Joshua 6 - God-Sanctioned War

Joshua 6 – God-Sanctioned War

Last week we spoke about the Fear of God and the Divine Warrior.
  • We saw that fear of God, submission, worship and obedience are intimately related.
  • We also argued that Jesus is the Divine Warrior – the Angel of the Lord.
  • And that the Divine Warrior – the Cloud Rider – is a polemic against Baal.
  • Today we will talk about the Conquest of Canaan that the Divine Warrior legitimizes.
Throughout history, God’s name has been evoked to justify too many wars and atrocities.
  • Or if not in the name of God, in the name of a moral and just cause.
  • In the OT, and particularly Joshua, all of these claims are put forward to justify the Israelites conquest of Canaan. 
Here is one such justification of the conquest:
  • “She cannot attain her ‘great moral ends’ without increased political power, an enlarged sphere of influence, and new territory. This increase in power, ‘befitting [her] importance,’ and ‘which [she is] entitled to claim,’ is a ‘political necessity’ and ‘the first and foremost duty of the State…What we now wish to attain must be fought for,...Conquest thus becomes a law of necessity’ – Barbara Tuchman quoting General von Bernhardi from The Guns of August

This particular claim was made by one of the general’s of the Kaiser’s German Army just before the beginning of World War I.
  • We can say with certainty that this justification was complete nonsense.
  • And yet, why is the God sanctioned war of the Israelites not?
Dale Ralph Davis says the following of Joshua’s Conquest:
  • There are many “dilemmas with the conquest”.
  • And to deal with them we “must see the Old Testament’s view”. 
So Davis raises two questions.
  • (1) What are the dilemmas of the conquest?
  • (2) What is the OT’s view? 

Dilemmas of the Conquest:
One need only look at a few texts of Joshua to see the dilemma.
  • Joshua 8:24–25 (ESV) — 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.
  • Joshua 10:29–30 (ESV) — 29 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Makkedah to Libnah and fought against Libnah. 30 And the Lord gave it also and its king into the hand of Israel. And he struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it; he left none remaining in it. And he did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho.
  • Joshua 10:34–35 (ESV) — 34 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Lachish to Eglon. And they laid siege to it and fought against it. 35 And they captured it on that day, and struck it with the edge of the sword. And he devoted every person in it to destruction that day, as he had done to Lachish.
  • Joshua 10:40 (ESV) — 40 So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded.
According to the author of Joshua, “the Lord God of Israel commanded” the destruction “with the edge of the sword” all those in the cities they fought against.
  • We are told they left “none remaining”.
  • We are told that “both men and women” were killed.
  • We are told that all inhabitants were to be “devoted to destruction”. 

So that is the dilemma.
  • God commanded the killing and displacement of a people – men and women (children?).
  • Israel is killing people because God told them to do so. 
BTW – A Texas mother, Deanna Laney, said exactly the same thing as the reason she murdered 2 of her children.
  • She killed them on God’s orders.
  • She was found not guilty by reason of insanity. 
So having understood the dilemma, we need to now examine the OT’s take on the conquest.

OT View of the Conquest:
Peter S. Williams says an apologetic for the Conquest begins with two important things.

First –
  • ANE Context – For the Conquest to be properly understood, it must be understood within the context and setting in which it takes place.
  • To read it any other way is not to read it with integrity.
  • Specifically, the context includes:
    • (1) Yahweh is the one true God
    • (2) He owns and creates life.
    • (3) He uses nations to bring judgment against other nations.
    • (4) Good and evil are real and He opposes evil.
    • (5) There exists a spiritual world every bit as real as the physical world in which good and evil are at war with one another. 
Second –
  • God’s Character – Yahweh has a certain character that requires our trust.
    • He can do nothing inconsistent with that character.
    • He can’t lie.
    • He can’t murder.
    • If He takes life, He is justified in doing so because He is its author.
Paul Copan sums these up well this way:
  • “God’s commands to Israel to wipe out Canaan’s idols and false, immoral worship illustrate the cosmic warfare between Yahweh and the dark powers opposed to his rule. Yahweh—“the Lord of hosts” (cf. Ps. 24:7–10)—is a “warrior” (Exod. 15:3) who opposes all that mars the divine image in humans, all that threatens human flourishing, and all that sets itself in opposition to God’s righteous reign. ‘Yahweh wars’ aren’t simply a clash between this and that deity; they represent a clash of two world orders: one rooted in reality and justice, the other in reality-denial and brute power; one representing creational order, the other anticreation” – Paul Copan.
  • This is the OT view of the Conquest.
The point of understanding these two things – Context and Character – is relevant because:
  • To characterize the Conquest as just another religiously justified war ignores the context and historical claims in which the Conquest took place. 
In other words, it is certainly reasonable to argue the OT claims about God and His action in history are bogus.
  • And because of that, the Conquest was an immoral and unjustifiable military action.
  • However, given the Context and Character issues, it is not reasonable to decry the God of the Bible as a genocidal maniac.
  • This view does not honestly account for how the Conquest meshes with its Context and the Character of the God the OT reveals. 

Let’s look at a couple of examples of maintaining the integrity of the Context.
  • (1) The context of Conquest as Judgment
  • (2) The context of Conquest as One-Off Event
Conquest as Judgment:
  • Genesis 15:16 (ESV) — 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
  • Leviticus 18:24–25 (ESV) — 24 “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, 25 and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.
  • Deuteronomy 18:12 (ESV) — 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.
God’s act of engaging in battle is not for the sake of violence or even victory as such but to establish peace and justice” – Paul Copan.

Peter Williams makes a couple more important points about Conquest as Judgment.

(1) The conquest of the Canaanites was not genocide.
  • God didn’t use the Israelites to judge the Canaanites because of their race.
  • But, because of their wickedness.
  • Canaanite wickedness is well-documented and involved infant sacrifice.
  • Israel was merely the instrument of His judgment. 
BTW – because Israel was the instrument of God’s judgment doesn’t mean that Israel was somehow qualitatively better – as the OT makes plainly clear.

(2) The fact that it was not genocide was demonstrated by at least two things.
  • (A) This same type of judgment was incurred by Israel itself.
  • Because of Israel’s wickedness they were also judged and dispossessed from the land by the Assyrians and the Babylonians.
  • (B) The fact that Rahab, a Canaanite, was saved by her recognition of the one true God.

Conquest as One-Off Event:
  • This is an oft overlooked and significant observation by Peter S. Williams.
  • The Conquest was a one-time event.
  • In other words, this was not something that took place routinely in Israel’s history.
And importantly, it was preceded by a number of significant PDA’s – “public displays of awesomeness”.
  • And these just happen to be some of the most spectacular miracles in the Bible – Peter S. Williams.
    • Yahweh split the Red Sea.
    • He led the Israelites and fed them.
    • He cut off the Jordan River.
    • He appeared as the Divine Warrior 
BTW – the significance of the PDA’s can be seen in Christ’s ministry as well.

Additionally, the Canaanites knew of these things; they could have responded as Rahab did.
  • Joshua 2:10 (ESV) — 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.
  • And no doubt they heard how Yahweh cut off the Jordan River as well! 
So just as Paul said about Jesus’ work in history – “this has not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26).

These two examples – Judgment and One-Off Event – show the importance of Context to understanding the Conquest.
  • To rip the Conquest out of its context will lead to false conclusions. 
And this also shows us God’s role in initiating the Conquest:
  • He covenanted with and called out a people by His own will, not because they were “better”.
  • The Conquest was not grounded in the greed of an empowered political leader.
  • The Conquest was grounded in the covenant faithfulness and holiness of God.
  • And it was obtained not by professional soldiers, but by a nation of slaves.
  • A nation of slaves set free by supernatural acts of God in history.
  • And these acts of God included miracle after miracle witnessed by the nations.

  • This is a difficult topic, admittedly.
  • We can only begin to skim the surface of all the dilemmas it raises and the answers offered.
  • But I hope that we have at least provided a beginning for you to explore further.
Miscellaneous Info:
  • (1) Many scholars, like Paul Copan, suggest that the cities attacked by Israel were not cities at all.
    • They were actually military outposts containing mainly soldiers.
  • (2) Scholars also suggest that ANE historiography engages in hyperbole as part of its genre.
    • “Scripture is similar to other ancient historiography in that it may use large numbers hyperbolically in military contexts” – David M. Fouts (JETS 40/3).
    • “The use of figurative language, including numerical hyperbole, does not mitigate the historical reliability of an account” – David M Fouts (JETS 40/3).
    • “Again, the sweeping words ‘all,’ ‘young and old,’ and ‘men and women’ were stock expressions for totality, even if women and children weren’t present” – Paul Copan.