Recently a church member came to me with a question. The question didn’t actually come from her, it came from one of her coworkers. In the course of a conversation about spiritual things, the coworker asked my church member to explain all the violence and killing in the Bible. In particular, the Old Testament story of the conquest. The coworker wanted to know how a person could believe in a God who essentially ordered a genocide? My church member wanted to know how to respond to this question? Here is my response.
- If there really is a God, then by definition we creatures don’t get a vote in what God is like. The creature has absolutely no right to tell the Creator how to be or behave. We can talk all day about what we want God to be like, but if he’s God, then he’s God regardless of public opinion polls and popular sentiment.
- The conquest had two sides. One side was God fighting for his people to give them the Promised Land. The other side was God punishing the Canaanites for their iniquity. On the issue of punishment, we should be clear about one thing. God didn’t decide to punish the Canaanites when Moses died and Joshua assumed command. God didn’t decide to punish the Canaanites 40 years earlier when he brought his people out of slavery in Egypt. God decided to punish the Canaanites 400 years earlier when he first began making promises to Abraham (Genesis 15:12-16). You can look at the conquest and talk about the judgment God poured out on the Canaanites, just don’t forget the 400 years of opportunity to repent.
- Deuteronomy 20 contains instructions to approach each new city with terms of peace. Those who raised the white flag would be employed as servants of Israel. Those who bowed up for a fight would be destroyed. The inhabitants of Jericho and the other cities had options. They could have walked away. Instead, they shut the walls and waited for Israel to attack, effectively rejecting any possibility of peace.
- The testimony of Rahab and the example of Rahab are most instructive. First, Rahab spoke for the people of Jericho in Joshua 2:8-14. Rahab and her fellow Jericho-nians knew exactly what God had done to Pharaoh and Sihon and Og. They knew about the plagues and the Red Sea. They knew about God’s promises to give the land of Canaan to his people. They knew he was the God of heaven, not a localized deity. They all knew all of this, and they welcomed a fight. All except, Rahab, that is. Rahab’s example reminds us that even though the masses decided to fight against Israel and the LORD, any citizen could have simply walked away. Even more, any citizen could have converted and joined Israel.
- Lastly, the Bible goes on to describe something far more objectionable than the conquest. Applying a biblical view of sin to the conquest we can safely say that not a single innocent person died in the conquest. The death and violence was certainly horrific, but no innocent people died because there are no innocent people (Romans 3:9-18). Far more disturbing is the story of Jesus who lived a life of absolute obedience. His emotions, thoughts, words, and actions were always right and never wrong. He never did what he should not have done, and he always did what he should have done. He was more than innocent, he was truly righteous. Yet, it was the will of the LORD to crush him (Isaiah 53:10). He became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). He became the curse of God for us (Galatians 3:13). Through this act of injustice, guilty people receive life. How is this fair? It’s not. It’s grace.
Originally published October 3, 2016 on landoncoleman.com.