The God I Don’t Understand 7: Canaan

Chris Wright honestly admits that he has no ready-made solution for how to understand the ‘emotional and moral pain and revulsion’ raised by conquest of Canaan. He does however offer three frameworks that he has found helpful. I’m just going to talk about the first in this post.

  1. THE FRAMEWORK OF THE OLD TESTAMENT STORY

First the conquest needs to be understood within the context of warfare in the Ancient Near East (ANE)

Culturally, Israel’s practice of herem (ban) was not unique. This meant the total dedication of all that was attacked to Yahweh, who in effect was Israel’s military leader. No plunder was to be taken. Sometimes this meant women and children were spared or cattle captured, but with Canaan total destruction was the norm. The accounts of the ANE also have a certain element of victory rhetoric.

Wright also raises the important and controversial possibility of God accommodating his will to the fallen realities of a particular time and culture. Where practices not within the perfect will of a good God are accommodated nevertheless within certain circumstances and are ultimately superseded – like slavery or patriarchy. In this case, given the ultimate goal of bringing universal blessing through Israel, “the gift of land necessitated this horrific historical action within the fallen world of the nations at that time.”

How persuasive do you find this? It goes right to the heart of how we understand inspiration of Scripture as mediated through the historical context of the author’s time. This is a hot topic within evangelicalism. It’s noticeable that Chris Wright does not endorse or reject it.

Certainly there can be a strong argument made for how the overall thrust of the OT narrative is towards overcoming violence, climaxing in the coming of the Messiah riding a colt not a warhorse into Jerusalem, preaching a message of the kingdom that included loving enemies.

The second point Wright makes here is how the conquest needs to be seen within the wider OT narrative. It only forms a part of that story, what he calls a unique and limited event, rather than being seen as some sort of normative pattern for future behaviour.

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