the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Gray's Concise Bible Commentary Gray's Concise Commentary
by James Martin Gray
JOSHUA THE DESTRUCTION OF THE CANAANITES
At the close of the Pentateuch we left the Israelites at Moab, where, after the death of Moses and the investiture of Joshua as his successor, the people were to cross the Jordan and take possession of Canaan.
But before entering upon the study of Joshua, a few words should be said as to the justification of such a course.
Among men it is not a wrongful thing on the part of a landlord to eject a tenant who has not only failed to pay his rent, being able to do so, but also injured the property for which the rent was due.
This was the situation with the Canaanites, magnified a thousand-fold, in their rebellion and opposition to the true God.
Therefore, the justice and holiness of God, without which the respect of His creatures could not be commanded, made necessary just such a judgment as that which befell this people, and will befall every other people who equally defy Him. His sovereignty requires it, and the well-being of His creatures who serve and trust Him require it.
The accursing of Canaan can be connected with “The Law of the Ban” (Leviticus 27:28-29 ), to which attention was called when we were studying Leviticus.
It is imperative to remember that we have before us a true theocracy, not a government by man but of God. It is obvious that if fallible men may be granted power to condemn men to death for the sake of the public good, much more must this right be conceded to the righteous and infallible King of kings, who was the political head of the Israelite nation. Further, if this right of God be admitted, it is plain that He may delegate its execution to human agents.
The only question now remaining concerns the justice of the exercise of this right in particular cases. It is possible that men might sometimes apply this law without divine authority, a situation we are not required to defend any more than the infliction of capital punishment in America sometimes by lynch law. As to its execution in the case of the Canaanites, however, it is not so difficult to find justification. Indeed, when the facts are known, this destruction cannot be regarded as irreconcilable with the moral perfections attributed to the Supreme Being.
The discoveries of recent years have let in light upon the state of society in Canaan at this date, and warrant us in saying that in the history of our race it would be hard to point to any civilized community which has sunken to such a depth of moral pollution. Leviticus gives many dark hints of these things, such as the worship of Molech, the cult of Ashtoreth, the moral sacrifice required of every female, and other things into which one cannot go. Indeed, if the holy and righteous God had not commanded these depraved communities to be extirpated His omission to do so would have been harder to reconcile with His character.
It must be noted that these corrupt communities were in no obscure corner of the world, but no one of its chief highways. The Phoenicians more than any people of that time were the navigators and travelers of the age, so that from Canaan this moral pestilence was carried hither and thither and, worse than the “black death,” to the very extremities of the known world. Have we then so good reason to call in question the righteousness of the law which ordains that no person thus accursed should be ransomed, but be put to death? Rather are we inclined to see here not only a vindication of the righteousness of God but a manifestation of His mercy, not merely to Israel, but to the whole human race of that age who, because of this infection of moral evil, had otherwise sunk to such depravity as to have required a second deluge for the cleansing of the world. Read Psalms 62:12 ; Psalms 136:17-22 where God’s mercy is shown in His judgment upon the wicked and their iniquity.
Nor can we leave this matter without noting the solemn suggestion it contains, that there may be in the universe persons who, despite the redemption of grace, are irredeemable and hopelessly obdurate. Persons for whom nothing remains but the “eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41 ). This, because God’s mercy endureth forever.
1. What is the nature of the book of Joshua?
2. What made necessary this judgment on the Canaanites?
3. What is a theocracy?
4. What do we know of society in Canaan?
5. What geographical relation did Canaan bear to the world?
6. Have you read the quotations from the Psalms?
7. What bearing has this lesson on future retribution?