Archaeology is a funny old business. And archaeologists are funny people, or should that be strange? They dig all over the world and, of course, their favourite places tend to be the oldest: like the Middle East. What was once known as Mesopotamia, or the Fertile Crescent.
Which was where they made one of the more remarkable discoveries.
Ur of the Chaldees. Thought for centuries to be pure legend, and here it was. The excavation took place in the nineteen thirties, and continued after the war. So another piece of a very complex puzzle fell into place.
There was once a man named Abram, who dwelt in Ur of the Chaldees and was told by God to take his family and his belongings, and move to the land of Canaan, quite literally, the land God gave to Cain. Abram was a rarity in that he alone, of all mankind, still spoke to God, which is why God called him, ‘the friend of God.’ Quite an honour.
At Mamre, God gave Abram a new name, Abraham, ‘father of many nations’, which was quite strange in view of his advanced age and lack of any offspring. And in those bygone days, names meant something. People knew, when he introduced himself, what his name meant.
Anyway, on with the narrative.
One day, God told Abraham he was going to utterly destroy the cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham proved he was a Jew: he tried to barter with God. ‘If there are ten righteous men in Sodom and Gomorrah, will you spare the city?’ and so on. We know the end result, of course, only one righteous man could be found in the city: Lot.
So God took Lot and his family out of Sodom and Gomorrah and destroyed it utterly.
God then told Abraham that his descendants, who would be as numerous as the stars of heaven, would live in exile for four hundred years before being given a land of their own. Obviously Canaan. Not at the time, of course, they had to wait for that privilege.
Well, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, who became father to Jacob and Esau, and Jacob was given the name Israel, by God. He had twelve sons, of whom the favourite was Joseph, whom the other brothers sold into slavery. Who then, after many trials and tribulations, won the heart of Pharaoh and was made Prime Minister.
After his death a new Pharaoh arose, who did not know Joseph, and enslaved the Hebrews. This continued for four hundred years, until Moses came along and, after much haggling, Pharaoh agreed to let God’s people go.
God destroyed Pharaoh’s army when they pursued the Hebrews, and they entered what is now known as the Sinai Desert. These are old and well-known stories, so I won’t go into detail, except for the following bit.
After Moses died, Joshua led the Children of Israel into the Promised Land – Canaan. Problem was, there were people already living there, and they didn’t want to move. So they decided to sit down with them and have a little meeting about sharing the land.
What happened next has puzzled Christians for centuries, and still does. I’ve accepted it, though I don’t understand it, but Rodin has challenged me to provide an explanation, so I’ve done some digging of my own. I accept it because I know God, and He wouldn’t order the killing of these people without good reason, so I had to search for the answer, and I may have found an acceptable answer, even if it isn’t the right answer.
Let’s say it feels right to me.
Canaan was not large, by our standards, but encompassed all of what we now know as Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. And this rich, fertile land was the one they were to inhabit. There was a li-i-itle problem, however.
Canaanites: the current inhabitants of the land.
Now, here’s problem. The very brevity with which the Bible is written, often understates the magnitude of the issue concerned. As a result, the sheer depravity of the Canaanites was not known till the late nineteenth century, when archaeologists uncovered the tell and almost closed it up again, according to some contemporary reports.
Their sexual depravity knew no limits, including paedophilia and bestiality on an utterly horrendous scale. They also sacrificed their first-born. The Bible calls it ‘making your children pass through the fire’. It was in fact, feeding your first born into the fiery belly of Moloch. As I said, the Bible is well known for understatement.
Now there is a theory that the Israelites got carried away and slaughtered the Canaanites, and then said that God told them to do it. However, if the Bible is to be believed, the Book of Joshua was written by Joshua, who was chosen by Moses because of his obedience to God. So God told Joshua to do exactly that: kill every man, woman and child.
Why? We can understand the men, perhaps even the women, but the children? I think that is what sticks in the craw of most people. The children. It doesn’t matter that God gave them four hundred years to repent; why the children? Surely they were innocent?
Now, because I know God, through my relationship with Him, I know He wouldn’t do something cruel for its own sake. And this is not a God who is changeable, who says a thing is right because He said it. God is consistent and He is merciful, so why?
Let’s say God ordered the deaths of the men and women who were, after all, equally guilty of these terrible sins, but spared the children, what would have happened? They would have been left there to die a slow and lingering death, or they could have been, in a sense, adopted by the Israelites. This would have caused one of two problems.
A simmering resentment on the part of the children for the slaughter of their parents, or a rejection by the Israelites for these children who were not theirs. Either way, the outcome would have been unpleasant and potentially disastrous. Taking a snake into your bosom.
According to the Bible, children are not judged guilty for their sins, because they do not yet comprehend them as sins, so their deaths would have taken them out of a terrible situation, in which they were, as a matter of course, sexually abused. So it would have been a mercy. The deaths of their parents would also have left them orphans, having to fend for themselves and slowly die.
A just and righteous God could not leave the Canaanites as they were; He’d already given them four hundred years to repent. He had to judge them, as He had the cities on the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah.
Many years later, He judged Nineveh, and sent Jonah to preach to them, at which they repented, so He is not a bloodthirsty God. He is a holy God, and long-suffering, willing that none should perish.
When He told Joshua to utterly destroy the Canaanites, it was as a last resort, because they refused to heed the warning.
God is merciful, but He is not the God of Oprah. He is long-suffering, but He is just and eventually all will face judgment, the second death, but He dealt with the Canaanites in the same way He later did with the Amalekites. They were utterly destroyed.
He sent Jesus so that this would not have to happen again, but that is because He no longer deals with nations, but individuals.
And justice will be done, or He is not God.