The Old Testament passages that talk of Israel devoting entire cities to destruction are hard to stomach. If you don’t know me, then you need to know up front that I’m not a skinny-jean wearing, tree-hugging, pacifist. I’m a member of the NRA, a fourth-degree black belt, a supporter of our military, who likes MMA, and loves to watch football. Yet still, devoting a city to total destruction seems harsh.
Killing the men of valor I get, and even the leaders of the city. But to slay the oxen, sheep, donkeys, young and old men, women, and children…I don’t know if I could have done that.
So this week as I am preaching on the battle of Jericho from Joshua 6, I have had to wrestle with the entire city being devoted to destruction. I’m not taking the approach that the Bible said it so that settles it and you should never question anything. I’m also not taking the approach that God the Father is harsh in the Old Testament while Jesus demonstrates love in the New Testament. The Bible is a unified story of a gracious God so I am seeking to discern what God wants to teach me in this passage.
What I have realized is that I presume upon the grace and mercy of God without taking seriously enough God’s hatred of sin.
Yes, Jericho demonstrates the faith and obedience of the Israelites. Yes, Jericho displays amazing grace as God adopts Rahab the prostitute into the family and lineage of King David and King Jesus. But Jericho also demonstrates judgment for sinful rebellion.
In Genesis 15:16 we learn that the sin of the Amorites is not yet complete. God patiently endured their rebellion for over 400 years. We learn in Leviticus 18-20 that during this time, these nations committed heinous sins such as: child sacrifice, consulting mediums and spirits, adultery, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, and worshipping false gods.
In four different places in Scripture, God reminds the children of Israel that He is driving out these nations to punish their iniquity.
Leviticus 18:24-25, “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.”
Leviticus 20:23, “And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.”
Deuteronomy 9:4-5, “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
Deuteronomy 20:16-18, “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.”
Even in the midst of such detestable wickedness, God tells Israel to march around the city for 7 days. That means Jericho potentially had 6 days to act as Nineveh did and repent of their transgressions. Joshua 2 tells us that they had heard about the drying up of the Red Sea, and the defeat of Sihon and Og. Rahab even says, that “the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:10-11) They knew about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and continued to rebel against him.
With the destruction of Jericho, we see a glimpse of the final judgment, but with the salvation of Rahab, we see grace extended to those who repent and believe.
What strikes me most is God’s hatred of sin. He wants total destruction of evil and one day He will accomplish it. We like Jericho sit while God patiently endures the rebellion of many in our own nation and while God extends grace to the Rahabs of this world who repent and believe. God’s ultimate hatred of sin is so serious that He will accept no treaty with evil in the war for the affections of our heart.
As I look at those devoted to destruction, I realize that I do not hate my sin enough. Rather at times, I love my sin more than I love God. At times, I make peace with my sin and tolerate its existence through a treaty of deception. Sin deceives me to think that I can “handle it or control it.” Biblically, I should hate my sin and desire its utter destruction so that I may live my life totally devoted to God.
My prayer for you and me is that we look at sin through God’s eyes, which will cause our hatred of sin to grow and stoke in our hearts a desire for God’s amazing grace to abound.