THE BIBLE LIVE

With Soapy Dollar

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This is one of the most often asked questions I have received during these years of reading the scriptures over the airwaves. People, even some who profess faith in the God of the Bible, struggle with the idea that God could or would give such a command. Here are three Biblical truths that can help you understand that God really did issue such a command to Joshua and the people of Israel and, to at least some extent, why He did so:1. THE BIG PICTURE

When interpreting scripture or contemplating the God of the Bible and His ways, it is always important to keep in mind the Prime Directive (a little Star Trek parlance). Why did God create the human race, and why has He sustained the race to its present 7 billion souls?

One of the most often quoted phrases in the Bible, from beginning to end, is the expression (in one form or another), “I will be their God, and they will be my people”. In a nutshell, this explains God’s purpose in creating the human race. Out of the approximately 12 billion humans who have ever lived (so I’ve read), God has called out and redeemed millions to be His people forever. He is calling and redeeming even as you read this sentence, and you will understand the Bible, world history, current events, and even your own personal life experience best when you realize that this is the primary thing and the priority thing that God is doing in any given time, place, and situation in this world. Everything is related to this purpose.

Who are the redeemed? In Romans 2:1-11, it is explained that in “the big picture”, there are only two groups of people: a) the Godward, and b) the selfward. Through both General Revelation (nature around us and man’s inner longing for truth, significance, goodness, and immortality) and Special Revelation (God’s progressive revelation of Himself in history as recorded in the Bible), God has revealed His existence and His “know-ability” (Hebrews 11:1) to every person to some degree. In response to God’s revelation of Himself (at whatever degree, see the Parable of the Talents, Mt. 25:14-30), Godward people “persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortatility that God offers”, and God gives them eternal life. Selfward people, on the other hand, are described as those who “live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds.” C.S. Lewis wrote that these two groups are those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God will ultimately say, “Thy will be done.” Heaven is prepared for people who desire God and want to be with Him and His people, while the essence of Hell – what makes it horrible – is the absolute absence of any experience of God and all goodness.

An entire article could be written to explain this, but I will add parenthetically that no one will be in heaven who has not been redeemed by God, and there is only one Redeemer. My Apache ancestors lived on this continent 500 years ago, and never heard the name of Jesus. I’ve spoken to thousands of Mongolians, Indians, and Chinese today (maybe even an American or two) who also know nothing of Jesus, but God has revealed something of Himself to them. Each and all have some “light” of revelation, and each is responsible to God for their response to the “light” they have received. Those who are Godward will discover in heaven that the God they longed for and sought redeemed them through His own Son, and there they will learn His name was Jesus. (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) In John 8, though, Jesus makes it clear (in this case to Jews) that when God reveals the full light of the Gospel to a person, he or she cannot reject (to ignore is to reject) greater light and claim to be a sincere responder to lesser light. Or said another way, anyone who responds to lesser light will, when exposed to greater light from God, also embrace the greater light. Only God, of course, knows what He has revealed of Himself to each person, and He will judge each of us.

2. GOD PROTECTED ISRAEL IN THEIR ROLE AS PART OF HIS REDEMPTIVE PLAN

Now that you see God’s great plan, we can consider His dealings specifically with Israel, the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were and are “God’s chosen people”, but that does not mean that every Jewish person is saved and going to heaven. That eternal destiny is determined for each person by the process explained in point 1 above. God chose Abraham and His descendants and made a special covenant with them as a people to reveal Himself to them and through them to the entire world, AND to send the Messiah, the second or “last” Adam (Romans 5; 1 Cor. 15), through their lineage. Israel has been used by God (sometimes positively and sometimes negatively) as a witness of His true nature, attributes, and character, AND Israel was used by God as the human vehicle through which Messiah was born, lived, and carried out His revelatory and redemptive work. God kept His promise to make Israel a “blessing to all the nations.” (Gen. 12)

So, one obvious and important reason God command Joshua and the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanite people was to preserve Israel in this crucial role of witness and bearer of the Messianic lineage. (It also helps us understand Satan’s attempts to distract and destroy Israel throughout the Old Testament.) In fact, Israel did not completely obey God’s command to eliminate or drive out the Canaanite peoples, and this ultimately contributed to their slide into idolotry and wickedness, and to their judgment at the hands of other nations (sometimes even more wicked than they).

3. GOD USED ISRAEL TO JUDGE THE WICKEDNESS OF THE CANAANITES

Remember, too, that the battles of Jericho, Ai, and others were fought in time of war – seven years bloody conflict before the individual tribes of Israel had to start “mop up actions” in their separate allotments of territory. God had told the Israelites repeatedly that He would use them (emphasizing that it had nothing to do with any goodness in Israel) to execute judgement on the peoples of Canaan. Culturally and socially, the Canaanites had become an extremely cruel and wicked society. This had occurred over hundreds of years, and now God was bringing about judgement on them for their sin. (see, Gen. 15:16; 17:7-8; Exodus 33:1-3; Dt. 4:5-8, 7:1-5, and 12:2)

God judged men and nations then, and He continues to judge men and nations today. As I mentioned earlier, just a few decades and centuries later, God used the Philistines, the Syrians, and the Babylonians (among others) to judge Israel’s wickedness.

Remember that ethnic and national diversity were God’s idea. Both Adam and Eve, and then Noah after the flood, were commanded to spread out, multiply, and populate the entire earth, but they didn’t obey. The result of the first disobedience resulted in God’s judgement on mankind through the flood (Gen. 7), and the result of the Noah’s disobedience was the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11). Thus God forced humanity into “people groups”. The reason for this was to create within the fallen and sinful human race the preservative of moral checks and balances. With diversity, the human race would not march in lock step toward decadence and self-destruction. Competing interests would cause England to rise up to oppose Nazi Germany and America to resist and defeat empirialistic Japan. Much more can be said about this, and great care must be taken when trying to decide whose side God is on or who is being used to judge whom. But, in the specific case of Israel and the nations of Canaan, God revealed (if we are willing to receive it as a revelation from God) that judgement on their wickedness was indeed an important part of what He was accomplishing in the times of Joshua.

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