We saw last week that God expressed His Will concerning the Canaanites in terms of devotion to destruction.
- Deuteronomy 7:2 (ESV) — 2 and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.
- Deuteronomy 20:16–17 (ESV) — 16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded,
What does this “DTD” language mean (quick review)?
- “The Hebrew phrase for ‘devote to destruction,’ cherem, refers to the destruction of life—human and otherwise—as an act of devotion to Yahweh. The destruction is an act of complete consecration; therefore the verb has a religious connotation: destruction is an act of sacrifice” – Michael Heiser.
- Or to put another way, destruction can be seen as an “irrevocable surrender to God” of those things that “impede or resist” God’s Work – TWOT.
- So there is a judicial and religious connotation to “DTD”.
But there is also a brutal implication for the Canaanites.
- “DTD” meant their violent death.
- Though, as we saw last week they were not innocent.
In Joshua 10 and 11, “cherem” appears ten times.
- So ten times we are told that various Canaanite peoples were “DTD”.
- This of course meant that they were judged and set apart/consecrated to God.
But it also meant that a lot of people died.
- “every person in it; he left none remaining” (10:28)
- “struck it with the edge of the sword, and its king and its towns, and every person in it. He left none remaining” (10:37)
- “every person in it; he left none remaining” (10:39)
- “Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining” (10:40)
- “there was none left that breathed” (11:11)
Previous chapters in Joshua were also full of this kind of language.
- “Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old…” (6:21)
- “And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai” (8:25)
We have already discussed the implications of this “DTD” in previous lessons.
- How is it that death can be a devotion, for example.
- And, how do we reconcile a God-sanctioned war.
- But we haven’t addressed the amount of violence.
About all this violence and death, David Howard notes:
- “The picture painted in this section is unequivocally one of complete and swift annihilation of people throughout the entire region” – David Howard.
- He goes to say that the implication of these text is that “Joshua and the Israelites left no survivors in the various cities” – David Howard.
Did the Israelites really leave “none remaining”?
- And if they didn’t, why does the text appear to say that they did?
Joshua 10:8 (ESV) — 8 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you…the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel (vs. 12)
Joshua 10:20 (ESV) — 20 When Joshua and the sons of Israel had finished striking them with a great blow until they were wiped out, and when the remnant that remained of them had entered into the fortified cities,
Judges 1:35 (ESV) — 35 The Amorites persisted in dwelling in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim, but the hand of the house of Joseph rested heavily on them, and they became subject to forced labor.
Joshua 10:37 (ESV) — 37 and captured it [Hebron] and struck it with the edge of the sword, and its king and its towns, and every person in it. He left none remaining, as he had done to Eglon, and devoted it to destruction and every person in it.
Judges 1:10 (ESV) — 10 And Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron was formerly Kiriath-arba), and they defeated Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai.
Joshua 11:3–4 & 8 (ESV) — 3 to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. 4 And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots…8 And they struck them until he left none remaining.
Judges 1:21 (ESV) — 21 But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.
Joshua 11:22 (ESV) — 22 There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel [hill country]. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain.
Joshua 14:12 (ESV) — 12 So now give me [Caleb] this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”
Joshua 10:40 (ESV) — 40 So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded.
Judges 2:1–3 (ESV) — 1 Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3 So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
So what are we to do with these apparent contradictions?
- The choices seem to be:
- (1) Panic and question the inerrancy claim of Scripture.
- (2) Ignore them.
- (3) Deny them.
- (4) Look for a possible explanation.
Clearly (1), (2), and (3) are not the way to go.
- These choices might very well be signs of a weak and uninformed faith.
- Our faith should be stronger, more robust and more vigorous than to ever be thrown of course by Scripture itself.
It is always more likely the case that Scriptural concerns are caused by the baggage or assumptions we bring to the way we look at Scripture.
- We need to remember that Scripture does not neatly fit into our fleshly, self-centered, modern presuppositions.
“We cannot read the Hebrew Bible as if it were journalistic or academic history such as might be written today. Such reading would compromise the intentions, presuppositions, values, and poetics of the literature and its authors” – John Walton.
We are left with choice (4) – look for a possible explanation.
- And here, we will look for an explanation in an ancient Near Eastern context.
ANE contextual explanation:
What are we trying to do?
- “When we compare the literature of the ancient Near East with the Bible, we are ultimately trying to recover aspects of the ancient cognitive environment that may help us understand the Israelite perspective a little better. By catching a glimpse of how they thought about themselves and their world, we sometimes discover ways that the Israelites would have thought that differ totally from how we think” – John Walton.
- The fact that there were ways in which Israelite thinking was totally different from ours is very difficult for many Christians to compute.
One area where this ANE thinking differs from ours is in the use of military language.
- And it will be here that we will find a possible solution to our problem.
Along with the OT examples under discussion, we need to look at examples outside the OT.
- This list is lifted in its entirety (verbatim) from Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?
Egypt’s Tuthmosis III (later fifteenth century) boasted that “the numerous army of Mitanni was overthrown within the hour, annihilated totally, like those (now) not existent.”
- In fact, Mitanni’s forces lived on to fight in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BC.
Hittite king Mursilli II (who ruled from 1322–1295 BC) recorded making “Mt. Asharpaya empty (of humanity)” and the “mountains of Tarikarimu empty (of humanity).”
- The “Bulletin” of Ramses II tells of Egypt’s less-than-spectacular victories in Syria (around 1274 BC). Nevertheless, he announces that he slew “the entire force” of the Hittites, indeed “all the chiefs of all the countries,” disregarding the “millions of foreigners,” which he considered “chaff.”
In the Merneptah Stele (ca. 1230 BC), Rameses II’s son Merneptah announced, “Israel is wasted, his seed is not,”
- another premature declaration.
Moab’s king Mesha (840/830 BC) bragged that the Northern Kingdom of “Israel has utterly perished for always,”
- which was over a century premature. The Assyrians devastated Israel in 722 BC.
The Assyrian ruler Sennacherib (701–681 BC) used similar hyperbole: “The soldiers of Hirimme, dangerous enemies, I cut down with the sword; and not one escaped.”
The similarity between the Israel’s OT language and claims and their neighbors is obvious.
- Does it teach us anything that will help us?
Scholars suggest that Scripture, like ANE military historiography, is hyperbolic.
- “Scripture is similar to other ancient historiography in that it may use large numbers hyperbolically in military contexts” – David M. Fouts (JETS 40/3).
- “Again, the sweeping words ‘all,’ ‘young and old,’ and ‘men and women’ were stock [ANE] expressions for totality, even if women and children weren’t present” – Paul Copan.
- “Joshua’s conventional warfare rhetoric was common in many other ancient Near Eastern military accounts in the second and first millennia BC. The language is typically exaggerated and full of bravado, depicting total devastation” – Paul Copan.
- “The author was being hyperbolic here in order to reiterate the theological point made many times in the book that God was indeed giving Israel the entire land” – David Howard.
Can something be hyperbole and historical?
- “The use of figurative language, including numerical hyperbole, does not mitigate the historical reliability of an account” – David M Fouts (JETS 40/3).
- Remember, this is an ANE military account NOT a report from Afghanistan.
- They had different literary conventions and concerns.
- It is we moderns who are concerned today about getting casualty reports with exact numbers.
In fact, Richard Averbeck says:
“Yes, it is true that conservative evangelical scholars naturally give the text the benefit of the doubt in terms of historical, theological, and compositional integrity. Guilty as charged! But evangelicals do not see this as an intellectual or methodological weakness. No, it is a strength and, in fact, a critical procedural advantage because we patiently stay with the text, allowing the (re)working of our understanding as we do our research”.
Do Joshua and his book mislead the reader?
- “Not at all. He was speaking the language that everyone in his day would have understood. Rather than trying to deceive, Joshua was just saying he had fairly well trounced the enemy” – Paul Copan.
In fact, the ANE reader of Joshua and Judges would not be troubled at all with Joshua’s words from Joshua 23.
- Joshua 23:12–13 (ESV) — 12 For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.
- Joshua himself “matter-of-factly assumes the continued existence of Canaanite peoples that could pose a threat to Israel” – Paul Copan.
- The same Joshua that “left none remaining”.
NOTE – An ANE contextual understanding of things like the sun standing still and military language can help clear the way to the Gospel for the skeptical seeker.