The Challenge Of The Canaanites -- By: William Ford

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 68:2 (NA 2017)
Article: The Challenge Of The Canaanites
Author: William Ford

The Challenge Of The Canaanites

William Ford

([email protected])


The negative biblical portrayal of the Canaanites appears to contrast sharply with the wider portrayal of Yhwh’s relationship with humanity and with Israel in particular, raising a challenge for reading these parts of the Bible as Scripture. This article considers this portrayal by drawing together key biblical references to the Canaanites into two sections: Canaanites as a whole, and as individuals. Four potential images are evaluated as possible summaries of the biblical portrayal of the Canaanites: sinners, danger, warning, and challenge, with the last being the most appropriate. The Canaanites’ proximity to Israel, both geographic and moral, raises both a negative and positive challenge. Israelites can become Canaanites and vice versa, depending on their response to Yhwh.

1. Introduction

The patriarchal promises, first given to Abram in Genesis 12, are an important part of the biblical story of Yhwh’s overall plan of salvation. They look back to Yhwh’s original blessings for humanity, contain the theme of the Pentateuch, underlie the ongoing story of the Old Testament through its highs and lows, and lead into the New Testament, where the final element of blessing for all families on earth is fulfilled through Christ.

One element of these promises is land, specifically the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:5), which is explicitly included in the promises (v. 7). However, between these verses comes the seeming aside that the

Canaanites were then in the land (v. 6b).1 At this point, it is unclear how the land of the Canaanites is to become the land of Abram’s descendants and what this will mean for the Canaanites themselves. As the biblical story unfolds and Israel come out of Egypt, more clarity is given. Yhwh tells Israel that the Canaanites must be destroyed from the land.2

These divine commands and Israel’s execution of them in Joshua are arguably one of the most difficult issues when reading the Bible as Scripture. The inherent difficulty of the divinely commanded violence is exacerbated by the fact that this is not in an obscure part of the Bible, but rather linked to the promi...

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