Meditating on the Judgements of God:
6.8 Hardened Hearts
Josh 11:18-20 Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. 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.
We need to confront the difficult truth that, in fact, there were instructions given to Israel to completely wipe out the Canaanites. Those verses we have already seen. There are two sets of verses that almost act as ‘bookends’ to these studies. The ones above are the final ‘bookend’ and the one we saw in 6.3 in Exodus acted as the first ‘bookend’: “My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. (Ex 24:23) They both speak about the destruction of the Canaanites.
However, as we have sought to emphasise again and again, the primary instructions and primary understanding was that the Canaanites were to be driven out of the land and if they had gone, they could have gone without a single life being lost. That is what makes the verse above from Exodus 24 strange because in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers it is the only one that speaks of the destruction of the Canaanites. It is almost as if the Lord gives away what He knows will be the eventual outcome. In earlier studies in this series we noted His feelings about not wanting death (see Ezek 18) and the fact that the words ‘drive out’ or ‘driven out’ are used in respect of what is to happen to the Canaanites some thirty times would suggest that this is what God’s preference would have been in respect of this land, yet He knew that the reality was otherwise.
It is only when we come to these unique verses in Joshua that we get greater understanding. Now we don’t know who the writer of Joshua was but these words are not attributed to the Lord or to Joshua but are the words of the writer, his understanding of what had happened. Assuming divine inspiration we must accept his assessment.
Look at the strength of these words: “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.” We seem to have a mystery here. On the one hand we have seen extensively the Lord’s intent to drive out the inhabitants, using fear, but now we are told He hardened their hearts to stay. The trouble is we have no further details upon which to formulate our conclusions. However we do have the story of Pharaoh, back in Egypt prior to the Exodus to aid us. There again and again we noted the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart but also that Pharaoh hardened his own already hard heart. Let’s consider Pharaoh.
Pharaoh, before God started dealing with him, was an evil, idol worshipping, self-centred individual. You can either talk gently to such a person hoping to persuade them or openly confront them. Unless the heart is open, such a person will disregard the former course and will simply rise up in anger against the second. God knew that Pharaoh’s heart was not open and therefore whatever God said, it would not result in Pharaoh coming into God’s kingdom, therefore the Lord used direct confrontational methods which showed up Pharaoh’s foolishness as every plague came. Hardening here is, therefore, the response of Pharaoh’s already set heart, into an even more obstinate position where he refuses to back down before God. The choice was always his.
Now the same was exactly true of the Canaanites but an element that comes through more strongly in this story than in that of Pharaoh, was that the occult played a big part. When anyone has dealings with the occult, we observe a particular hardness against the things of the Gospel. There is a resistance to the truths of God because there is a Satanic or demonic background always to the occult. Therefore, from the outset, there was a resistance in these people to the ‘fear-pressure’ the Lord put on them, pressure which, in any other circumstances, we would expect to have caused them to leave.
Thus, although the Lord wants them to leave (hence all the talk about driving them out) He knows that they are locked in to their occult worship and nothing is going to move them. So as much as the Lord gives instructions to drive them out and says that is what He intends to do, He will not override their free will and will not force them to go.
Now we might also make a comment about Moses’ heart in Deuteronomy. That book comprises his final talks to Israel before he is going to die. He knows his time is short but as a shepherd his heart anguishes for this flock of people he is going to leave behind. He knows what a good future is for Israel – obedience to God followed by His blessing – but he also knows the dangers before Israel – of being seduced into occult worship by the Canaanites. He has already seen some of the men seduced by the Moabite women (see Num 25) and knew that this was the greatest threat to the future of Israel.
It was not being overcome by an enemy in battle but by giving way to other people’s religions and becoming like them. For this reason Moses knew that their only hope was to inherit a land that was utterly cleansed of its peoples and practices. If the people sought to stay they would eventually act as yeast and permeate and undermine the life of Israel whether they were men, women or children. They must go – or die. The end result must be a cleansed land. It doesn’t have to mean the death of the people there but because of their hardness of heart, their ways set in the occult, then it almost certainly will. For these reasons we find those otherwise apparently hard words exterminating them without mercy. The future of Israel, the possibility of the Gospel, and indeed the very future of the world hinges on this, as difficult as it may seem. It is all about the question, will Israel e able to be a nation that reveals God to the world, and will they remain in existence as that people into which the Son of God may eventually come?
These are the issues that hang in the balance here. Seeing it only in the short-term means we fail to see the terrible significance of what was going on here. No doubt there were similar thoughts in the minds of the Allies’ men who made the decision to bomb Dresden in the Second World War, or of Hitler’s men who decided to bomb Coventry, or those who had to decide to drop the first atom bombs on Japan, ostensibly to end the second World War. Long-term decisions look terrible in the immediate. It is only when we look back on history in this Fallen World that we realise the awful decisions that had to be made. The more we learn, the slower we should be to criticise.