What about the Canaanites?
Those of us who adhere to a classic form of belief in God — God is good, holy, loving, sovereign — have a problem: evil. Evil is a problem for any thinking Christian — a serious problem. Simply put: if God is good, we have to ask why there is evil. If God is sovereign, we have to ask why there is evil. And if God is good we have to ask if God is sovereign.
1. Setting the Two Testaments Against Each Other
This view goes back to Marcion, 2ndCentury:
‘All these nasty things happened in the OT, but now we are NT Christians we know God was never like that (though the primitive Israelites thought he was) or God has changed in the way he engages with us as seen in Jesus.’
This won’t do:
It is a caricature of the OT which has much to say about the love of God.
It is a caricature of the NT which has much to say about the judgement of God.
It caricatures Jesus and the NT writers who do not reject the OT but fulfil it.
Bono on OT vs. NT
There's nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that's why they're so relatable.
But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend.
When you're a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules.
But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.
OT vs. NT
There probably are some differences between the OT and the NT
But God is the same throughout the Bible
The New Covenant does not replace the Old Covenant, rather it fulfils it
2. The Israelites Misunderstood God
Israel did the violence and attributed their actions to God’s will. In other words, the ‘God told me to do it’ defence of the indefensible.
Alternatively God spoke the words as hyperbole but the Israelites took them literally e.g. ‘We’re going to kill the opposition’ (before a game of basketball).
This neatly gets God off the hook and the Israelites on it.
The problems are:
There is no hint anywhere that the conquest of Canaan was a ‘mistake’. In fact the opposite is true, the refusal of the Exodus generation to go ahead are acts of disobedience
All through the Bible the Promised Land is celebrated as just that – a fulfilled promise of God to his people.
3. It Should All Be Interpreted as an Allegory on Spiritual Warfare
To dilute the reality of the Canaanite conquest by spiritualising the whole event. The story becomes a reservoir of spiritual lessons:
Victory over spiritual enemies
Release from slavery to sin
Overcoming a wilderness experience
God fulfilling his promises
The arrival of Israel in Canaan is not an allegory but a historical narrative. ‘It was not allegorical Israelites who attacked or allegorical Canaanites who died.’ Chris Wright
“There are days I wish,” he says, “this narrative were not in the Bible at all.” Wright’s approach is to examine this issue in the context of three biblical frameworks — frameworks that do not “explain away” but do “set in context.”
Framework of the OT story
‘Yahweh war’ not holy war
Unique event in history
Framework of God’s sovereign justice
Canaanites were sinful
This doesn’t mean Israel was altogether righteous
Framework of God’s plan of salvation
Blessing the Nations
The Nations will Praise God
It is hard to reach firm conclusions
Any easy answers in this area (or in the area of suffering/evil) will just sound pat
Is it possible that we aren’t able to comprehend this issue from God’s point of view? We are finite, He is infinite. We are limited, He is limitless…
C.J. Wright ‘The God I Don't Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith’ Zondervan 2008 (and available on Kindle)