The story: Jesus led the people of Israel out of Egypt around 1300BC, through the wilderness for 40 years and into a partial conquest of the occupied land of Canaan, using them to judge the inhabitants of the land. The story is told in the Bible book of Joshua and its context. The whole Old Testament tells an epic story in which the God we know when we know Jesus sets the stage for his coming into the world to die for us. In wars and political dramas and small personal stories we see the grammar of this good news built up.
The fact remains: God used his people to kill other people. Gulp. What can be said? I'm not looking to explain it away. I want to ask how the Bible as a text "deals with" it. I'm not interested in easy answers, because these questions can't have easy answers. And I'm not wanting glib answers. It's a question about people dying. That's serious.
It's curious isn't it how it feels wrong... In the age of the Hollywood blockbuster we're fairly desensitised to death - though when you read it on the page it cuts deeper. Why should we care? Do we have a world-view that can make emotional sense of that? And why do we read the historicity of narrative and the existence of God more readily when it comes to the blood-stained pages (or at least some of them)?
Let's not say: The God of the Old Testament is mean and of the New is nice.
a) Because we have one Bible, one God (in three persons).
b) Because of Ananias and Sapphira. What's with that?
c) Because it's not Love vs Wrath. Wrath is love's right response to evil.
d) Because the Bible's own self-reflection is that the God of the Old Testament is too gracious not too mean. The persistent question isn't why people die its why they keep getting forgiven. See the objections of Jonah the prophet sent to tell good news to the nasty city of Nineveh. He rages at God: I knew you'd forgive them so I ran away from preaching too them.
In Ten Words: Actually, 'The God of the Old Testament' is too forgiving.
Also, just worth noting: The Bible is a bloody and physical and messy book. Peter Leithart observes:
"Theology is a 'Victorian' enterprise, neoclassically bright and neat and clean, nothing out of place. Whereas the Bible talks about hair, blood, sweat, entrails, menstruation and genital emissions... Ponder these questions: Do theologians talk about the world the same way the Bible does? Do theologians talk about the same world the Bible does?"Let's not concede the word genocide.
Genocide is such a loaded word after the atrocities of the last century. On which, notice that people killing people isn't a primative thing, it's a very modern thing -- and are the kinds of thing that cry out for answers, reconciliation and justice. We can watch the News and weep.
Genocide tends to be those in power killing innocents. That's not what happened in Canaan when the people were put to death.
i) They were given 400 years to turn to Christ from killing their children and various other evil practices. That's pretty excessive patience. Before we weep over their deaths we should weep over the evil they perpetrated while God was being patient with them.
ii) Played out on the stage of global politics was the liberation of Israel from slavery Egypt 40 years earlier (told in the book of Exodus). Everyone in Canaan knew about that. The account of Rahab tells us that everyone knew and everyone took a view on the matter.
iii) People, like Rahab the Canaanite prostitute, heard and turned to God. Everyone could do that.
iv) No-one had to die. They were asked to leave the land that they'd been occupying. They heard all that they heard, and stood their ground. Those who died died in defiance. It's a picture in human history of the defeat of defiant evil. A picture of Jesus' death and resurrection.
v) The same people used to exile/judge Canaan were subject to the same judgement themselves when they were exiled because they'd turned from Jesus to do the things that the people in Canaan did. There was no favouritism here.
"The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."We find a story in the Bible that tells us that we are fleshly people - corrupted and broken beyond repair. Our condition is terminal. Yet, it is possible to die and be reborn to a new life that isn't fleshly - life in the Spirit. The flesh is into being bad or being good. The Spirit is into enjoying a loving relationship freely. Humanity is made to live life in relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The God of love is not indifferent to evil. He is jealous for his people and his Son and for his image in this world. He burns against those who harm what is good. And it's not that the story calms down in the New Testament, instead we find The Commander of the LORD's army who led Israel into Canaan becomes a member of the human race and his executed in our place outside the city of Jerusalem in the first century. This is the God who gets involved and bruised. The Triune God takes upon itself the wrath that sin deserves. It's a new moment in the love-filled life of God, a moment full of anguish and pain, to bring sinful people like us home to live in the life of God.
Our life is in his hands, but he cares, and invites us. And gives us ample opportunity. Every Old Testament judgement, like every Old Testament mercy is a road that leads to the cross of Jesus.
Those are a few of my words, what are yours? What are your questions?