There is a gentleman in our church who had one request of me when I announced that we were taking on this challenge to walk through the scriptures together over the next year. He asked that I explain why there was so much bloodshed in the Old Testament. As you might imagine, this is a question that is difficult to answer, and one that is even harder to be sure that your answer is correct. The Scriptures are clear that God orders the complete destruction of cities and even whole people groups. When Israel takes Jericho, they leave nothing breathing. Always the tension around this topic has to do with the picture of the loving God of the New Testament and the acts of violence in the Old Testament.
But God doesn’t change, and there are truths in the Bible that don’t change. God is always holy. God is always loving. God is also always just. Justice is a huge theme all through Scripture. In fact, one of the things that God desired for Israel to be was a haven for justice; that is why he commands them to be good to the fatherless and the widow, two groups who had no rights in the ancient world. While God’s justice is constantly looking out for the underdog, it is also the source of God’s standards. Love God, follow his commands and you will live. Forsake God, spurn his commands, and you will die. God’s desire is always the former, because when we love Him we are in relationship with him. Ezekiel 18:21,23 and 32 outline God’s heart in this for us:
21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die.
23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?
32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!
Since the beginning, God’s desire is for sinners (that’s you and me) to repent (that means to turn away from sin) and live. Although this is his desire, he can’t set these standards, these black and white scenarios in place, and then ignore it when people act disobediently. He must follow through because he is just.
The other thing to consider is the impact the nations of Canaan have on Israel. God knows full well that the immoral religious practices of the nations in Canaan would be enticing to Israel and so he desires for them to be driven away from his people. Unfortunately, Israel fails in this and becomes ensnared. One of the challenges we face as Christians is influence. As Christians, we are supposed to be the “influencers” not the ones being influenced. But in order to keep that relationship going the right direction, we have to be very careful about what we allow to have influence over us, including the situations we put ourselves in and the people we associate with.
- What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
- What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
- Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
- How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
- What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?
Tomorrow’s Reading: Joshua 16-18