February 21, 2005

Thoughts on the taking of the Promised Land

Another question I recently fielded:

Question:

I'm struggling with the conclusion that all life is important to God considering the fact of His ordered the complete genocide of the people in the Promised Land when Joshua was leading the people back in. I know that their practices of idol worship and child sacrifice were abominable to Him. But wouldn't that mean that not all life is important to God all the time...or at least his patience is limited and some lives become forfeit at some point??

Answer:

General thoughts on life and God's sovereignty

  • God values all human life in a general sense because it is His penultimate creation and bears His image. The abuse and murder of our fellow man is divine vandalism.
  • God eventually takes all life. This is a fallen world and therefore not the locus of human pleasure and immortality.
  • All life belongs to God and it is His prerogative alone to take life. Human taking of life, except by God's command or according to His established principles, is overstepping the boundary of our authority.
  • God may take one's life earlier or later, according to His purposes. God does not "owe" us a long life, and there are worse things than death and greater things than life. Even by simple human standards, justice will ultimately be accomplished.
  • God is not just "love," He is also "Holy" and "just." His justice is not simply sorted out at the end of time; sometimes He takes a heavy hand in earthly affairs.
  • The Levitical laws seem to be telling us that, in God's economy, some life becomes forfeit through egregious sin. This is the philosophy (right or wrong in a non-theocratic society) behind the death penalty and why pro-lifer's are not inconsistent in holding it, since the unborn are innocent while the criminal are guilty.
  • It's precisely God's valuation of life that leads him to exact the ultimate penalty from those who kill. If a person's very life is the most valuable thing they possess, then when they take a life the only equitable exchange is to take their life.
  • Those who point out the problem of evil and injustice in the world can hardly complain when God actually does something about it, like purge an evil culture.
  • If earthly judgment from God is inconsistent with His nature, then so would be the final judgment where evil people receive even worse punishment for their sins.

Thoughts on the Amorites/Canaanites who were displaced from the Promised Land

  • God did not just purge them to make room; this was a judgment in its own right.
  • They were "wicked," "detestable," "defilers," and "idolaters." According to Scriptures, they were engaged in such things as child sacrifice, cultic prostitution, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality. (Lev 18) Extra-biblical data seems to confirm the worst of this and also shows the Amorites to be a war prone people.
  • This is a judgment on par with that of Sodom and Gomorrah, but executed through the agency of the Israeli military. The delivery of the Promised Land and the judgment of the Amorites are judiciously parallel. (Deut 9:4; 18:12)
  • God wanted to eliminate the depraved Amorite culture due to His concern for the theological and moral purity of Israel. (Deut 20:18)
  • God was just, even in His patience with the Amorites, waiting first for their sin to "reach its full measure." (Gen 15:16)
  • The Amorites even make a preemptive strike on the escaping Israelites before they come into their land. (Deut 25:17-19) In addition to demonstrating their aggressive nature, this implies that they know of the threat and the Hebrew's claim to the Promised Land. Other acts of aggression by the Amorites are covered in Numbers 21:1; 21-23.
  • The people had plenty of warning of the coming of the Israelites and knew of the power and deeds of its God (Joshua 2:9-11; 5:1). All had the opportunity to flee if they so chose.
  • Not all regions were treated equally. Some were bypassed (1 Sam 15:6, Deut 2:4), some were spared (Deut 2:9), some were subjugated (Deut 20:10-12, Josh 16:10), and some were annihilated completely.
  • There is perhaps more usage of the term "drive out" than that of "destroy" when speaking of the fate of the Amorites. (Ex 23:27-31; 33:2, Num 33:52, Deut 4:38; 11:23)
  • The treatment of the Amorites seems to have been surgically precise in an attempt to destroy its nations and cultural centers while not necessarily its people. It was more a matter of expulsion and reculturation than pure genocide.
  • The loudest objection seems to relate to the few cases where children were killed. But which is crueler if the adults and the city are to be destroyed (these being the ones who would not evacuate): to do so and leave the children to roam homelessly in the waste, or to quickly dispatch them as well? And if left alive, what are the odds that many of these children would attempt to recover the culture and idolotry of their parents and reinfect the land with it? Remember, if the Hebrew God is the true God (our premise), then this would actually be a very bad thing.
  • As it turns out, the Israelites fail to cleanse the land exactly as God commands and, as predicted, they do take up many of the gods and practices of these people.
  • God did not play favorites though; He kept His promise to punish Israel in similar fashion if they descended to the same practices as the Amorites. (Lev 18:28, 2Ki 17:7-23)

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1 Comments:

At 11/05/2007 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would add that the only time in history that we saw such an order was to a people who had had the most exquisite direct experience of the divine, including splitting sea, mass revelation, 40 years of miraculous food; to expect such direct obedience from a population that had any less acute an experience would seem to be more than the Creator would demand;

 

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