Daily devotion

Holy War?

Talk to God about the things you don’t understand–the mysteries and the problems you face. How much can you leave up to him to resolve?

Joshua 6:12-19

Today’s section enacts the instructions already given, and builds to a climax with the seven circuits around Jericho in the seventh day. The extra ingredient is the command to destroy everything except Rahab and her household. If this is not done, the destruction will rebound on Israel herself, an anticipation of the story f Achan to come in chapter 7.

The key words of this section is the Hebrew term herem(with a hard ‘h’ like the Scottish ‘loch’, vs 17,18). Like the related word harem, it means people or objects devoted to one person or purpose only, and forbidden to anyone else. Because of its Canaanite character, idolatry and wickedness, the Israelites must have nothing to do with anything in Jericho. This normally means total destruction, but can also have the effect of a ‘ban’ on making treaties, trade or marriage with such a group. The one exception is Rahab and her family, because her loyalty is now with Israel.

The herem is one of the most perplexing concepts of the Old Testament. Why would God command the total destruction of Israel’s enemies? We find it difficult to think of a God of love who would command so complete and annihilation of Israel’s foes. Three possible explanations might help us. First, Israel herself would be punished for the same sins as the Canaanites, as we will see from Achan’s example. Rahab and Achan effectively change places, he becomes the Canaanite and she the Israelite. Second, God’s judgement is against sin, not ethnicity. The conquest of Canaan is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Genesis 15:16. Finally, this one-off event should not be extended into a general principle. Israel is about to enter her inheritance. In future she must offer terms of peace before going to war.

What principle of war and peace do you see in this passage? How do these apply to the conflicts we see today? In what circumstances should Christians go to war?

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