Tuesday, November 27, 2007

There were giants in the earth in those days (Joshua 12-15)

Throughout the next few chapters, the notes get rather sparse. A lot of the book of Joshua is pretty much an accounting of which cities were destroyed, how many kings vanquished, and who got the real estate.

In chapter 12 however, the SAB finds one thing noteworthy: giants. Once again, there is little given in the way of explanation, only the icons for absurdity and science/history. Oddly enough, there is nothing scientifically wrong or absurd about the notion of giants, as we know they live among us today. Robert Wadlow came up on a quick Google search as the tallest man to have been verified to have lived, and he was just under nine feet tall, only a few inches short of Goliath. There may indeed have been giants in Canaan, and there isn't even need to appeal to the supernatural to explain them.*

Following no notes in chapter 13, the SAB brings up an interesting question in verse 14 that is of particular interest to me. Does the Bible condemn gambling? I'm going to come down on the side of "No" for this one. The two verses on the "Yes" side are not really very convincing to me at all, although it's still an issue worth considering, as a lot of Christians condemn it. Personally, I would advise against gambling in general, but don't consider it to be outright sinful. I have in the past rather enjoyed a good game of poker, and probably would still, but I think the principle of the Proverbs 28:22 verse is a good one to keep in mind. Get-rich-quick schemes rarely live up to their promise.

It's of particular interest to me because my college major was mathematics, and my final project (I sometimes call it a "thesis", although it's a stretch of the term) was on gambling theory. I was very interested in the mathematical principles behind various casino games, and as an avid Contract Bridge player, the general question of how probability governs card games. In my studies, I came across some interesting facts that not everyone is aware of, namely that the history of religion and gambling are intertwined. You'll find many instances in the Bible of the practice of "casting lots" which is another way of saying "letting random chance make the choice for you". In many societies where they had religion, they had no voice of God speaking to them out of a cloud to give them specific directions, so they'd find some equivalent of asking their God(s) a yes-or-no question and flipping a coin. Some societies used a method of divination that involved throwing small pieces of bone that were the precursors of modern dice. In any case, before such things were used in games of chance, they were common forms of divination.

In chapter 15, there are a handful of notes on various topics. Caleb offers to give his daughter away to the warrior who can successfully destroy the city of Debir, and the winner is his nephew Othniel. While the SAB notes the violence inherent in destroying a city, and we have already discussed that time and again throughout this book, it also makes a few other notes that are not entirely clear, but I think I know what's being implied. The real issues that the SAB has with this story on top of the violence are those of women's rights and incest. Taking the latter first, even in today's culture marrying one's cousin is not illegal, despite what most people seem to believe. The issue that exists with marrying cousins is more of a social taboo in some societies than a legal or even genetic one. The Bible certainly never condemns it as far as I know.

As for the rights of this young woman Achsah, well, arranged marriages for one reason or another were common in those days, and it simply was the case that a woman married the man that her father chose for her. A lot of people take issue with this custom, but in this context, I don't think there's anything to address, since this is simply stated as a fact, neither praised nor condemned by the author. It may be notable however that immediately following this, Achsah comes to her father and asks him to give her a portion of land with fresh water on it, which would be precious real estate indeed in the Middle East. He gives it to her.

I really have to hand it to Steve Wells for his thoroughness for noticing some tiny details at times. I would have never noticed among the ongoing lists of place names the repetition of Eshtaol and Zorah. I checked the Hebrew, and indeed, while the KJV varies the spelling slightly, these two verses reference the exact same names. As Wells has said in his blog, however, contradictions are often very easy to explain one's way out of, and this is no exception: The key is in the term "coast" used in 19:41, which indicates a few possibilities. Looking at only the English, I suspected that there might be multiple cities in Canaan with the same name, and two in the central valley of Judah's territory happened to have the same name as two on the coast of Dan's territory. Looking further into it, I suspected, and it turned out to be true, that the Hebrew term translated as "coast" actually means "border" more or less, and sure enough, according to a map I have of ancient Canaan, the city of Zorah (Zoreah?) is on the border between Judah and Dan. It may be that these cities formed the boundary between the two tribes, and they may have either shared them or simply knew that arriving at those cities implied that Dan's territory was ended.

Chapter 15 ends with the first mention of a tribe of people that the Israelites did not manage to defeat. Why did this happen? Who really knows? Other than the things that I commented on before, something worth noting here is that this lack of victory comes after the Israelites start divvying up the land. Why are they trying to settle all of this before the conquest is complete? I suspect that once they started settling into the land and building it up as their own, they didn't bother to try so much. Go fight the Jebusites? Why? Don't we have enough land already? I don't think that God only wanted to give them land, He wanted them to deal with the previous inhabitants fully, and they didn't. It's really a shame, as it leads to struggle for years and years to come.

* A reader commented on the previous chapter that while nonetheless giants do exist today, there is some belief that certain groups of giants were the result of supernatural breeding of human women and fallen angels. Those who believe this (and I don't consider it outside of the realm of possibility, myself) will remember that it was one of the main reasons that God brought the flood in Noah's time. It may be that the existence of the giants in Canaan is once again one of the main reasons why the people of Canaan had to be exterminated.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Harden not your hearts (Joshua 11)

Well, I didn't have much time today, but when you toss out the main questions of violence and fairness of Holy War as I've been doing, you're not left with much for this chapter. So, I figured I try for a quick one. Actually, the two remaining notes here are both going to relate back to things I've already discussed.

First of all, the SAB notes some cruelty in the fact that Joshua houghed, or hamstrung, the horses. Honestly, I'm not sure what the deal is. Apparently, they were ordered to do so by God, and it was related to the destroying of the chariots. This actually goes back to the issue of Holy War in that God wants to make sure that they keep very little of what the Canaanites leave behind. It seems that chariots were among the things that God didn't want them taking, although we are not told why if this is the case. It may be that God wanted them to fight without what would have been more modern techniques of the time. If they fought with chariots, they'd be tempted to say "Isn't it great we have chariots on our side?" rather than "Isn't it great we have God on our side?" Even with that speculation though, I don't understand this method. If they were to keep the horses for themselves, then they ought to not harm them. If they weren't keeping the horses, why not just kill them as humanely as possible? I may be missing something, I don't know.

The only other thing here is the issue of the hardening of the hearts of the Canaanites. The SAB says, "...God hardens their hearts so that he can have an excuse to kill them." Well, that's right, actually, but it's not quite as arbitrary as it sounds. I discussed it way back in Exodus in the matter of Pharaoh. There comes a time for many people, if not everyone, that God will cause them to be set firmly in the way that they have already chosen. If you really want to hate the Bible, then God will let you; and in fact, He is likely to find a way to make you so strongly hate the Bible that He can use your hatred to bring glory to Himself. The Canaanites were hostile, and God gave them over to their hostility so that the war would proceed according to God's plan. God works that way sometimes, and if you don't like it, He's more than content to let you not like it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Melchizedek king of Salem (Joshua 10)

It's been a while since I've gotten to post, partially because I've been generally busy, but also partially because I've been looking up the meanings of all the names in this chapter to see if it offers any interesting insight. The only thing that seemed to be directly related to the story in this chapter was the fact that "Lachish" means "invincible", which it apparently was not, since even with outside help from the Gezerites, the Israelites managed to defeat it.

I often do look into the names of the people and places I'm reading about in the Bible, but the thing that got me looking into the names here in particular was the name in the very first verse. Adonizedec king of Jerusalem? Weird and familiar. First of all, this is the first time the name Jerusalem appears in the Bible, but as just about anyone knows, it certainly won't be the last, as this city eventually becomes the capital of the united kingdom of Israel, the divided kingdom of Judah, and eventually the modern nation of Palestine. The name will appear 643 times in the Old Testament and 83 times in the New Testament. It's the city where the Jewish Temple will be built, the city where Christ will be crucified, and supposedly the city from which God Himself will rule the world at the end of time.

But the city was referred to before by a different name, back in Genesis 14:18. At that time, the king of that city was known as "Melchizedek king of Salem", a character of some interest, as he is talked about elsewhere in the Bible. Now, Melchizedek is clearly viewed as a good person by the writers of the Bible, but this new king is an enemy. The odd thing is how similar their names are. "Melchizedek king of Salem" translates to "my king is righteous king of peace"; "Adonizedec king of Jerusalem" translates to "my lord is righteous king of teaching of peace." Although I've never heard any speculation on the matter, the similarities in the names suggests to me that this is not only the same city 500 years later, but that these names are actually some sort of kingly title that has passed down with only a slight change in the intervening time. Maybe that's interesting only to me?

Getting back to the SAB and the matter at hand, this is the chapter where the Holy War really takes off. One of the longest chapters of Joshua so far, while we've only seen two cities destroyed
in the whole of the previous nine chapters, here we see possibly as many as ten cities destroyed (the number is not 100% clear from the writing, but seems to be at least seven). Apparently, when the Israelites made a treaty with Gibeon, the other people of Canaan were upset because Gibeon was one of the major cities of the land, and had some powerful warriors. So five of the Amorite kings decide the best thing to do is to make their own alliance and attack Gibeon before the Gibeonites add their number to the Israelite armies.

Unlike the previous battles, this battle has an extra dimension of provocation to it, as the Amorites make the first move. I think that distinction is important, as my previous claims about this war were that escaping from Canaan was an option for any nation who wanted to not be destroyed, yet when the Amorite armies try to run away, God and Joshua do not allow them to escape. (The SAB actually labels this with an "Absurd" tag for reasons unknown, perhaps because of the odd method God uses of crushing the armies with huge hailstones? Once again, it's clearly a miracle.) I think it would be one thing if one of the Amorite nations said "We don't stand a chance, let's get out of here!" but this is a matter of them saying, "Oops, trying to destroy them didn't work, let's retreat!"

I would like to note for whatever it's worth (which might not be much) that I suspect the language in Joshua 10:10 is figurative. While it says that God was doing all this awful stuff to them, I think it may mean that the Israelites were doing it under the authority of God. It doesn't change much, unless that was what the SAB was labeling as "Absurd"? I think it's the same sort of thing possibly as the wording in verse 14, the SAB note there giving me a chuckle. While I obviously don't agree with Steve Wells' theological position, I do appreciate his humor.

Another thing labeled as both "Absurd" and "Science/History" is the miracle of God keeping the sun from setting until Joshua was done fighting. (The reason Joshua asked for this is not given, perhaps this battle happened on a Friday?) Once again, I don't understand labeling a miracle as "Absurd", but I'm also a bit confused about the other label. Is this a problem with the fact that sunset is a by-product of the earth's movement rather than the sun's? If so, that's hardly a problem, as it's a matter of relative perspective; from Joshua's point of view, the sun did not move, but we would understand that the real meaning is that the earth ceased spinning for a time. If the note means something more complicated, then it probably needs some clarification, but I'll venture another guess.

The scientific angle, even once you accept the idea of the miraculous, implies a possible historical problem. If the sun never went down, then that would be a significant event. Even moreso elsewhere rather than locally, since the earth is round. Surely on this day in history, if this truly happened, the ancient Aztecs were wondering why the sun wasn't coming up. This miracle should have had a profound effect on the entire world, yet there is no written history of the event outside of the Bible that I am aware of. Perhaps that's what the note is trying to point out? The writer of Joshua points out that the miracle was also written about in "the book of Jasher" but the identity and nature of this book is not known today, and anyway, it probably was a Hebrew text as well.

The rest of the chapter is pretty much an account of the Israelite army going and destroying all of the cities that came against them in battle one after the other. The issues raised in here by the SAB are ones I have already addressed in the last few posts. There are a few notable things here going back to the names. Once again, I do find it ironic that Lachish, the "invincible" city fell even with help from Gezer. Gezer may have not so much been an entirely separate city in itself so much as something like a suburb, since Gezer means "portion". Also, while it may be simply a matter of name confusion, the strong possibility exists of a scribal error here. I'm surprised the SAB did not call to attention the fact that the fifth king was "Debir king of Eglon", but Joshua, a short time after destroying the city of Eglon, turns to destroying a city called "Debir". Perhaps the king of Eglon came from Debir, or was named after it, or he ruled over both cities and thus the city was named after him. Or it could be just a coincidence. Or, of course, it could be an error, probably in some ancient transcription of verse 3.

Anyway, a lot more of this fighting in the next chapter and those beyond.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Stand thou still upon Gibeon (Joshua 9)

The story of the Gibeonites has always held a bit of a confusion for me, and clearly not in the same way it holds confusion for the SAB. Back in the day when I read this book for the first time, and didn't have the understanding that I have now of the book, this story always seemed strange. It still does, but in a different way.

Before I had gained my current viewpoint on the nature of Holy war, I thought it was strange that of all the people that lived in Canaan, the one group that would come to be spared would be one that found a way out through subterfuge. While I now am of the opinion that Holy war is not so complete and final as it seems on a cursory reading, it still shocks me that apparently we can add lying to the list of ways to escape the wrath of God, so long as you lie to the right people and really manage to convince them apparently.

The only thing the SAB has to say about this chapter is to claim injustice because the Gibeonites were made to become slaves. This is going to be one of those rare chapters where I completely disagree with every point the SAB makes and/or fails to make. That single accusation is something that I believe will lose its teeth when one fully unpacks the passage, and several other points that the SAB fails to make seem a tad hypocritical to me. We'll see.

Heck, let's skip right to the issue of slavery, why not? While I have addressed the concept of slavery at length before, this does seem to be a special case that doesn't fit the mold of what I discussed there. Here we do not see slavery existing as a kind of unemployment program as I argued in the case of slavery among Jews. This is slavery of citizens of another nation which, as I touched on in the final paragraph of that other post, falls under a different set of rules in a manner that is less than 100% clear. Nonetheless, I think that something is being missed here. The Hivites keep saying, as in verse 8, "We are thy servants." (Note that "servant" is King James-ese for "slave"; the actual word "slave" only appears once in the King James Old Testament, and that one time it appears, it's not the translation of any particular Hebrew word, but a word inserted for clarification.) Sometimes language like that can be used in a figurative sense, but I don't think it is the case here. These people do actually become slaves of the Israelites, and when Joshua tells them of their status, they don't protest, but say in verse 25:
"And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do."
This of course saved their lives. The alternative to becoming slaves was to have their nation and their cities wiped off the face of the earth. Would you rather be a slave or be dead? That's not entirely a rhetorical question; I'm sure there are people who would answer either way.

Still, it remains a mystery to me as to why the oath the leaders of Israel swore to the Hivites were binding, seeing as they were made under false pretenses. The men of Gibeon made a rather elaborate deception (almost too elaborate, sometimes I wonder how close to verbatim Biblical dialog is recorded, as I read about these guys going, "Look, our bread is moldy! Moldy, I tell you! We live really really far from here, we swear!!!") in order to get Israel to make them a promise that they had no right to make.

Joshua records that they didn't ask God whether or not to believe the men, which is really the lesson of this story for believers. They didn't ask whether it was alright, and then when it turned out they had been deceived, it ended in trouble for everyone. The SAB doesn't call out the Hivites for this lie as it did the lie of Rahab, and this lie led to strife between Israel and God, the leaders and the people, and between the Gibeonites and their neighbors, as we will see in the next chapter. In the midst of this trouble, Joshua is essentially forced by his oath here to escalate the war as the Amorites go into offense mode.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Howl, O Heshbon, for Ai is spoiled (Joshua 8)

Well, I'm finding myself with very little time this morning for posting, but then I realized I have very little to say about this chapter, so I'll probably say it at great length anyway.

Contradiction is a funny thing, because I have my own standards for what I consider to be the difference between a "minor" contradiction and a "major" contradiction. Some people like to accuse me of hypocrisy for this, and I suppose like my standards, it's just a matter of personal opinion. For instance, despite my generalization of the average Christian's lack of criticism of the Bible (my first post), just last night I was at a Bible study at which we were studying Joshua 4, and somebody in my group said, "Hey, what's the deal with the fact that the priests set foot on dry land here? I thought the point of this was that they were on dry land the whole way through?" There's another one to add to the SAB, perhaps, although hypocrite that I am, I personally chalk it up to figurative language. (Either the verse in chapter three is meant to point out that they're not wading, or the verse in chapter four is meant to point out that they were no longer standing in the river; I think it's likely to be both.)

Apparently, this chapter of Joshua is loaded with contradictions, and I'll let you judge for yourself if they are major or minor, or indeed if they are contradictions at all. After all, it's not like I can stop anyone from having a personal opinion. As for me, I'm admittedly not certain on many of these, as they are a bit technical. I'll give a few suggestions and musings and move on.

Let me give the SAB summary of this chapter in a nutshell: Joshua leads his army against the city of Ai. Much violence and cruelty ensues, and it is claimed that the city was completely destroyed, never to be inhabited again. However, archaeology tells us that the city was already destroyed hundreds of years before Joshua got there, and other parts of the Bible say that the city was eventually inhabited. Contradiction with scientific findings, contradiction with itself, and not really a very pleasant story anyway; the Bible seems to be batting .000 here.

First, let me address the easiest point, one that will come up in Joshua again and again. Verse 28 includes the words "...for ever, even...unto this day." I have absolutely no problem with anything in the Bible that contradicts a statement like this, because supposedly this book was written by Joshua himself. If the city was reestablished after Joshua's death, then he would have had no reason to know such a thing. I think this phrase even crops up in other parts of the Bible, and I'm pretty sure we already saw it in Joshua, just not in a place worth commenting on.

I sort of wonder--although it's probably just me being a smartass and not admitting it to myself--how the SAB can say that the conquest of Ai was cruel right after they say it didn't happen? Of course, I suppose the SAB is operating under the assumption that most of this stuff never happened, so what can you say? The SAB really isn't required to be as consistent as one would expect the Bible to be, I'm reading too much into it.

So was the city of Ai already destroyed before Joshua got there? For the hundredth time, I'm no expert on science, history, or the subject where the two intersect: archaeology. There are a few things I could say about the subject, though. I don't know what techniques were used by archaeologists that dug up Ai, but it could be that Joshua destroyed another city in the same general area. Another thing that I find notable about the article the SAB links to (which I really should read, since I am fascinated by archaeology) is a passage that explains why the evidence is so damning to the Joshua account, and yet poses a new question in my mind.
The work of Kathleen Kenyon produced similar results in her excavation of the city of Jericho. Her conclusion was that the walls of Jericho were destroyed around 2300 B. C., about the same time that Ai was destroyed.(my emphasis)
Why is it that these two cities were destroyed for unknown reasons "about the same time"? All of this is speculation on my part, and will be taken as complete crap by skeptics, but is it possible that somebody is misdating either the ruins of these two cities or the date that the Israelites entered Canaan? As the article says elsewhere, "The actual truth about the battle will probably never be known."

I'm not going to delve into the issue of cruelty in any depth here, partly because war is simply cruel and violent by nature, and the meaning of this war is something I've already covered in detail. I will note that I don't think hanging the king's body from a tree is particularly cruel. I've often said that I don't much care what happens to my body once I'm gone; I'm not going to be using it anymore. As for the supposed irony of offering a "peace offering" to God in the midst of war, it should be noted that the purpose of the peace offering was to represent the peace between the Israelites and God, not the gentiles. No there would be no peace between Israel and surrounding nations for quite some time.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Achar, the troubler of Israel, who transgressed in the thing accursed. (Joshua 7)

So now we come to the topic of Achan. Yes, the title of this post is a correctly copied verse from 1Chronicles, and I'm surprised this typo was not noted in the SAB, as Bible critics love to point out scribal errors, which this might be, although it could also be a matter of several hundred years' difference in Hebrew dialect. It is notable that achar is the Hebrew word for "trouble", and the names Achan and Achor that are found in this passage are forms of the word.

The first thing noted in this chapter is that the Israelite leaders rip their clothes, fall face down on the ground and put dust on their heads. This is noted as being absurd and intolerant, and I don't know why it was marked with either. This sort of behavior may seem strange to modern readers, but it was common practice in those days, and in fact may still be among modern Orthodox Jews, though I am not sure about that. It's just a way to show extreme sorrow. As for intolerance, I'm stumped as to what that's supposed to mean

Unless it's referring not to the actions of Joshua and the elders, but to the situation they find themselves in that causes them to be upset. God allowed them to suffer their first defeat at the city of Ai because (as it turns out) one person had done something wrong. As I said in my previous post, whatever this "accursed thing" was that Achan stole is not specifically named (unless it's the garment and precious metal mentioned in verse 21, which is possible if not likely), but the language used to describe it indicates that whatever it was, it was something of some pagan significance that he had no right to have in his possession. Why is it such a big deal?

The Apostle Paul said "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," a saying similar to the modern "One bad apple ruins the whole bunch." This is the point of the extremes of Holy war. The people and culture of Jericho had to be completely destroyed, and Achan saving some item he'd taken from the city was simply not acceptable.

In fact, shocking as it seems, it was apparently so very unacceptable that Achan along with his family and possessions were stoned to death and then burned. It's my personal opinion that God decided to have Achan punished so particularly severely in order to make him an object lesson for the rest of the nation. Just as the very first battle they fought in Canaan was won in a particularly spectacular manner to impress upon the people that God was with them in power, so the first transgression was punished in a spectacular manner to impress upon the people that while God was with them, He wasn't going to allow moral compromise.

As for the question of who Achan's father was, that's a simple matter that I've touched on before with other individuals, but I'll repeat here since it's so simple. The word "grandfather" never appears in the Bible. It was customary, whether by culture or by linguistic necessity, for any male ancestor to be called the "father" of a person. Twice in the chapter, Achan is referred to as "Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah". While he is once referred to as the "son of Zerah", this labeling is customary despite the fact that Zerah was actually his great-grandfather (or great-great-great-etc., sometimes genealogies are telescoped).

Friday, November 02, 2007

Thou shalt utterly destroy them (Joshua, Holy War)

Often I try to imagine what the world would be like if the Holocaust had not happened. Six million Jews slaughtered by Hitler's Third Reich, not to mention several million others including Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and the disabled. It was a horrible time in modern history, but one of the things that's perhaps really disturbing about it is that it really wasn't an isolated phenomenon. While it seems to have happened with remarkable frequency and severity to the Jews, history is replete with eras in which one group decided to make a concerted effort to annihilate another. But at the risk of violating the somewhat well-known rule of debating that "The first person to mention Hitler in a debate automatically loses," I'm going to focus on the Holocaust to illustrate a point.

If the Jews had risen up in the early '30s, before the Nazis came to full power, and had killed all members of the Nazi party and any other known anti-Semites, then the Holocaust most likely would not have come to pass. However, in such a preemptive strike, who would have sympathy for the Jews? Although their actions would essentially have been in self-defense, they would probably have been seen as monsters for having killed far less people than the Nazis eventually came to kill. History judges what happened, however, not what would have happened.

The various tribes and people that lived in the land of Canaan before the Israelites eventually attained complete conquest of the land had some problems of various types that were a danger on numerous levels. Not to say that they were Nazis, but God needed to deal with them. As I said in an earlier exchange, there is probably no explanation that will convince some people who are just going to see mass killing as evil no matter what the reason is for doing it. I'll admit that it certainly strikes me as one of the more unsavory aspects of the Bible, but I do see the justification for Holy War.

Back in Genesis 15, God talks to Abram about the future of his descendants. He tells him that while He's going to give the land of Canaan to them, "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." What does this mean? In some way that God has not explained, because the people of Canaan are quite evil, God intends to punish them, but He is giving them a last chance of about 500 years to clean up their act. Among several points I want to make about Holy War, the first is this: God never sends His people off to war without giving some sort of warning first.

Here in the book of Joshua, as I have already noted elsewhere, the people that the Israelites were coming in to the land to destroy knew about the plagues in Egypt. They knew about the crossing of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian army. They knew about a handful of battles that were fought during the wilderness wanderings. They knew about the crossing of the Jordan River. Whatever sort of warning God may have given them 500 years previously (which I speculate about, but don't know for sure), God has been sending a clear, urgent message for the last forty years to these people: God's vengeance is coming.

So one might ask, "What is the use of a warning like that?!" Well, compare the forty-year warning that was given to the Canaanites and went unheeded to the forty-day warning given to the people of Nineveh by Jonah: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." Not the most uplifting sermon ever preached, but it had an effect on the people of Nineveh that was highly disappointing to both Jonah and the SAB, apparently:
"So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them."
As a result of this act of mass repentance, there did not follow an act of mass destruction. I suggest that it should be considered a great likelihood that if any of the cities of Canaan had reacted in the manner that Nineveh did, they would have been allowed to remain in the land. It worked for Rahab, after all. The fact is that while the God of the Bible is a vengeful God, He would rather forgive the repentant than inflict suffering on the unrepentant.

Another option that I think few people consider is the possibility that God would have allowed them to simply evacuate. After all, there were a few incidents in their wandering in the desert in which they went to war against a nation that simply wouldn't get out of the way. They would politely ask if they could just pass through on the way to Canaan, and not only were they denied passage, but the nation that they had made the request to decided to fight them just because they were there.

One of the main issues in respect to turning the land of Canaan into the nation of Israel was that the Israelites needed to have the land all to themselves. If they were to take the land, but leave the inhabitants in it, then they would have to deal with the mixing of their culture, which was a new culture that God was building from the ground up. While I once again admit that I don't know so much about ancient history, I am of the understanding that when Persia defeated Babylonia, Persia became very Babylonian; when Alexander conquered Persia, he adopted much of the Persian culture and integrated it into Greek culture; when the Romans overthrew the Greeks, the Greek culture and language remained dominant despite the fact of Roman rule. The Israelites needed to conquer Canaan without becoming Canaanites in the process, and really, the only was they could guarantee that was to make sure there was not a single living Canaanite left in the land.

God repeatedly tells the Israelites that they are not to allow the customs of the people of Canaan to be an influence on their own culture. These people were sexually immoral, practiced human sacrifice, worshiped idols, and were generally violent and unkind. Because the Israelites didn't completely cleanse the land of the former inhabitants, eventually they, too, fell into these practices, which is probably the biggest shame from the point of view that considers Joshua's Holy War a good thing, because in the end they killed thousands if not millions of Canaanites and still fell into the trap that Holy War had been designed to protect them from.

Another thing that Holy War is intended to protect the Israelites from is actually much more closely related to the musings I put forth at the beginning. Case in point: Israel's first King, Saul, was ordered by God to go to war against the Amalekites and totally destroy them. He almost did it, but the notable exception was that Saul took King Agag captive. After all, what difference could one guy make? Well, a few hundred years later, when the Israelites were subject to Persia, there was a man by the name of Haman who devised a plan to wipe out the Jews. Many people compare Haman to Hitler, but Haman wasn't German, he was an "Agagite", that is to say, a descendant of the man Saul failed to kill on God's orders. As I said, history does not judge what would have happened, but I strongly suspect God knows. Yes, Holy War is at times a matter of self-defense.

Something else to be considered as almost a side note, but I think an important one, is that God is not partial. The same way God gave the Amalekites about 500 years to shape up or ship out, He gave Israel 500 years (from the coronation of Saul to the Babylonian invasion was just a tad over 500 years). Eventually, after living in the land for a few centuries and failing to be the nation He wanted them to be, he sent the Babylonians and the Persians to carry them into captivity toward the east. There are some who have done far more extensive studies into the significance of the stretches of time that Israel was in the land and out of it; you might do a Google search on the subject to find a complicated theory on how a handful of verses in the Bible map out a complicated calculation that predicts the reinstatement of Israel as a nation in 1948, but it's out of my scope here. The main point is that while God gave the land of Canaan to the Israelites, and had them kill off the former inhabitants, it was with the understanding that they would strive to make Israel, to borrow a familiar phrase, "one nation, under God."

So yeah, Holy War is far from a beautiful thing, but my understanding is that God gave many opportunities for the people He set the Israelites on to avoid His wrath. They knew it was coming, they knew that they needed to repent, they had ample time to do it, but they freely chose instead to stand up to God and His people. God wins in the end, though. God always wins, and to refuse to accept that and put your lot in with the enemies of God is essentially suicide.

On top of all of this, something that even I myself had always missed when it comes to the book of Joshua is that the issue of Holy War has application in our own lives today, thousands of years later. The Bible makes it clear that God's wrath is still coming. God will eventually deal with all nations and all individual citizens of all nations. You have the choice to play the part of the Israelites in this scenario or play the part of the Canaanites. Are you going to clean out the sin in your life through the power of God, or are you going to go into the walled city of your pride, shut the doors and think, "When the wrath of God comes knocking, I'll just pretend I'm not here or something." Or maybe you'll be the sort who, when you hear God's people are passing by, will pick up your weapons and go out to attack them? Or maybe you'll be someone like Achan, who will march with the Israelites, but not be as devoted to the cause of righteousness as you appear to be? There are many parts to be played in this drama, a drama that gets played out daily in our modern world in a more abstract, spiritual manner. I hope you'll make the right choice.