Canaanite Hyperbole Interpretation Inconsistent

In my last post I suggested that appealing to hyperbole doesn’t offset the charge of divine genocide as there are two other Biblical events where God did kill every man, woman, and childNoah’s flood and the destruction of the Canaanite cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this post I want to examine what I think is a serious problem with the Canaanite hyperbole interpretation: Scripture reveals that God meted out precisely and literally the punishment He said he would inflict on Israel when Israel committed the same Canaanite sins. I call this the non-parallel problem.

The Not-Parallel Problem

One of the biggest problems with calling the command to destroy everything that breaths among the Canaanites “warfare hyperbole” is that God threatened Israel with similar destruction and we know those threats weren’t hyperbole. God told Israel that if they let the Canaanites live among them that they would soon commit the sins of the Canaanites, and when they did, He said, “I will do to you what I plan to do to them” (Number 33:56).[1] Thus my argument is that if God did exactly, literally what He said He would do to the Israelites—that is, if He wasn’t using hyperbole—then it is inconsistent to claim that God used hyperbole to describe what He said He wanted done to the Canaanites.

So let’s look at what God threatened would happen to Israel if they committed the sins of the Canaanites and lost His protection.


In Deuteronomy 28:30, the Lord warned that in disobedient Israel, a man “will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and rape her.” Lamentations 5:11 tells what happened when the Babylonians seized Jerusalem: “Women are raped in Zion, young women in the towns of Judah.”[2] No hyperbole there.

Killing Women and Children

The appeal of the Canaanite hyperbole interpretation is that it gets the Christian out of having to say that God would order the killing of women and children but, again, that’s what happened to Israel when they committed the sins of the Canaanites. In Hosea 13:16 the Lord said, “The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open” (see also Amos 7:17). And in Lamentations 2:21we find the literal fulfillment: “Young and old lie together in the dust of the streets; my young men and young women have fallen by the sword. You have slain them in the day of your anger; you have slaughtered them without pity.” And, indeed, their children were dashed on the rocks. In Psalm 137:8-9 the Psalmist says of Babylon, “happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” So there apparently was no hyperbole involved in women, children, and infants being killed by the sword or dashed on the rocks.

Eating Their Own Children

In Leviticus 26:28-29 the Lord said that if Israel didn’t listen to Him that “I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters” (see also Deut. 28:53-57). Later, during the apostasy of Judah, Ezekiel warned:

Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again. Therefore in your midst fathers will eat their children, and children will eat their fathers. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds.

Similarly the Lord said in Jeremiah 19:9: “I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.”

And this came true. After Judah was destroyed by Babylon, Jeremiah wrote in Lamentations 4:10: “The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food during the destruction of the daughter of my people” (see also Lam. 2:20). That the author of Lamentations wasn’t engaging in hyperbole is clear from 2 Kings 6:26-29:

As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, “Help me, my lord the king!” The king replied, “If the LORD does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?” Then he asked her, “What’s the matter?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.”

Being killed by the sword is a better way to die than by starvation, yet many Israelites starved, certainly including many women and children. As Lamentations 4:9 tells us: “Happier were the victims of the sword than the victims of hunger, who wasted away, pierced by lack of the fruits of the field.”[3]

The Lord wasn’t engaging in hyperbole when He warned the Israelites that they would starve and then turn to eating their children.


So what do we know? Women were raped. Young and old, men and maidens, were killed by the sword. Children were dashed on the rocks. Adults and children starved. Parents ate their children. God told Israel that if they committed the sins of the Canaanites that they would suffer these things and this was not hyperbole. If that’s the case, why should we think that God’s command to destroy all of the Canaanites living in a particular area was hyperbole?

We shouldn’t. Instead we must come to grips with the fact that the Canaanites, and then the Israelites, completely depraved themselves and that the Lord said that those who do those things deserve to die. We need to learn to hate sin like God hates sin.

I will address other hyperbole arguments in my next post.

[1] See also Deut. 8:19-20.

[2] ESV.

[3] ESV.

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