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R-Rated: Preaching Holy War

3 ways to help our readers understand these R-Rated passages.

R-Rated: Preaching Holy War

Is God a genocidal maniac? Many people fear the holy war passages of the Old Testament make him out to be. "Show no mercy." "Utterly destroy them." "Do not leave alive anything that breathes." Those are some pretty drastic marching orders. At first glance, God can look like an ancient military commander who's lost his marbles in war, suddenly unleashing rapid machine-gun fire on a conquered village of unarmed civilians.

Do these passages depict genocide? Are Jesus' grandparents carrying out vicious massacres at his Father's command? How do we reconcile these tough passages with the goodness of God and help our people understand them well? How do we preach on holy war? Here are a few angles I've found helpful.

Military cities

The cities Israel takes out are military strongholds, not civilian population centers. Say the word city today and most of us think of metropolitan centers flooded with civilians: houses, restaurants, businesses, ...

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August 05, 2015  10:49am

Good article. I like the summary, but I think this is a major example of why Evangelicals need to return to a truly Apostolic and Patristic hermeneutic of Scripture in lieu of the Fundamentalist literalism about the Scripture they have inherited in the modern era (which were also based on philosophical presuppositions rooted in the Enlightenment, not in Christ). The Apostles and early Church Fathers very much knew Holy Scripture, including the OT (they used primarily the LXX), was inspired and that it spoke of Christ, but they understood many of even its historical passages to be speaking figuratively of Christ and the gospel (John 5:39; Luke 24:25-27, 44-45) and considered the superficial literal meaning of the text to be the least important level for spiritual and moral application. Augustine explicitly taught that where the literal sense of a passage of Scripture was obviously morally repugnant, we do not make a spiritual application not from that sense, but from the figurative.

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August 04, 2015  7:38pm

Great exegetical work. worth every minute

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Alonzo C.

August 04, 2015  2:29pm

As much as we'discussed like God to conform to our doctrines and principles of morality and ethics, He makes it very clear,our ways are not His ways, nor our thoughts His thoughts. I have no issue with taking those passages literally. Just as modern day physicians seek to totally eradicate cancer in the body, every last cell. So too did (does?) God order Israel to eradicate the spiritual cancer embodied by the "ites". Remember, this is the same God who wiped out most of mankind with a flood and promises to do so again by fire. God doesn't ask us to like or understand His actions or dictates, but to have faith and obey. It's not always easy!

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Tim S

August 04, 2015  1:53pm

There are helpful insights in this article, but these are still very difficult passages. Archaeology doesn't really back up the accounts so far. So that supports the exaggerated nature but I'm not sure what that does to the authority of Joshua as Scripture. If we simply try to make Joshua more palatable to our liking, what's to stop us from doing that with all Scripture? I think it might be better in the long run to simply let these passages stand as they are, not explaining away our concerns with unknowable historical generalities. Let them stand but honestly wrestle with them in light of the rest of Scripture. Let the rest of the canon put these passages into a fuller context. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Let the words of Jesus call us to love our enemies even though Joshua says what it says. I think I'm more OK with that.

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Joel Wright

August 04, 2015  12:47pm

I appreciate the extra insights here, and certainly believe a broader understanding helps. On the gracious side: I find it interesting that Israel is 40 years in the desert, and that at Jericho the people were already knowledgeable of the Egyptian conquest. Even Jericho was circled 7 times, 7 days. Thus we might add: war was as gently arriving as possible. The clans of Canaan had one whole generation to evict, even fulfilling words of promise in the region for some 400 years previous in the days of Abraham. Even at the final rush, the people of Jericho had one whole week to flee. Every night another opportunity to escape to the hills and the Mediterranean coast. On the harsher side of things, we must not however white-wash the "deep cleansing" or "surgeon-like" efforts of God. When a surgeon stands over a patient with scalpel and saw, he might just be attempting a knee-replacement out of love for the patient. He is not a monster out of control, desirous of saving the land.

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