So in raising our kids, Marika and I have tended to fall onto opposite sides of discipline. She is the compassionate one, and I am the disciplinarian. Marika tends tries to be calm and get the kids to talk through their feelings. Recently she started this thing that her mom used to do called polar bear alert. It’s where when someone says something and you take offense to it, you say polar bear alert, and then you’re suppose to freeze the thought and ask a series of questions to make sure that you’re not taking the person’s words wrongly, and out of context. But when all the talk fails, I’m called in to bring the discipline. Now, we both try to help the kids talk things out, and we both do discipline, but there comes a time when talking has run it’s course and physical correction has to be enforced. Once the physical discipline has been utilized and the situation has been handled, we return to a compassionate resolve.
But it’s this idea of a getting to a place where physical discipline is needed that brings us to where we’re at in our study of Joshua today. Last week we talked through three chapters of the book of Joshua and I challenged you read through the entire three chapters, because through them, we are presented with several situations that need to be covered.
One of the biggest questions that gets asked of the Old Testament is why is it so different from the New Testament? If someone were to take a quick read through the books of Genesis to Malachi, people tend to walk away from it thinking, “Man, the God of the Old Testament is a jerk. He kills people, sends people into war, and just seems to be a narcissistic mean guy.”
Then when people have a quick read of the New Testament, they see Jesus as this loving guru that is all about compassion and not wanting people to be hurt. This cursory understanding of the Old and New Testaments is why in early Christianity there was a group called the gnostics that believed that each of these Testaments were actually about two different gods.
If fact, now a days there are Christians that either want a full separation between the two Testaments. With some Christians saying that we should only follow the Old, or on the other hand, we should only follow the New.
The reality is, when you read through it and understand what’s being said, it’s actually not two testaments, but one complete story about God and humanity.
But then the question arises how then do we reconcile God’s wrath in the Old Testament and his love in the New?
Because if you read through chapter 6-8 of the book of Joshua, you would have come upon passages like this from chapter 6 verse 21, “They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.”
Did you catch that? The whole city was destroyed. The young and the old men were killed. The old women and young women were killed. All the animals were killed. Why would God command, yet alone, allow such a horrific act to happen? When in the New Testament Jesus says things like this in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
How are these two messages compatible? Well, that’s what we’re going to set out to accomplish to. How can a loving God, call for the destruction of an entire people like the Canaanites?
As we dive in, we’re going to be looking at a lot of Scripture and historical evidence. So hold onto your Bibles, we’re going to be moving pretty fast.
First, let’s look at what God says to the Israelite people before they enter into the land of Canaan. The book of Deuteronomy is the last book Moses writes, and in chapter 9, God speaks to stop any idea that the Israelite people have about them being worthy of the land. Deuteronomy 9 starting in verse 3 reads, “3 But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the Lord has promised you. 4 After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. 5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
The reality is, the Israelites did not deserve this land; instead, God is using the Israelites as a judgment on the people. If fact God says that this is a fulfillment of a promised judgment that he spoke to Abraham. That promised judgment happened in Genesis 15, verse 13-16.
“13 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
God tells Abraham that for four hundred years the Israelite nation will be in a foreign land, we know that to be Egypt. Then God will punish that nation, which is the story of the first fifteen chapters of the book of Exodus. Now we’re in the time of verse 16. Abraham’s descendants are back in the land of Canaan, and they are fulfilling the promised judgment on the people there. Why at this time with Joshua and not back with Abraham?
Well the answer is simple, God was having compassion on the people and giving them enough time to turn from their wickedness and be saved. God gave them over four-hundred years to turn away from their sin, and they still didn’t, now it’s time for God’s judgment.
So he’s using the nation of Israel as a judgment on the people of Canaan. Which is a common process of judgment that God uses, and to which the Israelites are not immune.
In fact several hundred years later, the prophet Jeremiah in his 25th chapter says this to the Israelite people, “8 Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: ‘Because you have not listened to my words, 9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. 10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
12 “‘But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will make it desolate forever. 13 I will bring on that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. 14 They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.’”
God used other nations to judge Israel’s sin, and he will eventually use other nations to judge the sins of the nations that he used to judge Israel.
So the taking of the Canaanite land is not because God has a special place for the Israelites, but rather the Canaanites’ must answer for their sins. And the judgment was that they would be destroyed. Now destruction throughout the Old Testament was two-fold: There was destruction of a person’s life, i.e. death, and destruction of society. Both happen to the Canaanites.
But what possibly could the Canaanites have done that would warrant such an utter destruction?
Let me give you three of the highlights:
The first reason for judgment is Idolatry. Now idolatry is, “…the paying of divine honor to any created thing or the ascription of divine power to natural agencies (https://www.theopedia.com/Idolatry).” In other words, worshiping gods, who are not the God of the Bible and saying what is his power is actually another entirety’s power. This could be done in the ancient sense like worshiping the Canaanite god Ba’al, or in the modern sense of following horoscopes.
Now this might now seem like a big deal, but in reality it is. Take for example what Canaanite mythology says about their gods. The god El was the creator of all things, but his son Ba’al overthrew him. This emasculated El, and he was eventually seen as a coward. El is the common name for god in the ancient mid east. The God fo the Bible is called Elohim, El Shaddia, El Roi. This story of Ba’al overthrowing El, sounds a lot like the schemes of Satan, trying to overthrow the God of the Bible.
Satan perverting our focus off the God of creation, and onto the creation itself. In fact scholarship in this area, says that right around the time of Abraham is when El was usurped as the main focal point of Canaanite worship. Could the Canaanites have been worshiping the God of the Bible, yet turned away from worshiping him? Possibly. And when the true God is pushed aside, and we begin to worship other gods or powers, sin no longer has a restraint in our lives. This is what leads us to the next reason for God’s judgment of the Canaanite people. This is why God the first three commandments of the ten commandments have to do with worshiping only God.
The second reason for judgment is sexual sins. Now here we might learn somethings that might make us uncomfortable, and you might think to yourself why are we talking about this in church? Well, we need to understand the depth of sin that is going on, to understand the response of God.
There are four areas of sexual sins that are prominent in the Canaanite culture. First there’s adultery. Now this is common among all middle eastern cultures. Priests and priestess would have sex with individuals and in orgies as part of rituals to the Canaanite gods. For the general populous, adultery for men was seen as permissible, while adultery for women was illegal.
Then there was a blending of the sexes, or in modern terminology, sex changes. Here’s a excerpt from an ancient text called “Erra and Ishum IV”, “Even Uruk, the dwelling of Anu and Ishtar, city of prostitutes, courtesans, and call-girls, Whom Ishtar deprive of husbands and kept in her power: Sutean men and women hurl their abuse; They rouse Wanna, the party-boys and festival people Who changed their masculinity into femininity to make the people of Ishtar revere her.” Men were trying to become like women for the worship of their gods and the evangelization of other people.
Next is incest. In Canaanite mythology, Ba’al had sex with both his mother and his daughter. Now in early Canaanite culture, which corresponds to the usurping of El, incest was a crime pushable by death, but after El’s usurpation, is was decriminalized to a mere fine.
Finally, the last sexual sin was bestiality. In Hittite Law #199 it reads, “If anyone has intercourse with a pig or a dog, he shall die. If a man has intercourse with a horse or a mule, there is no punishment.” But again, like incest, these acts were decriminalized by the time Joshua and the Israelites came to Canaan. And it was because animals that have been sexual with people will continue to seek that sexual interaction that they too were killed.
This is why if you read chapter 18 of the book of Leviticus God talks so specifically about what sexual conduct the Israelites need to avoid.
But, we’re not done yet, because there is a least one more reason for God’s judgment, and that is child sacrifice. In a ritual performed for the Canaanites’ underworld god Molek, the people would sacrifice children, both their own and from conquered people, up to the age of four years old. The ritual would be in front of a bull-headed statue, who’s belly was a lit furnace, and who’s hands were outstretched for the child. Musical instruments were played to drown out the cries of the child as they were placed in the arms of the statue and burned alive.
This is why in Leviticus 18:21 God tells the Israelites, “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.”
Here are three examples of the sin of the Canaanite people, and to me just the sacrificing of children would be enough to call a judgment on anyone.
And we might agree that the men and women who committed these sins against God need to be judged, but what about the children?
And I have to say this is the hardest part to talk about. Because none of us what to see children die. None of us want to see them killed in any circumstance. And yet, God called for their deaths as well. So why would that be okay?
I cannot speak to every situation, but I do believe a simple question needs to be asked, “At what age is it okay to judge a child?” Should a child be kept from judgment at the age of twelve? If so, is it okay to have a thirteen year old die in judgment? How about fourteen, or fifteen year old?
The reality is, we don’t want to see anyone die. And the reality is, God’s judgment is just. It’s just, in that he does not kill for the pleasure of killing. Rather, his judgment is slow, hence the reason it took several hundred years before he judge the Canaanites. If God just wanted to kill things, he would have done it back with Abraham. But no, God gave the Canaanites time to repent of their sin and return to him. But they didn’t and their society was so corrupt, that it permeated every aspect of the people, both young and old, even their animals.
But we can trust God to do just with the children, because of his words in places like Deuteronomy 1. Where God is telling the adults that because of their sin, they would not enter the promise land, but God wouldn’t hold that judgment to their children. Deuteronomy 1 beginning in verse 37 says, “37 Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either. 38 But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it. 39 And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.”
Jesus said this in Luke 18:16-17 about children, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
God’s heart is for children, and we can trust their lives to his judgment.
But the whole purpose of God’s judgment being so complete in this moment was to call the people into obedience, an obedience the Canaanite people had abandon. And the total destruction of the Canaanite people, was not only as judgment on them, but was to keep the Israelites from falling into the same sins, and the same judgment.
But places like Judges 1:28 tell us what the Israelites did instead of following God’s command. It reads, “When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely.” Then a verse later it says, “Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them.”
This disobeying of God’s commands to destroy the Canaanites, eventually led to Israel falling into the same sins of idolatry, sexual promiscuity, and child sacrifice.
See the Israelites thought that they could play with sin, and it would be fine, but it led to their own judgment. Because God isn’t interested in us playing games with his commands, and our sin. No, he is interested in a simple premise, our full trust in him, and following where he leads. That means we put our trust in Jesus as our Savior, the one who takes God’s judgment for us.
And this is where the Old Testament and the New Testament collide. We can look at God in the Old Testament and see a wrathful God who dulls out punishment to those who don’t obey him. But we tend miss the compassion he has, in holding back judgment from people, waiting for them to turn from their sinful ways. And when he shows us for thousands of years that this process of punishing humans for their sins is never going to work, he sends God the Son to earth to take the whole judgment of God upon himself.
This is why it says this in Romans 3, “23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus (NLT 23-26).”
And when we accept Jesus as our Savior, that judgment that is coming for us, is placed on him instead. Now, the power of sin in our lives in broken, and the Holy Spirit can cut out the sin that holds us back from a full encounter with God. We can now live holy and blameless lives, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God’s judgment is just and he works to bring us life, not destruction. But like a parent who has to bring the discipline eventually, God does as well.
Even the peace loving guru Jesus says in the Gospel of John chapter 3, “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
The difference between God’s judgment falling on us or not, is simply Jesus and if we have accepted what he has done for us or not.
The Old Testament shows us that God does not desire to pass judgment on humans, instead giving us a different route through Jesus. But that doesn’t mean he won’t pass judgment eventually, a reality Jesus taught as well.
Therefore we need to stop playing with sin. We need to go to God and have him point out the idolatry, the sexual sins, and the sacrifices we make that are in opposition to him. We need to trust his judgment to be just and right. And we need to follow him fully, and not with a half-heart.
Let us learn a lesson from the Canaanites and the Israelites, that once we allow a little sin in, it’s hard to cut out. Let us instead seek God this week to cut the sin out of our life, that brings our Father in heaven to discipline us.
My challenge for you this week is to re-read Joshua chapters 6-8 and ask God, to help you follow his command. Do this every day when you wake up and when you go to bed. Let us follow the command of God, to not allow sin to fester in our lives, but to have it cut out by the Holy Spirit. Amen.