Dealing with the killing in Jericho (and other Bible passages on warfare)
Richard Dawkins once wrote “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous, petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, capriciously malevolent bully. (The God Delusion)
Granted, the Old Testament does provide some challenging passages. For example when Joshua and the Israelite army storms Jericho, the description in Joshua 6:20-25 sounds brutal. What do you do with passages like this one? Is Dawkins right? Consider the following six points as you interact with the story of Jericho (and others like it).
How do you deal with the killing in Jericho?
1. Recognize that God is the author and sustainer of life. He doesn’t owe us anything including one moment of breath.
- Every day is a gift and every breath we inhale is an act of his mercy and grace. The Lord gives and the Lord takes.
2. God is not sadistic. Life is taught as a sacred divine gift in the Bible.
God doesn’t delight in the death of the wicked. Additionally you don’t see Israel excited about killing. Rather what we do see is that God is loving and patient toward sinners not vindictive. Read the following verses and see.
- Ezekiel 33:11 God does not delight in the death of the wicked.
- Romans 5:8 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- 2Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance
- Psalm 145:8-9 The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
#3 God could have wiped out Jericho without using Israel.
- Remember how God alone brought the Exodus plagues and the Noahic flood. The fact that God is using Israel as an instrument rather than God bringing justice on his own is unique. This should grab our attention. It shows us that God is uniquely using this people group to communicate something specific through them. He wants them recognized for a reason. What is the reason? This is the people group that will bring the Messiah and he wants the world to pay attention.
- Remember God caused the wall of Jericho to fall. He could have brought the full destruction on his own, but he used Israel for a reason.
#4 God sends Israel to Jericho because of wickedness not because Israel is superior.
- Genesis 15:13,16 God told Israel when they would go into the land and why. It was because the people in the land were wicked. God exercised patience with the people in Canaan until his judgement was full.
- Deuteronomy 9:5 tells us that Israel went into this land because the people were very wicked. It was not because Israel was better than anyone else.
- Deuteronomy 12:31 Tells us the people in the land were so wicked that they were burning children alive. God had patiently warned them about this wickedness for hundreds of years and had enough.
If we think its was right to stop Hitler in WW2. Why can’t God do the same to spare life in the OT? We should have more confidence in the leadership of Lord than in man.
I know people can have a hard time with a God of justice. We want a “loving” God. However if He is all love and no justice, it’s just flattery. Flattery will get you no where. God’s justice against injustice ensures that he has the ability to provide the enduring love He promises.
#5 It not about Genocide. It was about judging sin.
- Warfare tactics involve intimidation. That intimidation is often expressed in language. Much like an athlete will try to intimidate their opponent by saying things like ” I am going to crush you” or “destroy you.” I believe the OT did the same thing regarding Israel’s conquest. Paul Copan has written several books that show the use of intimidating language in biblical literature. Check out “Did God Really Command Genocide”.
- For example, we know that not everyone in Jericho was killed. The Bible tells us at minimum Rahab and her entire family was spared. (Joshua 6:25)
- In fact if Israel was to totally annihilate everyone, why did God provide Israel laws on how to interact with foreigners in their future land before they arrived in the land? Deuteronomy 1:16; 5:14; 10:18
#6 Joshua’s military conquests is not an excuse to hate.
- Sin should break our hearts at the depravity of man and the lost state of the human soul. In the OT, God worked through a physical people group through a physical battle. In the NT we do not fight physical battles but rather our battle is a spiritual one for the souls of others. We fight to rescue people. (Ephesians 6:12)