Was it Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing?

12 Jan
Map of the 7 Canaanite Nations

from Google Images

One of the new atheists, Richard Dawkins, describes Israel’s taking of the Promised Land as genocide and ethnic cleansing.[1] The problem is the Scriptures don’t describe the event in the same manner as Dr. Dawkins does; nor do they allow for racial hatred, which is a prerequisite fuel for ethnic cleansing. On the contrary, Israel was to love the stranger who dwelt among them and protect him and welcome him in their land. Nevertheless, it seems that Dr. Dawkins isn’t as interested in accurately portraying the language of the Scriptures as he is in swaying folks over to his worldview by choosing words that tend to evoke negative emotions, which he does against ancient Israel and the God of the Bible. Notice how he words his argument:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser… The ethnic cleansing begun in the time of Moses is brought to bloody fruition in the book of Joshua, a text remarkable for the bloodthirsty massacres it records and the xenophobic relish with which it does so.”[2] (emphasis mine)

Notice that Dr. Dawkins’ choice of language is inflammatory, immediately arousing a sense of outrage against the object of his remarks. One wants to deal harshly with someone guilty of such things as he describes above. But, is Dr. Dawkins correct in his evaluation of Israel at the time of Moses and, by implication, God who commanded Israel to expel the Canaanites from the land? If one uses the words of the Bible to condemn the Bible, one ought to use such words in context and in contrast with other parts of the Bible that have weight in the event one intends to understand and describe. For example, “xenophobic” is used by Dr. Dawkins in order to accuse Israel of fearing the foreigner or stranger, the Canaanite. Yet, the Mosaic Law tells Israel to welcome the stranger and let him dwell peacefully within her borders (Leviticus 19:10, 33-34). How can we make sense of this apparent contradiction?

If one wishes to account for the reason the Canaanites were judged by God, one must also hold into account the fact that God commanded Israel to love the stranger as oneself, and one law was to exist in the land for both Israel and the stranger (Exodus 12:49). Under these circumstances, how can bigotry be the reason for the expulsion of the Canaanites? It is Scriptures such as these that highlight and adjudicate the inflammatory words Dr. Dawkins uses in his book, The God Delusion. If Israel was not bigoted, how could ethnic cleansing or genocide be a motive of her behavior against the Canaanite people? If not ethnic cleansing or genocide, then the reason for Israel’s war against the Canaanites must come from some other point of view. What might that be?

The Scriptures tell us that it was because of the wickedness of the Canaanites that God drove them out of the land. God didn’t even give the land to Israel because of their righteousness. On the contrary, the Scriptures also reveal that they were a stiff-necked and rebellious people from the time they left Egypt, until they entered the Promised Land. Rather, the Canaanites were driven out because of their wickedness, and the Israelites entered because of the promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Deuteronomy 9:4-7). After all, it should be kept in mind that, according to Scripture, the land is the Lord’s, and he, therefore, has every right to drive out whomsoever holds it and give it to whomsoever he pleases (cf. Leviticus 25:23).


[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] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion ((Ealing, Bantam Press, 2006), pages 31 and 247.

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Posted by on January 12, 2016 in apologetics


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