Monthly Archives: January 2018

Joshua 10:12-21

12Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day that the LORD delivered the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and said in the sight of Israel, “Sun: stand still at Gibeon, and moon in the valley of Ajalon.” 13And the sun stood still and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves on their enemies. Is it not written in the book of Jasher? Then the sun stood still in the middle of the heavens, and did not make haste to go down the whole day. 14And there was no day like that before or after, when the LORD listened to the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel. 15Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal. 16But these five kings fled and hid themselves in the cave at Makkedah. 17And it was told to Joshua, saying, “The five kings have been found hidden in the cave at Makkedah.” 18And Joshua said, “Roll great stones over the mouth of the cave, and set me by it to guard it. 19But you—do not stay, but pursue after your enemies and attack them from the rear; do not allow them to enter their cities, for the LORD has given them into your hand.” 20And when Joshua and the sons of Israel had finished killing them with a very great slaughter until they were consumed, and the rest of them entered into fortified cities. 21Then all the people returned to Joshua in the camp of Makkedah in peace, and none moved his tongue against the sons of Israel.

 

 

Now comes another great sign of YHWH’s victory in battle: the sun standing still. The text tells us that Joshua gave a command and the sun stood still. Is this a true astronomical or geophysical phenomenon? One might be well-advised to read this text with the same hermeneutic as we read the Psalmist, who at one point declares that “the rivers clap their hands” in praise of God. Still, we are just now emerging from a period of time called “modernism” in which Bible scholars felt an obligation to find some physical or natural phenomenon to match up with the text in order that they might prove it to be “real” in the empirical sense. I remember my mom, for instance, telling us boys during our childhood that archaeologists had discovered Noah’s ark on Mount Ararat—right where the Bible said it would be! In the minds of many, this proved the truth of the Bible. But the idea that the Bible must be proven “true” in the empirical sense is an error of epistemology: we don’t believe the Bible because the Ark was “discovered” or a computer scientist can’t account for a day in recorded history that he ascribes to this scene in Joshua….we believe the Bible because it is God’s word. THEN we chase reason with our faith. Not the other way around. So did the sun stand still literally? Possibly. I have absolutely no problem believing that it did. If, in eternity, I find that “stand still” was a literary turn of phrase akin to the psalmist’s “river clapping hands,” I won’t be disappointed, either. More interesting to me is the use of שׁמע in verse 14. This, you might recall, is the Hebrew word for “hear” or “obey.” Remember that the Hebrews don’t have two separate words for “hear” and “obey.” They use the same word. And the text here tells us that YHWH “heard/obeyed” Joshua. He is under no obligation, of course, to “obey” Joshua’s command to the heavens. But in this case, He responds in such a way that the author of this book interpreted the command and the phenomenon as directly related to one another. Joshua prayed, and YHWH responded spectacularly. As if to remind his audience of the veracity of this story, the author challenges the reader to look all of this up in the “book of Jasher” (13). This was an extrabiblical book from which the author of Joshua likely took the information for this section. It is referenced in 1 Samuel, as well. And of course, the idea that there hasn’t been a day “after or before” like this day is a statement of hyperbole by the author, who is clearly writing a few centuries before something similar happens to Hezekiah. From his standpoint, this is unique—and a picture of the awesome power of YHWH. But we learn from the rest of the study of scripture that YHWH is frequently moved by the prayers of His people.

 

The very definition of righteousness is that God’s people are to שׁמע when He speaks. We are to “listen” and “obey.” They are two sides of the same coin. Because our God is relational, when we speak to Him, He is also listening and responding. We can count on Him to give validity to our prayers. He hears us. We might not see it, or feel it at the moment—but God hears these prayers and is responding in some way. Sometimes, it is a spectacular way. Other times, it is more subdued. Sometimes, it is immediately. Other times, it is a process. Trying to develop a formula in which we learn why “some” prayers seem to be met with a supernatural response and “others” seem unanswered is an exercise in human arrogance, as though we could figure out God’s ways. What we KNOW is that He hears and responds. How and when is His domain. Learning to live in that tension is the very essence of the life of faith.

 

There is no question that your life is part of a greater battle, but in that greater battle are your own smaller battles. And they don’t seem “small” to you. Let this story be a reminder that God hears your prayers. He answers them, in His own way and in His own time. But you are loved, valued and most definitely heard by Him.

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Joshua 10:1-11

1Now when Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and utterly destroyed it; as he had done to Jericho and her king, so had he done to Ai and her king; and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 2that they were greatly afraid, because Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and the men in it were mighty. 3So Adoni-Zedek the king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron and Piram king of Jarmuth and Japphia king of Lachish and Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4“Come up to me, help me; let us attack Gibeon because they have made peace with Joshua and the sons of Israel.” 5Then the five kings of the Amorites—the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Japphia, and the king of Eglon—gathered themselves and went up, they and all their armies and encamped at Gibeon, and made war on them. 6But the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal, saying, “Slack not your hand toward your servants; come up to us quickly, and save us! Help us, because all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered against us!” 7So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war who were with him, and all the mighty men of valor. 8And the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, because I have given them into your hand, and there will not a man of them stand before you.” 9Then Joshua came to them suddenly, having went up from Gilgal all night, 10and the LORD discomfited them before Israel, and killed them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them in the way that goes to Beth-horon, and struck them at Azekah and unto Makkedah. 11And as they fled from before Israel as they were in the going down to Beth-Horon, the LORD threw down on them great stones from heaven at Azekah, and more of them died from the hailstones than those killed by the sons of Israel with the sword.

 

The conquest of Canaan has taken a nasty turn for the king of Jerusalem and his cohorts: their ally at Gibeon has changed teams, and now a crack in their allied armor has appeared. The five Amorite kings can’t let this stand. As long as they’re going to be destroyed by Israel and her warrior God, they’re going to take down Gibeon with them. And so they call one another to battle and march against Gibeon—five separate armies, working as one allied unit. When Gibeon sees how the siege is shaping up, they send messengers to Joshua and let him know. You will recall that in yesterday’s readings, Gibeon had feared YHWH’s name more than they loved their own gods—and thus had believed Him in a way that others had not. Because of this, they now come under the protection of YHWH. In the ensuing battle, YHWH tells Joshua once again what He’s said before: “Do not fear this enemy; I have handled this business for you.” And once again, a great miracle accompanies the work of YHWH: great hailstones that kill the enemy. There is no other interpretation that the world’s witnesses can embrace, other than this: there is one God and Israel is His people. Those who trust in His name come under His protection.

 

Just as the king of Jerusalem trusted in his weapons, men and allies, we frequently are in the habit of trusting in ourselves. We have done it for so long that we cannot always tell when we’re doing it. But our trust in ourselves invariably leads to failure. Meanwhile, those who place their trust in God’s name and power are never ashamed. He fights battles for them. He delivers them with a mighty hand. He protects those who have come to trust in His name. They see great and miraculous deliverance from all sorts of enemies: financial, relational, spiritual, psychological.

 

In whom are you trusting today? Like Jerusalem, are you trusting in your own abilities? Or are you more like Gibeon—giving up your identity so that you may be one of His servants?

Joshua 9:16-27

16And it happened at the end of three days, after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were their neighbors and dwelled among them. 17And the sons of Israel set out and reached their cities on the third day, and their cities were Gibeon and Chepirah and Beeroth and Kireath-Jearim. 18And the sons of Israel did not attack them because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD the God of Israel, and the congregation murmured against the leaders. 19And all the leaders said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we cannot touch them. 20This we will do: we will let them live lest there be wrath upon us because of the oath we swore to them.” 21Then the leaders of the congregation said, “Let them live, and let them be cutters of wood and carriers of water for all the congregation,” as the leaders had promised. 22And Joshua rose up and spoke to them, saying, “Why did you deceive us, saying, ‘We are from far away’ when you dwell among us? 23Now therefore you are cursed, and there shall none of you be free from being slaves and wood cutters and water carriers for the house of God.” 24Then they answered Joshua and said, “Because it was certainly told to your servants how the LORD your God commanded Moses His servant to give all the land to you, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and we greatly feared for our lives before you, and have done this thing. 25And now, behold: we are in your hand; that which seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do.” 26And so he did to them, so that he delivered them from the hand of the sons of Israel and did not kill them. 27Then Joshua made them in that day wood cutters and water carriers for the congregation and the altar of the LORD, even unto this day, in the place that he should choose.

 

 

Joshua and the leaders of the congregation have done a foolish thing: they have made a treaty with a group of foreigners without first checking with YHWH to see what He would have them do. Now it comes to light that they have been fooled by these people; they are the very enemy destined for judgment and destruction by YHWH, and they now have promised to protect their lives. To our modern eyes, we marvel at how this is that big a mistake: but remember that the mission is not theirs, but YHWH’s. He had a purpose and destiny, and their confidence in themselves interrupted that. Moreover, they were now in between a rock and a hard place, ethically speaking: they could go ahead and destroy this people who had been destined for destruction, but in doing so they would prove themselves as unreliable as the pagans—for they had sworn by YHWH’s own holy name. Notice how seriously they took not only their promise, but the fact that it was made in YHWH’s name. They weren’t about to take His name in vain, so they had to let the people live. Consider, also, that by striking this deal with the Israelites, the pagans had TRUSTED in that promise. They were trusting that Israel would do what she promised by the name of YHWH—and so, by proxy, they, too, are now trusting in the name of YHWH. They have passed from death to life because of YHWH’s name.

 

Those of us who are leaders can sometimes get wrapped up in our own thinking. We can be prisoners of our own minds and our own ideas and our own voices, and we can fail to seek the only true voice that matters. When we leap before looking to Him, we create troubles not just for ourselves but the people we were called to shepherd, as well. Those people will realize it, too. They will understandably begin to lose faith in the mission because of the loss of faith of the leadership. This is why it’s critical for leaders to spend as much time as possible in prayer, seeking the truth of God’s will from Him directly.

 

Our ethics, moreover, are outward manifestations of that faith. How seriously do we take the holiness of God’s name? When we wake in the morning, get dressed and go to work, are we not doing so in His holy name? And just how are we representing that? Our trust in His name will have practical ramifications in our daily lives—and if it doesn’t, then we’re taking God’s name in vain. We must take this seriously. We must live life as though the very name of God is in front of us, ready to be glorified or profaned by our actions.

 

Take His name seriously today. And seek Him often.

Did God Really Command Israel to Commit Genocide?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: THE IMPLICATION THAT A GOOD GOD CAN COMMAND THE EXTERMINATION OF INNOCENT MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN IS RIGHTLY DISTURBING AND JARRING. WHAT FOLLOWS IS AN ARGUMENT THAT RESPONDS TO THIS QUESTION. THIS IS NOT PART OF OUR DEVOTIONAL, NECESSARILY….BUT AN ANSWER TO A QUESTION THAT IS PROBABLY PLAGUING THE READER ON SOME LEVEL.]

Imagine a concerned parent who instructs his son to stay out of the busy street out front and play only in the yard. The son, not realizing that the street is a dangerous place, believes only that his father is a killjoy who doesn’t understand the true magic of stickball in the street. Desirous only of chasing his own pleasure, rather than pleasing his father, he runs out to the street to play with several of his neighborhood friends as soon as his father is out of sight. When the father catches him in the street, the boy is sternly reprimanded and the instruction is repeated—this time in an austere tone of voice. The dispassionate bystander who observes these goings-on can’t help but conclude that the father is acting in the best interests of the son, though the son is incapable of recognizing it at that exact juncture. If the son obeys, he will live long enough to see the sense in the original command. It is in just such a parent-child paradigm that the modern critic finds himself in his criticism of the Old Testament God Who commanded the “genocide” of the Canaanites. The knee-jerk emotional reaction to the term “genocide” is surely part of our post-World War II attitude toward the systematic extermination of whole people groups. In our Enlightenment-era, rationalistic under-readings of the “invasion texts” of the Old Testament, some are indeed quick to press charges against Christianity, the Old Testament, God, the Bible or Israel. But a proper contextualization of Man’s view in relation to God’s view and the actual text of His Word might well put to rest once and for all the hyperbolic hysterics inherent in the charge of “genocide.”

PART ONE: MAN’S VIEW

A proper response to any problem is to first, of course, review the problem. There is no question that the invasion texts of the Canaanite conquest reveal details about God with which Man may well have problems. At first blush, it would seem that God commands the genocidal extermination of Israelite enemies:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away 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 stronger than you, 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. (Lev 7.1-2)

 

If this is true, couldn’t it be said of Him that He is a “mass murderer?[1]” Aren’t critics within bounds when they accuse God of being a “genocidal general?[2]” At the very least, surely Dawkins was right when he called God an “unpleasant character[3]” in his own book, wasn’t he? The basic problem is that God has commanded behavior that seems inconsistent with His own teachings elsewhere, and with Mankind’s own sense of “fairness” and “love.” If these two elements of Man’s notion of God cannot be mitigated, then one might readily see the validity of these criticisms. If no solution exists, then perhaps the indictment of author Mark Twain stands supreme: “Then it is plain that [God] cannot keep his own commandments.[4]

Of course, the standard reactions to this problem by these critics are, to put it charitably, not seeking mitigation. Rather, they are extreme positions that are predicated on socio-cultural presuppositions of Who God is and who Man is. One of the most popular extreme positions is that of pacifism. The assumptive fallacy of a pacifist God is not limited to a few obscure communities in Pennsylvania. Those who consider the very concept of war to be immoral note that “The wars of the Old Testament are a problem for Christians committed to biblical pacificism. How is it that the God Who is most fully realized in Jesus and His nonresistant way, commanded His people, Israel, to fight?[5]” David Gushee seems determined to uphold the notion of a consistently pacificist God in his work, as well, arguing that “no human interaction is merely a human interaction.[6]” Particularly since the advent of the “Jesus People” influence in the post-1960’s countercultural movement, one of the most enduring images of Jesus is of a laughing, vaguely Communist pacifist Who would never have committed our troops to a horrible civil war in Indochina. This model has endured to the present day, despite the apocalyptic imagery of an eschatological Christ Who brings a violently conquering army to earth at the moment of His Second Coming (Rev 19.11-19). Reasonable rebuttals to the God-as-Pacifist paradigm have appeared in the form of written theology[7], and have also appeared in the culture in more popular nuances, such as the Gary Cooper film Sergeant York[8]. The ultimate problem with the God-as-Pacifist view is that it is predicated on a low view of scripture, since God Himself orders the aforementioned attacks on the Canaanites.

Another extreme is the Marcionist one. Marcion himself had the gravest of difficulties with an Old Testament God Who behaved in such seemingly monstrous fashion:

Since Marcion was convince that the world is evil, he came to the conclusion that its creator must be either evil or ignorant—or both. But instead of positing a long series of spiritual beings, as the Gnostics did, Marcion proposed a much simpler solution. According to him, the God and Father of Jesus is not the same as Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. It was Yahweh who made this world. [ . . . ] This means that the Hebrew scriptures are indeed [not] inspired by the Supreme Father. [9]

 

Eric Seibert attempts to finesse a fine line between heretical Marcionism and some form of deism in his own attempt to explain the problem passages. He extols the view of Thomas Paine, a noted Deist, as an individual with whom he can “identify.[10]”  Paine believed the Bible to be incompatible with his view of God, and therefore rejected its inspiration[11].  Mark Twain, the author of Letters From The Earth—which is widely hailed as an atheistic masterpiece—is re-categorized as a Deist (somehow) by Seibert and enlisted in his fight against the Old Testament God of genocide[12]. Seibert’s ultimate goal is a specific reinterpretation of the problem texts that ultimately end up challenging historicity. It is a type of non-Marcionite Marcionism that rests on his contention that “there is no good explanation for God’s choices[13]” otherwise. Setting up a dichotomy between the “textual God” and the “actual God[14]” holds some hermeneutical promise on its face, but ultimately devolves into Seibert’s real premise: that if Man cannot see the motive for the military command, the text must therefore be unreliable[15]. Such texts discredit God, in Seibert’s view, and must therefore be interpreted in some other way. One may readily notice, then, a pattern emerging in the cry of critics against this “genocidal” God: when He does not line up with their pre-suppositional values, He must go. The biggest problem with these criticisms, then, is a low view of God Himself—if He is to be God, He’d better shape up to their image of Him.

PART TWO:  GOD’S WORD

Before God’s Word can be tossed out as unreliable, it would seem the better part of wisdom to investigate what it actually says. There are four pertinent facts about the “genocide” texts with which the disinterested scholar must necessarily grapple if he is to reach a reasonable conclusion: (1) the concept of Yahweh War; (2) the meaning of חָרַם (hrm); (2) the significance of peace in the “genocide” texts; and (4) the employment of the term “genocide” to the Canaanite invasion in the first place. The first relevant fact is that of so-called Yahweh War, so termed by Rudolf Smend[16]. Eugene Merrill explains that Yahweh War is a specific type of war that is distinct from “regular” war:

God initiated the process by singling out those destined to destruction, empowering an agent (usually his chosen people Israel) to accomplish it, and guaranteeing its successful conclusion once the proper conditions were met. [ . . . ] Yahwey was [is] distinct from war in general. [17]

 

The need for Yahweh War is spelled out in numerous texts: Ex 20.22-33, Lev 26.3-45, Num 14.39-45, Num 21.1-3, Num 31.1-20, Deut 20.1-20 (especially 20.16-20), Jos 6.1-27, Jos 8.1-29, and 1 Samuel 15.1-23. Merrill notes that there is a formula for Yahweh War which is critical to one’s understanding of the distinction:

the mustering by a trumpet call; (2) consecration of the men; (3) offering of sacrifices; (4) oracle of God; (5) “Yahweh has given;” (6) Yahweh leads the way; (7) designated as “Yahweh war”; (8) “fear not” formula; (9) enemy’s loss of courage; (10) war cry; (11) divine terror; (12) חָרַם; (13) “to your tents.”[18]

 

The first example of Yahweh War appears in Ex 23.20-33, in which “the common theme of the [ . . . ] passage is the need to recognize that only Yahweh is God and only he is to be worshiped.[19]” The concept reaches its apotheosis in the Deuteronomy passage—the very moment that the invasion is looming on Israel’s horizon, and a special kind of war for a special kind of enemy is warranted:

It is clear that the land was considered Israel’s by divine right and that the nations who occupied it were little better than squatters. Yahweh, as owner of the land, would therefore undertake measures to destroy and/or expel the illegitimate inhabitants, an he would do so largely through his people Israel and by means of Yahweh war.[20]

 

If Yahweh War is associated with the eradication of false worship, it stands to reason, then, that a precision of language is warranted, inasmuch as the true enemies in Yahweh War are the Canaanite deities, as opposed to the Canaanites themselves:

At the heart of this matter is the recognition that if Israel goes off into idolatry, she has effectively become paganized. Yahweh war, then, is essentially war against the imaginary gods of the world who challenge the sovereignty of Yahweh. In this sense, Yahweh war can perhaps more properly be termed deicide rather than homicide.[21]

 

A second pertinent fact about the text itself is the use of חָרַם. From a lexical standpoint, חָרַם means either “to destroy or devote to destruction[22]” or “to dedicate.[23]”  Merrill rightly notes that there are instances of “both nuances occurring in the same passage.[24]” As Merrill has pointed out in the above section, the meaning of חָרַם informs the interpretative nuance that the expositor would use to render the meaning of the passage. Since HALOT glosses it as both “destroy” and “dedicate,” context is everything to the exegete. Moreover, it would appear that an iron-clad notion of “destroy” would also escape the careful reader. Consider Ex 23.23-33:

For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them. You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces. But you shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water; and I will remove sickness from your midst. There shall be no one miscarrying or barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. I will send hornets ahead of you so that they will drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites before you. I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land. I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods. They shall not live in your land, because they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.

 

The promise of God to “destroy” the Canaanites in 23.23 is immediately followed by His promise to “throw” them “into confusion.” Moreover, He promises to make the Canaanites—presumably, the “destroyed” Canaanites—“turn their backs” to the Israelites. There must be a wider lexical understanding of “destroy” than critics of the “genocidal” God accept. This would create an untenable lexical position for the critic who is quick to indict God of genocide on the basis of the text.

The third pertinent exegetical fact is the significance of peace in the context of Yahweh War. Copan recognizes that, in the Joshua story, “a sevenfold opportunity was given for Jericho to make peace with Israel, which it refused to do.[25]”  Those Canaanite enemies who were set apart for destruction (חָרַם) had foregone this offer of peace. Just as God has offered salvation to Man, but will grant Man’s wish for damnation instead, so the expositor might also see that God’s initial offer of peace may be rejected by Man who favors war instead.

Finally, it is noteworthy that three cities—Jericho, Ai, and Hazor—are mentioned in the biblical text (Jos 6.24, 8.28, and 11.13) as having been utterly destroyed by fire. This is hardly genocide, particularly in light of the evidence that the leadership and royalty lived in the cities, while the general population lived outside the walls of the cities[26]. In fact, when one compares the actual textual account—with its lexical nuances—to archaeological evidence (affirming “gradual infiltration and occupation[27]”), one will be hard-pressed to conclude that any genocide took place. Copan describes Joshua’s “conventional warfare rhetoric[28]” as quite common in Near East texts, comparing it to the modern-day equivalent of claiming that the local sports team “blew their opponents away.[29]” The use of “genocide” to describe this limited invasion and long-term resettlement is a profound misuse of words that poisons the well of discourse. When the careful expositor understands the concept of Yahweh War, the use of חָרַם, the significance of peace in these “problem” texts, and the proper historical context of the invasion itself in relation to the term “genocide,” one can begin to see that the case against the “genocidal” God may have been overstated after all.

PART THREE: GOD’S VIEW

Once the expositor has come to grips with the exegetical issues at hand, he might then ably move toward a biblical-theological understanding of the “problem” texts. This is, of course, rightly accomplished by contextualizing the texts with a cogent grasp of theology proper—God’s attributes—as well as a literary understanding of God as the protagonist in the story and Man as the antagonist. To begin, one must necessarily be reminded of four attributes in particular: God’s holiness, God’s justice, God’s commitment to Man, and God’s patience and lovingkindness toward Man. As we begin to understand God’s holiness, we are reminded that God’s sovereignty permeates all of existence: “The Christian [ . . . ] should learn the lesson God wanted to teach ancient Israel: living under God’s reign should affect all of life.[30]”  Merrill reminds his audience that the holiness of God has real-life ramifications on life and death:

Among the attributes associated with his participation in Yahweh war are God’s omnipotence, his infinite wisdom, and above all, his holiness. In fact, it is this last-mentioned characteristic that gave rise to earlier descriptions of this kind of conflict as “holy war.”[31]

 

The command to the Israelites to be separate from the Canaanites was predicated on the significance of upholding the supremacy of God Himself over and against the deification of false gods: “Attentive parents will regularly tell their kids to avoid getting mixed up with the wrong crowd. Bad company corrupts good character. Likewise, God gave the Israelites certain actions to carry out as a way of symbolically telling them not to get mixed in with the false ways of the nations.[32]” The Canaanites had engaged in a very serious idolatry that had indeed been tolerated for a long enough period of time:

The worship of idols wasn’t innocent or harmless. The Old Testament connects idolatry with the demonic—that is, with the cosmic enemies of God who rebelled against him. [ . . . ]So in the exodus, Yahweh is the cosmic warrior who engages the evil powers of Egypt and the forces that inspire them.[33]

 

Indeed, their idolatry wasn’t just a nonchalant choice to “go against God” as much as it was a deliberate union with demonic forces. The Midianites has deliberately engaged in sexual seduction (Num 31) designed to distract God’s chosen people from His definition of holiness[34]. The universal morality of God has been revealed to Man across cultural lines[35]. For this reason, to fail to recognize the dire consequences of offending God’s holiness is to fail to recognize the significance of holiness itself.

Yet another attribute of God that must remain in view in light of these invasion texts is the justice of God. God is a just God: (Ac 10.34-35).  He cannot act other than justly. Seibert complains that the Canaanite sin, though serious, shouldn’t be seen as too serious, and the fact that sin is “punishable by death is a debatable assumption.[36]” While it may be debatable to Seibert, however, it was not debatable to the Apostle Paul: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro 6.23). If the consequence of sin is death, all of Man deserves the just punishment that is inflicted on the Canaanites, who have deliberately built the culture of demonic-influenced deification of their “own way” at the expense of a committed following of Yahweh. It is the very definition of sin, writ large on a macrocosmic canvas—the penultimate picture of Eden’s original choice to dethrone God and enthrone Self. The penalty then was death (Gen 3.3), and it was still death in the aforementioned texts. To change it in the Canaanite era would be arbitrary and unjust—particularly for those who suffered the consequences of sin in earlier eras. To put it in Jesus’ eventual vernacular, Sodom and Gomorrah might have “risen up in judgment” (Mt 10.15) against the Canaanites.

Another attribute that is pertinent to the present discussion is that of God’s committed marriage relationship to Israel specifically. As God demonstrated His relational love for Man through His revelation to Israel, He behaved as a husband committed to His wife. To the extent that Israel honored Him as her Head, she was a faithful wife. To the extent that she dethroned God and enthroned other gods, she is spoken of in terms of being adulterous and sexually unfaithful (Eze 23, Hos 3.1-2) This marriage analogy is crucial, inasmuch as it reveals an aspect of God often overlooked by abstract thinkers: He relates deeply, personally, and emotionally to His people: “God’s relationship with us isn’t a commander-commandee arrangement (similar to the “divine cop in the sky” notion). In that kind of relationship, God’s will merely coerces, overriding the choices of human agents. Rather, God seeks the interpersonal intimacy with us in the context of covenant-making.[37]”  Such a marital relationship requires fidelity on the parts of both parties: “Israel had committed itself to be faithful to Yahweh; as in any good marriage, spouses shouldn’t play the field in the name of marital freedom.[38]” This begs the question: what kind of husband would not be jealous of a wife that cheated on him? To treat fidelity with such nonchalance would be antithetical to the completely devoted nature of God’s love. His anger, therefore, is a proper response to the full-scale wickedness, and His jealousy goes forth for His people’s ultimate good: “God’s jealousy isn’t capricious or petty. God is jealous for our best interests.[39]

One more attribute of God that might help shed some light on the “problem texts” is that of His patience and lovingkindness. His timing of the invasions did not happen in a vacuum; as noted before, He had exercised a great deal of patience with the Canaanites (Gen 15.16), well past the patience He had exercised with Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18-19). The inability to accept both righteous anger and patient love from the same God is uniquely hypocritical of Man, who accepts these qualities in himself.  A proper understanding of God’s holiness, His justice, His committed status of “husband,” and His patient love toward His bride is necessary to make defensible sense of the invasion texts.

Yet another aspect of understanding comes from viewing God, properly, as the protagonist in this over-arching story. In the narrative of Man, God is the protagonist and Man is the antagonist; many of the critics’ complaints fail to take this literary hermeneutic into proper perspective. It’s His story—the story of His creation, His love, His magnanimity, His heroism, His spectacular rescue of the race of Man from himself—and He’s the good guy. Merrill’s insistence that this be grasped is helpful to the discourse[40]. Given that God has defined “good” and “evil” on His terms, and Man has chosen “evil,” how then can he accuse God of wrongdoing?

Seibert has helpfully categorized four approaches to being a biblical Christian in the face of these invasion texts. He has done so with the express intent of repudiating each approach and substituting his own: a denial of historicity of the Old Testament texts themselves[41]. But in the process of his cataloguing the “wrong” approaches, along with his rebuttals thereunto, he has aptly provided a framework that captures the full argument pertinent to these texts. He calls his first category the “Divine Immunity” view: “The divine immunity approach defends God’s behavior in the Old Testament by suggesting that everything God does is good and right because God can do no wrong[42].” He rightly points out that Irenaus employed a variation of this argument[43]. Seibert’s chief problem with this view is that it “restricts honest inquiry about God.[44]” Unless God then makes Himself available to Seibert for cross-examination of His motives, the inquiry is invalid, apparently. Other scholars embrace a definition of justice that is apparently morally superior to God’s:

If the indiscriminate slaughter of human beings for any reason can be called a “good” and “righteous” acts, then all moral and ethical absolutes are destroyed, all distinctions between good and evil are rendered meaningless, and all claims about God’s love and compassion become cruel depictions.[45]

 

The acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty in the face of Man’s puny judgment is part of the definition of God; if He is subject to Man, He is no longer God.

Seibert’s second category of Biblicist is the “Just Cause” view. According to this view, the Canaanites deserved the harsh treatment that God commanded the Israelites to inflict on them[46]. Seibert’s chief criticism of this view is that, for God, there appears to be a sin that is punishable by death[47]. Though this has been dealt with in another portion of this paper, it is noteworthy here to observe that while he is certainly correct that the infants and animals had not committed idolatry or demonic-influenced false worship, he has failed to understand the common theological understanding of sin, particularly as voiced in Augustinian terms:

The power of sin is such that it takes hold of our will, and as long as we are under its sway we cannot move our will to be rid of it. The most we can accomplish is to struggle between willing and not willing, which does little more than show the powerlessness of our will against itself. The sinner can will nothing but sin.[48]

 

Given this traditional understanding of sin, and the inherited nature of this nature in Man, there can be no one who is truly innocent, as we are born into the stain of guilt. But even apart from Original Sin, the aforementioned idolatry of the Canaanites had severe consequences for all in its society: “Humans are ‘imaging’ beings, designed to reflect the likeness and glory of their Creator. If we worship the creaturely rather than the creator, we’ll come to resemble or image the idols of our own devising and that in which we place our security.[49]” A broader view of God’s patience is probably necessary in order to understand the justice behind the Canaanite invasion: “Yahweh was willing to wait about 430 years because ‘the sin of the Amorite had not yet reached its limit.’[50]” It is worth underscoring God’s patience in discussing this view, inasmuch as He Himself exhibited it in allowing the Canaanites to continue in their idolatrous and demonic path. Again, Seibert’s chief problem with this category is caused by his low view of God’s justice.

The third category, or “The Greater Good”[51] school of thought, is described by Seibert as being a sub-category of the Just Cause view[52].  An over-arching good had been accomplished by Israelite conquest of Canaan, and had been brought about by God’s providence:

Much as we regret the terrible loss of life, we must remember that far greater mischief would have resulted if they had been permitted to live on in the midst f the Hebrew nation. These incorrigible degenerates of the Canaanite civilization were a sinister threat to the spiritual survival of Abraham’s race.[53]

 

Seibert’s criticism of this view is the difficulty in believing that God would exterminate one group in favor of another[54]. Cowles calls this the “sanitized land theory,” and similarly repudiates it: “The ‘sanitized land theory’ presents an unflattering view of Israel’s God.It was a virtual admission that in free and open competition with Canaanite religion, Yahweh worship would lose out.[55]” However, there is no question that biblical portrayal of divine violence is always purposeful—either for judgment or salvation, always the “means by which God’s people are delivered from violence.[56]

Seibert calls his fourth category “God Acted Differently,[57]” a possible attempt to underscore what he sees as a challenge to God’s immutability. At the heart of this view is the notion of progressive revelation, ably defined by Dennis Hollinger: The Old Testament contains a growing disclosure of God’s moral designs for his people and all humanity. In the process of this self-disclosure, God, being deeply personal, often begins where people are in their understanding of his will and plan.[58]” Seibert’s chief problem with this view is that there is no explicit proof text for it, opining that “it is extremely difficult to demonstrate from the biblical texts themselves.[59]” Notwithstanding, Copan demonstrates the logic behind this understanding that God revealed Himself in increments that Man could understand over the passage of time:

So when we read in Joshua 10.22-27 that Joshua killed five Canaanite kings and hung their corpses on trees all day, we don’t have to explain away or justify such a practice. Such actions reflect a less morally refined condition. Yet these sorts of texts remind us that, in the unfolding of his purposes, God can use heroes such as Joshua within their context and work out his redemptive purposes despite them.[60]

 

Ultimately, all four of Seibert’s “false” categories hold logical water. God’s use of phenomenological language to contextualize His Word to the time, place and culture He’s directing is not a challenge to His immutability, but rather a testament to His concern for His creation. The notion of progressive revelation is among the most eminently reasonable of all explanations of how an inscrutable God could deign to reveal Himself to a creation of limited understanding: “He adapted his ideals to a people whose attitudes and actions were influenced by deeply flawed structures.[61]” The Canaanite invasion isn’t the only terrifying thing to happen that brought about a greater good for others, and God was surely just in bringing disobedient Man to judgment after having given him ample time to repent and give glory to his Maker. Seibert’s contention that his own inability to see God’s motives renders the text unreliable[62] is untenable, and incongruous with a proper theology of God: if He’s truly God, then He is, indeed, immune from Man’s judgment and puny criticism. In fact, the very notion that Man can and should deduce God’s motives and ways is inherently arrogant and wrongheaded. The penultimate problem with the Seibert view is that it grants authority to Man where such authority doesn’t belong: “It would be a strange, defective God who didn’t pose a serious cosmic authority problem for humans. Part of the status of being God, after all, is that God has a unique authority, or lordship, over humans.[63]” Man’s feeble mentality and understanding, when contextualized over and against God’s, is such as to render him utterly incapable of grasping the breadth and depth of God’s motives in Canaan and elsewhere. If God is truly God, then, we are all Canaanites—disobedient, rebellious, arrogant, hopeless, completely depraved. God’s justice is deserved, and only God’s special provision can rescue us. This is the proper and high view of His justice, His love, and His spectacular rescue of us from ourselves.

As ludicrous as it would be for a young boy to accuse his father of unfairness for prohibiting him from playing in the street, so is it ludicrous for critics to levy the charge of “genocide” against God, the Old Testament, or Israel. Inherent in the definition is the acceptance of the fact that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts not our thoughts (Isa 55.89). Divorced from the historical context of the invasion stories, the socio-cultural value system of the region during that day will understandably seem foreign to the postmodern. A sweeping indictment of the texts on the basis of this change in worldview is precisely what C.S. Lewis meant when he spoke of “chronological snobbery,” or “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited.[64]” Arbitrarily setting up our own standards, then holding God to them—all while twisting His Word to read it in the worst possible light—is among the more hysterical of human pursuits in the last century.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Archer, Gleason L. New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids:             Zondervan, 1982.

 

Chandlee, Harry. Sergeant York. Special Ed. DVD. Directed Howard Hawks. Burbank: Warner            Brothers Studios, 1941.

 

Copan, Paul. Is God A Moral Monster? Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.

Cowles, C.S. “A Response to Eugene Merrill.” Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views On God And      Canaanite Genocide. Ed. Stanley N. Gundry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. 13-34.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Hougton Mifflin, 2006.

Fretheim, Terence. “God and Violence in the Old Testament.” Word and World 24 (2004): 24-      25.

Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

Gushee, David P. The Sacredness of Human Life. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2013.

Hollinger, Dennis P. Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World. Grand Rapids:            Baker, 2002.

Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner. Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament,       Vol. I. Leiden: Brill, 2001.

Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man. San Francisco: Harper, 2001.

Lewis, C.S. Surprised By Joy. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1956.

Merrill, Eugene H. “The Case For Moderate Discontinuity.” Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views On         God And Canaanite Genocide. Ed. Stanley N. Gundry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.        63-94.

Morey, Robert A. When Is It Right To Fight? Orange: Christian Scholar’s Press, 2008.

Moser, Paul K. “Divine Hiddenness, Death, and Meaning.” Philosophy of Religion: Classic and     Contemporary Issues. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008.

Paine, Thomas. The Age Of Reason. New York: Carroll, 1995.

Seibert, Eric A. Disturbing Divine Behavior. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

Schrag, Martin H.  and John K. Stoner. The Ministry Of Reconciliation. Nappanee: Evangel,          1973.

 

Smend, Rudolf. Yahweh War and Tribal Confederation. trans. Max Gray Rogers. Nashville:        Abingdon, 1970.

Trigg, Joseph Wilson. Origen: The Bible And Philosophy In The Third Century Church. Atlanta,           John Knox Press, 1983.

 

Twain, Mark. Letters From The Earth. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.

 

 

[1] Eric A. Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 20.

[2] Ibid, 24.

[3] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Hougton Mifflin, 2006), 31.

[4] Mark Twain, Letters From The Earth (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 49.

[5] Martin H. Schrag and John K. Stoner, The Ministry Of Reconciliation (Nappanee: Evangel, 1973), 34.

[6] David P. Gushee, The Sacredness of Human Life (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2013), 37.

[7] Robert A. Morey, When Is It Right To Fight? (Orange: Christian Scholar’s Press, 2008).

[8] Harry Chandlee, Sergeant York, Special Ed. DVD, Directed Howard Hawks (Burbank: Warner Brothers Studios, 1941).

[9] Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1 (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 74.

[10] Seibert, 41.

[11] Thomas Paine, The Age Of Reason (New York: Carroll, 1995), 109.

[12] Seibert, 41.

[13] Ibid, 147.

[14] Ibid, 170.

[15] Seibert, 174.

[16] Rudolf Smend, Yahweh War and Tribal Confederation, trans. Max Gray Rogers (Nashville: Abingdon, 1970), 38.

[17] Eugene H. Merrill, “The Case For Moderate Discontinuity,” Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views On God And Canaanite Genocide, Ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 65.

[18] Merrill, 69.

[19] Ibid, 66.

[20] Ibid, 67.

[21] Ibid, 71.

[22] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Vol. I (Leiden: Brill, 2001), § חָרַם, s.v. 1.

[23] Ibid, s.v. 2.

[24] Merrill, 70.

[25] Paul Copan, Is God A Moral Monster? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 180.

[26] Ibid, 183.

[27] Ibid, 182.

[28] Ibid, 171.

[29] Ibid, 171.

[30] Copan, 75.

[31] Merrill, 81.

[32] Copan, 77.

[33] Ibid, 167.

[34] Ibid, 179-180.

[35] C.S. Lewis, “Appendix,” The Abolition of Man (San Francisco: Harper, 2001).

[36] Seibert, 75.

[37] Copan, 39.

[38] Ibid, 160.

[39] Copan, 39.

[40] Merrill, 80-81.

[41] Seibert, 101, 110-111.

[42] Ibid, 71.

[43] Joseph Wilson Trigg, Origen: The Bible And Philosophy In The Third Century Church (Atlanta, John Knox Press, 1983), 50-51.

[44] Seibert, 73.

[45] C.S. Cowles, “A Response to Eugene Merrill,” Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views On God And Canaanite Genocide, Ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 100.

[46] Seibert, 74.

[47] Ibid, 75.

[48] Gonzales, 249.

[49] Copan, 159.

[50] Ibid, 159.

[51] Seibert, 77.

[52] Ibid, 77.

[53] Gleason L. Archer, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 158.

[54] Seibert, 79.

[55] Cowles, 98.

[56] Terence Fretheim, “God and Violence in the Old Testament,” Word and World 24 (2004): 24-25.

[57] Seibert, 80.

[58] Dennis P. Hollinger, Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 158.

[59] Seibert, 80.

[60] Copan, 61.

[61] Ibid, 59.

[62] Seibert, 174.

[63] Paul K. Moser, “Divine Hiddenness, Death, and Meaning,” Philosophy of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Issues (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008), 221-222.

[64] C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1956), 207.

Joshua 9:1-15

1As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.

But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.” But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?” They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?” They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. 11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’ 12 Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. 13 These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” 14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.

 

 

The Canaanites have been alerted by now. This Israel has Someone fighting for them, and He’s invincible. Many of these Canaanites have seen which way the wind is blowing, and decide that they don’t want to meet Israel in battle. And so they devise a new way of averting the judgment of YHWH: they fool the Israelites into believing that they themselves are not Canaanites, and therefore worthy of their compassion and protection. Verse 14 says it all: “and the men took of their food, and asked not counsel at the mouth of YHWH.” Israel had paid close attention to the words or YHWH in the area of military strategy and corporate sanctification. But now their guard has been let down by this ruse, and they fall victim to it.

 

The enemy still stalks us with this same ferocity. He is still trying to avoid his ultimate fate, and still hoping to thwart the work of God in our lives and the life of the church. He tries the frontal attack, but when the church is strong and marching on its knees it cannot be defeated. He tries the sneaky personal individual attack, and if we’re not careful we’ll fall for it. Just as Israel could have trusted God’s word for this “peace” as they could have the war they’re waging, we can trust God’s counsel in our lives for everything. He is interested in everything, after all. What does it look like to seek God’s counsel before our decisions like this? It looks like a life wholly sold out to Him—wholly given over to praying and listening to Him.

 

We “listen” to God’s counsel by reading His word and meditating on it, waiting for His voice. We learn, over time, to hear Him. We have this voice corroborated in the community of faith. Are you listening to Him? Are you consulting Him?

Joshua 8:1-35

1And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.”

So Joshua and all the fighting men arose to go up to Ai. And Joshua chose 30,000 mighty men of valor and sent them out by night. And he commanded them, “Behold, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind it. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you remain ready. And I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. And when they come out against us just as before, we shall flee before them. And they will come out after us, until we have drawn them away from the city. For they will say, ‘They are fleeing from us, just as before.’ So we will flee before them. Then you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city, for the Lord your God will give it into your hand. And as soon as you have taken the city, you shall set the city on fire. You shall do according to the word of the Lord. See, I have commanded you.” So Joshua sent them out. And they went to the place of ambush and lay between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai, but Joshua spent that night among the people.

10 Joshua arose early in the morning and mustered the people and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai. 11 And all the fighting men who were with him went up and drew near before the city and encamped on the north side of Ai, with a ravine between them and Ai. 12 He took about 5,000 men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13 So they stationed the forces, the main encampment that was north of the city and its rear guard west of the city. But Joshua spent that night in the valley. 14 And as soon as the king of Ai saw this, he and all his people, the men of the city, hurried and went out early to the appointed place toward the Arabah to meet Israel in battle. But he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. 15 And Joshua and all Israel pretended to be beaten before them and fled in the direction of the wilderness. 16 So all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and as they pursued Joshua they were drawn away from the city. 17 Not a man was left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel. They left the city open and pursued Israel.

18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. 19 And the men in the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it. And they hurried to set the city on fire. 20 So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers. 21 And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had captured the city, and that the smoke of the city went up, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. 22 And the others came out from the city against them, so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side. And Israel struck them down, until there was left none that survived or escaped. 23 But the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him near to Joshua.

24 When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. 25 And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai. 26 But Joshua did not draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had devoted all the inhabitants of Ai to destruction. 27 Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their plunder, according to the word of the Lord that he commanded Joshua. 28 So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. 29 And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. And at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day.

30 At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, 31 just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. 32 And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. 34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.

 

 

Now that the sin is purged from the community, YHWH speaks again to Joshua, and says something that by now should sound familiar: “Fear not; neither be dismayed” (1). It is a command to not yield to fear or stress in their current situation, but to trust implicitly in the strategy that YHWH Himself will give them. And what a strategy! YHWH tells Joshua how to lure the warriors of Ai out of the city by employing two units of men—one in the easily seen valley that borders the front gate, and one behind the city. Joshua obeys YHWH, and the men of Ai see the Israelites in the valley. They rush out to meet them in this valley—a terribly disadvantageous geographical location for Israel—and immediately the Israelites turn and flee like they had before. Feeling confident from their earlier victory, the me of Ai pursue them, but they don’t leave a unit behind to protect the city. And with that, the last unit of Israel enters the city, takes it, and destroys it. YHWH’s strategy worked.

 

God is concerned with all aspects of our lives. He is still mapping out the way that we should go, and we would still be well advised to listen. When we listen in our personal devotional times, He tells us how to proceed as individuals. When we listen in church, He tells us how to proceed as a group. And the way that we are proceeding—as both individuals and as the church—is toward victory, if we will but listen to Him.

 

You’ve read the Bible today. You’ve prayed. Now will you listen? Meditate on Him. Listen for His voice in your life, throughout your day.

Joshua 7:16-26

16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18 And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.

 

 

Joshua obeys YHWH’s process for weeding out the sin. It is time-consuming and deliberate, but he is on a mission. This sin is holding back the entire community and it must be cut out, like a cancer. Moreover, YHWH guides the process and the guilty party is found. When confronted, Achan confesses. Then Joshua and the community take everything Achan-related outside the camp and execute them. This may seem harsh to our modern sensibilities—think of our criminal justice philosophy, which seeks to rehabilitate people rather than mete out retributive justice, for example. But YHWH is operating on a different principle here; sin in the camp is holding back the progress of His mission. For Israel to succeed, she must have total trust in YHWH.

 

This is a description of our sanctification. God directs us to areas in our lives where we must repent and confess and weed out what doesn’t belong. He does so because the mission we’re on is His, and it’s too important to be derailed over self-trust. For this reason, we are to be introspective—to be inward-looking with regularity. We should sharpen the skill of being honest with ourselves. We should seek to stone and burn our sin.

 

What’s more important to you today? The mission, or your sin?