Israel’s Appalling Sins
(34) They did not annihilate the peoples as Yahweh had commanded them, (35) but they mingled with the Gentiles and learned their (evil) ways. (36) They served their idols which became a snare to them. (37) They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons. (38) They poured out innocent blood (sing.), the blood (sing.) of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood (pl.). (39) Thus they became unclean in their ways and prostituted themselves in their practices.
These verses contain several important repetitions. “Ways,” which could be translated “works, deeds, practices, or customs,” is used twice (vss. 35 & 39). In the first instance it refers to the evil practices of the Gentiles which Israel “learned.” In the second, it refers to Israel’s unclean deeds. Four repetitions recount what the Israelites had assimilated from their pagan neighbors. First, “idols” occurs twice to indicate that Israel served foreign gods (vss. 36 & 38). Next, “sacrificed” is found twice to describe how the Israelites slaughtered their children in pagan rituals (vss. 37 & 38). “Their sons and daughters” is repeated to drive home the horrifying truth that it was their own offspring who became their sacrificial victims (vss. 37 & 38). Finally, “blood(s)” is found three times in both singular and plural to emphasize how gory their worship had become, thus defiling the land (vs. 38).
I. Israel’s failure to annihilate the Canaanites led to her assimilating their evil ways. (34 & 35)
II. Israel sacrificed children to idols and polluted the land with blood. (36-38)
III. Israel thus became offensive to a holy God. (39)
Israel’s adopting the idolatry of the Canaanites led to her spiritual defilement and made her just as offensive to God as the pagans had been.
For many years, critics of the Bible have cited passages like this one to show how bloodthirsty the God of the Old Testament was in commanding Israel to annihilate the Canaanites, an atrocity today called “genocide.” Such critics maintain that the God of the Old Testament was a vengeful, wrathful deity as opposed to the God of love portrayed in the New Testament.
When we study the historical background of the command in question (vs. 34), we begin to understand what motivated Yahweh to require the destruction of the Canaanites. At least two good reasons emerge. God’s first purpose was to use Israel as an instrument of his justice. So corrupt was Canaanite idolatry, so degraded and demonic, that it had become necessary for God to deal with these pagans as he had with the corrupted population of the world at the time of the flood (Gen. 6-9) and with Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19). Apparently, their complete destruction was the only remedy.
His second purpose was to protect his covenant nation from being defiled by the corrupt practices of her neighbors. God knew that if the Canaanites were allowed to live, they would ensnare the Israelites in practices so degraded and defiling that the nation would be almost beyond redeeming. God’s command to annihilate the Canaanites was motivated by his love for Israel and by his desire to spare her the horrors of pagan idolatrous worship.
As we study both the Old and New Testaments, we come to realize that the same God is portrayed in both. Each one presents a holy God of infinite power who is both just and loving, a God who does not change, a God we can fully trust. He will do whatever is necessary to defeat the powers of evil and cleanse the world of corruption and defilement.