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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Grasping at Straws Part Seven--Evangelicals Defend Genocide

Today, I continue my analysis of Andy Woods' paper defending the Canaanite Genocide commanded by Yahweh.

7. The Canaanites were incapable of repentance or spiritual receptivity.

Woods writes:
Such inability is communicated in Joshua 11:20, which teaches that the Lord hardened the Canaanites so that Israel might utterly destroy them. Sihon experienced a similar hardening before he was delivered into Israel’s hands (Deut 2:30). Such a hardening conveys the idea of being completely impervious to God’s grace. God’s instructions to Jeremiah not to pray any longer for the nation illustrates such a state of spiritual obtuseness (Jer 7:16). While it may be objected that God is the one who hardened the Canaanites, the reality is that they were responsible for their own condition. A parallel can be found in the life of Pharaoh. Although God ultimately hardened his heart (Exod 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8), Pharaoh invited this end result through his own self-hardening, rejection, and stubbornness (Exod 7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34). Such hardness left no alternative for the Canaanites other than their destruction (Robert Chisholm, Divine Hardening in the Old Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (October-December 1996): 410-34.)
Woods is giving a common evangelical answer in response to the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. He says that only after Pharaoh had hardened his own heart repeatedly, did Yahweh step in and hardened it further. That is just blatantly false according to the Scriptures that Woods and other evangelicals claim to believe. The first mention of Pharaoh's heart being hardened is in Exodus 4:21: The Lord said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go (NIV). The second time its mentioned is Exodus 7:3: But I will harden Pharaoh's heart . . . (NIV). The third time it says: Pharaoh's heart was hardened . . . (Ex. 7:13 NASB). Note the verb is passive. It wasn't Pharaoh that hardened his heart, something or someone else hardened it. The same is true in Exodus 7:14 and 7:22. Its not until Exodus 8:15 that Pharoah is said to harden his own heart. So its clear, if one believes the Biblical text, who was the originating force behind the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, yet Woods claims that Pharaoh is responsible for his hardening.

Woods then goes on to say the Canaanites were also responsible for their hearts being hardened, even though Joshua 11:20 says it was Yahweh who did it. So, why were the Canaanites incapable of repentance, if they were? Because Yahweh made them that way. It was not his will for them to repent. He wanted them destroyed. This is precisely what Joshua 11:20 says: For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses (NIV).

All I ask is that evangelicals who claim to believe the Bible, take what the Bible says, instead of trying to read back into it what they wished it said. Is that too much to ask?

8. God waited many centuries for the Canaanites to repent before He sent judgment.

Woods writes: Because God’s heart is to save rather than to destroy, we can be sure that He “…grieved for the loss of the Canaanite children, as well as their parents.” (Holloway, p. 62).

Where in the text does he derive this conclusion? Everything I have read says that God was pleased, it was according his will and command, etc. I think Holloway and Woods are, at best, reading the New Testament (perhaps 2 Peter 3:9?)back into the Old. This again is eisegesis (reading into Scripture what you want it to say)not exegesis (reading out of Scripture what it actually says). The truth is there is a big conflict between how the Old Testament God is portrayed and how the New Testament God is portrayed. In my opinion, this is due to continued evolution of man's moral sensibilities.

This idea that the Canaanites had a chance to repent is an ad hoc argument.
How would they have known to repent and submit to the God of the Israelites? The Israelites were, according to the Bible, slaves in Egypt. Its not as though the Israelites had sent missionaries to Canaan and been rejected. In addition, suppose the Canaanites had repented, then what? Would they have just moved out of their land voluntarily and allowed the Israelites to have it? Or would they have been assimilated into the Hebrew nation and become Israelites?

In addition, the fact that God delayed his criminal act, as I argued before, does not excuse the act once it is committed.

9. God's command to execute the Canaanites is perfect because it emanates from a perfect God.

Now Woods cites Eugene Merrill (a fellow Bob Jones University Ph.D.): At the risk of cliché, all that can be said is that if God is all the Bible says he is, all that he does must be good–and that includes his authorization of genocide.(The Case for Moderate Discontinuity, in Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide, ed. Stanley Gundry, p. 94).

Woods then adds:
If we ever reach a point where God’s actions seem unjust, the problem does not reside with God since He is perfect. Rather, the problem emanates from our limitations as creatures. While He is perfect, we are limited by virtue of our status as creatures. As the heavens are higher than the earth, His ways are higher than our ways (Isa 55:8-9). We are but the lump of clay while He is the potter (Rom 9). Because of this creature/creator distinction, He has the prerogative to reveal truths that are beyond our ability to grasp (Dan 8:27; 12:8-9; 1 Peter 1:10-11). In those instances where we are tempted to challenge His goodness, we, like Job, must humbly trust in His status as perfect creator.

Does not Dr. Woods realize that he is begging the question here? He is assuming what he needs to prove. He argues that because God is perfectly good, then, whatever God does must be perfectly good. But how does Dr. Woods determine that his God is good? He doesn't say. Eugene Merrill, whom he quotes, says he knows God is good from all that the Bible says. However, its the Bible that tells us of the atrocities that God himself committed as well as those he ordered others to do. I don't think Dr. Merrill is really including all that the Bible has to say on the subject.

10. The skeptic is guilty of "cultural myopia."

Woods states: When reading the Bible, people have a tendency to judge the actions that took place in an ancient culture by the standard of their own culture. Such a pre-understanding can lead to a faulty interpretation.

This argument was also put forth by William Craig. As I said before in reply to Craig, God is not bound by the morality of the ANE, he is supposed to be perfectly good and unchangeable (immutable). Are we to think that God's moral nature has evolved? I am sure that Craig and Woods do not want to say that.

In addition, the fact that contemporary Western morals are superior to the morals exhibited in the Bible actually argues against the Bible being the source of objective morality as Christians constantly claim.

11. "Given the holiness of God (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8) and the depravity of man (Jer. 17:9), the real question is not why did God destroy the Canaanites? Rather it is why everyone else has not been similarly destroyed?

Woods continues: Meredith Kline brings to the discussion of "chērem" warfare a concept that he calls “intrusion and ethics.” By this he means that the very standard that God will use to judge the world in the last day, He brought to bear on the inhabitants of Canaan (The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), 162-64). If God will use this same standard of judgment in the eschaton, we should be thankful that He has not yet employed it to judge all of Adam’s descendants. Thus, studying the destruction of the Canaanites should not cause us to complain about God’s unfairness. Rather, it should cause us to marvel at His grace.

Woods and Kline are right to point out that the future destruction of the world prophesied in their holy Book will also involve the same kind of slaughter of children and infants on an even more massive scale. As Daniel Gard states: The final judgment with its utter destruction of the heavens and the earth and all those at enmity with God makes the most bloody warfare narratives of the Old Testament seem like children's bedtime stories (Show Them No Mercy, p. 56). Some evangelicals dealing with the issue of the genocides in Joshua conveniently ignore that fact. I am not sure, though, how saying that God will do the same thing in the future, excuses what he has done in the past?

I know the idea that we all deserve nothing but judgment is based on the concept of the depravity of mankind due to inherited sin. That doctrine, however, brings up an entirely different problem, namely, how individuals can be held responsible for the actions of their ancestors? As Evan Fales points out:
Collective guilt is intelligible in a situation where human beings act as a group, where the responsibility of individuals cannot effectively be identified or disentangled from that of others, and where individuals have voluntarily joined the group and accepted joint responsibility for collective action. Collective responsibility for a group's action can sometimes intelligibly be assigned even to individuals who are not voluntarily members of the group or partisans to its action, but it is hard to see how moral guilt can properly be assigned to such individuals. Thus, I am unable to make moral sense of the doctrine of original sin (Despair, Optimism, and Rebellion, Paper presented to the American Philosophical Association, April 28, 2005).

12. The genocides commanded by Yahweh were just for the Israelites in their particular historical situation and should not be considered as commands for Christians to follow today.

Woods states:
. . . the command to commit genocide is descriptive in nature rather than prescriptive. In other words, it should be understood in terms of describing something that took place in ancient history rather than as a command that believers are to follow today. . . . Sadly, divinely sanctioned genocide has been used throughout church history as a justification for acts of violence and persecution in the name of God. It has been invoked in order to justify the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch hunts, Klu Klux Klan racist terrorism, and the shooting of abortion providers. However, using the genocide command in this way emanates from a flawed theology.

Whew! Aren't we glad that Woods does not advocate that genocides be done today in the name of his God! However, the question must be asked, "Why not?" If there is nothing necessarily immoral about it, then why shouldn't Christians today practice it? As he notes, certain believers in the past have considered it to be a valid principle. One only has to look, for example, at the Crusades, the Thirty Years Wars, and the Manifest Destiny doctrine of 19th century America.

Today, Christian Theonomists maintain that the Old Testament law is still vaild. Listen to one of their advocates, Jay Rogers:
Theonomy means literally, “God’s law,” or the belief that the moral laws of the Old Testament are still binding today. This idea states that only Old Testament laws specifically fulfilled in the New Testament are non-binding (such as sacrificial laws, ceremonial laws and dietary laws). The moral Law of God is still the ethical standard for governing individuals and society.

He goes on to argue:
We want all moral laws of the Old Testament to be enforced according to biblical standards. Some may object: Isn’t this harsh? Isn’t this barbaric? No, in fact it will lead to greater liberty for the godly. We want the ungodly punished according to God’s Law-Word because it is what God prescribes. We have been conditioned according to a humanistic worldview to reject Old Testament law as “barbaric” or “outdated.” God’s law is not harsh, barbaric nor antiquated, because God is neither harsh, barbaric nor antiquated!

If the actions of Yahweh reflect his moral nature (as evangelicals maintain), and that moral nature is perfect, then what would be wrong with his followers imitating his behavior? That was apparently the rationale used by Calvin in executing Servetus, the Puritans in executing witches, the Roman Catholics in torturing and executing people during the Inquisition. Woods says they are guilty of a "flawed theology." How does he know that he is not guilty of a flawed theology? This is one of the main problems that I have with the Bible, if the perfectly good and holy God that Christians worship, had taken a little more care in the giving of his revelation, He could have prevented these atrocities done in His name. Why didn't He? Well either He doesn't care or the Bible reflects the morality of the time and culture in which it was written because it was not inspired by a divine being. I hold to the latter.


  1. Ken,

    Great Blog, but don't we have to consider the implications of Exodus 3:19 when referring to pharaoh? God knew that Pharaoh would not let Israel go so he had to compel him to do so. Even though pharaoh said he would let Israel go in the end he still pursued them. God seems to have brought Pharaoh to the point where he would at least give the Israelites enough time to get away before Pharaoh changed his mind.

  2. Woods states: When reading the Bible, people have a tendency to judge the actions that took place in an ancient culture by the standard of their own culture. Such a pre-understanding can lead to a faulty interpretation.

    Know what's hilarious? There's a term for that. It's called "cultural relativism." We're told time and time again that we can't have relativism as long as it's the non-Christians saying, "Can't we all just get along?"

    But as soon as the cultural issues work against their arguments, the apologists run right to Enlightenment philosophy. Funny, that...

    Rover: God knew that Pharaoh would not let Israel go so he had to compel him to do so.

    Yes. That part where Pharaoh decided to let them go, then Yahweh hardened his heart to make sure Pharaoh didn't let them go. It's just too bad Yahweh had to go all nuclear on the Egyptians after that. If only Yahweh hadn't hardened Pharaoh's heart so that Pharaoh decided not to let them go even though he kind of wanted to. But what can an all-powerful deity do? His hands were tied...

  3. 1. "How would they have known to repent and submit to the God of the Israelites? The Israelites were, according to the Bible, slaves in Egypt. Its not as though the Israelites had sent missionaries to Canaan and been rejected. In addition, suppose the Canaanites had repented, then what? Would they have just moved out of their land voluntarily and allowed the Israelites to have it? Or would they have been assimilated into the Hebrew nation and become Israelites?"

    I agree with this, as it pertains to the centuries that the Israelites were in Egypt. But the Canaanites did have light at some point. Rahab in Joshua 2:9ff. says the Canaanites were afraid because they'd heard about the Exodus. I'm not sure what their options would have been---if they could've found another place to live. But I think Woods should've made that point; Glenn Miller makes it in his article, I think.

    2. I like Geds comment on cultural relativists. It reminds me of something I said on my blog a while back:

    "But there are things in the Bible that don't strike me as particularly fair, either, yet defenders of the Christian faith want me to be charitable in those cases. 'We have to remember the historical and cultural context of the biblical writings' is one defense that I've heard, as fundamentalists suddenly transform into the cultural relativists they ordinarily scorn."

  4. Exodus 9:13-16

    And YHWH said to Moses, "Get up early in the morning and stand in front of Pharaoh, and you'll say to him, 'YHWH, God of the Hebrews, said this: Let my people go so they may serve me. Because this time I am sending all my plagues at your heart and at your servants and at your people, so that you'll know that there is none like me in all the land. Because by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with an epidemic, and you would have been obliterated from the land. And in fact I established you for this purpose, for the purpose of showing you my power - and in order to tell my name in all the earth.'"

    Yep YHWH claiming he created the Egyptians just to kill them and show off how powerful he was. You would think an omnipotent omniscient deity could come up with a better way of showing off than by killing people but obviously not. So it comes back to the Canaanites and you would think an omniscient omnipotent deity could convert people without having to resort to killing all of them but obviously not. As a matter of fact that seems to be God's thing whenever the situation seems to be getting out of hand, kill 'em all and start over. According to PMDs that is the final plan for the whole earth.

  5. Pharaoh’s Heart is one of the reasons I had to learn biblical Hebrew. I’m not sure if you can read Hebrew but please verify the following use of words.

    Pharaoh of his own free will does not want to let the Children of Israel leave Egypt. In Exodus 4:21 the Almighty tells Moses to return to Egypt, show Pharaoh great signs, but Pharaoh will not send the people out because the Almighty will strengthen (chet, zayin, kof) his heart. The Almighty is strengthening Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh, who considers himself a deity, can use his free will to keep the Children of Israel in Egypt, and to do exactly what he wants to do - battle this Almighty. A soldier under torture will often reveal information, not because he wants to do so, but because he cannot withstand the pain.

    Exodus 7:3 But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, NIV. The Hebrew word used in this verse is spelled (kof, shin, hey) and it means support or harden in a strong manner. The Almighty is telling Moses that He will support Pharaoh’s free will even though the plagues will become more difficult.

    Exodus 7:13 The heart of Pharaoh was strong and he did not heed them as [the Almighty] had spoken. The Stone Edition TANACH The Hebrew word used here is the same as in Exodus 4:21 (chet, zayin, kof) and it means strong or steadfast. It is the same word used in Deuteronomy 31:6 when the Almighty is speaking and encouraging the children of Israel - Be strong (chet, zayin, kof) and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. NIV
    Exodus 7:22 also uses the word (chet, zayin, kof) Pharaoh’s heart was strong and he did not heed them, as [the Almighty] had spoken. The Stone Edition TANACH Verse 22 uses exactly the same words as verse 13.

    We have a numbering problem. Verse 8:15 in the Christian bibles is verse 8:11 in the Torah.

    Exodus 8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the LORD had said. NASB

    Exodus 8:11 Pharaoh saw that there had been a relief and he kept making his heart stubborn. He did not heed them as [the Almighty] had spoken. The Stone Edition Tanach

    The word in the Hebrew text is (kaf, bet, dalet) which translates as stubborn, or making important. The Torah uses a different word here to tell us that Pharaoh was making himself important. He could not bear the thought that there was a power/god more forceful than he was. A few verses later Pharaoh’s own sorcerers cannot duplicate the plague of lice. They acknowledge to Pharaoh that it is the finger of the Hebrew G-d. The next verse (Christian bible 8:19, Hebrew 8:15) says, But Pharaoh’s heart was strong and he did not heed them, as [the Almighty] had spoken. Again the exact same words as 7:13, 7:22 and now 8:15.

    Exodus 9:34-35 illustrate this understanding beautifully when you see it in the Hebrew, but one would miss it entirely in English.

    Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail and the thunder ceased and he continued to sin; and he made his heart stubborn (kaf, bet, dalet), he and his servants. Pharaoh’s heart became strong (chet, zayin, kof) and he did not send out the Children of Israel as [the Almighty] had spoken through Moses. The Stone Edition TANACH

    So, I must disagree with Mr. Woods on his reasoning but I do see where mistakes are being made. This of course does not address the problem of genocide.

  6. Joshua 11:18 Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. 19 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. 20 For it was the LORD himself who hardened (chet, zayin, kof) their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses. NIV
    According to Judaism, the Canaanites nations could have been given a treaty of peace, just like the Hivites, but they chose not to make peace. So, the Almighty strengthened their hearts, just like Pharaoh, so that they had free will to do that which they wanted to do.

    Again this does not solve the problem of genocide, but it more correctly states the meaning of the Hebrew words.