A Summary of Show Them No Mercy in 4 Parts: View Number 1 (Radical Discontinuity)

On one of the google communities, I had a discussion with an atheist. One of the things that he brought up was the annihilation of the Canaanites by the Israelites. This cruel God of the Bible, as he described Him, was not one he could embrace. We had been talking about something else when he made this turn in the conversation. I remarked that I had not studied the issue much but that I was not afraid of the Bible's difficult to understand passages. As I said to him, I had a book called Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide and that I would make that the next book that I read. 

As I began to read the book, I decided to summarize the four viewpoints contained therein. I will do this as a four part series of blog posts. What is important for the reader to understand is that these are my summaries and certainly the authors of the sections and views could dispute my summation and/or interpretation as could those who hold those views. This post offers you a look at the first with my assessment.

Radical Discontinuity
In his case for radical discontinuity, C.S. Cowles states that the Old Testament is to be understood through the prism of Jesus. The believer is to read Jesus back into the Old Testament books. Jesus told Peter to put his sword away, those that live by the sword die by the sword; he told the brothers Zebedee who wanted to torch Samaria for being inhospitable that they didn’t know of what spirit they were that Jesus came not to kill but to save; and he pointed to Jesus’ very different verdict of freedom for the adulteress than the Torah would have allowed for her.

At one point, Cowles equated biblical heroes such as Moses, Joshua and Samuel to Herod the Great in regards to the slaughter of children. While claiming to affirm inspiration and inerrancy, Cowles states that God would never command genocide. This is even as he admits that there is a wealth of passages that clearly attribute what he terms genocide to the command of God.

I believe that what he does was first seen in Eden. “Has God really said?” asked Satan in the form of a serpent. In Scripture, we find an uncomfortable truth. Well, the easy way out is to explain it away, putting you and your God a good distance away from what was done. In order to do that, a scheme must be adopted to place doubt that God actually commanded the wholesale killing of the Canaanites.

Probably the most inflammatory is the last paragraph of Cowles' argument. He asks where was God when the Israelites committed genocide. His answer was that God was with the dead Canaanites! He supposed that if given the chance, there certainly would have arisen other Melchizedeks or Rahabs out of their population.

Think about that for a minute. The Bible states that God was with Israel and gave them victory over the Canaanites, commanding their annihilation, yet, Cowles dares to say that God was not with those, as he pictured them, murdering Israelites but with what he saw as the innocent Canaanites who suffered horribly from the Jews' misunderstanding of God’s will and character. 

As you can tell, I am not at all pleased with this view. I believe that the Bible clearly states that the Israelites acted under God's command and His authority. The question remains, how can someone who takes the Bible seriously differentiate between what ancient Israel did to the Canaanites to what has been done in the world in our day in Europe to the Jews, in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia, among other examples?  It is my hope that the next view will shed some light on that.

Next Post: View Number 2 (Moderate Discontinuity)

A sampling of pertinent passages for the command of God to annihilate the Canaanites:

Numbers 21:31-35 (ESV)
Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites. And Moses sent to spy out Jazer, and they captured its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who were there. Then they turned and went up by the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. But the Lord said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people, and his land. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” So they defeated him and his sons and all his people, until he had no survivor left. And they possessed his land.

Deuteronomy 2:30-34 (ESV)
But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to take possession, that you may occupy his land.’ Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Jahaz. And the Lord our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people. And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors.

Deuteronomy 3:1-6 (NKJV)
“Then we turned and went up the road to Bashan; and Og king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not fear him, for I have delivered him and all his people and his land into your hand; you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon.’ “So the Lord our God also delivered into our hands Og king of Bashan, with all his people, and we attacked him until he had no survivors remaining. And we took all his cities at that time; there was not a city which we did not take from them: sixty cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these cities were fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides a great many rural towns. And we utterly destroyed them, as we did to Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children of every city.

Deuteronomy 7:1-2 (NRSV)
When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you— and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy.

Deuteronomy 7:16 (NKJV)
Also you shall destroy all the peoples whom the Lord your God delivers over to you; your eye shall have no pity on them; nor shall you serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you.

Deuteronomy 7:23 (NKJV)
But the Lord your God will deliver them over to you, and will inflict defeat upon them until they are destroyed. And He will deliver their kings into your hand, and you will destroy their name from under heaven; no one shall be able to stand against you until you have destroyed them.

Deuteronomy 31:1-6 (ESV)
So Moses continued to speak these words to all Israel. And he said to them, “I am 120 years old today. I am no longer able to go out and come in. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken. And the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. And the Lord will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Joshua 6:17 (NASB)
The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the Lord; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent.

Joshua 6:21 (NASB)
They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.

Joshua 8:21-26 (NASB)
When Joshua and all Israel saw that the men in ambush had captured the city and that the smoke of the city ascended, they turned back and slew the men of Ai. The others came out from the city to encounter them, so that they were trapped in the midst of Israel, some on this side and some on that side; and they slew them until no one was left of those who survived or escaped. But they took alive the king of Ai and brought him to Joshua.  Now when Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the field in the wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them were fallen by the edge of the sword until they were destroyed, then all Israel returned to Ai and struck it with the edge of the sword. All who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000—all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not withdraw his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.

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