Help! I'm Reading Joshua

Posted by Scott Palmer on 26 January 2017 | Comments

As a part of our series in Joshua “Possessing Your Future” I challenged those who were not currently in a daily Bible reading plan to read through the book of Joshua in the month of January.  I am excited to see that so many people took up that challenge.  The other thing I am excited about is the number of questions people have asked me about the book.  The number one question is “What about the violence of the conquest?” “What does this say about the Bible?” “What does this say about God?”

This is one of the big questions that we need to answer if we are going to take the Bible seriously.  This is also a topic that many skeptics and especially the New Atheist’s like to use to characterize God as a genocidal maniac.  The first thing I would say is that many skeptics and New Atheists like Richard Dawkins intentionally mispresent the Bible  in order to characterize God in an inaccurate way. 

On Youtube there are two very brief videos.  One called “Scary Mary” which takes brief scenes from the Disney classic “Mary Poppins” and frames it in a way that make you think it was a horror movie.( Scary Mary) . There is also a version called “If Frozen Were a Horror Film” that takes the Disney classic “Frozen” and does the same thing. The video shows brief pictures of the movie but frame it in such a way that is misrepresents the real picture. (Scary Frozen)  That is exactly what many skeptics do when they talk about the Bible. In fact, if you want a real in depth look at this subject there are two books you need to check out.  One, Is God A Moral Monster?  by Paul Copan and  two,  DidGod Command Genocide? by Paul Copan.

I want to take a brief look at this question in relationship to reading the book of Joshua.  When you read the book of Joshua one has to remember it is about the conquest.  This is God leading the people of Israel under the leadership of Joshua to enter the land that has been promised all the way back to the time of Abraham.  Here are some things to remember.  (This is a brief summary of part of the ninth chapter of Jonathan Morrow’s book Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority):

     1.  The Conquest was unique, geographical and temporally limited and not to be repeated.

 Morrow quotes OT Scholar Christopher Wright on the subject.  It is a long quote but it is worth the read:

“The conquest was a single episode within a single generation out of all the many generations of Old Testament history. Of course, it spans a longer period than that if one includes the promise and then completion. The conquest of Canaan was promised to Abraham, anticipated as the purpose of the exodus, delayed by the wilderness rebellion, accomplished under Joshua, and brought to provisional completion under David and Solomon. Even including all this, though, it was limited in the specific duration of the warfare involved. Although the process of settling and claiming the land took several generations, the actual invasion and destruction of key fortified cities took place mostly within a single generation. And it is this event, confined to one generation, which constituted the conquest…Some…other wars also had God’s sanction—especially those where Israel was attacked by other nations and fought defensively to survive. But by no means are all the wars in the Old Testament portrayed in the same way as the conquest of Canaan. Some were clearly condemned as the actions of proud and greedy kings or military rivals. It is a caricature of the Old Testament to portray God as constantly on the warpath or to portray it as ‘typical’ of the rest of the story…So the conquest of Canaan, as a unique limited historical event, was never meant to be model for how all future generations were to behave toward contemporary enemies.”

     2.  Genocide and ethnic cleansing are inaccurate terms for the conquest of Canaan.

The Canaanites embraced idolatry, incest, temple prostitution, adultery, homosexuality and bestiality (Leviticus 18:24-25; 20: 22-24; Deuteronomy 9: 5; 12: 29-31).  While they embraced all kinds of sexual immorality they also embraced the deplorable practice of child sacrifice.

God had given them 430 years to change their ways but their wickedness finally reached a point where God chose to bring judgement upon them.  Therefore, the Bible pictures the actions of the Israelites in the category not of oppression but of divine punishment operating through human agency.  Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright notes that God as the creator of life has the right to take a life.  While Israel carried out this judgement against the Canaanites their actions were not out of hatred or ethnic superiority.  The bottom line is that God brought judgement on the Canaanites after 430 years of patiently waiting for them to repent.  The judgment was based on their idolatry not their ethnicity.

Also, Remember Joshua 2 when Rahab the prostitute who was not Jewish, goes to the Israelite leaders and says I have heard of the great power your God has shown and if me and my family help you will you show us mercy.  She is true to her word and God through the Israelites shows her and her family mercy.  Dr. Barry Leventhal  a messianic Jew who is a professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary points out that we do not know how many times this type of mercy may have played out throughout the time of the conquest.      

     3.  The conquest should be read against the backdrop of God’s promise of blessing for all the nations.

God decided that his plan of redemption for the world would come through one nation.  Paul Copan states, “National Israel was established by God to help set the religious, cultural and historical context for the saving work of Jesus the Messiah later in history. The ultimate goal is nothing less than God’s salvation being brought to all nations and seeing his righteous rule finally established.”  Therefore, God divinely protected the nation because through them the Messiah would come.  The conquest was one way that God worked to bring the opportunity of salvation to the whole world.

I hope that helps as you continue you Journey through Joshua.

Pastor Scott


Christopher, J. H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2004), 333.

Copan, Paul, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), 74.

Morrow, Jonathan, 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 143-147.