THEME: God’s Command of Destruction
This week’s lessons show the importance of repentance in view of the certainty of a coming judgment, which in God’s mercy is being delayed.
SCRIPTURE: Joshua 6:24-27
So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel. And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the LORD be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. “At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates.” So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.
I suppose it’s not really possible to preach through the book of Joshua without dealing at some point with what some people have felt to be a great moral problem. The moral problem lies in the fact that at the direction of God, the Jewish people were commanded by Joshua to exterminate large blocks of the country God had given them to possess. People would call it genocide. It’s a bad thing and people have asked with some perception how it can be possible that in a book that pretends to present to us the character of a good and loving God we could have stories which show God directing His people to do such a thing. This is one of a class of problems that we find in the Bible, and it is the task of apologetics, that is, the defense of the faith, to answer these.
In a book of mine called Standing on the Rock, I have a chapter called “Dealing with Bible Difficulties” in which I deal with these and other difficulties. There are so-called historical problems in the Bible, things that create problems in our thinking when we compare what the Bible has to say about events with what perhaps some secular source has to say. There are so-called scientific problems where something in the Bible doesn’t seem to agree with the way we understand things today.
There are problems that have to do with phenomenal language, that is, language that describes how things appear to us, as the observer, but not necessarily the way things are in themselves. An example of that would be the rising of the sun. We say the sun rises, and this is the language the Bible also uses. Of course, that isn’t the way things actually are. The sun doesn’t rise except from the point of view of an observer on earth. The way to handle that is to realize that we use phenomenal language as well, just as the Bible does.
Among these many categories of Bible difficulties are these moral problems. When we read through Joshua in any comprehensive study, we inevitably come to these and need to address them. Here at the very end of Joshua 6, at the end of the first great encounter in this historic invasion of the land, we read that the people in Joshua’s command burned the whole city of Jericho and everything in it. They put the silver and gold and bronze and iron in the treasury of the Lord, but they burned the rest. That is to say, they killed the people, the old, the young, male and female, adults and children.
People ask, “How can that happen?” The way that question is usually phrased is this, “How could God command the destruction of an innocent race?” Of course, as soon as you hear the question phrased that way, you have the first part of the answer to it. Innocent? The Canaanites were far from innocent. As a matter of fact, they were the most degenerate people. We have a record of some of the wicked things that went on from secular sources, but I find most interesting a description of Canaanite practices found in Deuteronomy 18:10: “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist, or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord and because of these detestable practices, the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord.” These things that the Israelites were being warned against were actually practiced by the Canaanites.
What is the moral problem which Dr. Boice mentions in this passage? What are some other examples of Bible difficulties he talks about?
Have you ever heard of any other problems people claim to exist in Scripture? What do those claims reveal about people’s assumptions concerning God and his Word? How would you try to answer their criticisms?