by Jason Wisdom
First of all, I want to admit that this is among the most difficult issues facing Bible believing Christians. It calls into question the very character of God. For this reason, I do not want my thoughts here to give the impression that I take it lightly. It is hard enough to wrap my head around the idea that God would unilaterally wipe people out like in the flood and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But when He commands human beings to do it--like in the conquest of Canaan--that adds an entirely new level of difficulty. God's judgment is a terrifying thing, no matter how you look at it. In the space below, I am going to specifically address the destruction of the Canaanites described in the book of Joshua. I recognize that there are other difficult passages addressing battles with other people groups. I am also not under any illusions that what I am about to offer in any way diminishes the difficulty of these passages. Finally, and I apologize for the lengthy preface, I want it to be know that I well am aware of several common responses to the difficulty presented by the conquest of Canaan. However, this is not a book, it is a blog, so I do not have time to examine every view or express every nuance. It will suffice to say that what I offer below is not intended to replace any of these, but is offered as a compliment. I simply want to offer my honest reflection.
The last time I read through the book of Joshua, something jumped out at me that I had not considered before. That is, even before the first battle in the land, (at Jericho) the Bible says that the people of Canaan knew what was coming. This point is made repeatedly and with specific reference to nearly every group that faced impending destruction. As for the groups where it does not explicitly say that they knew what was coming, there is no reason to think that they were in the dark. Even in a time before the telephone, t.v., radio, and the internet, word had still spread to the far corners of the region. They hadn't just heard that the Israelite army was about to invade. They had good reason to believe that God Himself, the creator of all things, was on the move. They had heard about the miraculous things He did to deliver Israel from Egypt and how He empowered them to defeat other groups on their way to Canaan. They knew that God was coming in judgment to dispel them from the land that He had promised to Israel.
Below is a rundown of the passages that substantiate my point. And just to avoid having to clarify this later--yes, I am taking the biblical account as trustworthy in what it reports. If someone wants to reject what I am saying out of hand by simply denying the reliability of these passages, then I have to question why they take the account of the conquest seriously at all. As far as I can tell, the primary dilemmas posed here are not of God's existence and biblical reliability, but of God's character and biblical consistency. Thus, I am only speaking to the latter.
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