Struggles of Israel Meditations: 4. Taking the Land (1)
Ex 3:8 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.
Taking the Land: Because we are now moving on to consider the taking of the Promised Land by Israel, I am going to start by using material here that I used when I wrote, ‘The Judgments of a Loving God’, which sought to consider as many judgments as possible in the Bible and the reasoning behind them. The taking of Canaan is particularly complex for the following reasons:
Origins: It’s origins are in God’s knowledge of what was currently happening in the land, as revealed to Abraham over 400 years before it actually happened, the need to bring an end to the continually deteriorating moral state of the peoples there; that is the starting place.
Sources: Things pertaining to the taking of the Land appear in all five books of the Pentateuch, and in Joshua following. It requires quite extensive reading, therefore, to get the full picture.
Prior to Entry: There was the period, recorded in Deut 1-4, prior to the entry, which reveals much of God’s strategy which we considered in the previous study.
Drive versus Destroy: Contrary to much public belief, God’s purposes in respect of dealing with the Canaanites was to drive them out of the land rather than destroy them.
How to Drive: Clearly part of the ‘driving out’ force was that of Israel’s army but the details given indicate, as we’ve already seen, that also the Lord will seek to use fear to scare the occupants out.
Reasons for the Expulsion: Understanding the reasons for Israel going in is complex because it involves both the judgment on the Land and creating a future home for a holy nation.
A Slow Expulsion: Then there is the revelation that the taking the Land will be a slow and gradual process for which there were good reasons, and that had its own problems.
Predetermined Outcome: Then we consider the realities of the outcome, was it predetermined? How do the hard hearts of the Canaanites (or of Israel for that matter) come into this?
Alternative Outcome: But we also need to consider, was there an alternative to fleeing or fighting?
Incomplete Expulsion: But we will also need to see that neither driving nor destruction were completed.
Miraculous Dimensions: Underlying all that happened, we need to consider how God was involved in what went on in the taking of the Land.
Requirements: Very often critics focus, mistakenly, on what they call the genocide or annihilation of the mixed peoples of Canaan, failing to note that first and foremost two things are made clear from the outset. First, that God will work with Israel to drive out the inhabitants, and destruction of the enemy is only the second option i.e. they are to clear the land of its existing pagan peoples by driving them out; that is the primary goal. Second, having done that Israel are to remain entirely distinct from these people who, it may be inferred, may try to sneak back into the land. Whatever happens Israel must not make any treaty with them to allow them to stay, intermarry with them, or worship their idols. All these things will weaken Israel’s resolve to be the holy people God calls them to be, to reveal Him to the rest of the world.
Alternative? It is sometimes helpful to try to see the much bigger picture. Under ‘Reasons for Expulsion’ above we noted the two ideas of judgment AND settlement. At the end of the project, God’s goal is a) to stop the awful things that were going on in the Land before Israel arrived, and b) provide a ‘clean and pure’ home in which Israel may settle and develop to be a light to the rest of the world revealing Him to that world. So, let’s listen to the critics therefore, just for a moment, and say, very well, if you don’t like this approach you think you find in the Bible, what alternative would you propose to achieve those two laudable end goals? I will suggest from the outset that any such alternatives will be completely unrealistic.
Here’s my first unrealistic alternative: God sends representatives into Canaan to ask them to stop their occult practices, stop their child sacrifice, stop their superstitious worship of either unseen evil forces or simply wooden or metal models. If you think this multi-faceted, mixed bunch of fearful, occult driven and superstitious tribes (which is what they were) would take any notice of such representatives, you really do need to take a course in understanding people, and especially the causes and effects of occult activity and superstition.
Let’s try a second unrealistic alternative: God sends representatives from Israel into the Land who invite the occupants to become part of Israel, part of God’s experiment to show to the world an alternative way of living. Now I have used the world ‘unrealistic’ twice here because the alternatives are always unrealistic in the face of the intransigence that is exhibited by human beings and observed so often in the Bible. Even today nations do not like their sovereignty being challenged. National pride is a very real issue, even in a greatly developed world of today.
Er, why… Why have we been pondering on this rather unsavory aspect of human life? For two main reasons. First, to focus on the struggles of Israel is to focus on the sinfulness of mankind and if we are to understand Israel’s history and learn from it, we need to understand these things more clearly. Second, we have started to consider the taking of the Promised Land, partly to remove wrong preconceptions, but mainly to consider some of the dynamics in play and face up to the realities behind that episode of Israel’s history. It is the starting point of considering Israel’s life in the Land. As I said, it is rather unsavory but that is because that is the reality about human life, and we need to face that if we are to learn.
And So? This study has been, by necessity I think, a general overall view of the taking of the Land and I have sought to point out some of the key, salient features of what took place to more realistically face what took place. Put in its most simple summary form, what took place was
- Israel invaded the land but
- never completely cleared all the existing people out of it, so
- God said He would leave those peoples there to act as a check on Israel (Judg 2:1-3)
Because we have just provided outline notes and headings in this study we will, in the next study, take some of these items and flesh them out and see them in more detail.