18 Nov 2018

Driving Out the Canaanites

Religious 12 Comments

On a recent episode of the Tom Woods Show, Gene Epstein debated Elliot Resnick on the question of whether the state of Israel should give up any territory to the Palestinians. Resnick offered a Biblical defense of Israel’s right to the land, to which Gene said something like (I’m paraphrasing): “As libertarians, we can’t justify the ancient Israelites taking land from the Canaanites whose only crime was to be in the wrong place.”

(Incidentally, I am not trying to summarize the full positions of both men; click the link and listen to the debate if you are curious. They each said a whole lot more than the narrow exchange I’ve detailed above.)

This is a very complex subject–involving, among other things, the notion of Original Sin–but the following passage that we covered in my Bible study tonight is relevant. It’s from Deuteronomy 18:

9“When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering,e anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. 13You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, 14for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.

I added the bold to show that, in the eyes of the Lord, the nations being driven out of the Promised Land weren’t simply squatting. They were engaged in abominable practices, including sacrificing their newborns to the pagan god Molech.

(That foreign practice also sheds more light on the initially shocking episode when God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son–and then God stops him at the last moment.)

12 Responses to “Driving Out the Canaanites”

  1. E. Harding says:

    So you’re saying genocide because of religious preference is OK, Bob?

  2. Harold says:

    Does that change anything? As libertarians they should be allowed to listen to fortune tellers if they want. It would strike many a a bit beyond the pale if someone drove all Americans into Mexico because there are horoscopes in all the major newspapers.

    I am not too well up on the history, but is “squatting” the right term? That suggests they were occupying land that was not theirs. Or is that in the eyes of the Lord only, and in their own eyes they were simply living on their land?

  3. Rory says:

    How does this square with stuff like “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”? One seems to imply not rocking the boat of secular government, but the above is active intercedence in toppling governing bodies for religious purposes.

    By the way I forget if I’ve commented on your religious posts before, but for the record I know these issues can be touchy and come across as combative, but I ask sincerely.

    • Tel says:

      Many people comment that the tone of the book changes significantly from the Old Testament to the New Testament. You could be forgiven for thinking it was the work of multiple authors stuck together.

      Then again … Jesus was the original long haired radical peacenik … could be a few revolutionary ideas were going around.

      Some kind of a change we can believe in??

      • Rory says:

        I mean I get that the death of Jesus changed the covenant between God and his people, but it doesn’t seem immediately obvious to me how that would affect the outlook on whether or not it’s OK to subvert governments that do not comport themselves in a Judeo-Christian manner.

      • Charles Pham says:

        The god of the old testament was essentially a run of the mill tribal war god.

        Then ol’ hey-suse comes around talking peace and love. It’s no wonder he was crucified by the old-timers.

  4. Ts Blue says:

    A biblical defense of Zionism? Sheesh.

  5. Matjaž Horvat says:

    I think this is important, but I would say that an even more general issue was brought forward in that debate, namely, whether religious claims should even have any place in rational discourse at all. I distinctly remember Dr. Epstein pretty much implying that even if you were so much as appeal to the Bible in an argument of a public nature, that would amount to “fundamentalism”. Regardless of the question of what fundamentalism actually is (I think Roger Olsen comes closest to a viable definition here: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2017/08/what-is-fundamentalism/ ), I would say that Dr. Epstein was here simply begging the question in a major way, and basically regurgitating Enlightenment propaganda, without a real argument for it.

  6. LP says:

    So I think there’s several important things to consider here, assuming we take the Book as an accurate historical text. First is if we take the literal interpretation saying the Lord is driving them (the Canaanites) out, then there is the question: did the Israelites actually drive anyone out, given that the passage says someone else is doing it for them? Additionally, assuming there was a violent conflict, and assuming Bob is right that the Canaanites were engaging in human sacrifice and other atrocities, who is to say how and why the conflict started? Obviously, the Israelite account will paint them in a good light, but the lack of alternative account does not prove that the Israelites were in the wrong.

    Honestly, I don’t particularly see the relevance anyway, for a large number of reasons. First there’s Walter Block’s point that any kind of reparations are individual and must be provable. But even if we accept some notion of group rights, Josephus’s account says that Israel invited Rome in to settle an internal dispute. Unlike joining a confederation, this was a total surrender of sovereignty, so it’s little wonder that Rome later decided to destroy their nation.

  7. John Mann says:

    Bob Murphy is, in my opinion, absolutely correct.

    First, my presuppositions.

    1) I believe in property rights – that the owner has absolute rights to do what he or she wants with his or her own property.

    2) I agree with Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” (Or, in everyday English, “The world and all that is in it belong to the LORD; the earth and all who live on it are his. “)

    As such, God is the owner of the land of Canaan, and its inhabitants, and has the right to do what he wants with them.

    God uses human instruments to achieve his purposes on earth. He instructed the ancient Israelites to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan on one, and only one, specific occasion, for a specific reason – as Bob Murphy said.

    He had, according to Genesis 15:13-16, given Abraham advance knowledge of that a few hundred years earlier, and, on that occasion, had also given the reason, though expressed a little less specifically:

    Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

    (Incidentally, God would, a few hundred years later, use the Babylonians to bring judgement on the Israelites because of the sins of the Israelites – though in that case, he didn’t instruct the Babylonians to do it, or speak to them at all, but simply made them desire conquest. )

    But the point that Bob made is absolutely correct from a Christian point of view. The violent conquest of Canaan, with ethnic cleansing, that took place in Old Testament times was explicitly ordered by God for a reason. The violent conquest of Palestine and the accompanying ethnic cleansing were not ordered by God.

  8. Jeffrey S. says:

    John Mann,

    Ignoring the modern-day situation, much of what you say is true about Canaan with one really big problem. When God decides to use “human instruments” as you put it, He shouldn’t have those same humans commit basic sins that violate His moral law (for example, the laws of the Ten Commandments.) No matter how you slice it, there are passages in the Bible that suggest the Israelites committed terrible crimes against the Canaanites (e.g. they killed innocent children.) God doesn’t command people to do evil acts (in the same way that it is absurd to say that God could create a “square circle.”) My good friend Lydia deals with this topic in detail here:


    The comments are on that post are very revealing

  9. John Mann says:

    Jeffrey S.

    Thanks for that. Yes, the moral law, in the 6th commandment does say that it is wrong to murder. And yes, God doesn’t command people to do evil acts.

    The problem is defining what constitutes “murder”. Many people take the view that execution is a violation of the 6th commandment. And yet the book of Deuteronomy includes the 6th commandment, and also includes instructions for people to be executed for performing certain forbidden acts.

    Ergo, either God (or at least the author of Deuteronomy) contradicts himself – OR execution does not necessarily constitute murder.

    If it is the case that executing certain people does not constitute a violation of the 6th commandment, then there is no problem in theory with seeing, for example, the killing of children in the conquest of Canaan, as not a violation of the 6th commandment.

    Of course, the killing of children in warfare is, in most cases a violation of the 6th commandment, just as executing criminals for crimes other than those for which God commands them, would be a violation of the 6th commandment.

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