The Problem with Joshua

I’ve been working my way through the Old Testament recently, and I have just finished reading the book of Joshua. I have to say, it has been a challenging book for a number of reasons.

First, the book of Joshua is about Israelite’s military campaign against all the people in Caanan. God commands Joshua to kill everyone in the land (including women and children) so that their religion will not tempt the Israelites to stray from following the Lord.

It’s really, really hard to reconcile a God who essential commands genocide with the God of the New Testament. And I know I’m not the only one to have this problem. To me, it raises a larger question:

How does morality work within a social/historical context?

Here’s what I mean: within the historical period in which Joshua is set, all of the cultures in the region had their own gods. Each culture’s conquest were presumed to be a testament to that god’s power. These cultures were constantly warring against each other, and were often brutal. In fact, there is a brief story about a Cannanite king who cuts off the thumbs and big toes of all the other kings he conquers, and makes them crawl underneath his table to find their food.

The Israelites are no different. They brutally conquer others, and are conquered. They enslave others and are enslaved.

  • If we agree that God exists through all time, how does God interact with mankind in such a savage age?
  • Did God have to wait to give us the messages contained in the Gospel until mankind was ready for it?
  • As we have progressed as a race, has the message we need to hear changed?

I don’t know, but I continue to wrestle with this…


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