The Thirteen in a Series of Sermons on Joshua
From Christopher Hitchens to Richard Dawkins, any atheist worth their salt will appeal to God’s command to Israel to slaughter the Canaanites as the prime example of why they cannot believe that God exists. If God was truly good, they reason, he would never command such a horrible thing. But as we have seen during our study of the Book of Joshua, this is a false dilemma. Throughout the account of what is known as the Conquest–when Israel enters the promised land and defeats the Canaanite tribes living there–it has been clear that the inhabitants of Canaan knew full well that YHWH is the true and living God. They knew full well that the land of Canaan was YHWH’s to give to his people Israel, with whom he had made covenant. Repeatedly, we have seen how the Canaanites continued to reject YHWH and his promise to save all those who call upon his name. Instead, they chose to worship and serve false gods tied to the worship of the earth and its creatures. The Canaanites were given ample time to repent. Some did and were sparred and even became partakers of Israel’s covenant with YHWH. And so when Joshua leads Israel to victory over the Canaanite tribes, wiping them out to the last man, God is warning the whole earth–including people like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins–that his judgment is soon to come upon the whole earth.
As we continue our series on the Book of Joshua, we move into Joshua chapters 9-11, in which Joshua describes the changing military situation in Canaan. The increased resolve on the part of the Canaanites to oppose Israel is the consequence of Achan’s sin and Israel’s defeat at Ai. When tiny little Ai routed Joshua’s men, a number of Canaan tribes who had previously feared YHWH and his covenant people were watching. Five Canaanite tribes now decide to band together in opposition to Israel’s conquest of Canaan. The citizens of Shechem were simply absorbed into Israel–likely because of their ancient ties to Abraham and Jacob. The citizens of Gibeon were so afraid of YHWH and Israel’s army that went so far as to deceive Joshua and the leaders of Israel so that Israel would make a covenant with them. But in Joshua chapter 10 we read of five defiant Canaanite kings (called “Amorites”) who band together to attack Gibeon, because the Gibeonites made a treaty with Israel. The Gibeonite defection from their alliance with the other Canaanites tribes–who will not bow the knee to YHWH–cannot be tolerated.
The opening two verses of chapter 9 describe the changing military situation in Canaan in these terms. “As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.” As we saw last time, this alliance was the bitter fruit of Achan’s sin and God’s covenant curse upon Israel. The rest of Joshua 9:3-27 describes how the Gibeonites–one of Israel’s neighboring tribes–realized that their people (the Hivites) were about to be wiped out. Having heard of Israel’s decisive victories over the Amorite kings Sihon and Og, the Gibeonites lie about being Israel’s neighbors. They pretend to come from a distant land and then make a treaty with Joshua.
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