When we move into the Book of Joshua, we find war, deception, the killing of women and children, destruction of cities and other things that trouble us. I mean, didn’t Jesus teach us to love our enemies and to do good to them? The Messiah is the God of the Hebrew Scriptures who took on human form in the New Testament. Did God change His character since the Old Testament conquest?
On the surface, it may seem this way. And while I will be first to say these things can be troubling, they also are not in contradiction to the nature of God.
A word we hear often in Joshua is the discussion of the devoted (herem – חרם) things for Yahweh (6:17). This was a call for total destruction – annihilating its population and its animals and even dedicating valuable items to the LORD’s treasury. Herem was not invented by Israel, as archeological evidence shows, it was practiced by the Canaanite nations. Also, it is highly unlikely it was ever acted upon. It was a brutal way of expressing the absolute separation from the pagan population. Once you get to Judges, you realize this separation never occurred.
We also know of those who were not put on herem, such as Rahab and her family and the Gibeonites. The world wants to use things like this to separate us from God. They want to display Yahweh as an impatient, angry and vindictive God. Rarely will they quote Exodus 34:6-7, which speaks of the true character of the God of Israel – merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Rarely will they discuss the goal of God’s nation – to bless the nations of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3). And certainly they will not recount the many narratives displaying these things.
I learned of some great 7 minute videos that help us to understand the conquest of Canaan. Dr. Lawson Stone does a good job explaining these difficult texts. He is a professor of the Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary who received his Ph.D from Yale University. In other words, he holds much greater credentials than I do.
Please watch and reflect.
**All Scripture usage comes from the English Standard Version
**Blog resources: Ancient Israel by Robert Alter; The Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament