So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city. They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword. Joshua 6:20-21
We’ve celebrated with Israel for God’s faithfulness and His great display of power in the victory that He gave at Jericho. This was not a work of their own hands, but a work of God who delivered the Canaanites into their hands so that all of Canaan would know the mighty hand of the God of Israel.
God does not work in a vacuum, and as He was doing a work in Israel, He was also doing a work in the Canaanites. The clear distinction here is that we see God’s hand on the destruction of one people (the Canaanites) for the sake of another (the Israelites).
God and Violence
This week’s look into conquering the Promised Land can be difficult for us. The reality is that in giving land to Israel, God was also removing the Canaanites from the land – they were completely displaced, in a very permanent way:
They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword. Joshua 6:21
These are difficult words for us, especially since we like to focus on our God as a God of love. Today the world is filled with religious acts of war on an almost daily basis, so common that we all know the name jihad. Have you ever wondered or been asked the question, “What is the difference between the God of the Old Testament who orders death and violence, and the Islamist extremist today? Aren’t both just religious zealots?” Can you condone one and not the other? Do we serve the same God today?
Comparing what is happening today (a Jihadist bombing or shooting in a marketplace or nightclub or church) with what happened in Jericho is not comparing apples to apples; these are two completely different scenarios. There is a radical difference between the violence in the Old Testament and Islamic Jihad. Below are a few of those differences. (Disclaimer – there are differing views of interpretation and application of the Qur’an. This is not an exhaustive study, but intended to give a broad understanding for your personal growth.)
1. The violence prescribed by God in the Old Testament was intended for a particular time and limited to a particular people group. The conquest of Canaan had clear limits (geographically and historically), making it very different from the continuing Islamic commands regarding jihad.
2. The conquest of Canaan set no precedent to continue warfare beyond what God had commanded. In contrast, the Qur’an actually prescribes and condones military jihad in the promotion of Islam. At no time in the Bible do we see God commanding His people to kill unbelievers in the promotion of biblical faith.
3. Islam was founded and promoted by the sword from the beginning. It was exactly the opposite for early Christianity – many of the early Christians were severely persecuted and martyred for their commitment to Christ.
4. For the Christian, the final and complete revelation of God is in Jesus Christ, who was non-violent (Matthew 5-7). If a Christian engages in violence in the name of Christ, he is doing so in direct disobedience of his Master. Jesus taught that all who live by the sword will die by it (Matthew 26:52). Jesus said that we are to pray for those who persecute us, love our enemies, and that God is the judge and He will execute His judgment. The teachings and example of Muhammad are quite different. A Muslim who desires to commit violence in the name of Islam will find ample justification for his action both in the Qur’an and in the words and actions of the prophet Muhammad.
5. After the conquest of Canaan, all wars condoned by God for His people were defensive – Global conquest was not the goal.
6. The Old Testament includes accounts of violence required by God, but not all the violence in the Old Testament was sanctioned by God. There are several types of writing in the Old Testament (poetic, prophetic, and historical), and there are historical accounts of violence in the Old Testament that were not sanctioned or condoned by God. There’s a clear difference between the Old Testament and the Qur’an, which contains mostly the words of the prophet and includes commands for violence.
7. The Old Testament warfare that God commanded wasn’t about subjugating inferior peoples. God did not promise the Jews that they were the best of people and that their enemies were inferior. He made this very clear in Deuteronomy 9:
After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations…Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people. Deuteronomy 9:4-6
The Hebrews were not inherently better than the Canaanites; they too were a stubborn and stiff-necked people. This was not about affirming the superiority of the Hebrews by giving them victory so much as judging the sins of the Canaanites.
The Qur’an, by contrast, envisions Muslims as the best people: “You are the best of all people, evolved for mankind” (3:110). It also teaches that Jews and Christians who don’t convert to Islam are the worst of all creation: “Those who do not believe [in Islam] from among the Jews and Christians and the idolators will go to hell. They are the worst of creatures” (98:6; see 98:1–5 for context). This is why the Qur’an commands Muslims to fight Jews and Christians, so that Allah may cause Islam “to prevail over all religions” (9:33).
The modern-day Jihad and the violence of the Old Testament are very different. But we still need to look at the truth that God commanded the total destruction of a city. How do we reconcile these acts of violence commanded by God and His grace?
Judgment and Grace
This was a commandment by God:
and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. Deuteronomy 7:2
Why would God command this destruction? We know that God created all of mankind, and that all of mankind are created in His image. We can learn more from Genesis:
God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years…”Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” Genesis 15:13, 16
God does not work in isolation – He sees the big picture, and how one act affects another. God was rightly and justly dealing with both the Hebrews and the Canaanites. He made a covenant with Abraham, and told him that he would be a great nation and that one day his descendants would return to the land of Canaan. But first, Abraham’s descendants would be enslaved for 400 years before they returned to the land because the sin of the Amorites (a people of Canaan) was not yet complete.
In other words, God saw the trajectory of the Amorites. They were a sinful, rebellious people who would not repent, but God wanted them to have the opportunity. This was not capricious genocide but an act of judgment. This was not about the superiority of Israel for the greater race, but about the sin of Canaan. God used Israel to execute His judgment.
From this, we see the long-suffering of God and His patience and longing for His creation. This was not a joyful moment for God, but a necessary one that fit His own character as a just and holy God. We see this as we look at other cities that were slated for destruction.
Examples of Judgment and Grace
Sodom and Gomorra
And the LORD said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. “I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” Genesis 18:20-21
Abraham pleaded on behalf of city, asking God to spare the righteous. Each time Abraham asked, God said He would spare the city for the righteous (even down to ten righteous) God did not spare the city, but He remembered Abraham and God did spare Lot and his family:
Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before the LORD; and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the valley, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace. Thus it came about, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived. Genesis 19:27-29
God could no longer stand the wickedness of Nineveh, so He called Jonah to go and proclaim His goodness:
The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” Jonah 1:1-2
Jonah refused to go, but we also know that he eventually made it to the city to preach. The people of Nineveh repented and turned to God:
“Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. Jonah 3:9-10
Nineveh was a city that had dealt harshly with Israel and was exceedingly wicked, and yet God spared them as they repented. God is and has always been a God of grace. God is not out to destroy people but He is a jealous God who protects and defends His eternal plans for His glory.
We typically think of jealousy as something negative, but there is a right kind of Godly jealously that we see in scripture. Paul said that he was jealous for the Corinthians because he had brought them into the faith. He had a special and unique relationship with them (2 Corinthians 11). God has a special and unique relationship with His creation, and He is the only true God. God shares His glory with no other; He is jealous for His glory and for His people. This unique relationship cannot be replicated by any other person or being.
The Land of Canaan – Jericho
God had to act because He is a jealous and unique God – no one and no thing can stand in His place. God had given the Canaanites 400 years to repent! The Canaanites would have know about Abraham, and were not unaware of the God of Israel. The account of Sodom and Gomorra, a clear picture of God’s intolerance of wickedness and sin, would have been passed down through the generations.
God was executing His plan for the Messiah, and entering into the land was a significant part of that plan promised to Abraham hundreds of years before. God has a global and eternal plan, and if Canaan had repented, God would have relented. God was simply protecting His people from a people who had long been in a rebellious state. In Joshua 2, Rahab said that the hearts of the people had melted when they heard about the God of Israel. Rahab was saved by God because she believed and put her trust in the God of Israel, but Rahab and her family were the only ones who did.
Our God is not mean, but He is holy. Is our God different today than He was then? No! The greater point is that the people were in rebellion to God. They had many opportunities to repent, but they refused – this should heighten our awareness of our own sin.
- God created mankind in His image for His glory.
- God created mankind to be in relationship with Him.
- Man sinned against His creator trying to rob God of His glory: “I want to be like God.” The penalty for sin is death.
- God always planned to intercede for man’s failure and pay the price because of His glory (through the work of Christ).
- God is a jealous God because He has a unique position in creation and in our lives as creator and sustainer of life.
- He is just and righteous.
- He is also loving and full of grace. He does not want any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.
- The people of Canaan rejected God’s kindness and grace, as did Pharaoh in Egypt and even Israel at times, which led to their captivity.
The scriptures display the goodness of God and declares that He wants none to perish but all to come to repentance. God tells us through His word that He is not to be mocked, and we will reap what we sow. God is true to His word and we are not to presume on His patience.
God is justified in all He does – He is God. We are the clay, He is the potter. We are the created, He is the creator. The truth of His character is still our guide. God’s patience is perfect but not endless. God will discipline whom He loves and judge those who reject Him, so do not squander your time to repent. God is our good Father, He is a wonderful maker, and Jesus is our friend, but worship must involve the totality of God’s character. He does bring judgment, He is holy, and He is to be feared and obeyed.
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
In The Chronicles of Narnia series, author C.S. Lewis depicts Jesus as a lion named Aslan. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver says this about Aslan:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” ―C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe