Old Testament

Killing the Canaanites: A Biblical Apology (Part 2)

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A Biblical Apology

How shall we defend the OT commands to “Holy War,” which in some ways seem to resemble the Islamic calls to Jihad? To begin with, we must ensure that our underlying interpretive framework is biblical. As one writer has observed, “The life situation and presuppositions of the reader profoundly affect the way in which the text is interpreted.”11 Therefore, let’s establish the context and nature of God’s commands. Then, we can offer several arguments to justify these commands.

The Context of God’s Commands

The context of the command is a sinful world under God’s curse (Gen 3:8ff). If we remember this fact, then the real question is not, “Why would God exterminate the Canaanites?” but rather “Why has God withheld judgment from so many other sinful nations?” Furthermore, God’s promise to redeem the world necessitates the destruction and removal of evil (Gen 3:15; Matt. 6:10; 2 Pet 3:13). Thus, “Holy war and the description of God as warrior need to be evaluated in the context of God’s redemptive efforts on behalf of a fallen world.”12

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Killing the Canaanites: A Biblical Apology (Part 1)

Twelve Hittite gods of the Underworld

Since the 9/11 attack on twin towers, many Christians have been quick to contrast the violent tactics of Islamic Jihad with the gentler tendencies of Christian evangelism. For example, in an article entitled, “Christian or Muslim: What’s the difference?” Lutheran scholar Alvin Schmidt has argued,

Jihad is totally contrary to what Christ taught when he told Peter to put away his sword, or when he told individuals to turn the other cheek. Unlike Muslims, Christians have no command to advance their religion by killing unbelievers. Quite the opposite.1

The problem with Dr. Schmidt’s article is the same problem that characterizes the arguments of other Christian apologists. It’s not what they say. It’s what they leave unsaid. They’re quick to point out many NT passages that portray the gentleness of Christian evangelism. But they often fail to acknowledge several Old Testament passages in which God commands the Israelites to use violence against entire populations of people in an effort to get control of the land of Canaan. Allow me to cite a few examples:

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Two Testaments, but One Bible

When we cross over from the OT into the NT we might think that we ought to expect a very clear continuity. After all the OT, particularly the covenants and the Prophets have led us to expect a great future for the nation of Israel. Even though that people had gone and done their own thing, we would think that God would stick with His covenants and promises to that nation and bring them to Himself. We would also expect to see the arrival of the Messiah, the One whom Israel was expecting. Israel would finally have peace and prosperity under the protection of their Christ. They would be able to trust in Him to reign over them, and they could look to Him for blessing and guidance.

And as we enter the NT through the doors of the Synoptic Gospels this picture doesn’t seem to be upset; this indeed is the track that we appear to be on. Matthew, of course, starts off with a genealogy of the King1 and includes a number of announcements in the early chapters of his biographical narrative that encourage the reader to believe that, with the coming into the world of Jesus, the promised Kingdom was “at hand.”

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The Covenantal Landscape of the Old Testament, Parts 4 & 5

This is the final installment of the excerpts from my book The Words of the Covenant: Old Testament Expectation, which I hope to get published by the end of 2020. I would be grateful for those readers of this blog who have derived some benefit from these posts if you would please pray for God’s blessing on the publication and reading of the book.

(The prophetic picture, broken down into basic categories, continued.)

g. The Rule of Righteousness, Justice, Peace, and Safety

When will this world know peace? When will things that could be fair actually be fair? When will justice stop being perverted? The answer to these questions is in the reign of the coming King (Isa. 32:1). He will judge righteously, “and decide with equity1 for the meek of the earth” (Isa 11:4). Only when His judgments are in the earth, will the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (Isa 26:9). Once this occurs there will exist the wholeness and tranquility that is shalom, for the King is Himself, “Yahweh our righteousness” (Jer. 23:5-6), “the Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).

In numerous places God has promised “peace and safety” to His people. In Hosea 2:18 “safety” is guaranteed because both human beings and the beasts of the earth become non-violent (cf. Ezek. 34:25). Micah 4:4 declares “everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.” Isaiah 26:12 reveals a wonderful theological truth:

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The Covenantal Landscape of the Old Testament, Part 2

A view of the Valley of Jezreel as seen from Mt. Carmel

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The Old Testament gives us a picture of a coming great Deliverer who will one day defeat the serpent and break his power (Gen. 3:15). We have seen that this prophetic picture is quite extensive, providing one puts the pieces of the “Scepter,” the “Star,” the son of David, the despised substitute Sufferer, the Branch, the donkey Rider, the Messiah, etc. together in one person. This portrait of the coming King of the Earth, who reigns in Jerusalem, is there so that He can be identified when He appears. And when He is identified through these prophecies it will eventually be seen that the Old Testament was spot on. The only question in light of for example, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, and Zechariah 12 would seem to be, when would His own people recognize Him? This problem deepens because of the perceived mismatch between the victorious Ruler and the suffering Servant referred to above.

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