Is God a Warmonger? (Part 2)
2. Second, God often used warfare as an instrument of his divine Justice. Today we like to talk about God as loving and gracious, and God most definitely reveals himself to be that way, but God also reveals himself to be jealous and just, desiring worship and honor for what he has done in creating the cosmos and everything in it. In the first five books of the Bible (i.e. the Pentateuch) God sets out laws for warfare, distinguishing between conduct in battles fought outside the promised land and those fought against cities inside the promised land (Deuteronomy 20:10-18).
Above I stated that God is the universal creator and has a right to do what he wants with the territories, and the peoples he has created. God, as universal creator, is also the universal judge to whom all people everywhere are accountable for their actions. This means that God has the ultimate rights over the land of Canaan, and that God has the right to bring the Canaanite people to judgment for their moral condition and deeds. God used the people of Israel to execute his judgment against the wickedness of the Canaanites at the appointed time, after their wicked acts had come to its fullest (Genesis 15:16).
The people that God commanded Israel to fight against had often committed extremely wicked acts. For example, the Amalekites had attacked the Israelites in an especially atrocious way. Rather than waging war against the army of Israel, the Amalekites attacked the women, children, sick, and elderly after the soldiers and healthy men had passed by. Other nations that Israel fought practiced child sacrifice, tortured prisoners of war, and engaged in rampant prostitution and perverse sexual acts (Exodus 17:8-16). It’s important to recognize that God did not randomly “pick on” innocent nations. Rather, he often used Israel to execute justice upon people who were thoroughly sinful. And lest God be accused of favoritism, he also used other nations to conquer and judge Israel itself for its sins. God’s judgment allows no double standard. He did not base his choice of Israel as his chosen people on any merit of their own, and he calls them to embrace his love faithfully (Deut. 7:6-9)
Unfaithfulness will lead to judgment on Israel itself, individually (Exodus 22:20) and corporately (Joshua 7:11-12; Malachi 4:6; Leviticus 18:28). In 722 BC the northern kingdom of Israel was captured by the Assyrian empire, a wicked empire that forced assimilation and used all kinds of wicked torture devises on conquered peoples. Less than 200 years later, in 583 BC, the southern kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians who carried them off into captivity, leaving the people of the promise of God scattered throughout the ancient world. God warned Israel this would happen as part of their disobedience to him. So Deuteronomy 29:18-28 says:
Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. 19 When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.” This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. 20 The LORD will never be willing to forgive him; his wrath and zeal will burn against that man. All the curses written in this book will fall upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. 21 The LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. 22 Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it. 23 The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur–nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in fierce anger. 24 All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?” 25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”
The judgment of the Canaanites is one special case of divine judgment intruding into human history wherein God allows humanity, though thoroughly sinful and deserving of death, to live while his redemptive purposes for our race and our world are being completed. It is not right to call God’s judgment on Canaan “ethnic cleansing” because the treatment is just, regardless of ethnicity.