Most all of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves embarrassed by God. He who has all perfections perfectly doesn’t always fit into our scheme of things. He doesn’t always do things the way we who are altogether imperfect think they should be done. We weep with Aaron as God destroys two of his sons for merely toying with strange fire. We sympathize with Job’s wife, cheering her on as she nags her husband into blasphemy, even though we have been permitted to eavesdrop on the heavenly conversation between the devil and God. Many of us shed a tear for the soldiers of Pharaoh as we watch the Red Sea crash down upon them. We nurse a secret grudge as we watch God strike Uzzah for touching the ark of the covenant.
Nothing, however, assaults our sensibilities more than the execution of God’s holy war against the people of Canaan. We tell our children about Joshua’s march around Jericho. We don’t tell them that every person in the city—men, women, and children, with the exception of Rahab’s family—was put to death. Joshua at Jericho made Gen. William T. Sherman’s march to the sea look like a picnic.
In Judges, the sword of the Lord turns on the children of Israel. As the Benjamites shelter and defend the men of Gibeah (Ch. 20), they become as the Canaanites, and their city and all within it is burned to heaven. God judges swiftly and severely in this time of conquest.
Our temptation is to focus our attention on the New Testament, particularly the gospels. There we see no mass executions by God. Rather, we see He who would not harm a bruised reed. We find a kinder, gentler vision of the Almighty in the tender grace of Jesus. We find not a mile-long list of rules covering how we are to wash, what we may and may not eat, and just how the stoning of the unfaithful is supposed to look. Instead, we find Jesus preaching to the multitudes, casting aside the “You have heard that it was saids” and giving in their place an ethic of love. There we seem to hear a message that we be not mighty warriors like Joshua or Samson but instead be poor in spirit. We are to be merciful peacemakers. We are to be pure in heart. We summarize the message of Joshua as this: We are to be warmongers, mean-spirited, and bloodthirsty. Jesus seems to tell us we not only may, but must, be nice.
If we succeed, He tells us, we shall have the kingdom of heaven. If we will stop beating our chests like crazed warriors and instead mourn, we will be comforted. If we will hunger and thirst after righteousness, we will have our desires met. If we will stop destroying the wicked and instead show them mercy, we will receive mercy. If we will keep a pure heart, we will see God. If we will promise to learn war no more and become peacemakers instead, we will be called the sons of God. And if our unconditional love is rejected by men and we are persecuted, again, we will inherit the kingdom of heaven.
I skipped one. Jesus also calls us to be meek, hardly the picture of Joshua as he leads his troops into battle. But if we are meek, what do we receive? The meek shall inherit the earth. Here is perhaps the biggest change and the greatest similarity. The similarity is that, like the children of Israel, we have a promise of a promised land. The difference is that our promise is not limited to a small strip of land in the Middle East. We’re going to inherit the entire world. All of it has been promised to us.