Tough Questions Answered

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  • Commentary on Judges 13-16 (Samson)

    Posted By on July 31, 2015

    Toward the end of the period of the judges lived one of the most famous judges, Samson.  He lived from approximately 1089 BC to 1049 BC. The story of Samson begins in chapter 13, which is where we pick up the narrative.

    In verse 1, we learn that God is once again punishing Israel by allowing them to be ruled over by the Philistines. Who were the Philistines? According to F. Duane Lindsey in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, the

    Philistines arrived in large numbers during the invasion of the Sea Peoples about 1200 B.C. They organized a pentapolis or confederation of five cities—Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ashdod on the strategic coastal highway, and Gath and Ekron on the edge of the Shephelah or Judean foothills (cf. Josh. 13:3). When the Philistine aggression moved eastward into the land of Benjamin and Judah, the Israelites accepted that domination without resistance (cf. 14:4; 15:11) till the time of Samuel (cf. 1 Sam. 7:10–14).

    For what evil was Israel being punished? Serving the false gods of the Canaanites instead of serving the one true God who brought them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

    After 40 years under Philistine rule, God is going to bring a deliverer forth to begin to rescue his people from the Philistines. The angel of the Lord appears to a Danite woman who is barren and tells her that she will conceive and birth a child who will be dedicated to God for his entire life. The boy would be a Nazirite (see Numbers 6:1-21), which meant that he was never to cut his hair, he was to abstain from drinking any alcohol, and he was never to have contact with a corpse.

    Notice that verse 5 says that he will only begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines, a modest pronouncement. The final defeat of the Philistines would be left to Samuel (1 Sam. 7:10–14) and David (2 Sam. 5:17–25). Immediately we are suspicious that this particular judge will not live up to the potential he has.

    One would expect that a man dedicated to God before his birth, a man who was a divinely appointed deliverer of Israel, would lead an exemplary and godly life. Instead, we will see that Samson is a deeply flawed man who personifies all that is wrong with Israel.

    In chapters 14-15, the writer records several incidents from Samson’s life. We learn that God gives Samson supernatural physical strength at particular times. Due to this God-given strength, Samson personally kills hundreds of Philistines and becomes a “leader” of Israel. What is interesting is that Samson never leads others into battle or appears to administer the affairs of Israel in any official way. He simply keeps the Philistines at bay because they are scared of him as an individual. Daniel Block, in Judges, Ruth: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), summarizes Samson’s life:

    No other deliverer in the Book of Judges matches his potential. Called prenatally by Yahweh, stirred as a youth by the Spirit of Yahweh, empowered with extraordinary gifts by Yahweh, and granted exceptional opportunities for heroism by Yahweh, the narrator devotes more attention to Samson than to any other deliverer. Despite all these advantages and this special attention, Samson accomplishes less on behalf of his people than any of his predecessors. . . . Though Samson is impressive as an individual, he turns out to be anything but a military hero. He never leads Israel out in battle; he never engages the Philistines in martial combat; he never experiences a military victory. All his accomplishments are personal; all his victories, private.

    As we begin chapter 16, we learn that Samson forms a relationship with a Philistine woman named Delilah. The rulers of the Philistines bribe Delilah to discover Samson’s source of physical strength. Three times Delilah begs to know Samson’s secret, and three times he lies to her.

    Finally, the fourth time she asks, Samson reveals that he has been dedicated to God since birth, and this is symbolized by the fact that his hair has never been cut. If his hair is cut, his physical strength will be like that of any other man.

    Samson falls asleep and Delilah cuts his hair. The Philistine rulers overpower him and carry him off as a prisoner. His eyes are gouged out and he is kept as a slave doing hard labor.

    In verses 23-31, Samson is brought before a large number of Philistine leaders at a temple to entertain them. In his last act, he asks God for physical strength one more time so that he can knock down two columns that support the temple roof, thus killing all of the people on the roof of the temple. What a sad end to a life with so much potential.

    What are we to make of Samson’s story? Daniel Block invites us to compare Samson to the nation of Israel:

    Samson is a Wunderkind, miraculously born by the will of God. Samson is called to a high life of separation and devotion to Yahweh. Samson has a rash, opportunistic, and immature personality. Samson is inexorably drawn to foreign women, like Israel was drawn to foreign gods (both ‘play the harlot’). Samson experiences the bondage and oppression of the enemy. Samson cries out to Yahweh from his oppression. Samson is blinded (cf. 1 Sam 3:1–3). Samson is abandoned by Yahweh and does not know it.

    Samson, as the “greatest” deliverer of Israel during the time of the judges, is a great disappointment. Contrast him to the greatest deliverer of Israel and all mankind, Jesus Christ. Jesus was a Wunderkind born by the will of God who fulfilled all of his potential. He perfectly obeyed God the Father in everything and defeated man’s greatest enemies, sin and death.

    Don’t Judges 1:8 and 1:21 Contradict Each Other?

    Posted By on July 24, 2015

    Judges 1:8 says, “The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.” The surface implication is that the city of Jerusalem was completely destroyed and everyone inside of it killed.

    Just a few verses later, Judges 1:21 says, “The Benjamites, however, failed to dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.” This verse clearly states that the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, were not removed and still live there! How can both of these verses be true?

    Daniel Block, in Judges, Ruth: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary) offers one explanation:

    The most likely explanation recognizes that Jerusalem was a border city, located on the boundary between Judah and Benjamin. The city that was burned in v. 8 probably identifies the Jebusite fortress on the southern hill of the city, between the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys, and which David eventually captured and made his capital. Accordingly, the unsuccessful Benjamite effort in v. 21 must have been directed against the citadel farther north. The fact that David had to reconquer Jerusalem suggests the Judahite hold on the city was weak and short-lived. It seems that shortly after they had sacked it the Jebusites moved in from the north and took control, which they then held for several centuries.

    Block’s explanation assumes that Jerusalem actually consisted of at least two separate citadels. But if there really was only one citadel named Jerusalem at that time, then how would we explain the apparent difficulty?

    Paul Copan and Matt Flannagan argue in their book Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God that we have to be careful when interpreting phrases like “put the city to the sword.” This phrase may have been hyperbolic in its original context. In other words, the author and the original readers would have understood that the entire city was not destroyed and that all the people inside were not literally killed. Instead there was a military victory that left at least some of the city intact and some of the residents alive.

    We use hyperbolic language all the time today. Think about sports. Sports fans frequently say things like, “My team destroyed yours” or “We annihilated them last night.” Are we really talking about destruction and annihilation? No, obviously not. We simply mean that one team defeated the other. We use the exact same kinds of phrases when we talk about military battles.

    Other hyperbolic phrases found in the Old Testament are “utterly destroy,” “put to the edge of the sword,” “leave alive nothing that breathes,” “leaving no survivors,” and “man and woman, young and old.” These kinds of phrases were commonly used among the people living at this time in history. Many times in the historical books of the Bible we see reports of “complete annihilation” of a city or group of people, only to see this same city or people group alive and well later on, often in the same book (compare Joshua 10:39 to 11:31 and Joshua 11:21 to 15:13-14).

    So, a second plausible explanation for the seeming contradiction of verses 8 and 21 is that verse 8 should be understood hyperbolically. Whether you are convinced by this explanation or by Daniel Block’s explanation, there is not actually a contradiction.

    Commentary on Judges 1-2 (Disobedience and Defeat)

    Posted By on July 22, 2015

    The Book of Judges continues the historical narrative where Joshua ended. The author of Judges is unknown, although Jewish tradition ascribes authorship to the prophet Samuel. Samuel may have written portions of the book, but there were likely later editors that compiled it into its final form. Scholars date the final composition of Judges from some time between 700 and 1000 BC.

    Judges describes the period between the initial conquests of Canaan (around 1400 BC) to the time of the first king of Israel, Saul (around 1050 BC). Thus the entire span of the book is about 350 years. During this time period, Israel consists of 12 separate tribes, all of whom experience cycles of 1) sinning against God, 2) being oppressed by various Canaanite groups, and 3) then being rescued by judges. The book mentions 12 judges, but there were likely many more.

    The judges were men and women, usually military leaders, whom God used to rescue the different tribes in Israel from their Canaanite oppressors. Why is it that the Israelites were not taking all the Promised Land as they had been commanded? Why is it they were losing military battles against their enemies? Sin. The theme of the Book of Judges is the “Canaanization of Israel.” Instead of obeying God, the Israelites adopted the practices of the very people who God sent them to drive out of the land.

    As we begin looking at chapter 1 in Judges, it is helpful to understand the historical context that Israel is within. The Chronological Study Bible: New King James Version summarizes the situation:

    Having established at least a foothold in the land of Canaan, Israel now organized itself into a loose confederation of independent tribes. The link connecting these clans was their God. The tribes celebrated common religious festivals at the shrine where the ark of the covenant was kept. The shrine was movable, but it was most often located at Gilgal and Shiloh. The tribal confederation had military purposes as well. When an outside people invaded, the clans were to join in a holy war. Some leader would take the initiative and summon the tribes to battle. These leaders, for the most part, we call the judges. The judges led makeshift armies, but they did not have to face the forces of the major empires. Through most of the period of the judges, Egypt and the countries of Mesopotamia were weak and preoccupied with internal problems. The wars of the Book of Judges are waged against unconquered Canaanites and such small neighboring nations as Edom, Midian, and Ammon.

    Verses 1-10 in chapter 1 of Judges describes the first actions of Israel after Joshua’s death. God commands the tribe of Judah to set out from Gilgal (Israel’s home base at this time) and take the land promised to them (see this map to remember where Judah was given land).

    The tribe of Simeon would go along with Judah since Simeon’s allotted land was inside of Judah’s. The actual men, Judah and Simeon, had been full brothers, both having Leah as their mother and Jacob as their father.

    Verses 4-10 describe successful military campaigns against Canaanites and Perizzites living in Bezek, against the city of Jerusalem, and against the “Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills.” They also successfully conquered the city of Hebron.

    In verses 17-21, we learn that the Judahites continued to attack additional cities: Zephath, Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron. In verse 19, however, we start to see the first signs of failure. The writer records that Judah was unable to drive “the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots.” We also see that the “Benjamites, however, failed to dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.”

    Verses 27-36 report even more disturbing news. The other tribes had utterly failed to drive out the Canaanites living in their allotted territories. What was going on? Didn’t God promise to give the Israelites the Promised Land? Wasn’t He going ahead of them to win their military victories for them? How is it that most of the tribes of Israel were not, in fact, driving out the Canaanites? Chapter 2 gives us the answer.

    In verses 1-3, the angel of the Lord (possibly God Himself) accuses the Israelites of disobedience. They had made covenants with the Canaanites and had adopted their religious, cultural, and ethical practices. Thus God would “not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.”

    Verses 6-23 now give the more detailed account of exactly what went wrong after Joshua died. Things started out well during the lifetimes of the elders who witnessed the miracles of the conquest under Joshua. After that generation died off, the next generation, who had not witnessed the miraculous events of the conquest, began to worship the gods of the Canaanites.

    Recall that the worship of the Canaanite deities went hand in hand with all of the other immoral practices of the Canaanites: incest, bestiality, child sacrifice, etc. The Israelites were turning their backs on God and becoming “Canaanized.” God tells them that they will be trapped, ensnared by the false gods of Canaan. Daniel Block, in Judges, Ruth: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary) writes,

    When the Israelites observed the prosperity of the Canaanites, the latter’s’ gods seemed to offer so much: fertility, prosperity, security. But Yahweh hereby turns their twisted theological thinking against them. Rather than finding new freedom in the religious structures of the Canaanites, the Israelites would be caught in the trap of their gods, like a fly in a spider’s web.

    God was angry over their sin and handed them over to their enemies. In fact, God was actively enabling their enemies to defeat them every time they went out to battle! This is exactly what God promised He would do if Israel disobeyed.

    From time to time, the people of Israel would remember God, cry out in distress, and beg Him for help against their enemies. During these periods, verses 16-19 explain that God would raise up a judge. The judge was a military leader who would rescue the Israelites from their oppressors. But as soon as the judge died, the people would revert back to worshiping the gods of Canaan. The rest of the Book of Judges records the actions of several judges that ruled over the various tribes of Israel for next few centuries.

    Daniel Block concludes:

    By way of reflection, from this text the reader has learned the Israelite [Yahwist] definition of apostasy. Apostasy means abandoning Yahweh in favor of other gods; it means claiming to be the people of Yahweh while acting as if one belongs to Baal. This perfidy is expressed in transgressing Yahweh’s covenant, not walking in his way, not listening to his voice, not heeding his commandments, especially his call for exclusive allegiance. Unlike the gods of the surrounding nations, Yahweh would tolerate no rivals. There is no room in Yahwistic faith for accommodation to pagan notions or customs. At the same time the reader is reminded of the patience and grace of Yahweh.

    The cycle of disobedience, repentance, forgiveness, and deliverance would repeat over and over again. In fact, the tribes of Israel during this time are representative of humanity. We constantly disobey, repent, gain forgiveness and deliverance from our sins, and then disobey again. The only person who ever broke this cycle is Jesus Christ. He is the first and only human to never disobey God the Father. His sinless life broke the endless cycle recorded in the Book of Judges.

    Did Joshua Kill Innocent Canaanite Adults During the Conquest? Part 3

    Posted By on July 20, 2015

    Clay Jones, in this blog post, provides even more evidence that God, in the Old Testament, spares those who repent of their sin. Consider the story of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis. Abraham asks God:

    Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?

    God offers to spare the cities if even ten righteous people can be found. We know how the story ends. Not even ten people could be found and both cities are destroyed. Jones writes:

    The evil which seduced the people of Sodom and Gomorrah may have surprised Abraham and may surprise us, but it didn’t surprise God. Certainly we learn several things from this passage. One, Sodom and Gomorrah were completely depraved. Two, God knows hearts and therefore knows who will and who won’t repent. Three, God would allow entire cities to live if it meant that a handful of righteous wouldn’t die. Four, God was willing to give evidence of Sodom and Gomorrah’s wickedness so that He couldn’t be accused of killing the righteous with the wicked. And five, when God destroyed these cities, he only killed the wicked.

    Jones then points us to the Book of Jeremiah.

    The Lord warned Israel that if they let the Canaanites live that they would be seduced by their sin and then God would do the same thing to Israel. Well, we know that happened, and so the Lord sent prophets to warn them to repent—to no avail. Then the Lord said in Jeremiah 5:1-2: ‘Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city. Although they say, “As surely as the Lord lives,” still they are swearing falsely.’

    Then in verses 3-5 Jeremiah reports that he looked but that he couldn’t find anyone who would repent. So in v. 6 he concludes: ‘Therefore a lion from the forest will attack them, a wolf from the desert will ravage them, a leopard will lie in wait near their towns to tear to pieces any who venture out, for their rebellion is great and their backslidings many.’ Notice that, just as with Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord made sure that the world would know that He knows when there are no good people in a city.

    Finally, Jones points to the Book of Ezekiel.

    Consider also this passage from Ezekiel 14:13-14, ‘Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God.’ In the following verses the Lord says this is true when He kills with ‘wild beasts,’ or a ‘sword,’ or ‘pestilence.’

    Then in v. 22 the Lord says, ‘But behold, some survivors will be left in it, sons and daughters who will be brought out; behold, when they come out to you, and you see their ways and their deeds, you will be consoled for the disaster that I have brought upon Jerusalem, for all that I have brought upon it.’ Why will the people who witnessed their destruction be consoled by seeing these survivors? In the next verse the Lord tells us: ‘They will console you, when you see their ways and their deeds, and you shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, declares the Lord God.’ Again, notice that the Lord cares that the people of that day realized that the people He had killed were depraved and deserved to die.

    So what can we conclude? The Bible portrays the Canaanites as the most morally depraved individuals most of us could imagine. They are squatters on land that God has given Israel. God held Israel to the same standards as the Canaanites and He eventually pushed Israel out of the land when their sin reached a climax. Finally, we have very good reason to believe from several Bible passages that God would spare any individuals who repented of their sin and followed Him. Thus, no innocent Canaanites were killed by Joshua.

    Did Joshua Kill Innocent Canaanite Adults During the Conquest? Part 2

    Posted By on July 17, 2015

    God spares those who are truly repentant, those who truly love Him. Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, in their book Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God, offer several examples of Canaanites who were spared and who became members of Israel.

    First, there is Rahab, the tavern-keeper in Jericho. Copan and Flannagan write:

    The book of Hebrews states: ‘By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient’ (11: 31). Rahab was a Canaanite, yet she was spared because she was not like those who are disobedient, but rather responded in faith. The author of Joshua emphasizes that Rahab ‘lives among the Israelites to this day’ (Josh. 6: 25), 23 and Matthew lists her as an ancestor of both David and Jesus the Messiah (Matt. 1: 5).

    Second, there is the example of Caleb, one of the two spies who gave a good report to Israel in Numbers 14. God says in Numbers 14: “Because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it” (Num. 14: 24).

    Most readers, however, fail to notice Caleb’s background. Copan and Flannagan explain:

    Caleb, though from the tribe of Judah, has a Canaanite background! The text refers to him as ‘Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite’ (Num. 32: 12; Josh. 14: 6, 14). Who were the Kenizzites? They were one of the seven nations in Canaan and were listed along with the Hittites and the Perizzites who lived on the land God would be giving to Abram (Gen. 15: 18– 20). These were the peoples God commanded Israel to ‘utterly destroy.’ Yet Caleb the Kennizite was one of the few in the nation of Israel to see the Promised Land because ‘he followed the LORD wholeheartedly.’

    Third, we have the example of the Shechemites. In chapter 8 of Joshua, the Shechemites are included in Israel’s covenant renewal ceremony: “All Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark . . . the stranger as well as the native” (v. 33 NASB).

    At Shechem, those who heard the Law being read included not only ‘the assembly of Israel’ but also ‘the strangers who were living among them’ (vv. 33, 35). Sprinkle notes, ‘Joshua 8: 30– 35 narrates a covenant renewal ceremony at Shechem despite the fact that Shechem was a major power during the Late Bronze Age as the fourteenth century B.C. El Amarna tablets from Egypt indicate. This suggested to [John] Bright that Shechem was absorbed into Israel rather than being conquered, and so the covenant renewal ceremony was on the occasion of additional people being added to the covenant.’

    In part 3 of this series, we will look at even more evidence, provided  by Clay Jones, that God spares those who repent.


    Did Joshua Kill Innocent Canaanite Adults During the Conquest? Part 1

    Posted By on July 15, 2015

    Some critics of the Bible complain that Joshua must have killed numerous innocent Canaanite adults during the conquest recorded in Joshua 1-12. Because of this, what Joshua did was nothing more than genocide. But the biblical picture is painted quite differently, and if we are going to accuse Joshua of killing innocent Canaanites, shouldn’t we at least read what the Bible actually says?

    Paul Copan and Matt Flannagan, in their book Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God, fill in the background for us so we can see what the true biblical picture is.

    First, the Bible clearly states that the land where the Canaanites were living had been given to Abraham and his descendants, by God, hundreds of years before the conquest.

    Israel had legal title to the land of Canaan based on the promise God had made to the patriarchs (Deut. 20: 16). The Canaanites were essentially trespassers or squatters (Josh. 2: 9– 11). The ultimate goal of Abraham’s calling was to bring blessing to the nations, and this promise includes permanent possession of the land (which, as Scripture progresses, expands into possession of the new heaven and new earth by God’s people).

    Second, “Israel had to wait many generations— including having to endure slavery in Egypt— before it could take possession of the land because the Canaanites were not yet sufficiently wicked to judge (Gen. 15: 16).”

    By the time of Joshua’s conquest, their wickedness had reached the point where judgment would finally occur. God waited hundreds of years for the Canaanites to repent, but they never did.

    Copan and Flannagan add, “During the days of the patriarchs, Abraham’s people were forbidden to engage in violence against the Canaanite nations occupying the land.”

    Third, the kinds of

    wicked acts (Deut. 9: 4– 5) the Canaanites engaged in were not trivial: incest, adultery, bestiality, ritual prostitution, homosexual acts, and most significantly, child sacrifice (Lev. 18; Deut. 12: 29– 31). Most of these acts are illegal, even in modern Western nations. Any group practicing these actions would not be tolerated even in contemporary liberal societies, and in some jurisdictions, violators would be sentenced to death.


    Israel’s own occupation of the land was conditional; Israel too would be ‘utterly destroyed’ if it engaged in the defiling practices of the Canaanites (Lev. 18: 25– 28). Indeed, later the Israelites would be judged— removed from the land through exile— because they violated the terms of the covenant.

    Fifth, and maybe most importantly, we have many indications from the Bible that God spares those who are truly repentant, those who truly love Him. Copan and Flannagan offer several examples of Canaanites who were spared and who became members of Israel.

    In part 2 of this series, we will look at these examples.


    Commentary on Joshua 21-24 (Joshua’s Farewell)

    Posted By on July 13, 2015

    In chapters 7-12 in the book of Joshua, the Israelites, led by Joshua, conquer the cities of 31 kings (see the list in chapter 12). God, as promised, drove the Canaanites out ahead of the Israelites, and the Canaanites who stayed behind to defy Israel were easily defeated by Israel’s armies.

    Once these 31 kings were defeated, God reminds Joshua that much land is still to be taken, but that it is time to allocate all of the land to the 12 tribes of Israel. Some of the land that will be allocated is already in the hands of Israel, but some of the land still needs to be cleared of Canaanites. Take a look at this map to see how the land was allocated to the 12 tribes in chapters 13-21.

    After all the land has been assigned, we arrive at, arguably, the climax of the Book of Joshua. In chapter 21, verses 43-45, we read:

    So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

    Verse 43 summarizes chapters 13-21, verse 44 summarizes the victories of chapters 1-12, and verse 25 summarizes the entire book of Joshua. Even though there was more land to be taken, Israel now had a firm foothold in the Promised Land. All of the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been fulfilled. The tiny nation of Israel was able to take possession of land occupied by nations far greater and far stronger than they. This would have been completely and utterly impossible without God doing the work!

    We now pick up the narrative in chapter 23. Joshua, who is 110 years old, senses that he is close to death and makes preparation for his departure. He first summons the leaders of Israel and reminds them of everything God has done for them over the previous 30 years in verses 1-5. In addition, he reassures them that the land they have been allotted, but not yet possessed, will be given over to them by God, as He promised.

    In verses 6-16, Joshua warns Israel to carefully follow the Law of Moses and not associate with the nations of people still living among them. Remember that the primary reason that Israel is dispossessing the Canaanite nations is that their cultures and religious systems are extremely depraved. They are characterized by incest, bestiality, child sacrifice, and ritualized prostitution, among other things. If Israel assimilates with these people, then they too will start to commit the same awful sins and they will “perish from this good land.”

    How will they perish from the land? God Himself will punish them. “If you violate the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

    Israel is not exempt from God’s justice. He has punished the Canaanites for their sin, and He will do exactly the same to Israel.

    In chapter 24, Joshua again summons all of Israel to hear his final words to them. Joshua rehearses the entire redemptive history of Israel, starting with Abraham’s calling and continuing all the way up to the current day, where they have seen for themselves the fulfilment of God’s promises to them.

    Having seen all that God has done for them, what should the people do? “Fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness.” Joshua commands Israel to choose between the gods of Egypt, the gods of Canaan, or Yahweh. For Joshua, the choice is simple: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

    The people of Israel respond to Joshua that they, too, will serve the LORD. Joshua doubts their allegiance to the LORD and reminds them again that God will destroy them if they turn to the gods of the Canaanites, but the people respond twice that “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.” Joshua then renews the covenant between God and Israel at Shechem, setting up a large stone as a witness to the covenant. The stone would remind the people of the promises they made to God.

    Chapter 24 closes with the deaths of Joshua and Eleazar. After 30 years of leading Israel, Joshua was buried in his allotted land. The author notes that “Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel.”

    Why Does God’s Character Matter When It Comes to Interpreting Difficult Passages?

    Posted By on July 6, 2015

    A couple of years ago I wrote a series of blog posts on why the God of the Old Testament is worthy of worship. We looked at His mercy, His love, and His truthfulness, along with several other attributes. At the time, I had several commenters tell me that considering all the attributes of God is of no help when interpreting difficult passages in the Bible. We should take those difficult passages as isolated texts.

    This has always seemed flatly wrong to me. Every time we listen to a person speak, we are interpreting what they say based on what we know about that person. If a friend of mine has been caught lying several times, and he makes an excuse for why he has to cancel a night out with me, I’m going to guess that he’s lying again and that his excuse is fabricated.

    A friend of mine who has always been truthful with me will get the benefit of the doubt when he cancels a night out. I will assume he is telling the truth.

    It is standard procedure for lawyers and prosecutors to bring forth evidence in a trial about various witnesses’ character so that the jury can decide whether to believe the witnesses or not.

    So when someone says that we can’t take into account God’s character when we interpret difficult Bible passages, I immediately know they are applying a double standard. They are refusing to hear the evidence of God’s good character.

    If we take the conquest of Canaan as an example, a person who is considering God’s character would not immediately jump to the conclusion that God is capriciously trying to wipe out a particular ethnic group (committing genocide) just because of where they live. Since we know that God is loving, just, and merciful, we would search the Scriptures to find out exactly what’s going on.

    We would discover that God had waited hundreds of years before judging the people of Canaan, thus exhibiting His mercy. We would learn that He was first, and foremost, driving them out of the land, as opposed to killing them. We would learn that God’s justice demands that He punish a people who routinely have sex with animals, commit incest, and sacrifice their children to pagan gods by burning them. We would see that God held the people of Israel to the exact same standards which He applied to the Canaanites. We would learn that God welcomed anyone in Canaan who renounced their detestable sinful lifestyle and turned toward Him, thus demonstrating His love for all mankind.

    The bottom line is this: it is completely illegitimate to read any difficult passage in the Bible and draw conclusions about what God is affirming or commanding, without first considering what the Bible overwhelmingly teaches about God’s moral qualities. To do so is to apply a standard to God that is utterly foreign to the standard we apply to anyone else whose words we are trying to understand.

    Commentary on Joshua 3-6 (The Fall of Jericho)

    Posted By on July 3, 2015

    In chapter 3, the Israelites are finally ready to enter the Promised Land, but to get there, they have to cross a river, the Jordan River. Given that there were tens of thousands of Israelites, young and old, along with all of their supplies, how would they do this? The Jordan River was not a small stream that could easily be crossed. Dale Ralph Davis, in Joshua: No Falling Words (Focus on the Bible), describes the scene:

    The actual Jordan Valley between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea varies in breadth from 3 to 14 miles. Within this valley is the river’s floodplain, which is 200 yards to 1 mile wide. The floodplain was packed with tangled bush and jungle growth. . . . Then there was the river channel itself, which—if similar to nineteenth-century (AD) conditions—was from 90 to 100 feet broad, with a depth of 3 feet at some fords to as much as 10 to 12 feet. The current was strong because of the drop in elevation (a drop of 40 feet per mile near the Sea of Galilee and an average of 9 feet per mile overall). This means that the river Israel faced that springtime was no placid stream but a raging torrent, probably a mile wide and covering a mass of tangled brush and jungle growth.

    Only a miracle from God will get the nation into Canaan. God’s instructions to Joshua are simple. Tell the people to prepare themselves. Send the Levite priests out first, carrying the Ark of the Covenant. The people are to stay back 1000 yards and watch the miracle. When the priests, carrying the ark, step foot in the water, the water will stop flowing. The people will cross the river on dry ground while the priests stand in the middle of the river with the ark.

    And this is exactly what occurred. See verses 15-17 below:

    Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

    Now that the Israelites have crossed the Jordan, they must conquer the city of Jericho, and this is where the story picks up in chapter 6. How would Israel defeat a heavily fortified city with thick outer walls? God would provide a way. Here are his instructions to Joshua in verses 3-5:

    March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.

    Notice that the ark would lead the way around the city. The ark represented God’s presence among the people, so the clear message to Israel, and to us, is that God gets the glory! He enabled Israel to enter the city. Joshua and his army could have never conquered Jericho on their own.

    Verses 8-20 describe, in detail, the Israelites following Joshua’s orders exactly as commanded. Once the city walls fell, Joshua gave further instructions. They were to destroy all of the people and livestock within the city, and they were to remove any valuable items, objects made of gold, silver, bronze, or iron, and place them into the treasury of the Lord. The people were not to take any valuables for themselves. God warns them that if they take any valuables for themselves, they will be destroyed just as the people of Jericho.

    Everything in the city was to be dedicated to God. Dedication, in the context of the conquest of the Promised Land, means either total destruction or donation to the treasury of God. The people of Israel were not to benefit from the destruction of Jericho, for they were serving as God’s instrument of justice.

    Before we finish chapter 6, let’s review why God is giving Canaan to Israel. Is it because they are deserving of the land? Because they are a righteous people who are morally superior to all other nations of the world? No. Deuteronomy 9:1-6 gives the rationale for God driving out the Canaanites and giving the land to Israel: the sinfulness and wickedness of the Canaanites (their sins are catalogued in Leviticus 18:1-20:27). God was judging the Canaanites with Israel. That is why every bit of Canaanite culture needed to be destroyed.

    The only people in Jericho who believed in God, who trusted Him for their salvation, were Rahab and her family. They were rescued by the two spies and taken to safety outside the camp of Israel. Joshua then cursed the city and anyone who would try to rebuild it.

    Finally, we see that “the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.” Thus the conquest of the Promised Land had begun.

    Did God Bless Rahab for Lying?

    Posted By on July 1, 2015

    In Joshua chapter 2, Rahab lies to the king of Jericho by telling him the spies had already left the city and that the king’s men could track them down and capture them as they returned to the Jordan River. In reality, Rahab was hiding the spies on the roof of her house.

    The Bible records that her family was spared by God in Joshua 6, and the New Testament speaks glowingly of her actions in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25. How can this be when she clearly lied? Isn’t it always a sin to lie?

    Christian thinkers have struggled to deal with this conflict for millennia. Today, there are two positions which garner the most support. Theologians Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, in The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation, explain the two main options for dealing with this passage.

    Some argue that it is not clear that God blessed Rahab for lying. God certainly saved Rahab and blessed her for protecting the spies and assisting in the overthrow of Jericho. However, nowhere does the Bible explicitly say that God blessed Rahab for lying. God could have blessed her in spite of her lie, not because of it. . . .

    Others insist that Rahab was faced with a real moral conflict. It may have been impossible for her to both save the spies and tell the truth to the soldiers of the king. If so, God would not hold Rahab responsible for this unavoidable moral conflict. Certainly a person cannot be held responsible for not keeping a lesser law in order to keep a higher obligation. The Bible commands obedience to the government (Rom. 13:1; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13), but there are many examples of justified civil disobedience when the government attempts to compel unrighteousness (Ex. 5; Dan. 3, 6; Rev. 13). The case of the Hebrew midwives lying to save the lives of the male children is perhaps the clearest example.

    In summary, the biblical text never explicitly commends Rahab for her lie, so maybe Rahab is commended for her faith in God, despite her lie. Another option is that Rahab acted on the higher moral command (save the lives of the Israelites) over the lower command (do not lie) when she was presented with a situation where two moral laws were in conflict.

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