If you’ve watched any of the vlogs I’ve posted, you know I’ve been camped out in the Book of Joshua for awhile now. I absolutely adore this story for so many reasons…in it you see many different characteristics of the Lord. You see Him as a loving Father when he encourages his child. You see him as a provider, when he provides refuge for the Israelite spies. You see him as a redeemer, when he uses a prostitute to help aid the Israelite spies, and then she later becomes a part of the very lineage of Jesus Christ. Throughout Joshua, you see God as sovereign over creation when he parts the Jordan river and allows the Israelites to walk across on dry ground. You see him as a Promise Keeper, when he keeps his covenant with Israel and delivers her into the Promised Land. Joshua is a reminder of our disobedience and depravity and despite that, God’s grace upon grace. It displays God’s power as He miraculously makes the sun stand still in the sky, and we see him as the Giver of Rest, when he gives rest to the Israelites after forty years in the wilderness.
But as I read the latter part of Joshua 10 this morning, I’ll be honest, my first impression of the Lord was not a good one. As I read through the verses, my stomach churned a bit and I felt my face wincing, subconsciously reminding myself that God is Good, even though He didn’t seem good in this passage. However, the more I read it, thought about it and prayed through it, the more my heart changed and I saw the Lord’s goodness and grace through His wrath. So much so, that even though I have about a thousand things to do today and not enough time to do them all, I had to stop and write this, to share with you guys and to hopefully offer a tad bit of mid-week conviction and encouragement.
If Joshua 10 were a movie, I probably wouldn’t go see it. The bloodshed, death and pure gruesomeness of it would definitely make it rated R. In the first part of the chapter, Israel comes to the Gibeonites’ aid, marching straight through the night to fight five different kings. As the armies clash, the Lord comes to Israel’s side by hurling hailstones from the sky, crushing the opposing armies. After a full day of battle, as the sun is about to set, Joshua commands it to stand still so that the battle might be finished and their victory finalized. The Lord listens to Joshua and suspends the sun in its place. After the armies are defeated and the five kings decapitated and impaled, Joshua and the Israelites take on seven more cities, killing every inhabitant.
It’s at the last half of the chapter, when the Israelites fight the seven additional cities killing every soul that my heart (and stomach) began to feel uneasy.
Surely if God loves people so much, why did He command for the Israelites to slaughter women, children and the elderly? I asked myself (and the Lord).
Then God recalled to my mind why these people were being killed. Although it’s tempting to think of children as innocent, making their deaths all the more brutal, He reminded me of Deuteronomy 9:4, where we’re told (in regards specifically to these people),
“After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you.”
The more I thought and chewed over that, the more I realized how wrong my original uneasiness about this passage was. Rather than reading these verses for what it says about the Lord, perhaps it’s more right to read it for what it says about us, what it says about me. Rather than it pointing to the severity of God’s wrath, perhaps instead it’s supposed to point to the severity of our sin.
These people’s sin was so great, their wickedness so disgusting, that their rightfully earned punishment was death. For centuries, they had lived in wicked rebellion of God, in great offense to Him, following their ways and fulfilling their desires.
The total destruction of these cities was a just, rightful punishment in response to their sin and rebellion, as commanded by God (v. 40) (*I feel it necessary to mention that this is specifically for this instance because the Lord had specifically commanded Joshua to do so, and absolutely cannot be used to justify a repeat occurrence…but that’s another blog post for a different day).
Having long slighted the riches of God’s immense grace, their time had come to experience the weight of his just wrath.
And so our first take away from this ought to be deep remorse over our sin. You and I are no better than the inhabitants of these seven cities. We have lived in rebellion against God, worshipping idols and following our desires. The fair, just punishment for this is death (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-3).
Might stories like this reveal the gravity, magnitude, and weight of our sin.
But the good news is the story doesn’t end there. If it did, it would leave us feeling utterly hopeless. While this story points to the severity of our sin — my sin — it also points the depth of God’s grace. Without wrath, there is no need for grace. Without punishment for sin, there’s no need for Jesus.
Because while God is wholly just, He is also overflowing with mercy and love. He loved us so much, He loved me so much, He loved YOU so much, that he looked at humanity’s sin and the death we demanded, and rather than making us pay the punishment we had earned, He sent his perfect, spotless Son to be sin for us, so that we might become His righteousness and stand blameless before the Lord.
That’s what makes this bloody story in Joshua so beautiful. I deserved a fate much like these cities received. I have earned it. But instead, Jesus stepped out of Heaven to pay my debt and die my death, and because of that, I can now stand before God’s throne of grace, clothed perfectly in Christ’s righteousness.