Idolatry Notes

Raphael, Adoring the Golden Calf (1518-19), Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican

Our Creator is a three-personal Being who enters into personal relationships with human beings, and groups. God is holy and He is Love.

Love requires at least two persons: a lover and a beloved. Love requires both actions of initiation and of response, of giving and receiving. Obviously all of us who "love" both give and receive love in many ways and in many forms. Relationships that are all "giving" or all "receiving" are not very meaningful. Ultimately, God's "giving" love towards us calls for wholehearted response from us. (The various forms of love: storge, philia, agape and the many types of lust are a separate discussion).

We can scarcely begin to imagine the nature of the relationships of love within the Godhead between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. God is always whole and fulfilled within Himself. He has no need of a creation--but He has graciously allowed us to participate in that love which is His very nature. Furthermore, God has created us male and female in order to display something of His inner image in mankind. God is not a sexual Being--unlike many of the pagan gods of mythology. The two sexes are not identical, and not mirror images of one another: they are "complementary."

In the third book of his science fiction trilogy, That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis has the Director telling Jane, "The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level. What is above and beyond all things [i.e. God] is so masculine that we are all feminine in relationship to it. You had better agree with your adversary quickly." "You mean I shall have to become a Christian," said Jane. "It looks like it," said the Director.

God created mankind to live in fellowship with Him and to enjoy Him in many intimate, personal ways forever. We can only be truly ourselves and truly fulfilled when God holds the place of central importance in our hearts and lives. Any "rival loves" we allow do damage to ourselves, to God, and to others.

Idolatry is the universal human tendency to value something, or someone--anything--in a way that hinders or rivals the love and trust we owe to God. Real idolatry is a matter of what we love and treasure in our hearts that is other-than God. One of the subtlest idols for us is another human being! God is invisible, we would all prefer tangible lovers--it is very easy for any of us to allow any human being to usurp God's rightful place in the throne room of the heart.

Putting God first means loving and trusting God first, above all, and with everything we are and have (see Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). God has given us every good thing which we are and have. Idolatry occurs because of our deadly propensity for selfish, willful control and for self-controlled security. Satan's lie to Eve, "you shall be like God" has rooted itself into the heart of every man. It was the angel Satan who uttered the "I wills" of the first rebellion against the Creator: "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High." (Isaiah 14:1-14). Pride follows close on the heels of all human idolatry.

"What are we living for? Things that kill and die, such as ourselves? Or things that give lasting life? Idols are things that kill. We die if we live for idols. This website aims to identify common human idols -- spiritual and material idols -- and to have us freed from them. We are truly freed from idols only by the power of God's grace, that is, by the free divine gift of God's friendship through Jesus. Often we are unaware of the idols that kill us and, as a result, we neglect their deadly roles in our lives. Once we become aware of our idols, we still need power to be freed from them. We find ourselves, however, without the needed power within us. We need help from One who cares for us and has the power to free us. We need the power of an all-loving God. The Good News is that such power is in fact available to us.

"Our having idols at all is a spiritual heart problem. It signifies distortion and corruption at the spiritual core of a person. It is, in the end, our failure to put first things first, in particular, the first One first in our lives. Left untreated, our idols empty our lives of peace, joy, and unselfish love. Idolatry begins as theft from God, the gift Giver, as we value something or someone in a way that hinders the love and trust we owe to God. Idolatry turns back on us, however, to keep us from having what we need for true, lasting satisfaction in life. In the end, the greatest human tragedy is idolatry. It diminishes and even severs friendship with God, the only Giver of lasting life and satisfaction. Out of the tragedy of idolatry come all other human woes, including addictions, worries, selfish fears, resentments, jealousies, hatreds, and so on.

"God proves His love for us by sending us Jesus to befriend us, even to die for us in self-giving love. The provision of this unconditional, unearned love offers the kind of satisfying friendship that makes idols pointless and even repulsive. It thereby frees us from idols in order to enable us to love as Jesus loves. As an antidote to idolatry, we need the loving friendship of Jesus, desperately and vitally. It is available to us all as an unearnable gift from God. The crucial question is whether we will receive it on God's terms, on terms that renounce idols. These terms can be challenging for us, given our customary reliance on idols (see Mark 10:17-27), and given our tendencies toward enabling idolatry in others. We do the latter when we encourage or ignore, rather than challenge in love, the idolatry practiced by others. In receiving Jesus as Lord, in contrast, we find the key to freedom both from idolatry and from the enabling of idolatry in others. We find freedom to live in unselfish love as we receive God's freely given love." --From Idolaters Anonymous,, by Paul K. Moser, Professor and Chairperson, Department of Philosophy, Loyola University of Chicago.

Under the Law of Moses

Exodus 20:3-6 states, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thy self to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments."

An idol is an image representing any symbol or object of devotion. It is the love or adoration of an idol and generally involves some form of ceremony/ritual. The term is derived from the Greek eidolon and Latin idolun meaning "image, likeness". Idolatrous practices include, but are not limited to; ceremonial prostitution, child sacrifice, drunkenness, and self-laceration. The pagan deities are usually portrayed as being whimsical, arbitrary, greedy, gluttonous, often intoxicated, and vindictive. They usually had furious tempers and hated one another. If not placated, they could bring harm on humans.

Nine Things Not To Worship

Deuteronomy 4:15-19, 23: "Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spoke unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire; Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flies in the air, The likeness of any thing that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou see the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heavens, should be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven...Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the Lord thy God hath forbidden thee."

Idols mentioned in the Bible:

1. Hebrew: Teraphim, plural, meaning: "images;" "a family idol" These were family gods (penates) worshiped by Abram's kindred (Josh. 24:14 - "put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt"). "Teraphim" are mentioned by name six times in the Bible: Judg. 17:5; 18:14, 17,18,20; Hosea 3:4. Michal put one in David's bed (1 Sam. 19:13). Added by Bryce Self, 10/30/2010: Noticed for some reason a conspicuous absence — under “Teraphim” -- significant as prophetic of Christ’s birth as sin-bearer for our idolatry and consequent death sentence, per Jeremiah and Matthew. There were no “innocent” babies in Bethlehem! Jacob’s oath in Genesis 31 led to Rachel’s death, due to hiding Laban’s teraphim in her saddlebags. This incident also foreshadows Israel’s own spiritual death and barrenness as a whole, down through the course of the present age.The word is significantly use by Samuel relating God’s rejection of him as king to Saul, "For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” The word “idolatry” here is actually “teraphim” — the seemingly inconsequential household idolatry that entails such enormous consequences!

2. Hebrew: Matztzebah, meaning: something stationed, i.e. a column or (memorial stone); a "statue" set up (Jer. 43:13); a memorial stone like that erected by Jacob (Gen. 28:18; 31:45; 35:14, 20), by Joshua (Joshua 4:9), and by Samuel (1 Sam. 7:12). It is the name given to the statues of Baal (2 Kings 3:2; 10:27).

3. Hebrew: Chamman or Hammanim, meaning: "sun-images" or "sun-pillars." Hamman is a synonym of Baal, the sun-god of the Phoenicians (2 Chr. 34:4, 7; 14:3,5; Isa. 17:8).

4. Hebrew: aven - idol, meaning: "nothingness;" "vanity" (Isa. 66:3; 41:29; Deut. 32:21; 1 Kings 16:13; Ps. 31:6; Jer. 8:19, etc.).

5. Hebrew: 'Elil, meaning: "a thing of naught" (Ps. 97:7; Isa. 19:3); a word of contempt, used of the gods of Noph (Ezek. 30:13).

6. Hebrew: 'Emah, meaning: "terror," in allusion to the hideous form of idols (Jer. 50:38).

7. Hebrew: Miphletzeth, meaning: "a fright;" "horror" (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chr. 15:16).

8. Hebrew: Bosheth, meaning: "shame;" "shameful thing" (Jer. 11:13; Hosea 9:10); as characterizing the obscenity of the worship of Baal.

9. Hebrew: Gillulim, (a word of contempt), meaning: "dung;" "refuse" (Ezek. 16:36; 20:8; Deut. 29:17, marg.).

10. Hebrew: Shikkuts, meaning: "filth;" "impurity" (Ezek. 37:23; Nahum 3:6).

11. Hebrew: Semel, meaning: "likeness;" "a carved image" (Deut. 4:16).

12. Hebrew: Tselem, meaning: "a shadow" (Dan. 3:1; 1 Sam. 6:5), as distinguished from the "likeness," or the exact counterpart.

13. Hebrew: Temunah, meaning: "similitude" (Deut. 4:12-19). Here Moses forbids the several forms of Gentile idolatry.

14. Hebrew: 'Atsab, meaning: "a figure;" from the root "to fashion," "to labor;" denoting that idols are the result of man's labor (Isa. 48:5; Ps. 139:24, "wicked way;" literally, as some translate, "way of an idol").

15. Hebrew: Tsir, meaning: a form;" "shape" (Isa. 45:16).

16. Hebrew: Maskith, meaning: "device" (Lev. 26:1; Num. 33:52). In Lev. 26:1, the words "image of stone" (King James Version) denote "a stone or cippus with the image of an idol, as Baal, Astarte, etc." In Ezek. 8:12, "chambers of imagery" (maskith), are "chambers of which the walls are painted with the figures of idols;" compare ver. 10,11.

17. Hebrew: Pesel, meaning: "a graven" or "carved image" (Isa. 44:10-20). It denotes also a figure cast in metal (Deut. 7:25; 27:15; Isa. 40:19; 44:10).

18. Hebrew: Massekah, meaning: "a molten image" (Deut. 9:12; Judg. 17:3,4).

The first and second commandments are directed against idolatry of every form. Individuals and communities were equally amenable to the rigorous code. The individual offender was devoted to destruction (Ex. 22:20). His nearest relatives were not only bound to denounce him and deliver him up to punishment (Deut. 13:20-10), but their hands were to strike the first blow when, on the evidence of two witnesses at least, he was stoned (Deut. 17:2-7). To attempt to seduce others to false worship was a crime of equal enormity (13:6-10). An idolatrous nation shared the same fate. No facts are more strongly declared in the Old Testament than that the extermination of the Canaanites was the punishment of their idolatry (Ex. 34:15, 16; Deut. 7; 12:29-31; 20:17), and that the calamities of the Israelites were due to the same cause (Jer. 2:17). "A city guilty of idolatry was looked upon as a cancer in the state; it was considered to be in rebellion, and treated according to the laws of war. Its inhabitants and all their cattle were put to death." Jehovah was the theocratic King of Israel, the civil Head of the commonwealth, and therefore to an Israelite idolatry was a state offense (1 Sam. 15:23), high treason. On taking possession of the land, the Jews were commanded to destroy all traces of every kind of the existing idolatry of the Canaanites (Ex. 23:24, 32; 34:13; Deut. 7:5, 25; 12:1-3). In the New Testament the term idolatry is used to designate covetousness (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13; Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:5). (From

General categories and terms associated with idols:

Fetishism is the worship of trees, rivers, hills, stones, etc.
Nature worship is the worship of the sun, moon, and stars, as the supposed powers of nature. ("Mother Nature").
Hero worship: The worship of deceased ancestors, or of heroes, living or dead.
Apollo: Emulation of physical beauty as in devotion to athletes, movie stars, rock stars, etc.
Minerva: Science and human knowledge are the keys to everything.
Baal and Ashteroth: The Canaanite fertility gods involved male and female temple prostitution and all manner of illicit sexual experiences.
Narcissus: the god of Self-love
Venus, Aphrodite, Hollywood romantic love?
Mars: war and violence
Jupiter, Zeus: exalted ego and pride
The Golden Calf, Mammon: Devotion to money and wealth
Bacchus: "Eat, drink and be merry, tomorrow we die." Hedonism.
Stoicism: Excessive "self-denial."
Satanism: outright service to the prince of darkness.
Fortuna: Chance ("Lady Luck") gambling
Covetousness: The craving to have more of something--is said to be idolatry in Colossians 3:5.
Syncretism: The amalgamation of all religions into one in denial of the First Commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
Pantheism as the worship of the "All" (God is the sum total of all that is--and impersonal).
Buddha: "self-realization"
Allah (an impersonal God, a Monad)
Astrology (connection with the hosts of heavens)
Molech: (child sacrifice, abortion)

Some Heresies: (Departures from truth within the Christian Faith--that is, distorted views of who God is--therefore idolatries)

Adoptionism: God granted Jesus powers and then adopted him as a Son.
Albigenses: Reincarnation and two gods: one god is good and the other evil. (Dualism)
Apollinarianism: Jesus' divine will overshadowed and replaced the human.
Arianism: Jesus was a lesser, created being compared with the Father.
Docetism: Jesus was divine, but only seemed or appeared to be human.
Donatism: Validity of sacraments depends on character of the minister.
Gnosticism: Dualism of good and bad. Special esoteric knowledge required for salvation.
Modalism: God is one person who operates in three different modes.
Monarchianism: God is only one person.
Monophysitism: Jesus had only one nature which was divine.
Nestorianism: Jesus was two persons.
Pelagianism: Man is unaffected by the fall and is able to keep all of God's laws.
Socinianism: Denial of the Trinity. Jesus is a deified man.
Tritheism: The Trinity is really three separate gods.


The Religion of the Canaanites

Was the command to exterminate the Canaanites a justifiable act on the part of God, who ordered it, or on the part of people, who partially, at least, obeyed it? Was the episode at variance with the character of God and his people? That it was inconsistent and unjustified both on God's side and humanity's has been so often asserted, that a consideration of the moral and religious character of the Canaanites is a question of utmost importance in solving the supposed theological difficulties that are commonly adduced.

Professor H.H. Rowley, for example, claims that the divine command to destroy the Canaanites in general, or Jericho and its inhabitants in particular, and similar episodes in the Old Testament are contrary to the New Testament revelation of God in Christ, and involve the erroneous thoughts of the writers or characters in question about God, which we can now no longer accept as true. Moreover, Rowley claims that such incidents of wholesale destruction contain that which is "spiritually unsatisfying" and involve "dishonoring God."

So, this divine command to exterminate from the face of the earth all men, women, and children belonging to the seven or eight nations of Canaan is one of the most frequently raised objections to seeing God as just and loving in the Old Testament. How can God's fairness and mercy be seen in such blanket and wholesale condemnation of entire nations?

All attempts to mitigate or tone down this command to totally wipe out the population are ruined on the clear instructions of texts like Exodus 23:32-33, 34:12-16, Deuteronomy 7:1-5, and 20:15-18. The presence of the term herem in the sense of "forced destruction" constantly was applied to the Canaanites and thus they are marked for extermination.

Once again we are back to the question, "Will not the judge of all the earth do right?" It is the question Abraham asked of God, just before He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. It would seem clear that the OT does uphold the justice and righteousness of God, even in this command to eradicate the Canaanites. (Of course, consider the question Job's friend asked in Job 8:3: "Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right?" Job's reply, in Job 9, is, in essence "yes".)

To place the whole question in perspective, let the principle of Deuteronomy 9:5 be cited:

It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which he swore to your forefathers." (Deut. 7:6-8).

Therefore, there is no attempt to establish a tacit or real moral superiority for Israel; the text informs us to the contrary in its explicit statements and narratives. The call of Yahweh cannot be traced to Israel's superiority in righteousness or numbers.

Ronald Goetz, with some justification, wonders why it is, then, that "...Israel is helped in spite of her sins, while the Canaanites are destroyed because of theirs?" The answer does not like, as Goetz himself observes in the fact that Israel is vastly more righteous than the Canaanites, for that is indeed a semi-Pelagian Pharisaism (Pelagianism: a fifth century Christian heresy taught by Pelagius and his followers that stressed the essential goodness of human nature and the freedom of the human will. Pelagius was concerned about the slack moral standard among Christians, and he hoped to improve their conduct by his teachings. Rejecting the arguments of those who claimed that they sinned because of human weakness, he insisted that God made human beings free to choose between good and evil and that sin was voluntary. Celestius, a disciple of Pelagius, denied the church's doctrine of original sin. Pelagianism was opposed by Augustine, bishop of Hippo, who asserted that human beings could not attain righteousness by their own efforts and were totally dependent upon the grace of God. Condemned by two councils of African bishops in 416, and again at Carthage in 418, Pelagius and Celestius were finally excommunicated in 418; Pelagius' later fate is unknown [perhaps he changed his name to Robert Schuler]). The answer does not lie in the righteousness of Israel, but it does lie in the increasing degrees of guilt that Canaan accrued. Even Jesus appealed to this principle in dealing with a comparison of cities in his day as judged over against Sodom and Gomorrah (Mat. 10:15). There had been a patient waiting from Abraham's time "for the sin of the Amorite...[to reach] its full measure." (Gen. 15:16)

This is not to say that Israel was permitted or even ordered to treat all other nations the same way, for Deuteronomy 20:10-15 orders them to offer conditions of peace rather than extermination to all others. However, the verses that follow, namely 16-18, disallowed the same offer to be given to Canaan. In fact, the Hebrew wars with other nations (except Canaan) were designed to be only in self-defense.

Why then were the Canaanites singled out for such severe treatment? They were cut off to prevent Israel and the rest of the world from being corrupted (Deut. 20:16-18). When a people starts to burn their children in honor of their gods (Lev. 18:21), practice sodomy, bestiality, and all sorts of loathsome vice (Lev. 18:23, 24, 20:3), the land itself begins to "vomit" them out as the body heaves under the load of internal poisons (Lev. 18:25, 27-30). Thus, "objection to the fate of these nations ... is really an objection to the highest manifestation of the grace of God." Green likens this action on God's part, not to doing evil that good may come (though that does seem often to be God's methodology: the ends justify the means), but doing good in spite of certain evil consequences, just as a surgeon does not refrain from amputating a gangrenous leg even though in so doing he cannot help cutting off much healthy flesh.

But there is more. Green observes that "...We may object to God's doing immediately and personally what we do not object to his doing mediately, through providence. Now nothing is more certain than that providence is administered on the principle that individuals share in the life of the family and of the nation to which they belong; and that, consequently it is right that they should participate in its punishments as in its rewards....Though many innocent persons could not but suffer, it was right, because of the relation in which they stood to the guilty, that this should be so."

One more observation must be made here. Every forecast or prophesy of doom, like any prophetic word about the future except those few promises connected with the Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants (which are unconditional and dependent solely on God's work of fulfillment), had a suppressed "unless" attached to them. At that moment that nation turns from its evil way and repents then at that time the Lord would relent and cease to bring the threatened harm (cf. Jer. 18:7-10). Thus Canaan had, as it were, a final forty-year countdown as they heard of the events in Egypt, at the crossing of the Reed Sea, and what happened to the kings who opposed Israel along the way. We know that they were aware of such events, for Rahab confessed that these same events had terrorized her city of Jericho and that she, as a result, had placed her faith in the God of the Hebrews (Josh. 2:10-14). Thus God waited for the "cup of iniquity" to fill up -- and fill up it did without any change in spite of the marvelous signs given so that the nations, along with Pharaoh and the Egyptians, "might know that he was the Lord."

The destruction of the Canaanites was on the same principle as the whole world was judged (except for eight persons) in the Deluge or the five cities of the plain (including Sodom and Gomorrah), or Pharaoh's army. Usually those who object to these events are those who deny any compatibility of the doctrine of eternal punishment of the wicked with the mercy and love of God.

God's character and the acts he requires are fully consistent with everything that both testaments would lead us to expect in our God. The problem usually centers in a deficiency in our view of things and our ability to properly define terms or grasp the whole of a subject.

Canaanite Morality (an oxymoron)

Despite the paramount import of Canaanite morality and religion in the realm of theology and general Biblical studies, little was known about the subject 70 years ago except that which, on the one hand, could be gleaned from the Bible, which, however, was ample enough for faith and on the other hand, that which was preserved in the Greco-Roman authors, which was meager enough from the scholar's viewpoint.

Philo of Byblos

The main source of knowledge about Canaanite religion before the new sources became available after 1930 (primarily the Ugaritic materials) was Philo of Byblos, the Greek name of ancient Gebal on the Mediterranean (Josh. 13:5, 1 Kings 5:18), forty-two miles north of Sidon. Philo lived around 100 AD. He was a native Phoenician scholar and gathered data for a historical work called Phoenikika or "Phoenician Matters", designated "Phoenician History" by later Greek scholars. According to Porphery and Eusebius, Philo translated the writings of an early Phoenician named Sanchuniathon, who was supposed to have lived at a very remote age, whom W. F. Albright placed between 700 and 500 BC. Sanchuniathon in turn supposedly got his material from one Hierombalus under Abibal, king of Berytus, who is said to have flourished before the Trojan War.

Ugaritic Poetry

The abstract of Phoenician mythology which has been preserved from Philo through Eusebius (like biblical notices on the same subject) used to be commonly regarded with suspicion by critical scholarship and considered as mostly an invention by Philo, without any independent value as a source of knowledge of Phoenician religion. This skeptical attitude as disappeared as a consequence of the recovery of religious epic literature of Ugarit on the north Syrian coast (1927-1937).

These significant poetical texts discovered by D.F.A. Schaefer in a series of campaigns have shown that the gods of Philo bear names in large part now well-known from Ugarit as well as from other sources. The Philo myths are characterized by the same moral abandon and primitive barbarity with fondness for descriptive names and personifications that are found at Ugarit.

The new sources of knowledge indicate little change in the content of Canaanite mythology between c. 1400 BC and 700 BC. Many details of Philo's account, not only in the matter of the names of deities, but in the mythological atmosphere as well are in complete agreement with the Ugaritic myths and late Phoenician inscriptions. Scholars are, therefore, justified in accepting, at least provisionally, all data preserved by Philo that do not involve subjective interpretation on his part.

The Canaanite Pantheon

As the myths of ancient Ugarit indicate, the religion of the Canaanite peoples was a crude and debased form of ritual polytheism. It was associated with sensuous fertility-cult worship of a particularly lewd and orgiastic kind, which proved to be more influential than any other nature religion in the ANE.

Canaanite deities, on the one hand, present remarkable fluidity of personality and function, so that it is often extremely difficult to fix the particular domain of different gods or to define their kinship to one another. Physical relationship, and even sex, change with disconcerting ease. This is one of the grossly irrational aspects of Canaanite religion, indicative of its corrupt nature. On the other hand, Canaanite deities have for the most part etymologically transparent names, a fact which seems to point to the Canaanite pantheon as representing a cruder and more primitive type of polytheism.

Miscellaneous epigraphic and literary sources reveal the names of the chief gods and goddesses of numerous Canaanite cities in various periods. The Ugaritic deities are now best known because of the hundreds of religious texts dating from the fifteenth and early fourteenth century BC which were found in a library housed in a building situated between Ugarit's two great temples, one dedicated to Baal and the other to Dagon. The divinities which figure in the mythological texts from Ugarit were evidently not peculiar to the city, but were current among all Canaanites, since they bear only a vague relationship to the most popular deities worshiped in the city itself.


El is the name by which the supreme Canaanite deity is known. This is also a name by which God is called in the Old Testament -- El, the God (Elohim) of Israel (el elohe yisrael: Gen. 33:20). In most prose it occurs more often with an adjunct: El Elyon (the most high God, Gen. 14:18), El Shaddai (traditionally, God Almighty, Gen. 17:1), El Hai (The living God, Josh. 3:10), and very commonly in the plural of majesty, Elohim. In Hebrew poetry El is much more frequent, where it stands quite often without any adjunct (Ps. 18:31, 33, 48; 68:21; Job 8:3).

The word El is a generic name for "god" in Northwest Semitic (Hebrew and Ugaritic) and as such it is also used in the Old Testament for heathen deities or idols (Ex. 34:14; Ps. 81:10; Is. 44:10). The original generic term was 'ilum; dropping the mimation and the nominative case ending (u) becomes 'el in Hebrew. It was almost certainly an adjectival formation (intransitive participle) from the root "to be strong, powerful" ('wl), meaning "The Strong (or Powerful) One."

In Canaanite paganism the el, par excellence, was the head of the pantheon. As the god, El was, in accordance with the general irrationality and moral grossness of Canaanite religion, a dim and shadowy figure, who, Philo says, had three wives, who were also his sisters, and who could readily step down from his eminence and become the hero of sordid escapades and crimes. Philo portrays El as a bloody tyrant, whose acts terrified all the other gods, and who dethroned his own father, murdered his favorite son, and decapitated his own daughter. The Ugaritic poems add the crime of uncontrolled lust to his morbid character and the description of his seduction of two unnamed women is the most sensuous in ANE literature (much of Ugaritic literature is R rated at best).

Despite all this, El was considered the exalted "father of years" (abu shanima), the "father of man" (abu adami), and "father bull", that is, the progenitor of the gods, tacitly likened to a bull in the midst of a herd of cows. Like Homer's Zeus, he was "the father of men and gods."


Baal was the son of El, and the reigning king of the gods, dominating the Canaanite pantheon. As El's successor he was enthroned on a lofty mountain in the far northern heavens. Often he was considered to be "the Lord of Heaven" (Baal-shamem); but sometimes distinguished from the latter, as in Philo, Baal was the god of the rain and storm, whose voice could be heard reverberating through the heavens in the thunder. He is pictured on a Ras Shamra stela brandishing a mace in his right hand and holding in his left hand a stylized thunderbolt ending in a spear head.

In Ugaritic literature Baal is given the epithet Aliyan, "the one who prevails". As the giver of rain and all fertility, he figures prominently in Canaanite mythology in his struggle with Mot (Death), the god of drought and adversity. In his grapple with Mot, he is slain. As a consequence, a seven year cycle of scarcity ensues. Thereupon the goddess Anath, the sister and lover of Baal Aliyan, goes in search of him, recovers his body and slays his enemy, Mot. Baal is then brought back to life and placed on Mot's throne so that he ma insure the revival of vegetation for seven years. This is the central theme of the great Baal Epic of Ugarit.

Besides the king of the gods and the storm god, Baal was the god of justice, the terror of evildoers. He was also called "the son of Dagon", the grain god, who was the chief deity of Ashdod (1 Sam. 5:1-7) and who had temples at Ugarit and Gaza (Judges 16:23).

At Ugarit Baal's consort was his sister Anath, but at Samaria in the ninth century BC Ashera appears in that role (1 Kings 18:19). Different places at different periods arranged the pantheon somewhat differently, but the picture by and large was fairly stable. The name ba'al itself in Northwest Semitic (Hebrew, Phoenician and Ugaritic) is the common noun for "master" or "lord" and accordingly, like 'el, "strong one", could be applied to various gods. Actually, however, from an early period (by at least the 15th century BC) the ancient Semitic storm-god Hadad (Akkadian Adad) became "the lord" par excellence.


A combination of the sister and spouse of Baal, was one of a galaxy of three Canaanite goddesses whose character gives a hint of the depths of the moral depravity to which the Canaanite cults sank. The other two are Astarte and Asherah. All three were patronesses of sex and war -- sex mainly in its sensuous aspect as lust, and war in its aspects of violence and murder. The depraved character of Canaanite religion is indicated by the character of Anath. An Egyptian text of the New Kingdom period described Anath and Astarte as "the great goddesses who conceive but do not bear."

Another equally vicious characteristic of Anath worship was the fiendish savagery of the composite goddess. A fragment of the Baal Epic (II.7ff) shows her indulging in a massacre of old and young alike:

She smites the people of the seashore
Destroys mankind of the sunrise....
She piles up heads on her back
She ties up hands in her bundle....
Anath gluts her liver with laughter
Her heart is filled with joy.

Egyptian texts represented Astarte and Anath as goddesses of violence and war, showing them naked astride a galloping horse, waving weapons of battle.

Interestingly enough, Anath was given the epithet of "virgin" and "the Holy One" (qudshu) in her invariable role of a sacred prostitute. This term qudshu, "the Holy One" is related to the biblical term translated "holy". It is important to recognize that among Semitic peoples the idea of "holiness" was applied to anything that had been dedicated to the service of a deity. The moral connotation of the term is a later, derived, concept. Even in the OT, its usage is often just in the sense of "separated" to God.

Anath is represented often as a naked woman bestride a lion with a lily in one hand and a serpent in the other. The lily represented sex appeal and the serpent represented fertility.

The male prostitutes consecrated to her honor were called qadesh (Deut. 23:18, 1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:46). The feminine qedesha is also found (Deut. 23:18, Hosea 4:14)


The goddess of the evening star, was like Anath and Asherah concerned with sex and war and was not always clearly distinguished from them. In Egypt Anath and Astarte were even fused into one deity called Antart, while in later Syria their cult was displaced by that of a composite deity: Anat-Ashtart (Atargatis). Like Anath, Astarte was both a mother goddess and a divine courtesan, and she shares all the latter's moral turpitude. (She was also known as Ishtar in Persia, and the name Esther is a form of this word. Additionally, the English word "star" comes from this name).


She was the wife of El in Ugaritic mythology, and is the goddess who is also called Athirau-Yammi: "She Who Walks on (or in) the Sea". She was the chief goddess of Tyre in the 15th century BC, and bore the appellation qudshu, "holiness." In the OT Asherah appears as a goddess by the side of Baal, whose consort she evidently became, at least among the Canaanites of the south. However, most biblical references to the name point obviously to some cult object of wood, which might be cut down and burned, possibly the goddesses' image (1 Kings 15:13, 2 King 21:7). Her prophets are mentioned (1 Kings 18:19), and the vessels used in her service referred to (2 Kings 23:4). The existence of numerous symbols, in each of which the goddess was believed to be immanent, led to the creation of numerous forms of her person, which were described as Asherim. The cult object itself, whatever it was, was utterly detestable to faithful worshipers of Yahweh (1 Kings 15:13), and was set up on the high places beside the "alters of incense" (hammanim) and the "stone pillars" (masseboth). The translation of asherah by "grove" in some translations follows a singular tradition preserved in the LXX and the Vulgate which apparently connects the goddess' image with the usual place of its adoration.


Mot means "death", and he was Baal's enemy. He is the god of the dead and all the powers that opposed life and fertility. He was the favorite son of El, and the most prominent enemy of the god Baal. Mot was the god of sterility and the master of all barren places. Traditionally Mot and Baal were perpetually engaged in a seasonal struggle in which Baal, like many similar harvest deities, was annually vanquished and slain. Mot, however, was annually vanquished and killed by Baal's sister and lover Anath, who thus aided Baal's resurrection.


Or Resheph (from Hebrew reshef, "the burner", or "the ravager"), an ancient West Semitic god of the plague and of the underworld, the companion of Anath, and the equivalent of the Babylonian god Nergal. He was also a war god and was thus represented as a bearded man, brandishing an ax, holding a shield, and waring a tall, pointed headdress with a goat's or gazelle's head on his forehead. Resheph was worshiped especially at Ras Shamra (Ugarit), Byblos, and Arsuf (later Apollonia, near Yafo); under the title Mikal (or Mekal) he was also worshiped at Bethshean in eastern Palestine and at Ialium in Cyprus. Resheph was usually believed to be related to Mot, the god of sterility and death, but he also seems to have been a god of well-being, plenty, and fertility, and in that respect he may have been a form of the god Baal.

Shulman (or Shalim)

The god of health. The name is related to the Hebrew word shalom, which means "peace" or "prosperity".

Koshar (Hothar)

The god of arts and crafts. He seems to be related to the Hebrew kosher, which means "fit" or "proper".

The General Character of Canaanite Cults

The Ugaritic literature has helped reveal the depth of depravity which characterized Canaanite religion. Being a polytheism of an extremely debased type, Canaanite cultic practice was barbarous and thoroughly licentious. It inevitably had a most serious retarding and debilitating effect on every phase of Canaanite cultural and community life. It was inescapable that people should gravitate to the moral level of the sordid gods they worshiped, or rather that the gods were a reflection of their society. "Like gods, like priest; like priest, like people" expresses a law that operates unfailingly.

Canaanite Cults Utterly Immoral

The brutality, lust and abandon of Canaanite mythology is far worse than elsewhere in the ANE at this time. And the astounding characteristic of Canaanite deities, that the had no moral character whatsoever, must have brought out the worst traits in their devotees and entailed many of the most demoralizing practices of the time, such as sacred prostitution, child sacrifice and snake worship.

Canaanite Cults Effete and Corrupt

Such an effete and corrupt religion could have no other than a devitalizing effect on the population. So vile had the practices of the Canaanites become that the land was said to "vomit out its inhabitants" (Lev. 18:25) and the Israelites were warned by Yahweh to keep all his statutes and ordinances "that the land," into which he was about to bring them, would not "vomit" them out (Lev. 20:22). The character of the Canaanite religion as portrayed I the Ugaritic literature furnishes ample background to illustrate the accuracy of these biblical statements in their characterization of the utter moral and religious degeneracy of the inhabitants of Canaan, who were accordingly to be decimated and dispossessed.

The Character of the Canaanite Cults Justifies the Command to Destroy Them

It is without sound theological basis to question God's justice in ordering the extermination of such a depraved people or to deny Israel's integrity as God's people in carrying out the divine order. Nor is there anything in this episode or the devotion of Jericho to destruction that involves conflict with the New Testament revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

God's infinite holiness is just as much outraged by sin in the NT as it was in the OT, and the divine wrath is not less in the NT against those who refuse the forgiveness provided by Christ. Consider what Jesus said to and about the scribes and Pharisees who opposed him, the fate of Ananias and Sephira, or the rather apocalyptic judgments describe in Revelation.

The principle of divine forbearance, however, operates in every era of God's dealings with people. God awaits till the measure of iniquity is full, whether in the case of the Amorite (Gen. 15:16) or the antediluvians consumed by the Deluge (Gen. 6) or the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19). But God always gives a way to repent and avoid the judgment (consider God's words in Ezekiel 33, as an example -- "God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather, that the wicked turn from his evil ways.")

In the case of the Canaanites, instead of using the forces of nature to effect his punitive ends, he employs the Israelites to be his ministers of justice. The Israelites were apprised of the truth that they were the instruments of the divine judgment (Joshua 5:13-14). In the light of the total picture the extermination of the Canaanites by the Israelites was just and employment of the Israelites for the purpose was right. It was, frankly, a question of destroying or being destroyed, of keeping separated or of being contaminated and consumed.

Canaanite Cults Dangerously Contaminating

Implicit in the righteous judgment was the divine intention to protect and benefit the world. When Joshua and the Israelites entered Palestine in the 14th century (or 13th), Canaanite civilization was so decadent that it was small loss to the world that in parts of Palestine it was virtually exterminated. The failure of the Israelites to execute God's command fully was one of the great blunders which they committed, as well as a sin, and it resulted in lasting injury to the nation (Judges 1:28, 2:1-3).

In the ensuing judgment the infinite holiness of Yahweh, the God of Israel, was to be vindicated saliently against the dark background of a thoroughly immoral and degraded paganism. The completely uncompromising attitude commanded by Yahweh and followed by the leaders of Israel must be seen in its true light. Compromise between Israel's God and the degraded deities of Canaanite religion was unthinkable. Yahweh and Baal were poles apart. There could be no compromise without catastrophe.

W.F. Albright wrote:

It was fortunate for the future of monotheism that the Israelites of the conquest were a wild folk, endowed with primitive energy and ruthless will to exist, since the resulting decimation of the Canaanites prevented the complete fusion of the two kindred folk which would almost inevitably have depressed Yahwistic standards to a point where recovery was impossible. Thus the Canaanites, with their orgiastic nature-worship, their cult of fertility in the form of serpent symbols and sensuous nudity, and their gross mythology, were replaced by Israel, with its nomadic simplicity and purity of life, its lofty monotheism, and its severe code of ethics. In a not altogether dissimilar way, a millennium later, the African Canaanites, as they still called themselves, or the Carthaginians, as we call them, with the gross Phoenician mythology which we know from Ugarit and Philo Byblius, with human sacrifices and the cult of sex, were crushed by the immensely superior Romans, whose stern code of morals and singularly elevated paganism remind us in many ways of early Israel. (Note: the Romans were apparently descended from Japheth, so their destruction of Carthage was a fulfillment of Gen. 9:27).


How Can a Just God Order the Slaughter of Men, Women and Children?

Who were the Canaanites?

Canaan, the Bible tells us, was the fourth son of Ham, who was one of the three sons of Noah. The use of the word "Canaan" stems from the fact that Canaan's descendants populated the land which was later called Palestine, and now is called Israel. Modern Syria is also included and it is roughly the same land which God promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:18-21; Numbers 34:1-12).

The Amalekites were one of several tribes which are often referred to collectively as either Canaanites or Phoenicians. Their language was either Ugaritic or Phoenician, two Semitic dialects close to the Hebrew dialect. Other major "Canaanite" tribes included the Amorites, Jebusites, Hivites, Girgasites, Ammonites, Edomites, and Moabites. The Phoenicians were a sea-faring people who lived along the Mediterranean Coast. They also had colonies which included Cypress, Sardinia, and Carthage.

What were their Religious beliefs and practices?

Archaeology has given us substantial material about these people, and particularly from their capital city, Ugarit. Thousands of clay tablets have been recovered from Ras Shamra in northern Syria, including the libraries of two great temples dating from the 15th-14th century B.C. Much of this epic literature has to do with their religious practices and their pantheon of gods. Merrill F. Unger notes that Canaanite cultic practices were more base than any other place in the ancient Near East. (Unger's Bible Dictionary, p.172). Let me list some of the features of their religious beliefs and practices.

The Canaanite Pantheon (of gods)

A full description of the Canaanite gods has been provided by C. R. Driver, who translated the Ras Shamra tablets found in the ancient city of Ugarit.

The head of the Canaanite pantheon. El was generally a rather remote and shadowy figure, but sometimes stepped down from his eminence and became the hero of exceedingly "earthy" myths. He is described as living at a great distance ("a thousand plains, ten thousand fields,") from Canaan, and to this remote spot the gods invariably had to travel when they wished to consult him.

El was called the "father of years," the "father of man," and also the "father bull," i.e. the progenitor of all the gods. He is likened to a bull in the midst of a herd of cows and calves. According to the text, El had three wives: Astarte (goddess of the evening star), Asherah (goddess of the sea and consort to Baal), and Baaltis--all three his sisters. He is a brutal, bloody tyrant, whose acts caused all the gods to be terrified by his decisions. For example, he dethroned his own father ("Heaven, Uranus") and castrated him; he killed his own favorite son, "Iadid," and cut off his daughter's head. The tablets also portray El as seducing two women, whose names are not mentioned, and he allows them to be driven into the desert after the birth of two children, "Dawn" (shahru) and "Sunset" (shalmu). W. F. Albright in the American Journal of Semitic Languages, XXXV, comments that the description of the act of seduction of these two women is one of the frankest and most sensuous in ancient Near-Eastern literature.

Baal and Mot
Baal is the great storm-god. He brings the rain, and announces his present with thunder and lightning and, most important of all, the needed rain which would insure a good harvest. He became the reigning king of the gods, and was enthroned on a lofty mountain in the far northern heavens, but faithfully reappears each year to sustain the people. Mot, whose name means "death," represents the god of "drought" and "sterility." In the myth, he is Baal's chief and continual antagonist. Even Baal must yield to Mot when his time (of the year) comes. When Mot comes, Baal's time is over and he is ordered to take everything connected with him down into the depths of the earth:

"And you, take your clouds,
Your wind, your storm, your rains!
With you take Padriya daughter of the stream.
With you take Tatalliya daughter of rain."(67:v:6-11)

The situation could hardly be more clearly described: the season of drought has come, the rain and the clouds have vanished; the streams have dried up and the vegetation languishes. But before Baal descends into the earth, however, he

"Makes love to a heifer in Debir,
A young cow in the fields of Shimmt.
He lies with her seventy-seven times--
Yea, he copulates eighty-eight times--
So she conceives and bears a child."(76:v;18-22)

The goddess of fertility. She was considered a divine prostitute. She is represented as a naked woman in the prime of life, standing on a lion, with a lily in one hand and a serpent or two in the other. Often two rams are present to portray her sexual vigor. The female organs are always accentuated.

It is important to bear in mind that these "myths" were ritualistically enacted. Therefore we can assume that ritual bestiality was practiced by the priesthood, and temple prostitution was practiced by the adherents (priestesses) of the Anath fertility cult. Cyrus Gordan has written "that it was no crime for men to copulate with animals in Ugarit is indicated by the fact that...Baal impregnated a heifer...a myth...enacted ritually by reputable priests... Moreover, the Bible tells us that the Hebrews' pagan neighbors practiced bestiality (Lev. 18:24) as we now know to be literally true from the Ugaritic documents" (Ugaritic Literature, p. 8).

With Baal's seasonal death, his father, El, the chief god, goes into mourning. El descends from his throne and sits in sackcloth and ashes on the ground. He lacerates himself, making cuts on his face, arms chest and back (cf. I Kings 18:28):

"Dead is Baal, the Overcomer
Absent is the Prince, Lord (Baal) of the Earth (67:VI:9,10)

He pours the ashes of grief on his head.
The dust of mourning on his pate;
For clothing, he is covered with sackcloth,
He roams the mountain in mourning:
He mutilates his face and beard.
He lacerates his forearms.
He plows his chest like a garden.
He lacerates his back like a valley
He lifts his voice and shouts: 'Baal is dead!'
Woe to the people, Woe to the multitudes of Baal
I shall go down into the earth." (67:VI:15-24)

Anath, Baal's consort, repeats this cry and copies El's self-mutilation.

How does God, the Bible, portray the Canaanites? The clearest and most comprehensive biblical assessment of the Canaanites is found in Leviticus 18:1-5:

"Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'I am the Lord your God. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes (ways). You are to perform My judgments and keep my statutes, to live in accord with them. I am the Lord your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord."

By inference, everything forbidden in this chapter is simply a description of what the Canaanites were doing. First on the list of forbidden practices is incest, sexual intercourse with blood relatives and in-laws: your father and mother (v.7,8), your sister (v. 9), your daughter (v. 10), your niece (v. 11), your aunt (v.12, 13), your uncle (v.15), your sister-in-law (v.16), any woman or her children (17), polygamy (two sisters v.18), adultery (your neighbor's wife v. 20), ritual child sacrifice (v.21), homosexuality, sodomy (v.22), bestiality (animals v. 23). God summarizes these prohibitions with:

"Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have visited its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and my judgments, and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you; for the men of the land who have been before you have done ALL these abominations, and the land has become defiled; so that the land may not spew you out should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you. For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people. Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them; I am the Lord your God." (Lev. 18:24-30).

God's Purpose and Intent

What we observe above is in stark contrast to the cultic practices of the Canaanites, the high standards and expectations of conduct laid out by the God of Israel for His people. Why is it so important that the Israelites shun these practices of the indigent population, the Canaanites?

Because God is doing something new, something important. He has redeemed his chosen people from Egyptian bondage and is in the process of fulfilling his ancient promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12. The larger plan involves an earlier promise (Genesis 3:15) that there would come a "Seed of the Woman" who would crush Satan and establish a means to undo the damage done in Eden through their disobedience. This plan of redemption is promised, and the remainder of the Old Testament is a working out in history the unfolding of that plan to provide a Savior, a Redeemer, a Messiah. Jesus is the fulfillment of this promise.

And in Abraham God found a worthy servant who would become the patriarch, the father of a nation through whom Messiah would come, bringing untold blessing and deliverance through his life, death, and resurrection to all those who believe. Redemptive history is a long process. It began in Eden immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, and it will one day end in the New Jerusalem.

God's peculiar people begin with Abraham and his immediate descendants: first Isaac, then Jacob, and then Joseph. These four were the founders, the patriarchs of this new people God was shaping to be the vehicle through which Messiah would come. The Israelites then spent four hundred years in bondage in Egypt until Moses was raised up to deliver them with "a strong hand." Pharaoh finally let them go. They traveled to Mt. Sinai and stayed there a full year. They arrived at Sinai a disorganized mob; they left there a year later an organized host. During that year God revealed to them the constitutional foundations of their heritage and their mission. He spelled out the rules of their conduct, their worship, and how they would live in community. At the end of this year, they were poised east of the Jordan and ready to go into Canaan and take it by force. But after spying out the land, the fear of the majority with respect to this campaign caused them to shrink back from their task, and God sent them into the wilderness to wander for forty years. The new generation that emerged at the close of this period of divine discipline was finally allowed to go into the Canaan and possess it.

As they prepared themselves for this task, Moses summarized for a second time (the book of Deuteronomy) just what it would take, and what they would have to do. Ironically, the issue of the Canaanites is first spoken of way back in Genesis 15! God is speaking to Abraham and He mentions the problem of the Canaanites. He first speaks of (predicts) the Egyptian bondage which would come, and then He speaks of the deliverance from Egypt, and then He promises the conquest and repossession of the Promised Land. He says:

Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions... And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. Then, in the fourth generation they shall return here (Canaan) for the iniquity of the Amorite (Canaanites) is not yet complete (Gen. 15:12-16).

What is interesting about this is that the wickedness of the Canaanites is already recognized as a problem 400+ years before God will give the command that the Canaanites are to be slaughtered--men, women, and children! At the time the Lord spoke these words to Abraham (c. 2,000 B.C.), the Canaanites were already corrupt, but they still had a way to go before God, who is a patient, merciful but Holy God, would finally bring judgment upon them. God gave them 400 years to "shape up," but we find them even more wicked than ever when the Israelites are about to invade (retake) their land!

What is also interesting is that when Jericho was about to be taken, Rahab the prostitute hid the two Israeli spies in her home, lied to the authorities about it, and then helped the spies escape over the wall. While the spies were in her home she said some remarkable things:

"She came up to them on the roof and said to them, 'I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the Amorites whom you utterly destroyed beyond the Jordan... And when we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord, your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, please swear to me by the Lord, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with me...and deliver our lives from death." (Joshua 2:8-13)

Not only Rahab knew of God's powerful deliverance; she tells us that everyone else knew about these events and were fearful for their lives! The difference between Rahab and the rest of the people of Jericho is that she saw in these mysterious workings none other than the hand of the true God Himself! She repented; she believed! Because of her faith, she is mentioned in Faith's Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11:31)! My point is that other Canaanites could have responded as she did. Unfortunately, they continued on in their wicked, rebellious ways. The fullness of the "Amorites" is now complete. National judgment is at hand, with Israel as the instrument God will use to put an end to a totally depraved culture.

Why Such Excessive Slaughter? Why the Women? Why the Children?

God explains this to us in Romans 1:17-2:2:

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire towards one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, malice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, with out understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and though they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you...and we know that the judgment of God rightfully falls upon those who practice such things."

The Romans passage above describes for us in vivid detail how this can happen to a culture. And this is exactly the kind of conditions existing in Canaan as the Israelites approached to conquer the land which had been promised them. God makes it very clear to them the reasons for what they must do and how they must do it:

"Hear, O Israel! You are crossing over the Jordan today to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you... Know therefore today that it is the Lord your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the Lord has spoken to you. Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, 'Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,' but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you... It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn (stiff-necked) people!" (Deuteronomy 9:1-6)

God makes it very clear that sometimes things deteriorate so far that a culture or a people reaches a "point of no return." The remedy is like trying to unscramble an egg. There is just no way back; things have gone too far. The story of the Genesis Flood is "Exhibit One"--a demonstration that He has already done this once on this planet. A good surgeon does not amputate a leg if someone has a severely stubbed toe. But a good surgeon will amputate if the infection is so massive that to refuse to do so would mean the loss of the whole body and person.

R.A. Torrey remarks: "It is appalling that any people should be utterly put to the sword, but it is even more appalling that a society of people should have become so corrupt and debased that such treatment is deemed necessary in the interest of humanity. The Canaanites were a moral cancer threatening the very life of the whole human race. The cancer had to be removed in order to save the body, just as a surgeon inflicts pain and suffering in order to remove a malignant growth in the body (Difficulties in the Bible. R.A. Torrey, p. 47).

This is exactly the dilemma God faced as the Israelites are brought back to possess their land. To settle them in the midst of these depraved people is asking for disaster. If the cancer remains, Israel will not survive. For Israel's survival, the Canaanites will have to go. Israel will be corrupted by their presence and their influence. She will fall away from the Lord Who has loved her and delivered her. Ironically, this is exactly what happened, because while they disposed of most of the inhabitants of Canaan, they did not remove all of them. And Israel's incomplete obedience in this matter actually brought about future, periodic relapses when they did cease "following the Lord" and served other gods through the ongoing influence of these pagan tribes.

With respect to the women, the experience of Lot, his wife, and his two daughters dwelling in Sodom is instructive. We are told that if ten righteousness men could have been found in the city, God would spare it from judgment. Judgment fell on the city, indicating ten were not found. Lot was "courting disaster" to be a believer and live in such an environment. As the account indicates, Lot survived the judgment because God graciously warned him to flee the city (this was really based upon God's honoring Abraham's intercession on Lot's behalf), but his wife turned around and looked back toward Sodom. This was her home. She liked Sodom. The immorality didn't bother her. She was still yearning for Sodom when God turned her into a pillar of salt. In some instances, the women are the "prime-movers" in leading the men into sin. Torrey comments: "Though true women are nobler than true men, depraved women are more dangerous than depraved men" (p. 48).

The two daughters were also affected. They had sense enough not to turn around and look at the city, but we find in their immoral, incestuous behavior with their own father later that they were already "damaged goods." This is a good warning for Christian parents. We may choose to live in or near "Sodom" and we ourselves may survive, but it is more than likely our children will not come away unaffected by their exposure to such an unwholesome environment.

With respect to the command to dispose of the children, there is at least one bright spot, severe as it is. Those who adopt children want to do so at the earliest possible age. Why? Because evidence shows that children are early affected by whatever their family system might be. The emotional and physical abuse and wounds inflicted upon them from birth to age five or six leave permanent scars which often cannot be healed. The scars remain, and even the best of environments cannot overcome the negative influences of those early years of development. Even these Canaanite children would have perpetuated the corrupt influence of the Canaanites among the Hebrew Community, had they been spared.

We have all observed or known of families which are so dysfunctional and corrupt we grieve for their unhappy, confused, and suffering children, and wish to God somehow they could be removed and placed in some loving, caring home where they could feel safe and not suffer at the hands of hostile and even deranged parents. Happily, there are no children in hell. Jesus loves the little children. The one bright spot in this sordid story is that God removed an entire generation of Canaanite children and took them to such a home...His home.

Those who struggle the most with the forceful elimination of the Canaanites in this biblical account have a very dim and truncated view of God. We have seen above that God has the right, because of His holiness and His Righteousness, to visit judgment upon individuals and nations who have become corrupt and degenerate. The amazing thing is, like with the Canaanites, that He waits so long. Torrey remarks,

"...Those who regard sin lightly and who have no adequate conception of God's holiness will always find insurmountable difficulty in this command of God, but those who have come to see the awfulness of sin and have learned to hate it with the infinite hate it deserves, and who have caught some glimpses of the infinite holiness of God and have been made in some measure partakers of that holiness, will, after mature reflection, have no difficulty whatever with this command. It is consciousness of sin in our own hearts and lives that makes us rebel against God's stern dealings with sin (p. 50)."

Probe Ministries (

How could a God of Love order the massacre/annihilation of the Canaanites?

By Glenn Miller
The Christian Think Tank

March 5, 2021. January 1, 2023.

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Collected by Lambert Dolphin | | 2/20/04 | 10/30/19