The amount of death and destruction described in the book of Joshua is not for the squeamish. Historian John Bright somewhat jokingly writes, “You simply cannot preach from this book, and you ought not to teach it to children. Shield our gentle ears from violence such as this.” It is true that large sections of Joshua contain difficult passages about battles, conquest, and killing.
As we read about the destruction of cities and kings, the violence can be overwhelming to modern-day readers, troubling to us as Christians, and offensive to skeptics. But let’s pause and consider this issue from a broader biblical and theological perspective. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he discusses the repayment of evil. Paul contrasts our individual desire for retribution (v. 17) with God’s sovereign judgment of evil: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (v. 19). As Joshua led the conquest of the Promised Land, God would order the destruction of people and communities who were morally corrupt. Extra-biblical resources confirm that these places were populated by God-haters and were extremely evil. They practiced child sacrifice and other unthinkable behaviors. With each city destroyed, God was carrying out His divine judgment of sin.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is a reminder that God commands us to love one another, and, as much as possible, to live in peace. We are to be the people who are “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (v. 12). But our call to exhibit these qualities does not negate God’s justice or His wrath in response to disobedience. Vengeance did not belong to Joshua, and it does not belong to us. Rather, it belongs to the Lord.
>> God’s Word reminds us to abstain from seeking vengeance, and instead pursue peace. We are to love, care, and show generosity. When we leave vengeance to the Lord, we can better follow His leading. Are there people whom you need to approach with a more charitable attitude?