“The Canaanite Problem”
For several weeks I’ve been studying what some have referred to as “The Canaanite Problem.” This “problem” comes from the incredibly violent stories of Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land (for a glimpse you can look at Joshua chapters eight through eleven). In these passages the Israelites are commanded to destroy cities, destroying everything that breathes. What do we make of these violent episodes?
Part of me thinks we are supposed to struggle with them – with the killing of men, women, and children. I’d be concerned if we didn’t struggle. The fact that we do says we have compassion. In fact, it seems to reflect something of God’s heart in judgment too. He is just, so he judges (which the Bible makes clear, the conquest of Canaan was fulfillment of promises made to Abraham AND judgment on the wickedness of the Canaanites). But, Ezekiel 33:10-11 reminds us that God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”
But, God did command Israel to be his instruments of judgment, and that meant the death of many wicked people. Why? Why did God deem the Canaanites more worthy of this judgment than other people groups? Why didn’t God just execute the judgment himself like at Sodom? Why involve Israel in the violence?
Those are all questions I’ve been wrestling with recently. But, God took the struggle in a different direction these past few days. To this point, it’s been an intellectual struggle. This week, through a book by Paul David Tripp, I was reminded that the goal of the Word isn’t theological rigor, but transformed hearts and lives. He writes, “The ultimate purpose of the Word of God is not theological information but heart and life transformation…it is dangerous to teach, discuss, and exegete the Word without this goal in view.”
So, I began to ask what God wanted to do in my heart. First lesson: humility. God was reminding me that I’m not his judge, nor do I stand above his word as critic. Instead, the proper posture is always under the word as submissive and obedient servant. If my sense of justice is offended by the Word, it’s my sense of justice that needs to be adjusted, not the Word. I was reminded of Isaiah 55:8-10, “ For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Or Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Interestingly, both of these passages extolling God’s wisdom come in the context of broader discussions of disobedience, judgment, and God’s sovereign grace.
The second lesson was on the importance of faith. I trust God is good. I believe in his righteousness. But…sometimes I need more faith. This Sunday we were reminded in the services of the prayer, “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.” I need that prayer when studying passages like Joshua 8-11.
Those passages humble me and call me to a new level of faith in the goodness of God.