As I am working on writing a bible study for the book of Joshua with my wife, one of the main focuses in the bible study is the idea that God ordained violence. This is a very touchy subject with a lot of people, including the two of us.
Many people argue that the Hebrew people killed off entire people groups because God commanded it! I have to question this. My understanding of the nature of God comes from my understanding of Jesus Christ of the New Testament, whom I would call the “fullest revelation” of Yahweh. The nature of Christ seems to be as different from the nature of the killing in Joshua as night is from day!
How do we reconcile these two views? If I were to say that God did not want these people groups killed, people will say that “the whole bible is pointless because a couple of verses are not historically accurate / true” (I know, that is an absolutely ridiculous viewpoint, but there really are those people who think that the bible is worthless if every single syllable is not the historically accurate, “god breathed,” inerrant, flawless, absolute truth). If I say that God wanted those people killed, then what changed between Joshua and Jesus?
I see why the Hebrew people killed the other people groups (not going to argue about whether or not the conquest actually happened or not, that is a whole other can of worms; instead I will be treating this as a story, and analyzing the morality of the story); they were living in a society in which each city-state was run by an individual warlord. Sometimes these warlords banded together to create alliances, but basically each one was the equivalent of a modern-day gang, except there are no police to keep them in check! The Hebrew stories about judges found in the book of Judges are perfect examples of the warlord society. That said, in a society of warlords, survival can come down to doing whatever it takes to not die, and oftentimes that means killing those who would kill you.
Now, I do not think that what the Hebrew people was morally right, yet it was the only thing they could do (other than roll over and die, of course). And, just like he has done so many times throughout history, I think that God used the imperfect and even sinful actions of the Hebrew people. He did not make them do it; free will is a key part of the Christian faith. No, they made their own choices, and God had to work with what he got from them.
I think that today many people, Christian people, make mistakes. I think that many Christian people do things that are absolutely wrong. Sometimes these wrong choices are the lesser of two evils (a cop shooting and killing a criminal is morally wrong, but allowing the criminal to kill an innocent is even more wrong), and sometimes they are just the product of bad decisions. Still, I see God use mistakes, bad decisions, and sins every single day to further his kingdom.
Instead of twisting the contrasting views of the nature of God in Joshua and the nature of God in Jesus, instead of using these views to show the massive contradictions in scripture, look at them with new eyes. See that God can work in this world through imperfection (humanity – namely, the Hebrews in this instance) as well as through perfection (Jesus).