Phillip M. Way said...
Good question. And the best place to start is with the character of God – because that is at the root of the question, isn’t it? When we ask why God has done or said something ultimately we are asking to know more about God Himself, either because we question His goodness or we do not understand His motives. Let me say first that it is okay to ask “Why”. Jesus did. “My God, My God, WHY have You forsaken Me?” And looking at Jesus there on the cross we find our answer. We see there God’s true nature and attributes.
God is absolutely holy. In fact, the only characteristic of God that is ever repeated 3 times in a row (for emphasis and affect) is His holiness. He is above all else holy. The angels around His throne who guard His glory proclaim forever and ever that He is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” (Isaiah 6:1-4) It is hard for us to comprehend the extent of His holiness. It is not that God will not sin. He cannot sin! He is so holy that He cannot commit sin (Titus 1:2).
The terror then is in finding out that He is so holy that His justice must be upheld by the pouring out of His wrath upon sin. The wages of sin has been and always will be death (Rom 6:23). The good news of the gospel is found in the grace and mercy of God given to those who deserve only death from Him. Yet as we even remember on Good Friday, it was His Son who was put to death as our substitute, beaten, mocked, scourged, and crucified. Why? To pay for our sin. To die for us. To satisfy the justice of God by bearing the full wrath of God.
Since He was completely innocent Himself (1 Peter 3:18), He was able to give to us His right standing with God and take away the penalty for our sin so that by faith we can stand before God justified (Rom 5:1). He died so that we might live.
At this point I am sure we are all in agreement, and many are wondering why I have not answered the question! But we must have this foundation laid before we can see how God can be just in decreeing the death of the nations who opposed Israel in the Old Testament.
So why did God do that? How in the world is He glorified with the death of these people?
Further, did these people deserve to die at the hands of the Israelites? And how is this not contrary to the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”?
God did it because He is glorified when His holiness is proclaimed and upheld. How did these events broadcast His holiness? God does not close His eyes to sin. He is no respecter of persons. Outside of His grace shown in Christ every person who is born a sinner deserves to pay the price for his or her sin. How many of us are born as sinners? All of us (Rom 3:23). So we all deserve destruction.
In His carrying out this sentence against sinners, we must be clear, these people who were killed in the OT were not innocent. In fact, the things that they did against each other, their children, and against God and His people more than makes it plain that they were judged by God for their sin. Over and over He enumerates their sin and tells us why He had them killed.
As He often does throughout history, He used one nation (in this case Israel) to bring judgment upon another nation. Let us not forget that God did the same thing when the Assyrians conquered Israel and they never returned to the land, and the Babylonians took Judah captive for 70 years. God uses nations to accomplish His purposes in bringing judgment and in brining redemption!
Let us not forget that God standing in judgment against these wicked nations prepared the land for the coming of the Messiah. From the time of the establishment of the covenant with Abraham God moved and worked to bring His people to this Promised Land for one objective – to point us to the Incarnation – to make a way to send the Savior.
Does this act of God carrying out justice make Him hateful or inconsistent? Of course not. For Him to allow sin to go without punishment would be out of character. Too often we think that those who are judged are the exception – as if no one should be judged and all should be ushered into heaven without prejudice. But God has a plan. In that plan He will be glorified in saving His people and in judging His enemies. And let us not forget that before we were His people we were His enemies!! (Rom 5:8)
But what about the command not to kill? The commandment is actually a command not to murder. An act of warfare is not murder. Murder is the taking of an “innocent” life. And the penalty for murder is death. When the government, given to uphold the law (Rom 13:3-4), puts a criminal to death they are not murdering him. They are killing him and that killing is justified. So acting on God’s command to kill the enemies of Israel was not an act of murder. It was justice. It was God upholding His holiness through His people.
This reminds us also of the price for sin. The little things we allow in our lives that we know displease God – it is still sin and the wages of sin is still death. So why does God not kill us? Because Christ died for us. Understand though that even while we may be saved, there are still consequences to sin. He disciplines us (Heb 12:5-6). And we may still die as a direct result of our sin. In fact, unless Christ returns, we will all die physically. Why? We are sinners!
If God is so holy and sin so heinous that God is glorified in destroying whole nations of people for their sin then we should be driven to question our own nation, our churches, and our families. How do we live? In a way that demands God’s justice? Or in a way that proclaims the goodness of His grace and His longsuffering mercy? Are we striving to be holy just as He is holy? (1 Peter 1:15-16)
One last thought – we must remember that even when a death is an accident (9from our perspective) it serves to remind us all that unless we repent of our sin and believe Jesus Christ, we will all likewise perish! (Luke 13:1-5) Death is a constant reminder that we are waiting for the finished redemption of our bodies at glorification. Death reminds us how dreadful sin really is. And death illuminates for us the great glory of God and His grace and mercy given to us in Christ Jesus.
If you are interested, as a means of further study, I have preached a few sermons relevant to the questions asked. The first I’d recommend it titled “Repentance or Ruin” and is preached from Mark 10:17-27. You can download or listen for free here.
I also preached a series through the books of Jonah and Nahum and there we see how God deals with the city of Nineveh. Several messages are relevant to nations and their sins, and to God’s dealings with His enemies, so look at the messages available in this series here.
Finally – if my post raises more questions feel free to ask! The more we ask the more we know about how great our God really is!!
Wow, thank you Pastor for that incredible insight! Actually I have been thinking and praying to God for an answer to this question, in fact, I couldn't sleep tonight so I woke up to blog about it. It is interesting that I have come to the same conclusion except I could never express it so clearly and my thoughts are incomplete. My conclusions were, everyone of us deserves death whether it is now or in the future. God is a holy God and he cannot and will not punish those that are completely innocent (no one is), therefore, what he did was just. Everyone of us will answer to God someday for the decisions we make or don't make. The Amorites clearly choose against God in Joshua; they saw that God was with the Israelites and they fought against them. God can and will use both the Godly and the ungodly things of the world to glorify his name and to fullfil his plans and promises.
So those are some of my thoughts. Thanks be to God for his word and for people who studied it. At the same time, it is humbling that God is so vast that our measly little mind cannot understand him completely. It is awesome that he chooses to reveal himself to us.