Lessons from the Canaanite Conquest

Second century heretic Marcion was quite a character. Because the only contemporaneous descriptions of his beliefs that survived are those of his detractors it’s hard to say definitively, but his distinctive teachings seem to have originated in the belief that the god of the Old Testament, Yahweh, was a cruel and evil god challenged by the good god represented by Jesus; for Marcion, this schema accounted for what was even then recognized as a sharp contrast between the harshness of God’s behavior in much of the Old Testament and the essentially loving nature of God as revealed in Jesus.

What has emerged as the “orthodox” way of dealing with the contrast in OT/NT divine dispositions is a vehement denial of any such contrast. And indeed, as I have said on this blog, the OT’s Yahweh is extolled as full of ever-new mercies and unending lovingkindness, and much judgment and hellfire is found in the sermons of Jesus. We are far astray if we deny that Jesus was said to have come “to bring a sword”; the aspect of the historical Jesus as apocalyptic prophet speaking the doom of the current age should never be too far underplayed. Instead, what we should emphasize is the explicit characterization of God’s motives for judgment as reflecting personal concern and a desire for restoration, not a craving for vengeance and some sort of legal satisfaction of abstract requirements. The religious leaders of Jerusalem were condemned because they caused the little ones to sin, because they did not care for the fatherless and the widow, and because they had proved themselves faithless “hirelings” by their indifference to the welfare of those over whom they were given supervision. The desire for restoration and concern for the marginalized is, again, something not at all alien to the later Old Testament writers; Jesus simply put the focus more squarely on those things by virtue of his place as the “image of God bodily.” God has an interest in judgment but not because of a desire to wreak revenge on those who have personally affronted Him disguised as disembodied “justice”.

Another danger lies in entertaining the idea that the OT depictions of God are completely erratic, when, quite to the contrary, there are actual reasons God was conceived of as the mastermind of the Canaanite Conquest when we consider the history of the Old Testament writings. We can learn lessons from the Canaanite Conquest by recognizing Scripture as something other than pure, undistilled divine truth. Keep in mind that whatever influence a man named Moses might have had on the customs of the early Israelites, it is manifestly clear from several features of the language in which the Pentateuch is recorded that significant redaction (editing) must have taken place between his time and the time those sources were recorded in the form we have them now. Few biblical scholars argue convincingly that there is no ancient tradition behind the OT texts we have, which were all written down and/or redacted into their current form somewhat late into Israel’s history by her religious leaders. With this in mind, consider this.

See, when the Israelite leaders, sometime after the destabilization of the nation of Israel (let’s not worry about exactly when for now) attributed their loss of national integrity to the judgment of God, they did so because they believed that God would not have let go of His people capriciously. If God let Israel and Judah undergo the hardship of being displaced by foreign conquerors, they were convinced it was because of conscious divine judgment upon them.

So, retracing their steps to see where they went wrong, they saw that so many of their people had become lax with the teachings passed down from of old — surely this was the cause of their nation’s fall! Naturally, they attributed their laxity with the laws and rituals of Yahweh to their close familiarity with the indigenous pagan peoples. The bitter “if only!” regret of pious Israelites over having fallen into the ways of the neighboring peoples was expressed in the sharpest terms by their conviction that they should have disposed of all pagan influences (the “good kings” are the ones who carry this out in the Kings and Chronicles), and projected further, they saw that it should have been must surely have been God’s intent for them to “nip it in the bud” by cleansing the land of all indigenous people as a show of devotion to God’s holy commandments. The herem commands attributed to God were merely a logical way of accounting for the predicament post-monarchical Israel was in, assigning the blame not on God’s impotence or unfaithfulness, but squarely on Israel.

What they apparently failed to fully appreciate — for which they can certainly be forgiven, lacking full revelation — was the breathtaking scope of God’s love. The author of Job tried to tell them, as did (Deutero) Isaiah: sometimes God’s servant suffers not because of God’s judgment but simply because of the selfish and hateful reactions of other men. God did not spare his own Son from evil men, but allowed him to be sacrificed; He promises both the redemption of suffering and commensurate vindication, demonstrated once and for all in the public display of the first Passion play. The lesson slow to be learned was that even though God rarely (if ever) intervenes in this life, He remains in control; the faithful response is not to come up with elaborate ways to blamecredit, or (as with the annihilation mandate) excuse God for actions He allowed in the functioning of His universe, but to look forward to how He is going to bring life from them. It is to hold His hand through the storm, holding on to the ideals He taught you in the calm even when you can’t feel His hand, and trust His character and ability to bring about good through it all.

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  • Rodericke

    I'm still baffled over the first sentence of this article. How in the world can someone who seems to be advocating HYPER-preterism, call anyone else a “heretic”?? How can you call Marcion a heretic? How can a heretic call anyone else a heretic? Look, HYPER-preterism is perhaps the MOST heretical view that has EVER been foisted on the Church. I mean, whether we are looking at pre-Roman Catholicism, Roman Catholicism, Greek/Eastern Orthodox, Syrian, Protestant/Reformed, Anabaptist, or Modern Evangelical — ALL of these expressions of historic Christianity have been UNITED on the exact same 4 eschatological points that HYPER-preterism wants us to deny. That makes HYPER-preterism the MOST heretical claim EVER.

  • Virgil

    HYPER-Prets are the Illuminati!!!

  • Havok

    How do the current understanding of the origins of the Israelites impact on the understanding of these things?
    As far as I understand it the evidence indicates that there was no Exodus (nor period of slavery in Egypt) nor conquest of Canaan, but a simply a cultural group forming and likely inventing the stories to explain how/why they're different to those around them.

  • Travis Jacobs

    I'm not sure Steve would deny that he is a heretic.

  • 1) Unlike the few, proud Heresy Hunters, I don't use “heretic” as a pejorative. It's an historical fact that he was condemned as a heretic, affirmable as such even by unbelieving scholars, not a personal evaluation. Whether or not that judgment meant anything important is a different matter.

    2) I'm not a hyper-preterist.

    Happy hunting!

  • Obviously, the Illuminati, like every other sinister group of individuals, is trumped by HYPER-preterism. It is clearly the root of all evil.

  • Havok,

    Good question. The short answer is that it doesn't impact it much at all. In fact, I almost included a line about how minimalists deny that there ever was an Exodus or systematic Conquest of Canaan and that I wouldn't be a bit surprised (although even secular scholarship isn't all on board with this), but it's largely irrelevant: the point is that the Jews of later times supposed that God had given them possession of the land where they had built their nation.

    The stories of the displacement of indigenous tribes may or may not have been based upon cultural remembrances; like many other scholars, even minimalists, I suspect that they were, but again, I could be wrong. Thanks for commenting!

  • jonathanrobinson

    At the risk of derailing the discussion on preterism, i think you might have misunderstood Marcion, his problem with the OT was more to do with creation and the physical realm and his appreciation for Jesus was a perceived spiritualism within a dualistic physical/spiritual framework. The moral issues were more secondary evidence for him than the actual sensitising and decisive concepts. Of course, that doesn't affect the rest of what you say.

  • Thanks, Jonathan. As I said, it's hard to put a fine point on
    precisely what Marcion himself taught; the dualism you mentioned was
    certainly in line with other more generic brands of gnosticism.
    Whether or not the god of wrath vs. god of forgiveness dualism was a
    primary taking off point for Marcion himself, Marcionite doctrine did
    point out that distinction. At any rate, as you mentioned, good thing
    the rest of my post wasn't particularly dependent upon that. 😀

  • Rodericke

    And Obama still denies he is a socialist

  • Rodericke

    Nah “brother Virg”, rather guys who try to run for their county offices, pretending to be a Republican when in reality they are a cross between Libertarian and Fascist — now THAT is worse than Illuminati — You’d know a lot about that. Good thing for Ohio you failed to win the election.

  • “this schema accounted for what was even then recognized as a sharp contrast between the harshness of God’s behavior in much of the Old Testament and the essentially loving nature of God as revealed in Jesus.” I am completely in agreement with that. There’s a really fascinating debate that I thought would be of interest on evolution vs. intelligent design going on at http://www.intelligentdesignfacts.com

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