Summary: struggling with the "complete destruction" of the residents of Canaan, especially in light of our culture and the prevalence of Holy War talk since Sept. 11
Holy War – Then and Now
Joshua 10-11 - July 20/21, 2002
Plans were introduced this past week detailing various proposals for what to do with the site on which the World Trade Center towers stood until last September 11. The clean-up is completed, the search for human remains abandoned. It is time to rebuild.
As much as the physical devastation and loss of innocent life, we have also witnessed a huge social and psychological impact of those events. Here in Canada we haven’t felt them as acutely as our neighbors to the south, but we have certainly also witnessed a change in our culture. We have been horrified, shocked, dumbfounded, angered, confused, anxious, and a host of other feelings associated with the terrorist attacks. It is time for us to rebuild our cultural identity and our place in the world. It is my firm conviction that the best way for us to rebuild is on the love and principles of God expressed in Jesus Christ.
But how do we reconcile that with our study in the book of Joshua? I know you have noticed the violence, the destruction, the annihilation of the enemies of Israel. Perhaps you have been uncomfortable reading the accounts thus far; and even if you haven’t I’d venture a guess that you will be reading chapters 10-11. Maybe you have even felt uncomfortable because the warfare of the Israelites, and their total destruction of all the people in the promised land, reminded you a little of the kind of language you heard on the lips of Osama bin Laden or other radical Muslim terrorists. What do we make of these accounts in the light of our culture and experience today? How do we understand our history, both Biblical and church history, and how we should think and respond to our culture today? Those are really big questions: I hope to get a start at addressing them today.
We’ve been working our way through the book of Joshua, and this week we come to chapters 10 and 11. Up till now, most of the book has been fairly detailed stories recounting events. That changes here, and what we find is a pretty bare-bones description of two military campaigns, one in the south in chapter 10 and one in the north in chapter 11. Because of that, I’m not going to read the entire chapters, but rather just a few portions.
Chapter 10 begins with the Israelites coming to the defense of the Gibeonites, with whom they made a peace treaty in the last chapter. That story ends with this: “9 After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took [the people attacking the Gibeonites] by surprise. 10 The Lord threw them into confusion before Israel, who defeated them in a great victory at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. 11 As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky, and more of them died from the hailstones than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.” The rest of chapter 10 basically says the Israelites went to the next city, the Lord gave it to the Israelites, and they completely destroyed every living thing. The last four verses are the summary: “40 So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord , the God of Israel, had commanded. 41 Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon. 42 All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the Lord , the God of Israel, fought for Israel. 43 Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.” That is what we find in chapter 10.
Chapter 11 is much the same, except the campaign goes north instead of south. This second campaign took a long time, and the chapter really briefly summarizes the northern conquest. There is a couple of verses toward the end that we can’t ignore (though they make us uncomfortable): “18 Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. 19 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
Let me be really straightforward: those verses make me uncomfortable. I struggle to understand what they say about my Lord, and to understand what they mean in the light of the love of Jesus for our enemies. As we seek to understand what these mean especially in light of our culture, let’s first establish the facts.