the events that many critics and sceptics use consistently to spotlight
God’s seeming cruelty is His verdict against the Canaanites. After Israel’s
deliverance from Egypt, the Israelites were to go to the land of Canaan and
clear the land of all Canaanites: men, women and children.
"When the LORD thy God
shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath
cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and
the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and
the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God
shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy
them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them:
Consequently, atheists and other critics point to God’s sternness as
evidence that the God of the Bible is not at all a God of love, but a God of
violence and destruction.
But is this really the case?
What if God would have dealt with the Canaanites differently? What if He had
shown mercy toward them? Would that have made Him more credible as a God?
What critics do not seem to understand is that God is not just Love—God
is also righteousness. God is a Holy Being who demands of individuals
and the nations at least a modicum of decent and righteous behaviour.
If, on the other hand, they chose the way of extreme degeneracy and refuse
to change, though He is very patient, He ultimately will
intervene drastically to clean out the terminal cancer.
sense of this topic, let’s, first of all, look at God’s longsuffering
attitude toward the Canaanites.
In Genesis 15:16 God tells Abraham what would
have happened to his descendents centuries later. He explained to him that
the Egyptians would have afflicted his progeny for “four hundred years,” and
that, finally, they would have achieved deliverance (Genesis 15: 13). Why
did Israel have to wait that long? Because, God explains, “…the iniquity of
the Amorites is not yet complete” (V. 16). Clearly, God waited hundreds
of years before the Amorites became degenerate enough to deserve total
destruction. But the day came when God could bear their degenerate ways no
longer and decreed that their end had come.
The next critical question we must ask is: “How
degenerate and deserving of destruction were they?”
explains in detail why the extirpation of the Canaanites had become
essential: “And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the
iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her
inhabitants” (Lev. 18:25). The people of Canaan had reached such
an extreme level of degeneracy that, figuratively, the land itself would vomit them out.
God, furthermore, describes the
Canaanite actions as abominable: “For all these abominations have the men
of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled” (Lev.
18:27). Being "abominations," their
actions to God had become impossible to bear and beyond redemption.
In Leviticus chapter 11 we find a clear
explanation of the extreme degeneracy of the people of Canaan. God prefaced
the chapter with the following injunction:
“…After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do:
and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye
not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances” (Lev. 18:3). He then
proceeds to enumerate a long list of possible incestual relationships that
God warns Israel to stay away from. Incest, in fact, abounded among the Canaanites.
This was one of the revolting trends in that society that Israel was not to
But the chapter
proceeds to list other more heinous sexual sins that were proliferating
among the Canaanites: Sexual activities during a woman’s period (V. 19);
Adultery (V. 20); Homosexuality (V. 22); and most revolting of all, bestiality (V. 23).
But there is more--much more.
describes the Canaanites as
people who passed their children “through the fire” (Deut. 18:10). What does
In Jeremiah we find
that, later on, when Judah adopted Baal worship, they too adopted the ways
of worship of the Canaanites: “They have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal”(Jeremiah
19:5). “Passing children through the fire” was, therefore, the abominable
practice of offering children as holocausts to the false gods of Canaan.
This was a common practice among the Canaanites that totally revolted God
and that helped bring about His final verdict.
God warns Israel to destroy the
Canaanites so as not to be influenced by their wicked ways:
Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the
nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled:
therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself
vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my
judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of
your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these
abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the
land is defiled;) That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as
it spued out the nations that were before you. For whosoever shall commit
any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off
from among their people. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye
commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before
you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.
Unfortunately, Israel did not heed the order given by God and did not
“utterly” destroy the Canaanites and settled, instead, beside their remnant
for centuries, absorbing their evil ways and finally becoming just like
them. This very grave mistake finally led to untold suffering, because of
the great curses that befell them, as listed in Deuteronomy 28 and their
final expulsion from the land.
beginning of this analysis we asked the question: “What if God had not
decreed the destruction of the Canaanites?” From the start, God’s aim was
simply to protect Israel from influences that would have led to their
degeneracy. If God had not decreed the destruction of the Canaanites, God
would have allowed and approved a snare upon the people of Israel. Israel
would have become like the people of the land and would have invited upon
themselves the same fate, just as it happened. Israel
did not heed God’s injunction and did embrace the ways of the people of the
land. Thus they were severely punished and like the Canaanites they, also,
were vomited out by the land.
What, therefore, seems to be an example of harshness
and cruelty is, in fact, a perfect example of God’s longsuffering, of His
hatred for evil and Hid final drastic intervention, if evil becomes
obdurate and entrenched.