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I was in my early teens. A woman with three teenage sons, a stalwart of our community, was dying of cancer. She asked for a Rabbi to attend to her and answer one question: why is this happening to me when it is not my time? A Minister was found who promptly told her to read the Book of Job as she would find consolation within it. But she had read it already and still she searched for an answer. So a second rabbi was called for. This one did not tell her to read Job: he spoke for hours with her. She resolved many of her difficulties and died in relative peace. But after this experience, "Job" came to embody for me a "Bible in my pocket" answer to suffering, something that could be whipped out to explain uncomfortable questions.

It had been used to curtail a more painful and intimate discussion about mortality which was needed at the time.

British Israelism

None the less I gave Job a second chance and picked up the book and read this story. For the first time I understood why anyone should think it held answers to our questions about the nature of suffering and the extraordinary nature of the relationship between God and Humanity. In this series of blogs I shall revisit the Book of Job, the personality and some of its meaning for contemporary society. It centres on the theme of theodicy: why do bad things happen to good people? The central question of theodicy is to explain how an all-knowing, all-powerful and benevolent and just G-d allows bad things to happen in the world: this applies equally to those suffering or to those witnessing suffering.

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In exploring this topic, I am coming from it from a Jewish and a personal point of view and look forward to engaging with some of the difficult questions that arise out of Job with those who have different beliefs. The Book of Job is one of the first documents in history to concentrate solely on how a just G-d can allow the suffering of innocents. Some scholars claim it might have been written in the 5th century BCE; and some traditional Jewish views even claim Moses was the author of the story.

The story of Job starts in heaven.

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Satan, the adversary, claims to G-d that Job is only righteous because he is basically wealthy and comfortable. Satan asks G-d whether he can test him. He wipes out Job's 10 children, his possessions and gives him a nasty skin disease to boot. Whilst mourning the death of his children three friends increasingly challenge and berate him suggesting that he must have seriously done something wrong to have received such a fate.

Job then questions G-d regarding his suffering, finds Him to be unjust and speaks harshly against G-d. A fourth companion enters the story, Elihu, and it is Elihu's speech that creates the basis for theodicy. The suggestion is made that Israel at the time of Joshua had a limited understanding of God and that they wrongly thought that their God, Yahweh, expected the same kind of sacrifice.

This line of reasoning raises serious questions about the nature of God, in particular whether or not He is able to make Himself clearly understood and whether or not He would allow such blatant disobedience to go unchallenged. One attempt to overcome this difficulty is the suggestion that God allowed His name to be associated with these mass killings because His love for Israel was so great that He was willing to have His reputation tarnished for the sake of His relationship with them. This view, however, does not find any support in the relevant Old Testament texts, which clearly state that God commanded the mass killings Joshua , 21; Deuteronomy Later texts even criticise the Israelites for their failure to obey the command Psalm Proponents of this view suggest that the accounts of mass killings are not contemporaneous to the events themselves but were written later in the history of Israel, during the period of the kings, by scribes who were witnessing the ill effects on the nation of idolatry involving Canaanite deities.

This view also necessitates an understanding of Scripture as the opinion of human beings rather than the true word of God or even an accurate record of historical events. Therefore, the issue boils down to our view of the authority of Scripture. We cannot examine here the different views of Scripture among professing Christians or the arguments for the view of this author, which is that Scripture is the authoritative word of God, free from error as originally written and useful in its entirety to teach and challenge us.

The only way to explain away the problem of the Old Testament mass killings is to have a low view of Scriptural authority, whereas this study assumes a high view. This article, therefore, will attempt to take Scripture at face value and consider exactly how the mass killing of the Canaanites fits with our understanding of God as love. The wrath of God against sin and His righteous judgement of sinners are important biblical principles. Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 , groups of people e.

Korah and his followers in Numbers 16 and even, as in the case of the Canaanites, against entire nations. Scripture consistently maintains that God is fair in His judgements, as Paul explains in Romans The culture of the Canaanites was deeply sinful, to a degree that God decided to act in judgement against them. The extreme sin of the Canaanites was connected with their religious practices. Leviticus 18 gives details of many of the sinful religious practices of the Canaanites, which included child sacrifice to the god Molech, incest, bestiality, homosexuality and cultic prostitution.

This is why it was so vital to God that Israel start off their life in the Land without the influence of false religions that would lead them away from Him. This involvement in Canaanite religions is already evident in the book of Judges, but reaches its peak in the period of the kings.

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Because of their lack of faithfulness to God, which meant that they lost their distinctiveness b. Because they developed a nationalistic sense of their own superiority, which led them to be disinterested in bringing truth about God to other cultures on the basis that God and His blessings should belong only to them. The book of Jonah provides a classic example of this. Perhaps the church today can learn a lesson from these twin dangers that may lead to a failure to be effective in mission. Effective mission depends both on distinctiveness and cultural engagement.

An obvious objection to the idea that God was judging the Canaanites is that it would be unfair for Him to do so if they had no opportunity to repent and be saved. Based on the Biblical evidence, however, this objection dissolves away for two reasons:. At the time of Abraham there is evidence that the Canaanites had some knowledge of the true God:. His faith in God should have been a witness to the Canaanites. He must surely have taught his people about the true Creator God Genesis It seems that over the period from Abraham to Joshua, the Canaanites had gradually rejected what they knew about God and moved deeper into sin.

Historical Analysis

It was only when their sin reached a certain level of severity that God decided to use the Israelites to bring judgement on them. However, even at the time of Joshua, the Canaanites had heard about what God had done for the Israelites in delivering them from Egypt and giving them victory over the Amorite kings east of the Jordan Joshua , yet they did not repent and turn to God. She even became an ancestor of king David and, eventually, Jesus Christ! Sadly, she is the only Canaanite we read of coming to faith in God, although surely others had the opportunity.

This question comes to the heart of the matter by asking exactly what God commanded. The Biblical accounts are quite different. God gave the Israelites strict rules about proper conduct in war against other enemies who did not live in Canaan, including:. They must leave the fruit trees belonging to the city standing verses The restraint embodied in this code of conduct is remarkable for that period of history, and against this background the command to wipe out the Canaanites stands out as a special case.

It was a focused, targeted campaign, not an uncontrolled rampage. There is a range of verbs used in the commands to Israel concerning how they should treat the Canaanites. Some of these clearly speak of extermination, but others speak of driving them out see Deuteronomy 7. In the case of those kings and cities that refused to do so, there was no option but annihilation.

There is no suggestion that Canaanites who left the land must be pursued; rather the commands to annihilate are connected only with people in the cities of the land. Presumably if Canaanites had left Canaan they would then have been treated like all other nations and the Israelites could have made treaties with them and would have been bound by the more general codes of conduct in warfare given in Deuteronomy 20 see 1.

So, this was not so much a case of genocide the extermination of an ethnic group but rather forced removal from the land of Canaan. As we read through Joshua and Judges this appears to be born out, as the extermination of the Canaanites is never fully implemented. The judgement against Israel, when it came, was not annihilation but exile from the land. Joshua 12 lists 31 kings who were defeated by Joshua and whose cities were therefore wiped out at this time the Canaanites lived largely in independent walled city-states.

The average population of each walled city at the time was probably around , with many cities having no more than around people.

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The 31 cities conquered by Joshua probably had a combined population of around 70, Many of these people may have fled before the Israelites attacked, but even if we assume they were all killed, this is only around 3. The remaining As already mentioned, when the Israelites adopted the religious practices of the Canaanites, God judged them just as He had done the Canaanites.

He exiled them from the land to purify them, so that those who returned under Zerubabbel, Ezra and Nehemiah would be a remnant of people who would worship only Him. At this point it is vital to say that this case in Scripture is quite unique and that there is absolutely no Scriptural basis for any justification of similar actions today. Christians are not promised an earthly kingdom or a land and Christ commanded mission to all nations rather than judgement on some. We are, however, still left with the unavoidable fact that according to the Old Testament texts the God of Israel ordered the annihilation of a whole culture.

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Three further questions arise: Why did God use people as the agent of His judgement? What about the innocent Canaanites especially children? Is this God of Israel really the God Christians worship? In the cases of the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah and the Egyptian firstborns, God acted directly or through the agency of an angel to bring judgement. Some people struggle with how He could have used sinful people to judge other sinful people and with how he could have expected people to be able to carry out an act of brutality, especially against innocent children.

Deuteronomy 9, where God commands the annihilation, is helpful in this regard. In that chapter God makes it absolutely clear that the Israelites are not being used because they are better than the Canaanites or morally superior, but simply as agents of His judgement. These truths would be burned deeply on their consciousness as they remembered the annihilation they had been involved in.

This problem of how God could use sinful people as agents of judgement of other sinful people arises again later in the Old Testament. The book of Habakkuk focuses on this concern in the context of the impending invasion of Judah by the Babylonians. Even if we accept that God was judging the Canaanites through the Israelites, the objection may be raised that some of the Canaanites were innocent victims since they were not involved in the detestable practices of the Canaanite religions. In particular, the thought of young children being killed is troubling.

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One thing we must remember is that death is not the end. In fact, the judgement faced after death Hebrews is much more serious than any judgement resulting in physical death because it determines the eternal destiny of the person. We can trust God to deal fairly with the innocent children who died in the invasion of Canaan, who could not be held responsible for the sin of their culture or religion.