“For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses.”
It’s funny to me that the day after God shows me the mercy of His love through Joshua, I would be stirred by His dedication to the destruction of His enemies. But here we are. Let’s face it, Joshua got asked to lead God’s people into a whole lot of destruction of other people. And it would be really, really easy to decide that God liked destroying people based on the above verse alone. We can be so quick to decide things when we look at scripture through the lense of our own analysis, can’t we? However, if we look at the scripture through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, where we can recognize the true character of God, we can see more clearly the Lord’s intent and our faith is built up. We learn to trust the Lord and not ourselves, for the Lord is light and we are born into shadow and destined for death without Him.
Our first clue in the book of Joshua to the Lord’s view on destruction happens with the fall of Jericho and the salvation of Rahab. Right off the bat, at the very beginning of Joshua’s siege to claim the Holy Land, God rescues a prostitute. Ya, that doesn’t sound like a God devoted to destruction. At least not at first. How can we reconcile the opposing points of view and not think God is a bully bent on utter annihilation? Easy. Think back to Exodus. Think about the Golden Calf and the Ten Commandments.
7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
When people worship idols, and claim the works of God on the idols they have made with their own hands God no longer becomes important to you. (Think of your own hypocrisy and how many times you counted God’s acts of providence upon you as “good old fashioned hard work”, or luck, or something else.) Not really. If you know He is God, and yet worship yourself or your success, you retreat from the presence of God’s light and love, and into a darkness born of your own depravity. With Moses and the people of Israel, God called attention to the most important thing a person can do: choose to follow and trust God, or not. (Remember Adam and Eve?) When Moses stands before the Lord in defense of the people, acknowledges their sin, and asks for God to forgive them, he mirrors the very thing that Jesus would do for mankind in the future. Moses argues for salvation for the people based on God’s own character. Repentance brings God to relent from destruction. Sin must be destroyed. But we can choose to be healed from our sin rather than destroyed with our sin, simply by repenting and allowing God to reign in our lives.
When we look ahead a chapter or two in Exodus, we can see that the Lord defines himself as merciful and good.
5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands,forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Based on this truth of who God says He is, we can discern the intent behind this business of devotion to destruction, can’t we? It can’t mean what we think it means because God doesn’t contradict himself. What, then, has God done when the Bible says He hardened the hearts of people to make them worthy of destruction? If God is merciful and compassionate, and the stain of sin is in all mankind through Adam, what is it that God wants destroyed? Simply put: Sin. The hardening of a man’s heart by God means that God has allowed their sin to be amplified by their own stubbornness or hardened hearts. But if we believe that we have free will (as was discovered with Adam and Eve and their submission to the temptation of Satan), then when faced with the truth of God’s mercy and desire to rescue humanity, we all the more can see that we are depraved and in need of saving. The hardening of our hearts makes us hyper aware of the sin in our lives and becomes either conviction to fight against God or to repent and be saved. The amplification of the sin in mankind makes the need for salvation all the more real. (By the way, that is how we know it is the very Spirit of God that convicts us of our sin and leads us to salvation through Him. We can’t seem to even recognize our sin without Him.)
Through this understanding of scripture, we can reconcile the seeming contradiction of devotion to destruction and the mercy and compassion of God. As Paul so beautifully put it:
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When we see the profound failing of humanity in ourselves, by having a hardened heart or recognizing by our own conscience by failure to obey the letter of God’s law, we have an even greater opportunity to recognize our need for salvation through Jesus Christ. Paul said that the Law of Moses came “to increase the trespass”. Does that mean God made the law so we would fail? Definitely not! Look what Paul says a little later in the book of Romans:
13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Joshua led God’s people into the destruction of sin but still offered mercy and adoption into the family of God for any who would repent. The Gibeonites knew the reputation of the Law of the Isrealites: that they were to include foreigners in their practices and worship if they wanted to follow God, and thus used that loophole to finagle their way into God’s protection. Why didn’t God devote them to destruction? Because God is full of mercy and honor. He allowed the Gibeonites to live (for a little while) in order to honor the covenant that Joshua had made with them and to show His power to save, even through the disobedience of man. It is that same mercy that allowed Rahab and her entire family to be saved simply by turning away from the sin and community of Jericho and aligning herself with God’s people. So too, at the end of Chapter 11 of Joshua, we discover that a handful of people from the “enemy tribes” remained after the dedicated destruction was finished.
21 And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.
At the end of the day, God will do anything to show us our need for Him. We can choose to walk in our sin and be ruled by sin that leads to death. Or we can walk away from our sin and be ruled by Christ who offers victory over sin and death and gives us life.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.