Were the Canaanites that Wicked?

05 Jan
Anat -- Canaanite goddess

from Google Images

Lots of folks really recoil in disgust when they come to the Scriptures where God judges the Canaanite people. Where is the justice in genocide? – is the cry. One may ask, “What are the guidelines that would show us when a culture is irredeemable?”[1] Certainly the Old Testament doesn’t present any that I have noticed, nor should we look for the list in the New Testament. The Bible is simply silent concerning how wicked a nation must be before God chooses to judge it. Both the Canaanites and the Israelites were driven from the land because of their wickedness (Deuteronomy 9:4-5; Amos 2:4-8), and, when the severity of that wickedness calls out for God’s judgment, it is known only to him (cf. Genesis 15:16 and Leviticus 18:25).

What had the Canaanites done that warranted national judgment? One of the Canaanite deities was the goddess, Anath. She is the patroness of both sex and war and her bloodlust seems to have no equal. Notice:

The blood was so deep that she waded in it up to her knees—nay, up to her neck. Under the feet were human heads, above her human hands flew like locusts. In her sensuous delight she decorated herself with suspended heads while she attached hands to her girdle. Her joy at the butchery is described in even more sadistic language: “Her liver swelled with laughter, her heart was full of joy, the liver of Anath (was full of) exultation (?).” afterwards Anath “was satisfied” and washed her hands in human gore before proceeding to her occupations.[2]

One may say, “So what? What does this have to do with the wickedness of the Canaanite people?” Much, in every way! According to the Bible God created mankind to image himself—i.e. to be like him. We are imaging beings. Often we need to warn folks at home not to try to imitate some of the stunts shown on TV programs. We do this, because that is what folks will do. Nevertheless, we give the warning for the sake of avoiding lawsuits when folks get hurt trying to do what they see on TV. The point is that the Canaanites sought to imitate their gods and goddesses; they wanted to be like them. In fact, this idea was what produced their worship exercises. The understanding was that the visible world is but a reflection (shadow) of the invisible or divine world. Therefore, just as a reflection cannot act except in the same manner as the reality acts, so if the reflections does anything at all, it follows the reality must have acted in such a manner that caused the reflection to do as it had done. Under this understanding the worship ceremony was thought to have some degree of ‘control’ over the gods and nature.

What this means is that non-Israelite religions didn’t seek to influence their gods through supplication or expressing faith or trust that the gods would act on their behalf. No, they sought to have a more direct influence over their gods and goddesses through ritual enactment. They acted out in ritualistic performance what they desired the gods to do. For example, if they wanted rain and since heaven and earth were understood to be male and female in fertility cults, the worshiper and the priestess would engage in sexual activity to reflect divine copulation. It was believed that the ritual act in the temple would also be produced in the world of the divine and result in the semen (rain) of the gods falling into the womb of the earth.[3] On the other hand if they sought to have success in battle, the appropriate blood sacrifice (often human) with its corresponding ritual ceremony could also be performed.

The point is not that the Canaanite people were the most wicked people on earth anymore than one serial killer is more wicked than any other. Serial killers need to be caught and judged, and the Bible tells us that it was time for the Canaanites to be judged by God. It was his choice, and he made it. In blogposts following this one, I’ll discuss in more detail the question concerning God’s right to judge them and whether or not he is a merciful God.


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

[2] William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1968), 77. See also Richard M. Davidson, Footsteps of Joshua (Hagerstown, PA: Review and Herald, 1995), 95.

[3] See John N. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 2009) page 51.

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Posted by on January 5, 2016 in apologetics


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