The Conquest of Canaan: The Data From Duteronomy

This post is part of a series on the Conquest of Canaan. It is a list of points useful for understanding the conquest.

  • It was repeated said that God had given (and  was giving) the land of Canaan, to the Israelites, and instructed them to go in and take the land (1:8, 20, 21). Even though he had given them the land, they still had to take it.
  • There was a great deal of emphasis, on the land. It was the land that God had promised their fathers, the land that God was giving them.
  • In their first battle against some Amorites, the Israelites were badly defeated. They had refused to obey God when he told them not to fight that battle. (1: 43 -45)
  • God told them not to attack certain people, because he had not given them those lands: the descendants of Esau who lived in Seir, the Moabites and the Ammonites (2: 2 – 6; 9, 19). But he did require that their descendants not be allowed into the sanctuary and that they could never make treaties of friendship with Israel (23: 3 – 6)
  • There was a lot of conquest going on in those parts. The descendants of Esau drove out the Horites and took their land. The Ammonites drove out the Zamzummites and took their land too. (2: 10 – 12; 20 – 23). In fact, it was said that it was God who had helped the descendants of Esau drive out the Horites and given them their land.
  • Destroying a people is consistent with both killing them all and driving them out in the text. The descendants of Esau destroyed the Horites. They also drove them out of their land. (2:12, 22). The Israelites destroyed the towns of the Heshbon. They left no survivors.
  • God had a stated purpose to make all peoples fear the Israelites (2:25)
  • In their second (recorded) battle against the Amorites, the Israelites defeated Sihon, the king of Heshbon, killed every human being in his kingdom and took his land. But they took the livestock and plunder. (2: 32 – 37). They did the same to Og, the king of Bashan. (3: 3 – 7)
  • God promised that if the Israelites did not obey him but worship idols after he gave them the land, he would destroy them from the land. In clarification, he said he would scatter them among all the nations and only a few of them would survive (4: 25 – 27; 6: 13 – 15;
  • He also says he will not abandon or destroy them if they return to him (4: 30, 31)
  • 7:1, 2 has God promising to drive out the Canaanites while instructing the Israelites when they defeated them in war, they had to completely destroy the Canaanites. (The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them. It is used repeatedly in Joshua and Deuteronomy when the Israelites defeat peoples and kill all of them).
  • God instructs the people not to make treaties with or marry the Canaanites because the Canaanites would teach them their outrageous practices (7: 3- 6, 16)
  • God promised to destroy even the surviving Canaanites who hid from the Israelites. It was either his intention to make sure they were all out of the land or it was his wish that they should all be dead. (7: 17 – 20)
  • They were not to take the gold and silver on the idols of the canaanites. They were to completely destroy them because they were detestable to God. (7: 25, 26)
  • God promised to do to the Israelites what he was doing to the Canaanites if they did not obey him after he had given them the land (8:19, 20). He said he was going to destroy them and scatter them all over the world. (28: 20, 21, 64; 30: 17, 18;
  • God wanted the Israelites to destroy, drive out and annihilate the Canaanites( 9:3)
  • God said he was not driving out the Canaanites because the Israelites were good, but because the Canaanites were wicked. (9: 4 – 6; 18:12; 12:31)

Deuteronomy 2 – Reading Note – The Beginning of the Conquest

• God forbade the Israelites to attack the descendants of Esau, that he had given their land to them and not to the Israelites (2: 4, 5)

• Moses reminded the people that the 40 years they had been wandering in the desert, they had not lacked anything (2: 7).

• God also forbade the Israelites to attack the Moabites because he was not going to give the Israelites their land but he was going to give (or had already given) it to the descendants of Lot (2:9).

• Verses 12, and 21 – 23 show that there was a lot of conquest going on.

• The descendants of Esau drove the Horites out of their land and took it. They ‘destroyed’ the Horites just like Israel did to the canaanites (2:12). If they drove them out, and they destroyed them, then unless ‘destroyed’ and ‘drove out’ mean the same thing, we have a contradiction in adjacent sentences.

• The Zamzummites were driven out and replaced by the Ammonites and the Caphtorites did the same to the Avvites (21, 23). • God hardened Sihon’s heart so he would fight the Israelites instead of letting them pass. In this way, God made Sihon aggressive towards the Israelites, made him go to a battle against them which they won and gave them his land (2: 24 – 33).

• When the Israelites defeated Sihon, they killed everyone in his land (men, women and children) and took the livestock and plunder (2: 34, 35)

Here is an idea and a question which just occurred to me. Although God has the right to take lives without due reason, he only ought to delegate the authority to take lives to human beings if he has good reason. Ought we to regard the killing of the Heshbonites as unjustified unless good reason can be provided to justify it?