Aside from the stories about Jesus, all my favorite Bible stories are in the Old Testament. I love reading about Moses, Ruth, Daniel, Ester, and Joshua & Rahab. The thing is, for a long time I didn’t understand why in the Old Testament, God kept ordering the Israelites to kill a bunch of people when in the New Testament, Jesus came to die for everyone.
Why would God, who loved the world so much He sent His Son to die for us (John 3:16), make the Israelites kill so many of their enemies, even women and children?
Let’s use the city of Jericho as an example. God told Joshua “Jericho and everything in it must be completely destroyed as an offering to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and the others in her house will be spared, for she protected our spies” (Joshua 6:17, NLT).
So “When the people heard the sound of the rams’ horns, they shouted as loud as they could. Suddenly, the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the Israelites charged straight into the town and captured it. They completely destroyed everything in it with their swords—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, goats, and donkeys” (Joshua 6:20-21, NLT).
Before we start thinking this through, let me make one thing clear: we know that God doesn’t change. “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” ~James 1:17, NLT
So if God didn’t change from the Old Testament to the New Testament, then what is going on?
Well, a lot of things.
- We don’t always understand God’s purpose.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” ~ Isaiah 55:8, NLT
God had promised Jericho and the land surrounding it to Joshua’s people more than four hundred years prior and He was finally going to give it to them. God knew that the only way the people of Israel could live there peacefully was if all their enemies were gone.
Also, God has always commanded that the first ten percent of everything we earn we give back to Him (this is called a tithe – Leviticus 27:30), and it was no different with the land He was giving to Israel. God wanted them to give Him everything—all the gold, jewels, land, cattle, and people—since He was giving them the rest of the land. Tithing is a way to show that everything we have is given to us by God. It’s a way to tell God ‘thank you.’
- Sometimes God is testing us.
“For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” ~James 1:3
It is quite likely that God was also testing the people of Israel and one man, Aichan, failed the test. In Joshua 7, Josh
ua takes his people and tries to conquer the next town, but they are defeated. He doesn’t understand why, but then God shows him that Aichan kept some of Jericho’s treasure for himself. Once Aichan was punished, then God allowed Joshua to conquer the new town.
Why would God go through all that trouble? Why not just punish Aichan before allowing Israel to fail?
- A lot of stuff that happens in the Old Testament is put there as a lesson for us.
“These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did… These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.” ~1 Corinthians 10:6,11
God is good. He doesn’t change. If it seems like something He is doing is hurtful, He has a purpose behind it. Sometimes we don’t know what that purpose is, sometimes we find out later, sometimes we never find out. The key is to trust in Him no matter what.
What about you? Has there been a time in your life when you went through something difficult but it turned out to be for the best?