Read This Week’s Passage: Deuteronomy 7:1–11
God Plays Fair
Whenever most people think about the Old Testament, they usually believe that the Old Testament God is very different from the New Testament God, and that He willingly calls Israel to commit genocide against the Canaanites. Hence, this issue has become one of the most important things to understand and wrestle with, as the Bible claims that God is the same loving, compassionate God throughout the whole Bible. So what do we do with the Canaanites? Through this week, the context of Deuteronomy 7, as well as many other relevant passages, will portray a very different picture than what is often thought of when looking at the surface. In fact, this was no genocide at all, and God plays fair with all peoples at all times, giving them equal chances for repentance and reformation.
The background to Deuteronomy 7 is crucial to understanding the chapter accurately. God had given the Canaanites more than four hundred years of probation, during which He sent prophets and warnings. When speaking with Abraham, God predicted that the Canaanites would eventually become so evil that He would have to give their land to someone else (Abraham’s descendants), but stated that their cup of iniquity was not yet full (Gen. 15:16). During this time of probation, the Bible records Abraham’s travel through the land, setting up altars to Yahweh. In addition, Lot lived in Sodom, although the people of that city were eventually totally given over to evil. However, leaders like Melchizedek were true followers of God, and Balaam was at least initially a true prophet of God, famous far beyond Israel and Moab (many of his writings are known in other nations, and it was perhaps due to his prophecies that the wise men found Jesus as a baby). Although Genesis is focused on Israel, the hints throughout make clear that God was always trying to reach all people, even seeking to bless the world through Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3).
God then gives the same amount of probation to Israel as He gave to the Canaanites. About four hundred years after they take possession of the land, Israel is also kicked out due to their cup of iniquity being full. God at this point gives the land to Babylon (He earlier gave the northern kingdom to Assyria). God does not play favorites. In fact, one of the things the prophets are quick to point out is that Israel is actually acting worse than Canaan right before the exile (cf. Ezek. 16)!