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Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 8: Warnings?

Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 8: Warnings? May 13, 2020

I promised that I would address the question of whether, according to the OT, Moses and Joshua consistently provided advanced warnings before they attacked a town or city, so that people had at least a few days to leave and escape “utter destruction” and “extermination” by the army of Israel, and I will begin to address that question in this post. 

 

TWO FINAL NAILS IN THE COFFIN OF THE LOCKER-ROOM TALK DEFENSE 

However, before I get into the question about advanced warnings, I have a bit of unfinished business with this pathetic justification of Jehovah:

The command of Jehovah to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every man, woman, child, and baby in the cities and towns of the Canaanites was just locker-room talk, that command was not intended to be taken literally.

There are at least two Old Testament passages that provide powerful evidence against this attempted justification of Jehovah.  The first passage is about how Moses interpreted Jehovah’s will concerning the attack of Israel against the Midianites:

9 The Israelites took the women of Midian and their little ones captive; and they took all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods as booty.
10 All their towns where they had settled, and all their encampments, they burned,
11 but they took all the spoil and all the booty, both people and animals.
12 Then they brought the captives and the booty and the spoil to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the Israelites, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.
13 Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp.
14 Moses became angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war.

15 Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live?
16 These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the Lord in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.
17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him.
18 But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.
Numbers 31:7-18 (New Revised Standard Version)

(illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)
Five kings of Midian slain by Israel

Moses, the prophet who spoke with Jehovah face-to-face, clearly understood that Jehovah wanted more than just the slaughter of every soldier, more than just the slaughter of every adult man.  Moses was angry that women and children had been spared.  Moses ordered that all the mothers and wives and older women (the non-virgins) be slaughtered too, along with the male children and babies. Only the “young girls” who were virgins were to be kept alive.

The whole point of this story would be destroyed if we try to twist the words to mean that somehow Moses really was merciful and allowed women and children to be spared from the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER by the army of Israel.  Nobody knew the intentions of Jehovah better than Moses, and we see here that Moses believed that when Jehovah spoke of massive and MERCILESS SLAUGHTER, Jehovah meant what he said.

Another OT passage has another prophet of Jehovah doing basically the same thing as Moses did in the above passage. 

First  Jehovah commands King Saul to kill every single Amalekite and even to kill their animals:

1 Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord.
2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.
3 Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”
1 Samuel 15:1-3 (New Revised Standard Version)

Saul Attacks the Amalekites, and he and his army kills every man, woman, and child, except for Agag, the king of the Amalekites.  And they also kill many of the animals of the Amalekites, but keep a few of the best animals alive  (1 Samuel 15:7-9).

Then Jehovah becomes displeased with king Saul.  Now, if Jehovah’s command to “kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” was merely “locker room” talk, and Jehovah did not intend for this command to be understood literally, then Jehovah would indeed have been angry with Saul and Jehovah would have said something like this:

You MORON!  Why did you slaughter the women and children and infants of the Amalekites?  You KNOW that I am a merciful god, and that every human life is sacred, so you cannot have seriously believed that I would command you to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER women and children and babies!  What the hell is wrong with you?!  Why did I put a complete IDIOT like you into a position of such power and authority?

But, that is NOT why Jehovah became displeased with Saul.  It was because Saul had spared one human life, and the lives of a few of the best animals belonging to the Amalekites. 

Samuel, a prophet of Jehovah, explains Jehovah’s anger to Saul:

10 The word of the Lord came to Samuel:
11 “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the Lord all night.
12 Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, and Samuel was told, “Saul went to Carmel, where he set up a monument for himself, and on returning he passed on down to Gilgal.”
13 When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord.”
14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?”

15 Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.”
16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” He replied, “Speak.”
17 Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.
18 And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’
19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?
1 Samuel 15:10-19 (New Revised Standard Version)

In other words, Saul did not carry out every last detail of Jehovah’s command to “utterly destroy” the Amalekites.  Saul spared the life of one human being, and spared the lives of a few animals, and that made Jehovah furious with Saul.  Later in the same chapter, the prophet Samuel finishes off the last surviving Amalekite: “…Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.”  (I Samuel 15:33).   (Samuel knew that Jehovah LOVES bloodshed and killing people.)

Moses, the prophet who spoke face-to-face with Jehovah, and also the prophet of Jehovah named Samuel, understood that when Jehovah says to “utterly destroy” every living creature, Jehovah means what he says

Jehovah doesn’t do “locker room” talk.  When Jehovah orders you to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER elderly men and women, mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, teenagers, children, and babies, then you had better do PRECISELY what Jehovah has commanded, or else Jehovah will be FURIOUS with you.  Jehovah is a Selfish Jerk.  Jehovah is the King of Sexism, and  Jehovah is a Bloodthirsty Tyrant.  Jehovah LOVES bloodshed and killing people.

 

DID MOSES CONSISTENTLY GIVE ADVANCED WARNINGS TO TOWNS?

According to the biblical account of the Conquest of Canaan in the book of Deuteronomy, with perhaps some additional information from Exodus, did Joshua consistently provide a warning to the cities and towns that he was preparing to attack, giving civilians at least a few days notice to leave that town or city or else face extermination at the hands of the army of Israel?

Correction:  the story of the Conquest of Canaan appears primarily in the Book of Joshua of the Old Testament.  Deuteronomy and Numbers contain stories about the Israelites conquering territories east of the Jordan river,  and the Book of Joshua has stories about the Israelites conquering territory in the promised land, after they crossed the Jordan river, under the leadership of Joshua.  The Book of Judges presents an alternative account of the Conquest of Canaan that does not line up with the account in the Book of Joshua.

So, my main focus is on Deuteronomy and Numbers for the attacks of the Israelites led by Moses on territories east of the Jordan river, and on the Book of Joshua for the attacks of the Israelites on territories after the Israelites crossed the Jordan river, attacks that were led by Joshua.

Let’s begin with Moses, and the attacks of the Israelites on towns and cities east of the Jordan river.

The Israelites attacked the towns of the Canaanites of Arad in Numbers 21:1-3.

  • There is no mention of Jehovah demanding that advanced warnings be given to any of these Canaanite towns. 
  • There is no mention of Moses ordering that advanced warnings be given to any of these Canaanite towns. 
  • There is no mention of advanced warnings being given to any of these Canaanite towns. 

Yet we are told that,

The Lord listened to the voice of Israel, and handed over the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their towns… (Numbers 21:3, New Revised Standard Version)

So, it looks like no advanced warnings were given to the towns of the Canaanites of Arad, and yet everybody in those towns was MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED.

Next we have the story of the Israelites attacking the towns of the Amorites under King Sihon in Numbers 21:23-25.

  • There is no mention of Jehovah demanding that advanced warnings be issued to any of the towns of the Amorites. 
  • There is no mention of Moses ordering that advanced warnings be issued to any of the towns of the Amorites. 
  • There is no mention of there being advanced warnings issued to any of the towns of the Amorites. 

This story does not specify whether any inhabitants of these towns were left alive.  However, the next story refers back to this one, and implies that all of the inhabitants (men, women, teenagers, children, and babies) of these towns of the Amorites were MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED.

Next we have the story of the Israelites attack on the people of Bashon and their King Og in Numbers 21:33-35.

  • There is no mention of Jehovah demanding that advanced warnings be issued to the people of Bashon.  
  • There is no mention of Moses ordering that advanced warnings be issued to the people of Bashon. 
  • There is no mention of there being advanced warnings issued to the people of Bashon.

Yet we are told that the army of Israel

killed him [Og the King of Bashon], his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left… (Numbers 21:35, New Revised Standard Version)

Once again, it appears that no advanced warnings were given, but that all of the people of Bashon were MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED by the Israelites.

In the story of the slaughter of the people of Bashon, Jehovah instructs Moses to follow the pattern established in the previous war against the Amorites:

But the Lord said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him; for I have given him into your hand, with all his people, and all his land. You shall do to him as you did to King Sihon of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon.”

Given that Moses and the Israelites ended up MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERING every one of the people of Bashon, in addition to King Og of Bashon, it is reasonable to infer that this was the same way that Moses and the Israelites had previously dealt with the Amorites under King Sihon.  So, this implies that in the previous war against the Amorites, Moses and the Israelites had also MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED every man, woman, and child in the Amorite towns under King Sihon.

A final example is the story of Moses and the Israelites attacking Midianite towns near the promised land in Numbers 31:7-18.  This story is quoted and discussed up above at the beginning of this post.  In that story we find the same familiar pattern as with the previous three stories:

  • There is no mention of Jehovah demanding that advanced warnings be given to any of these Midianite towns. 
  • There is no mention of Moses ordering that advanced warnings be given to any of these Midianite towns. 
  • There is no mention of advanced warnings being given to any of these Midianite towns. 

According to the account in Numbers 31:7-18, every man was killed (that would include elderly men as well as husbands and fathers), and under the specific command of Moses, elderly women, mothers, and wives were also killed, as well as teenage boys, young boys, and baby boys.  The only Midianites who Moses allowed to survive were young (virginal) girls, and perhaps baby girls.

Based on these four stories about Moses and the Israelites attacking various cities and towns near the promised land, it looks like Moses set a bad example for Joshua by: (a) failing to issue advanced warnings to cities or towns prior to attacking them, and (b) proceeding to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every person, including civilians, including elderly men and women, including mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, teenagers, young children, and babies (with the minor exception of the towns of the Midianites where Moses had the young virginal girls spared, but not mothers and not wives, not elderly men or elderly women, not teenage boys, not young boys, and not baby boys).

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UPDATE ON 5/14/20:

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Numbers 21 does not mention anything about an advanced warning to the Amorite towns; however, the account of the Israelite battle against King Sihon and the Amorites found in Deuteronomy does mention an effort to avoid war with the Amorites by offering terms of peace to King Sihon in which he would allow the Israelites to pass through his territory peacefully (Deuteronomy 2:26-35).  So, there was at least that effort made to avoid war and deaths of Amorites.

However, the offering of terms of peace to a King is NOT the same as providing advanced warnings to each city or town that was going to be “utterly destroyed”, and according to the passage in Deuteronomy, Jehovah hardened the heart of King Sihon, just so the Israelites would go to war with him and the Amorites, and make an example out of them.  So, the text makes it clear that Jehovah did NOT want to spare any of the Amorites from being MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED.

Furthermore, in Chapter 20 of Deuteronomy, Moses instructs the Israelites to offer towns the chance to peacefully surrender (the people have to agree to become slaves of the Israelites in order to be spared), but it is very clear that such an offer was NOT to be made to the cities and towns that the Israelites were to attack and take over in the promised land (in the wars of aggression that Joshua would lead after the Israelites crossed the Jordon river):

 16 But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. 
17 You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded…    Deuteronomy 20:16-17  (New Revised Standard Version)

Also, the passage in Deuteronomy confirms my conclusion that the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED every man, woman, child, and baby in the towns of the Amorites that were under the rule of King Sihon:

33 the Lord our God gave him over to us; and we struck him [King Sihon] down, along with his offspring and all his people.
34 At that time we captured all his towns, and in each town we utterly destroyed men, women, and children. We left not a single survivor.
Deuteronomy 2:33-34 (New Revised Standard Version)


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