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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor: Explaining (Away) the Conquest

(If you have not listened to the sermon from Sunday, you can find it here.)
As promised, I would like to present a couple of the most common ways people have found to explain, or explain away, the conquest.   Joshua 6:21 records in very simple language the complete slaughter of the inhabitants of Jericho at the hand of the Israelites: Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.  Deuteronomy 20:16-17 tells us that this was done by the command of God.
This event, perhaps more than any other in the Old Testament, has troubled believers and incensed unbelievers.  If God is a God of love, how could he command the total annihilation of an entire city, every man, woman, child, and animal? 
The first main argument that people use to deal with this issue is that it is an Old Testament problem that the New Testament makes right.  Christopher J. H. Wright, in his book The God I Don’t Understand, describes this approach this way:
“These things all happened in the Old Testament, but, thankfully, we are New Testament Christians and we now know either that God was never really like that (though the primitive Israelites imagined he was), or that God has radically changed the way he deals with us now that Jesus has come and shown us a better way and fuller revelation.”
A similar approach is to play the God of the New Testament, who is a God of love, against the God of the Old Testament, who was a God of wrath.  In a sense, Jesus came and rescued God from His Old Testament reputation, and revealed Him to be the God of grace and love that we find in the New Testament. 
However you want to phrase it, there is the idea among some that the God we see in the conquest is not God being God.  This just isn’t like Him.  God is more Himself in the New Testament.  But that notion is not plausible if we believe what the Bible says about the immutability, or unchangeable nature, of God.  Malachi 3:6: "For I the LORD do not change.”  In James 1:17, God is described as the one “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Further, for one who has read the Old Testament, it becomes impossible to view the God presented there as unloving or unmerciful.  In fact, there are more references to the love and mercy of God in the Old Testament than in the New.
On the other hand, it cannot be said that what we see in the conquest is out of character for God.  God is full of wrath and the judgment we see in the conquest is exactly like God.  Read Deut 28 and see what God promised He would do to the Israelites if they broke His covenant.   
There were at least two instances where God was ready to destroy Israel on the way to the Promised Land, but Moses prayed, asking Him to relent, and He did (Exodus 32, Numbers 14).  But the Old Testament is filled with God’s promises of judgment and the fulfillment of those promises.  Read the prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, and you’ll see God pronouncing judgment on nations, and history corroborates that the judgments did in fact happen.  God doesn’t seem to be ashamed of this. 
Nor are the New Testament writers ashamed.  Some people want to use the New Testament to save God from the Old, but none of the New Testament writers do this.  Everywhere in the Bible, God’s judgment, whether it be on the Canaanites, on Sodom and Gomorrah, or on Israel, is always assumed to be just.  Jesus Himself talked more about the judgment of God than anyone else in the Bible.
And Revelation 19, if you interpret it literally, and I do, tells us that in the end Jesus is going to slaughter all the armies of the world.  Rev 19:15: “He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”
So it is like God to pour out His wrath.  And it is like Jesus to do that. Some might say, “But God is a God of love.  A God of love wouldn’t do this.”  God is a God of love, but the Bible also tells us He is a God of wrath, and He would do this.  There is no contradiction between the portrayals of God in the two testaments.  Both show Him to be a God of wrath and love.
The second prominent explanation for the conquest is that the Israelites were mistaken about what God commanded.  This one also cannot be taken seriously if you believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.  First of all, God promised the land to Abraham back in Gen 15:16, knowing that the land would at that time be occupied by another people.  And in Deut 7:1-2 this is what is commanded regarding those occupants:  "When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.
And just to make sure there were no misunderstandings, it is reiterated in Deut 20:16-17, But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded.
Of course, God commanded this.  The Israelites weren’t mistaken.  God repeatedly told them to do this.  
As I said, Sunday, the best way to view the conquest is to see it in the context of salvation history.  It was a demonstration of God’s just wrath, just a glimpse of the eternal hell that we all deserve, from which His Son would come to save all who repent and believe. 
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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