Friday, October 14, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: Holy War and the Gospel

First, let me apologize for taking a couple of weeks to continue this series. I had meant to post these devotionals and sermons once a week, but the past couple of weeks have been really busy for my family and I. However, we are back in the swing of things now, and so here is the next devotional, with the next sermon coming on Sunday.

As I have alluded to a few times throughout this series so far, there are some difficult issues that come up in the book of Joshua that often get attention in from Christians and non-Christians alike. Well, the one that Joshua 6 brings up is probably the biggest: holy war. In the episode we will consider on Sunday, God commands that all living things be killed in Jericho, and v. 21 tells us, "Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword." This is simply a result of the commands God gave to them in the book of Deuteronomy, like 7:1-2:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.
This should bother us or at the very least make us pause when we read that, and we need to know how to think about it within the whole context of Scripture and what it teaches us about God.

So, what about the "holy war"? How does "show no mercy to them" square with Jesus' teaching about loving our enemies? Well, I want to argue that most often our main hangup here is that we do not have a high enough view of God's holiness. As Christians, we have encountered the grace of God in Jesus, which allows us to enter into God’s holy presence with boldness (He. 10:19-25), because of the promise that we are being remade after the pattern of that same holiness. But, in that grace, we may sometimes forget what holiness looks like to someone who is not so covered by Christ. And, non-Christians, generally do not have a very high or realistic view of sin, thinking of God more as a "smiling grandfather" than a holy, upright, perfect, and just God. However, both those views of God are not true to His being.

God is supremely holy, which means He cannot abide sin without a response. God is a consuming fire (He. 12:29), a purifying power that cannot abide the unholy to remain in His presence without destroying it. God, however, is also a gracious God who does not desire the complete destruction of the works of His hands (cf. Eze. 18:32)--who holds back the consuming fire like a dam holds back a flood. (For more on this balance, see this excellent article by John Piper.) With that tension in mind, I think the conquest of Canaan is best understood as a profound and temporary in-breaking of God’s holiness into an unholy world for a specific redemptive purpose. Let me explain.

In creation, God created the world and humans holy--in perfect communion with Him. Yet, we fell from that holiness and therefore incurred the wrath of the holy God. God's holiness consumes unholiness just as light consumes darkness, and that is what we all deserve in our natural state. Only God can hold back the consumption for a time. And, at the fall of Adam and Eve, God, in His grace, temporarily suspended His full wrath until the day of Final Judgment (cf. Mt. 25:31ff), otherwise Adam and Eve would have been judged and sent to hell on the spot. So, common grace--God's forbearance of final judgment--became a part of the world in which we live.

This has bearing on the conquest of the Promised Land (henceforth referred to as "the Conquest"). The ethics of the Conquest are ultimately those of a completely holy and good God calling the rebellious people, the illegal aliens on His property into account for their sins. And, since the Fall affects all of us as equally as it affected the Canaanites, the implication is that we all deserve, always and everywhere, what they got then and there in Canaan from the Israelite armies. In light of this reality, we must admit that the sheer fact that the Conquest was confined to only one very geographically limited area at only one point in human history is a sign of God’s mercy.

What? A sign of mercy? Yes: one of the purposes of the Conquest is for us to see what must be the inevitable result of our natural standing with God as the sinful human race. Without Christ, we all deserve what they received. The ethics of the Conquest can be seen as a type of what is called "intrusion ethics" (a term coined by Meredith Kline)—a temporary intrusion into history of the ethics of the Final Judgment, i.e. that moment when God finally brings the created order to account so that He can judge all evil and create the new heavens and new earth. That is to say, the Conquest reveals in history, however briefly, what the end of history will look like when Jesus returns in glory to reclaim in total His land and create the true Promised Land.

As we talked about in the devotional a couple of weeks ago, this is an Old Testament type. A type is a real person, place, event, or object that God ordained to act as a visible pattern of Jesus' person (who He is) and/or work (what He does). Just as the OT Promised Land (a type) ultimately points to the true Promised Land--new heavens and the new earth; just as Joshua is a type of Jesus Himself, the Conquest (another type) points to the judgment where God ultimately judges and punishes evil through Jesus as the Judge (2 Pt. 3:10)--the punishment He stayed/delayed at the Fall--and creates the new heavens and the new earth (the true Promised Land). One purpose of seeing such a thing in history is, therefore, to bring mankind to repentance, so that we might be spared that fate when the Day arrives. Not only will God have given humanity the whole of their history of time to turn back to Him, He will have also made it abundantly clear by the Conquest what is to come. But, still many "stiffen their necks" against Him.

All of this has profound ramifications for how we square the goodness of God, as we have encountered it in Jesus, with the severity of God, as we see it in the Conquest. In many respects, they are two sides of the same coin. They both show the extreme lengths to which God must go in order to get humanity's attention. The sad history of Jesus' rejection by His own people only reinforces the point that humankind's fallen hearts are so hardened that we do not respond to God, even when He comes in meekness. Such a sorry state of affairs, such a clear example of our rebellion, makes the extreme ethics of the Conquest seem all the more justified. Further, it illustrates with vivid clarity how, in not getting always and everywhere what the Canaanites got then and there, humanity as a whole has seen merciful forbearance (common grace) on God’s part.

And, we also need to note that God's use of the Israelites of the instrument of His judgment was not because of their goodness. In fact, this is explicitly laid out in Dt. 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.
God chose the Israelites (and us) simply because of His unmerited, free grace. The Israelites were very wicked and just as deserving of judgment as the Canaanites, just like all mankind is without Jesus. One commentator explains:
Hence Israel must not assume a holier-than-you-all attitude, for Yahweh will not bring his people into the land because they are righteous and deserving; ‘it is because of the wickedness of these nations that Yahweh is driving them out before you’ (Deut. 9:4–5). The conquest is not a bunch of land-hungry marauders wiping out, at the behest of their vicious God, hundreds of innocent, God-fearing folks. In the biblical view, the God of the Bible uses none-too-righteous Israel as the instrument of his just judgment on a people who had persistently reveled in their iniquity.
God, in His sovereignty, chose to satisfy His holy wrath against the Canaanites by judgment and against the Israelites by redemption (cf. Ro. 9:14-21).

Perhaps a typological chart would be helpful when thinking about OT types and the true, spiritual reality in Christ to which they point:

Old Testament Type
True, Spiritual Reality in Christ
The Exodus
Christ’s redemption
The wilderness wandering
This present life
The Promised Land
The new heavens and the new earth
The conquest of the Land
The Final Judgment
King David
King Jesus
Solomon’s kingdom
Jesus’ rule in the new heavens and the new earth

Before I end this discussion, though, there is one more intrusion ethic that we need to mention: the cross of Christ. Just as the Conquest was a temporary in-breaking of God's final-judgment, holy wrath into history, so was the cross, but in this case, God's final-judgment, holy wrath fell not on the culpable human race that deserves His wrath but on His perfect, innocent Son. Christ did not deserve anything but full reward from God, and yet, on the cross, Jesus took the full wrath of God that He would have poured out on His elect in the Final Judgment. That means that all God's holy wrath against His people has been satisfied. Even though He is completely holy and we do not really even understand the depth of that holiness or our sinfulness in comparison, He has satisfied His holiness by pouring out His wrath on Christ for all His elect. This is how the faithful Israelites and all true Christians avoid what the Canaanites got. We deserve the Final Judgment, but since Christ came into space and time and lived as one of us, since He fulfilled the law perfectly, and since He withstood the intrusion of final judgment on the cross, we can have eternal life in the true Promised Land forever.

So, the Conquest is a sad, hard part of Scripture to read, but it is a perfectly just action of the holy God. Yet, we should not look at it mechanically as that but in two ways: 1) as a warning that causes us to pray for and seek the conversion of the lost so they do not get what the Canaanites did and 2) to praise God for sending Jesus Christ to take the holy wrath that we deserve so that we can live with God forever in the true Promised Land. That should lead us to praise as Paul praised God in Ro. 11:33-36 after he finished detailing out these gospel truths about God:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
By His Grace,

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