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apologetics, philosophy, The Bible

Bible Difficulties 3: Joshua 6:21-24

The Bible has been compared to an anvil–no matter how hard people beat on it, it remains firm, it stands strong. I love this comparison, and I have my own to offer. The Word of God is like a sword being forged. It is under attack by others, who beat on it with hammers, trying to destroy it, yet in all their attacks, the Word only gets sharper, and its blade more keen. The Word stands.

This post is the third in a series I’ve been working on which discusses Bible Difficulties–hard passages in Scripture. Other posts in the series can be accessed here.

Summary

One of the most commonly-cited difficulty with Scripture is the charge that God commands wicked actions. I’ve offered other defenses of such charges before (see here and here), but here I’d like to examine one specific case (and I will likely do so in the future as well). Today I’ll discuss the case of Jericho found in Joshua 6:21-24 (found in  context here).

These verses say: “They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys… Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the LORD’s house.” (Joshua 6:21, 24).

Why is this passage difficult?

Surely this is a hard truth! Men, women, children, and animals are destroyed due to God’s command.

Commentary

There are a number of ways commentators address these verses and others like them. I’m going to outline my own view, which is a synthesis of many others.

Most importantly is the idea that the entirety of Scripture witnesses of God’s relationship to man. This is made specific in the revealed incarnation of God into the person of Jesus. Thus, verses like these should be seen in light of the whole of Scripture. More on this in a bit.

The second most important point is that God is, necessarily, sovereign. Sovereignty implies that God is in absolute control of the universe. This point is so important because it is the case that God has created all living things and has sustained them by His grace. Thus, all things owe each second of their lives to Him. We don’t deserve anything, only God deserves anything–which is our adoration, thanksgiving, and praise.

Now, before getting into a Scripture-in-context argument, we can examine this individual case. The charge is (essentially) that  God is unjust for allowing and endorsing the total destruction of Jericho, including women, children, and animals. Geisler and Howe make the fivefold argument, found in The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, that

1) The Canaanites were far from innocent. The Canaanites abhorrent immorality is described in Leviticus 18, which includes descriptions of such Canaanite practices as child sacrifice (see Leviticus 18:21, 24, 25, and 26). These people were not walking around minding their own business. They were a dangerous, defiled nation (Geisler, 137).

2) God had given Palestine more than 400 years to repent, starting with the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:16. The people of the land, however, had not repented (137).

3) In regards to killing everyone, including women and children, the fact of the matter is that they were part of a people whose depravity was such that anyone who came in contact with it was polluted (see Leviticus 18 once more). Geisler and Howe further put forward the controversial view that children who die before the age of accountability go to heaven (they cite 2 Samuel 12:23 for this) and so God was being merciful by bringing them to Him rather than having them condemned for eternity (138–I am not endorsing the latter part of this argument, but I think it was worth repeating here).

4) God’s sovereignty means that He who has created life may also take it (138).

5) The threat of such a vile, violent, and corrupt people meant they must be eradicated so as not to lead astray God’s chosen people, who had already shown themselves susceptible to such apostasy (138).

I think that Geisler and Howe make a fairly credible defense here, though I think a high understanding of Christology can enhance the defense further. The Lutheran Study Bible commentary about “Divine Warfare” states that “Satan and man’s sin started warfare… Christ’s divine warfare [his death and resurrection] achieves victory and salvation… divine warfare [is] God’s just punishment [for] human sin… the Church’s warfare is spiritual… a Christian view of warfare must distinguish Law from Gospel” (376). These points combine to show a Christian understanding of such passages:

As I mentioned above, Christ can be seen as the key to understanding even these passages. Paul, in the book of Romans, writes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). There is no one righteous, not even one (3:10). Thus, all deserve death and punishment similar to that of Jericho. However, God, in His mercy, sent His Son to die once for all sinners, thus opening salvation to all who believe. This is by faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, when viewing a difficult passage such as this, as Christians, we can see a distinction between Law and Gospel. God’s Law is evident in His Just dealings with sinners–the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a)–while also remembering that God’s mercy is in all things, for “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23b).

Further, one very important point to make in all matters like this is that the Christian understanding includes the belief that all things have eternal relevance. Things that happen in this life have repercussions for the next. As such, any understanding of temporal suffering should take into account God’s plan of eternal salvation for all who believe.

Sources:

Geisler, Norman and Thomas Howe. The Big Book of Bible Difficulties. Baker Books. 1992.

The Lutheran Study Bible. Concordia Publishing House. 2009.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

7 thoughts on “Bible Difficulties 3: Joshua 6:21-24

  1. I cannot worship a genocidal god. Explain to me please, how this god differs from the god of islam, commanding jihad against the unclean and wicked.

    No matter how many times this OT behavior is whitewashed, it amazes me. The victims of the holocaust executing and justifying (indeed, glorying in!) one perpetrated by their ancestors. Amazing.

    Posted by Arctic Patriot | August 22, 2011, 2:13 AM
    • There are numerous answers to this objection. I might suggest checking out this post.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 24, 2011, 10:34 PM
      • Speaking of pre-conceived notions…

        There is only reason to “grapple intellectually” about genocide if you really believe the “god” you worship ordered people to commit it. For lack of evidence (logical proofs aren’t evidence), I see no good reason I should believe in this god thus I’m free to lump this story into the other examples of maniacal murder in history.

        And I like that he used “grapple,” as if identifying wholesale murder of thousands of people as inherently wrong is tough.

        So what does that say about my uncaring subjective morality against your objective morality?

        What this does is leave open the possibility, in your mind, that god could justifiably order murder again.

        No, thanks. You can keep your ancient violent god. I like new ideas better.

        Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | October 3, 2012, 5:42 AM
      • It would take a lot to explain, but as I point out on my “About” page my views are subject to change, and the post you’re referencing is not one I really hold to any more anyway. I tend to think Copan is correct in his book “Is God a Moral Monster” when he points out that the language of killing all the women and children is polemical. So I think this whole debate is pretty much moot anyway. I’m pretty convinced by Copan’s references of ANE cultures that used that language while meaning they just captured some forts that the ‘genocidal’ accusation just comes from a surface level understanding of the text, particularly in light of the fact that even the cultures that the Israelites “wiped out” even the women and children are referenced within chapters of the verses that discuss wiping them out.

        But hey, on your view, it’s just your sensibilities that are offended anyway. You can’t actually say they’re wrong. You just don’t like it.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 4, 2012, 12:11 AM
      • It’s hardly maniacal murder if the Canaanites actually all did immolate their firstborn and ritually committed human sacrifice. There still is the question of whether children really were ordered to be killed or if the language really was hyperbole, but you seriously can’t just throw the emotionally-loaded word of “murder” in there for those who burned their children alive.

        What would the alternative have been if the Canaanites refused to stop what they were doing ? They were warned time and again to stop. Again, I understand your disgust at the order to kill children, but what if the claim of hyperbolic language is true ? That is not some merely “logical proof”. It’s making a genuine attempt at evaluating the claims in their entire context (cultural and situational).

        I would encourage reading this before judging this as “genocide” as it has been known in modern-day context.

        From there, you might wonder, “Then, what kind of God orders Abraham to kill Isaac ?! He’s condemning the Canaanites for something he ordered Abraham to do !” For that, I would recommend reading this. Take these explanations or leave them; one may call this “mental gymnastics” all one wants, but outright refusal to think critically about context demonstrates sheer laziness.

        Posted by James | October 4, 2012, 9:30 AM
  2. One of the justifications for killing those in Jericho was child sacrifice. Yet, a justification for the killing of the children by God’s chosen people is that it was a mercy kill I’d the child was under the age of accountability? That to me is the most intellectually dishonest statements I have ever read.

    Posted by Paul Gwaltney | October 2, 2014, 2:39 PM

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