Upon reading through the Book of Judges one of the themes that would unfold before your eyes is the “Canaanization of Israel.” You may not initially define what you read as that, but nonetheless, it’s there, definitive, and progressive. The phrase itself deals with the land the children of Israel were commanded to conquer and what happened because they didn’t conquer it the way the LORD had commanded them to. When the children of Israel went into the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, they didn’t have to ‘wing it’, they were given specific instructions to possess the land and expel the inhabitants. Deuteronomy 7 lays this out very clearly:
1 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, 2 and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. 3 Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. 4 For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the Lord will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly. 5 But thus you shall deal with them: you shall destroy their altars, and break down their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images, and burn their carved images with fire. (Deut. 7:1-5)
The LORD promised to deliver the Canaanites into their hands and He warned them that if they didn’t expel and destroy the inhabitants they would become a snare for them (Deut 7:16b). Well, Israel conquered the land and broke the back of Canaanite resistance under Joshua but they didn’t complete the conquest. As becomes immediately noticeable in the opening chapter, rather than expelling the inhabitants, they chose coexistence over conquest.
As a result, they became “Canaanized.”
In the Book of Judges we not only see a cycle of Israel’s rebellion and God’s deliverance, but a downward spiral as it relates to the nation’s morality. The inhabitants of Canaan truly were a snare to them. The Israelite tribes adopted their practices, their ways of thinking, their false gods, and their false worship. You could say – they joined the “world” in rebelling against the LORD who brought them up out of Egypt and into the land He had promised to their fathers; hence the phrase, “The Canaanization of Israel.”
Daniel Block, Professor of OT at Wheaton College, thought this to be the central theme of the Book of Judges and one that would have immediate relevance to modern day readers. He wrote,
Herein lies the key to the relevance of this ancient composition for North American Christianity, for like the Israelites of the settlement period, we have largely forgotten the covenant Lord and have come to take for granted His gracious redemptive work on our behalf. Like the ancient Israelites we too are being squeezed into the mold of the pagan world around us. Evidences of the “Canaanization” of the church are everywhere: our preoccupation with material prosperity, which turns Christianity into a fertility religion; our syncretistic and aberrant forms of worship; our refusal to obey the Lord’s call to separation from the world; our divisiveness and competitiveness; our moral compromises, as a result of which Christians and non-Christians are often indistinguishable; our [male] exploitation and abuse of women and children; our reluctance to answer the Lords’ call to service, and when we finally go, our propensity to displace “Thy kingdom come” with “My kingdom come”; our eagerness to fight the Lord’s battles with the world’s resources and strategies; our willingness to stand up and defend perpetrators of evil instead of justice (Block, NAC, 70).
Thus, you could say – as New Testament Christians we are called to resist “Canaanization” as well. To do so we ought to take both offensive and defensive postures, spiritually-speaking. In Romans 12:2 the apostle Paul told the church, “Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Therefore, by the grace of God, let us resist temptations to conform to the world and compromise with sin, and let our minds be consistently renewed and refocused by God’s truth. Let us learn a lesson from the post-Joshua generation: setting up shop in the land of compromise, where sin is justified instead of mortified, is, unless graciously interrupted, a sure fire path to Canaanization. Don’t get settled in a place you ought not to be; don’t excuse coexistence with sin; offer up your body to the Lord Jesus Christ as a living sacrifice, and let your thinking and living be contoured, not to the world, but to His Word.