The Brown Blog

Sunday, July 02, 2006

posted by David

God of war?

Below is my essay for OT this last semester. It's certainly a tough and dividing topic - what are your thoughts?

"Outline the theological grounds on which the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua call for the destruction of the inhabitants of Canaan by Israel during the occupation of the promised land (1600 words). Write a Christian response to this issue (400 words)."

The books of Deuteronomy and Joshua give an account of the conquest of the promised land and also an account of specific laws regarding the way Yahweh called Israel to live. In doing so, the two books convey clear theological grounds which call for the destruction of the inhabitants of Canaan. While a discussion of these theological grounds is beneficial they do not however, answer all of the difficult questions surrounding this issue. Following this discussion then, I will attempt to provide a Christian response to this issue.

Yahweh War
Throughout the book of Deuteronomy commands and rules are given to Israel for the conduct of war (Deut 7:1-5; 20:1-20; 25:17-19). A significant aspect of these commands is that they are not given by humans, but are in fact recorded as commands from Yahweh. The Israelites are told to enter the land of the Canaanites and “utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy.” (Deut 7:2b). The strength and severity of this command is striking, however the mandate to take the land and destroy its inhabitants is not an isolated one (Deut 7:1-5, 17-26; 9:1-5; 13:12-18; 20:16-20). Cowles (2003, 36) rejects these commands saying, ‘we must resist all efforts to defend Old Testament genocidal commands as reflective of the will of God.’ It appears however, as Longman III and Reid (1995, 33) suggest, that the conquest of Canaan was in fact commanded and initiated by Yahweh. It becomes increasingly obvious as we look at the involvement of Yahweh in this holy war[1], that this is the theological interpretation of the writers of Deuteronomy and Joshua.

There is a very strong emphasis on the work of Yahweh in the conquest. He is the one who brings the Israelites into the promised land, and he is the one who defeats the inhabitants (Deut 7:1-2, 18-20, 9:5; 19:8; 20:4, 14) Joshua 2:8 says ‘…truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands…’. Yahweh reminds Israel of her weakness and need to rely on him; the people in the lands they were to possess were much stronger and bigger than them (Deut 7:1, 7, 17-24; 20:1-4). They are described as ‘nations larger and mightier than you, great cities, fortified to the heavens, a strong and tall people… know then that the LORD your God is the one who crosses over before you as a devouring fire; he will defeat them and subdue them before you…’ (Deut 9:1-2). The book of Joshua demonstrates a clear recognition of the concept of Yahweh’s intervention, attributing to him victories such as the defeat of Jericho (Josh 6:2, 16), Ai (8:18), the Amorite coalition (10:11-14; 42), and the northern coalition (11:8). There is a strong reliance on Yahweh as the one who fights and wins the battles for Israel (Lind 1980, 154), and it is in this light that the theology of holy war in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua can be understood.

A Chosen People
Merrill (2003, 76) states that ‘Yahweh war is at its base a war against spiritual darkness and wickedness in realms that transcend the human and earthly.’ While in a sense this is true of the conquest of Canaan, there is also a human element involved. It was through Israel that Yahweh carried out this war. Deuteronomy explains the reason for Yahweh carrying out his will through Israel; it was not because Israel was righteous or bigger than other nations, but it was because the Lord loved them and is faithful in keeping his promises (Deut 7:7-8; 9:5). Israel was a holy people chosen by God to be his people, in connection with the promises of land (Gen 13:14-18; 15:7, 18-21; 17:8; Deut 7:6) made to their forefathers (McConville 2002, 156). Merrill states this well:
The vantage point of Deuteronomy is the impending conquest of Canaan in fulfilment of the promises to the patriarchs... Yahweh, as owner of the land, would therefore undertake measures to destroy and/or expel the illegitimate inhabitants, and he would do so largely through his people Israel and by means of Yahweh war. (Merrill 2003, 67)

Devoted to Yahweh
While the book of Joshua describes the physical entrance of the nation of Israel into the promised land, the spiritual nature of the conquest is implicit. True worship of Yahweh is central to this conquest and Israel’s understanding of this is reflected by the spiritual preparation for battle (Longman III 2003, 164). Joshua 5 gives an account of the circumcising of the Israelites and the keeping of the Passover before taking Jericho. In addition, when entering into battle (Josh 6), priests and the ark of the covenant are present.

More than Israel’s preparations however, the very act of killing seemed to be considered a spiritual one. The Hebrew word associated with this act in holy war is hērem (חֵרֶם). The primary meaning of the noun is “ban”. It has implications of something set aside or, as Lilley (1997, 6) describes it, the ‘irrevocable dedication of an object or person’. ‘In holy war, hrm is a religious act which dedicates the enemies…to God.’ (Brekelmans 1997, 475). This command for how Israel is to carry out holy war is translated in Deuteronomy 7:2 as ‘utterly destroy them’. This is literally the wholesale destruction of the inhabitants of the promised land, as Deuteronomy 20:16 affirms; ‘…you must not let anything that breathes remain alive’. This theology of hērem is demonstrated in Joshua such as in the account of the defeat of Jericho. Joshua 6:21 says, ‘then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city…’. This act of killing was one of devotion to Yahweh; ‘This city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.’ (Josh 6:17).

It has been suggested that aiding Israel’s perception that there was nothing wrong with this kind of religious devotion would have been the fact that it was not uncommon in Ancient Near Eastern Cultures (LaSor, Hubbard & Bush 1996, 148). While to an extent this may have been true, Israel’s theology justifying hērem surly went far deeper. Lind observes:
The element of the hērem illustrates…that while the individual elements of the institution of holy war were common to Israel and her neighbors, the institution as a whole was reoriented in Israel toward a different concept of political power–the unilateral rule of Yahweh. (Lind 1980, Pg82)
Israel’s actions and existence were centred solely on Yahweh. Israel was a theocracy governed by God, called to abandon the way of the nations (Lind 1980, 149; Deut 7:2-6).

Israel’s call to be a holy people set apart offers, in part, an eye into the purpose of the command to utterly destroy the Canaanites. To remain holy necessitated Israel’s severance of any mingling with corrupt cultures that worshiped other gods (McConville 2002, 153). Deuteronomy goes to great lengths to emphasise the importance of holiness and the need to protect Israel from corruption (Deut 4:15-16, 23-28; 7:4, 25-26; 8:11-20; 20:16-18; 28:15-19) Deuteronomy 20:18 explains that the reason for the annihilation is ‘so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD your God.’. It is this protection of true worship of Yahweh that forms part of Israel’s theology calling for the destruction of the Canaanites (Lilley 1997, 8).

Judgement of Sin
Yahweh’s desire for holiness and abhorrence of sin was not only something that was limited to the Israelites. The destruction of the Canaanites is in fact described as Yahweh’s judgement on the evil they had committed (Craigie 1978, 95). Deuteronomy 9:4 says that it is ‘because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you’. Cowles (2003, 30) strongly refutes this concept saying, ‘God does not engage in punitive, redemptive or sacred violence… God does not proactively use death as an instrument of judgement’. To accept this statement however, would require one to reject huge sections of the Bible as divinely inspired, even sections beyond this period of Israel’s history. Chapter 13 of Deuteronomy clearly describes worshiping other gods as an act deserving death, even for an Israelite. The Canaanites wickedness included sexual promiscuity, child sacrifice, and worshiping other gods (Deut 7:5; 12:29-31) and it was in judgement of this that Deuteronomy calls for the annihilation of the Canaanites (Craigie 1976, 276).

In summary, one can see from the vantage point of the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua that the holy war against the Canaanites was a profoundly spiritual act, carried out under the direction and involvement of Yahweh. According to these books, the theological basis for the destruction of the Canaanites was that it was Yahweh’s action in judgement of their sin. In addition it was the protection of true worship of Yahweh, and was the means by which his promise of land to Israel was fulfilled.

A Christian Response
Regarding the event of genocide one can never provide an entirely happy or appeasing response. The destruction of life, particularly brutal, wholesale destruction, appears to be an inherently evil act. To address then what appears to be a genocide endorsed by the creator of the universe is a venture fraught with peril, and not an issue to be discussed lightly. While one can never pretend to hold all the answers, there a few considerations which are beneficial to mention in an attempt to come to terms with the genocide of the inhabitants of Canaan.

To begin with it is essential that one puts the events of the genocide in perspective with nature and sovereignty of God. The genocide was God’s prerogative. While it seems to be an incredibly severe and unjust act, it is perhaps better to consider it from God’s perspective. The Canaanites were a sinful people and no judgement they received was unjust. In reality, the fact that God had allowed them to exist until that time was a sheer act of grace. Sin is inherently destructive and opposed to God’s nature, and the idea that God should act in judgement against this should not confound us. God, in addition, was working out his plan of bringing people back into correct relationship with him, through the Israelites. This act of genocide was part of the road on the way towards his plan of salvation for all humanity, including the Canaanites. As Wright (2004, 473) has noted however, ‘God’s ultimate purpose of blessing all nations does not eliminate his prerogative to act in judgement on particular nations within history’.

I do not intend to sound callous in my response to this issue, however it is imperative that correct perspective, in light of God, is maintained. One cannot claim to be less deserving of judgement than the Canaanites, and bringing things into correct perspective should lead, not so much to anger and revulsion at God’s judgement on the Canaanites, as it should to a pursuit of humility and holiness upon recognising the graciousness of God.

Finally, one must ask, how does this case of genocide relate to how we interact with the world today? To this question it must be said that the Canaanite genocide can never be used to justify any kind of killing today. This command was to a nation, Israel; however there is no such thing as a Christian nation today. It was part of God’s plan of bringing people into right relationship with him however; the fulfilment of God’s plan of salvation has come in Christ. It was for a time and place in history which is no longer; As Andrew Sloan (2006) has pointed out ‘the very things that justify the violence in this text [Deut 7], invalidate it for us’.

Reference List:

Brekelmans, C. 1997, ‘hērem’, in Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament,
Vol 2, ed. E. Jenni, C. Westermann, trans. M.E. Biddle, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 474-477.

Cowles, C.S. 2003, ‘The Case for Radical Discontinuity’, in Show them no Mercy: 4 Views on God and the Canaanite Genocide, Counterpoints, ed. S.N. Gundry, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 11-44.

Craigie, P. 1976, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, ed. R.K. Harrison, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

________. 1978, The Problem of War in the Old Testament, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

LaSor, W.S., Hubbard, D.A., Bush, F.W. 1996, Old Testament Survey: the Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2nd edn, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Lilley, J. 1997, ‘The Judgement of God: The Problem of the Canaanites’, Themelois, vol 22, no. 2, 3-12.

Lind, M. 1980, Yahweh is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel, Herald Press, Scottdale, Pennsylvania.

Longman III, T. 2003, ‘The Case for Spiritual Continuity’, in Show them no Mercy: 4 Views on God and the Canaanite Genocide, Counterpoints, ed. S.N. Gundry, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 159-187.

Longman III, T., Reid, D. 1995, God is a Warrior, Studies in Old Testament Biblical Theology, ed. V.D. Verbrugge, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

McConville, J.G. 2002, Deuteronomy, Apollos Old Testament Commentary 5, ed. D.W. Baker, G.J. Wenham, Apollos, Leicester, England.

Merrill, E.H. 2003, ‘The Case for Moderate Discontinuity’, in Show them no Mercy: 4 Views on God and the Canaanite Genocide, Counterpoints, ed. S.N. Gundry, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 63-94.

Sloane, A. 2006, Deuteronomy 7, ‘Chapel Sermon’, 07/03/06, Morling College, Sydney.

Wright, C.J.H. 2004, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England.

[1] While the term “holy war” is not used in Deuteronomy or Joshua, I have made use of it for ease of reference to the war against the Canaanites during the occupation of the promised land.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

posted by Tab

Ethical decision making in a post-modern society

I have written an essay on postmodernity. I was limited by the essay question - a fact which frustrated me - and I ended up just writing this in an effort to cover criteria. It is extrememly flawed, and I'd love for commments on what people agree/dissagree with in it.

The essay does have an interesting 2nd half, on how post modernity affects ethical decision making, and how a christain can respond.

Part of the conundrum that is post-modernity is that it’s very essence defies definition. As Anna Aven writes, “pinning down postmodernism is like trying to stick Jello to a wall”

Saturday, June 11, 2005

posted by Tab


In order to be an ambassador, we need to know the one who we are representing. This assignment is not for people who don't know God, but for those who do, to understand him better (as you will see by the language, it is not designed to be used in mission!!!). The more I know my King, the better and more accurately I can represent him.

Below is a snippet, the full text can be found here.

`I am who I am' (Exodus 3:14), this is how the God we worship as Christians describes himself. Yet as humans we have need to collectively define God, based on what he has revealed of himself to us. There are fundamental - that is unchangeable, beliefs that we hold true regarding God, which form the basis of our faith.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

posted by Christop

Presenting Truth in Art

This is the last of the confusing stuff we discussed at Ignition, with Grant Wildman from Tabor.

An important issue with regards to 'Christian' art is censorship. Should Christians portray evil things in their art, or only good things? Christians have been struggling with this question for centuries.

At one stage in church history, when theatre was used a lot in churches, to teach people stories from the Bible (most of them couldn't read), there was a lot of concern about whether villainous characters (like Herod or Judas Iscariot) should be represented in these plays.
They decided that clergy could only play the parts of good characters, and that villains would have to be portrayed by the laity. Eventually theatre was completely rejected by the church for a long time, because it came to be considered profane.

Historians have found writings by an 10th Century, German nun, Hroswitha, who was trying to write a play to communicate what it meant to be a virtuous woman. She eventually decided that in order to show what a virtuous woman was like, she'd have to contrast it with the exact opposite.

...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
Philippians 4:8
It seems that a lot of the time we focus on 'whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,' and forget about 'whatever is true'. As a result, 'Christian' art can end up making evil look less bad than it really is, or avoiding portraying evil at all. As well as portraying the world untruthfully, this does a lot of damage to the credibility of 'Christian' art.

posted by Christop

Art and the Church

At Ignition, I also attended a session about the problem of evil, in relation to art. It was run by Grant Wildman, who is the Head of Performing Arts at Tabor, in Adelaide. This is some of the stuff we discussed:

Dualism and rationality
One reason why most forms of art aren't traditionally used in the church is because of the Gnostic belief that physical things such as the body are evil, while abstract things, such as the mind and soul were holy. This belief was popular in the early years of the church, and was unfortunately incorporated into Christian spirituality.
This meant that predominantly physical artforms were shunned, in favor of artforms where communication was almost completely verbal. Verbal artforms such as sermons are also favored because they leave less room for individual interpretation or imagination. Unfortunately, it also leaves less room for God to guide an individual in their interpretation.

When a more physical medium, such as theatre or dance, is used by a church, it is normally used as a tool, often to try and make people who aren't Christians decide to become Christians at the end of the show. The art is used to try and make the audience think what whoever is in charge wants them to think, rather than letting the audience come to their own conclusions about the piece. This leaves less room for dependance on God to guide the audience in their interpretation.

Monday, April 11, 2005

posted by Christop

Biblical Storytelling

On the weekend I was at Ignition Artists Gathering in Windsor, an inner suburb of Melbourne.
Friday afternoon I went to a workshop about Biblical storytelling, which was run by Simon Camilleri from Backyard Bard.

Simon started off by explaining that Biblical storytelling isn't about dramatising the Bible or 'bringing it to life', because it's already dramatic and it's the living word of God. He said that it's letting the Bible change us - internalisinging it - so that we can share the stories ourselves. He broke this down into three different stages.

Head (Philosophy)
We've got to change the way we think about the stories and engage with them in the way they were originally, realising that they record things that really did happen. We need to experienece them, and be moved. Also, it's more important to communicate what the words say than it is to use the exact words.
Although a modern church gathering probably expects one minute of scripture and twenty minutes of exegesis, originally there would've been more likely to be twenty minutes of scripture and one minute of exegesis. In those days the scripture was memorised and spoken aloud.

Heart (Process)
We need to break down the story and connect with it emotionally and experientially. We need to spend a lot of time reflecting on it. Simon said that he needs to spend at least a week internalising a story. He suggested doing it like this:
  1. Rewriting it so that it's easy to read.
  2. Breaking it up into a number of scenes.
  3. Finding out as much as we can about what the different characters and locations would have been like.
  4. Working out which words and phrases are most important to the narrative. An audience will only retain about 5% of what they hear, so we want to make sure they get the most important bits.
  5. Mapping the emotional journey. We need to go through the story and work out what kinds of emotions and moods are evoked.
  6. Getting it into your head. In her book, Just Enough to Make a Story, Nancy Schimmel, says,
    The only rule I know for learning a story is: learn the plot first, then learn the words if you want to. If you learnt the words only, and forget one, you might get stuck; if you know the sequence of events, and forget a word, you can fake it till you pick up the thread of the words again.
Hands (Presentation)
Once we have internalised the story, we need to share it.
Before we can share the story, we have to be able to see it. If we can't see it, the audience won't be able to either.
To make the scene as clear as possible, we need to decide where everything and everyone is. If Jesus is in the story, have another spot for him. If there's a temple or a house or a well, have other spots for them too.

More info: Network of Biblical Storytellers (NOBS)

Monday, March 28, 2005

posted by Tab

The Redemptive Nature of God

After doing some required reading for the beginning of my course, Old Testament Survey (Rev 2Nd Ed): Lasor, I wrote this post on small things

The thing that struck me at the time, was God's redemptive nature. It is a character trait of his that it shown so clearly in Genesis - and throughout out the whole of the bible and beyond that into my life. I've realised that in posting this, I unknowingly began my first assignment for this year! I'll link it when it's finished but this is the raw bones of it.


One of those BIG words.

To me it means that I was kind of useless
how I was, but then God saw potential in me, so he bought me, and fixed me up,
so everyone else could see what he saw, and so that I'd be useful.

Theologically maybe that's not he best description of redemption but
it's what I think of. Like when I went op shopping and bought a pair of shoes.
The soles were perished, so I had 2 pull them off. So I bought some rubber, and
cut out new soles and put them on my shoes. These are my "redeemed" shoes.

Or these candles I made last night.

They had melted in the sun - 2 white candles and some blue ones. So I melted
them right down, and with the help of a toilet roll, and a 2min-noodle cup, I
made these. When I looked @ them I realised thats what Jesus has done to me.

So I'm going to keep them to remind me of that.

Friday, March 18, 2005

posted by Tab

This is The Brown Blog.

A bunch of us are leaving Ballarat to enbark on different kinds of mission and discipleship training. So we've decided to blog about our adventures.

I think we've called it The Brown Blog b/c its funny. Traditional bible college legend has it that good bible college students wear brown. We're not traditional, and I reckon this blog is as brown as it'll get.