As I pointed out in a previous post, when God freed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, He told them to drive the Canaanites out of a portion of land promised to Abraham’s descendants. The Israelites’ coming was preceded by miracles such as the Red Sea and Jordan River parting, so the Canaanites knew there was something supernatural behind their advance. Some chose to flee; some chose to fight.
And, as I’ve argued in another post, we don’t have any reason to believe that even one of the Canaanite adults that died in the fighting wasn’t guilty of great wickedness; that was, after all, the reason God gave for driving them out of the land. But what about their children, some of whom died?
In ancient wars where parents died, soldiers faced three alternatives for the children: (1) take their lives; (2) leave them to starve and be eaten by animals in the desert; or (3) adopt them. Obviously leaving them to starve or be eaten would be a worse fate than a quick death by the sword. So let’s look at why Israel couldn’t adopt Canaanite children.
The problem with adoption is that it would enable the very thing the Lord sought to avoid: it would corrupt Israelite society. After all the Lord warned in Deuteronomy 20:16-18:
In the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction…. as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.
From this and similar passages it seems clear that in the Lord’s considered opinion, if the Israelites left any of the Canaanites alive then they would “teach you to do according to all their abominable practices.” Thus, they couldn’t be adopted.
The objection immediately arises that surely children, especially infants, wouldn’t be in a place to teach adults anything. But that’s naïve. As I’ve established previously, if there is an omniscient God then He would know who would or would not encourage Israel to sin in the future. There is no logical basis to argue that the children would not have grown up to encourage the Israelites to commit Canaanite sin. If the Lord says, every Canaanite must die to keep Israel from indulging in their sins, then we have no reason to think it would be otherwise.
Now a lot of people will intuit that that isn’t true. Many people will believe that “love will find a way.” They will think that proper parenting could train these children out of their corrupt upbringing. But, again, the Lord knows not only who is or is not righteous, He knows the future (this is basic theism!) and if He says don’t leave them alive because they will corrupt you, then He would know whether that would happen or not. But still, people will object that a loving, nurturing environment could fix that.
That’s what I used to believe, but then we took in foster kids—some of whom were physically and sexually abused.
We’ve had foster children living with us from as young as six months to as old as 18 years (we became the legal guardians of three of them), and for several years I trained foster parents for a foster parenting agency. Also, I’ve had close friends who took in foster children, and my brother and his wife, after having two children born to them, took in one-hundred-and-twenty-five foster children and adopted two of them. Finally, a relative who has been a county social worker for the last twenty years who told me that, with rare exception, “Regardless of the abuse, children want to reattach to their family and culture.” She went on to say that even those who have been sexually abused—with rare exception—would rather be with their birth families than anywhere else. Children bring their culture with them and even those removed from their birth families as infants become very curious to learn about their culture. And when puberty hits—whoa! During one season of foster parenting pre-teen and teenage girls we had the police at our house seven times in two-and-one-half years, and that didn’t include the times that we went to a police station or met the police at stores they’d stolen from. Although we started out believing that “love will find a way” to help them out of their destructive habits, we were mistaken. The hurts, anger, confusion, and violence usually remain into adulthood.
One of my students, Mary Doelman, shared her own experience with adopting children:
After having three children born to us, my husband and I adopted twenty children between the ages of three months and fourteen years. Although many of them have become close to us and are grateful for the opportunities they have, there are only a few that truly think of us as their parents. Most of them have a strong identity with their birth-parents and their original culture. Even though they had been abused or abandoned, their deep desire was that the situation would have been different so that they could have been with their “real” mom and dad. They want to know who they are, where they came from, and why they couldn’t stay. Of course their anger and resentment was aimed at us because we were in their parents’ place and we were a safe and stable place to vent. During the teen years at least 50% of them exhibited extreme anger, even violence, towards us. I cannot even say how many times we had the sheriff at our door or a phone call late at night from the police department. We were investigated twice by Child Protective Services. All this happened here in the U.S. where we were extending love to hurting children. I try to imagine what that would look like in ancient times where adoptive parents took in children from a depraved culture after having killed their birth-parents. I just don’t see how that would work.
Neither can I see how adopting Canaanite children after killing their parents would work.
In addition, many foster and adoptive parents endure a lot of sexual acting out and even attempted seduction, especially when they take in kids who have been sexually molested. Obviously kids who have been sexualized by adults at an early age don’t just turn that off when they move into a new family. The acting out is not just toward their new siblings, but often also toward a new parent. Israel couldn’t adopt many Canaanite children into their families without it ultimately Canaanizing them.
Now some will say that surely infants wouldn’t bring their culture into their new family. But bonding begins at birth and even infants, as they grew, would inquire about what happened to their birth parents. Most adopted or foster kids possess an almost insatiable desire to know the details of their birth parents’ lives. Can we imagine these Canaanite kids not wanting to know all about their parents and what practices they did that made them worthy of death? When they heard the Law read with its descriptions of Canaanite practices, how many would take those practices as their own identity? As William Lane Craig puts it, killing the Canaanites
was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity. God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God.1
Although I’ve relegated it to the footnotes, research is showing that prenatal memory and even genetics might have a large influence on a child’s behavior.2
Then there is the problem of inheritance! If Israelite families were to adopt Canaanite children, then the Canaanite children would inherit the land with Israel’s birth children. That would cause Israel’s birth children to resent the adoption of Canaanite children. Also, then Israel would actually be in the position of giving the land back to the Canaanites! Of course, someone might suggest that Canaanite children, although adopted, could be disqualified from inheriting the land, but then the adopted Canaanite children would bitterly resent their siblings who do inherit the land that they, the Canaanite children, believed was theirs in the first place!
Now the Lord’s actions concerning Canaanite children certainly runs contrary to His standard command that orphans must be cared for. After all, in James 1:27 Christians are told that “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” We are commanded to care for the orphan and I’m certainly not saying that many foster and adopted children aren’t able to cast off many of the horrors they experienced with their birth families. But, apparently, in the Lord’s considered opinion, it wasn’t going to be possible for Israel to take in Canaanite children, en masse, without they themselves becoming corrupted. Many skeptics will howl over this but it’s important to note that many of the atheists and other skeptics who complain bitterly about the Lord’s ordering the taking of the Canaanite children’s lives are hypocritical when they support abortion for any reason. This stance since 1973 has resulted in the United States suctioning, scraping, or scalding to death over fifty-five million babies!
Of course, another major question looms. How could it be just to kill children who hadn’t personally committed any sins themselves? We’ll look at that in the next post.
- William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/slaughter-of-the-canaanites#ixzz3YclWgRDs, Accessed 4-28-2015. [↩]
- We don’t have much information on this yet, but studies are beginning to show that the fetus is affected by its surroundings. There appears to be an emotional memory that newborns bring with them. See PubMed, US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health, “Persistence of fetal memory into neonatal life.” (2006) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17068673. Accessed 4-28-2015. See also http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/recall-in-utero/. Who knows what kind of influence affected the Canaanite children still in the womb? Also, many scientists now argue that inclinations towards molestation may be genetically determined. In a recent study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, Niklas Langstrom, et. al., “report strong evidence of familial clustering of sexual offending, primarily accounted for by genes rather than shared environmental influences.” Niklas Langstrom, Kelly M. Babchishin, Seena Fazel, Paul Lichtenstein, and Thomas Frisell, “Sexual offending runs in families: A 37-year nationwide study” International Journal of Epidemiology, (8 April 2015) http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/04/05/ije.dyv029.abstract. Accessed 1 May 2015. Again, I don’t know how true this is but we must remember that we don’t know what we don’t know, and if this study is correct, then the Canaanite children would bring those impulses into their new family. [↩]