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,
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).