So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. -Joshua 6:20-21
How could God DO such a thing?
After all, doesn’t God love each and every person he created? After all, isn’t God in the business of mercy, rather than punishment?
Maybe the God of the Tanach just isn’t the same as the God of the New Testament, right? Would you look Jesus in the eye while he was cleansing the Temple and say, “you’re being hateful today?” Didn’t Jesus call the Pharisees children of the devil, and whited graves? Isn’t the God of the New Testament also the God who called down judgment on Jerusalem in 70AD, using the Roman Army to tear it down stone by stone? No, the modern penchant of seeing the God of the Tanach as some earlier, angrier, God, just won’t work.
Then what are we to do with a God who devotes entire cities to destruction? Down to the last lamb, the last infant, the last dog, the last cat? There are two incidents in this narrative that can explain, if we just take the time to read them.
First, there is Rahab. We often treat the story of Rahab as if it stands alone, as if it doesn’t relate to this destruction of Jericho at all. But clearly Rahab’s family is the one Canaanite family who made it out of Jericho alive.
Second, there is Achan. Again, there is no way to detach the story of Achan from the story of Jericho itself, even though we often associate it with the first battle at Ai. Jericho is where Achan took some of the devoted goods. God explicitly ties the fate of Achan to the fate of Jericho in Joshua 7:12.
Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction…
As Achan is identified with the Canaanites through his taking of devoted things from Jericho, he, himself is devoted to destruction. As Rahab identifies through faith with Israel, and the God of Israel, she becomes a part of Israel, and hence removes herself, and her family, from being devoted to destruction.
You see, the entire narrative of Jericho, and a few of the other Canaanite cities being devoted to destruction, turns on faith. Where you place your faith is what you identify with. Rahab placed her faith in Yahweh, and became a part of Israel.
Achan, on the other hand, looked at the future with uncertainty. He placed his faith in the things of this world, and was devoted to destruction with the things of this world.
Before we accuse God of not doing right, of committing genocide, or some other atrocity, we need to remember that God was merciful in providing a way, through faith, that all the people of Jericho could have been saved. If they would have repented, they would have been saved, like Rahab. Because they would not, they were destroyed, like Achan.
God has, in fact, devoted this entire world to destruction. Where is your faith?