God Behaving Badly? (part 2)
This is part two of a previous post that seeks to understand the nature of the violence of the OT and how we as Christians should understand these often troubling stories. Two points were covered and in this post point three regarding the charge of genocide is addressed.
Genocide is the charge pinned upon God and Israel by skeptics. Genocide is the total destruction of a people group solely based on race, and certainly it feels as if this may be happening in the book of Joshua. But do we really see people groups completely destroyed in acts of total warfare? No, we don’t. As seen in the previous point, justice and mercy were given upon the foreigner again and again throughout the Old Testament. We find evidence of this at the first battle in the Promised Land.
The important city of Jericho is scouted by spies before a battle plan is drawn. In order to hide from the authorities the Hebrew spies duck into the house of Rahab the prostitute. While there, Rahab saves the men from the wandering eyes of the Jericho law, and to return her life-saving favor the men promise salvation for her and those within her household on the future date that Joshua wages war upon the city.
The protection given is not for Rahab alone, but all who are in her house, ethnicity notwithstanding. Rahab could go throughout the streets of Jericho promising refuge from the coming storm of war, for all who entered her dwelling would be saved. We do not know how many were saved in the house of Rahab, but Joshua keeps his word and they are saved. Rahab and her people were assimilated into the nation of Israel, she eventually becomes an ancestor of Christ Himself.
Exhibit 2 are the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites were Canaanites who disguised themselves as wandering bedouins seeking safety from the might of Israel. Without enquiring of God, Israel rashly enters into covenant with them, promising protection and favor in the Promised Land. Shortly after the ink dries on the newly drawn covenant, the people discover the deception of Gibeon. Not only were they not travel-weary refugees, they were neighbors dressed to deceive and escape from the wrath to come. Of course, Israel was enraged, intending to commit genocide on these reprobrate liars, but Joshua said “No!”. The lives of the Gibeonites were spared, becoming servants in the worship of Israel, pagans transformed into the people of God, integral to the liturgical life of the nation.
Gibeon is saved from destruction, but opportunity for Israel’s revenge was on the horizon. Five Canaanites kings attack the defected Gibeonites. Gibeon runs to Joshua for safety, testing the deceptive covenant. Israel could technically hold to their end of the bargain by letting a foreign power dirty their hands with genocide, instead they fight on behalf of Gibeon, miraculously routing the enemy.
Gibeon’s story does not end with Joshua. They continue to be protected until the troubled King Saul wars with Gibeon, and Israel is cursed with famine, providing protection for Gibeon and reminding Israel of the ancient covenant. As time progresses, Gibeon slowly dissapears from the pages of history as a separate people, because they are assimilated in the people of God.
War, violence, and destruction can not be denied in the pages of the OT. No exegetical acrobatics can wash away the stain of battle, but genocide is most definitely a false charge.