Message: Holy War and the Righteousness of God (Part 2) | Scripture: Joshua 6:16-27 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
God’s prescription to wage holy war on, what seems like, helpless creatures seems a severe and harsh reality. But this is why God sends those like Joshua, Rahab, and, ultimately, Jesus into our midst–so that we might not be without both clear example and command as to what he requires to be and remain his people. Nevertheless, God’s disposition towards sinfulness and towards those who reject him as the supreme Ruler, Creator, and Sustainer of all ought to humble and sober us because we were once those people. God must devote those who rebel against him in order to display his infinite, gracious love towards his elect. God must show that he actually loves his people–those who are righteous–at the expense of those who are unrighteous. His justice and love must always remain perfectly intact, and they are that way because he is always perfectly holy. We are not to trifle with his requirement for holiness, and while there is only one man in all of history who was perfectly holy, perfectly just, perfectly loving, by his blood we have been made the righteousness of God. Praise be to him who has made us holy as a result of his exacted justice and his ineffable love. Praise be to him who allows us to remain and persevere in that holiness with him from now and forevermore.
- What are some things/rules in your life that you will not compromise on? Why won’t you compromise on them?
- When it comes to God, what is the one thing about himself that he never compromises on? Why is that important to the story of Jericho?
- How is it that Joshua knew to say the words, “And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction” when these instructions were not included in the earlier portions of Joshua 6?
- What is the ground/reason for Joshua’s command that all the inhabitants of the land must be devoted to destruction?
- How can God be both just and loving at the same time? How does God display his love in his justice and vice versa? Implicit in the answer is understanding who God’s first love is–is it people? Is it his promise? If not these, then what?
- Does Moses (or Joshua) give a reason for who God elects? In your eyes, does this make God more lovely in your sight or does his election feel like its pernicious/unjust? Why/why not?
- Here’s a rather difficult question: a big part of why Israel gets to inherit this land is because of the faithfulness of Joshua–his commands and his leadership are the impetus for the holiness and righteousness spreading throughout Israel. Why is understanding the character of Joshua and his influence over his people important in our doctrine of election/God’s sovereign willing? Why, in what we see in Joshua and, ultimately, in Jesus, can we be affirmed that “election” is not just God’s random selection of people, but the selection of particular people to become his own? Can you give your answer with Scripture (See Romans 8:29)?
- Another semi-difficult question: what does it mean for God to foreknow? When we see the word “know” in the Bible in reference to God and his creatures (namely, that God knows someone), what does this mean (think of how a husband knows his wife or how a parent knows his/her child or how a friend knows his friend)? Given this meaning, why is it not good enough (and even wrong) to say that God chose us on pre-selected character traits before he created us? What would an affirmation like this entail about grace and our salvation?
- Why, in these passages, has God waged holy war? What does this mean for those of us who call ourselves the “beloved” of God?
- Is God’s salvation of Rahab (a gentile, prostitute woman) unjust or contradictory to his own nature? Why/why not?
- Does God save Rahab because of the vow of the spies? If not, why does he save her? Does your answer contradict our idea of what “election” is? Why/why not?
- What do both Rahab and Joshua possess as those who belong to God? What can we learn from them, in this story particularly, as those who also belong to God?
- More than all these incredible facts about God and his character, why is it necessary for Joshua to have come? In the same vein/perhaps answering at the same time, why is it necessary for Jesus to have come?
- When the world looks at us and sees what God has done to us/how we interact with the people and things of the world, what are they supposed to see? When people look at you and listen to you, is that what they see/hear?
- Take some time to pray for one another–how we might be more greatly conformed to the character and things of God in our lives–before you leave.
My wife loves a clean house. She often tells me that when the house is messy, or when I don’t clean up after myself, it makes her anxious and nervous. In fact, she loves a clean house so much that even when she’s exhausted, and even after I say I’ve cleaned up, she’ll do a final sweep of the house, and she’ll always find something that prevents her from going straight to bed. In those moments, I’ll offer to do whatever it is that she is doing, but she always responds, “No, it’s okay,” which I know means, “you should have done it earlier,” or “I do it better”—probably both.
Over the years, I’ve wondered what’s made her so obsessive about wanting her home so clean. I think a large part of it is because she’s deathly afraid of spiders, and she knows that a dirty house attracts creatures of all sorts. But more than her fear of spiders, I believe that when our house is messy and unkempt, it makes her feel like she is not in control of her environment—it makes her feel like someone is dictating for her what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for her home. And for her, no one, not even me sometimes, can dictate what our house will look like, physically, without her permission. It must be a certain way for not only her to dwell within it peacefully but for all of us to dwell in it peacefully.
This is what I’ve learned from my wife regarding our house these past few years of marriage: a house in chaos—a house that is unruled and unruly—is a house without peace. And what we have here, in our text, is all about a God desiring to live in his house with his bride in peace. But to get to that peace, sometimes you’ve got to wage war. You’ve got to wage war in ridding your sink of dirty dishes, you’ve got to get those crumbs off the floor, you’ve got to sweep away those cobwebs, and you’ve got to scare away the critters and the pests. And while what we’re dealing with in our passage is far more serious than dirty dishes and spiders, it is the principle that remains: keep the House of the Lord clean—keep the House of the Lord holy.
Like last week, because our text is long, I’ll be reading our passage as we come to it in our outline, and I ask if you’d follow along with me when I read them to you not neglecting our attention to them because its God’s Word—meant to purify us, sober us, and remind us of who he is and what he’s done for us. So, let’s look at the text in our first point now:
1) The Outcome of Holy War
Read with me vv. 16-21. TWoL: And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for the LORD has given you the city. 17And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. 18But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD.” 20So 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. 21Then 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.
We come now to the climax of everything so far in Joshua—all the moments from chapter 1 up until now are leading us to this event. Israel who had lost its greatest leader in Moses was left in what seemed like utter hopelessness. Joshua who was a courageous, young man could hardly be expected to fill the emptiness that Moses’ death had left. He had never spoken personally to God. He was never appointed as his mouthpiece like Aaron. He was no priest. He had never prophesied. He had never brought about a miracle. All he had really done was tell the people to go into the land of Canaan when 10 other people were saying not to. Perhaps he was a little more trustworthy or honourable than the other candidates, but he wasn’t Moses.
Yet here, as we stand at the doorway of Israel’s first victory in the Promised Land—as they’ve marched for six days watching Joshua’s every move as their leader, following him, mimicking him, and doing everything he tells them to do, this is the man who, on the seventh day, after all of Israel had marched around the city seven times—he brings the walls of this fortified city to the ground. But he doesn’t do this by ordinary, human effort. No, he does it by telling his people to shout. Why? Because God told him to tell them to shout. And what results? The walls miraculously come crumbling down.
This is why Joshua was the man for the job. This is why God had exalted him before all of Israel. This is why all of Israel is following his every command like a hawk. It’s not because Joshua is greater than Moses on his own—it’s because Joshua is resolutely and consistently obedient to God.
And I want to make this very explicit because the one ultimately calling the shots is God, not Joshua. I’m emphasizing this because the words that come out of Joshua’s mouth next are some of the most severe in the Bible: “And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.” The problem that is before us here is to ask, why does Joshua say these words? If you have your Bibles, just look up to verse 5 where we read the instructions that God gives to Joshua, “And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.” There is no instruction to devote all of the people in the city to destruction. Did Joshua read that in? Is he calling the shots and guessing what God might want him to say in this circumstance?
No, Joshua is speaking the right words here. And we know this because despite never speaking to God face to face before Moses’s death, despite not being a priest or a prophet before Moses’s death, despite not ever doing a miracle before Moses’s death—he knew the God that Moses knew in his life. He watched the works that Moses brought about by the power of God in their wandering. He heard the words that Moses spoke from God in his ministry. And here, he knows exactly what to say because he knows exactly what his God—the God of Moses—requires.
For us to grasp exactly why these words were the right words for Joshua to speak, we have to go back to the first time they were spoken—not here in Joshua, but in the writings of Moses. If you have your Bibles, please turn with me in them to Deuteronomy 7, and read with me verses 1-10: “When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. 3You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, 4for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.
Keep your finger there, but this right here—this reason in verse 4a is the first reason why these words are being spoken. Joshua knows that God requires the devotedness of his people to destroy those in the land because he desires to protect Israel from turning away from him. And in God’s desire to protect them, he displays two attributes of his for us to come to grips with: (1) He is perfectly just. There are no exceptions to this. Those who worship idols, those who remain in their sin, those who hide from God and love the way of the world—they shall be dealt with according to God’s standard of righteousness and not man’s standard. They are unrighteous as those who have rejected God, and as we established last week, and in the weeks that we spent in Joshua 5, God’s requirement for those who dwell in his land is his standard of righteousness—his holiness. Joshua knows, firstly, that these are the right instructions to give—this is the right outcome to expect—because these are the enemies of God receiving their just reward. By protecting the honour of Israel, he must punish the dishonour of those who oppose him.
But the second thing that is displayed here is not only the judgment of God, but the incomprehensible love of God. Let’s keep reading in Deuteronomy, verse 5: But thus, shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire. 6For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them.”
See here, the electing love of God is what saves his people! The only one in all the universe who is ultimately able to determine what is and what shall be, he chooses Israel. This is what makes this story so incredible because in his freedom—as the only being able to do whatever it is he wants to do free of sinful inclinations—he chose someone not because they were worthy or good, but because he loves them even though they might be unworthy, and even though they might not be very good.
And what is formulating in the mind of Joshua as he gives his instructions to Israel on that seventh day is a clear understanding of how the justice of God works simultaneously with the love of God. Joshua knows that in order for Israel to fully grasp and experience the love of God in their midst, the justice of God must, first, be accounted for among those who have rejected him. In order for Israel to see the depth of God’s love for them, he must show them what happens to those who want nothing to do with him.
Might I simply say it once more: this isn’t genocide. This isn’t ethnic cleansing for the sake of simply wiping the earth clear of the Canaanites. This is an act of loving creation. What is the pattern that God establishes for us in creation when the world and all that was in it was covered in chaos? He reorients all of it. He transforms it. He purifies and sanctifies it. He makes it so that when he looks upon it and dwells in it with his chosen creatures, he sees that all of it is good. And Joshua knows that what God requires, and what God will achieve, for him to dwell in the land that he’s given to his people is, first and foremost, to make it a place that is good in his eyes. To make it a place that is not only suitable for the people of God, but a place that is suitable for God himself.
Let me say this one other way: Joshua gives these particularly heavy and severe words because he knows that God will do what he, alone, is pleased to do. God, not Joshua, is the main actor in all of this. This is his story. God has done the commanding since the beginning—since before the creation of Adam. God has done the providing for his people. And God will bring it all to his intended end.
Joshua’s words and Israel’s obedience are simply acts of faith as those who know their God. Joshua has no inhibition or hesitancy in commanding his people this way because their pleasure comes in doing what God is pleased to do. Joshua desires the fullness of God and his holiness to dwell in the midst of his people, and he knows to receive the love of God, the justice of God must be meted out.
And what we see in our text—what Joshua and Israel see while marching around Jericho doing as little as possible—is that when the love of God reveals the need for the justice of God, and when the justice of God provides the means to experience the love of God, there abides the holiness of God—his character on full display—because not only has he dealt with sin on his terms, but he acts in perfect righteousness to give his people the thing that they most need—he gives them himself freely and fully. Holy War is, in fact, God’s war, because he casts out sin so that his holiness might be made known, and that its beauty might be seen by those whom he loves. This is the outcome of a God initiated war. When God is dictating the terms of our lives—when God and his prerogatives are setting the course of our days—the outcome is that he makes his leaders, his people, his house, his land, his kingdom holy. He makes them very good.
Here, in this chapter, is where we learn what God is all about. He’s not primarily for his people. He’s not even primarily for his promise. He is for his own holiness, and he has orchestrated all of it in such a way that when his holiness is displayed, so too is his goodness towards his people and his faithfulness to his promises. God makes his house holy, and in so doing, he makes it habitable for those of us whom he calls his beloved, and our task is to know his character on his terms—to do things as he desires us to do them because there is nothing greater than possessing him and his love.
2) The Exception to Holy War
Read Joshua 6:22-25 with me: But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel. 24And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. 25But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
Remember that the law given to the Israelites in Deuteronomy when they entered into the Promised Land was to devote all of its inhabitants to destruction. The justice of God over sinners and his sovereign love for his elect people was to be displayed without compromise. Yet, we must ask, what is the purpose of this law? And we’ve already provided an answer—the purpose of the law was to protect the people of God from turning away from him. God gives the law as a means of judgment upon the nations who reject him, AND as a means to secure those whom he loves and who love him.
So, we must ask a second question, in saving Rahab, does God, through the command of Joshua in these verses, compromise his own law? Is God’s law changeable? Because if it is, then how can he be a trustworthy God? If he changes his law—if he changes his mind—then how is it that we can know that he won’t change his mind about us and our salvation?
And this particular instance, where Rahab is saved from utter destruction seems even worse because it looks like that she is saved not because God intended to save her but because he is at the mercy of the vow made by these two foolish, witless spies. Remember that story? Where Rahab saves them from the king and guards of Jericho, and as the spies are leaving, they vow that no harm will come to Rahab or her family. And we just read in Deuteronomy that no covenant is to be made with these people. So, is God at the mercy of these spies and their covenant with Rahab? Is Rahab saved by the works of man rather than the infinitely wise and gracious act of a holy God?
In our home, there really is no exception to the rule that our house, and especially the kitchen, must be cleaned every night before we go to bed. And like I said, almost every night, my wife will go into the kitchen, see the mess that I’ve left for her, and she’ll make sure that the space becomes not only habitable for us again, but that it looks exactly how it was meant to look the day we moved into our place.
Now, there may not be exceptions to the rule, but there are different ways that the rule is satisfied. For instance, I say on most nights my wife has to clean up my mess, because there are some nights, where I do such a good job that when my wife walks into the kitchen, she sees that I’ve not only tried to clean up, but that I have actually cleaned everything up. And when she sees what I’ve done, she is very often happy not necessarily because everything is clean, but because she knows that I know how much it means to her when everything is properly cleaned. In those circumstances, without her even having to say it, I know she is appreciative because I’ve taken the time to understand her character and to love her the way she desires to be loved. You see, there is no compromise of the rule, but there can be other ways to satisfy it and maybe even exceed it.
The reason why Rahab is saved is because she satisfies the rule—she exceeds it. The author of Joshua tells us this in verses 17b and 25b. She isn’t saved due to the fact that the spies made a vow to her. God hasn’t provided an exception to his law, and he isn’t at the mercy of men and their foolishness. No, the reason why Rahab is saved is because by her actions she enables Israel to do what Israel is supposed to do. The author of Joshua tells us she’s saved because she hid the spies—not because they made a vow to her. Her act of faithfulness preceded their act of defiance. She is, as I’ve told you before back when we went through Joshua 2, the unexpected Saviour of Israel. She proves by her faith and her subsequent action that she is more a part of Israel than these spies are. And it is because of this Canaanite, prostitute woman that God’s people are here, that they are still alive, that they can walk around the city for seven days and receive it miraculously and victoriously.
By her actions, she has shown that her desire isn’t to lead the people away from Yahweh. She has shown that her desire is to lead them to Yahweh and to keep them there. By her actions she proves the biblical pattern that not all who are from Israel belong to Israel and not all who are from Canaan belong to Canaan. See, this isn’t genocide because the point isn’t to wipe out specific people groups—the point is to preserve a people group—the point is to preserve the people of God as the people of God. And what Rahab does is not only facilitate that, but she ensures it by hiding these two spies.
She is the exception to Holy War not because God has made an exception for her in his law but because she is exceptional, like Joshua is, in her understanding of God’s character and his desires. She may not have possessed the law, but she satisfies the law in every conceivable way and in the most unexpected way. She understands above all things that God’s pleasure is the only pleasure that matters. God is the one whose standards must be followed. God is the one who defines what is holy. God is the one who provides the judgment for all those who fall short of his holy standard.
So, it ought not surprise us when Joshua is exalted by God. It ought not surprise us when Rahab is saved by God. Because these two, have listened, seen, and digested all that God has revealed himself to be, and they’ve made it their mission not to do what the people around them tell them to do, or to pursue the pleasure and affirmation of the world. Rather, they’ve made it their mission to do that which God alone is pleased to do. They have set themselves apart for the role that God would have them play in the world. In other words, they’ve kept themselves holy for the sake of a God whose purposes are holy.
Brothers and sisters, I think you’ve heard me say enough that we are not Joshua or Rahab in this story, but if there’s something that we can learn from them it’s that our task is to know our God and display his holiness zealously and unashamedly throughout the earth. God is the one who is active in all things at all times. He remains the main character of history, and while we like to think that we control our own destinies, it is not our destinies that God calls us to be preoccupied with. No, he calls us to be preoccupied and utterly consumed by who he is, and why he is worthy of our every pursuit. Both Joshua and Rahab exemplify for us what it looks like to turn our eyes from ourselves and onto something far greater and far more important than our fame, wealth, power, comfort, or pleasure.
And if it’s not clear, he is worthy of our every pursuit because he has devoted his justice for our sin upon his own Son so that he might pursue us as those whom have been declared righteous by his blood. Where Joshua represents the righteous judgment of God, and where Rahab represents the unmerited grace and love of God, Christ, who is God himself—the second person of the Trinity—he satisfies them both in his own person. In Jesus, the justice of God is propitiated. In Jesus, the love of God is secured. Christ is the exception of God’s Holy War because he does, in exceptional fashion, what none of us could do.
Yet the thing that ought to bring us to our knees in worship isn’t simply the fact that Jesus fulfilled these things in himself, but that he fulfilled them for us. Like Joshua who led the people of Israel, and Rahab who saved the people of Israel, Jesus has come to lead and save a new Israel, and he has beckoned us in to be a part of it. He has, like Joshua did for Rahab, brought us from being those outside of the camp of Israel to those who shall dwell in its house all the days of our lives. So, keep it holy. Do this by knowing who the Lord is. Do this by understanding deeply and personally his character. Do this by remembering your exceptional Christ and pursue those things that he desires because, in doing so, he promises your desires shall be satisfied as well.
Our God is worthy of our devotion. Our God is worthy of our affection. And he is worthy because he is holy and because he, alone, is righteous to bring us to himself.
3) The Warning of Holy War
We end in verses 26-27: Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates.” So, the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.
It’s appropriate that these words close what is essentially the first narrative section of Joshua because Jericho was a strategic site for whoever occupied that land. It was a place well protected by the Jordan to the east, it was elevated upon higher ground, and when the kingdom of Israel was divided between the north and south, Jericho would have been a good outpost to guard against those who wished to invade the southern kingdom.
But God, through Joshua, gives this warning to remind them that this land was given to them by him. God is not to be trifled with. Human hands shall not be the defence of God’s holy people nor shall buildings or towers built by man. God alone shall be their defence. When the people see this land and its vacancy, they shall know that it is occupied by the sovereign God of Israel, and that none can take his place or usurp him. It is his character that fills the void. It is his authority that controls the narrative.
We, his people, are to remember at all times what God has done on our behalf. Where we, like those in Jericho, once hid from God and fled to our own sinfulness and lust for the world, we can now flee from that darkness to our God who is light and who has revealed the greatness of his glory to us in his Son. As God brought this lowly Joshua to the people of Israel to accomplish great works of faith, so too has God brought us our lowly Christ as the exalted object of our faith.
It is Christ whom God has raised up. It is Christ whom we are to proclaim in all the land to spread his fame not only because he is glorious but because he is incomparably mighty to save. Flee to him as your assurance. Flee to him, his character, and his desires in those moments of doubt, for he will wash you in his perfect and steadfast holiness. He shall keep you. He shall guard you. In his house, and in his love, shall you be satisfied from this time forth and forevermore.