Coming to terms with the brutality of war

Reading these past few chapters from Joshua it is hard not to face the elephant in the room.  How do I/we process the annihilation of those kingdoms whom the nation of Israel conquered to take possession of the land?

In this account from Joshua 11, the opposing kings, learning of Israel’s military success, form a coalition – “a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (v4) to fight against Israel. Having learnt from past mistakes (see Joshua 9:14), Joshua consults the Lord and despite the obvious numerical disadvantage, is assured of victory “Do not be afraid of them, because by this time tomorrow I will hand them over to Israel, slain” (v6). The later half of the verse instructing Joshua to “hamstring their horses” is certainly one which would not sit comfortably with any animal lovers.

Joshua again resorted to a surprise attack (see Joshua 10:9) catching his enemies  unprepared and they are driven back into the mountains where their chariots are ineffective. Yet again victory was God’s gift to Israel and the enemy forced to flee “until no survivors were left” (v8). Joshua then turns back to destroy all the royal cities and put their kings “to the sword”.

Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land is summarised in verses 16-23 beginning “so Joshua took this entire land”. Even though from the style of the narrative we may have a sense that these campaigns were some sort of blitzkrieg, we are told in v18 that “Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time”.  For although he had taken the entire land (v16), he was yet to take every city. Indeed, the last of the Canaanites were not subjected to Israel’s authority until the time of King David.

Just as he had with Pharaoh (see Exodus 9:12), God had hardened the hearts of the Canaanites’ (v20), not to keep them from repenting, but to prevent them from surrendering to Israel in unrepentance. The examples of Rahab as Andrew pointed out yesterday and the Gibeonites demonstrate the unchanging purpose of God that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

My thoughts are tempered somewhat when I come to today’s other reading from Proverbs 28 and read about what the following verses have to say about rulers.

When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers,
    but a ruler with discernment and knowledge maintains order.

A ruler who oppresses the poor
    is like driving rain that leaves no crops.

25 The greedy stir up conflict,
    but those who trust in the Lord will prosper.

26 Those who trust in themselves are fools,
    but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.

28 When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding;
    but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive.

2 thoughts on “Coming to terms with the brutality of war

  1. God must have been pretty angry with those 5 kings to want to annihilate all their people. He actually threw down hailstones on them. He did fulfil his promises to the Israelites though and what comfort we have in knowing he will always honour his word. Thank you Jesus that I live now and you are my Saviour.

  2. Thank you Glenn. This passage shows me the importance of obedience to God in ALL things. No cutting corners no shortcuts.
    Verse 9 echos this in the Proverbs reading,” if anyone turns a deaf ear to My instruction even their prayers are detestable to Me”.
    May we ask God for obedient hearts.

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