Monday, August 29, 2011

The Exodus and Canaanite Conquest: A Love Story, PART I

I spoke about the story of the biblical flood last week as a love story, where God purposes primarily to save genuine humanity (i.e., those fulfilling their role as the imago Dei in their life-giving activity) from false humanity, or chaotic agents (i.e., those whose activity tends toward a humanless earth/death). Hence, we should see the flood primarily as an act of love on the part of God for His people (i.e., true humanity) and secondarily as an act of judgment toward the wicked. Both elements are there, but one is the main point in the story.

Today, I want to look at the Exodus and Conquest in that same light, as these have been heavily criticized in our culture due to our disdain for preemptive strikes and the wiping out of people groups, supposedly, regardless of the situation. In other words, there are some theologians and Bible scholars who argue that it is always wrong, without exception, to kill children and to wipe out an entire race of people. Hence, God is not the hero, but the villain of the Exodus and Conquest stories, since what He does there are immoral acts. We'll revisit this later.

For now, I want to establish that these acts are acts of redemption toward God's people, and therefore, acts of love toward them. As I commented before, love has to make choices when one person is threatening another person's life. It has to decide who rightfully should be saved and who should be destroyed in that situation. So let's look first at the Exodus, specifically the killing of the Egyptian firstborn sons.

First, we need to look at why God is plaguing Egypt to begin with. Egypt is oppressing Israel, not just by making them work hard, but notice that what brings on God to generate a deliverer in the story (i.e., Moses) is that the Pharaoh decides to enact measures to prevent the Israelites from having children. He first makes them tired from heavy labor. Then, if they do have sons, he instructs the midwives to kill them when born. When that fails, he instructs that all Hebrew sons that are born are to be thrown into the river. Suffice to say, Pharaoh takes upon the role of the chaotic agent par excellence in the Book of Exodus. He is the serpent's seed playing out his destructive role. He is a murderer of God's children.

Hence, the fact that God kills his firstborn son is no coincidence. It is a judgment upon him and upon his dynasty. God kills the sons of the chaotic (knowing that they will become chaotic agents themselves) as judgments upon the wicked. He also kills them because children are identified with their parents in ancient Near Eastern culture and the Bible. They are not separate individuals until they reach sexual maturity. This has massive implications as to why God kills the children of the Egyptians who are oppressing the Israelites and reject the message of YHWH to them. It also shows us that Pharaoh's acts were not just acts that murdered the Israelite children, but the Israelites themselves.

So what's a loving father to do when he sees his children being oppressed and murdered? He oppresses and kills the murderers. He destroys the destroyers. Now, God is not just going to let this opportunity go. He's not just going to try and save His children physically, only to lose them spiritually. He's going to reveal Himself to them through this event. He's going to make Himself known through the judgment of Pharaoh and the judgment of Pharaoh's children (both nationally and biologically). In other words, He's going to make Himself known in order to redeem Israel, ultimately through a few people now and more so through the countless people who have come to know God through the Exodus event down through the ages since. Hence, God wants to judge Pharaoh. He wants Pharaoh to harden his heart, because in so doing, it provides Him the opportunity to use a chaotic agent as a vehicle of salvation through revelation of His character, a revelation that allows His children to come to know Him and have life in that relationship.

So the loving Father kills children of the serpent in order to give life to His children. He destroys the destroyers in order to save His children who are being destroyed by them. He is a God of love. To not do all of this, lessens the claim, rather than making it more plausible, that He is a God of love, as a God of love does not allow His children to be wiped off the face of the earth, and that is precisely where Israel is heading at the hands of the Egyptians.

The Pharaoh will not let His children go. The final act that will cause him to do so will cost him his firstborn, and the firstborn son of every Egyptian who considers the command of YHWH to stop the murder as nothing. This leads us to our second consideration: the destruction of the Amalekites on the way to Canaan.

The Israelites cannot go the way of the Philistines. The Philistines are too massive a people, and although God could destroy them, it isn't their time to be judged. God has plans for their use as vehicles of salvation through their judgment in the future (see Judges and Samuel). So the Israelites would be destroyed if they went that way. Their only option? Go the way of the Amalekites. So they ask Amalek if they can pass by. They don't seek war with him, only to pass by in their fleeing from the Egyptians. Amalek says, No. What's a loving father going to do here? Let his people be destroyed in the desert? Let his people go back to Egypt and be destroyed? No, He commands His children to go to war with them, and through them, wipes out the Amalekites. Are we really supposed to believe the narrative of modern theologians and Bible scholars who would paint God has the villain here when, in fact, He is saving His people through the judgment of the wicked? That is the point of the biblical narrative. Sure, you can present any story differently, but if one is going to criticize the biblical story, he or she needs to include the point of the biblical presentation of that story along with it. I doubt people would have as much of a problem with it if certain scholars had been more responsible in doing that (as though they even understood it themselves, which FYI they don't seem to).

Hence, Israel has to live somewhere. They can't live peacefully in Egypt, as they were before the new Pharaoh came to power. They may be able to live in the desert with God's supernatural help, but they shouldn't have to. This is their land that they need to get to. God gave it to them, and it's where He wants them. So they need to go there. Amalek is in the way and seeks to do them harm if they seek to go there, their place of refuge. Answer: destroy the Amalekites who threaten their existence.

Now, fast forward to the Canaanite conquests. As I just said, Israel needs to live somewhere, and God has given this land to them. But it's already occupied. The reason why destroying the current occupants is not immoral is because God has revealed that it is their time to be judged. The Canaanites have filled up their quota for sin. God gave them four hundred years to fill it up (that's why Israel was in Egypt in the first place according to the Bible). Even when God says this to Abraham, long before Israel enters Egypt, the Canaanites are described as incredibly wicked people, chaotic agents whose practices are human-destroying rather than human-preserving. Remember that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, but afterward, Lot couldn't even stay in the surrounding cities because it was so bad. Before that, he was captured by raiders. Jacob's daughter was raped there, causing the making of a possible destruction of Jacob's clan. And Abraham himself is scared to go into certain towns because the people will kill him and take his wife. That was all during the time that God said they hadn't sinned enough yet for Him to judge them. Now it's four hundred years later, and their sin is filled up. So the Canaanites are going to be judged. They are in the land that God is giving to Israel, and that is where Israel must live.

They can go there and stay with the Canaanites, but even if they were not destroyed by the Canaanites, as they would be seen as a massive army invading anyway, they would be easily corrupted by them (since this does happen due to the fact that all Canaanites are not destroyed in the conquest). Either way, God's people will be destroyed by them, and since it is their time to be judged, there is only one thing a loving father can do: teach His children how to be agents of life in the world by wiping out chaotic agents who threaten their existence as God's people. This is a redeeming act toward His children. This is an act of salvation. He destroys the destroyers in front of them for their sakes. He has them participate for this reason, but make no mistake about it, the text is clear that God kills more Canaanites than the Israelites do because this is ultimately an act of love on God's part toward His children.

So what do we make of this modern tendency to turn God into the villain of the story? It all comes down to certain ideas of inclusivism and universalism, where all people deserve to be saved and none should be destroyed, and therefore, superficial ideals concerning love that have no basis in making decisions between one group that threatens true humanity versus another group that seeks to preserve it. The mistake is made in thinking that God's goal is to save all human life, whether it exemplifies true or false humanity in both procreative and chaotic roles. Hence, to these scholars (and some who are not so scholarly), the killing of children and the wiping out of an entire people group is always evil. We'll pursue what I think displays the falsehood of these ideas in the next post.

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