Question: I am struggling with my studies of the Old Testament. How do we counter the argument of Joshua’s jihad in the book of Joshua when confronted by Muslims and seekers of the Faith? Heck, not sure I can reconcile it in my own mind. I see little difference in the acts of terrorism recorded in our Holy Scripture and the acts of Alkeda (sic) today.
Kevin’s Response: I think that every thinking Christian struggles a bit with the question you ask. Sure, there are rationally good arguments for explaining the events in the book of Joshua, but nevertheless it goes against the grain of our sensibilities. I think it is good to acknowledge our discomfort even when we are able to answer the question.
There is such a thing as religious terrorism. We have seen it in many places and at many times; the Ku Klux Klan, the Inquisition, and what Al Qaeda is engaging in today. And, some of what was found in those instances may appear similar to what we find in the book of Joshua. However, it is not the similarities that provide an answer to your question – it is the differences. The Scholastics had a saying, “When there is confusion, make a distinction.”
So, what is the distinction? God. If one believes that the Scriptures are God’s Word, then the distinction is that the God who is all-knowing and all-good commanded what we find in the conquest of Canaan.
I can think of only two ways in which one can do away with this “distinction”.
1. You can assert that modern terrorists are also being commanded by God to engage in this behavior. I don’t believe this.
2. You can assert that the Bible is in error and that God did not command the events associated with the conquest of Canaan. I don’t believe this, either.
The dissonance we spoke of earlier leads most skeptics to skip the “distinction” and head straight to the question of God’s goodness. “If there is a God, and if the Bible is His revelation, could a good God command the things that we see in these biblical texts? Is God just?”
I have attached some links at the bottom of this response to articles that address this question. But let me quickly mention four things that are important to me personally when thinking through this issue.
1. Mankind is God’s creation and we are responsible/accountable to Him, not vice versa.
(Romans 9) What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
2. God is all-knowing. This is important because being all-knowing God would know the possible futures of what we would normally consider non-combatants and thus be able to consider them as combatants.
3. God is all-good. Therefore, I can trust Him even when I don’t understand.
4. God’s ways are far above my ability to comprehend.
(Deuteronomy 29:29) The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
(2 Corinthians 2:16) “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”
1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:
2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone-
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels [a] shouted for joy?
8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?
12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.
16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death [b] ?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
20 Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!
22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
for days of war and battle?
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no man lives,
a desert with no one in it,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?
28 Does the rain have a father?
Who fathers the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
30 when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen?
31 “Can you bind the beautiful [c] Pleiades?
Can you loose the cords of Orion?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons [d]
or lead out the Bear [e] with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s [f] dominion over the earth?
34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who endowed the heart [g] with wisdom
or gave understanding to the mind [h] ?
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38 when the dust becomes hard
and the clods of earth stick together?
39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40 when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in a thicket?
41 Who provides food for the raven
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?
And, here are the promised links through to articles in which you can see how others have handled this question.
- How Can a Just God Order the Slaughter of Men, Women and Children? (James Williams of Probe Ministries)
- Why in the Old Testament does God demand so much violence and war of the Jewish nation? (R.C. Sproul)
- The Justice of God (Regis Nicoll of BreakPoint)
- Yahweh Wars and the Canaanites (Paul Copan)