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Canaanites in the Land

Exodus 23:23–33

[23] “When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, [24] you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. [25] You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. [26] None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. [27] I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. [28] And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. [29] I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. [30] Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. [31] And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. [32] You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. [33] They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” (ESV)

In our seemingly never-ending battle against all things Canaanite in our modern North American culture we sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. We lose sight of the centrality of the Church in the Kingdom of God. Those of us with a positive eschatology often get charged with wanting to put the ecclesiastical powers in charge of some sort of “theocratic” state. We are told by many that this is called “Dominionism” and that we desire to impose God’s law on everyone whether they want it or not; whether Christian, Muslim, Pagan, or whatever. This is, simply, not what Postmillennialists of any stripe believe. There is of course a difference between a “theocracy” and “ecclesiocracy”. The former is an inescapable concept and the latter is forbidden by God’s law. In other words, every political system is a Theocracy in a sense; it just depends on what “theos” the culture worships. A biblical concept of the separation of church and state means that we separate the offices and spheres of the church and the state; not that we separate the sovereigns of church and state. There is one sovereign of both church and state and he rose from the dead. An ecclesiocracy is where the church institute would also be governing the state. The office of clergy is not to govern the state and make laws directly, but they do hold the central role in making God-honouring culture-makers. The church and its gospel proclamation must remain central in the Christian cultural reformation project. The project is both long term in its outlook and is dependent on the covenant faithfulness of the society in question.

Exodus 23 reflects this long-term, postmillennial hope. In it God told the Israelites coming into the land that He would drive out the Canaanite peoples gradually, not all at once, in order that the land not become desolate (verse 30). The land needed to be tended and God would let the Canaanites do this until the Israelites were ready. Why did God do it this way? He could have driven out the Canaanites in one fell swoop. He could have installed a Davidic monarchy straight-away and foregone the messy transition phase of the judges where Israel was constantly adulterating with the culture and religion around them. But he did it gradually. Why? Well, He tells us why. God knew that the people were not ready to possess the land. The passage tells us that it was for the simple fact that they had not multiplied enough to fulfill the cultural mandate of taking care of the new garden that God was giving them. They were to multiply, destroy the current Godless culture, and in its place set up a Godly culture based on the Law of God. We know from other places in scripture that the people also needed to learn other lessons about war, faithfulness, etc. before they would be ready to rid themselves of the Canaanites. Israel did not ever succeed in fully defeating Canaanite culture as spiritual idolatry was their constant problem throughout their history.

We in North America live in an increasingly Canaanite culture. What do you think would happen if God were to directly appoint an evangelical Christian to become a head of state either in Canada or the United States? I would submit: not much. The morality of the law reflects the morality of the culture. Our culture needs a revival, a turning to Jesus Christ as King, a writing of the Law upon our hearts, before the Law could be implemented full scale. Upon our culture’s heart is written the law of Darwin, greed, Hollywood, immorality, and murder. God’s enemies do not slack when it comes to evangelism and culture-making. In fact, as Voddie Baucham says, we give our sons and daughters to Jericho central school and are then surprised when they come out as Canaanites. There is much work to be done before Canaan can be called Israel.

You see, the church has largely retreated from speaking into culture, politics, economics, etc. Large portions of the church have truncated the Gospel to a “pie in the sky, say a prayer before I die” message. In other words, Christianity is reduced to saying a prayer and then looking forward to a better life in heaven (hopefully sooner rather than later). This has resulted in a large portion of the church that has no idea how to handle these spheres of culture from a Biblical worldview. We do not have enough faithful Christians prepared to engage or hold any cultural space; the same space which we have been gradually handing over to the unbeliever. We have few Christians to speak into a Godless culture because they have either handed the culture over to them completely waiting for a rapture or have decided that everyone should have a voice at the table of (some sort of) common grace. We have developed excuses in order that we might keep God’s Law-Word within the confines of the church walls.

We don’t have many Christians willing to walk around a Jericho. Some would say that Jericho is hopelessly lost and is already “going to hell in a handbasket”. What is the point of trying to redeem an ungodly city like that? Let’s just wait for the second coming of Jesus. Others say the fact that Jericho exists is perfectly legitimate because they are in the “secular” sphere. They are in the “lower kingdom” and thus we are not to bring the Law of God to bear on pagans who just reject it anyways. “No,” they say, “we must meet them on “neutral” ground. We can all have a seat at the table because there is no particularly Christian way of creating culture.”

We need more Christians with a fully developed Biblical worldview. This is where the centrality of the Church comes in. Again, this is not purely a cultural pursuit where, for example, church leadership is making political decisions for the state. To put it frankly, with the state of the church today, a church-run state might not look much different than the statist governments we have now. But, if the church and its leadership does its kingdom work, it makes kingdom-makers. The church needs to be making an army to take the land. We need to be growing a generation that will herald Christ as King and telling the world who has actually inherited the earth (Matt. 5:5; Rom. 4:13). Hint: it’s not Satan. Of course, we do not fight flesh and blood in this New Covenant age (Eph. 6:12), but we fight against the powers and principalities waging war on the truth. We need to be always ready to give an answer for the hope that lies in us (1 Peter 3:15) so that we will gradually disciple the nations to follow Christ (Matt. 28:18-19). We believe that, though the situation looks grim at times – the land has giants, chariots, walled cities –, that God will keep his promise. The Postmillennialist believes that the Great Commission is great and that it will ultimately be accomplished by the Spirit and grace of God. The Postmillennialist doesn’t become pessimistic over current events in the newspaper because we have a long term, multi-generational view. We understand that the Kingdom of God grows like a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32). The Kingdom infiltrates the earth like leaven in a loaf (Matt. 13:33). The Kingdom comes gradually, until the knowledge of the Lord fills the earth as the water covers the sea (Isaiah 11:9). Jesus is enthroned as King in heaven and so God’s Kingdom is here and now; it is a tangible, physical manifestation of his Lordship. The church needs to equip Christians to understand Christ as Lord in every area of life.

Cultural reformation is integral to the Gospel of the Kingdom. It is, however, necessarily downstream from repentance, regeneration, local church evangelism, personal and familial discipleship, leadership from men and fathers, and so on. Peter Leithart puts it this way: “the church’s main role in the world, and its main political role, is to produce a race of godly men and women through its preaching, worship, and discipline. The church also influences politics by offering prayers for all in authority. The church is most effective not by becoming a political lobbyist, but by being the church.”[1] He goes on to give a useful example:

“a church obedient to Christ’s command to teach all of His commandments will, however, have a significant effect on political views of its members. One of the great deceptions of the modern world is the belief that the state can solve all social problems. Suppose a woman laboring under that deception is converted and joins a faithful church. She will begin to see the folly of her earlier opinion. She will learn that Christ alone is the Saviour of the world. She will learn of the effects of sin on political life. She will learn that statism is ultimately a form of idolatry. She will, in short, begin to develop a very different perspective on politics in general, and this will lead her to change her positions on specific issues as well. If she was a radical feminist, she will begin to see that the Bible teachers something very different about womanhood. If she was pro-abortion, she will learn that the Bible teaches that abortion is murder.”[2]

Far from being a top down pursuit, the postmillennial hope begins with the church and its mission to disciple. This will lead to more Christians who will strive to apply the Law of God in their lives, churches, homes, and increasingly in the cultural spheres to which they have influence. God could have just wiped the Canaanites off the face of the earth in a second if He had intended to. He chose, however, to drive them out “little by little” so that the Israelites were ready to properly defend and care for the land. The conquest was a long-term enterprise. It took hard work and God wanted them to not only be ready to destroy Canaanite culture, but to be ready to set up a Godly culture in its place. We are still living off the deep roots of Christian culture in the west, but these being rapidly dug up. The church needs to begin establishing new roots by sowing the seeds of a Godly culture by equipping its members with the sword of the Spirit; the Law of God. God will not drive the Canaanites out if there are no sowers.

The solution is, and always has been, the Great Commission. You see, the postmillennial hope is also based on covenant faithfulness. This passage tells us that there will be blessings for the people of Israel. But if you read closely, you will notice that these blessings are conditional; they are conditioned on their obedience to Yahweh. If they broke covenant with their husband, Yahweh, the gods they worshipped in his place “would be a snare for [them]”. We find this vividly described in the book of Judges especially. The Israelites whored after other gods and cultures and Yahweh sent judgement to them. This judgement took the form of evil and corrupt regimes (Amorites, Midianites, Philistines, Canaanites, etc.). These nations also brought their evil culture with them. God was giving the Israelites what they wanted. God was essentially saying to them: “you want Canaanite culture? You got it!”

The point for us in all this is: don’t be pessimistic! We should not be surprised that when we as a society disobey God, that He gives us an ungodly culture to lord over us. The West has broken covenant with God and is abandoning any semblance of God’s law and Christianity from its culture. This doesn’t mean that we are headed to an end of the world event, or that the anti-Christ is around the corner. It simply means that God is punishing our culture by giving us what we want. He is handing us over to be slaves to our appetites. If you look through biblical and church history you can find many instances of judgement on a nation or a culture. John Calvin once said that “if God wants to judge a nation, He gives them wicked rulers.” Look around. Psalm 2:12 says to the kings of the earth: “kiss the son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.” This should be our message to our culture: honour Christ or you will be judged by the King. We understand that Christ must reign until all his enemies be made his footstool (Psalm 110). But Psalm 2:12 goes on to say that “blessed are all those who take refuge in him”. Amidst all the crazy things happening in our culture today, we hold out the hope of the gospel. This is not simply a place in heaven one day. This is the blessing of the now-reigning King of kings.

[1] Leithart J., Peter. The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1993, (201).

[2] Ibid.

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