"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 19





Chapter 19: The Struggle for Canaan (1) The Basics




Chapter 19 Contents




19.1 Introduction: The Complexities of the Accounts


Of all the questions I have been asked about God, the one that comes up most is why did God instruct Israel to wipe out the inhabitants of Canaan? As we will go on to see, that perception is inaccurate. Understanding all that went on is complex as we'll shortly see. Nevertheless, dealing with the Canaanites, one way or another, was clearly on God's agenda and constitutes a judgement that we need to consider here.


The judgment of Canaan is particularly complex for the following reasons:

  •   Origins: It's origins are in God's knowledge of where the land was going, as seen in Part 19.2 below, revealed over 400 years before it actually happened,


  •   Sources: The things pertaining to this judgment appear in all five books of the Pentateuch, and in Joshua following. We will also note how the references first mostly inform and then briefly  


  •   The passing of time: As we said above, the fact is there is a forty year period between many of the references to entering and later references. The gap is caused by Israel 's refusal to enter the Land at the first attempt and a generation dying off in the wilderness, before the final entry, which we're going to see again in Part 19.4 below


  •   Prior to Entry: There was the period recorded in Deut 1-4 prior to the entry which reveals much of God's strategy, which we'll see in Part 19.5 below


  •   Drive versus Destroy: Contrary to much public belief, God's purposes in respect of dealing with the Canaanites was to drive them out of the land rather than destroy them as we shall see in Part 19.6


  •   How to Drive: Clearly part of the driving force was that of Israel's army but the details given indicate that the Lord will seek to use fear to scare them out which we'll see in Part 20:1 in the next chapter.


  •   Reasons for the Expulsion: Understanding the reasons for Israel going in is complex because it involves the judgment on the Land and creating a future home for a holy nation,. which we'll see in the next chapter in Part 20.2


  •   A Slow Expulsion: Then there is the revelation that the taking the Land will be a slow and gradual process and we'll see the reasons for that in Part 20.3


  •   Predetermined Outcome: Then we will consider the realities of the outcome, was it predetermined? How do the hard hearts of the Canaanites come in to this? These we'll see in Part 20.4


  •   Alternative Outcome: After this we will consider in Part 20.5, was there an alternative to fleeing or fighting?


  •   Incomplete Expulsion: But we also need to see that why neither driving or destruction were completed, and this we'll do in Part 20.6
  •   Miraculous Dimensions: How was God involved in what went on in the taking of the Land? We will see this in Part 20.7



19.2 Origins & Background


Proposition: Our first reference point for this judgment comes over four hundred years before it happened, in the context of the Land being promised to Abram (later renamed Abraham).


It Begins with Abram

Our launching point should be with Abram's family:


Gen 12:1 “The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.”

  •  Although the patriarch, Terah, seems to have led the family to leave their home in the area of Mesopotamia (Gen 11:31), we find that the motivator to do it probably came from his son, Abram – see above.
  •  So Abram and his family end up in the land of Canaan .
  •  Later on in his story this promise of the Land is clarified:


Gen 13:14,15 “The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, "Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.”

  • Hence we refer to it as ‘the Promised Land'. (Hereafter we will refer to ‘the Land' with a capital letter, meaning this specific land).
  • God promised Abram that this would be his land and the land of his descendants.
  • Later the Lord reiterates this in Gen 15:7
  • It is as they act out a covenant procedure that we then find:


Gen 15:16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.

•  So we have a prophecy that Abram's family will leave this land (implied) but will return here in some four hundred years time.



19.3 The Source Books for References to the Judgment


Proposition: References to taking the Land are spread over the books of the Pentateuch which make understanding it more difficult.



•  The Land is given to Abram and his descendants

•  Initial prophetic warning about the judgment – see above


•  Recorded some 400 years on

•  Moses was told by God the end result of the Exodus: I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey--the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” (Ex 3:8)

•  This was reiterated in 3:17, 6:4,8, 12:25, 13:5,11, (16:35), (20:12). Note all these are simply declarations of general intent with such common language as “the land the Lord will give you.”

•  Only after the giving of the Law at Sinai and Israel being constituted as a nation does the language change to talk about how the land will be taken.

•  The first such reference is, “My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.” (Ex 23:23) Note the transition from “bring you” to “wipe them out” – the only such reference in Exodus which, in the light of the following directions may be taken to mean “wipe them out” as in “clean them out of the land,” or “wash the land clean”.

•  The language then changes to speak of the Lord DRIVING the inhabitants out of the land, seen in Ex 23:28, 23:29,30, 33:2, 34:11,24, i.e. six times


•  Again probably written during the stay at Mount Sinai

•  Only two references to the Lord DRIVING out the inhabitants. No other references


•  Probably recorded just before entering the land, i.e. at the end of the 40 year waiting period

•  Only two references to the Lord DRIVING out the inhabitants. No other references.


•  A record of Moses' speeches to Israel just before they actually enter the Land.

•  These are mostly, therefore, NOT God's direct words but Moses' recollection of God's instructions.

•  There are 12 references to drive, drives, driven

•  There are 3 references to ‘destroy' but in each case the context suggests that this simply means overcome and does not necessarily mean completely eradicate. However there is also 1 ‘annihilate' and 2 ‘wipe out' references in Deuteronomy.


For more comprehensive details please see the Appendix at the end of this chapter



19.4 Summarising the Order of Events


Proposition: To fully understand these events, it is important to observe the stages of what took place.


The Patriarchs

  •  God took Abram and his family to this land where he lived alongside the other people groups there.  
  •  Isaac was born there, as was Jacob and although Jacob left there, fleeing from Esau's wrath, he did finally come back and settle there, only to leave with the rest of his family and settle for his final years in Egypt when a famine struck, forcing them to go to Egypt for food provided by Joseph.

Build up to the Exodus

  •  There they stayed until some four hundred years had passed and Israel developed into probably well over a million people who were forced into slavery by the Egyptians.
  •  In the mean time the state of Canaan was getting progressively worse.
  •  In fact it would seem that God waited for that people grouping to get so bad that His judgment was essential, and Israel to get so desperate that they would do anything to escape from Egypt and become His instruments to deal with both the idolatry of Egypt and that of Canaan .

Delayed Entry

  •  The entry into Canaan had been postponed for forty years when Israel refused to enter the Land initially in a crisis of confidence when the twelve spies returned with their reports of the potential opposition they found there.
  •  It is possible that this refusal to enter the first time, and the judgement of waiting for 40 years, detracted from the reputation of Israel as a force for God.
  •  This may be a very significant factor in all that follows, possibly showing the Lord that they still have a sinful disposition that leans towards failure.
  •  Now the forty years have passed and the previous generation (all those over the age of twenty except Caleb and Joshua) had died off.

Start of the move to Enter

  •  The next generation are now ready to enter the Land and so before we see them doing that we see that Moses spoke to them on the Plains of Moab, to the east of the Dead Sea, before his departure and death.
  •  This is seen in Numbers (33:50) and Deuteronomy (1:1,5)
  •   In the first 4 chapters of that latter book, he recounts how they have come from the south, revealing lessons for understanding God's strategy, which we will now consider in the next Part.



19.5 Before Entering the Land - The Lessons of Deuteronomy 1-4


Proposition: The record (found in Deut 1-4) of the advance from the south east, up the east side of the Dead Sea until level with Jericho on the other side of the Jordon, reveals much about the Lord's strategy.


Deut 1:7,8 “Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighbouring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon , as far as the great river, the Euphrates . See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers--to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--and to their descendants after them."


  •  It is time to bring about that which God has promised and the instruction is quite clear – “Go in and take possession of the land.”
  •  Nothing is said for the moment about how but as we follow through Deuteronomy that becomes clear.
  •  Deuteronomy is not only a source of teaching and instruction but the early chapters are also a useful historical summary of what happened before entering the Land itself.


Chapter 1:

  •  Reminder of their past failure to enter the land and the judgment that fell on them for that whole generation to die in the wilderness over forty years.
  •  That time has passed and it is time for the next generation to move in.

Chapter 2:

  •  Reminders of the early stages of their progress towards the Land, how the Lord had warned them not to provoke the descendants of Esau who live in Seir (2 :4-6) nor the Moabites (2:9), nor the Ammonites (2:19)
  •  They were not like subsequent conquering hordes who cleared all before them. They were to pass these nation by peaceably. This was a very controlled progress.
  •  However, when they crossed the River Arnon (2:24 – this flows from east to west into the east side of the Dead Sea ) they were entering the territory of Sihon the Amorite, the hostile king of Heshbon, and were warned they would have to fight him (2:24).
  •  Yet Moses sought to pass through peacefully (2:26-29) but Sihon refused (2:30) and led his army against Israel (2:32) and were destroyed by Israel . The first sign of intransigence of a pagan king.

Chapter 3:

  •  Opposition to be overcome
  •  When they approach Bashan , the Amorite king, Og, also came to fight them (3:1) and was completely destroyed.
  •  These things, Moses said to Joshua, were meant to encourage him as he took the people in: “At that time I commanded Joshua: "You have seen with your own eyes all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. The LORD will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you." (3:21,22)

Chapter 4:

  • It seems he uses the first three chapters to encourage Israel by what has already happened to

a) go in and take the land and

b) be obedient to all the Lord's commands in their future,

  •  e.g., (1) “Hear now, O Israel , the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” (4:1) and then
  •  (2) “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.” (4:2)

Passing through the land to the east of the Dead Sea is instructive.

  • First, it tells us that they were under clear directions from the Lord, and then
  • second, that their advance did not automatically mean destruction for that only came when they were attacked by the Amorite kings.

In all that takes place, there is one primary lesson to be remembered, and it comes as Moses speaks to them about what the Lord has done in history: “You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.” (Deut 4:35)

  •  This nation are not just doing their own thing,
  •  they are acting as the instrument of justice in the hands of the Lord, and
  •  the end outcome should be that they will be a testimony to Him.

i.e. they are not just fight who they feel like. Fighting and death is second best.



19.6 God's Instructions : Drive out or Destroy?


Proposition: The popular idea that God instructed Israel to completely destroy the Canaanites is largely untrue, with His intent being to drive them out rather than destroy them.


The Overall Intent

There are two primary goals, we noted previously, in what follows:

  • To deal with the Canaanites in the Land – to remove their pagan practices
  • To get Israel into the Land for it to become their new home – and theirs as a unique people of God, revealing Him to the rest of the world.


To Drive Out or to Destroy

The focus of critics tends to be on how God intended Israel to bring about these two goals and, contrary to most people's understanding, there are in fact TWO sets of references given. We will save time and space by referring you to the Appendix to this chapter and the conclusions found there. To summarise, with:

31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT   

and 4 references to them being DESTROYED and 4 to them being WIPED OUT

                  the overwhelming evidence shows the divine intent was for the inhabitants to be removed from the Land, which could have been bloodless and it was only their intransigence that meant that battles occurred with people being killed. (We will look later at why the ‘destroy' references' and the reality of them)


Command or Statement of Intent

Perhaps the most bizarre thing about this judgment, certainly in the light of so much commonly mistaken public perception, is that despite all these references to driving out the Canaanites, there are hardly any commands or instructions for Israel to either drive them out or destroy them'


If you look in the details of the Appendix to this chapter you will see that

  •  every reference in Exodus and Leviticus is a ‘statement of intent' by the Lord – and these are all before the 40 year waiting period. There are NO commands.
  •  In Numbers there is 1 instruction to drive them out and 1 warning of what will happen if they don't – that is the full extent of references in Numbers to taking the Land – and this is given immediately before they go in (and after the 40 years waiting period)
  •  It is only in Deuteronomy that we find a complex mix –


Deut 9:3 But be assured today that the LORD your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the LORD has promised you.


  • It is impossible to separate the Lord's activity from Israel 's activity
  • Strangely there is not so much a command here as a statement of what will happen, a fulfillment of the Lord's promise to them.


God to do the Main Driving Out

To ensure clarity, understand the references come again and again emphasising the Lord driving out the nations before Israel: Ex 23:28, 23:29, 23:30, 33:2, 34:11, 34: 24, Lev 18:24, 20:23, Deut 7:22, 9:4,5, 11:23, 18:12, Josh 3:10.


  •   i.e. at least fourteen times in these early verses the Lord says that He will drive out the occupants of the land.
  •   All told, as we noted above, there are thirty one references using the words ‘drive', ‘drives' or ‘driven' in respect of what is to happen to the occupants of Canaan in the books of Exodus through to Joshua.
  •   Death was not the key issue. If they had responded they would simply have left the land – and lived!
  •   Death follows only because they refuse to go and are therefore a stumbling block to the Lord's plan to reveal Himself to the world through this holy nation in this land .
  •   Although the vast majority of the references are to the Lord driving out the inhabitants – and we will lock at this more fully in the next chapter – we may suggest that in reality the Lord was to use Israel to drive out the inhabitants.



19.7 Recap


Because the whole issue of this judgment is so complex, as we saw in 19.1 we have sought to take apart the whole story of the judgment of Canaan, which is referred to in all five books of the Pentateuch as well as in Joshua, and consider it in subject parts.


Thus we have so far considered

  • The Origins and Background to this judgment
  • How each of the books mentioned above refer to the judgment
  • What actually took place
  • How Israel 's activity, immediately before entering the Land, contributed to it
  • Whether Gods Instructions were to Drive Out or Destroy or both


In the chapter 20 that follows we will consider

  •   How God said He would drive them out
  •   His Reasons for wanting them out
  •   Taking Possession Gradually
  •   The Hardening of the Canaanites
  •   An Alternative Option
  •   The Incomplete Expulsion
  •   The Miraculous Dimensions of the Taking of the Land
  •   Some Conclusions



Appendix: ‘The Language of Removal' in the accounts


a) drive, driven & drives in the Pentateuch


Ex 23:28 you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out

Ex 23:29 But I will not drive them out in a single year,

Ex 23:30 Little by little I will drive them out before you,

Ex 23:31 in the land and you will drive them out before you. (?Command or notification)

Ex 33:2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the

Ex 34:11 Obey what I command you today. I will drive out

Ex 34:24 I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your

7 in Exodus (i.e. Spoken by the Lord before the 40 year waiting time)


Lev 18:24 nations that I am going to drive out before you

Lev 20:23 the nations I am going to drive out before you.

2 in Leviticus (i.e. Spoken by the Lord, probably before the 40 years waiting period)


Nu 33:52 drive out all the inhabitants of the land before (Command)

Nu 33:55 `But if you do not drive out the inhabitants (Warning)

2 in Numbers (i.e. Spoken by the Lord just before entering the Land)


Dt 4:38 to drive out before you nations greater and stronger

Dt 7:17 How can we drive them out?"

Dt 7:22 The LORD your God will drive out those nations

Dt 9:3 And you will drive them out and annihilate them

Dt 9:4 that the LORD is going to drive them out before you.

Dt 9:5 the LORD your God will drive them out before you,

Dt 11:23 then the LORD will drive out all these nations

Dt 18:12 the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.

8 in Deuteronomy (i.e. Spoken by Moses just before entering the Land)



Dt 9:4 After the LORD your God has driven them out before

Dt 12:29 But when you have driven them out and settled in their land,

Dt 19:1 and when you have driven them out and settled in

3 in Deuteronomy (see above)


Dt 7:1 and drives out before you

1 in Deuteronomy (see above)


In addition (see below) there were 8 in Joshua

i.e. 31 in all referring to them being driven out


b) Destroy, annihilate and wipe out in the Pentateuch


Dt 7:24 No one will be able to stand up against you; you will destroy them.

Dt 9:3 He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the LORD has promised you.

Deut 31:3 He will destroy these nations before you,

3 in Deuteronomy


Note there are NO references to ‘destroying' the Canaanites in Ex, Lev & Num and only 3 in Deut, but note also -


Ex 23:23 I will wipe them out .

Deut 7:24 you will wipe out their names from under heaven.

Deut 12:3 you will wipe out their names from under heaven.


Deut 9:3 you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly


Note also 1 ‘destroy' and 1 ‘wipe out' in Joshua

making a total of 9 all together referring to their destruction


c) Additionally in Joshua showing the understanding of what was happening


Jos 3:10 that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, (Joshua)

Jos 13:6 I myself will drive them out before the Israelites. (the Lord)

Jos 13:13 But the Israelites did not drive out the people of (the Lord)

Jos 14:12 I will drive them out just as he said." (Caleb)

Jos 17:13 forced labor but did not drive them out completely. (daughters)

Jos 17:18 you can drive them out." (Joshua)

Jos 23:5 The LORD your God himself will drive them out (Joshua)

Jos 23:13 your God will no longer drive out these nations before you (Joshua)

8 in Joshua (i.e. Spoken by variety during the process of taking the land)


Josh 11:19,20 “Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon , not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses.”

1 in Joshua, by the recorder


Josh 9:24 Your servants were clearly told how the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you

1 in Joshua spoken by the Gibeonites showing their understanding




We may also find value in considering the following aspects of these references



•  In Exodus and Leviticus all the references are about the Lord DRIVING out the inhabitants, with the exception of the very first declaration of wiping them out.

•  These are all prior to Israel 's refusal to enter the Land initially and are statements of intent by the Lord

•  Thus in those books there are NO commands for Israel to oust the inhabitants.



•  In Exodus and Leviticus all the references are the Lord speaking out His intentions

•  In Numbers there is a command and a warning given by the Lord to drive them out     

•  In Deuteronomy most of the words come by the mouth of Moses

•  We include Joshua above simply to indicate the understanding of the various speakers.



•  Most surprisingly in Exodus there are seven ‘statements of intent' for the Lord to drive out the occupants (& 2 in Leviticus) and just 1 reference to Him wiping them out. There are NO commands to Israel to do it.

•  In Numbers there is one command to drive them out, and one warning against failure.

•  In Deuteronomy there is one question mark over their ability to drive out the enemy (7:17), but then 8 references to the Lord driving them out, and 2 references to Israel having driven them out. None of these are commands.

•  In Deuteronomy there are also 2 references to the Lord destroying them (9:3 & 31:3) and 2 references to Israel destroying them (7:24 & 12:3) and 2 references to Israel wiping them out (7:24 & 12:3) and 1 reference to them annihilating them (9:3) None of these are commands but simply assumptions of what IS going to happen.


  • With 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT against 9 references to them being DESTROYED or WIPED OUT or ANNIHILATED, the overwhelming evidence shows the initial divine intent was for the inhabitants to be removed from the Land which could have been bloodless.
  • It was only their intransigence that meant that battles occurred with people being killed,
  • which the Lord knew about before hand
  • and in war involved the complete destruction of one side or another


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