Divine Mercy; Divine Genocide
Gen. James Green
D R. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG writes: “Objecting to the argument from morality is a common theme among non-believers...an atheist writes in, who believes there is a conflict between the notion of morality being objectively grounded in God and the seemingly arbitrary way in which God commands ancient Israel to slaughter certain people groups in the Old Testament.” This “questioning of God,” has become the latest sport of these “new atheists” (NA), even though they deny the existence of God.
Dr. Craig, Dr. Clay Jones, Dr. Paul Copan, Dr. Matt Flannagan, and Dr. Richard S. Hess are some of the (Christian) men (and authors) who have responded to the NA attacks on God’s character. The most notorious NA is Richard Dawkins. In his book, “The God Delusion” (2006), this atheist says that, “God’s maniacal jealousy against alternative gods recurs continually throughout the Old Testament” (p. 246). I would like to tackle Dawkins’ spin on Godly jealousy. I did a short study on this in my “Wrath of God” magazines several years ago.
THIS VIEW is defined as:
any theory which holds that reality is ultimately of the nature of the will, or the will is the primary factor in experience, voluntary or willing participation in a course of action, or a doctrine or system based on such participation.
Dr. Craig refutes the idea/argument from morality because God’s morality can have sufficient reasons for the commands (to “slaughter,” “drive out”) in the Old Testament. Craig uses words such as, “divine command morality” in his speeches/writings. I was teaching this way back in the 1980s when ACMTC was just getting started. I only wish I knew then what I know today.
“Voluntarism is a view defended by a few theologians,” writes Craig, “according to which moral values and duties are based entirely on God’s sovereign will. There is no further explanation behind God’s choice of moral values. He arbitrarily chooses what will be good and what is evil” (taken from Q and A, #147, “Reasonable Faith,” 2010).
The vast majority of Christian thinkers have not been voluntarists. I think voluntarism is more naturally at home in Islam than Christianity, for with the Muslim conception of God, His power trumps everything, even His own character. By contrast, Christian theologians believe God to have certain essential virtues, such as love, fairness, impartiality, compassion, and so on. These are as essential to God as having three angles is to a triangle.
Craig writes: “One of the positive insights of voluntarism, I think, is that duties arise in response to an imperative. A command by a legitimate authority creates an obligation or prohibition for us. Good and bad alone is not sufficient for right and wrong because good and evil do not create obligations or prohibitions for us. Many things would be good for us to do, but that doesn’t imply that we’re obliged to do them because they may be mutually exclusive and so impossible to do. So voluntarism correctly locates the source of our moral duties in God’s commandments.
Where voluntarism goes wrong is in thinking these commands to be utterly arbitrary. They are not arbitrary but grounded in the nature of a just and loving God. Therefore, most divine command theorists are not voluntarists.”
Contrary to God’s Nature
HERE IS where this debate gets real sticky and tricky. And this is the “weapon” the “liberal Christians” and the “New Atheists” (NA) use on us: “How do we account for the COMMANDS (of God) that are CONTRARY to His nature?” I have no problem with this. Within (or side-by-side) God’s Holy Character are both “love” and “wrath.” The wrath side no doubt dominates the Old Testament, the love side, the New Testament. In the Old and New, we find both together. SADLY, GOD HAS BEEN PORTRAYED AS LOVE ONLY. But this does not reflect the whole nature/character of God.
So, when the liberals/NA get on a tirade against the “wrath” of God, THEY DON’T REALIZE THAT HIS WRATH IS ROOTED AND GROUNDED IN HIS LOVE. “What made God angry?”
I DARE SAY THAT WE NEED TO STEP BACK AND CONSIDER WHO IS IN CHARGE HERE: GOD OR MAN?
* Who created man?
* Who made the rules for humankind to start with?
* Who has the right to let live and to take life?
It is totally naive to think that God has no say so in world events. HE IS the God of History!
Slaughtering the Canaanites
FIRST, LOOK at the sins/abominations the author of Lev. 18 lists: idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, bestiality, and many other offensive things.
According to these sins/abominations, God had (and has) every right to judge/punish the Canaanites. If we look at what Deut. 9:4 says, “Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the LORD thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the LORD hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from before thee.”
The author goes on in verse 5, “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 sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Again the word “wickedness” is mentioned. Ah, here is the “WHY” for driving out the Canaanites.
We find this very same thing in Chapter 18 of Leviticus: “Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things (mentioned above), for in all these, the nations are defiled which I cast out before you.”
Let us stop here and ponder the words, “drive out” and “cast out.” According to our critics, who accuse us of being blood thirsty (because we agree with God’s command to kill men, women, children, and infants), they fail to note the mercy side of God—He gave the Canaanites a chance to FLEE before He commanded Israel to slaughter. In fact, “driving out” is not considered slaughtering. Copan and Flannagan believe that the majority of those “genocide” texts are hyperbolic. Hess and Clay disagree. But all four agree that warfare was used after the option to flee was presented.
Copan writes, “Like his ancient Near Eastern contemporaries, Joshua used the language of conventional warfare rhetoric. This language sounds like braggings and exaggeration to our ears.” Copan goes on to cite Joshua 10:40: “So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded.” The words “all” and “utterly destroy” are debated (see 10:40-42; 11:16-23). Some disagree that this is wholly hyperbolic.
Scholars do agree that Judges is literally linked to Joshua. But as pointed out, the task of taking over the land was far from complete. Judges 2:3 reads, “I will not drive them out from before you.” Why would God say this? The rest of v. 3 is, “but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.” This was because Israel did not remain faithful to God’s command—to kill the Canaanites. They instead (years later) mingled with the Canaanites. Israel had been bidden to break down (the) altars of those nations. She did not complete this, thus, as warned, their gods were worshipped and Israel was contaminated.
In Lev. 18, we read: “...after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye NOT DO: neither shall ye WALK in their ordinances.” (v. 3). The prohibitions found in Cpt. 18 deal with what God HATES and are SINS/ABOMINATIONS. Homosexuality, God regards as instinctively unnatural, hence evil!
Here we find both the hatred and longsuffering/patience of God. God wanted to “cast out” (v. 24), not merely DESTROY. But if they refused, genocide/slaughter would follow. I assume that many women, children/infants left; the soldiers stayed to defy God and Israel.
I believe that when the words “utterly destroy” were used, I think it referred to the Canaanites who did not surrender, but fought. When Scripture records that certain clan groups were still found AFTER Joshua was to have destroyed them, [it is believed that they] were the ones who fled elsewhere, but came back later and settled. Copan writes in his book, “Is God a Moral Monster?,” “These nations remained ‘to this day’ (Judges 1:21). The peoples who had apparently been wiped out reappeared in the story. Many Canaanite inhabitants simply stuck around.” (p. 171)
Copan believes that “utterly destroyed” (haram) is not literal, but hyperbolic. We must take in account that this Holy War took (literally) years.
BY “COSMIC,” I mean earthly. What we see in the Big picture (Old Testament) is the clash of “two World Orders”—God’s order for His Chosen/Separated people, and the abominable Canaanites. God HATES idol worship (and those who worship them as well. Do your own Bible study, ok?) THE OLD TESTAMENT CERTAINLY CONNECTS IDOLATRY WITH THE DEMONIC (see also the prohibitions against the occult in Deut. 18). The Bible speaks literally about demons / demon gods / idols, etc.
Yahweh God even made WAR against the Egyptians; read the account in Exodus. Read where God threatened the DEATH of all the first-born in Egypt, which was later fulfilled (Ex.11-12). Ex 12:29 states that “...the LORD smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt...” We can’t say this is hyperbolic. Now can we say that God was cruel? NO! He gave Pharaoh an OPTION: Let God’s people go, or let God kill all the first-born. The Pharaoh, of course, chose not to obey God. But GOD OFFERED MERCY FIRST.
GOD’S COMMAND to Israel to “utterly destroy” Canaan’s idols and false immoral worship illustrate the Cosmic War between Yahweh and the gods of the Canaanites. Exodus 15:3 calls God a “Warrior;” Ps. 24:7-10 calls God, “King of Glory,” “the LORD mighty in battle,” and “the LORD of hosts” (or “armies;” see my 2 publications called “Wrath of God”). God’s Holy War is rooted in both reality and justice, in love and in wrath.
The Holy War campaign was God’s sovereign rule over the false gods of the pagan world. His Holy War was (and is) officially sanctioned by Himself. He did not need any humanistic/politically correct input. By His own rule for WAR, His Holy WAR was (and is) supernatural and supreme. And when Israel had a victory, that clearly signaled that God was fighting for them (e.g. 2 Chron. 20). This goes for us today–as God’s New Israel (see our many spiritual warfare publications).
Back to Egypt
EXODUS ALSO records the opening of the Red Sea so that God’s ex-slaves could cross it (ch. 14). In 14:25 it says that God, “...took off their (Egyptian army) chariot wheels, that they drove them heavily; so that the Egyptians said, ‘let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians.’” Note what followed: “And the LORD said unto Moses, ‘Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians...” (v. 26). Verse 27 records the genocidal statement, “...and the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.” This is the final scene in the dramatic act in which God reveals His power. The hour of VENGEANCE had come. There is no way that we can construe that Egypt did not deserve this. This was the climax [payback] for the “slaughter” of Israel’s newborn (Exodus 1:16).
Wholesale extermination (or near extermination) of the enemy has always been the vindictive way of the LORD—the pursuing Egyptian army was “utterly destroyed.” Verse 28 (ch. 14) records, “...there remained not so much as one of them.” No hyperbolic language here!
As we get into Chapter 15 we read: “the LORD is a Man of War; the LORD is His name,” (15:3). In verse 7 it states, “And in the greatness of thine excellency thou has overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which CONSUMED them as stubble.” But remember, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (at other times it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. God used his hard heart against him). Was God justified? Yes! End of argument.
All this took place BEFORE the commands to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites (see Deut. 20:10-15 where God ordered the death of all male Canaanite warriors. If the cities made peace, the women and children were spared). But vv. 16 and 17 state that those cities targeted for Israel to inhabit were to be “utterly destroyed.” Why? Well, verse 18 tells us WHY!, “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.” Here Scripture reveals God’s love for Israel, and the hatred for the gods of the Canaanites. The RSV reads (better than the KJV), “That they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods...” (v.18).
The words “utterly destroy” translate the Hebrew verb hrm, a special term used in the institution of Holy War. It means that any object or person under the “ban” (=dedicated to destruction) in this type of war is invested with a holy taboo and must be utterly consumed as a holocaust to God, (yet even this could be compromised, see Rahab the harlot—who was spared by Israel for her faith in God). For a better understanding of all this, read Deut. 9:1-6.
Let us not forget that Israel knew God as both righteous and as the Lord of history. We must not allow our human feelings to interfere with God’s sovereignty over history--it does not compromise His goodness/mercy. We fail God when we yield to our human emotions over (against) His severity. His severity is all part of His righteousness. HIS WRATH, ANGER, AND JEALOUSY ARE ALL PART OF HIS HOLY CHARACTER, THEN AND NOW. I have written many articles on how God used the pagans as His “Weapons of War” (when Israel was backslid!). He used the brutal Assyrians/Babylonians/Romans to be His SERVANTS of DESTRUCTION. Expressions like “rod of mine anger, and the staff of mine indignation” were directed against His very own Israelites when in rebellion (Isaiah 10:5). Although at times these pagan kings did not know that they were being used (Isa 10:13,15), thus, eventually the “weapons” will suffer punishment.
DESPITE ALL the ranting and raging done by the liberal Churchites and the New Atheists, God had (and has) morally sufficient reasons for “utter destruction,” and even the “driving out” of the enemies. These are not contrary to His nature whatsoever; those acts of judgment were for GROSS SINS/ABOMINATIONS!
The authors (Doctors) I mentioned in the beginning all agree that God wanted to “drive out,” not to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites; MERCY FIRST, destruction second. God wants to destroy their religion, which was a stench to Him. Had all the Canaanite people fled before Israel’s advancing army, there would not have been a slaughter. “No one had to die,” they contend; only those who remained behind were to be destroyed.
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