What Did Jesus Have to Do with Violence?

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APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot
Mark Durie is an Australian pastor and scholar in linguistics and theology.

The conquest of Canaan, as described in the Bible, was a bloody one. Some cities like Jericho were put to the sword. Isn’t it dangerous to have such material in the Bible? Might not these stories incite Christians to acts of bloodshed or even genocide against others? The answer to this question is a very emphatic “No!”

There are a number of reasons why the conquest of Canaan and other stories of conflict in the Bible do not incite Christians into violent acts of insurrection, murder and genocide.

One is that the account of the conquest of Canaan was entirely situation-specific. Yes, there is a divine instruction reported in the Bible to take the land by force and occupy it, driving out the inhabitants (Nm 33:52). However, this was not an eternal permission to believers to wage war. It was for a specific time and place. According to the Bible, the Canaanites had come under divine judgment because of their religious practices, above all child sacrifice (Dt 18:10–12; see note on Gn 15:16).

The sacrificing of firstborn children by immolating them before an idol was a persistent trait of Canaanite religion. The Phoenicians were Canaanites, and as late as the second century b.c. the people of Carthage, a Phoenician colony, were sacrificing children to their goddess Tanit. Archeologists have found charred remains of tens of thousands of newborn infants and fetuses buried in Carthage. The practice of child sacrifice made the Romans despise the Carthaginians.

The Bible’s stories of the use of force against the Canaanites are more than balanced by the accounts of the destruction of Israel and Judah by foreign armies. These violent invasions are also described as being God’s judgment, now turned against the Israelites because they did not distance themselves from Canaanite religious practices. Even the kings of Israel and Judah are charged with practicing child sacrifice (2 Kg 17:17; 21:6, Ezk 16:21).

Young Christians

Although the OT does condone the use of force to purge a land of violence and injustice, the Bible’s attitude to such violence is not that it is sacred or holy. On the contrary, King David, who fought many wars with God’s active support and guidance, was not allowed to be the one to build God’s temple in Jerusalem, because there was so much blood on his hands (1 Ch 28:3).

Violence is regarded by the Bible as an inherently evil symptom of the corruption of the whole earth after the fall: “the earth was filled with violence” (Gn 6:11). In contrast, the prophet Isaiah looked forward to the day when the days of violence would be no more. Isaiah describes the Lord’s anointed as unacquainted with violence: “They made His grave with the wicked, and with a rich man at His death, although He had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully” (Is 53:9).

In this way, the OT sets the scene for the revelation of Jesus Christ. The key question for Christians is “What did Jesus have to do with violence?” When we turn to consider Jesus and His followers, we find a systematic rejection of religious violence. Jesus’ message was that His kingdom would be spiritual and not political. Jesus explicitly and repeatedly condemns the use of force to achieve His goals: “Put your sword back in place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword” (Mt 26:52)

NTTC MARK 1:41: Was Jesus “Moved with Pity” or “Moved With Anger”?

As Jesus went to the cross, He renounced force, even at the cost of His own life: “My kingdom is not of this world … If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here” (Jn 18:36).

At one point Christ said, “Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mt 10:34) This is sometimes cited by anti-Christian apologists as evidence for Jesus’ militancy, but the statement occurs in an extended passage where Jesus is advising His disciples on the inevitability of persecution. The sword He refers to is the one which will be raised against them.

Jesus’ take on violence was reinforced by the apostles Paul and Peter, who urged Christians to show consideration to their enemies, renounce retaliation, live peaceably, return cursing with blessing, and show humility to others (Rm 12:14–21; Ti 3:1–2; 1 Pt 2:20–24). They also allowed that the (most likely pagan) civil authorities would need to use force to keep the peace and this role should be respected (Rm 13:1–7; 1 Pt 2:13–17). This was an extension of the earlier Jewish position that Jews should submit to the rule of law in whichever country they find themselves, even if the king was a pagan (Jr 29:4–7).

The NT supports the just use of force as a proper function of the state, whatever its religious identity. Thus it is not a specifically religious or sacred act to go to war or to use force to implement justice. It is just a matter of public duty, one aspect of the ordering of society which God has established for the common good. Fighting may be considered just, not because it is advancing any one faith over another, but because it is warranted and conducted according to principles of justice applicable to all people.

If only Christians had maintained this NT position down the centuries, the world would have been a better place. The invention of “Christendom” in the fourth Christian century, and the later influence of a centuries-long struggle against the Islamic jihad, ultimately led Christians to develop aberrant theologies that regarded warfare against non-Christians as “holy,” and soldiers who died fighting in such wars were regarded as “martyrs.” Thankfully, this view of warfare has been universally denounced in the modern era as incompatible with the gospel of Christ.

INVESTIGATING JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES REVIEWING 2013 New World Translation

Joshua 6:20–21 When the people followed Joshua’s instructions the Lord caused the wall of Jericho to collapse, leaving the city vulnerable to invasion. The city fell through “spiritual warfare”—ceremonial marching, trumpet blasts, and the victory shout that was a feature of Israel’s celebration of Yahweh’s dominion (cp. Ps 47:5)—and not through traditional military maneuvers. The archaeological evidence for Jericho’s being inhabited during this period has been difficult to interpret, and some scholars have questioned the veracity of the biblical account of its fall to the Israelites. Archaeologists who have no previous bias against the biblical record, however, have not found sufficient reason to question this account.

Joshua 6:21; Deuteronomy 2:34; 3:6 OTBDC: How can God, holy, righteous, of love, all-powerful be justified in the destruction of cities and the killing of men, women, and young children?

Joshua 6:22–25 Rahab and her family were spared from the cherem in keeping with the promise Joshua’s spies made to her. Her faith saved her and her family from certain death. The statement at the end of verse 25, “and she lives in Israel to this day,” refers to the continuation of her family line. Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute, is included in the genealogy of the Savior, Jesus Christ (Mt 1:5), thereby participating in the Lord’s ultimate triumph of grace.

Jesus Paul THE EVANGELISM HANDBOOK

Joshua 6:26–27 Joshua pronounced a curse upon anyone who would undertake to rebuild the city of Jericho. Jericho was cherem to the Lord and would be rebuilt at great cost to the builder. (see 1 Kg 16:34 for the fulfillment of this prophecy). News of the defeat and destruction of Jericho spread throughout the Near East, and Joshua became famous.

Joshua 7:1 The success of Israel at Jericho was marred by unfaithfulness with respect to the cherem on the part of Achan, who took items for himself from the spoils. The Lord held the entire nation responsible for the action of one person who violated His command. This demonstrates the biblical principle of corporate solidarity (cp. Dt 2:34; 5:9; 13:12–18). Sin is not merely an individual matter, but affects the entire community of which the individual is a member.

REASONING WITH OTHER RELIGIONS APOLOGETICS

Joshua 7:2–5 The spies Joshua sent underestimated the enemy at Ai. As a result of the hidden sin of Achan and the miscalculation of enemy strength, the fighters of Ai routed the Israelite invaders. This surprising defeat, following so closely upon their amazing victory at Jericho, caused panic among the Israelites. It was all the more shocking because Ai was no longer a large, highly fortified city (its name means “ruin”).

Joshua 7:6–9 Joshua and the elders of Israel prostrated themselves before the Lord with traditional gestures of lament over their defeat. Joshua’s prayer appealed to the Lord to uphold His own reputation with the pagan nations.

Joshua 7:10–15 The Lord responded by revealing that sin had been committed regarding the cherem. The perpetrator was to be identified and held accountable.

Joshua 7:16–23 When Joshua began the process of investigation, the Lord identified Achan as the culprit. He brought the stolen items of the cherem before Joshua and the Lord.

Joshua 7:24–26 Achan, his entire family, and all his possessions were destroyed—God’s judgment for violating the cherem.

Joshua 8:1–29 The Israelites mounted a second assault against Ai, and this time conquered it. The Israelites executed the king of Ai and all its inhabitants. Israel was permitted to keep the plunder and the livestock.

Joshua 9:1–2 Upon learning of Israel’s victories at Jericho and Ai, a group of Canaanite kings formed a defense alliance against Israel.

Joshua 9:3–27 The Gibeonites devised a plan to protect themselves from annihilation by pretending to be from outside of Canaan. Joshua made a treaty with them without consulting the Lord. When Joshua and the Israelites found they had been deceived, they could not go back on their oath; the Gibeonites were permitted to live, though relegated to permanent servitude. This incident illustrates the force of the oath, and the spoken word, in Israelite culture. It also illustrates the problems that arise when the Lord’s counsel isn’t sought.

Joshua 10:1–11 Five Amorite kings, led by Adoni-zedek of Jerusalem, formed another coalition against Israel. They attacked Gibeon in reprisal for making peace with Israel. Joshua and the Israelite army had to come to Gibeon’s aid because of their oath. The Lord reassured Joshua that He would fight on Israel’s behalf and gain the victory.

Joshua 10:10 “The Lord threw them into confusion before Israel.” This indicates that God was miraculously fighting on behalf of Israel. This was the only way a small nation of twelve tribes could defeat a coalition of well established cities and their defenders.

Joshua 10:11 “The Lord threw large hailstones on them from the sky … and they died.” This is another instance of God’s intervention on behalf of Israel. God slew more of the Amorite fighters than did the Israelites.

Joshua 10:12–15 In one of the most remarkable occurrences recorded in biblical history, God responded to Joshua’s prayer by causing the sun and the moon to stop their movement. Time came to a standstill for nearly an entire day. This text is more than a record of astronomical events; it also makes a theological point. The supposed gods of the sun and moon were prominent in Canaanite religion; Yahweh’s greater power now divests these bodies of their religious significance and puts them to the service of His people. The Genesis account of creation offers a similar perspective; the sun and moon—the “two great lights” (Gn 1:16)—do not appear till the fourth day; they are not identified with the light of God’s first creative act (Gn 1:3), but serve as regulators of earthly time.

Interpreters have proposed four major explanations of this passage: (1) the earth stopped its rotation, (2) a solar eclipse occurred, (3) an astrological omen took place, or (4) the passage is figurative, not literal. The second option is not plausible because the text does not state that the sun and moon darkened; they continued to shine but stopped moving (the verbal root dmm is best translated “to cease”). The third option suggests that Joshua employed a pagan form of prayer based upon the practice, found in other ancient Near Eastern cultures, of reading omens in the movement of heavenly bodies. This option is inconsistent with Joshua’s faithfulness to the Lord. The fourth option is not credible because vv. 13–14 state clearly that the sun and moon stopped their motion. The best way to understand these events is to accept the first option, according to the plain reading of the text. Through alteration of the earth’s rotation the apparent movement of the sun and moon across the sky was halted. The urban legend that Princeton scientists or NASA computers have “discovered” Joshua’s long day has circulated for more than a half century. Though baseless, this fictitious “scientific” explanation is still widely promoted.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

The event was the act of a sovereign and omnipotent God who governs His creation. The emphasis of the passage is how, on that particular day, God listened to the prayer of Joshua in a way that had never been witnessed. The event was clear evidence that the Lord was fighting for Israel. The quote from the Book of Jashar probably encompasses Joshua 10:13:b–15, since v Joshua 10:16 continues the narrative from Joshua 10:10–11.

Joshua 10:16–27 The five Amorite kings were found hiding at Makkedah. They were brought out to Joshua and executed.

Joshua 10:28–43 Joshua completed the conquest of southern Canaan. Verse 43 indicates that the Lord was fighting these battles and that He secured the victories. All the inhabitants of these cities were executed. On the justification for their extermination, see note on 6:17.

Joshua 11:1–15 Jabin, king of Hazor, formed an alliance of northern kings. They assembled a large army with assets that included horses and chariots. The Lord gave Israel a complete victory over this coalition, and its military assets were destroyed. In reprisal for Jabin’s instigation of the alliance, Hazor received the most severe punishment. Joshua executed Jabin and all Hazor’s inhabitants and burned the city. Verses 12–15 are a summary of the accomplishments of Joshua’s northern campaign and restate his obedience in all that the Lord had commanded through Moses.

DEFENDING OLD TESTAMENT AUTHORSHIP Agabus Cover BIBLICAL CRITICISM

Joshua 11:16–23 The conquest of northern Canaan was complete; this passage summarizes Joshua’s achievements. Verses 18–20 state the historical and theological justification for the conquest: the Canaanites (with the exception of the Gibeonites) had refused to make peace with Israel, for God had hardened their hearts so that he might destroy them without mercy. (On the justification for their extermination, see note on 6:17.) It is noteworthy that in 11:22 no mention is made of the Philistines, who had not yet migrated to Gaza, Gath and Ashdod. This is an incidental indicator of the age of the narrative, refuting contemporary critical theories that date the book much later.

Joshua 12:1–6 The list of the conquered kings and territories of Transjordan (the region east of the Jordan River) consists of Sihon king of the Amorites and Og king of Bashan. These victories occurred during the time of Moses before Joshua became Israel’s leader (Nm 21:10–35; Dt 1:4; 2:24–3:11). They are mentioned here to provide a historical survey of all that had been accomplished in the drive toward the occupation of the promised land, through the grace of God toward the nation. Moses had allotted the lands of Transjordan to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh as their inheritance (Nm 32:1–5). The statement “the land had rest from war” (Jos 11:23) marks the end of the initial narrative of conquest.

Joshua 12:7–24 The list of the conquered kings and territories of Cisjordan (the region west of the Jordan River) consists of a geographical summary in vv. 7–8 and a list of 31 kings, with the cities they ruled, in vv. 9–24. After the first two cities (Jericho and Ai) the list can be divided into cities in the south and those in the north. This list not only records the conquest of Canaanite cities, but also represents the accomplishment of God’s purpose. In giving them into the hands of Israel, He fulfilled His promise to Abraham that his descendants would occupy the land (Gn 12:6–7; 15:18).

THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy

Joshua 13:1–7 This chapter begins a new section in the book of Joshua. Israel is transitioning from conquest to settlement in Canaan. Three major geographical areas remain to be conquered: (1) Philistia, including the five major cities of the Philistines: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron (vv. 2–3); (2) the Phoenician coast (v. 4); and (3) the Lebanon mountain range (v. 5). By this time Joshua has aged and is nearing the end of his life.

Joshua 13:15–32 This section details the geographical extent of land allocated to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh (Num 32:1–5).

Joshua 14:1–5 This section introduces the allocation of the land to the remaining tribes. It was to be determined by casting lots (perhaps the Urim and Thummim of the high priest, Lv 8:8) for which parcel of land each tribe should inherit. This was according to the Lord’s directive for the allotment of the land (Nm 26:55–56; 33:54). Use of the lot by Eleazar, the high priest, was not a matter of chance; it was a matter of obedience to the Lord’s instruction (Nm 26:55–56). God was responsible for the outcome of the casting of the lot (cp. Jos 18:6–10; Pr 16:33). Discerning the will of God, is never a matter of chance. The Levites did not receive an inheritance but were given cities in which to live (Nm 35:1–8; Jos 21:1–41).

Joshua 14:6–15 The tribal allotment to Judah began with Caleb’s inheritance. Caleb had been a leader in Israel (Nm 13:6). He was one of two spies who had brought a positive report to Moses at Kadesh-barnea (Nm 13:30). Together with a delegation of the men of Judah, he presented his claim to Joshua, who gave him the hill country of Hebron as an inheritance.

is-the-quran-the-word-of-god UNDERSTANDING ISLAM AND TERRORISM THE GUIDE TO ANSWERING ISLAM.png

Joshua 14:6 The first distribution of the land began from Gilgal, Joshua’s location at the time. Gilgal, site of the memorial stones from the Jordan, appears to have been the central encampment for Joshua and the priests at this stage.

Joshua 15:1–62 Judah was the first tribe to receive an inheritance west of the Jordan because of its prominence among the tribes of Israel (see Gn 49:8–12). The description of Judah’s allotment (Jos 15:1–12) is more detailed than are those for the other tribes. Verses 13–19 contain an account of Caleb’s success in expelling the Canaanites from the region of Hebron, his inheritance. Verses 20–62 detail the allotments to the various clans of Judah.

The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)

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