Slaughter at Jericho

Could the loving God of the New Testament order the complete destruction of the inhabitants of Jericho found in the Old Testament?

The massacre of the inhabitants who occupied the fortified city-outpost known as Jericho can raise many questions in the mind of the careful reader. The higher critic has claimed for many years there was a conflict between the Bible and current archaeological data and that the claimed historicity of the sacred text was merely exaggerated colorful myth. Some liberal thinkers have viewed the Jehovah of the Old Testament as a deity who required appeasement and blood sacrifice to satisfy his capricious lust, while the New Testament god, in their view, is all about love, acceptance, and toleration. Then, the atheist uses the Bible to “prove” to the Christian that the God of his Scripture is a warmonger and the murderer of innocent women and children, and even if He did exist, He would remain unworthy of the worship and adoration required to satisfy His huge ego.

Even many an ardent Bible believer has felt some uneasiness at the unashamed transparency of the sacred text. Along with this comes the struggle to reconcile the relationship between a good and benevolent God and the obvious presence of evil in the world, especially as it relates to the death of women and children.

Recall the youthful gusto with which many have sung the traditional American spiritual.

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,

Jericho, Jericho,

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,

And the walls come a tumbling down.

Of course, in Sunday school, as we marched around the chairs and pretended to blow the ram-horns, we were definitely on the side of the “good guys.” On the other hand, Jericho and its inhabitants were the villains who deserved to lose their city, though we didn’t know why. Only much later did we come to realize there was a sober side to this deadly dance, which gave new face and fresh meaning to our childish play.

Let us consider the text as it reads in the Authorized Version of the Bible.

And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword (Joshua 6:21; KJV).

Try as we might, there is no way we can dodge the dilemma by laying the event at the feet of an overly zealous Joshua leading a nomadic army of marauding, misguided Israelites. Nor can we sweep it under the rug by allowing for some kind of modified divine permission or restraint, which might absolve God from any direct culpability. The fact remains; it was a carefully calculated act with a specific goal in mind. Jehovah ordered it (Deuteronomy 7:2), and Joshua did it (Joshua 6:21).

The qualifier in this saga seems to be what is referred to in Genesis 15:16 as the “iniquity of the Amorites.” The nations that occupied Canaan had become so hideously debauched, so degenerate in custom and practice, that the judgment of God became imminent. We are told in the Mosaic account that God is preparing to act and His long-suffering is about to end.

For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants (Leviticus 18:25; NASB).

In the larger context of the writings of Moses, the Amorites are viewed by Jehovah as representative of the whole of Palestine. Further, it was as if they had become so saturated with corruption that the very earth itself spit them out.

Recent textual discoveries in Ugarit confirm the Scripture record of centuries filled with idolatry, sodomy, bestiality, sorcery, and child sacrifice. Consequently, each generation had polluted the next with idolatry, perversion, and blood. We must not read Deuteronomy 18:9–12 with an emotionless indifference in the way that some would read yesterday’s news. Parents offered up their children to the god Molech by fire. Child sacrifice is more than an unfortunate, ancient tribal custom. It is a hideous, twisted ritual conducted by men who have reprobated themselves into beasts. Then again, the customs of Canaan are not really a quantum leap from ancient religious ritual to our current indulgence of “a woman’s right to choose,” are they?

The problem of Jericho is easily solved. God has revealed Himself to us in the Bible just as He is. His self-revelation to Moses (see Exodus 34:6–7) is very revealing:

And Jehovah passed by before him and proclaimed, Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth; keeping loving-kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children . . . (ASV).

Can we not see that God’s disposition is showcased in His long-suffering, equity, mercy, and patience? He never acts in a knee-jerk, capricious manner. Yet at the same time, God reserves the right to be God, doing as He chooses when He wills and with universal authority over His creation. Even as he pleaded for God to spare the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham declared, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). So the answer to the problem lies bound up in the character of God as revealed in Scripture. Is there ever a time when divine genocide is justified? The answer must be yes, because the judge of the whole earth always does what is right. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that in time the long-suffering of God will transform itself into judgment if the warnings are not heeded.

A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy says it well:

Before the Christian church goes into eclipse anywhere, there must first be the corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, “What is God like?” Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.

Here are words from the Apostle Paul challenging us to think biblically about the nature and character of God. “Behold then the goodness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22; ASV).


A Time to Kill

Is it okay to kill, like David killing Goliath or Joshua eliminating Canaanites? Or is killing forbidden?

“You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13; NASB).

“If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed” (Exodus 22:2).

“Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 24:15–16).

“Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 24:17).

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him (1 Samuel 17:50).

In order to answer this apparent contradiction, we must make a distinction between killing someone and committing murder. Murder is the unlawful taking of a life, while killing may be lawful or unlawful. The establishment of capital punishment actually extends back to the Noahic Covenant when God declared, “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:5–6).

Even before this, Cain was afraid of the other members of his family seeking to kill him after he had murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4:13–15).[5] In the cases outlined in Scripture, taking the life of another in the name of justice was not murder. The question poses a false dilemma in that killing does not have to be always right or always wrong — God has provided qualifications.

Because man is made in the image of God, the death of a human is not taken lightly. In the laws given to Israel through Moses, those sins that were worthy of death were detailed. Leviticus 19 is one such place where these commands are given. Since these are commands directly from God and God cannot lie, we understand that there must be no contradiction in the commands. Those who committed sexual sins were to be justly killed, but only upon the clear affirmation of their crime established by witnesses.

As the author of the first five books of the Bible, Moses would not have written contradictory ideas. If we allow for killing to be wrong in every case, when a person carried out capital punishment, as commanded by God, they would have to be killed for the taking of a life. Then their life would be demanded, and so on until humanity was left with one. Extending the logic allows us to see how absurd the claim of a contradiction truly is.

The Bible provides many circumstances under which the taking of a life is legally allowed by Scripture. Killing another person in an act of self-defense (Exodus 22:2) was permitted with no consequences. There are examples of God calling the people to war against other nations to punish them for their sins. When Joshua led the children of Israel into the Promised Land, God commanded the Israelites to utterly destroy the idolatrous peoples who inhabited the land (Deuteronomy 20:16–17). A list of their sins can be found in Leviticus 18, including incest, murdering children, and so on. When God called Israel to war against those in the Promised Land, then He was permitting the killing in this situation, making men His agents of justice, as in the case with capital punishment.

The killing of Goliath by the young David was, likewise, justified in the eyes of God. In fact, David was angered by the way that Goliath blasphemed God and met him in battle. David did not trust in himself, but in the Lord to deliver Goliath into his hands. This is an example of continuance of the war the Israelites had been engaged in with the inhabitants of the Promised Land, as directed by God.

God repeatedly chose war and capital punishment as a way to bring judgment on peoples and individuals who were acting in defiance of His will by doing great sin. He ordained the killing as a punishment to accomplish His purposes in the world.

This should give an idea of seriousness of sin. In the eyes of a perfect and holy God, one sin is worthy of death (Genesis 2:17). Since we are all sinners, we are all under the death sentence already. In essence, we are all on “death row,” and those who murder or do other terrible sins as described in Scripture simply had their wait on “death row” shortened.

God hates sin, especially those that lead to any situation where a human life is lost. His holy nature and subsequent hatred of sin make the taking of a life acceptable only in the rarest of cases. We should never seek to minimize the taking of a life — a life made in the image of God. Remember that taking a life for justifiable reasons is only necessary because we live in a world of sin. The perfect creation would not have required death for any reason.


Word of God

Word of God

The parable of the unforgiving servant.  This parable is pretty straight forward and applicable to today’s world.  Like the servant in today’s scripture we are to forgive as we have been forgiven.  All day, every day.

Forgiveness, the amazing power that forgiveness possesses, it frees both the offender and the offended.  It breaks the shackles and chains of resentment, grudges and bitterness.  With such tremendous power, forgiveness should be our number one option, our go to when needed, right?

It doesn’t seem to work that way does it?  When we are injured, our feelings get hurt or some event brings to light those things that we are insecure about – are we quick to forgive…..or are we quick to retaliate?

You’ve heard me tell you I’m a hypocrite before right?  When reading scripture or preparing a sermon I often times get exposed for my own behavior, for my own sin, for my unwillingness at times to forgive.

Sometimes we like to own those offenses, they become a badge of honor to tell others about and plot revenge.  Do you know what such and such did to me?  Can you believe that? 

I’ll tell you something I don’t get mad, I get even.  Ever had that phrase go through your mind and off your lips?  In our broken, human form revenge, retaliation, emotion and anger move us toward retribution.

But why would we want to hang onto such ugliness?  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  Those looking for scripture to support their case for revenge often cite that passage.

The message that Christ brought almost always turns human motive and cultural norms and expectations 180 degrees.  Completely reverses what was to be expected.

You must be last in order to be first, those that are humble will be exalted.  This passage is no different.  The disciple Peter approaches Christ and asks him this question, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?  As many as seven times?

Seven times seems like enough doesn’t it?  Seven slams, seven sarcastic remarks, seven times you make me mad, seven times you injure me verbally, physically, emotionally or spiritually and I will forgive.  But the eighth time, you’re mine.

I don’t know where Peter got that number, but it caused me to think and reflect.  If you get beyond those that you live with, spouse, children, family and close friends.  If someone made you mad seven times how much time would you be spending with them?

Probably not a whole lot.  I would be avoiding them as much as possible.  I have a lot of work to do on this forgiveness thing.

Christ responds to Peter’s question of is seven times enough to forgive, “Not seven times, but 77 times.”  I read another translation that said 70 times 7.  Are you kidding, at least 77 and as many as 490 times?

As much as them seems to be I look at those married couples that have been together for decades, some for half a century or longer.  Do you think that forgiveness has been part of their story?

I think that it would have to be.  The inability to forgive leads to bitterness.  Is it enjoyable to be around someone that is bitter?  Our existence was not made to be heavy and burdensome with the weight of every slight one has ever encountered.

Our existence is meant to be light and joyful, full of compassion with hearts willing to forgive.  The granting of forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.  It can be done in person or in prayer.

After telling Peter how many times he would have to forgive he speaks the parable of the unforgiving servant.  “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  One that owed 10,000 talents was brought to him.” 

A talent is a measurement of weight, it is approximately 130 pounds of what was probably a precious metal or something of value.  10,000 talents is equal to 1.3 million pounds of gold, silver or some other valuable commodity.  1.3 million pounds.

It was more than a lifetime of debt, a debt that could not be repaid.  The servant that owed this amount was well aware that he couldn’t pay it and when the king ordered that he, his wife and children and all their possession be sold to pay it, he begged for patience, he begged for forgiveness.

And what did the king that was owed this extraordinary amount of money do?  He forgave it.  Just like that….You know the bible is rich with symbolism, who do you think that the king in this scripture is?

……It is the God we serve, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The kingdom of heaven is like a king that paid the ransom for those who could not pay it.  Who sent his son to die in their place.  A king that opened the treasure chest of grace and shared it with all and it pleased him to do so.

The servant fell in front of the king and begged not to be sold into slavery.  The kind of slavery that carrying grudges and resentments bring.  The king said that I forgive you of everything, all of it.

As the parable continues the servant that had been forgiven of a mountain of debt, whose family had been spared from being split up and sold into slavery, turns to another servant who owes him a fraction of the debt that he just had cancelled and seizes him by the throat and demands payment.

This servant got down on his hands and knees and pleads for more time, pleads for forgiveness.  The man that had been forgiven of so much refused to forgive a far smaller debt and had him thrown into prison until he could pay the debt he owed.

Very ironic that given the blessing, the good fortune that was extended that he couldn’t extend even a fraction to someone else.  Any guesses on who the unforgiving servant is in this parable…….

I’m afraid that it has been each one of us at some point in our life.  I know it has been me, I suspect it has been you.  It has been anyone that has withheld forgiveness in spite of how much they have been forgiven.

We have all been hurt, injured, slighted, talked about, gossiped about or made fun of at some point in our life.  We have to let those things go, we can’t control what other people do, we can only control our response to such things.

Word got back to the king of what had taken place.  The servant that had been forgiven of a lifetime of debt was summoned to appear before him.  “You wicked slave!” he says, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  Should you not have mercy on your fellow man, as I had mercy on you?”

In his anger the king handed over the unforgiving servant to be tortured until he could pay his entire debt.  Christ would end the parable with this word of warning, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

An unwillingness to forgive not only haunts us in this life, but in the one to come.  Hard hearts, hearts of those whose lives are painfully difficult have to be soften by coming to faith, by knowing the healing power of our God.

We are called to set the example, to live lives full of grace, mercy and compassion to be an example, to witness to those that are distant from God.  To show a willingness to forgive as our Father in heaven has forgiven us.


Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC
Author of Incomplete

Left in the Dust

Do snakes really eat dust like Genesis says?

Some people try to discredit Genesis by saying snakes don’t eat dust, as Genesis 3:14 claims and that, therefore, the Bible is in error.

After the serpent deceived Eve, God cursed it, saying, “On your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life.” Although we can’t know for sure that the serpent referred to in Genesis 1 really was the same as a snake today, many people use this verse as a reason not to take Genesis literally, since snakes don’t eat dust.

Many have responded to this charge by pointing out that a snake has an organ located in the front of the roof of its mouth that functions as a chemical receptor. The Jacobson’s organ helps the snake smell. As a snake’s forked tongue darts out to sense its surroundings, it, at least occasionally, licks the ground or picks up dust particles. Once the snake pulls in its tongue, it inserts the tips of its forked tongue into the two openings of the Jacobson’s organ, where the particles are identified and analyzed. The snake’s brain can “read” the smells and tastes from its tongue. So, in a way, snakes really do eat dust.

But is this really what God had in mind when He cursed the serpent? Probably not. Let’s look at Genesis 3:14–15 for the context:

So the Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,

You are cursed more than all cattle,

And more than every beast of the field;

On your belly you shall go,

And you shall eat dust

All the days of your life.

And I will put enmity

Between you and the woman,

And between your seed and her Seed;

He shall bruise your head,

And you shall bruise His heel.”

Notice that the serpent’s curse included crawling on its belly, eating dust, bruising the heel of the woman’s Seed, and the Seed bruising the head of the serpent. Most theologians have recognized verse 15 as the protoevangelium (“first gospel”). God, here, prophesies the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, the one who would die for our sins and rise again, defeating Satan. The bruising of the heel and the bruising of the head are obviously symbolic language, pointing to a greater reality. Recognizing this in no way violates the historical genre of Genesis: the symbolic language is still couched within a largely literal framework.

So did God curse the animal or Satan? It appears He cursed both of them. Throughout the Scriptures, God commonly speaks to the vessel and then to Satan. Here are a few examples.

In Ezekiel 27–28, the Word of the Lord was said to Tyre itself (Ezekiel 27:2), then to the ruler of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:2), and then a lament beginning in Ezekiel 28:11 to the “king of Tyre.” This one was specifically directed to the one influencing the king of Tyre — Satan.

Jesus rebuked Peter and then spoke to Satan when He influenced Peter in Mark 8:33.

In Isaiah 14 God spoke to the king of Babylon and in some parts, to Satan, who was influencing him.

This concept of speaking directly to Satan while he is influencing someone is nothing uncommon. So there is no stretch to understand that the Lord is speaking to the serpent and Satan in Genesis 3. Genesis 3:14 is said to the serpent, and then Genesis 3:15 is said to Satan, who is influencing the serpent.

The curse pronounced upon the serpent of “eating the dust” results in it now crawling on its belly in the dust. It used to be like one of the “cattle” and “beast of the field” (Genesis 3:1, 14), but now will crawl on its belly and eat dirt. More importantly, this imagery of eating dust is symbolic of a creature low, despicable, abhorrent, and degraded. In Micah 7:16–17, God prophesies of a time when the nations will come crawling to Him:

The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;

They shall put their hand over their mouth;

Their ears shall be deaf.

They shall lick the dust like a serpent;

They shall crawl from their holes like snakes of the earth.

They shall be afraid of the Lord our God,

And shall fear because of You.

A proper understanding of the context (literary, historical, and theological) helps us understand what God meant when He cursed the serpent. There is no contradiction here , but rather a wonderful promise of victory by a risen Savior.

An ode to my father

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If I never shed a tear for you
It’s because you never left
If I never saved a prayer for you
It’s because I haven’t said farewell yet

You never said goodbye
you slept through the night
your tired eyes looked well rested
your face content with a job well done
embracing the quiet sleep that evaded you for so long

where rivers flow;
where the sun never sets
and the moon never rests
I know you rest well
in the bossom of eternal grace

No matter,
your legacy lives on
your faith saved for posterity
thank you, my dear father
Thank you, for being you.

Paapaa, I miss you