The Sacrifice of the Canaanites

When a grim post at a downstairs blog such as mine gets hits from the ironically-named upstairs blog “What’s Wrong with the World”[1], I wonder if, in some small way, it is not a bit less wrong now than it was the day before.

If you follow the link to the comment and from there back the the original post, you’ll find another link to the actual argument under discussion. She writes:

I have no solution to the slaughter of the Canaanites. It’s that simple. I don’t know. As far as I can tell, the text of Old Testament Scripture indicates that God ordered the Israelites to kill children down to and including infants, and this is a problem. (Women as well, but at least one can conjecture that maybe all of the people from the age of reason on up had committed crimes worthy of death. Not the babies, though.) Prima facie, this is in direct conflict with the commandment to do no murder. Any attempt to answer the problem by saying that original sin means that no one is really innocent proves far too much, for it removes the rationale for regarding the killing of infants generally as murder.

There is no particular textual reason to take the problem passages to have been added later. It helps a little bit if one is not a strict inerrantist. But even then, what one is left with, at most, is something like, “Maybe God didn’t really order that, but my only reason for thinking that is that, as far as I can tell, it is completely incompatible with divine goodness. I’ll hope to have this clarified when I get to heaven.” One piece of good news, as far as it goes, is that there is nothing about the slaughter of the Canaanite children that is theologically necessary to the truth of Christianity. Unlike, say, the historical existence of Adam, the killing of Canaanite children is not woven into the warp and woof of Christian theology, doctrine, or ethics. Very much to the contrary.

And then she writes a whole bunch more that you don’t have to read because I’ve already quoted authoress McGrew sending herself astray…which I’ll come back to.

Let me state right away that the text is clear: The slaughter of the Canaanites was commanded by God. It’s not a translation issue. It’s not a euphemism. It’s not a parable. It’s not a myth. It is history, and the command to slaughter gentile (and Israelite) infants, children, and women is encountered multiple times in the OT testament. Here is the command from God; when the Israelites are instructed in how to conquer Canaan.

10 “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. 11 And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. 12 But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 And when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, 14 but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lordyour God has given you. 15 Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. 16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.

“Devote them to destruction”; as in “sacrifice them”. This passage has the context of an offering about it. The “Slaughter of the Canaanites” is a holy endeavor to its core, and in all its facets. It is a direct command from God. It cleanses the land of abominations. It preserves the Israelites from abomination. It performs the spiritual alchemy of turning abominable meat into a pure sacrifice worthy of the Most High God and gives even them a place to honor Him. It is also an opportunity for the Israelites to participate in God’s plan, and share in His holiness. I think even referring to is as the “Slaughter of the Canaanites” is a slander. I call it the Sacrifice of the Canaanites.

And it requires the shedding of innocent blood.

Children, especially infants, are innocent. However; they are not perfect. They are not sinless. They are not selfless, or even aware of others. They are not worthy and they have no worthy works. Innocent means they are not accountable; not that they do not offend, or that they are good. They are also signs of innocence, and that important for us and for our instruction.

It is upon this last that McGrew’s consternation turns. She thinks that if she knows anything, then she knows that infants are innocent. Alongside that, she thinks she knows that killing innocents is murder and always wrong; unless it is God himself actually doing the killing.[2] Lydia McGrew is wrong, and what follows is how we know she wrong.

She wrote:

One piece of good news, as far as it goes, is that there is nothing about the slaughter of the Canaanite children that is theologically necessary to the truth of Christianity. Unlike, say, the historical existence of Adam, the killing of Canaanite children is not woven into the warp and woof of Christian theology, doctrine, or ethics. Very much to the contrary.

It is bad to punish innocents, but punishment is not what God commanded. He commanded they be sacrificed. We’ll see this again later when the Lord of Hosts sends His only begotten Son to live as Himself and as us, and explicitly to be sacrificed to satisfy His own holiness, and for us and our salvation.

“Yes, but they were babies–”

Let me explain that you should shut up. Jesus is more than innocent. He is the Christ who chose to take on mere flesh. He is the only begotten Son of God. Unlike an untested infant, Jesus was tested in the refiner’s fire and found flawless, and a worker of many and marvelous good works; perfect as His Father in Heaven is perfect.  He is unique, flawless, utterly selfless, and very God of very God.

Did you ever wonder what it might be like to think about that? To not only think, but prepare the world for it? Since at least Adam, God has been planning  and moving to send His Son to be sacrificed to reconcile an adulterous people…humiliatingly, naked, painfully, on a cross, by Gentiles at the request of His own flesh and blood because they were cowards. That is INFINITELY more strange, startling, and inexplicable than the Sacrifice of the Canaanites by the Israelites.

Fretting over children sacrificed to a just and holy God who is the Lord of life is a mental walk in the park by comparison. Those who cannot see that have made idols of the flesh and their own wooden theologies, doctrines, ethics. That is to say: They’ve made idols of themselves, and that is very easy for us to do.

It gets back to the eye being the lamp of the whole body, and if our eye is dark (say, by being blasé about the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ) then the darkness in our body will be great. We will stupidly disconnect Him from other stories of sacrificed innocents, and from ourselves who are made innocent by His sacrifice, yet still die.

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Weren’t they family; the descendants of Noah who alone survived God’s extinction of all other human life? Are innocents not valuable that God would abandon them in death? Isn’t taking up your cross doing what is distasteful and painful to follow God? Was Jesus not deadly serious (even when not literal) when He spoke of a sword? This is the lamp that should light your eyes.

There’s a lot more to say on the topic. I haven’t even touched on God having a soft-spot for those who intercede but which the Jews consistently refused to do, or the real reasons the Israelites balked at killing, or why they didn’t balk when they did kill, or why the prohibition against murder is more about the murderer being separated from God than the murdered being separated from life…lots of stuff.

[1]By the bye: The answer is “us”.

[2]Without getting too derailed: Suffice it to say that this is a foolish train of thought headed for God is Unjust station, and carrying murderous angels as passengers; among others.

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31 thoughts on “The Sacrifice of the Canaanites

  1. I think that anyone with this kind of thing holding them back would benefit deeply from meditation on God’s divine justice. It comes from a place of “I am” that is eternal and existing unbound by time. He knows the sacrifice was necessary, and could have been so for multiple reasons regarding the future of the salvation (or damnation) of both his chosen people and the Canaanites.

    It is also something that should be considered under thr views of creationism. One of the (many) factors regarding my change of views to strict Genesis account was that the treatment of the gentiles before and after Christ is both supremely just and merciful when considering, at some point, their ancestors turned away from God, abandoned the chosen people, and walked away to follow their pride and false gods. After this, the fact that God offers any salvation to them or their descendants, and in fact shows a great deal of love and willingness to gather them back into his arms, lies within such a merciful God of which none of us are worthy. If he decides that the slaughter of Canaanites is required for justice to be met, who are we mortals and sinners to question him? Plead with him as Abraham and Moses did, but when the time comes… well, I have no desire for any soul to be turned into a pillar of salt, and thus I believe all should aim to severe all love of the world for pure love of God

  2. Let me explain that you should shut up

    This is a fantastic sentence. This is a sentence that I will use and credit you with often. It will finally replace the more common one that I’d picked up from some very large commanding young male friends in college when they would say “if I want your opinion I’ll give it to you”.

    “Let me explain you should shut up” buries that old thing dead to rot.

  3. Moreover, Cane, your post is very good, excellent, even outstanding. The thinking that informs the “babies are innocent” shock-face reaction informs an entire subset school of thought (I know you know this) that reaches similar conclusions coming from similar presuppositions. The ideas posited by the writer you’ve parsed may be about the historically originate falsely galling event, but in historical and contemporary context we go to wrong places with our hearts leading our minds by choosing corporeal idolatry especially weighted towards certain corpus forms, babies, women, invalids, minorities, or status pf personage, single mother, so forth.

  4. @Chad

    I think that anyone with this kind of thing holding them back would benefit deeply from meditation on God’s divine justice.

    No, not anyone. So count yourself blessed.

    If you follow the conversation at Whats Wrong with the World and at McGrew’s personal blog you can see meditations turn to maleficence as they happen. They dig pits of doubt, stake them with pride, and then cover it over with many reedy words that are chosen because they are long on excuses and thin on reasoning. They mean to kill faithful Christians.

    @IW

    Thanks.

    @Empath

    The thinking that informs the “babies are innocent” shock-face reaction informs an entire subset school of thought (I know you know this) that reaches similar conclusions coming from similar presuppositions. The ideas posited by the writer you’ve parsed may be about the historically originate falsely galling event, but in historical and contemporary context we go to wrong places with our hearts leading our minds by choosing corporeal idolatry especially weighted towards certain corpus forms, babies, women, invalids, minorities, or status pf personage, single mother, so forth.

    Exactly right. While looking up passages on the eye last night I again came across a likeness of these people in Luke 11.

  5. If you follow the conversation at Whats Wrong with the World and at McGrew’s personal blog you can see meditations turn to maleficence as they happen. They dig pits of doubt, stake them with pride, and then cover it over with many reedy words that are chosen because they are long on excuses and thin on reasoning. They mean to kill faithful Christians.

    So true. I’ve been dealing with this all weekend on a blog related to the denomination I grew up in.

  6. Bravo! So many stumble over these Scriptures, yet they seem so clear to me. I think that the stumbling is really not because of trouble over the idea of the “innocent,” but rather a weakness in faith and a lack of knowledge of God’s nature and character. Those who stumble don’t really believe (or have a poor understanding) that: a.) God is good, b.) God is righteous or c.) God owns us.

    In Romans chapter 9, Paul speaks of “vessels of wrath, prepared for destruction,” which he will destroy “desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power.”

    The same people often stumble over God’s command to offer up Issac as a sacrifice by Abraham, as if God commanded Abraham to do something sinful. But even had the knife come down and Issac’s body been consumed by the flames, Abraham would not have sinned and the sacrifice would have been a holy sacrifice.

    In thinking on this, these things reveal an exultation of humanity that is in line with our times yet not in line with history or Scripture. This confusion comes from putting mankind on a pedestal.

  7. Thanks for the reminder on counting myself blessed. As for the statement, I mostly meant it as advice for those that do struggle with the Canaanites. It doesn’t seem like any here do, though.

    As for over at the linked article… I read some and couldn’t continue. To conflate your other post with child rape rather than how to handle a woman taken as a just prisoner of war… it needs a special kind of need to defend humanity by quickly questioning God. Or rather a desire to conform God to the individuals expectations rather than conform the individuals to God’s expectations.

  8. I’m on pain drugs, so my thoughts are a bit slower. I also read more of the comments.

    They are very much stuck in a trap of their own making. They place their understanding of moral law over God, saying that if God doesnt subscribe to their understanding of natural moral law than their understanding of God is wrong.

    I place God as creator of natural law. He is the author, and does not break it. If I see a biblical action ordered or approved by him, I don’t revise God, but I attempt to revise my understanding of natural law. I am also of the belief that natural law is guided and overseen by supernatural law and a God who is all love and all virtuous.

    So, the fault of a lack of understanding is always mine, and I always question tjings from the bottom up as reason dictates I’ll have a better understanding of things I am closer to, and I am not nearly as close to God to be able to start questioning Him

  9. Firstly, I consider myself educated by what Mr Caldo wrote in this post. It also answers the questions people have about claims that God’s encouragement and commandment for His people to kill (primarily in the Old Testament) entire groups of people, races, cultures and other religions. The concept of holiness (to be set apart for His Purpose) seems to have lost its meaning in today’s world. Therefore, when it’s hard to convince other believers of His Holiness and His Desire for man to be holy, it’s harder to explain it to non-believers.

    Secondly, the lack of understanding and the depth of this (lack) point to the fact that the teachers of the Word (be it from the pulpit) might have failed (in some ways) in guiding believers to meditate on and read Scripture by considering His Nature and His Holiness. That while (I believe) it is okay to question God and His Ways, we should consider also that, chances are, answers are already in the Great Book. Or that sometimes, it behooves us to see things from another perspective (sometthing I’ve learnt from the Red Wedding in Canaan post) and not from preconceived ideas or concepts we have gleaned from our curent culture or our sinful nature.

    Thirdly, Romans 3:23 would be an alternative and appopriate riposte to Ms McGrew.

  10. Lydia McGrew and her supporters are full of willfulness and pride, have been told so, and still rebel by assuming they know what’s best for the world instead of the God that created, sustains, and loves it.

  11. @chokingofredpills

    They want to avoid the frightening implication of holiness its very bittersweet nature. And so they focus on “God is love, love, love” rather than th biblical emphasis holy holy holy.

  12. @info
    The best way I’ve found to ever get through to such people is agree with them that God is love. He loves and respects people so much that he takes their actions very seriously. Hence why he casts his wrath upon nations that he has given utter leniency to. Or strike dead liars such as in acts – which is my go to example if people try to claim the new testament God is one of love and the old testament one of death.

  13. My kids and I started reading the Bible Chronologically a few months back. We’re in Deuteronomy right now, so we’ve read all this recently. Here are a few points that I noticed in our reading.

    1. The destruction of the Canaanites demonstrates God’s judgement on entire nations, not just individuals.

    2. The destruction of the Canaanites demonstrates God’s grace and mercy towards nations, not just His judgement.

    2a. ’12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”’ ~ Genesis 13:12-16

    Somewhere between 400 – 500 years passed From the time that God made Abraham this promise, until the time the Israelites finally began the process of conquering the Promised Land. God gave the Canaanites ample time to repent, yet they refused. This echoes 2 Peter 3:9 ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’

    2b. The Israelites received the Promised Land, not because they deserved it, but because of God’s grace toward them.

    ‘4 After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. 5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6 Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.’ ~ Deuteronomy 9:4-6

    3. God’s judgement is the same for all nations, including His chosen people.

    In Leviticus 26:14-39 (too long to quote here), God summarizes all the horrors He’ll visit on the Israelites if they prostitute themselves with the false gods of the people God commanded them to dispossess. Moses warns the Israelites similarly multiple times throughout Deuteronomy. Reading the rest of the Old Testament (especially the final chapters of Kings and Chronicles, and Lamentations), we see that God’s judgement on the Israelites was horrible indeed.

    4. Sin pollutes more than the sinner, it pollutes everything around him, even the land itself.

    ’24 “‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.’ ~ Leviticus 18:24-28

    I don’t claim to understand how (correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the Bible explains how), but something seems to happen spiritually when a nation saturates itself in abomination that pollutes everything, even inanimate objects. In some cases, God commanded the Israelites to burn EVERYTHING, so they would not be defiled by the sin of the people they conquered. It seems to me that if even inanimate objects can become defiled, then so can babies.

    5. We’re not exempt from similar judgement.

    One of the reasons God used the Israelites to punish the Canaanites was their practice of sacrificing their children to their false gods, especially Molech.

    ’21 “‘Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord… 24 “‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.”‘ ~ Leviticus 18:21, 24

    Also…

    33 “‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.’” ~ Numbers 35:33-34

    People no longer sacrifice their children to Molech. They sacrifice their children to the false god of self, complete with a metal altar (operating table) and an incinerator in which their dead children are tossed as a burnt offering to their false god.

    I shudder to think of God’s judgement for us if this abomination continues.

  14. I just say if God wanted the Canaanites dead, they had it coming to them, good and hard.

    Luke 13:1-5 is also a useful commentary by Jesus: “Repent or perish.”

    Just wait ’til the judgment day.

  15. Jonah and Ninevah is also illuminating. God wanted Ninevah to repent, and was sending a prophet to give them a chance. Jonah wanted them destroyed. One suspects God gave the Canaanites a chance or two to repent.

  16. When I studied theology my professor of OT explained the various arguments about the reasons for these commands these commands fairly directly.
    1) Those within the Holy Land were under the judgment of God for a number of reasons
    2) Those who rejected the rightful authority of God’s people were being disobedient.
    and the one that struck me:
    3) The Israelites were not to profit from the destruction of the people within the Holy Land.
    You see, the most important ‘plunder’ of a city was often the captives as labor, slaves, hostages, ransom, etc. It was even possible to adopt the infants to replace losses among existing slave families.
    Part of this message was ‘You will not profit from the sieges, but only lose men’.

  17. Pingback: Conserving Rebellion in Canaan | Things that We have Heard and Known

  18. I just say if God wanted the Canaanites dead, they had it coming to them, good and hard.

    Even the infants?

    But anyway Cane, just so you know, I was the one who linked to you. MarcAnthony was the username I used on WWWtW before I started the Malcolm the Cynic blog. I link to M the C over there, but I kept the original username just to remain consistent.

  19. BTW, I still have some reservations (though do not explicitly reject as of now) some of the points from that post, but I think there was merit in the idea that, as was His tendency in the OT, God was trying to place regulations on a practice he disapproved of but knew would end up happening anyway.

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  22. I don’t think I understand your point about sacrifice. Are you saying that God required the sacrifice of infants and it was righteous because He’s God, but sacrifice of infants to other gods is evil? I don’t understand the distinction because the people sacrificing infants to Moloch surely believed they were obeying god. Are you saying that sometimes God demands humans to sacrifice each other to Him? If that is what you’re saying, how will we know it’s God and not Moloch?

  23. Excellent blog. Got here from Darlock.

    I don’t understand this killing of infants at all. If I were an Isrealite I would lack the faith to carry it out.

    But I think their are some explanations which help me make peace. Maybe the Caanites had a physical disease which needed to be wiped out. Something we cannot get from the text. But I don’t believe in inerrancy so in some ways it is not as big an issue for me.

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