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Holy War

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
December 25, 2021 12:01 am

Holy War

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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December 25, 2021 12:01 am

How could a loving God command His people to wage holy war? Today, R.C. Sproul addresses Israel's conquest of Canaan, drawing out important lessons on the holiness and justice of God.

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In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to wage war against the nations around them.

God said, I want you to go in there, I want you to level the place, I want you to tear down the altars, and I want you to purge the land of the people, and I don't want you intermarrying with them because if you do, paganism will corrupt my holy seed, which is exactly what happened. The evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins once said, the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction. Unfortunately, he's not alone in that assessment, and their skepticism sitters on one question, how can a loving God command His people to wage holy war? Dr. R.C. Sproul was not afraid to answer tough questions like that.

In fact, he devoted an entire series to them, a series we've been pleased to feature here on the Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind. As we continue now with our study of the hard sayings of the Bible, we're going to look at one that's extremely difficult to deal with today that's found in the Old Testament. Before I tell you what it is, let me remind you that the symbol of the Christian faith, of course, is the cross. The symbol of Islamic religion is the scimitar or the sword. We often see Mohammed depicted riding on a horse, brandishing his scimitar. One of the virtues of Islamic religion is the killing of the infidel or the unbeliever. And so we have seen in our own day some of the consequences of what is considered to be among some Muslim groups holy war. And modern folks, particularly in the Western world, have a great difficulty conceiving of any kind of war that could be considered holy. And yet, in Judaism and in Christianity, we have to deal with the record of the Old Testament in which we read there of the instituting of holy war directly by God, where He commands His people in the conquest of Canaan to be involved in such a holy war. And again, that raises all kinds of questions about the credibility of the Old Testament sources.

Some modern commentators look at that and say one of two things. Either they'll say that the God of the Old Testament is a different God than the one we meet in the pages of the New Testament because Christ comes to us as the Prince of Peace, whereas Yahweh is sometimes described in the Old Testament narratives as a vengeful God, even so vengeful as to institute such a thing as holy warfare. I can remember looking at the curriculum designed in a particular mainline church several years ago that was preparing studies for junior high students on the Old Testament, and when the Old Testament got to episodes such as these, they explained in the curriculum that this was an example that showed that the Old Testament Scriptures were not really the Word of God, were simply the religious viewpoints and insights of primitive people who at times could be barbaric in their behavior and try to justify their barbarianism by appeals to divine sanctions. And so that illustrates how difficult it is to accept part of this concept of holy war that we run into.

Let's look now at some of the texts that are concerned with this. In the 20th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, we read in the first verse this statement, When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them. For the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt. So shall it be when you are on the verge of battle that the priests shall approach and speak to the people, and He shall say to them, Hear, O Israel, today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies.

Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them. For the Lord your God is He who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to save you. Here God gives a challenge to His people to not be afraid in the face of military conflict because He promises not only to be with them in their battle but to fight for them in order to save them or rescue them from defeat.

Now later on in chapter 20 we have some of the material that is so difficult for us to handle. Beginning at verse 10 we read this, When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it, and it shall be that if they accept your offer of peace and open to you, then all the people who are found in it shall be placed under tribute to you and serve you. Now if the city will not make peace with you but war against you, then you shall besiege it. And when the Lord your God delivers it into your hands, you shall strike every male in it with the edge of the sword. But the women, the little ones, the livestock, and all that is in the city, all its spoil you shall plunder for yourself. And you shall eat the enemy's plunder which the Lord your God gives you. Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations.

Now you notice that in this aspect of the warfare there is first of all an offer of peace to the cities that are in the way of the advancing troops. And if the city surrenders, then they are to give tribute to Israel and become enslaved to them, but they are not to be destroyed. But in these other cities, if they resist the Israeli advance and refuse to come to terms of peace, then God commands them to lay siege to these cities and to kill every male in the city and plunder their goods. Now it gets worse in verse 16, but of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, the Jebusite, just as the Lord your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God. In the case of these regions that are to be invaded, the cities of the Canaanites and so on, God institutes what is called in the Old Testament the herem, H-E-R-E-M. There's an interesting note on this in the Geneva Study Bible.

Let me just take a moment to read you this note on chapter 20, verse 17. It says, the Hebrew word for this practice is herem, which means, quote, to put under the ban, that is to devote everything to the Lord, as occurred at Jericho during the conquest. And then we see this implemented later on in the destruction of Old Testament Jericho. Now, the placing of the ban or the anathema on these people is called the herem, and it means that God requires that the Jewish people utterly annihilate everything that lives and breathes in the city, men, women, and children, not only the soldiers, but the civilian population as well. So, not only do we have here a claim to a divine mandate to be engaged in warfare, but to be engaged in the absolute destruction of the conquered nation or the conquered city. Now, you can see why people gasp at this idea in the Old Testament and why the people of Israel became feared, as we saw in the case of Rahab and the citizens of Jericho, who had heard of this devastation that had been wreaked upon cities and nations under the leadership of Moses and later Joshua.

So, the question is, how can we explain this? Let's suppose for a second that this isn't simply the expression of primitive barbarians who are trying to appeal to religious sanctions for their ambitions of world conquest, but let's suppose this is the veritable Word of God. How does the Christian who believes that the Old Testament Scriptures are indeed the truth of God, how can we understand the rationale behind the institution of the harem?

Well, there are a couple of things that need to be said about that. Earlier on, in the book of Deuteronomy, we have some rationales given for these instructions that are to come later. We begin in chapter 6 of Deuteronomy. Beginning at verse 10, we read these words, So it shall be when the LORD your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of good things which you did not fill, hewn out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, when you have eaten and are full, then beware lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage. You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him and shall take oaths in His name.

You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you, for the LORD your God is a jealous God among you, lest the anger of the LORD your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth. Now, the author goes on to say that in the first place, the conquest of Canaan is to be understood as the fulfillment of the promise that God had given centuries earlier to Abraham and to his descendants, where God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation, that he would inherit the land, that his descendants would be as the stars of the sky and as the sand on the seashore, and that God would be his God. And the promise of this covenant in the Old Testament included a promise of land. Now, God bends over backwards to make it clear to Abraham and to his descendants, and even again now as that point in history is being reached, that the reason why God rescues the Jewish people out of bondage in Egypt and is giving them this promised land is not because they deserve it. God makes it clear that His people are just as sinful as these pagan idolaters who are already inheriting the land. But God calls Abraham, for example, out of paganism, out of idolatry, and reveals himself to him and gives a special measure of his grace to him.

And again, we have to understand that it is grace that Abraham receives from God and that this covenant promise that God makes to Abraham and to his seed is not based on any thing that they deserve or any merit on their part. And so now God reminds them when they're about to enter into Canaan that He's going to give them a land to use that they did not clear and establish and cultivate and build. He's going to give them houses that they didn't build but they can live in. He's going to give them cisterns and wells that they didn't dig that they can use for their own refreshment, vineyards that they didn't plant. And He's reminding them, you didn't do any of these things.

They were done for you. And when you go in there and you enjoy the fruits of somebody else's labor, don't allow that to puff you up in pride so that you forget the gift of the Lord your God. Now that's part of the rationale behind the harem, but we see even further in chapter 7 of Deuteronomy these instructions beginning at verse 1. When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites, Gergeshites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, Stalactites, and Stalagmites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them, nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son nor take their daughter for your son, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods. So the anger of the Lord will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly. But thus shall you deal with them.

You shall destroy their altars, break down their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images and burn their carved images with fire. For you are a holy people to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you, because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all people. But because the Lord loves you and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.

Now what's going on here? The reason why this is called holy war in the Old Testament is this, that the word holy means two different things. In the first instance, the basic meaning of the term holy means apartheid.

You've heard that word in the news, which means apartness or otherness, separateness or transcendence. When we say that God is holy, we mean that God transcends all creatures, that He is other from all created things, that He is a higher order of being than anything that we find in this world. The secondary meaning of the term holy is the word pure.

So when God calls His people to be holy, even as He is holy, He's saying two things that could be combined into one. First of all, I want you as my holy people to be different, other, apart from what commonly constitutes pagan humanity. And I want that apartness to be demonstrated in purity, in righteousness, in obedience to my law, so that my people will reflect and mirror who I am, who will be followers of me, who will obey my statues, walk according to my laws, and be a royal priesthood, a light to all nations. In the Lutheran curriculum called the Bethel Bible series, this concept was called ethnic separation, where God chose a nation that was the least of all nations from all of the nations of the world to become His people, to be the focal point of His light, of His grace, and of His mercy, to be a light to the nations. Abraham is chosen to be a blessing.

He is blessed by God in order that through Him the whole world will be blessed. Now, remember, the first holy war that is instituted in the Old Testament occurs in the days of Noah, where God Himself is the commander-in-chief, and He, by His military power of nature, annihilates and utterly destroys the whole population of the world as an act of judgment. Now, when we see the invasion of Canaan, God makes it clear that He is using Israel as His arm of vengeance, as His instrument as His instrument of cleansing and of purging the land. Judgment is falling upon the Canaanites, the Hivites, the Jebusites, and so on because of their manifest wickedness and idolatry and paganism. God said, I want you to go in there.

I want you to level the place. I want you to tear down the altars, destroy their idols, get rid of all of the remnants of their religious institutions, and I want you to purge the land of the people, and I don't want you intermarrying with them because if you do, before long, syncretism will take place. You will be intermarrying with pagans, and paganism will corrupt my holy seed, which is exactly what happened because Israel didn't consistently apply the harem, but the purpose of this holy war was holiness. It was to sanctify the land, to sanctify a nation that the mercy of God, the love of God, and the righteousness of God would be made manifest.

It was Dr. R.C. Sproul's firm conviction that the overarching message of the Bible concerns God's holiness, and in these Old Testament accounts, we see a directive to take that holiness seriously. The people of Israel did not do that, though, and we see the tragic results in later generations.

They did not obey God, and they suffered because of it. With a message from his series, Hard Sayings of the Bible, we've heard from Dr. R.C. Sproul today here on Renewing Your Mind, and we're grateful that you've joined us.

R.C. will return in just a moment to conclude our lesson today, and I hope you'll stay with us. Every Saturday we come back to this series, learning about passages of Scripture that are either difficult to understand or, as we heard today, difficult to accept. Through his years of ministry, R.C. saw that there are many verses that are commonly misunderstood.

His series covers 15 difficult passages, such as Rahab's lie, the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, and the creation of the world in six literal days. We'd like for you to have each of these messages. Simply give a gift of any amount to Ligetor Ministries, and we will provide a digital download of the series.

Our offices are closed today for the Christmas holiday, but you can still make your request online. You'll find us at I want you to know that each week our Renewing Your Mind team gets together to pray for this ministry, and we regularly thank the Lord for how He's multiplied this outreach. So many of you are hearing the truth of God's Word on a daily basis, and it's made possible because of your financial gifts. So thank you.

Well, as I mentioned, R.C. has a final thought for us. I've often wondered what would happen to us if God would declare holy war on our own nation. We sometimes smugly assume that any time that we are in conflict with other countries or with other nations that God must be on our side.

We remember during the pinnacle of the Cold War that President Ronald Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as the evil empire, and the assumption was that if there ever would be a conflict between Russia and America, God would clearly be on our side. That's a very dangerous assumption to make because we saw in the Old Testament what happened to Israel. God was on Israel's side in the initial invasion, but when Israel disobeyed their God, God raised up more wicked nations than Israel to punish Israel. This is what caused the prophet Habakkuk so much consternation and other prophets in the Old Testament. How could God allow Israel to fall captive to the Babylonians and so on? And so we need to be very careful in this age that we not just tacitly assume that God will always be on our side. He is on the side of those who obey Him.

R.C. would often say that God plays for keeps, and we will see another example of that next Saturday when he turns to Leviticus chapter 10. There we read about two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, who offered incense with what's described as strange fire, and they were consumed by fire from God. How are we to understand that passage? We'll find out next Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-05 04:06:45 / 2023-07-05 04:15:02 / 8

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