We’ve been discussing the Exodus and Canaanite Conquest narratives in the Bible. I wrote last time that the claim that the wiping out of an entire people group or killing children is always wrong without exception is based on certain modern ideas that I believe are self evidently false.
One of those ideas is that of inclusivism and universalism, where all people deserve to be saved and none should be destroyed. This is essentially an idea that believes God loves everyone in the exact same way. There is no special love that God has for His people that He doesn’t also have for agents of chaos in the world. This is simply not what the Bible tells us. God does, in fact, love everyone in terms of providentially providing and preserving physical life to all during their allotted stay upon the earth (however short that might be); and He gives this love to everyone, the wicked and the righteous, at His discretion. But it is equally clear that God has a special love for His people that causes Him to consider them above the rest. This is the type of love that we see in God’s statement that He loves Jacob, but hates Esau, or the type to which the Lord Jesus refers when He says that we must hate our father and mother in order to love and follow Him. Here, love is ordered according to the particular relationship. God loves Esau in the story as well, since He provides Esau with many, many blessings (so much so that Esau is no longer angry with Jacob and recognizes that God is with him), but Jacob has the priority over Esau. Likewise, we may love our parents to the utmost, but when that relationship is in conflict with our relationship with God (e.g., when parents tell their children to not follow Christ, or we don’t want to offend our parents, so we compromise in some way for them), the love we have for our parents is to be considered as hatred when compared to our love for Christ.This love or hatred manifest itself in actions that display an acceptance of the loved or a rejection of the hated (or lesser loved). In other words, it creates a dilemma, a choice to be made between one group or person over and above another.
Hence, when compared to the love God has for his children, true humanity, His providential love for the wicked is viewed as hatred. For instance, in Psalm 11:5-6, the text says that YHWH tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves chaos [this is the word smx again, for those of you paying attention from earlier posts, that describes violence toward human preservation] His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup. Psalm 5:5a-7 says to God: You hate all who do iniquity. You destroy those who speak falsehood; YHWH abhors the man of murder and deceit. But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness I will enter Your house, at Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You.
The Psalms are good examples of this contrast between those who God loves as His children and those who God hates as the destroyers (both through physical murder and spiritual destruction via falsehood) of His children. Hence, God loves everyone, but does not love everyone the same; nor could He, lest He do what is unjust and unloving toward His people, true humanity for the sake of saving those who are not His people, chaotic agents, false humanity.
For instance, in my comments concerning the biblical flood narrative, I gave the example of someone breaking into your house and threatening to kill your children. You can love your children and kill the murderer, or you can love the murderer and passively participate in the destruction of your children—thus hating them. You must choose one or the other. You cannot choose both. The question isn’t whether you might love both in some way, but whether you love one more than the other due to a special relationship you have with them. And that is what love and hate are about in the Bible. They are about relationship. Those who have entered into a relationship with God that exemplifies the role of the imago Dei and those who take the opposite role in the world through some practice that tends toward a humanless world. The one is true humanity and the one is false humanity. Hence, we must ask these scholars, Why would God love false humanity in the same way as true humanity? Why would He love the murderers of His children in the same way as His children? The answer is that He wouldn’t, and nor would any sane person who was face with the choice I presented above. So the idea that there is one, rather than two, humanities, and therefore, God wants to preserve both, is completely unbiblical.
Now, some might object that the conquest is about Israel invading, and hence, there is no threat to Israel. But I have already argued last time that Israel’s existence is threatened by their lack of a homeland. They are not only susceptible to harsh weather conditions and famine, but to attack (as they are sitting ducks at this point). But let’s look at this claim that destroying an entire people group is always wrong first, and then we’ll look at whether doing this as a first strike is always wrong.
Imagine, if you will, that five people, instead of just one, come into your house, and are going to kill all the males and rape all of the females, scarring them for life (i.e., doing things that will destroy them spiritually as people). Is it: a) more loving to let your family be murdered and raped, or b) more loving to kill the murderers and rapists in order to save your family? I opt for option b, as I think even the most liberal of scholars would (unless their concept of love and doing what is right is so far gone by their muddying of criminal and victim in our culture that they opt for a; but very few I think would do this). Now, let’s say for a moment that those five people are three men and two women, the last remaining descendents of the Hokey Pokey tribe. If destroying an entire race or group of people is always wrong, then their new identification should cause you to let them murder and rape your children. If this absolute claim is bogus, you would still love your children by killing them, regardless of their identification. But in loving your children, others will curse you for committing genocide (note that I have not used this term to refer to the biblical conquest, as I do not think it has any similarity toward modern genocides beyond a large group of people being killed).
Now, let’s look at the objection that this was a preemptive strike, rather than one of self defense. First, preemptive strikes can be acts of self defense. It is only Western culture that has changed its understanding of this and just recently at that. We can see the legitimacy of a preemptive strike back in the first Star Wars film, where Greedo is threatening to either kill Han Solo or take him to Jabba the Hutt to be executed. Greedo does not fire on Han first. At this point, he’s only a threat to him. Yet, no one I know had a problem with understanding that Han’s move was a righteous one, since a preemptive strike against a threat to your existence is a just act. It’s a shame that when Lucas re-edited the movies, he made it seem as though Greedo fired first. Say goodbye to common sense when it comes to self defense and the preemptive strike.
But let’s imagine now that those same Hokey Pokeys were once living in another part of your house. They were always a concern, and you had to sleep with one eye open, because they were not upstanding people. Now, let’s say you went on a long journey, and have returned home. They are now occupying your house and you now know that they have become even more wicked than before. They will kill your entire family in order to keep your property. You have nowhere else to go, and it’s freezing outside. If you stay where you are, your family will die from exposure and wild animals. If you go into the house, your family will be killed by the Hokey Pokeys. What does a loving father do? He loves his children and preemptively strikes by going into the house and provoking a war that will cause the death of every last Hokey Pokey tribe member. This is the only option for a loving father. Anything less than this is hatred, injustice, and is itself an act of chaos. And that is an important point, to not save His people, true humanity, is an act of chaos itself, not an act of creation and life. It is not the act of the God who creates, but of the devil who destroys. The moral monster is the father who lets his children be killed by false humanity, chaotic agents, agents of death. The moral monster is the deity who doesn’t destroy the Canaanites.
I would assert that any sane person, who understood the responsibility of love in the special relationship that he or she has with his or her children would do the exact same thing that God would do, precisely, because it is the responsible thing to do. It is the right thing to do. It is the loving thing to do.
OK, you might say, but why kill children. First, we need to understand that this is hyperbolic language used to speak of the complete butt whooping that one culture gives to another. It is possible that such is language that basically communicates that God will not sustain the descendents of the wicked any longer. In other words, it may not be literal. But let’s suppose that it is. We know already that God would kill children, as He kills the son of David and Bathsheba. Interesting enough, the second son born, in contrast to the first, is said to be loved by God (showing that connection of the word to a relationship where God sustains the life of one rather than another). We also know that God would kill a child because God is the one who kills all of us. Of course, “kill” is a harsh term with connotations that don’t quite sound right, but ultimately, God is the one who gives and takes away all human life. If we have a problem with the concept that God kills massive amounts of people every day in general, then of course His killing of children in the Exodus and conquest will be a problem for us as well.
But why might God kill the children in the Exodus event and here in the Canaanite Conquest? We discussed yesterday how children are not seen as distinct persons from their parents. This means that the decision of a parent is the decision of the child. The child is culpable as the adult parent is culpable. This is until they reach maturity and are capable of making their own distinct decisions apart from their parents. At that point, passages like Ezekiel 18 then apply. So the judgment of the adult is the judgment of the parent. The child is also a possession of the parent, and thus, all of the person’s possessions are often to be destroyed in judgment, so that nothing of that person remains. We see this with the destruction of Achan and his family when it was Achan who is said to be the one who sins (whether we think his family also helped him cover it up is speculation). The point here is that God is not punishing one person for the sins of another, but one person for their own sins.
But there is a practical side (and lovingly salvific side toward God’s children) to this as well, and that is that destroying the children destroys endless vendettas and war. The child may be small now, but in ten to twenty years they will rise up and murder God’s children. Thus, war never departs from Israel, nor the spiritual corruption that takes place when the children are allowed to live. The culture, and in this case the wicked culture, survives through the children. Hence, to allow the children to live in this case would be an unloving act toward God’s children, unless of course, God wanted to use it for further opportunity to redeem His people (which He does, since there are tons of Canaanites left over---remember the language is likely hyperbolic).
But if it’s always wrong to kill children, then how does one love His own children against the children who will rise up and destroy them? If He knows absolutely that they will destroy His children, is He required to wait so that His actions are merely reactionary and not preemptive? Or is it, as we have already discussed, that preemptive strikes can in fact be acts of self defense and the best course of action to take in seeking to save those whom one loves? I’m reminded here of the movie, “The Good Son.” In the movie, the mother of the murderous son must choose between saving her murderous son over her loving, adopted son (who I believe was her nephew). She let’s go of her murderous son in order to save her adopted son, because she couldn’t save both (and let’s face it, it was her murderous son’s time to be judged anyway). Is it always wrong to kill a child? I don’t think Elijah Wood’s character thought so, and neither should the readers of the Bible. What if a child had a deadly, contagious disease that would kill all other children in the tribe? Should the tribe let that child stay and destroy the rest of the children, or should it love the rest of the children and kill that child via exposure or quickly through some other means?
My point is simply this: that the absolute statements, such as “killing off a people group is always wrong without exception” and “killing children is always wrong without exception” are false claims. In fact, the ideas that all humanity is the same, that it all deserves the same love from God, that it’s wrong to kill off an entire people group, that preemptive strikes are not acts of self defense, that it’s always wrong to kill children, are simply erroneous assumptions made by theologians, Bible scholars, and laymen alike, who in fact would make the same decisions that God has made if put in the same types of situations with their own children.
And this is the point of this whole series. The emphasis is not on judgment of the Canaanites or Egyptians or Amalekites, but on the love of God toward His children. These acts of judgment toward one group are acts of love and redemption toward another. They are acts of love, a love that moves God to save them through the destruction of their would be destroyers. The difference between those who commit atrocities for personal benefit and a thirst for blood versus God who punishes the wicked for the sake of loving His people is as different as night is to day. I would hope any and every parent (as well as any sane, responsible, and loving person) would now agree with that assessment.