Did God Command Genocide?
by Dan Juster, Director, Tikkun Ministries International
Did God Really Say?
A leading British Evangelical Theologian denies that God ever commanded Israel to wipe out the Canaanites under Joshua's leadership (Deuteronomy 7:16, 24, 20:16-19, 31:5, Joshua 6:17). He believes this was a fantasy of the Israeli tribes, projected onto God and then "written back" into the text of the Bible. He further goes on to state that we now know that genocide - eliminating a people - is a terrible sin and can never be justified. It is contrary to the teaching and spirit of Jesus.
This theologian is known to be very pro-Palestinian and sides with the Arab-Palestinian narrative on the history of Israel and the Palestinian people. One of the motives for denying the veracity of this command to Joshua is to counter any argument that Israel has a right to displace or eliminate the Palestinians today. Not that eliminating the Palestinians is desired by any sector of Israeli society: right, center or left! Even Meir Kahane, the late founder and leader of the Jewish Defense League, argued only for transferring the Arabs out of all the land west of the Jordan River, not their elimination. In his view, they should not live in Israel, rather in other Middle Eastern countries.
The Denial of Biblical Authority
The assertions of this British theologian raise two issues. The first is the issue of Biblical authority. Until recently, being an Evangelical meant that one was tied to accepting all of the Bible as the Word of God and of it being fully trustworthy. That is, all of the texts of the Bible speak the truth. This is the doctrine of 'inerrancy'. The late, great dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dr. Kenneth Kantzer (1917-2002), spoke of a new phenomenon that continues to this day which he dubbed liberal Evangelicals.
Liberal Evangelicals accept the basic creeds of the Church, including the death and resurrection of Yeshua, but do not accept that the Bible is fully trustworthy. Kantzer was magnificent in arguing that such a view was dangerous and would lead to a slippery slope of denying biblical teaching that did not measure up to one's reason or emotive preferences. If one can deny the command to Joshua, why not deny that God really forbade homosexual relationships, or adultery? Why not deny that God told ancient Israel to conquer the Promised Land? Contemporary Palestinian liberation theologians do just this as part of their effort to de-legitimize the modern nation of Israel. I should note that most Messianic Jews share the high view of Scripture put forth by Kantzer.
The arrogance inherent in this theology is quite clear. Modern theologians and their followers think that they have superior moral insight into the "primitive" peoples of the Bible and can judge passages of the Bible as deficient. Hence, the command to Joshua and Israel becomes a test case, especially since the command is repeated in several texts (as listed above). In addition, disobedience to this command is interpreted as one of the key causes of Israel's fall into idolatry in the book of Judges, the prophets and the Psalms (for example, Psalm 106:34-38). All of these writers are clear in their assertion that this was God's command.
Why Would God Command the Elimination of the Canaanites?
I wish to convey a few thoughts on this controversial command. For one thing, those who reject it do not understand the demonic realm and the possibility of a culture falling to such a level of debauchery that it loses the right to exist. Child sacrifice, occult practices, cult prostitution and more, show a stunning level of evil. A culture can plunge into such moral depravity that the most severe demonic possession is passed down generationally, along with the accompanying occult powers. In addition, the power to deliver from the demonic in the name of Yeshua through warfare prayer and deliverance had not yet been revealed. Israel could not have dwelt among such a people and have been a witness to the nations of the world. It may seem ironic, but it was God's love for the nations of the world that motivated His command to eliminate the Canaanites.
Israel's conquest command is different from Islam's conquest doctrine. God forbade Israel to conquer other nations if she was not attacked. They were to live at peace with the surrounding nations if at all possible. Destruction was an exceptional command for one time and one place. In my view there can be no parallel command today. Let me be very clear: God's command to Joshua was a one time exceptional command for exceptional circumstances. Genocide is always a terrible crime against humanity.
The Dangerous Weakness in the Churches Today
The liberal Evangelical attacks against some portions of the Bible reveal much of the problem of the Church today. This perspective leads to the further deconstruction of biblical standards. Today, the Emerging Church Movement asserts that homosexual relationships should be accepted if there is a commitment to monogamy. They claim to be Evangelical and post-modern (post-modern meaning that there is no absolute objective truth). One can see parallels in circles that claim to accept the Bible's authority but interpret the New Testament in ways that are inconsistent with the Hebrew Bible. One such teacher in a revival movement today asserts that the Hebrew Bible is mostly irrelevant for Christians since God had a major change of heart with the death and resurrection of Yeshua. What God desired in the Old Testament - so the claim goes - He no longer desires today. In the Old Testament, He desired that we hate our enemies (a huge and, some would say, willful misinterpretation of the Hebrew Bible), but now we are to love our enemies and there is no word of judgment for this age in the New Testament. (Are we reading the same book? Wow!)
It is true that with our ability to identify with the death and resurrection of Yeshua and the baptism of the Spirit, God now expects more of us. The Torah is elevated to new levels in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The previous legal accommodations to human weakness, such as allowing divorce, polygamy and more, are no longer permitted under the New Covenant.
If we study the Scriptures in context it is not difficult to distinguish between eternal commands and cultural accommodations. It is never the case that the commands of Scripture are somehow abrogated by new commands, as if to suggest the character and purposes of God have changed. God never wanted us "to hate" and then introduced a new program where He now wants us "to love". Such an understanding of Scripture is absurd.
This is one of the major issues with regard to His promises to the Jewish people. Some interpret the New Testament in a way that is not at all necessary and is inconsistent with the promises of the Hebrew Bible. They claim that the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament in such a way that it can be radically re-interpreted. Romans 11 should be more than adequate in showing that such re-interpretations are simply wrong. The New Testament does not give any grounds for radically re-interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures.
We are seeing a spirit of humanism seeping into the churches, promoted by leaders who call themselves Evangelicals, and it is being combined with the old error of replacement theology. As for me and my house, we bow to the text of Scripture as our authority; we declare it to be true whether or not our reason or emotion struggles with it. I am a mere created human being and am submitted to the Word of God as the only safe ground upon which to stand.
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