Part 6: The Struggle for Canaan
Meditating on the Judgements of God:
Gen 15:16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.
Of all the questions I have been asked about God, the one that comes most is why did God instruct Israel to wipe out the inhabitants of Canaan? Not only is that perception inaccurate but the understanding of all that went on is complex because it is covered over quite a wide area of the early books of the Bible. Nevertheless, dealing with the Canaanites, one way or another, was clearly on God’s agenda and if it did involve their destruction – or even some other act – then it could constitute a judgement and we need to consider it here.
Our starting point must be to consider ‘the Promised Land’ in a wider context. Our starting place must be with Abram’s family: “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.” (Gen 11:31) Although the patriarch, Terah, seems to have led the family to leave their home in the area of Mesopotamia, we find that the motivator to do it came from Abram for, “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1) So Abram and his family (less his father who had died in Haran) end up in the land of Canaan.
Later on in his story we find, “The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” (Gen 13:14,15) Hence we refer to it as ‘the Promised Land’. God promised Abram that this would be his land and the land of his descendants. Later the Lord reiterates this: “He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” (Gen 15:7) It is as they act out a covenant procedure that our verses above appear.
The name Amorites appears to have been used to cover all the inhabitants. As one dictionary says of the state of Canaan 400 years later, “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artefacts and from their own epic literature, discovered at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) on the north Syrian coast beginning in 1929. Their “worship” was polytheistic and included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution and divination.” They had seriously strayed from God’s design for human beings!
So to summarise so far: God took Abram and his family to this land where he lived alongside the other people groups there. Isaac was born there, as was Jacob and although Jacob left there, fleeing from Esau’s wrath, he did finally come back and settle there, only to leave and settle for his final years in Egypt when a famine struck forcing them to go to Egypt for food provided by Joseph. (We considered the Lord using famines in an earlier study). There they stayed until some four hundred years had passed and Israel developed into probably well over a million people who were forced into slavery by the Egyptians. In the mean time the state of Canaan was getting progressively worse. In fact it would seem that God waited for that people grouping to get so bad that His judgement was essential, and Israel to get so desperate that they would do anything to escape from Egypt.
The entry into Canaan had been postponed for forty years when Israel refused to enter the land initially in a crisis of confidence when the twelve spies returned with their reports of what they found there. Now the forty years has passed and the previous generation (all those over the age of twenty except Caleb and Joshua) had died off. The next generation are now ready to enter the land and so before we see them doing that we will (1) consider the instructions the Lord gave them, (which many people are confused about), and then (2) see how they progressed from their desert wanderings to arrive at the border of the land, before (3) we will finally see how they got on with the task of clearing the land that the Lord had given them. These will make up the next meditations.
There are two issues to be considered in what follows: judgment on the pagan practices in Canaan, and then providing a home for the nation of Israel. Before we finish this one let us note God’s purpose declared again and again. At the burning bush, the Lord said to Moses, “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. (Ex 3:8)
Later he instructs him to tell the elders of this: “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, `The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob– appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites–a land flowing with milk and honey.’” (Ex 3:16,17).
Finally before the plagues start He reiterates this: “God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens,” (Ex 6:2-4)before saying what He will do with the Egyptians but ending yet again with the promise: “And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’ ” (v.8)
The scene is well and truly set. God’s intentions are clearly stated. In the next meditation we will see how He intended to do that.