Slaughtering the Canaanites, Part III: not God’s ideal

(Continued from Part II; see also Part I)  Why didn’t more Canaanites join with Israel, as did Rahab and, in a sense, the Gibeonites? Most people understood their gods as ethnic gods, gods of their peoples. Becoming part of another people, especially the enemies of one’s people, was viewed as being a traitor. Although foreigners did find refuge in Israel in various periods (e.g., Ruth 1:16; 1 Sam 26:6; 2 Sam 6:11; 8:18; 12:9-10; 15:18; 18:21; 20:7, 23; 23:39; 24:16, 18; Jer 39:16-18), there were cultural barriers that made full integration difficult (cf. Gen 23:4; Exod 2:22; Ruth 2:10) and, on a corporate level, usually unthinkable. Again, the one example of this, in Gen 34, was aborted by betrayal from the Israelite side. It was not that God did not have a better purpose, but that the world was not ready for it. Crossing those cultural boundaries happened much more often in the later Jewish Diaspora, and particularly (moving past the covenant requirement of physical circumcision) in the Diaspora mission recounted in Acts.

Israel conquered peoples who fought against Israel instead of surrendered. Under the circumstances, this conquest may have been the best available means to procure a land for a nation to flourish as a vehicle for God’s plan in history. But even if it was the best available means, as followers of Jesus we recognize that it was never God’s ideal.

Jesus noted that some statements in the law were divine concessions to human weakness (e.g., Mark 10:5)—God sometimes accommodated people at their level of understanding. That does not mean that God was not active among them, but that he also communicated in ways that were intelligible to them culturally, stretching them toward his ideal without usually stretching them to the breaking point.

Jesus tells us God’s ideal: Love even your enemies (Matt 5:43-44; Luke 6:27, 35). Loving our enemies is not a “technique” that always makes them like us. Sometimes those who love their enemies, or at least choose not to harm them, get killed. That happened to Gandhi. That happened to Martin Luther King, Jr. And most relevantly here (and not irrelevant to models used by Gandhi and King), that happened to our Lord.

Jesus proved this new way of peace by how he loved his enemies—when we were his enemies: “God proves his love for us this way: while we were sinners, Christ died for us. How much more now, having been made right in God’s sight through Jesus’s sacrificial blood, we shall be saved from God’s anger through him. For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were put in right relationship with him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been put in right relationship, shall we be saved through his life” (Rom 5:8-10). Jesus announced a different kind of kingdom established a different way—not only confronting, but loving, our enemies. Like our Lord Jesus, we must trust our heavenly Father, who raises the dead, to bring his own plan to fruition.

(Also of interest: Slaughtering the Benjamites, part 1 and part 2)


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