because I showed little patience with his sarcasm and insulting comments. At one point he let me know it was a waste of time talking to me because I found his comments to be highly “presumptive.” Of course, that didn’t stop him from responding to my other posts which had been directed at others. He finished by calling me “pathetic.” I was then left wondering which one of us really was the pathetic one – the atheist guy who posts on a Christian blog and starts throwing around a bunch of tired old cliches about the God of the Old Testament…or the guy who isn’t especially polite to the first guy?
I pretty much let him know that I’ve about had a bellyfull of nonbelievers who barge into places where Christians congregate, and proceed to try to sow doubt among us or otherwise behave rudely. It’s one thing to ask honest questions in the pursuit of learning about God and Christianity, even the questions which have been asked and answered many times before. It’s another to operate from a preconceived agenda of trying to annoy us and disrupt our fellowship. At times, I’ve allowed myself to think that people like this are the devil’s pawns, whether they realize it or not.
The Caananites were some seriously bad people. It’s interesting that modern day atheists, so assured of their own righteousness…are less interested in judging pagan peoples who burned innocent little kids in the fire and were a constant military threat to the Jews…and more interested in judging God and His people for dealing appropriately with such individuals.
I recall that thread. Micky is actually one of the most reasonable atheists I’ve come across, although I know you two didn’t get along so well. He definitely isn’t in the troll category as some atheists are.
The other thing the “skeptics” miss is that at best their claim against us is about inconsistency — that is, that we should oppose what happened to the Canaanites if we’re consistent with the rest of the Bible. They are wrong on that, for all the reasons noted on this thread and more, but they forget that they have no moral grounding to criticize what the Israelites did to the Canaanites even if there was no God. Just survival of the fittest, baby!
The guy was an ass. He needed a serious attitude adjustment. Atheists as a group tend to be some of the most smug individuals I’ve met – and the reason is obvious. Lacking God, they have no reason to think man is anything other than the center of the universe. Lacking God, they have no reason for humility, no reason to think their viewpoint is simply one among many. On the contrary, they often believe themselves to be the enlightened ones.
I don’t go on to websites dedicated to Islam or Judaism, and ask the denizens how well they’re adhering to their dietary restrictions these days? I simply don’t care. Nor do I hang out at Huff-n-Puff or Daily Kossack and tell the regulars there how full of crap they are.
Matt, I was introduced to Neil’s blog after a very provocative comment he left on an atheist’s blog. Here’s the thing: this is the internet, not a church service. Neil addresses controversial topics and does not shy away from them; he also invites comments, from everyone. Many of the people who comment here will regularly visit blogs with opposing views and comment there. I agree with Neil on some things (I’m pro-life and fairly conservative economically) and vehemently disagree on others. Sometimes my comments are a bit sarcastic and unnecessarily caustic, that’s just the way I do it. My exchange with you was fairly mild compared to some others I’ve had here, and my treatment of you much less harsh than that of some of the pro-aborts, for example. I’m sorry I offended you, but I would urge you to get over it.
Oh thanks, Micky. It’s so nice to hear you handled me with kid gloves. I can’t say I’m pleased to see you here again. You said before that you didn’t think I was worth talking to…yet here you are, doing just that. For the second or third time after making that statement.
I found your “arguments” weak and unpersuasive to say the least. You thought you were being clever by asking a couple of “gotcha” questions, then tossing around a bunch of tired atheist cliches when we answered your questions as any decent people would, you implied that we were hypocrites.
I found that tactic to be shopworn and, in your words, pathetic. And I find you offensive, rude, and unpleasant. I would urge you to get lost…or at least confine yourself to the political threads.
I have absolutely no interest in anything you have to say. Don’t address me again.
That’s fine with me – perhaps you will extend me the same courtesy.
So to the topic at hand. Neil said:
Actually Neil, I applaud your consistency. Unable to admit that a standard of right and wrong can exist apart from God (thus rendering his existence unnecessary), you are forced to conclude that whatever God commands is moral. This puts you in the awkward position of having to defend the slaughter of non-combatants in the OT. You actually use arguments like (from the article you linked to):
Yeah, because an enraged, horny gorilla is just like a molested sheep. And it just gets more bizarre from there – referring to the children:
And that’s a good reason to slaughter them? You know what this reminds me of ? – the same kinds of arguments used to justify abortion. It’s desperate, clutching at straws, and ultimately unjustifiable.
There is of course archaeological evidence that indicates child sacrifice in the ancient Near East. They had a rationale for it, which I’m not for a moment going to defend, as it is rooted in ignorance and superstition. But just as you judge them wrong for doing this, we can and should judge the Israelites wrong for doing what they did. Their rationale (divine command) was equally ignorant.
One more thing:
We’ve kinda done this one to death, Neil. But you have yet to demonstrate that non-theistic morality is necessarily subjective (and neither has anyone else who uses this argument). You don’t get to just declare this as though the matter is settled.
You have misunderstood my argument. I have never claimed there is nothing you could call “morality” in a materialistic worldview. I’ve simply pointed to what seems obvious to me: It would be subjective morality by necessity. I’m arguing for objective morality, that is, there are certain things that are always wrong (e.g., torturing babies for fun). But if there is no God, then who is to say that is objectively wrong? You may think it is objectively wrong to steal, but the burglar obviously doesn’t. If there is no transcendent lawgiver, who can say what is objectively wrong? Yes, people can vote on it, but that proves my point that the morality is in the of some of the subjects.
You might research that further. One of the authors noted there had some good points about how dangerous it is to have animals who have been conditioned to have sex with humans.
Of course that isn’t a good reason to kill someone.
Of course non-theistic morality is necessarily subjective. You and I “know” that abortion is wrong and we even think it is objectively wrong. But in a materialistic worldview we are obviously wrong about that, because many people disagree with us! Therefore, absent a transcendent lawgiver to appeal to, by definition the morality of abortion lies with the subject forming an opinion and not with the object of the abortion itself.
One thing that always has stood out to me in arguments regarding God’s method of dealing the Canaanites (and other populations) is the assumption that the Hebrews “used” God to justify their actions. But the story isn’t presented in that manner. It is presented, as we know, that they acted on God’s command. Thus, it must be incumbent upon the atheist (or Christian who denies the validity of the text) to provide some evidence for the claim that the Hebrews just made it up. It has been recorded as having transpired in a particular manner and all debate must begin from there. If there was no such record, and the situation was explained today as a result of God’s command, then the argument that “God’s command” as cheap justification might be plausible. But as it stands, it is a cheap alternative instead to what was recorded. “Aw, they’re just saying that to justify their actions!” Well, no. The entire history previous to these events suggests a direct or semi-direct (through Moses or other prophets) influence or presence of God Himself, that resulted in both pleasant AND unpleasant consequences. One cannot look at this incident (the destruction of the Canaanites) in a vacuum apart from the entire OT.
I’m not sure if this was directed at me for comment. I’m not saying they did this for fun and then made up a reason later. The divine command is at the centre of this discussion, the issue is what we make of it.
I’m not asking you to prove that the Canaanites really liked sacrificing children so much that they made up a story about the first child being the offspring of a god and had to be returned to its divine parent in order to replenish the god’s vitality. It’s good enough that we both acknowledge that they believed this to be true, and therefore sacrificed children. Likewise, I’m not saying that the Hebrews were bloodthirsty savages who really liked slaughtering whole villages – it suffices that they too did something horrible for a reason.
Excellent points, Marshall. Simply noting what came before (40 years of wandering) and after (a long series of consequences for disobedience) should inform even the most casual reader that they weren’t using God to justify anything.
I admire your appetite for a fight Mr.Neal.I don’t know any other blog where the author engages with almost every dissenting post.I know it keeps me coming back here.Cheers.
Ok, I’ll repeat it, then:
“We need to look to God for what is truly holy.”
Which, as you state, is killing people. According to your own words, the killing the Israelites did was God’s will. Doesn’t that make it holy? Isn’t that the point of your post?
Repeat it all you like, but your attempt at a “gotcha” will always fail. Our view is that God is sovereign over life and death. He is perfectly holy, just, merciful and gracious, among other things. One trait doesn’t conflict with another. Was God being holy when He commanded the Promised Land to be cleared out? Yes. God did it without apology and we say it without apology.
How is it a “gotcha?” I just want to make sure I understand your position: that killing is good as long as God says to do it.
These comment are hard to read.
Here is a suggestion how to fix that.
Sabio, thanks for the suggestion. I’ll consider that and get feedback from other commenters as well. I agree that the nesting can get unwieldy.
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