July 8, 2011
Reading through Deuteronomy and Joshua in our small group has brought up this issue a number of times…
How is it that God could sanction or even direct the annihilation of whole communities of people as Israel enter and occupy the promised land? Perhaps keeping the following points in mind will help when we read these difficult sections:
1. The first thing it shows is that religion in itself offers no protection against God’s judgement. The Canaanites were very religious but their religion was an abomination to God (Deuteronomy 18:9-12). False religion takes something that is not God (an idol) and worships it as a replacement for God. This robs God of the honour that is due to Him and that is why He will not finally tolerate it (Isaiah 42:8).
2. Contrary to how it might appear, God does not hold human life cheap. Human beings are made in the image of God and that is another reason why anything (including false religion) that debases and degrades people is an abomination to God (Remember the sins of the nations in Amos chapter 2?). This same truth is also clearly seen in the destruction that God brought on the world in Noah’s day because of violence (Genesis 6:13) and on Sodom and Gomorrah in Abraham’s day because of immorality (Genesis 18:20; 19:4-5).
Canaanite religion involved, among other things, child sacrifice and, so called ‘sacred’ prostitution (Deuteronomy 18:10; Leviticus 19:29). God’s verdict was that these were vile abominations. The danger of his own people being corrupted by it was so great, that it could be dealt with only by wholesale destruction (Deuteronomy 7:1-5).
The provision of cities of refuge in Joshua chapter 20 (to offer sanctuary to those who had committed unintentionally manslaughter) is a striking reminder again, right in the midst of the bloody conquest, of the very high value that God places on human life.
3.The judgement on the Canaanites came after a long period of patience from God. Already in Abraham’s time, the wickedness of the Amonites (Who lived in Canaan) was known to God but He restrained His hand for four hundred years (Genesis 15:16). His judgement did not come quickly but when it did, it came with devastating finality.
4. As a special act of God’s judgement in history, these narratives serve as a warning of the final judgement. In this respect too, they are like Noah’s flood and the destruction of Sodom. We cannot generalise from them to justify any form of religious war today. It is for God, not us, to determine when this kind of action is required, and there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that God intends to act in this particular way in history again.
5. It’s important that we see that it is God who orchestrates and directs the entire conquest (Joshua 5:13-15). The Promised land belonged to God, not Israel – God gave it to them as a gift, and they would be tenants in the land for as long as they stayed faithful to the covenant made at Sinai (Joshua 23:14-16). The conquest is clearly presented as “Holy war” all throughout the book of Joshua, with God preparing the way and giving Israel the victories ( 2:11, 5:1, 8:1-2, 10:8-14 etc). Because the land belongs to God, it is to be purified and it must be a holy land… therefore even Israel are not exempt from judgement :” If you defile the land it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” Leviticus 18:28. In this way, we should see a foreshadowing of the new creation – “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Revelation 21:27.
6. Finally, the story of Rahab the prostitute (Josh 2:1-21; 6:22-23) illustrates the fact that God’s mercy is still available to those who are prepared to give up their false gods and practices and cast themselves upon Him. That mercy is still available today (Acts 2:21; 2 Corinthians 6:2).
The book of Joshua confronts us, among other things, with the terrible reality of God’s judgement. It is a reality Christians must not shrink from, for the New Testament speaks of it no less clearly than the Old. God’s mercy is now offered to us through Christ, but where that offer is rejected, final and terrible judgement still remains an absolute certainty (Hebrews 10:26-31).
by Andy Bruins