Monday, March 16, 2015

Patrick Fairbairn on the Conquest of Canaan

On the contrary, we affirm that, if contemplated in the broad and comprehensive light in which Scripture itself presents them to our view, they may be read with satisfaction, though certainly not without awe; that there is not an essential element belonging to them, which does not equally enter into the principles of the Gospel dispensation; and that any difference which may here present itself between the Old and the New is, as in all other cases, a difference merely in form, but founded upon an essential agreement. This will appear whether it is viewed in respect to the Canaanites, to the Israelites, or to the times of the Gospel dispensation.

1. Viewed, first of all, in respect to the Canaanites as the execution of deserved judgment on their sins (in which light Scripture uniformly represents it, so far as they are concerned), there is nothing in it to offend the feelings of any well-constituted Christian mind. From the beginning to the end of the Bible, God appears as the righteous Judge and avenger of sin, and does so not unfrequently by the infliction of fearful things in righteousness. If we can contemplate Him bringing on the cities of the plain the vengeance of eternal fire, because their sins had waxed great and were come up to heaven; or, at a later period, even in Gospel times, can reflect how the wrath was made to fall on the Jewish nation to the uttermost; or, finally, can think of impenitent sinners being appointed, in the world to come, to the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone for ever and ever ; — if we can contemplate such things entering into the administration of God, without any disturbance to our convictions that the Judge of all the earth does only what is right, it were surely unreasonable to complain of the severities exercised on the foul inhabitants of Canaan. Their abominations were of a kind that might be said emphatically to cry to Heaven — such idolatrous rites as tended to defile their very consciences, and the habitual practice of pollutions which were a disgrace to humanity. The land is represented as incapable of bearing any longer the mass of defilements which overspread it, as even ‘vomiting out its inhabitants;' and ‘therefore,' it is added, ‘the Lord visited their iniquity upon them.’ Nor was this vengeance taken on them summarily: the time of judgment was preceded by a long season of forbearance, during which they were plied with many calls to repentance. So early as the age of Abraham, the Lord manifested Himself toward them both in the way of judgment and of mercy, - of judgment, by the awful destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, cutting off the most infected portion, that the rest might fear, and turn from their evil ways; of mercy, by raising up in the midst of them such eminent saints as Abraham and Melchizedek. That period, and the one immediately succeeding, was peculiarly the day of their merciful visitation. But they knew it not; and so, according to God's usual method of dealing, He gradually removed the candlestick out of its place — withdrew His witnesses to another region, in consequence of which the darkness continually deepened, and the iniquity of the people at last became full. Then only was it that the cloud of divine wrath began to threaten them with overwhelming destruction — not, however, even then, without giving awful indications of its approach by the wonders wrought in Egypt and at the Red Sea, and again hanging long in suspense during the forty years' sojourn in the wilderness, as if waiting till further space had been given for repentance. But as all proved in vain, mercy at length gave place to judgment, according to the principle common alike to all dispensations: 'He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall be suddenly destroyed, and that without remedy;' and, ‘Where the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.' In plain terms, whenever iniquity has reached its last stage, the judgment of Heaven is at hand. This principle was as strikingly exemplified in the case of the Jews after our Lord's appearing, as in the case of these Canaanites before. In the parables of the barren fig-tree and the wicked husbandmen in the vineyard, the same place is assigned it in the Christian dispensation which it formerly held in the Jewish. And in the experience of all who, despite of merciful invitations and solemn threatenings, perish from the way of life, it must find an attestation so much more appalling than the one now referred to, as a lost eternity exceeds in evil the direst calamities of time. In fine, the very same may be said of the objections brought against the destruction of the Canaanites, which was said by Richard Baxter of many of the controversies started in his day: ‘The true root of all the difference is, whether there be a God and a life to come.' Grant only a moral government and a time of retribution, and such cases as those under consideration become not only just, but necessary.

2. Again, let the judgment executed upon the Canaanites be viewed in respect to the instruments employed in enforcing it — the Israelites — and in this aspect also nothing will be found in it at variance with the great principles of truth and righteousness. The Canaanites, it is to be understood, in this view of the matter, deserved destruction, and were actually doomed to it by a divine sentence. But must not the execution of such a sentence by the hand of the Israelites have tended to produce a hardening effect upon the minds of the conquerors? Was it not fitted to lead them to regard themselves as the appointed executors of Heaven's vengeance, wherever they themselves might deem this to be due, and to render their example a most dangerous precedent for every wild enthusiast who might choose to allege a commission from Heaven to pillage and destroy his fellow-men? Charges of this description have not infrequently been advanced; but they evidently proceed on the tacit assumption that there was in reality no doom of Heaven pronounced against the Canaanites, and no special commission given to the Israelites to execute it — this ignoring one part of the sacred narrative for the purpose of throwing discredit on another. Or it is implied that God must be debarred from carrying on His administration in such a way as may best suit the ends of divine wisdom, because human fraud or folly may take encouragement from thence to practise an unwarranted and improper imitation.

Thoughts of this description carry their own refutation along with them. The commission given to the Israelites was limited to the one task of sweeping the land of Canaan of its original occupants. But this manifestly conferred on them no right to deal out the same measure of severity to others; and so far from creating a thirst for human blood, in cases where they had no authority to shed it, they even fainted in fulfilling their commission to extirpate the people of Canaan. This, however, is only the negative side of the question; and viewed in another and more positive aspect, the employment of the Israelites to execute this work of judgment was eminently calculated to produce a salutary impression upon their minds, and to promote the ends for which the judgment was appointed. For what could be conceived so thoroughly fitted to implant in their hearts an abiding conviction of the evil of idolatry and its foul abominations — to convert their abhorrence of these into a national, permanent characteristic — as their being obliged to enter on their settled inheritance by a terrible infliction of judgment upon its former occupants for polluting it with such enormities? Thus the very foundations of their national existence raised a solemn warning against defection from the pure worship of God; and the visitation of divine wrath against the ungodliness of men accomplished by their own hands, and interwoven with the records of their history at its most eventful period, stood as a perpetual witness against them, if they should ever turn aside to folly. Happy had it been for them, if they had been as careful to remember the lesson as God was to have it suitably impressed upon their minds.

3. But the propriety and even moral necessity of the course pursued become manifest, when we view the proceeding in its typical bearing — the respect it had to Gospel times. There were reasons, as we have seen, connected with the Canaanites themselves and the surrounding nations, sufficient to justify the whole that was done ; But we cannot see the entire design of it, or even perceive its leading object, without looking further, and connecting it with the higher purposes of God respecting His kingdom among men. What He sought in Canaan was an inheritance, — a place of rest and blessing for His people, but still only a temporary inheritance, and as such a type and pledge of that final rest which remains for the people of God. All, therefore, had to be arranged concerning the one, so as fitly to represent and image the higher and more important things which belong to the other; that the past and the temporary might serve as a mirror in which to foreshadow the future and abiding; and that the principles of God's dealing toward His Church might be seen to be essentially the same, whether displayed on the theatre of present or of eternal realities. It was partly at least, on this account, that the place chosen for the inheritance of Israel was allowed, in the first instance, to become in a peculiar sense the region of pollution, — a region that required to be sanctified by an act of divine judgment upon its corrupt possessors, and thereby fitted for becoming the home and heritage of saints. In this way alone could the things done concerning it shadow forth and prepare for the final possession of a glorified world, — an inheritance which also needs to be redeemed from the powers of darkness that meanwhile overspread it with their corruptions, and which must be sanctified by terrible acts of judgment upon their ungodliness, before it can become the meet abode of saints in glory. The spirit of antichrist must be judged and cast out; Babylon, the mother of abominations, which has made the earth drunk with the wine of her fornications, must come in remembrance before God, and receive the due reward of her sins; so that woes of judgment and executions of vengeance most precede the Church's occupation of her purchased inheritance, similar in kind to those which put Israel in possession of the land of Canaan. What, indeed, are the scenes presented to our view in the concluding chapters of Revelation, but an expansion to the affairs of a world, and the destinies of a coming eternity, of those which we find depicted in the wars of Joshua? In these awful scenes we behold, on the one hand, the Captain of Salvation, of whom Joshua was but an imperfect type, going forth to victory with the company of a redeemed and elect Church, supported by the word of God, and the resistless artillery of heaven; while, on the other hand, we see the doomed enemies of God and the Church long borne with, but now at last delivered to judgment — the wrath falling on them to the uttermost, — and, when the world has been finally relieved of their abominations, the new heavens and the new earth rising into view, where righteousness, pure and undefiled, is to have its perennial habitation.

From: The Typology of Scripture.

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