Friday, August 01, 2008

Old Testament Violence (4) - Who Judges

When God led Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land the people of Canaan were under judgment. They had been treading a dangerous course for 400 years. God promised Canaan to Abraham, but he said that he would not receive it until the existing inhabitants faced judgment.

Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure (Gen 15:13-16).
God was merciful towards the people of Canaan, giving them four hundred years to repent or change. He would not remove them until they were beyond redemption, with hearts totally hardened in sin. By the time of Moses, the Amorites’ sin had reached its full measure. They had moved under the judgment of God, so they had lost their right to live in Canaan.

This raises an important question. How did God intend to bring about this judgement? Most Christians believe that God told the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites. They see Joshua as carrying out the judgment of God. The problem with this view is that it is inconsistent with the scriptures.

Jesus told us not take matters into our own hands. Paul said that we should leave judgment to God (Rom 12:17-21). Christians are to preach a gospel of peace. We support the gospel by demonstrating the love of God in the way we live. When Christians have used violence and war to advance the gospel, the result has been disaster, even if the victims deserved God’s judgment.

Prophetic people may sometimes be called upon to announce God’s judgment upon a nation in advance. These warnings are an expression of God’s mercy, as they give the wicked nation an opportunity to repent. Prophets must not attempt to fulfil their prophecies by inflicting judgement. That is God’s job.

In the past, I thought that God used the children of Israel to inflict judgment on the inhabitants of Canaan. I assumed that their violence was justified because God had told Moses to destroy the Canaanites. However, when I did some serious study of this issue, I found something quite different. God actually reserved responsibility for administering this judgement to himself.

The truth is that the Israelites disobeyed God and were over-zealous in pursuing the Canaanites. God responded to the excessive violence of Israel by allowing some Canaanites to survive and live on in the land. These people escaped God’s judgement and became a thorn in the flesh for the Israelites.

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