Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Conquest of Canaanite Cities (Joshua 6, 8)

The following quotes are taken from

"Destruction of Ai (Joshua 8:1-29)"

"Killing at Jericho - "When the people heard the sound of the horns, they shouted as loud as they could. Suddenly, the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the Israelites charged straight into the city from every side and captured it.  They completely destroyed everything in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, donkeys – everything."  (Joshua 6:20-21 NLT)

            These passages occur after Joshua began to lead the Israelites into the promised land of Canaan, the land that God had promised to give them.  You can read the full chapters here (to get a sense of the whole story, it would be best to read Joshua chapters 1-8):

            As mentioned in previous blog posts, these events were the fulfillment of what God had been telling the Israelites and the surrounding nations: the Israelites would take possession of the land of Canaan, the land that God had promised them, and the people of Canaan were to be killed if they did not repent and turn to God.
            So why did God command the destruction of Canaan, including the cities of Jericho and Ai?  The Hebrew word used in Joshua 6:17 is charam, meaning "the complete consecration of things or people to the Lord, either by destroying them or by giving them as an offering" [1].  Only God could decide when this type of devotion occurred, and it was always in response to a grievous sin that the person or people had committed against the Lord.  For example, when the Amalekites murdered all of the sick, weak and elderly people who were straggling behind the Israelites on their way out of Egypt, God commanded their destruction, and this same term - charam - is used (Deuteronomy 25:17-19; 1 Samuel 15:2-3).
            As mentioned in the previous blog post "The Promise of the Conquest of Canaan", these nations would have a very powerful and destructive influence on Israel if they were permitted to live among them.  As it happened, the Israelites failed to fulfill God's command and remove all of the surrounding nations - they intermarried with them and adopted their practices, which ultimately led to their destruction and exile to Assyria and Babylon centuries later (2 Kings 17; 2 Chronicles 36:14-21).  They broke their covenant with God and abandoned him, and so he withdrew his protection from them, as he had sworn he would.
            As for the destruction of Jericho and Ai, these were situations in which the people involved were in direct opposition to God.  They practiced incest and child sacrifice by fire - God gave them 400 years to repent, but they refused (Genesis 15:13-16; Deuteronomy 12:31).  They had full knowledge of God and what he had done for the Israelites (Joshua 2:8-11), but they neither repented nor offered a peace treaty with the Israelites; instead they were determined to fight them.  If they had repented and sought a peaceful solution instead of war, they would have been spared (Jeremiah 18:7-8).  The fact that God spared the Canaanite woman Rahab and her family, who allied themselves with the Israelites, proved that no one had to die (Joshua 6:25).
            As in previous passages, the command to kill the women and children is a difficult issue.  We must remember that the children would have grown up following the same customs and practices as their parents; they also would have been taught to hate Israel and seek their destruction, and would have been lost for eternity.  God took their lives in childhood to prevent this from occurring.
            As in previous passages, it should be noted that God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and he takes no pleasure in the death of anyone (Ezekiel 18:32).  However, there comes a time when his patience runs out and he abandons those who have rejected him to their fate.  The conquest of Jericho and Ai was such a time. 

[1] Footnote in the Holy Bible, New Living Translation (NLT).  This term (charam) occurs in the following verses: Exodus 22:20; Leviticus 27:21, 28-29; Numbers 18:14; 21:2-3; Deuteronomy 2:34; 3:6; 7:2, 26; 13:15-17; 20:17; Joshua 2:10; 6:17-21; 7:1, 11-15; 8:26; 10:1, 28, 35, 37, 39-40; 11:11-12, 20-21; 22:20; 1 Samuel 15:3, 8-9, 15, 18-21.