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Yahweh Wars and the Canaanites - Page 4

(e) "Driving them out."

We should carefully note the language of "driving out" and "thrusting out" the Canaanites (Exod. 23:28; Lev. 18:24; Num. 33:52: Deut. 6:19; 7:1; 9:4; 18:12; Josh. 10:28, 30, 32, 35, 37, 39; 11:11, 14) or "dispossessing" them of their land (Num. 21:32). "Driving out" is not at all the same as the "wiping out" or "destroying" passages found in these same contexts. Upon examination, the former references are three times as numerous as the latter.[52]  When a foreign army might pose a threat in the ANE, women and children would be the first to remove themselves from harm's way?not to mention the population at large: "When a city is in danger of falling," observes Goldingay, "people do not simply wait there to be killed; they get out. . . . Only people who do not get out, such as the city's defenders, get killed."[53]  Jeremiah 4:29 suggests this:

At the sound of the horseman and bowman every city flees; They go into the thickets and climb among the rocks; Every city is forsaken, and no man dwells in them.

Hess draws the following conclusions: "There is no indication in the text of any specific noncombatants who were put to death." Indeed, the "justified wars" of Joshua "were against combatants."[54]  We read in Joshua (and Judges) that, despite the "obliteration" language, there are plenty of Canaanite inhabitants who are not "driven out" but rather are living in the areas where Israel has settled. Joshua himself refers to "these [nations] which remain among you" (Josh. 23:12?13; cp. Josh. 15:63; 16:10; 17:13; Judg. 2:10?13). The process of driving them out would be a gradual one, as even Deuteronomy 7:22 anticipates and is reaffirmed in Judges 2:20?23.[55] 

Israel's occupation of Canaan involved not simply military activity, but also infiltration and internal struggle.[56]  In my previous article, I note that the text of Deuteronomy 7:2?5, Joshua, and Judges suggests that we have the language of (i) obliteration as well as (ii) acknowledgment of Canaanites as future neighbors. Goldingay comments that Israel knew how to read Torah: "It knew it was not to assume a literalistic understanding" of destroying the Canaanites. That is, Moses did not mean for this to be taken literally. Rather, as Goldingay notes, "Israel was to dispossess the Canaanites and destroy their forms of religion and have nothing to do with them." That is, Israel took this "totally destroy" command metaphorically or hyperbolically?which reflected the ANE language of bravado and exaggeration in warfare.[57] 

To summarize, we should distinguish between two central aspects of the Canaanite question. On the one hand, herem includes stereotypical language of "all" and "young and old" and "man and woman"?even if women and children are not present. So far as we can see, herem is carried out in particular military/combatant settings (with "cities" and "kings"); this specific combatant scenario could well apply in the Amalekite case (1 Sam. 15). In these limited settings, herem is thoroughly carried out (involving even livestock [for example, 1 Sam. 15:9, 14])?though it allows, and hopes for, exceptions (for example, Rahab). The sweeping language which appears to involve only combatants is truly all-inclusive here. On the other hand, evident in Deuteronomy?Judges is the clearly exaggerated ANE language of utter obliteration and total destruction. These hyperbolic references to "totally destroy[ing]" run on parallel tracks with regular mention of many remaining Canaanite inhabitants after the "total destruction" (for example, Judg. 1). Additionally, we should take seriously the many references of "driving out" the Canaanites, to clear away the land for habitation, which does not require killing. Civilians would flee when their military strongholds were destroyed and no longer capable of protecting them.

(7) Inefficient Means?

Morriston raises an "embarrassing" question: "Assuming that God's desire to destroy the Canaanite religion by destroying the Canaanites was a legitimate one, why would He choose such an inefficient means of accomplishing this aim?" God could have easily removed them from the scene and avoided this "spectacularly unsuccessful" plan of allowing idolaters to remain in Israel's midst. Wasn't the point of killing Canaanites to prevent Israel's being pulled down spiritually and morally?

Too much theological weight should not be given to some efficiency criterion?that God is the being than which nothing more efficient can be conceived! Indeed, what theological reason compels us to assume that God must necessarily operate with maximal Germanic efficiency? Just as God is not hot and bothered that a small planetary speck would be home to all the universe's inhabitants (while the rest of the cosmos is uninhabited and uninhabitable), so God takes plenty of time and utilizes ostensibly less-than-efficient means to accomplish his purposes. For example, he gets the ball rolling with a barren, elderly couple?Abraham and Sarah?and chooses to work through a stubborn and rebellious nation. Perhaps we should think in terms of sufficiency rather than efficiency. In fact, this alleged embarrassment may actually indicate historical reliability rather than legendary fabrication; perhaps we can appeal to the "criterion of embarrassment" as an indicator of historicity/authenticity!

So why didn't God make sure that none of the Canaanites was left to lead Israel into idolatry? God was working through often-inefficient processes to accomplish his salvation-historical ends, which did not require killing every last Canaanite, but ensuring that they were sufficiently driven out so as not to be an undermining spiritual and moral threat while Israel developed as a nation.[58] 

Israel's failure to drive out this threat and destroy Canaanite religion indeed brought mixed results, and they paid for their compromises with an Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom and then a Babylonian captivity of the southern (for example, 2 Kings 17:7?41; 2 Chron. 36:15?21)?despite regular prophetic warnings and periodic kingly reforms. The theological and moral threat of foreign religion, however, did not so damage Israel as to eradicate its monotheism and covenantal awareness that would emerge with greater force in the wake of the Babylonian captivity. By the first century AD, a theological stage had been sufficiently set through the preservation of Israel's scriptures and national historical identity, the restoration of the temple and cultus, heightened messianic expectations, dedication to monotheism, and so on. Despite Israel's compromises and rebellions over the centuries, Jesus's arrival on the scene came "in the fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4). "Efficient"? Not self-evidently so. Sufficient? Certainly.

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