It is written:
“behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ says the LORD, ‘and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants, and against these nations all around, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolations.” (Jeremiah 25:9).
The phrase here translated as “utterly destroy” is the Hebrew word “haram.” This word was used several times by God in His commands for Israel to “utterly destroy”’the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7:2; 20:17; Joshua 11:20).
While many teach that “utterly destroy” meant to annihilate the Canaanites, we see that the primary idea of this word is to “drive out” of the land. Indeed, Jeremiah shows us that this is the case; for Israel was said to be “utterly destroyed” by Nebuchadnezzar when he took the people as slaves back to his land of Babylon for seventh years.
“Utterly destroyed” did not mean annihilated; it meant driven from the land.
“The destroy language, then, cannot in context refer to every single man, woman, and child in Canaan. The language of “destruction” stands right alongside language of “driving out” and “dispossessing” these seven nations. Large numbers are driven out of the land before Israel arrives, and many survive and remain in hiding after Israel has “totally destroyed them.” Moreover, the Canaanite nations will remain to be “driven out” little by little over time. Deuteronomy 9 states that Israel will cross the Jordan and “ dispossess nations greater and stronger” than they (v. 1). The text goes on to state twice that it is “on account of the wickedness of these nations that the L ORD is going to drive them out before you” (vv. 4–5). In chapter 11, God says that he will “ drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you” (v. 23). Several chapters later, Moses lists a series of occultic practices, reminding Israel that “because of these same detestable practices the L ORD your God will drive out those nations before you” (18:12). He repeats the point two verses later: “The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination” (18:14). In the next chapter, Moses declares: “When the L ORD your God has destroyed the nations whose land he is giving you, and when you have driven them out and settled in their towns and houses . . .” (19:1). Here, destroying the nations is understood in terms of driving them out and settling in their towns and houses. The text therefore continually and repeatedly states that the Canaanites will not be exterminated in the sense that the Israelites are to kill every single man, woman, and child in Canaan. Rather, it states they are to be driven out. As we have noted, the language of “destroy” or “annihilate” is typically in a context of gradually driving out the nations—or of nations fleeing before the battle is joined. “Driving out” or “dispossessing” is different from “wiping out” or “destroying.” If you state that you had driven an intruder from your house, no one would assume the intruder was dead in your living room. Similarly, if you say you had killed an intruder, one would not normally think this meant the intruder had been “driven out.” The Hebrew text confirms this; the same language of “driving out” and “casting out” is used elsewhere to refer to Adam and Eve being driven from Eden (Gen. 3:24), Cain being “ driven” into the wilderness (Gen. 4:14 NASB), and David being “ driven out” by Saul (1 Sam. 26:19). In fact, the same language of “drive out” is used of Israel being driven out of Egypt by Pharaoh. 2 In all of these cases, the meaning precludes literal extermination. How is this to be explained? Here we quote a summary of the data: These words group into two categories: dispossession versus destruction. “Dispossession” would include words like drive out , dispossess , take over possession of , thrust out , send away (33 occurrences). “Destruction” words would include annihilate , destroy , perish , and eliminate (11 occurrences). The Dispossession words would indicate that the population “ran away”—migrated out of the Land prior to any encounter with the Israelites; Destruction words would indicate the consequences for those who stayed behind. What then is the mix of these two sets of words? The “Dispossession” words outnumber the “Destruction” words by 3-to-1! This would indicate that the dominant “intended effect” was for the peoples in the [Promised] Land to migrate somewhere else . So, consider Deut. 12.29[–30]: “The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land , and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” (Paul Copan & Matthew Flanagan, Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming To Terms With The Justice Of God, 79-81 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
Those who attack Christianity by claiming that God commanded genocide are, sadly, usually guilty of not studying the Word Of God carefully.
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