EVERY MOTHER'S SON OF THEM
Glad you asked. All the Christian apologists, philosophers, and theologians these days seem to speak with one voice about this. Here's what I hear them saying:
- Those Canaanites were the most despicable of sinners, a sort of virus that had to be eliminated
- God waited patiently and gave them a chance to repent
- God was protecting the chosen people so his Messiah might come to save the world
- The innocent children (who may or may not have been slaughtered along with their parents) were spared from an even worse fate (by that reasoning abortion is beneficial)
Have I missed anything? Have I caricatured their arguments? No doubt. It's so much easier and far more interesting that way. But I have read their posts and books with keen interest hoping to find something I could get behind, but as much as I love and respect these guys I disagree with every mother's son of them.
Granted, they've all brought up some great points. I especially appreciate the close analysis of what the Biblical record actually says occurred versus the ancient Middle East smack talk. Like the Dread Pirate Roberts who boldly declared that he would "leave no survivors" yet who did leave survivors, there were a number of Canaanites who were spared like Rahab and her family and all those Gibeonites.
I don't disagree that God has the right to judge us for our sins. Of course he does. All societies judge people for their crimes and punish the wrong doers.
I simply do not agree that God commanded genocide. And I'm not quibbling about definitions either.
One of you might say to me, "Now hold on there, Timmy Boy! What about Deuteronomy 7:1-2 (NIV84)?"
"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, Perizzites, 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."
GOD DOES NOT CHANGE
First of all, God could not have commanded his people to slaughter the Canaanites. Jesus said, "If you have seen me then you have seen the Father." Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies.
TYPES AND SHADOWS
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that what happened to the Israelites happened to them as examples for us Christians on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. Just as the Passover lamb was an example (or type) of Christ so also the Israelites were an example (or a type) of the church. The writer of Hebrews tells us that it was impossible for the Old Testament sacrifices to turn away sin. The sacrifices were an example of how Christ would turn aside the wrath of God once and for all to make peace between us and God. In the same way, God was speaking to the church through the Israelites telling us to put to death the misdeeds of our sinful nature, to leave no survivors.
There certainly is precedent for interpreting scripture this way. Look at the way the Apostle Paul used the Torah:
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more (1 Corinthians 9:7-12 NIV84)?
Notice that Paul is telling us that God wasn't even talking about oxen. God was using figurative language to tell the church that we should pay our ministers.
The Evangelical church is uncomfortable with figurative interpretations (except in the area of transubstantiation, of course). Perhaps they feel it shows disrespect for the Word of God. That's unfortunate because much of the scriptures should be interpreted figuratively. Much of the Old Testament is explained that way in the New Testament. I know the Church Fathers would back me up on this one. Can I get an Amen, Origen?
We've always struggled with figurative language.
John 11:11-15 (NIV84):
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."
His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."
It's time for us to grow up and learn to correctly handle the Word of God. We've become like the dullard at the party who takes everything literally and never gets the joke.
WAS THIS REALLY NECESSARY?
God was indeed speaking to the church and telling us to put to death the misdeeds of our sinful nature, but there are other good reasons for this command. It stands there as a witness for all the ages. One day Richard Dawkins will stand before Christ and will have to answer for calling God an infanticidal monster then telling a woman, pregnant with a down's syndrome child, to abort it and try again. All those who have repeated Dawkins's words about God being an infanticidal monster will have to explain their role in the greatest holocaust of all time: elective abortion.
GO BIG OR GO HOME
Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying. I do believe the Canaanite Holocaust literally occurred. That's how people did war back then. It was horrendous. But I just don't believe that God ordered genocide.
I trust you will see that my logic and exegesis are irrefutable and I look forward to all the Christian apologists, philosophers, and theologians admitting that they are wrong and I am right. After all, I--just like the Dread Pirate Roberts--leave no survivors.