At the end of November we wrapped up our Equip Class on the Old Testament book Joshua at Desert Springs Church. Joshua is that book with the story of Jericho, a story famous in children’s books and flannelgraph. But not the whole story. Here’s how it ends: “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” (Joshua 6:21). Joshua’s sword has a lot of blood on it.
This presents a difficulty to sensitive and attentive readers. In a book filled with the gracious promises of God for his people and even careful instructions for justice for their life together (Joshua 20), what should we make of this apparent military overkill? Was God right to command this and was Israel right to carry it out? What shall we say to those who call the Bible a barbaric book, who use this as an example of how religion spoils everything?
If the Bible is true and we’re reading it right, then, yes he was. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for us to understand.
As with any text of the Bible, we need to situation this one in its immediate context, the context of the story that is unfolding in Scripture, and in the context of the whole Bible. This specific question gives us a great exercise in biblical interpretation. Four resources will be helpful to you in thinking this through:
- “God’s Justice in the Land of Canaan,” Kyle Dillon
- “How Could God Command Genocide in the Old Testament,” Justin Taylor
- “Introduction to the Book of Joshua” in the ESV Study Bible
- The Morality of God in the Old Testament, G.K. Beale
We should not be surprised to bump up against hard questions in the Bible. We’re fallen and finite creatures. We don’t have the whole picture and if we did we’d have a sinners take on it. Gratefully, God’s Word is true at every point and we can trust it. And gratefully its story leads to a cross where the Lord dealt fully and finally with the injustice our own sin, and a resurrection where he conquered death for those who entrust themselves to him.
*This article was crossposted at the Desert Springs Church Blog.