20: The Struggle for Canaan (2) The Complexities
How God will drive them out
God's Reasons for these Instructions
Taking Possession Gradually
The Hardening of the Canaanites
The Critical Nature of this Action
An Alternative Option
The Miraculous Dimensions of the Taking of the Land
the previous chapter 19 we considered
- The Origins and Background to this
- How each of the early books of the
Bible 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 this chapter we will go on to consider
God said He would drive them out
Reasons for wanting them out
it was only possible gradually
the hearts of the Canaanites were hardened to resist
alternative to fleeing or fighting
in reality it was an Incomplete Expulsion
miraculous dimensions of the taking of the Land
How God will drive them out
God's primary weapon to drive
out the Canaanites was to be fear
picture is very specific: He will attempt to use fear
to drive out the occupants.
will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every
nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs
and run. I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites,
Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. But I will not drive
them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate
and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will
drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to
take possession of the land.”
the Advance from the east prepared the way
“Set out now and cross the Arnon Gorge. See, I have given into your
hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his country. Begin to
take possession of it and engage him in battle. This very day I
will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations
under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be
in anguish because of you.”
first hear of this fear in action as Israel move up the east side
of the Dead Sea and the Lord speaks to them: Nevertheless Sihon fought
against them. As he speaks about what is coming, Moses reiterates
this to the people on the plains:
man will be able to stand against you. The LORD your God, as he promised
you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land,
wherever you go.”
Effects of that Advance
- It is clear that
fear arising from Israel 's reputation would proceed them. This is
seen in the book of Joshua:
“When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed
because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on
the earth below.”
The innkeeper/prostitute Rahab testifies
to the spies about their reputation.
Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite
kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before
the Israelites until we had crossed over, their hearts melted
and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.
- The news
spread across the area bringing fear with it.
“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. So we feared for our lives because
of you, and that is why we did this.”
The Gibeonites also explain it to Joshua.
In the event, the hold of the occult within
the people in the Land meant that many of them stayed there to be
confronted by Israel (which we'll consider in Part 20.4)
When you consider how Israel had dealt
with other nations before crossing into the Promised Land (and that
was clearly reported across the whole area), the decision to stay
and fight as little people groups against this large, experienced
fighting force, was almost irrational.
However, the reality clearly is that God's
intent was first and foremost that the people of the Land should flee
the land as Israel came in.
is the hornet?
are three references to God sending a ‘hornet' ahead of His people
will send the hornet ahead of you
Moreover, the LORD your God will send the hornet
I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them
suggest that the meaning of the Hebrew for this word is uncertain.
but commentators suggest the following possibilities:
hornet" may refer to the reports about Israel that spread panic
among the Canaanites (see above).
hornet may refer to the work of His Holy Spirit, speaking into the
minds of the Canaanites, stirring up their fear.
Because there was so much occult activity in the land, the ‘hornet'
may be Satan being used by God to create fear in people.
God's Reasons for these Instructions
As with any other judgment we
have to examine the reasoning behind the judgment: here, the sins
of the Canaanites.
Sins of the Canaanites
need to clearly understand just WHY God has planned for Israel to
take this land. It started back, as we saw above, in Abram's time:
the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the
sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.
The name Amorites appears to have been
used to cover all the inhabitants of the land.
As one dictionary says of the state of
Canaan 400 years later,
how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known
from archaeological artefacts and from their own epic literature,
discovered at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit ) on the north Syrian
coast beginning in 1929. Their "worship" was
polytheistic and included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious
prostitution and divination.”
They had seriously strayed from God's
design for human beings!
Although not stated, we can assume that
accompanying these things would also have been superstitious fear
in large measure, a far cry from God's desire to bless His world with
goodness, love and peace.
Leviticus it is put slightly differently. See first the list of things
the Lord spoke against that were part of the life of Canaan, things
contrary to His design for mankind:
“Do not give any of
your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane
the name of your God. I am the LORD.
Do not lie with a
man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
Do not have sexual
relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must
not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it;
that is a perversion.”
Included in those things were child
sacrifice, homosexual practice and bestiality .
Note the Lord uses such words as profane,
detestable, defile and perversion to describe these things.
Effects of those Sins
then describes the effects of these things:
Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways,
because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before
you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I
punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.
Defile' means to make filthy or dirty,
to pollute or make unclean, to spoil and to corrupt.
It is all about changing God's good creation
and making it less than it should be and that can apply to people
The words “in any of these ways” refers
to the things in verses 21-23 immediately above and are the things
that the inhabitants of Canaan are doing.
little later on in Leviticus in the midst of the teaching, we find
“Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where
I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. You must not live
according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before
you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them.”
The first reason for the Lord's actions
is clearly an act of judgment to remove and stop a culture that ran
entirely counter to God's design for humanity and which, if left,
These verses also provide as a link to
the second reason – to provide a home for a new holy nation, a nation
which would reveal Him to the rest of the world.
After instructing them what to do with
the land, the Lord, in Deuteronomy, declares through Moses, “For
you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has
chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his
people, his treasured possession.” (Deut 7:1-6)
they are always to keep it in perspective:
the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself,
"The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land
because of my righteousness." No,
it is on account
of the wickedness of these nations
that the LORD is going to drive them out before you.
It is not
because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going
in to take possession of their land;
but on account
of the wickedness of these nations , the LORD your God will drive
them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers,
to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then,
that it is not
because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving
you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
Note that twice the Lord chides
Israel for thinking that they have been chosen for their righteousness,
for they are clearly not (see all the previous judgments involving
That gives Him reason to twice
speak of the wickedness existing in the Land at the present time.
Yes, they will be a holy nation revealing
Him but the primary reason for this action is judgment on these people
who have strayed so far from God's design and who, if left, may spread
to other nations.
There is no alternative to stop the earth
being polluted. It is a surgical operation.
can see, from studying all that went on, that there were, in fact,
three possibilities for the inhabitants of Canaan – but the choice
They could leave the land and resettle
could change and become part of Israel (as did happen with one group)
they could stay and resist Israel and
suffer the consequences of war.
We repeat, the choice
Taking Possession Gradually
The reality of taking the Land
was that it would have to be done slowly, and four reasons are given.
is a conundrum in all of this. On one side we will see there is the
instruction to take the Land, and take it completely, while on the
other side we will see there is this warning that they will only take
the land gradually and four reasons are given why this is so:
seen the Lord's declaration that HE will drive out the occupants
of the land, we now need to see the other side of this coin, the instruction
to Israel to go in and take possession of it. Within all this
we will see that four reasons are given for a slow taking of the Land.
Theoretically we might suppose that the land would be empty because
the people had fled before the fear of the Lord but there are reasons
why that would be neither practical nor wise.
To build up power
will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become
desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little
I will drive them out before you, until you have
increased enough to take possession of the land.”
The first reason for a slow takeover is
very simply that they will not be strong enough to do it quickly,
or big enough to spread over all of it.
To keep down wild beasts
Moses makes this clear when he speaks
to the nation before they go to enter the land: “The
LORD your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little.
You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild
animals will multiply around you.” (Deut 7:22)
This is echoed in the Ex 23 verses immediately
above – ‘wild animals too numerous…'
History shows that wild animals multiplying
in lands not occupied can be a very real problem. If Israel cleared
the Land very rapidly, until they themselves multiplied in numbers,
this could become a very real difficulty.
& iv) To teach and to test
Two supplementary reasons are given in
Judges 2:20-3:4, that the Lord will leave some of the occupants to
continually teach Israel to fight and the test
them to see if they were continuing to obey Him.
These come when Israel are clearly not
getting on with the job! They are, nevertheless, reasons that the
Lord accepted a slower if not incomplete taking of the Land.
The Hardening of the Canaanites?
The Lord has hardened the hearts
of the Canaanites for destruction and we need to see how this works.
be as comprehensive as possible in our understanding of what went
on and why, we need to note a number of other elements of the whole
thing. The first of these is the Hardening of the Hearts of the Canaanites.
must not lose sight of the basics of this judgment:
of Judgment and Reasons for it
need to be set in the context of the things we have already seen at
- The occultic, pagan, superstitious
practices of Canaan
- The Lord's desire to clear the land
- His recognition that this could
not be done quickly
- His will revealed many times – that
He and Israel would work together to drive out the inhabitants,
a cleaning up process rather than an act of purposeful genocide.
It is not so much to wipe out a people as their culture of paganism.
- For that reason Israel are not
to make peace treaties with them,
feel good towards them and
intermarry with them, or
start to follow their pagan worship practices.
- The only way to prevent these four
things happening is to utterly destroy any remnant that has not
fled the land, otherwise they may become a snare for Israel
now we need to take note of what the recorder in Joshua tells us:
waged war against all these kings for a long time. 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.
are two sets of verses that almost act as ‘bookends' to these references
to this judgment. The ones above are the final ‘bookend' and the one
we saw in Exodus acted as the first ‘bookend':
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.
However, as we have sought to emphasise
again and again, the primary instructions and primary understanding
was that the Canaanites were to be driven out of the land and if they
had gone, they could have gone without a single life being lost.
That is what makes the verse above from
Exodus 24 strange because in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers it is the
only one that speaks of the destruction of the Canaanites.
It is almost as if the Lord gives away
what He knows will have to be the eventual outcome.
In earlier chapters we noted His feelings
about not wanting death (see Ezek 18) and the fact that the words
‘drive out' or ‘driven out' are used in respect of what is to happen
to the Canaanites some thirty times would suggest that this is what
God's preference would have been in respect of this land, yet He knew
that the reality was otherwise.
It is only when we come to these unique
verses in Joshua that we get greater understanding. Now we don't know
who the writer of Joshua was but these words are not attributed to
the Lord or to Joshua but are the words of the writer, his understanding
of what had happened. Assuming divine inspiration we must accept his
at the strength of these words: “ 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.”
We seem to have a mystery here.
On the one hand we have seen extensively
the Lord's intent to drive out the inhabitants, using fear, but now
we are told He hardened their hearts to stay.
The trouble is we have no further details
upon which to formulate our conclusions.
However we do have the story of Pharaoh,
back in Egypt prior to the Exodus to aid us.
There again and again we noted the Lord
hardened Pharaoh's heart but also that Pharaoh hardened his own already
hard heart. Let's consider Pharaoh.
Lesson of Pharaoh
Pharaoh, before God started dealing with
him, was an evil, idol worshipping, self-centred individual.
You can either talk gently to such a person
hoping to persuade them or openly confront them.
Unless the heart is open, such a person
will disregard the former course and will simply rise up in anger
against the second.
God knew that Pharaoh's heart was not
open and therefore whatever God said, it would not result in Pharaoh
coming into God's kingdom, therefore the Lord used direct confrontational
methods which showed up Pharaoh's foolishness as every plague came.
Hardening here is, therefore, the response
of Pharaoh's already set heart, into an even more obstinate position
where he refuses to back down before God. The choice was always his.
to the Canaanites
Now the same was exactly true of the Canaanites
but an element that comes through more strongly in this story than
in that of Pharaoh, was that the occult played a big part.
When anyone has dealings with the occult,
we observe a particular hardness against the things of the Gospel,
things to do with the will of God.
There is a resistance to the truths of
God because there is a Satanic or demonic background always to the
Therefore, from the outset, there was
a resistance in these people to the ‘fear-pressure' the Lord put on
them, pressure which, in any other circumstances, we would expect
to have caused them to leave.
Thus, although the Lord wants them to
leave (hence all the talk about driving them out) He knows that they
are locked in to their occult worship and nothing is going to move
So, as much as the Lord gives instructions
to drive them out and says that is what He intends to do, He will
not override their free will and will not force them to go.
The Critical Nature of this action
The removal of the Canaanites
was vital for the whole future of God's plan for salvation for the
Now we might also make a comment about Moses' heart in Deuteronomy.
That book comprises his final talks to
Israel before he is going to die.
He knows his time is short but, as a shepherd,
his heart anguishes for this flock of people he is going to leave
He knows what a good future is planned
for Israel – obedience to God followed by His blessing – but he also
knows the dangers before Israel – of being seduced into occult worship
by the Canaanites.
He has already seen some of the men seduced
by the Moabite women (see Num 25) and knew that this was the greatest
threat to the future of Israel .
It was not being overcome by an enemy
in battle but by giving way to other people's religions and becoming
like them that was their greatest threat.
For this reason Moses knew that their
only hope was to inherit a land that was utterly cleansed of its peoples
If the people sought to stay they would
eventually act as yeast and permeate and undermine the life of Israel
whether they were men, women or children. They must go – or die.
The end result must be a cleansed land.
It doesn't have to mean the death of the people there, but because
of their hardness of heart, their ways set in the occult, then it
almost certainly will.
For these reasons we find those otherwise
apparently hard words exterminating
them without mercy.
The future of Israel, the possibility
of the Gospel, and indeed the very future of the world hinges on this,
as difficult as it may seem.
It is all about the question, will Israel
be able to be a holy nation that reveals God and His goodness to the
world, and will they remain in existence as that people into
which the Son of God may eventually come?
are the issues that hang in the balance here. Seeing it only in the
short-term means we fail to see the terrible significance of what
was going on here. No doubt there were similar thoughts in the minds
of the Allies' men who made the decision to bomb Dresden in the Second
World War, or of Hitler's men who decided to bomb Coventry , or those
who had to decide to drop the first atom bombs on Japan , ostensibly
to end the second World War. Long-term decisions look terrible in
the immediate. It is only when we look back on history in this Fallen
World that we realise the awful decisions that had to be made. The
more we learn, the slower we should be to criticise.
An Alternative Option
There was an alternative to
fleeing or fighting.
observe two different responses to the advancing army. First:
when all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things…..
they came together to make war against Joshua and Israel .”
when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and
Ai, they resorted to a ruse.”
These people pretended to be travellers
from afar and were thus accepted by Israel (Josh 9:4-15).
We have already seen their explanation
to Joshua in Part 20.1 above. See Josh 9:24,25
Now that story does not end there because
other nearby kings banded together against the Gibeonites who then
called on Israel to defend them (see Josh 10:1-6).
Joshua thus took his army and did defend
them (v.7), with the Lord's encouragement (v.8):
What we then see is a combined action
against these kings by Israel greatly supported by the Lord (v.9-11)
In other words the Lord now defends Israel
AND the Gibeonites as part of Israel. i.e. The Lord accepted Israel
's acceptance of them and even fought on Israel 's side to defend
have said many times previously that the main objective was to oust
the Canaanites from the land but failing that, it is clear from the
examples of Rahab and the Gibeonites, one alternative was to go over
to Israel and be saved.
Israel failed to completely evict
truth is that although the land was essentially under their control
there were still pockets of survivors who held on and had not been
taken (see Josh 13:1). Nevertheless the land was theirs!
So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers,
and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them
rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not
one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies
over to them. Not one of all the LORD's good promises to the house
of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.”
Remember, however, the taking of the Land
was a process that would take time – see Part 20.3 above.
Now we find that some way into it, Israel
had not pressed in.
In chapter 1 of Judges in the first 26
verses, with one exception Israel defeated the Canaanites.
However from verse 27 we find a long list
of times where they had not ousted small pockets of the Canaanites
This resulted in the Lord's censure:
angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, "I brought
you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give
to your forefathers. I said, `I will never break my covenant with
you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land,
but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me.
Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive
them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods
will be a snare to you."
Their failure would mean that there would
be ongoing struggles with the remaining Canaanites and the presence
of their idols would be a temptation to Israel .
The Lord would also use them to test Israel
in the years to come:
the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, "Because this nation
has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and
has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any
of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel
and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it
as their forefathers did." The LORD had allowed those nations
to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the
hands of Joshua
we find that although God's wishes had been for
the Canaanites to be driven out of the Land in judgment and
Israel should settle there peaceably as a holy nation revealing
Him to the world,
the reality was that because of Israel
's inability to persevere, this never fully happened. However, as
we have seen, the Lord would use the remaining Canaanites to test
and reveal Israel and show us what they were really like.
The Miraculous Dimensions of the Taking of the Land
The taking of the Land by Israel
involved the miraculous intervention of the Lord.
the whole picture
In examining the taking of Canaan we would
be remiss if we did not take note of the fact that the Lord gave approval
to what Israel were doing by a number of miraculous happenings.
There are those who might say that Israel
were just a bunch of escapees from Egypt who forced themselves on
the people of Canaan and destroyed them for their own purposes.
Such scepticism flies in the face of the
Biblical accounts, first of the miraculous deliverance from Egypt,
then the miraculous provisions in the desert and now the miraculous
provisions of entering the Promised Land.
We note the following actions by the Lord
as Israel entered the Land and then progressed through it.
Crossing the River Jordan
the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the
priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched
the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. …. The
priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm
on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan , while all Israel passed
by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground
The first miracle was this very entry
to the land by crossing the river Jordan at flood time – in the dry!
I have heard people say these things were coincidences.
Well here are the ‘coincidences', first,
that Joshua was told about before it happened, second, that the moment
the first men stepped into the river carrying the Ark of the Covenant
the river stopped flowing and the water upstream piled up and remained
piled up until Israel had all crossed over, and third, then it flowed
These miracles are important because they
deny the accusation that they were just doing their own thing. No,
they were performing the will of God to bring judgment on this pagan
people and He confirmed His approval by supporting them with these
The Commander of the Army of the Lord
The second ‘miracle' was the appearance
of an angelic being (or a theophany) to Joshua, the “commander
of the army of the Lord” to reassure him (Josh 5:13-15)
The Taking of Jericho
The third ‘miracle' was the taking of Jericho , clearly directed
by the Lord (See Josh 6:2-5)
The Defeat at Ai
The fourth miracle was Israel 's defeat at Ai and the revelation that
Achan had taken some of the forbidden plunder (see Josh 7).
The stoning of Achan was an execution for direct disobedience which
put Israel at risk.
Defence of Israel by Hailstones
Massive hailstones that fell on the enemy who had sought to come against
Gibeon and Israel (Josh 10:11)
created by the slow taking of the Land
The first part of the book of Joshua is given over to first of all
describing how Joshua worked his way through the land with his army
completely clearing it of people until eventually it was all under
their control (Josh 11:23).
Remember, if you read those chapters, that even as Joshua's army advanced,
there was plenty of time for those ahead of him to pack up and leave
the land and escape but instead, quite to the contrary, we see examples
of kings banding together to fight, knowing that if they lost it would
mean the entire end of their people.
(Be aware that in those days – as in a measure today – when
wars were fought it meant everyone in a nation was involved and so
women and children died as well as the fighting men).
to sum up the many facets of this ‘judgment', let's note the following:
It WAS as judgment of the Lord because of the gross sin of the Canaanites.
The judgment required the expulsion of the Canaanites from the Land
and, in the event of their refusal to go, would end up being their
destruction in battle by a victorious Israel .
That expulsion would be a combination of the work of Israel (fighting
and creating fear) and of God (stirring on that fear and providing
Their hardness of heart caused by sin and by occult activities, meant
that the Canaanites would resist Israel with the above consequences.
The process of emptying the Land would take time and in the event
Israel failed to completely oust every Canaanite.
The Lord accepted the situation as a means of ongoing chastising and
testing of Israel.
The failure to fully expedite the main judgment meant that the remnants
of it would become a means of ongoing judgment (discipline) of Israel
a purely practical point of view, there are some sobering lessons
here. Put most simply perhaps, failure to deal with sin in the life
of the Christian, may mean that it becomes an ongoing means of discipline
from the Lord. That needs some serious thought.
an apologetics point of view we may wonder why the Lord went to such
trouble to involve Israel in the expulsion of the Canaanites. Why
didn't He, for instance, simply send a plague to completely wipe out
the Canaanites? From all that we've considered in these two chapters,
we may suggest the following:
In the approach we have considered in detail in these two chapters,
the approach meant that He was allowing for the Canaanites to repent
and either leave the Land or join Israel and become part of the people
The fact of their hardness of heart simply shows the watching world
the folly of pride and maybe even the folly of superstitious occult
activity, and these should come as warnings.
In the event, knowing how the Canaanites would react, the Lord used
them to stiffen the resolve and fighting experience of Israel as part
of their maturing process.
The thing about the plague option is that, once started, it might
have spread across the world and killed others – possibly also killing
Israel. Death, we have seen again and again, is God's ‘fallback option'
when all other approaches do not work.
necessary evil to overcome a greater evil
these, and the many other reasons seen in these two chapters, the
taking of Canaan by Israel was a necessary evil – to counter a greater
evil. Instead, we might suggest, of revealing a vindictive God, all
that we have seen reveals a God who seeks to take the most gentle
and restrained approach with His people and with His world. Failure
to understand this indicates a failure to take in the many facets
of this judgment that we have sought to cover in these two chapters.
to top of page