Summary: Many pastors, including this one, preached series on the subject of “spiritual warfare” including strong emphasis on confronting and defeating evil. Then, September 11 happened. Suddenly ‘holy war’ had a whole new meaning.
Text: Joshua 10-11 Pew Bible page 344
I need to start my message this morning with some disclaimers. Oh yes, it’s one of those!
First of all, I am asking for a fair hearing. I know that this is a controversial topic and I also know that if you only hear the buzz words and headlines, you will misunderstand what I intend to say, jumping to conclusions about what you thought I said!
Second, I may be wrong. Some of you won’t agree with my conclusions. In fact, some of you won’t even like a lot of what I say today, but my request is that you will consider it before concluding I’m deluded or a fool!
In generations past, we used to sing songs like “Onward, Christian Soldiers” with little thought about the militaristic theme of the words. Many pastors, including this one, preached series on the subject of “spiritual warfare” including strong emphasis on confronting and defeating evil. Then, September 11 happened. Suddenly ‘holy war’ had a whole new meaning. 19 men, in the name of Allah, attacked the US, giving their lives in God’s service- or at they thought so. For most us, the mix of military metaphors in our Christian language became much more tricky, lest we be identified with those terrorists.
In our text today we will find 2 difficult chapters in the story of Israel’s conquest of Canaan, the land promised to His people by God. These chapters are summary reports of two military campaigns, one that brought about the conquest of the southern part of Canaan, the other that did the same in the north. They are about ‘holy war’ and as I read them, will likely raise some serious questions in your mind. I want to springboard from these chapters and think about how we are to engage evil around us as Christian soldiers.
Let me give you a taste of these chapters with a couple of excerpts -
READ Joshua 10: 7-11, 20-21; 29-30; 11 6-10, 18-20, 23
There’s no way to sugarcoat those accounts! They are violent, bloody, holy wars waged - according to Joshua- at God’s specific command to His people. It is very hard for me to reconcile what I read about in these two chapters in Joshua with the words of Jesus that command us to ‘love our enemies, to do good to those who mistreat us.’ In fact, the whole idea of a ‘holy war’ is a very tough concept that brings to mind Osama Bin Laden and terrorists that commandeer airplanes to kill people and destroy property in a spasm of religious hatred for the United States which is viewed by those fanatical Muslims as the ‘great Satan.’
What do we do with these accounts and how do we understand them as applying to our lives?
Let’s start with a negative. We must not lower our view of the authority and inspiration of the Bible!
That is the way that some students choose to deal with this kind of passage. They say, “Joshua wrote about the world as he understood it. God didn’t really want the Canaanites destroyed, but that was how the world operated at that time so Joshua just assumed that he was doing God’s will.” This kind of arrogance has led many to rob the Holy Scripture of the authority that comes from Truth! That’s a slippery slope that destroys our faith in the Bible’s authoritative instruction for us as Christians. First we only apply that kind of reasoning to passages like this and eventually we end up discarding the Bible as a reliable guide to Truth and conduct because we conclude it is a book belonging to another time!
In my previous pastorate in New England, I was friends with many pastors who had nothing left to preach because they had abandoned the Bible as the Source of revealed Truth. One highly educated pastor told me,
“I only regard the words of Jesus Himself as the Word of God.” Then, she quickly even qualified that statement — “and it’s hard to know exactly what Jesus said, isn’t it?”
Believer, we must always approach the Scripture with reverent awe, with humility that does not require the Word to fit into our worldview, but with the willingness to adjust our understanding to the Word! That is why we are told to be diligent in our study and to let the Spirit unfold the Wisdom to us.
Let’s try to understand these texts for what they do say and in their context.
Did God really command the destruction of the Canaanites?
YES! If we go back 50 plus years before the time of our text, to the time of Moses, we will discover that God’s instructions were clear.
“But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the Lord your God has commanded you," (Deuteronomy 20:16-17, NKJV)