Why Kill the Canaanites’ Animals?

We saw in my prior post that we have no reason to believe that any of the adults were good in the territory that God ordered Israel to conquer. Not even one. But in some towns the Lord ordered that Israel kill all of the animals–“everything that breathes.” (e.g., Deut. 13:15; 20:16). Why kill the Canaanites’ animals?

Now what is written here is gross. But I’ve found, dear reader, that you need to be grossed out, disgusted, and maybe a little sickened, if you are going to understand the motivation behind God’s judgment of the Canaanites.

The Canaanites Had Sex with Animals

There should be no surprise that bestiality would occur for the Canaanites since the god they worshiped practiced it. From the Canaanite epic poem, The Baal Cycle we learn:

Mightiest Baal hears; He makes love with a heifer in the outback, A cow in the field of Death’s Realm.

He lies with her seventy times seven, Mounts eighty times eight; [She conceiv]es and bears a boy.1

I wonder if they wore “WWBD?” (What Would Baal Do?) bracelets? I’m not going to give further evidence here of the Canaanites’ bestial practices. Those who want more can read my article “We Don’t Hate Sin.”

The Sexualized Animal Must Also Die

The Lord ordered that those who have sex with animals should be put to death along with the animal (Lev. 20:15). Atheist Richard Dawkins objects that it adds “injury to insult” that “the unfortunate beast is to be killed too.” ((Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton, 2006),248.)) But, what Dawkins and others don’t grasp is that only the depraved would want to have animals around who were used to having sex with humans.

In an embarrassing moment, psychologist Robert Yerkes told about a female gorilla named Congo “throwing herself on her back she pressed her external genitalia against my feet and repeatedly and determinedly tried to pull me upon her…. In this activity she was markedly and vigorously aggressive, and it required considerable adroitness and strength of resistance on my part to withstand her attack.” Yerkes went on to comment that he found “her insistence on sexual contact extremely embarrassing… and somewhat dangerous because of her enormous strength….”2 Now, if Congo had never had sex with a man (of course, we don’t know) and acted this way, I can’t imagine how determined she would be if she had. Consider how disgusting it would be to have dogs, sheep, and who knows what trying to mount the unsuspecting, not to mention how disgusting and dangerous it would be to have horses, oxen, and great apes trying to do so!

Although there were absolutely no other prohibitions against any kind of bestial behavior in the rest of the Ancient Near East, perhaps the Hittites (one of the Canaanite tribes) were more “enlightened” and realized that they needed to lay down some rules.3 Thus Hittite Law 199 states, “If anyone has intercourse with a pig or a dog, he shall die. If a man has intercourse with a horse or a mule, there is no punishment.”4 Seems like the Hittites thought that randy pigs and dogs were just too gross to have lurking outside your front door (perhaps they thought they could keep the horses and mules corralled)? They also needed to point out when humans might not be at fault: “If an ox spring upon a man for intercourse, the ox shall die but the man shall not die…. If a pig spring upon a man for intercourse, there is no punishment.”5 Notice that even the Hittites, who engaged in sex with animals, realized that oxen who tried to mount people had to die. This kind of bestial behavior probably explains why God used a flood to destroy what Dawkins called the “presumably blameless” animals in the days of Noah.6 Animals that are used to having sex with humans have to die just like animals used to killing humans have to die. It’s not that the animals deserved to die. They didn’t deserve to die because they hadn’t done anything wrong. But only the depraved would want to live around sexualized animals so they had to go.

Now the objection could be made that some of the animals may not have been subject to such abuse, but that’s not something that an Israelite would be able to know. Thus they all had to die.

Sinful Humans Often Corrupt the Innocent

Major takeaway: sometimes beings innocent of committing sin can be harmed and corrupted by others who misuse their free will, as seems to be the case with animals involved in bestiality. It is a tragedy that these animals had to be killed but that’s one of the big lessons about sin: Sinful beings can hurt the innocent sometimes permanently.

  1. Mark S. Smith, trans. Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, Simon B. Parker, ed., (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1997), 148. In the same volume see also “Baal Fathers a Bull” Simon B. Parker, trans., 181-186 and “A Birth” Simon B. Parker, trans. 186-187. Albright says that in “the light of several Egyptian accounts of the goddess, unquestionably translated from an original Canaanite myth” that Baal raped Anath while she was in the form of a calf. W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the God’s of Canaan: A Historical Analysis of Two Contrasting Faiths (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1968), 128-129. []
  2. Robert M. Yerkes, “The Mind of the Gorilla: Part III. Memory” Comparative Psychology Monographs, Vol. V. No. 2, 1928, 68-69. []
  3. Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., “Incest, Sodomy and Bestiality in the Ancient Near East” Orient and Occident: Essays presented to Cyrus H. Gordon on the Occasion of his Sixty-fifth Birthday, Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., ed. (Germany: Neukirchen Vluyn, 1973), 82. HL §§ 187-188, 199. []
  4. Ibid., 82. []
  5. Hittite Laws, 199. []
  6. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 237-238. []
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3 Responses to Why Kill the Canaanites’ Animals?

  1. Gary says:

    For many of us, we know the goodness of God, and that God takes not pleasure in bringing judgement, but we were unclear as to the why some of the things occurred in Joshua’s day. Thank you for sharing your insights and your help.

    Our Lord has allowed man freedom. That freedom is abused, and hence the need for God’s law and intervention. I am thankful that the Lord extends his hand to all, even the ones mocking and abusing him (Luke 23:34). He has demonstrated His love (Romans 5:8) and the way of escape from our own depravity (2 Cor. 5:17) and ultimately an escape from the coming judgement (1 Thes. 1:10).

  2. Pingback: Why Does God Order the Killing of Canaanite Livestock? | Tough Questions Answered

  3. Dave S says:

    Thank you very much for an enlightening, if somewhat revolting, post. This is something I was never aware of, and the command to put to death the animals has been a stumbling block for me. While I won’t say your post has entirely removed the stumbling block, it opened my eyes to the need to look more deeply into these matters.

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