I can still remember the moment completely fresh in my mind. It is as if it happened days ago. It has been replayed several times since in the years past. I was a sophomore in college. It was about 9:30 A.M. and my phone rings jolting me upright. My mom, her voice shaken, instructs me to turn on the television. I fumbled for the remote to the TV, and I am greeted with two buildings, smoldering. I see a smoking number 11, the twin towers, set in the foreground of an otherwise serene blue morning sky. I will never forget the events surrounding that morning. How could I?
We know that the September 11th tragedy was the result of jihad, the Muslim holy war. Islam has often spread its message at the tip of the sword. Those that do not bend the knee to Allah taste death. It is often argued that there is no difference between Islam and Christianity in this fashion. Sure, there have been wars fought in the name of Christianity, but there have been wars fought in the name of every ideology under the sun. Does this mean that espousing Christianity leads to violence? Within Christianity there is absolutely no compulsion of religion. What is interesting is the fact that the wars fought in the name of Christianity (Crusades) are actually the antithesis of what Christianity teaches and believes. People can attach a name to anything, in this case war, but this does not mean that doing so is correct. People often put a black mark on Christianity’s record by claiming to be Christians and then acting in a manner that is not in accord with the teachings of Christ.
Christianity teaches love and promotes peace. It is Christianity that entreats one to love their enemies. On the contrary, if one assumes a completely naturalistic worldview it is more difficult to condemn the disregard for life. Hitler was greatly influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, who is famous for the coining the phrase “God is dead.” Nazism was an outgrowth of Nietzsche’s work. If Christianity is lived out based on its teachings then selfishness, murder, and harm to others is prohibited. In fact Christianity teaches people to love, give, and help those in need.
So what about in the Old Testament when God commanded the Israelites to conquer Canaan? How is that not compulsion of religion? Isn’t this the exact same thing that Muslims do today? How is the conquest of Canaan any different than the ethnic cleansing done by the Nazi’s or modern day Jihad? Let’s look at God’s command to ancient Israel as found in Deuteronomy 20.
However, you must not let any living thing survive among the cities of these people the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. You must completely destroy them—the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite—as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that they won’t teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.
God’s command here definitely does not appeal to our modern day sensibilities. We often see God as a laid back, passive sort of friend. Shirts use to be sold with the slogan “Jesus is my homeboy” emblazoned across the front. This passage does not jibe well with the “Jesus is my homeboy” mentality of the modern mind. While God is all loving, he is also just. His law has teeth.
So how do we differentiate between ethnic cleansing, holy wars, and the Old Testament account of the Hebrews conquering the promise land? First, we must remember that God is the giver of life and he can take life as he sees fit. God certainly owes no one any explanation for his actions, but I think His actions in this situation can be better understood when examined properly. It is important to note at this point, however, that as with all human life, God could take the lives of the Canaanite people whenever he saw fit.
We do know that God allowed the people of Canaan to flourish for over four hundred years. He withheld judging them until their debauchery reached the point of no return. What was the moral atmosphere within Canaan? The inhabitants of the land engaged in incest, ritual prostitution, bestiality, and child sacrifice. Blood, violence, and distorted sexuality were all a part of Canaanite religion. Was God just in judging the land? I think He was. Yet we still find that he allowed them hundreds of years to flourish, but their morality continually declined.
What happened in ancient Israel cannot be extrapolated into modern times. The mandate to conquer the Promised Land was a direct edict from God. This can no longer happen. No new special revelation can be given. Man is no longer under Theocratic rule. So what happened during the Canaanite conquest was limited in historical and geographical scope.
We should also notice that when Israel subdued the land, Rahab, an inhabitant of Canaan, was spared and joined the Hebrews. Had this been ethnic cleansing, Rahab would not have been spared. If Rahab was spared, could others have not of been spared as well? In fact, we are unsure whether other people were repentant and spared as a result. We find that this was not an ethnic cleansing, this was God’s judgment. God’s dealings with the inhabitants of the land had nothing to do with race; it had everything to do with the morally depraved state of the people and the evil acts that they committed.
It is also interesting to note that Israel’s army was a ragtag band of warriors. The victories over the inhabitants of Canaan were to be seen as victories of God. The Hebrew people were also instructed not to plunder the conquered people, so the war on Canaan had nothing to do with financial gain.
We need to be aware of the fact that God was not picking on the people of Canaan. He judges evil regardless of whose life it is present in. He judged the Canaanite people right along with Israel. God does not gloss over moral transgressions. He is longsuffering, patient, and full of grace, but he always judges sin and evil. This is important for us to be aware of because we are no exception. God will judge the evil in our lives, and land, just as he did the ancient people of Canaan. He has been gracious to us for quite some time. When will we feel the force of His judgment? That is for Him to decide, just as it was with the people of Canaan.
Thus, we can see that the ancient Hebrew conquest of the Promised Land greatly differs from ethnic cleansing or holy war. It was limited to a specific point in history and geographic location. It was judgment for sin, carried out by God. The people had been given ample opportunity to turn from wickedness, and people could still be spared during the conquest if they were willing to turn to God.
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.