Kingdom Killing of Canaanites? Genocide and Joshua…

Kingdom Killing of Canaanites? Genocide and Joshua… March 10, 2010

I want to offer a way of looking at the destruction of the Canaanites that helps me to understand God’s attitude toward violence in the Old Testament.  Then, I’d love to hear your ideas / thoughts…

What is different about Israel compared to other nations?  From their beginnings they are a community that is devoted to God and are a people on the move.  They are nomads in search of a land where they can govern themselves under the love of their Creator.  Remember that at this time, their only king is God himself.  In fact, later on in the storyline, Israel will ask for a king so that they can be just like all the other nations.  You can read this story in 1 Samuel 8.4-12.

God wanted to be their only king.  He wanted to govern them to be a nation that looks different than all the nations of the world that use domination as a means to victory.  Notice the warning that was given: “He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses…” (v.11)  In the ancient world, the image of “chariots and horses” represented a system of government that was fueled by accumulating “surplus and wealth.”  In other words, the “chariots and horses” are an image of conquest and social domination.  And under such a system in the ancient world, poverty and suffering was prevalent.

In God’s economy this was never the plan.  He didn’t desire for such a system to be put in place, for he didn’t want anyone to be a victim in Israel.  His special people, his Israel, was called to be a light to the rest of the world… and to be such, they needed to be a community that was characterized by the love of God and love of people.  Notice Joshua 11.4 and following…

4 They came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots—a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. 5 All these kings joined forces and made camp together at the Waters of Merom, to fight against Israel. 6 The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, because by this time tomorrow I will hand all of them over to Israel, slain. You are to hamstring their horses and burn their chariots.”  Joshua 11.4-6

Notice here the same kind of language is used to describe the powerful nations in Canaan.  They have might and want to dominate the world by use of violence, even if some people are left in poverty as a result.  And here we find that Israel, who at this time are a large group of nomads who have lived in the desert for several years.

In comparison to other nations, they are a large group of peasants who compared to the Canaanites, are lowly.  So what is the point of the violence in Joshua?  Consider Joshua 11.20…

For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses.  Joshua 11:20

“exterminating them without mercy”

How does this fit with the God of love we see revealed throughout the whole of the Bible and particularly in Jesus Christ?  Let me read you a quote that helped me make more sense of this difficult story of genocide…

Does God mandate violence?  Properly contextualized, this narrative answers yes, but of a specific kind: tightly circumscribed, in the interest of a serious social experiment, in the interest of ending domination.  The revelation is not really act, but warrant or permit.  The narrative requires us to conclude that this community was utterly persuaded that the God of the tradition is passionately against domination and is passionately for an egalitarian community.[1]

So, in this circumstance we see that God saw it fit to destroy entire nations that were utterly opposed to his way of operating in the world.  God, in order to carry forward his redemptive mission, had to use violence to purge the land of all influences that had the potential to corrupt his way of ordering society.

Now the question remains: would Jesus participate in such violence in our day?

In other words: Does the church have the same kind of divine license to kill others who oppose our way of ordering society?  Notice a key difference in the storyline of redemption that takes place after Jesus comes.  No longer is God working through one nation, but he is working in every nation to gather a people to himself. God no longer has a holy nation that represents him on the earth, the multiethnic church is now his representative.  We no longer can hate other nations, because these are the very places God is drawing his multiethnic family from.  What worked under God’s command for the greater good of establishing a special nation that didn’t give into the desire for “chariots and horses” no longer works under the new revelation of Jesus.  Jesus shows us God!  And God is operating through a different means in this part of the story of redemption.  He is operating by offering peace rather than the sword of violence.

In Joshua’s days he operated in Joshua’s ways…

In Jesus’ day he operated in Jesus’ ways…

And in our day he is at work in our ways… continuing the work of grace, love and peace in our world.

What I have offered is a reading that attempts to contextualize genocidal act of Joshua.  What other theories / theologies / explanations have you heard?  What do you think about the perspective offered here?  Would Jesus EVER sanction such an act in our day?

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Divine Presence Amid Violence, 39.


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  • An interesting post… I thought I might be able to add something since I’ve been considering this for several years now. Using war to drive out the Canaanites was not God’s plan. He told Israel that they were to move into the land and He would gradually make it unlivable for the Canaanites. He said that He would send bees or hail or other things … See Morethat would make their lives uncomfortable and they would move away and Israel would be able to displace them in that way. It was Israel that insisted on war so God conceded to their wishes and made the best of it.
    The common practice at the time was to take prisoners and make slaves of them, to take their animals and make sacrifices to their gods and keep the rest for their own possessions; to take possession of their other property as spoils of war. God took all of these away from them through the commands to kill everyone and destroy everything. He did everything He could to make war as detestable as possible.

    The instances where God commanded the death of Israelites or carried it out, it’s interesting that even in this, He was really conceding to their own choice in how they wanted to handle those who disregarded the commands of God or His representatives. Take, for instance, the stoning of Achan and his entire family for taking spoils from Jericho, in … See MoreJoshua 1:16-18 they told Joshua: “All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we heeded Moses in all things, so we will heed you. Only the LORD your God be with you, as He was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your command and does not heed your words, in all that you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and of good courage.” Reading this has to give you a chuckle as Israel never listened to Moses for very long and was constantly complaining about what a rotten leader he was.
    In any event, it is clear that war and violence were concessions to the wishes of the people God was trying to work through to reveal Himself to the world. They were meant to be temporary and lead them to what Isaiah describes as swords being beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks and people no longer learning war anymore.

    • Tucker

      Michael, this take on things is new to me. It seems to me there are quite a lot of places where the narrative of the OT shows God explicitly and specifically commanding the Israelites to take violent, genocidal action against the Canaanites. I have never heard of God planning to drive the Canaanites out of the land with bees and hail. Can you tell us where this reading is rising from?

      • Michael Miller


        The text I was referencing regarding the bees was Exodus 23:27-31 where God tells Moses “I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee. And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee. I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land. And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.” I thought it might be helpful to find out what the word that was translated “destroy”, in the text, actually meant as sometimes, words can have multiple meanings and it was quite enlightening. According to Strongs Concordance, the word is:

        A primitive root (compare H1949, H1993); properly to put in commotion; by implication to disturb, drive, destroy: – break, consume, crush, destroy, discomfit, trouble, vex.

        This brings a whole new meaning to the text, doesn’t it? Most of what i mentioned in my previous post came from a sermon that I heard once called “Scary God or Scary People” by Dr. Brad Cole. You can read the entire sermon here: He includes a wealth of information that I can’t possibly bring together in a medium like this, nor would I wish to duplicate what he has written as he is a much better researcher than I am.

        I hope you enjoy the read,

        • Tucker

          Hey Mike,
          Thanks for getting back to me. I appreciate the point you raise here and it really is an interesting one. Another time, I think, where we have tension within the narrative itself. This picture of the divine plan for bringing Israel into the land standing next to the more battle-heavy proclamations of God. A lot to think about. Thanks again.

  • Origen said (I am paraphrasing) that if the plain literal meaning of a Biblical passage is clearly morally unacceptable then we should search for an allegorical symbolical meaning until we find one that is satisfactory. He said that is not always easy. He compared his hermeneutical method to a dog pursuing a scent, finding and losing it and having to start over when one reaches a dead end.

  • Tucker

    I appreciate your thoughts on this Kurt, and your striving toward a reconciliation of hard biblical passages with faith. It is certainly no easy task, and generations of thoughtful Christians have struggled deeply with this problem.

    I have to say, as much as I appreciate your heart here, this is one time where I dont think I am on the same page as you. This argument seems to me to essentially be a repackaging of the rather old explanation that the Canaanite genocide is justified because the Canaanites were a wicked nation and this was divine judgment. Whether we identify the sin as idolatry or domination or something else, we still are confronted with the question, “who says the Canaanites were so wicked?”. Of course our response is “the Bible says”, but who wrote the Bible? Israel. The nation who, within its own narrative, conquered and wiped out another people group in order to claim their land as its own.

    The problem with that is that EVERY nation who has ever committed genocide has justified their action by vilifying the victims and claiming divine warrant. Think, for example, of the European genocide of Native American peoples. The doctrine of Manifest Destiny was contrived to paint the native people as savage, godless brutes and to declare that God was preparing a new, special, morally superior nation in what would come to be known as the United States. Aside from blind faith, what reason do we have to presume that ancient Israel’s rationalization of its genocide bears more merit than any other?

    Perhaps even more pointedly- are we really to believe that the entire nation, down to the last person, was guilty of whatever sin is meant to be the problem of the Canaanites? Were the civilians, the women, the children, the elderly, the infants, all guilty of domination in such a way that the only option was to kill them? Or can we really accept that the corporate guilt of a culture justifies the murder of each of its members?

    Another problem presents itself here as well. A broader reaching question about ethics. Can evil actions achieve real and meaningful good? To put it another way- is it not a farcical travesty to say that God intends to create a peaceful nation free of victims by means of mass slaughter and genocide? Or an equitable and just nation by means of one people group conquering and plundering another? Would we accept this approach in any real world scenario? This is like proposing to create a world free of racism by murdering all minorities.

    Now, all of that being said, I still find myself left with the very real problem of what to make of these texts. I don’t know that I have a solid answer, and I think perhaps it is by divine design that the question resists any easy answers. Perhaps we are meant here to learn how to trust God and follow Christ even in situations which are deeply disquieting.

    I think that some light may be shed by the fact that historical research and archaeology generally indicate that no Canaanite genocide ever actually occurred in history; that the movement of Egyptian refugees gradually migrated into Canaan so that the loose confederation of Semitic tribes eventually absorbed and assimilated with the Canaanite population, forming the nation Israel. The history we find in our Bibles was conceived many generations later, probably not reaching its final form until after the Babylonian exile. It is a story that was told in such a way as to engender a sense of national identity and a theological identity over-and-against an enemy that is, for all intensive purposes, fictive (In fact, there is no archaeological record of many of the tribes mentioned in the historical books ever having existed in the first place). Of course, even fictive violence and scapegoating to achieve national cohesion present some moral quandries. But I do take comfort in knowing that our problem is one of irresponsible rhetoric and not of mass infanticide.

    • Daniel


      Firstly, if when you open the Bible, you believe that you are reading something that is the creation of a bunch of men from thousands of years ago (i.e. a mostly fictional account created for the self-serving interests of men), then I wonder why you would enter into a discussion like this to begin with. If God is not the ultimate author and architect of the Scriptures, then the difficult questions that Kurt is exploring here would be rather pointless anyway…

      The Israelites weren’t the ones who said the Canaanites were wicked, God is. I think you really got to the core of the discussion when you asked, “are we really to believe that the entire nation, down to the last person, was guilty of whatever sin is meant to be the problem of the Canaanites? Were the civilians, the women, the children, the elderly, the infants, all guilty of domination in such a way that the only option was to kill them? Or can we really accept that the corporate guilt of a culture justifies the murder of each of its members? When reading those questions, the first thing that came to mind was the flood of Noah, where God wiped out not only one nation, but every human being save eight…

      Because guilt is really the key issue here. The thing is, God doesn’t ever make much mention of the other nations being guilty of “domination”, but instead what we see again and again is the issue of idolatry. The text in Exodus that Michael already referenced touches on this actually, in verses 32,33: “Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.”

      But of course we now know, that the Israelites really struggled with that one! Time and time again they became “ensnared” by the idol worship of the nations around them. The majority of the Israelite kings actually abandoned the true God and worshipped scores of idols instead, often times where each generation was worse than their predecessor… So over the span of generations, we see that the Israelites were no less wicked than the nations around them. They were not any more righteous simply because they had descended through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The had been given the very words of God, and been protected and provided for from Him again and again, but they continuously turned their backs on Him and prostituted themselves to other nations and to false gods…

      You then ask, “To put it another way- is it not a farcical travesty to say that God intends to create a peaceful nation free of victims by means of mass slaughter and genocide? Or an equitable and just nation by means of one people group conquering and plundering another?” And this is a huge question too! It was the very thing that the Jews were wrestling with when this Jesus character showed up. They were looking back at the history of their nation with more or less the same confused perspective. They didn’t understand why, if God had set them apart as nation for Himself, to be a “light to the nations”, and this sort of model civilization, why God would allow them to be conquered the Romans, (especially after being conquered by the Babylonians, and Assyrians etc.) Jesus comes, and declares that God is actually moving to create a “peaceful nation free of victims” through HIM, the Son of God, and this not through any political revolution or governmental action, but through dying on a cross and rising from the dead…

      When we understand the history of ancient Israel and the Old Covenant in the context of Christ, and the Israel that is defined through Him, where He is the “true vine” and we are the branches, then we can look back onto the days of Moses and Joshua and the like and see with much greater clarity. We see that so much of what is recorded in the OT is really to set the stage for the messiah. We can now go back, and read the promises that God made to Abraham, so long ago, and understand that God wasn’t ever talking about creating a nation for Himself through bloodlines or fortresses or laws, but that all of that was merely a groundwork for the Nation that would be born through Faith.

      So the weirdest part is to realize that God never at any point, “switched gears”, and moved from using the violence to using peace. Jesus does not actually offer “peace” in the sense that the world typically understands. In fact, we see a side of Jesus that appears somewhat calloused (in the earthly sense) in Luke 13:

      Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
      Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
      ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”
      (verses 1-8)

      So when confronted with a similar problematic scenario (actually 2 of them), involving people who are all apparently dying premature, tragic deaths, Jesus actually dismisses them as being anything unique, but instead puts all of humanity in the same boat with them (“But unless you repent, you too will all perish”). Jesus defies our own intuitive tendencies and flatly states that we are all just as guilty, that none of us can assume that a loving God would not allow such things to happen. Jesus turns the tables, and casts the whole matter in the light of eternity, He brings it all back to the question of faith… And the only to way we can truly understand the perplexing things we read about in the Old Testament, is if we follow His lead, and do the same…

    • Kurt Willems

      Hey Tucker… It seems that you have taken some time to really reflect on this. I think that I disagree with you… at least at first glance. I don’t have time to get too into the discussion right now, but I must say that I am surprised that you don’t go with Walter Brueggemann’s line of thought that I basically expounded here. He seems to be a big OT influence based on other discussions and comments. Who is your theological influence on this matter?

  • This very topic has been a source of extreme questioning for me in relation to the nature of God. If Jesus said that to see Him is to see the Father, why doesn’t Jesus look like the Father of the Old Testament? My only conclusion is this question: Is it possible that God allows humans to do violence in His Name at the risk of being hated Himself for their actions?

    More questions arise. Is God aiding contemporary Israeli armies and their allies in the bloody monstrosities against Palestinians? Might God be looking down on all this hatred and weeping over His kids’ crimes against each other?

    Take the example of Job. God, holding all things in His hands, had to open His hands to release Job to a measured amount of Satan’s destruction. Was it God that killed Job’s children? I venture to say this might be a picture of God’s relation to the violence and calamities today and throughout history. Remember, the Old Testament was not written by the Canaanites. With our limited vision, God’s releasing individuals and nations to the effects of evil might appear as though He sanctions (or even causes) violence, but my belief in the validity of Jesus’ claim of oneness with God makes me reconsider.

    Thanks for your comment on my blog! I enjoyed my visit to yours as well. I’ll be back!

  • Becca, It’s interesting you mention Job, notice how God took responsibility in chapter 2 for what was clearly the work of Satan? Also notice in Chapter 42 where Job’s family and friends come to his home and console him for all the things that God did to him? I’ve come to believe that just because the Bible says God did something, doesn’t necessarily mean He actually did it but could mean that He didn’t prevent it. There are many instances in the Bible where this is clearly true; I’ll cite 3 more of them.
    First, there’s the story of Saul in 1 Chronicles 10 where it details how Saul committed suicide but in verse 14, it says that God killed him because he went to the witch of Endor.

    The second instance I will cite is the destruction of the first-born of Egypt. It’s interesting how God told Moses to tell Pharaoh that if he didn’t let Israel go, He would destroy all the first-born, man and beast, of the kingdom. “…and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh sitting on his throne to the firstborn of the slave-girl at the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock.” – Exodus 11:5 (CJB)
    Further on, He tells Moses with these words: “For that night, I will pass through the land of Egypt and kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both men and animals; and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt; I am Adonai.” – Exodus 12:12 (CJB)
    However, when Moses speaks to the children of Israel, He tells them that God intends to kill the Egyptians, but if He sees the blood on the doorpost, He’ll not allow the destroyer to enter their home. “For Adonai will pass through to kill the Egyptians; but when he sees the blood on the top and on the two sides, Adonai will pass over the door and will not allow the Slaughterer to enter your houses and kill you.” – Exodus 12:23 (CJB)
    The KJV renders the text this way: “For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.”
    Who is the destroyer? We have an understanding that it’s one of God’s holy angels but is it possible that it is actually one of the apostates? Is it possible that it is Satan himself? John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible has this to say in commenting on this particular passage of Scripture: “and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you; the destroying angel, as the Targum of Jonathan; for he seems to be distinct from the Lord, who is said to pass through and pass over, being an attendant and minister of his, to execute vengeance upon the Egyptians; and whether a good or a bad angel, it matters not, since God can make use of either to inflict judgments on men; but it may be more probably the former, even such an one as was employed in destroying the whole host of the Assyrians in one night, 2Ki_19:35 and answers better in the antitype or emblem to the justice of God taking vengeance on ungodly sinners, when it is not suffered to do the saints any harm.”
    Moving further on to Psalm 78, we find out who the destroyer is: “He sent over them his fierce anger, fury, indignation and trouble, with a company of destroying angels” – Psalm 78:49 (CJB)
    The KJV renders the same text this way: “He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.”
    It seems clear, from this text, that it was not God who destroyed the first-born of Egypt but it was the destroyer, and there is one who is referred to as the destroyer in scripture, Satan.

    The third instance that I’d like to cite is when David numbered Israel, in 2 Samuel 24, we read: “The anger of Adonai blazed up against Isra’el, so he moved David to act against them by saying, “Go, take a census of Isra’el and Y’hudah.” (CJB)
    If we continue reading through the story, we read that David realized that this was a sin, and he repented of it. But, in James, we’re told that God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does He tempt any man.”
    In the margin of my Bible, I see that “he”, in this verse is referring to Satan. I wondered at this so I looked for a cross reference that might explain it since there’s no indication in the context of the passage, nor is there anything in the original Hebrew word to indicate that it’s speaking of Satan and I found a direct cross reference to 1 Chronicles 21 where we find this: “The Adversary [Hebrew: Satan] now rose up against Isra’el and incited David to take a census of Isra’el.” (CJB)
    It’s the same story, but this time, we’re told that it was Satan who incited David to sin. Here we find another instance of God taking responsibility for something He didn’t do. One author, that I’ve read, tells us that there was an ancient near-eastern custom that when there was an absolute Monarch, anything that one of His subordinates did, that He didn’t prevent, could be attributed to Him. This makes perfect sense when you look at the instances in Old Testament scripture that seem to contradict each other, but can be reconciled through an understanding of the culture that allowed them to attribute, even Satanic actions, to God because He didn’t prevent them.

  • Tucker

    I would like to take a moment here to clarify my earlier comments. But first, I want to respond to Michael’s question about why I am interested in engaging this discussion in the first place. I think there are two main reasons which I hope will help explain my position. First, as I realized over lunch with Kurt yesterday, my own ethnic and cultural heritages are important both in shaping my perspective and in motivating me to think about these questions. My father is a full-blooded Osage Native American, and my mother is a Polish Jew. Her parents were holocaust survivors. So on both sides of my family I see the devastating generational consequences of genocidal action, and am also very aware of how religion and irresponsible biblical exegesis (often times these particular texts) routinely become the vehicle for the many violent and hateful social prejudices of the modern world. To me, this issue is not an abstract one. My concern is bigger than moral discomfort and theological dissonance about events 5,000 years in the past. I have one eye on the very real and very important consequences of this issue for today. We still have many places in the world where divine warrant is claimed for ethnic cleansing, and it matters very much whether we believe God ever condones the systematic elimination of one people group by another.

    Secondly, I am a Christian. I do believe that the Bible is inspired revelation, and that the Church is charged with interpreting the Bible and living faithfully as followers of Christ. I am invested in this conversation because I believe it has important implications for my own and my community’s moral, spiritual, and theological identity.

    That last paragraph may seem to be in tension with my previous post, so allow me to explain. I did not mean to say that the Old Testament is JUST a creation of a bunch of men from thousands of years ago. But it is at least that. It is more than the writings of human beings, but not less. Even if we believe in inspiration we can hardly escape the fact that the Bible did not drop out of the sky fully formed one day. It is a matter of plain fact that what we call the Bible was authored, redacted, and ultimately canonized by human hands over many generations. To confess that Scripture is God-breathed can not mean simply ignoring that fact. To have a faith with integrity we must acknowledge this process and come to understand how God has been at work, moving within that reality.

    In this particular case, it is a matter of plain fact that within the narrative of the historical books, reading them on their own terms, we have an account of an ethnic cleansing campaign written by the aggressors/victors. The many justifications for this- in sum that the Canaanite population was sinful in a variety of ways and that God declared it so and commanded the slaughter- really don’t sound all that different than the claims of those who executed the Trail of Tears or the Shoa. We could mitigate this by simply saying that God really did say these things of the Canaanites, but did not say them of the Native Americans or the European Jews. But this raises the very real question of who becomes the arbiter of those claims. If we confess that God warranted and even commanded ethnic cleansing in one circumstance, on what basis do we deny that God has done so in another? This question demands an answer.

    So, I believe it is a very real problem to begin with the premise that all of Scripture is inspired (and I do still begin with that premise) and then find within it a warrant of genocide written by the aggressing people group. But that is not to say that this problem doesn’t have a resolution. I appreciate the thoughts of those above who have pointed out that there is give-and-take within the historical books themselves, places where God seems to have intended to give the land over to the Israelites without the need for them to take violent, genocidal action.

    Also, I briefly mentioned in my previous post, these texts are almost certainly authored much later than the events the describe. They probably didnt reach their final form until after the Babylonian exile. They are written at a time when Israel is trying to re-form its national and theological identity in the wake of a tremendous national crisis. To do this they re-visit their origin story, expanding upon the long held Exodus narrative. Specifically the stories are conceived to reassure Israel that God has promised them a homeland and protection from those who would prevent them from obtaining it. Since the generation writing these stories lived over a thousand years after the generation described in them, these stories should be taken not as warranting or even describing an actual, historical ethnic cleansing campaign. Rather, they are a narrative affirmation of God’s promises to provide Israel with a homeland. Any violent action described is done against people who are, for those writing the stories, fictional (in the way that a people group who existed 1000 years before you were born isnt “real” to you). In fact, archaeology indicates that many of the specific tribes mentioned in these stories, like the Jebusites and Perrizites, never actually existed in the first place.

    So, the sum of that is, I believe the stories in question do not refer to a real genocide taking place and can not be used to justify any future real genocides. They are symbolic narratives meant to restate a theological confession and restore a national unity, over-and-against an enemy that is basically fictional. They draw on figures who were, to the people who wrote them, historical and even legendary, but do not state historical fact.

    All of that being said, I do think there remains some moral tension in the reality that violent stories and scapegoating are used to communicate these principles to post-exilic Israel. But I don’t think this moral problem is nearly as severe as the one I would have if I believed God actually commanded one people group to commit genocide against another.

    So- to end on a positive note. I do believe that God promises Israel a homeland. I do believe that God seeks to create a special people who practice equity, justice, peace, and who worship Him. I believe that through this people God calls the rest of creation into restored relationship with Him and with each other. I believe that the life, death, and resurrection Jesus fulfills and embodies God work in Israel empowers the Church to be this people. And I do not believe that genocide or ethnic cleansing are ever a part of any of this.

    • Tucker

      Sorry- that question I mention int he first part of this post came from Daniel, not Michael. My bad.

  • Interesting.
    I’ve begun looking at Old Testament genocide from the perspective of knowing how easy it is to become convinced (or to convince yourself) that you’re hearing from God when you’re not. It happens all the time–it’s even preached in many churches still–and I don’t think ancient peoples were any different when it comes to being centered around yourself..becoming fearful of and hateful toward “them.”

  • Tucker,

    I appreciated your post and agree with most of it however, is it possible that archaeologists are simply wrong in their historical dating? Radio isotope dating, after all, is notoriously unreliable. I noticed that you attributed the question as to why you’re taking this line of reasoning to me but I’m not the one who asked you that. If I remember, it was Daniel who asked that particular question. Several years ago, I read a book, written by a man named Roger Morneau, a former member of a satanist secret society in Canada, called “Beware of Angels”. You might be interested in reading that as it illustrates your point about how we are supposed to decide which commands for killing were given by God and which ones were not; especially given the fact that Jesus prophesies that there will come a time when those who kill His followers will think they’re offering God service. I like to offer that and ask how we are to differentiate the true from the false if we accept that God ever does that. You can purchase the book here:

    • Tucker

      Hey Michael,
      Yeah, I am sorry about that. Once I looked over the comments again I saw that it was Daniel who had asked that question. It is hard to keep everyone straight when I dont actually know them in real life.

      I suppose it is possible that archaeologist and anthropologists are wrong about the existence of those tribes. After all, every few years there is some discovery that revolutionizes some aspect of those sciences. Still, I think the overall point holds. Even if a tribe did exist 1000 years before you, when you write a story about them, you are essentially writing fiction. The narratives in question are symbolic and parabolic, not historical.

      I will check out the book. But as you alluded to in your post, I think there is a fairly easy way to discern whether a command toward murder and violence is from God. As a Christian pacifist, no commands toward murder and violence are ever from God. But that is a whole other discussion in itself. Thanks for your response.

      • Daniel

        Since you mentioned your native american heritage, it made me think that it would be interesting to consider how many native American tribes we would conclude actually existed, if all we were to rely on for evidence was archeological evidence…

        But the only other thing I would add, would be a question as to whether or not God is actually capable of being guilty of murder at all. There is the uncomfortable fact that God has the right to end any human’s life whenever, and however, He chooses…

        But your question really is a good one: “If we confess that God warranted and even commanded ethnic cleansing in one circumstance, on what basis do we deny that God has done so in another“…

        I suppose such a question would have to beg a whole litany of similar questions, like, “If we confess that God warranted and even commanded things like circumcision, stoning, animal sacrifices, building a temple, appointing a high priest, building an ark, following the Mosaic Law, etc., then on what basis do we deny that God has done so (or might now do) in another…?”

        The answer to every single issue is the same… Christ! He is the reason that we can be assured that God will never ask us to do any of those kinds of things again, because the purpose of them all, the arrival of the true Messiah, has already been fulfilled!

        • Daniel

          Oh… And one last thing… I think we also have to remember that we don’t actually see any instances of ethnic cleansing in the Bible, in that never does God turn against a people simply for being a particular race or tribe, for simply being gentiles… The issue is always around idolatry, and even though we might question how God could accuse an entire tribe of idolatry, we have to admit that this is problem being addressed by God. We see how seriously God takes this issue, when we later see the Israelites being marched off with hooks in their noses, after they too fall into idolatry and demon worship. With that in mind, it’s hard to see how the violence in the OT really has much to do with one particular race or another…

  • Kurt Willems

    You are all raising some very good questions for me. Keep on dialoguing! Good stuff!

  • Tucker

    Hey Daniel,
    Thanks for the ongoing conversation here. I am short on time at the moment but I do want to give a brief response to some of the things you raised. As for Native Tribes, I am no expert in anthropology but I do think that enough remnants remain in the archaeological record to verify the existence of most tribes, at least those specifically referred to in the written records of early American settlers. Of course, that is where the comparison begins to break down, since those records are much newer than the OT, meaning that to verify the existence of the specific Canaanite tribes we have to reach much further back into history. In any case, that contention was pretty peripheral to the point I was making.

    Second, I dont think we are talking here about God committing murder. At least within the dominant voice of the historical books we have a picture of God commissioning Israel to this task, not undertaking it directly. There is a big distinction here, which also separates the Canaanite events from the flood of Noah. Rather than a direct action of God, we have one people group wiping out another with the pretense that God ordered them to do so (whether or not that pretense is accurate). When it is humans who are committing the violence, it becomes a question of human morality.

    And at the risk of repeating myself, I would argue strongly that this does qualify as ethnic cleansing. Modern genocides do not happen with the explicit understanding that a people group is being wiped out just because they are that people group. There is always a moral and theological justification projected onto the crime. The Canaanites were guilty of idolatry and/or domination. The Native Americans were godless savages who insisted upon attacking the innocent, Christian American settlers. The European Jews were foreigners secretly conspiring to take control of the government and economy. The Tutsis in Rwanda are opportunistic traitors to their country. And so on. Without making a circular argument (presupposing the answer before the question is asked) there is no way to distinguish the first of these warrants to genocide from the rest. In short, I don’t think that a motivation of “just because” is a defining characteristic of ethnic cleansing.

    I agree with your assertion that the revelation of Christ makes it clear that this kind of violence (or, I would argue, any kind) is not the character of God or the way for God’s people and Kingdom. However, that raises this question. If Christ reveals the Father in a central and normative way, shouldn’t we expect God’s character and action, and instructions to God’s people, to be consistent with the revelation of Christ even before the birth of Jesus? If the revelation of Christ is normative, should we not expect God to operate in God’s ways (i.e.- in Jesus’ ways) regardless of the time?

  • Daniel,

    You made a statement that God can end anybody’s life whenever and in whatever way He wants. The question I would ask is can God break His own law or is it a real law that cannot be broken without natural consequences, even for God?

    The word translated kill in the commandment has been mistranslated as murder by many these days. The word is used in the OT to describe all different types of taking of human life, not just murder, in fact murder is more often than not translated from a different Hebrew word. The word, râtsach is used most frequently in relation to the cities of refuge in relation to the man-slayer who was to be protected because his killing was accidental. Additionally, in Numbers 3:27, it’s used in regard to the man-slayer being killed by the avenger of blood because he left the city of refuge before the death of the high priest. In verse 30, it’s used for both the murderer and the putting-to-death of the murderer. In Proverbs it is used for the slothful man who makes an excuse that an animal will kill him in the streets if he goes out.

    Essentially this particular word is a general word for killing of a human so this begs the question, can God break His own law without consequences?

  • I made a mistake on the previous post. The text in Numbers was Chapter 35, not 3.

  • Thanks, Michael, for your response. I am rather awed at a God Who will shoulder responsibility for things He allowed but must break His heart.

  • Great post and great site, Kurt!

    I like the idea of accommodation (God working within our cultural bounds) because it fits with an incarnational theology. Peter Enns’ book, Inspiration and Incarnation is a great way to look at things like violence and other “messy” things we find in Scripture positing that God works within our mess to redeem and Scripture contains much of that process.

    But I am also persuaded by other theories, one of which Brian McLaren recently put forward in his latest book. I write about it in my review series I am blogging while also offering some mitigating factors that are relevant to violence in the OT that my OT professor shared with me (Dr. Stephen Chapman). If interested they can be found here:

    I like what you say about being Christocentric and seeing Scripture through the lens of Jesus. I’m comfortable with going further and suggesting that perhaps God never ordered violence even with Israel but just like so often we do today (see Pat Robertson, etc), Israel attributed to God things that were not at the heart of God.


  • You have some interesting thoughts about domination. And I can hear my mother say ‘two wrongs, don’t make a right’.

    One pastor I had explained that in the time of Joshua, it was the societal norm/duty to take revenge. His view was that extermination was the least costly in terms of number of lives killed; that in the long run where there was conflict between tribes that included someone dying there were fewer total deaths if the opposing whole tribe/clan were killed.

    His view was that extermination was a severe form of mercy. I tend to agree with him. My observations are that missing fathers tend to promote or perpetuate the hunter or violent tendencies in young boys. And communities that are shattered by war and violence are more disfunctional than the average. To exterminate one’s enemies creates a certain amount of fear in remaining communities of having conflict with the Israelites which should lead to a fairly lengthy time of peace. The lack of conflict, either full scale war or revenge killing would provide an integrity of the community that could incubate other more peaceful practices and teachings.

    At the time of Christ, all of Israel was under Roman occupation. Romans were very good at running their country by the rule of law and citizens could appeal to the law for revenge instead.

  • churchedunchurched

    An thought-provoking concept, to be sure. I need the challenge, to be honest, because I am not sure exactly where I stand on the issue of war and divine command. So I’m going to take this into the realm of Just War Theory for a moment.

    In September, I posted my view against any kind of “Just War” theory, and I think I would still stand by that:

    One of the reasons I have issues with modern Just War Theory is because it attempts to apply concept that countries today, Christian countries, have thought we “had to use violence to purge the land of all influences that had the potential to corrupt [our] way of ordering society,” just as you put it. What I’m really worried about is whether we commit a slippery slope fallacy when we say, “God did it — why can’t we?”

    It’s true that God ordered Joshua to claim a piece of land; but notice that he doesn’t say the Israelites should colonize or conquer more land after that — only defend themselves. I think a key component is having the mindset that God sets boundaries, and that boundaries ought to be fixed, and not extended for the sake of gain.

    But at the same time, God’s Kingdom is not limited to a country, and rulers can acknowledge God. See, to me, it’s not so much that having a king was bad for the other countries, it was that God wanted to display himself as a king who would have power and authority over other kings — in other words, to be shown as supreme compared to all other nations. To do that, he needed the Israelite people to rule justly. Thus, I am not opposed to rulers here on Earth as such, as much as I am against them using that power in ungodly ways. Which begs the question about Jesus, doesn’t it? But if God has already proven himself King of kings, and Lord of lords historically, then should we really be concerned about waging war at all?

    I have to wonder, now that Christ has come, if wars are more like sporting events, where God really doesn’t care who wins as long as they obey him. I’m reminded (big surprise) of Tom Wright saying, basically, “God is not so much concerned with how rulers come to power, as much as he is concerned with what they do with him once when they have it.” In other words, God is more concerned with just and equitable rule than he is with who is particularly in power.

    It seems to me that anyone who would be concerned with beating people into the ground because of what race they happen to be doesn’t quite get the notion of divine rule. Israelites did not annihilate people just because they happened to be of a certain group; in fact, quite a few of them became servants and were not annihilated. I have a feeling the establishment of Israel has a lot of historical context that isn’t included in the Scripture itself — Scripture is only meant as the guide and rule for Faith and its practice, not for historical understanding of every behavior.

    The main point I have is this: it’s not so much that war is okay, or even that the whole Earth is now God’s Kingdom (because Psalm 24:1 already acknowledged that), but that God is supreme. And since God has already proven himself supreme, we ought to seek him as the Authority of authorities, and not seek our own gain in conflict. What does seeking our own gain look like? I’m not sure we can ever know fully; but whatever we can know of our motives as a community, as a nation, or as the Church, we ought to seek God’s will beyond our motives.

  • Maria,
    One reason often given for what is called the “ban” (total destruction of everything) is that it keeps soldiers from fighting for promise of profit. In the days of Israel (and since) fighting for profit was a cultural norm – it’s just what people did. Seen in this light, the commands to Israel are very counter-cultural and show a progressive revelation unfolding: War is not to be fought for material gain. This is a new lesson to be learned in the ancient near east.

  • Chad,
    Its a lesson we have yet to learn.

    Suppose we think of a world government where each country/people group is a citizen. How does the world government maintain justice? How does the world government keep one group from taking advantage of another group?

    Today we think of governments in terms of democracies -democracies representing a pluralistic society. But what if individual people groups were more homogeneous? What if our political norm were a monarchy? Would we think of world government in terms of one people group being monarchs over the other people groups?

    Is it even possible to maintain justice with unbelievers without corporal punishment? What would that look like on a world government scale? How would a believing group of people maintain world justice with unbelieving people groups?

  • John Hall

    I’ve struggled with this for years! I believe there is definate validity in the thesis of your post; God is opposed to systems where the accumulation of wealth and power at the expense of other people. It is also fitting to note that Jesus’ name in english is actually “Joshua,” which sybolizes His leading us into a “New Kingdom.” But a part of me still understands that it is the victor of a war who writes it’s history. When the Bible says, “so the Lord was with Joshua…” after the genocide, it was an Israelite who wrote it, not an Canaanite. I wonder if the Canaanites felt the same way. Probably not. In any case, it IS in the Bible and therefore is something worth knowing and wrestling with. Great post, thanks for sharing.

  • Ben Bajarin

    All good comments. Greg Boyd on his Christos Victor blog did a long series dealing with this issue that I thought was well and scholarly articulated. One of the main takeaways that hit me was a question he left open ended which was “perhaps God didn’t actually tell them to do that.” To use Tucker’s example that the story is mythical yet proves a point – in the same vein perhaps since this is the way the world worked at the time (i.e god’s giving war time victory etc) they assumed their God was the same. However the whole thing is simply an negative object lesson and the point being, God pointing out “you think the world works that way, but I tell you it does not.”

    In essence I also strongly agree with Kurt’s point that once Jesus got on the scene ultimately as the representation of Israel, who is Adam, then out the other side of his resurrection then we really do, regardless of our OT views on violence, have a brand new world . And should now shape our understanding of God with the foundation of both the person and the event as pointed out in Hebrews 1.

    Grace and Peace.

  • It’s interesting that Jesus, when confronted with one of His disciples wanting to use the sword said “put the sword away for all that take the sword will perish with the sword.”

    We can certainly see that in Israel, can’t we…

  • David Marsilia

    Wonderful posts. I learned a lot from much of the discussion. I especially appreciate Tuckers very unique and personal viewpoint on the topic. The interesting thought that occurred to me, when trying to decide if God is responsible or culpable for genocide of the Canaanites, isn’t it just a matter of time before each of us dies. Genocide as horrible and unjustified as it may be when conducted for worldly gain is the fate of all men, the only difference the timing and manner of death. Jesus is the redeemer of the righteous and judge of the wicked. Unless we’re espousing a doctrine of ultimate reconciliation, at some point there will be a holy genocide of epic and providential proportions. Far be it for me to be the Jonathan Edwards to this learned crowd but we are all mortal and potentially sinner’s in the hands of an angry God.

  • James Lambert

    Hey guys,
    Thanks for the thoughtful discussion. There is one point that everyone is missing. The Testament we have is the story of God working with and through Israel for the salvation of all man. God is weaving a particular story. It is not the story of the Canaanites. Three people you need to take into consideration before trying to pass judgement on action in the Old Testament. Melchizedek, Jesse, and Eber are all people who God was working with before or apart from the nation of Israel.

    Melchizedek and Jesse were both followers of the true God who were in the land before Israel was involved. They both were priest. Job also was in the land early and apart from the nation. Job served like Jesse as the priest and leader of the family. It is clear that long before the nation of Israel was commanded by God to destroy that people group he was at work in the land.

    Much like Noah, there was time before the judgement where mercy was expressed, and where God seeks to redeem his creation. This is a constant with God. He doesn’t just wipe people away. Think of all the people who were not killed in the land. Look at the way they lived and what they did on a regular basis. The ancient pagan practices were horrible. The fact that any one was left in the land was mercy. God is merciful and not willing anyone to perish. We have evidence through Job, Melchizedek, and Jesse of the presence and message of God in the area before judgement was commanded. I have to believe, do to the whole wait of scripture that God was working to redeem them and they rejected. I don’t believe that he was just wiping them away to make room for his people.

    Also, one other point: God always gave the order, not a general or a earthly king. Every time the army was taken out apart from God’s order it was condemned and brought punishment on the nation.

    God bless,

  • While I definitely believe that Jesus advocates non-violence, on a national level I’m not sure I can unequivocally say that post resurrection we are clearly not to use violence. I’ve run into a few circumstances where it seems as though groups of people were at war or were going to go to war and the out come of the conflict reflected in the minds of those involve on both sides of the conflict the power and truth of the gospel. Sort of like how David defeating Goliath spoke of the power and truth of Israelite god, because of how Goliath insulted their god. Sort of like when enemies make the conflict about God, he wins, and he often does so through the weapons of his followers.

    The medieval belief in might makes right was founded in the belief that God makes the weak win against the more powerful.

  • I appreciated and enjoyed the well-expressed ideas of Tucker. That is pretty much to a ‘T’ the way I see things. I know that if those stories were intended as literal histories, I would have to repudiate them outright as lies and slanders against the character of God. I believe, though, that the editors who put those stories together did not intend them to be taken as literal history; rather I believe they intended the stories to be so obviously absurd that the readers would be driven to look for a ‘deeper’ metaphorical and allegorical meaning. Or else they were intended as deliberate tests to determine who would believe such blasphemies against God, and who had a heart so in love with God that he/she wouldn’t for a moment believe such slanders.

    That’s how some early Christian and Jewish believers viewed such stories. For instance, the Homilies of Clement are a very early Christian writing attributed to Clement of Rome (a Christian Bishop in Rome in the late 1st century C.E.) They supposedly report statements the apostle Peter made to Clement, his disciple. Whether Clement actually wrote the Homilies, or some other early Christian wrote them pseudonymously, they definitely represent a very early (1st or 2nd century) Christian viewpoint. Peter is supposed to have said this about falsehoods in Scripture:

    “For the Scriptures have had joined to them many falsehoods against God on this account. The prophet Moses having by the order of God delivered the law, with the explanations, to certain chosen men, some seventy in number, in order that they also might instruct such of the people as chose, after a little the written law had added to it certain falsehoods contrary to the law of God, who made the heaven and the earth, and all things in them; the wicked one having dared to work this for some righteous purpose”(Chapter, or ’book’ 2, section 38).

    “Then Peter said: “If, therefore, some of the Scriptures are true and some false, with good reason said our Master, ‘Be ye good money-changers [a good money changer would be expected to be able to discern true gold and silver coins from counterfeit – SGP], inasmuch as in the Scriptures there are some true sayings and some spurious. And to those who err by reason of the false scriptures He fitly showed the cause of their error, saying, ‘Ye do therefore err, not knowing the true things of the Scriptures; for this reason ye are ignorant also of the power of God’” (Chapter 2, section 51).

    According to the ‘Peter’ of the Clementine Homilies, how should the lover of God respond to the ‘falsehoods’ of scripture? “And this took place in reason and judgment, that those might be convicted who should dare to listen to the things written against God, and those who, through love towards Him, should not only disbelieve the things spoken against Him, but should not even endure to hear them at all, even if they should happen to be true, judging it much safer to incur danger with respect to religious faith, than to live with an evil conscience on account of blasphemous words” (Chapter 2, section 38).

    The ‘church Father’ Origen, whom someone else has mentioned, had this to say about Bible stories: “What man of sense will agree with the statement that the first, second and third days in which the evening is named and the morning, were without sun, moon and stars, and the first day without a heaven. What man is found such an idiot as to suppose that God planted trees in paradise in Eden, like a husbandman, and planted therein the tree of life, perceptible to the eyes and senses, which gave life to the eater thereof; and another tree which gave to the eater thereof a knowledge of good and evil? I believe that every man must hold these things for images, under which the hidden sense lies concealed” (Origen – Huet., Prigeniana, 167 Franck, p. 142). This represented a general attitude he had about stories in the Bible that were contrary to reason, or absurd, when read literally.

    From Jewish interpreters, Moses Maimonedes said this: “Every time that you find in our books a tale the reality of which seems impossible, a story which is repugnant to both reason and common sense, then be sure that the tale contains a profound allegory veiling a deeply mysterious truth; and the greater the absurdity of the letter, the deeper the wisdom of the spirit”.

    The Jewish “Zohar” puts it this way: “The narratives of the doctrine are its cloak. The simple look only on the garment, that is upon the narrative of the doctrine; more they know not. The instructed, however, see not merely the cloak, but what the cloak covers”.

    Interestingly, the prophet Jeremiah seemed to have an understanding similar to that attributed to Peter by the Clementine Homilies. In Jer. 8:8, he wrote concerning those who prided themselves in having the Law of God, despite their idolatry and witchcraft: “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us,’ when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie?”

    I’m sure it’s easy to ‘get carried away’ in allegorical interpretation; but in principle I believe that’s a much better approach to Biblical ‘histories’ than the literal approach that leaves one doing theological gymnastics in order to reconcile them with the character of God.

  • Conrad

    I am genuinely shocked after reading this article and all the comments full of “theology” and not a single person mentioned that the caananites were Nephilim just like before the Flood… God wasn’t even exterminating humans…

  • Conrad, I assume you are joking, right?

    I hope so, at least.

  • James Lambert

    I hope so too.

  • Conrad

    And what exactly would I be joking about???

    Numbers 13:31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

    • John Hall


      I understand your reasoning here but the verses you used simply defeats your argument rather than supporting it. I think the words in verse 32 that called what they were saying a “bad report” makes that clear. Some translations refer to it as an “evil report” and other even call them “rumors.” Besides that, what makes the Nephilim any less”human?” Genesis seems to indicate that they were able to procreate with other humans. Can an animal do that? These are just my observations.

      • Conrad

        I’m sorry, but I don’t quite get your logic, how does bad = false? doctors come back with “bad reports” all the time… and I can quote you several other verses talking about them in Deuteronomy and Joshua if you would like?

        As for your other question, they are clearly not human in the normal sense of the word, but a mixed breed. I would like to hear your thoughts though about whether they still count as human and/or are redeemable?

        • Conrad… interesting thoughts your bringing here. I would just say that all creation is redeemable. God’s redemption is for humanity, but also for the whole cosmos. Therefore, if God created it, it is redeemable.

  • I never considered that option, Conrad.

    Here’s a fascinating article I found by someone who have obviously done some research:

    I’m not sure what to think.

  • Conrad

    Hey Kurt, I tend to agree with your way of thinking, but do you think that applies to fallen angels and the devil?

  • John Hall

    Conrad, First let make it clear that if i cam off as critical or beligerant, i am sorry. I was just expressing a difference of interpretation and, unfortunately, it can appear very abrasive when it’s only expressed in text. I want to be clear that I am well aware that I could be, (and likely am) mistaken here. 🙂 In my study, the Nephilim are only mentioned specifically in 2 passages. The Numbers passage you quoted and early on in Genesis. We cannot make the mistake of assuming that when we see the wrd “giant” in scripture we’re talking about decendents of the Nephilim. Was Goliath a Niphilim? His Brothers? Is Shaq? Beyong that, the “bad report” is also translated “evil report” or “rumors” in other translations. And even if it WAS true. That’s not the only time that genocide was “ordered” by God in the Bible. And yes, I believe that everything in our dimention of creation is redeemable. If the Nephilim could live in a permanent physical form and procreate then I think they can be redeemed. I do not, however, find any Scriptural evidence that “fallen angels” can be redeemed. It saddens me really.

  • There has always been a great deal of speculation about who those ‘sons of God’ were who copulated with the ‘daughters of men’ to produce those “men of renown”. Whoever those ‘sons of God’ were, the stories definitely call their offspring “men” – human beings. The ‘sons of God’ themselves were obviously material beings (not ‘fallen angels/spirits’ – remember Jesus’ post resurrection statement: “a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have”, Luke 24:39), and genetically similar enough to human women to be able to have sexual intercourse and produce human offspring. So to say that the descendants of Anak (who was a descendant of the Nephilim) were not human would seem to me be to be contrary to the Biblical story itself. And even if they weren’t fully human, to commit wholesale slaughter against them as the story in Numbers has it would still have been a moral atrocity. Their forebears were, after all, SONS of GOD – they were God’s offspring just as much as humans (assuming they weren’t themselves ‘human’), and worthy of respect as is all of God’s creation.

    John Hall – Perhaps I can offer you some hope to relieve your sadness, concerning the idea that fallen angels ‘cannot be redeemed’. Have you considered the implications of Colossians 1:19,and 20 – “For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to Himself ALL THINGS, whether on earth or IN HEAVEN, making PEACE by the blood of his cross”. All things in heaven surely includes those “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” spoken of in Ephesians 6:12. Satan himself in the Bible is either in heaven ‘accusing the brethren’ or ‘cast down to the earth’. But if one should say that he is confined to the ‘abyss’ “under the earth”, Philippians 2:10 and 11 says “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and UNDER THE EARTH, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. And as the passage in Isaiah 45:23 (to which Paul was referring) states in the American Standard Version, that ‘confession’ means to ‘swear allegiance’. Nothing less would be satisfactory to, and glorifying of, God. Surely no fearful ‘confession’, made under compulsion but not coming from the heart (true devotion) would be seen by God to be honoring to Him. He would know it for the lie it was, and repudiate it rather than be glorified by it. So everything, everywhere, will at some point be truly reconciled to God, at peace with Him, swearing heartfelt allegiance – and that is REDEMPTION and SALVATION! I LOVE it! God will really triumph, by making ALL his enemies to be his friends!!

    • John Hall


      I hope and pray that your interpretation is right. And not just for “fallen angels” but for all huamn beings too. I don’t want to open a debate about whether or not there is a litteral hell. All I am saying is that I hate the idea of people being sent into eternal suffering and seperaton from their Creator because they didn’t “believe” the “right things.” It’s one of those things in which I simply have to let God be God and try to do what He tells me…Love people. Thanks for your 2 cents.

      • I think the way you’re approaching the matter – “I simply have to let God be God and try to do what He tells me…Love people” – is probably the best way. That is, unless or until you become personally convinced that the teaching of ‘eternal punishment’ is completely wrong, and contrary to the very nature of God.

        For me, this conviction came initially 22 or 23 years ago, coupled with a complete rejection of Christianity as I knew it. In fact, I felt at times like I wanted to strike up a ‘contract’ with Jesus and God: “You don’t bother me, and I won’t bother you!” (Grin). It didn’t work though, because Jesus and God his Father wouldn’t leave me alone!! At any rate, for many years the teaching of ‘eternal punishment’ was one of the “teachings of the Bible” which I felt proved that the Bible was a hopelessly ‘wrong’ book. It was only a few years ago that I came to the conclusion that it was not the Bible which was in error on that subject, but the way it had been ‘interpreted’ by the ‘orthodox’ Christian church was wrong. I now can read those ‘everlasting fire’ passages with a completely different understanding – even though I myself wouldn’t use that kind of language because it is so loaded with the ‘baggage’ of ‘orthodox’ misunderstanding. (The same is true with such ‘doctrines’ as “substitutionary, vicarious atonement”).

        Anyhow, I’m glad you were able to take my ‘suggestions’ in the way they were intended: as food for thought, not as argumentativeness. It’s worth contemplating, but each of us must form his/her own conclusions (hopefully being led by “the Spirit of God, and of His anointed”).

  • In Ancient world killing peoples after conquering their city is acceptable and it is a part of war. So joshua is right in those days.