by Clarence Lavender

Continued from last week…

It was a dedication to continual wickedness that marked the Canaanites for extermination. Yet, once again we are back to the question, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25) and “Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right?” (Job 8:3). This writer believes that the Scriptures uphold the justice and the righteousness of God even in this command to eradicate the Canaanites.

To place the whole question in perspective, note the principle of Deuteronomy 9:5, which says, “Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the Lord swear unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Therefore we can see that God’s call to Israel was not traced to any moral superiority or their number, but to fulfill His promise to Abraham and his seed; God was preserving a lineage through which the Messiah would be born.

For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God; the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)

It is true that Israel was wicked, but their wickedness had not increased to the degree of guilt that Canaan had accrued. Even Jesus appealed to this principle in dealing with a comparison of cities in His day as judged over against Sodom and Gomorrah. “Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city” (Matthew 10:15). There had been a patient waiting from Abraham’s time for the sin of the Amorites to reach its full measure. “But in the fifth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Genesis 15:16).

This is not to say that Israel was permitted or even ordered to treat all other nations the same way, for Deuteronomy 20:10-15 orders them to offer conditions of peace rather than extermination to all others.

When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword. But the women, and the little ones and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee. Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.

However, the verses that follow, namely verses 16-18, disallowed the same offer to be given to Canaan.

But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breathest: But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee: That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the LORD your God.

In fact, the Hebrew wars with other nations (except Canaan) were designed to be only in self-defense.

Why, then, were the Canaanites singled out for such severe treatment?

  1. They were cut off to prevent Israel and the rest of the world from being corrupted (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).
  2. When people start to burn their children in honor of their gods (Leviticus 18:21),
  3. Practice sodomy, bestiality and all forms of wickedness (Leviticus 18:23-24; 20:3),
  4. The land itself begins to “vomit” them out as the body heaves under the load of internal poisons (Leviticus 18:25, 27-30).

Thus, objection to the fate of these nations is really an objection to the highest manifestation of the goodness of God. Greene likens this action on God’s part, not to doing evil that good may come, but doing good in spite of certain evil consequences, just as a surgeon does not refrain from amputating a gangrenous limb even though in so doing he cannot help cutting off healthy flesh.