Why is the Book of Joshua so Violent?

August 14, 2022

David Sorn

Many people have questions and objections to the violence they read about in the Old Testament. So why is the Book of Joshua in particular so violent? Are there actually solid reasons for the violence that exists in this part of the Bible?

Why is the Book of Joshua so Violent?

August 14, 2022

David Sorn

Many people have questions and objections to the violence they read about in the Old Testament. So why is the Book of Joshua in particular so violent? Are there actually solid reasons for the violence that exists in this part of the Bible?

SERMON TRANSCRIPT | Joshua 1-24

INTRODUCTION

(Joshua Series Slide)

Morning. My name is David Sorn. I’m the Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.

All summer long we’ve been teaching verse by verse through the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament.

And the Book of Joshua is the story of how God brought the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the land God promised to them way back in the time of their ancestor Abraham.

However, in order for the Israelites to inhabit the Promised Land, they needed to first conquer the people who lived there (the Canaanites) in battle.

And so the Book of Joshua has a decent amount of war and violence.

And Joshua is even different from most of the other books of the Old Testament that contain violence (like Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings) because so much of the violence in those books are merely accounts of the Israelites defending themselves in war

But here, in Joshua, it looks like God is indeed the commander and chief behind the violence.

He, after all, told the Israelites to go back to the Promised Land and drive out their enemies.

And so when people say, “Why is the Old Testament so violent?”

What they probably really mean is “Why is the Book of Joshua so violent?”

And so we want to look at this question because this is a church that invites hard questions.

It says out in the lobby that “We believe the Bible is the lamp of truth in the darkness,” and so if that’s true…

If the Bible is God’s Word, then we believe that we should be able to ask hard questions of it and still find truth

And so we’re going to talk about this today.

The question at hand is:

(Why is the Book of Joshua so violent?) – Title slide

So for instance, here is a description of the Israelites conquering the city of Jericho in Joshua chapter 6:

(Joshua 6:20-21) – NIV

20 When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. 21 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.

They usually leave that part out of the children’s Bible story for the battle of Jericho

(Why is the Book of Joshua so violent?) – Title slide

And a number of other times we see God command the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites living in the Promised Land.

Why?

Why would God ask them to do that?

Why the violence in this book?

What I want to do today is give you 6 reasons why we see the existence of violence in Joshua.

#1: THE JUSTICE OF GOD HAS FINALLY COME ON THE CANAANITES

Now, due to the culture and time period that you’re currently hearing this in, this first one may not be the easiest of the 6 to hear, but we must start here.

6 Reasons Why We See Violence in the Book of Joshua:

#1: The justice of God has finally come on the Canaanites

We have to look at today’s question by first taking off our cultural lenses.

We talk about this in Renovation U, but all of us, (most of us without recognizing it), read the Bible through the lens of our culture (that is how our culture looks at life)

Take these glasses here (hold them up)!

Imagine if anyone around the world were to put on these glasses, that they would automatically think like a 21st century American.

The truth is, when you read the Bible, you read through these lenses

This is the view through which you see the world!

And people have always read the Bible through their own cultural lenses

Some people used to read the Bible while first thinking like a 3rd century African or a 19th century Asian

Think of our missionaries we spoke of earlier…the people they witness to are going to read the Bible through the lens of being a 21st century Eastern European

We all bring our own cultural assumptions and presuppositions to the Bible

And, as much as we can, when we each read the Bible, we want to take off our glasses

Because if we read The Book of Joshua (glasses back on) while first thinking like a 21st century Americans…, it’s fairly easy to question God…because our culture LOVES love, and we strongly dislike any talk of “judgment for sin”

But we need to take off the glasses.

If we’re going to answer this question, fairly, then we need to fairly look at what it says.

And the Bible says that God is a just judge, and that there are consequences for sin

It makes sense when you think about it…

If God were a god that simply looked upon the great evils of this world and did nothing (that is, he brought no justice), that’s not a God you would respect or want to worship.

So at times, God does bring his justice upon us…even while we still live on earth!

And before you dismiss God for bringing justice to the Canaanites, you need to know that the Canaanites, which is the broad name for the tribes who lived in the Promised Land (or the land of Canaan), were not like the sweet grandma that lives next door to you

God tells the Israelites in Leviticus 18 that the Canaanites are so evil, so depraved, that they were currently engaging in all sorts of sexual sin.

Incest, bestiality, child abuse, child sacrifice, temple prostitution (and other historical documents that say the same thing about them).

On top of that they were incredibly barbaric and cruel

And so the justice of God, is going to come onto the Canaanites for their outrageous sin

And by the way, God is not partial or selective in bringing justice.

He’s not punishing the Canaanites just for being Canaanites.

About 800 years later, he’s going to temporarily drive out the Israelites from the same land for THEIR sin!

Also, remember, we often say, “God’s justice and forgiveness always go together”

It’s not God’s desire to destroy the Canaanites.

He would of course rather they turn from their sin and worship Him.

And some even do and are saved!

Think of Rahab in Joshua chapter 2!

She says that her people know about God!

And the Bible says that foreigners could turn to Him and be saved.

But only a few, like Rahab took him up on it.

The Gibeonites from Joshua chapter 9 also eventually turn to follow the Lord

And not only was there a way out for them, but God was also unbelievably patient in bringing his justice.

So 400 years earlier, Look at God’s original promise to Abraham about his future descendants (the Israelites)

(Genesis 15:13-16) – NIV

13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

So what God is saying here is remarkable.

He’s saying to Abraham that the Amorites (those are people who live in the Southern part of the Promised Land) are already sinful and deserving of judgment.

But God’s patience for them hasn’t yet run out.

(Why is the Book of Joshua so violent?) – Title slide

They’re going to have more than 400 years to get it together and repent.

God was patient in bringing his justice…for hundreds & hundreds of years

But after a half a millennium of incest, child abuse, brutality, and child sacrifice, their sin has now reached its full measure and justice has now come.

And so before we accuse God with our unique 21st century American glasses on…

…we need to remember that there are plenty of other cultures around the world right now that are also reading the Book of Joshua through their cultural glasses…

…(especially those that live under oppressive and wicked regimes)…they are reading the Book of Joshua, and saying:

“No, the question is not Why was God so violent?” but “Why was God so patient? So SLOW to bring justice?”

So firstly, we realize that we all have cultural glasses that influence the objections we bring.

And when we take them off, we must each lean into what God teaches about justice and about His patience.

#2: NO ONE IS INNOCENT AND WE ALL DIE

Let’s take a look at the 2nd reason we see violence in the book of Joshua:

6 Reasons Why We See Violence in the Book of Joshua:

#1: The justice of God has finally come on the Canaanites

#2: No one is innocent, and we all die

A) that sounds really ominous, but B) that also sounds like 2 reasons, so let me show you how they go together as one

Part of the reason we bristle so much at the violence done in Joshua is because we want to say, (GLASSES ON) “What about the innocent people?”

But again (first take your modern glasses off) one of the key teachings of the Bible is that we are all born sinful (this is the Christian doctrine of total depravity)

That’s Psalm 51 – “Surely I was sinful at birth”

And so there are no “innocent people”

Not even the Israelites.

Sometimes we mistakenly read this as Good Guys vs Bad Guys.

But that’s not what it says!

God even explains that to the Israelites in Deuteronomy before the enter the Promised Land!

(Deuteronomy 9:4) – NIV

4 After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you.

God goes on to say later in that chapter, “And remember, you’re sinful too!”

6 Reasons Why We See Violence in the Book of Joshua:

#1: The justice of God has finally come on the Canaanites

#2: No one is innocent, and we all die

Since the fall of Adam & Eve on the opening pages of the Bible, we’ve all been sinful.

And part of the curse (or result) of that sin, is that we will all die

And we deserve it.

The Bible tells us that God gives life and He takes it away.

And as our Creator, He has the right to do that.

We want to say (GLASSES ON) “God, how could you take a life? What right do you have?”

But again (GLASSES OFF), He’s the Creator.

Did we even have a right to exist in the first place?

It was His choice.

And the truth is, God at some point, takes everyone’s life, does He not?

God, in His infinite wisdom, has ordained a time for everyone in this room to die.

And whether it’s when you’re 30 or 90, God is still within His right (as your Creator) to take your life

Remember, Biblically, yes, your body will die, but you, as a soul, will not die.

You will just transition to either hell or heaven.

We are immortal beings.

And so whether God takes you from this earth at 30 or 90, I promise you that 2 billion years from now, whether you lived 30 or 90 years on earth will feel completely irrelevant to you

And so when we take the cultural glasses off and see what the Bible teaches both about our lack of innocence and about the scope of eternity, the question is less intense.

#3: IF JUSTICE DOESN’T COME, THE CANAANITES WILL CORRUPT THE ISRAELITES

Let’s take a look at the 3rd reason we see violence in the book of Joshua:

6 Reasons Why We See Violence in the Book of Joshua:

#1: The justice of God has finally come on the Canaanites

#2: No one is innocent, and we all die

#3: If the Canaanite’s sin isn’t vanquished, it will spread

Especially to the Israelites!

This is a MAJOR reason God has decided to finally bring justice on the Canaanites.

God is very concerned that if their culture remains, it will spread to Israel, corrupt it, and the Israelites will turn away from God.

He warns them of that even!

(Deuteronomy 12:31) – NIV

31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

And so, the conquering of the Canaanites, in many ways, was more about ending their religious and cultural practices than it was about ending the people.

And in truth, the Israelites only completely conquer a select number of numbers of cities; the rest of the Canaanites are driven out of land(which is the language the Bible often uses)

#4: GOD KNOWS THE FUTURE

Okay, next reason. Let’s go a bit deeper here. Put on your thinking caps.

6 Reasons Why We See Violence in the Book of Joshua:

#1: The justice of God has finally come on the Canaanites

#2: No one is innocent, and we all die

#3: If the Canaanite’s sin isn’t vanquished, it will spread

#4: God knows the future

God knew exactly what the results would be for the future if the Israelites didn’t begin to drive out the Canaanites from the Promised Land

Who knows would might have happened to that region over time if the vile wickedness of the Canaanites would have spread even further?

But even if we can accept judgement for the sins of these Canaanite adults, I think one of our main obstacles that causes us to ask today’s question is: “But what about the children though? Children were killed!”

First of all, as I just said, we know that many of the Canaanites fled (and were not killed.

This is particularly true of their children, and we know that in part because in the next book of the Bible (Judges), those Canaanite children who escaped have now grown up and are literally killing the Israelites

And we also know that many of these places the Israelites were attacking were military outposts where there either were not children living, and if there were women and children there, they probably would have fled anyway.

Remember, in war, civilians usually just don’t wait around to be killed (think of how many fled Ukraine as Russian began the invasion)

But certainly some children were killed.

Why??

Well, in part we keep in mind the 1st 3 reasons we already talked about.

But, also keep in mind that God is outside of time.

So God knows what these children will be when they grow up.

We see a child

But God sees their entire hypothetical future

#5: GOD KNOWS THE FUTURE

Okay, let’s continue on that futuristic line of reasoning

6 Reasons Why We See Violence in the Book of Joshua:

#1: The justice of God has finally come on the Canaanites

#2: No one is innocent, and we all die

#3: If the Canaanite’s sin isn’t vanquished, it will spread

#4: God knows the future

#5: For the future of the world, it’s critical the Jews be preserved in the Promised Land

We see a season of violence, but we must remember that God is playing 4D chess here.

He has already promised this land to Abraham and his descendants…the Israelites (“specifically, a subset of them, what we know today as the Jews)

God has already made promises that the Messiah will come from this specific bloodline, and so God must, over a period of 1,400 years from Joshua to Jesus, preserve this group of people.

Which is actually even more remarkable than you may think.

My friend, Pastor Jeremy Lind once said to me, “One of the main reasons I believe in the Bible is the fact that the Jews still exist.”

Do you know any Canaanites? Hittites? Amorites? Philistines?

You don’t. Because distinct ancient people groups don’t last for thousands of years.

And for the very few others have survived, their religious beliefs couldn’t be more different 3,000 years later.

And yet, here we have a group of people, with the same beliefs, still in the same land (albeit with a detour or two)…because God must preserve as a people.

They factor into the Book of Revelation in the end times even.

And God most certainly had to preserve them years ago for the coming of the Messiah.

(Galatians 4:4-5) – NIV - EXPLAIN AS YOU GO

4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

This worldwide Christian faith was destined to come from the Israelites…the Jews!

And from where?

The Promised Land!!

Have you ever looked at the Promised Land on a map?

(Israel Map)

It is, in many ways, the center of the world.

It is there, that 3 continents come together.

It is from there that the Good News of Jesus could ring out to Asia, to Europe, and to Africa.

And that Good News (from that place), has already saved billions of souls for Jesus…for all of eternity. Billions.

And so, yes, God is going to do what is necessary to protect that timeline, and that bloodline, and that place...because of what it will do for BILLIONS in the future.

6 Reasons Why We See Violence in the Book of Joshua:

#1: The justice of God has finally come on the Canaanites

#2: No one is innocent, and we all die

#3: If the Canaanite’s sin isn’t vanquished, it will spread

#4: God knows the future

#5: For the future of the world, it’s critical the Jews be preserved in the Promised Land

And so yes, there was violence to protect that…

But I also want to point out that it was a very unique (and even temporary) season in Biblical history.

A time where God Himself was the King of Israel

So their government was definitely not a democracy, or a republic (there’s no separation of church & state)

It was not even a monarchy… (with a king)

It was what we call a “theocracy”

One where the entire civic government was led by God

And in that unique season of history, God used his people to carry out his plans for the Promised Land

However, that period of how we relate to God (a theocracy) is no more

And unlike some other faiths even, Christians are not called to use violence to accomplish our aims in building God’s Kingdom

Quite the contrary actually

Jesus ushers in the Kingdom of God, not by killing, but by being killed.

So why the violence in Joshua?

In part because it’s a unique time period with a unique purpose for the future of the world

#^: GOD’S WAYS ARE HIGHER

Okay, one more reason

6 Reasons Why We See Violence in the Book of Joshua:

#1: The justice of God has finally come on the Canaanites

#2: No one is innocent, and we all die

#3: If the Canaanite’s sin isn’t vanquished, it will spread

#4: God knows the future

#5: For the future of the world, it’s critical the Jews be preserved in the Promised Land

#6: God’s ways are higher

There will be many times in life that we won’t understand what God is doing.

That’s true both as individuals and societies.

Whenever tragedies occur, inevitably, people begin to ask, “Why didn’t God stop September 11th? Where was God in the last mass shooting?”

And society is quick to accuse God for, what we presume, is His inaction.

But think about this.

What are people saying they want?

For God to stop it!

But how would He stop a mass shooting?

Take away the shooters free will?

End the life of a mass shooter early before he does anything bad?

Or how about stop 9/11?

He would find a way to take the life and kill the terrorists?

But God didn’t do that in those situations, so people accuse God of being immoral for not stepping in!

But think about it: When God does step in (like taking out one of the most wicked cultures to ever exist…the Canaanites)

…we then accuse God of being too violent!

And see, this is where we as humans need to walk in humility when it comes to questions like this one.

At some point we have to trust that God knows better.

Whether He chooses to intervene, or sometimes not to intervene, we have to trust that He knows better.

His ways, and His wisdom is so much higher than ours.

If you’re a parent, surely you’ve made a decision for the benefit of your child before, and they look at you and they say, “You’re mean!”

And you’re thinking, “No, I’m not mean. If you had the information I had, and the wisdom I had, you would have made the same decision.”

And I believe we would too if we knew what God knows.

And so, this is certainly not an easy question

But at the end of the day, it comes down to trust.

Do we trust that our God is good and that He knows what is right on the timeline of eternity?

And God has proven His goodness to you by showing you mercy

Because we too are sinful, and we, as hard as it is to say, deserve God’s justice.

But the Bible tells us this:

(John 3:36) – NIV

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

This is teaching us that Jesus Christ came and died on the cross for your sin…taking the punishment for you.

And if you believe in that, God will take his wrath (his justice off of you) and put it on His son (Jesus on the cross)

But if you don’t believe, it says that the wrath of God remains on you.

Justice will still stay on you.

So I urge you to see God’s goodness and His love for you.

Please, accept His forgiveness and let Him lead your life!

Let me pray

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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