One of the most frequent arguments used against Christianity stems from perceived genocide in the Old Testament that was commanded by God and carried out by Israel. Such a command has been a central pillar of attacks against belief in God. In his work the God Delusion, atheist Richard Dawkins states,
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction; jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty and ethnic cleanser."1((Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. London: Transworld, 2006. Print, p.51.))
Like Dawkins, many skeptics believe the God of the Bible is a moral monster. One pillar the criticism against God’s moral conduct is the driving out of the Canaanites from the Promised Land. Critics state that God was wrong for pronouncing judgment on the people group. However, is such a criticism valid? Have critics of the Christian God, accurately portrayed the scenario behind the “slaughter of the Canaanites” or are their critical points which have been bypassed?
Who Were the Canaanites?
Many Christians are asked, “How could God kill the Canaanites?” Usually, there is a hidden assumption that the Canaanites were innocent people and God whimsically decided to destroy them. Before anyone judges God for his actions, a preliminary question must be answered, who were the Canaanites? Here is a list of what the Canaanites allowed in service to their multiple gods:
- Temple Sex
- Child Sacrifice via burning on the altar to the god Molech (Copan, 159).
Furthermore, the Canaanite’s idolatry was not something which took place in the privacy of their home, but rather, was a worldview that influenced societies adjacent to them. It is not as if a couple of people in the land of Canaan believed that burning children alive in worship to Molech was a good idea, it was an entire people group.
The Patience of God with the Canaanites
Another aspect which is often bypassed regarding the slaughter of the Canaanites is the patience of God in holding off judgment. In Genesis 15:16, God speaks to Abraham about a mission of Israel following enslavement in Egypt, stating, “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites (Canaanite people group) is not yet complete.” It is vital to understand the totality of what God did; He allowed His own people to be held captive for over 400 years in hopes that the Canaanites would repent and cease their wickedness. Why would it be wrong for God to intervene after 400 years of human rights violations and stop the Canaanites?
As we’ve seen in the brief introduction to the judgment of the Canaanites, the people of the land were morally reprehensible and given 400 years to cease their wicked actions. Furthermore, God’s patience with the nation-state should be noted, as God held his own people in Egypt, in hope that the Canaanites would repent. Hence, the criticism of God is based on aspects that are either bypassed or misrepresented (as we will see in later blogs).
- How has the story of the Canaanites been taught in your congregation?
- What does it say about God’s nature that He waited 400 years to judge the Canaanites? How does that apply, if at all, to God’s patience with us today?