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Does The Bible Support Murder?

October 12, 2011

I spent part of yesterday studying for the TrinKids Worship sermon this weekend on Joshua 6. We have been steadily moving through the Old Testament, looking at major events marking the redemptive nature of the Lord after the rebellion of Genesis 3. While murder will not be a topic addressed in TrinKids Worship this week (take a deep breath), I felt it would be helpful to look at some of the reasons why the Bible does not condemn the destruction of the Canaanites throughout the early parts of Joshua. This is a major stumbling block for many both inside and outside the church. You may run into this objection to Christianity with a co-worker, friend, or your children and so it is good to be acquainted with the topic. Here are four reasons why the Bible does not condemn the murder of the Canaanites and can still condemn murder today.

(1) God is the ruler over all lands because he created everything. If we need any reminders as to why he has this authority we only need to turn to Genesis 1 and then 6-8 and 11:1-9. As the universal creator, he is also the universal judge and has the ability to bring judgement on the moral condition of the Canaanites.

(2) The action of judgement against the Canaanites is an announcement of the moral nature of the Lord to the whole world. This announcement is a part of the blessing Israel is to be to the whole world. Thus, Israel is used as an instrument of God’s judgement. The judgement that Israel brings on the Canaanites foreshadows the responsibility the faithful will participate with God in carrying out the final judgement (1 Cor 6:2). In addition, Israel itself is not exempt from the same judgment (Ex 22:20, Joshua 7:11-12).

(3) The Sinai covenant sets up Israel as a theocracy. This is a unique combination of what is known as the “church” and “state” today. Therefore, the geopolitical condition allowed for the people of God to keep the covenant in a political fashion. This is not the case today as we no longer live in a theocracy. Therefore, the murder of the Canaanites cannot be used as justification for murder today. Likewise, murder today cannot be compared to the murder of the Canaanites.

(4) It was the cultural norm in the ancient Near East to make uncompromising and unconditional statements such as the laws about destroying the Canaanites. However, there were provisions made for those Canaanites who expressed genuine faith such as Rahab (Joshua 2:9) and the Gibeonites (11:19). Therefore, the murder of the Canaanites cannot be seen as an ethnic cleansing, but a moral cleansing.

Sources: Introduction to Joshua in the ESV Study Bible, Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan

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