A hypothetical question for you. If you were Winston Churchill during World War II what would you do? Would you send aerial bombers to Germany to destroy the Nazi war machine and the German empire? They were killing millions upon millions of people in the most horrific ways. Whole nations had become their slaves. Was it right for Winston Churchill and others to end this evil? What would you do?
Let’s make it a little more personal. Imagine you are walking along the street very late at night. You have a black belt in a martial art. You are safe in your skills. However, your walk brings you across a horrific scene. A young man, bulky with muscle, skin blackened with Nazi tattoos, full of rage and spitting hatred is bent over and brutally beating a young woman. His hands are red with her blood. She is screaming for help. No one is coming. The man stands up to start kicking her with his boots.
What will you do?
Will you protect this young woman? Or, will you walk on by? Will you intervene? Or, will you let great evil occur? Will you step in for the sake of justice and mercy? What measure of force would you use?
This is the situation that God was dealing with when he sent the Israelites in to conquer Canaan. Yes, the Israelites came to possess the land according to God’s promises. But they also came to possess the land in response to the systemic evil of the Canaanite nations.
Here is what God said to Abraham four hundred years before the conquest.
“You (Abraham), however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Genesis chapter 14
Abraham couldn’t have the land. Those who lived there – though prone to wickedness – were not yet completely wicked. It would not have been just for God to drive them out and destroy them. So he didn’t. Four hundred years later the wickedness of the Amorites (another name for the Canaanites) reached the full measure of evil.
A careful reading of the Old Testament conquest and the rules given to the Israelites reveal that the Canaanite societies were given over to evil. Systemic evil. The young, the vulnerable and the innocent were crushed, destroyed and killed. The Canaanites even offered their children as child sacrifices to the gods of the land. They were senseless, faithless and ruthless. The Canaanites were on par with the Nazis.
Would you walk on by as a man beat up a young vulnerable woman? Letting the Canaanite nations continue was letting evil flourish. As time went on, more and more people would have been abused, used, murdered and killed. Allowing the nations to continue was dooming generations of the weak and vulnerable to unspeakable horror. As we know, sadly, many who are victims of this kind of systemic violence become the perpetrators later in life. The problem was systemic. The Canaanites worshipped things other than God and had given themselves over to evil.
What would you have done? Would you have let this evil continue to flourish? Would you have walked on by justifying yourself – it’s not my business? God in his mercy, did not walk on by. God sent the ancient Jews – the Israelites - to stop evil and bring justice.
This is why the conquest of the Israelities was limited in time and scope. It was limited to the Canaanite nations. The Israelities were not a warlike nation bent on conquest with the mandate of God on their side. They were coming to bring justice and to end evil.
This wasn’t just some excuse for a land grab. We can be sure God was motivated by a desire for justice and an end to evil. Why? Because of what happened around 1000 years later. 1000 years later the Israelites had become just like the nations they should have destroyed and driven out (but didn’t). The Israelites had given themselves over to evil. At stake were justice and goodness.
So God warned his people. Here are his words to the apple of his eye – Jerusalem.
“I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and give them into the hands of enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their enemies; they have done evil in my eyes and have aroused my anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until this day.” (2 Kings chapter 21)
God didn’t want to do this. God warned his people again and again through his prophets. He gave them time to repent. He begged them to repent. But he could not let evil continue.
So, God destroyed even his own people them and drove them out. He did this to his very own people because he hated and still hates evil. Read a few chapters of the final chapters of the book of 2 Kings in the Bible and you’ll see that the word detestable ought to carry it’s full weight.
“So this is what the Almighty Lord says: People of Jerusalem, you have caused more trouble than the nations around you. You haven’t lived by my laws or obeyed my rules. You haven’t even lived up to the standards of the nations around you.
“So this is what the Almighty Lord says: I, too, am against you, and I will punish you in front of the nations. Because of all the detestable things that you do, I will do things to you that I have never done before and will never do again.
The Old Testament Israelite conquest was to bring an end to evil. And when the Israelites gave themselves over to evil 1000 years later God brought conquest to their doors. Evil matters to God. If you were God, what would you do about evil? Would you let it flourish or would you act to end it?
God acted to end evil.
And yet, there is a twist in the tale. A twist that is in keeping with God’s character. God hates evil and yet he is also merciful. 500 years after the fall of Jerusalem (as promised above in 2 Kings) God came in the flesh as God the Son, Jesus. He submitted to the rule and power of evil. He went to the cross. He faced the punishment for our evil so that we could be forgiven. “Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you back to God.” 1 Peter 3:18
What will you do with evil? Will you let it flourish or will you turn to Jesus?t