Wisdom’s Theodicy for the Canaanite Massacre

The book of Wisdom in the Deutero-canon of the Old Testament works out a very interesting and reflective theodicy in light of the massacre of the Canaanites recorded in the book of Joshua. The theodicy is interesting as it provides a great deal to think about.

For your immortal spirit is in all things.
Therefore you correct little by little those who trespass,
and you remind and warn them of the things through which they sin,
so that they may be freed from wickedness and put their trust in you, O Lord.

Those who lived long ago in your holy land
you hated for their detestable practices,
their works of sorcery and unholy rites,
their merciless slaughter of children,
and their sacrificial feasting on human flesh and blood.
These initiates from the midst of a heathen cult,
these parents who murder helpless lives,
you willed to destroy by the hands of our ancestors,
so that the land most precious of all to you
might receive a worthy colony of the servants of God.
But even these you spared, since they were but mortals,
and sent wasps as forerunners of your army
to destroy them little by little,
though you were not unable to give the ungodly into the hands of the righteous in battle,
or to destroy them at one blow by dread wild animals or your stern word.
But judging them little by little you gave them an opportunity to repent,
though you were not unaware that their origin was evil
and their wickedness inborn,
and that their way of thinking would never change.
For they were an accursed race from the beginning,
and it was not through fear of anyone that you left them unpunished for their sins.

For who will say, ‘What have you done?’
or will resist your judgement?
Who will accuse you for the destruction of nations that you made?
Or who will come before you to plead as an advocate for the unrighteous?
For neither is there any god besides you, whose care is for all people,
to whom you should prove that you have not judged unjustly;
nor can any king or monarch confront you about those whom you have punished.
You are righteous and you rule all things righteously,
deeming it alien to your power
to condemn anyone who does not deserve to be punished.
For your strength is the source of righteousness,
and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.
For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power,
and you rebuke any insolence among those who know it.
Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness,
and with great forbearance you govern us;
for you have power to act whenever you choose.

Through such works you have taught your people
that the righteous must be kind,
and you have filled your children with good hope,
because you give repentance for sins.
For if you punished with such great care and indulgence
the enemies of your servants and those deserving of death,
granting them time and opportunity to give up their wickedness,
with what strictness you have judged your children,
to whose ancestors you gave oaths and covenants full of good promises!
So while chastening us you scourge our enemies ten thousand times more,
so that, when we judge, we may meditate upon your goodness,
and when we are judged, we may expect mercy.
~ Wisdom 12:1-22

It is interesting that we are here given information about the Canaanites which doesn’t appear anywhere else, such as that they were cannibals and that God had been extremely patient with the Canaanites in sending wasps as forerunners of Israel. It is interesting that this information (whether true or not) is provided as though it somehow lessens our sense of scandal at the massacre. I think perhaps it does just that, since we can sympathise with people less the less like us they are. The theodicy then appeals to our inability, and God’s ability and prerogative, to judge the nations which he alone has made.

The theodicy thus bears striking resemblance to the theodicy in Job; appealing to God’s nature and sovereignty, it rhetorically asks who will question his judgements or believe that they were not deserved. Since God has made all these nations, we ought not be scandalized by his destruction of any of them, since we can believe that it is against his nature and power to punish those not deserving. Notice then that the whole meditation turns to Israel herself, and recognizes that if God is ready to punish, we ought, for fear and love of the Lord, to be righteous ourselves. Israel recognizes with what patience God is treating Israel, and wishes to not neglect, as did the Canaanites, God’s patient calls to repentance. This is an insight which a Christian reader can borrow for herself as well, since she can read the story in such a way that she herself is invited to recognize with what Grace and patience God seeks her salvation.

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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