I’m reading through Joshua, a book of battles between God’s people – the people of Israel – and all those who dwelt in the land called Canaan. Joshua is a difficult read for many people due to the violence and bloodshed at the behest of God. It doesn’t jive well to them with the God conveyed in John 3:16, “For God so loved . . .” and 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” Or does it?
A God defined by love would not be loving at all if He allowed evil to win or continue indefinitely. Would a mother be loving if she neither disciplined nor defended her infant child against that which will do it harm? God disciplines, even sternly, those whom He loves: “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6). And this applies to all peoples and nations: “Does he who disciplines nations not punish?” (Psalm 94:10 NIV). God showed His love for the Canaanites (also called Amorites) by giving them five centuries to repent of their sins and change their evil ways. They did not! Therefore, God used the descendants of Abraham, the Hebrews, to punish the Canaanites through annihilation (Genesis 15:16). And, if that seems overly severe, we must consider there is nothing trite about sin: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23). Even God’s Son wasn’t spared the punishment for sin when He took our sins upon Himself: “But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received. All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the Lord made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved.” (Isaiah 53:5-6 TEV)
God was also defending His chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, against the encroachment of evil into their fledgling society and between them and God. Before he was parted from Israel, Moses gave them orders: “But when you capture cities in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, kill everyone. Completely destroy all the people: the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, as the Lord ordered you to do. Kill them, so that they will not make you sin against the Lord by teaching you to do all the disgusting things that they do in the worship of their gods.” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18 TEV). Ancient Canaanite civilization was more decadent than civil. Pantheistic and hedonistic, theirs was as violent and immoral a society as perhaps ever there was on earth. They stopped at nothing to satisfy the blood lust of their gods, even sacrificing their own children. If the new nation of Israel allowed any of them to remain, and they did, the Canaanite depravity would surely spread to them, and it did (Judges 2:1-3; 1 Kings 11:5; 14:24; 2 Kings 16:3-4). Sin is the most infectious disease in the world and one hundred percent fatal. Even those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ and saved from eternal punishment must contend with a carnal nature that inclines us to rebel against God’s will: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2 NLT).
Here’s a final thought. The battle between good and evil in the world is one we cannot win ourselves. Joshua 10:42 says that Joshua was able to conquer the Canaanites “because the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.” Joshua and the Israelites were no match for the armies of the Canaanites. Moses’ spies testified to that forty years earlier (Numbers 13:33). And that fact hadn’t changed in Joshua’s time. The only advantage Israel had was a divine one to which a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab gave voice: “I know that the LORD has given this land to you” (Joshua 2:9). We must have divine help to win against the desire to sin: “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” (Romans 7:24-25 NLT). We require divine help to rescue us from the power of sin and death: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” (Romans 8:1-2 NLT). We need God’s power to prevail against the power of evil at work in the world: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his great power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can fight against the devil’s evil tricks. Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world.” (Ephesians 6:10-12 NCV). We must have faith in Jesus to overcome the world: “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:4-5 NIV).
Joshua led the people of Israel into the Promised Land – Canaan. Though it was promised, it had to be taken by force and God was their only hope for victory. Canaan is often thought by Christian believers to be analogous with Heaven – our Promised Land. The correct analogy, however, is that Canaan is where we live right now. Jesus is our General, our Joshua, who brought us out of captivity to sin to live a new life free from it (John 8:36; 10:10). The enemies of our souls are dark and dreadful and too much for us to handle. But thanks be to God, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4-5 NIV).