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One summer, a friend traveled to Paris, where he spent a morning enjoying Luxembourg Gardens. A people watcher, he noticed a group of mothers so engrossed in their conversation that they let their children continually wander away. One toddler eventually crossed the street, standing by herself all alone. He jogged to the child, scooped her up, and returned her to her mother. The mother didn’t thank the man. Perhaps seeking to deflect attention from her laxity, she accused him of attempted child abduction. Instead, she called the police, who interrogated him for hours afterward. She had ruined her child’s savior’s vacation.
Stories like this rouse our sense of justice. Even if we try to discard the concept of sin, people still long for judges who act justly.
And this can lead people to often balk—wrongly—at the conquest of Jericho in Joshua 6. This conquest, rather, shows God to be both just and merciful.
During Joshua’s time, Jericho was an ancient walled city of around 3,000 residents. Located by an oasis, it was a gateway to the Promised Land. The conquest is controversial since God commanded Israel to leave no survivors. No matter how controversial, though, we can’t discount this Old Testament story. The same God who governs redemptive history gives us the Scriptures.
Even if we try to discard the concept of sin, people still long for judges who act justly.
Joshua 6 stresses that the Lord led Israel to victory over Jericho and gave Canaan to Israel. But the gift to Israel brought judgment on Jericho. When Joshua crossed the Jordan, Jericho was closed up. Israel had no experience or equipment for a siege war, but God said, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand” (Josh. 6:1–2). His plan for conquest required faith. He directed Israel’s warriors to march around the city once daily for six days, with priests following them, carrying the ark of the covenant and blowing trumpets. A rear guard followed and all marched in silence (6:3–14).
The ark represented God’s presence and Israel’s obedience showed they trusted God’s promise to give them the land. On the seventh day, the army walked around the city seven times. Then the priests blew their trumpets and Joshua commanded, “Shout, for the LORD has given you the city.” The city was “devoted to destruction,” except for Rahab the prostitute and her family (6:15–17).
Rahab’s Salvation and Jericho’s Judgment
The Hebrew text says Israel must spare Rahab “and all who are with her”—her family, her kin, and perhaps even those sheltered in her house. Hebrews 11:31 explains, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” Rahab protected Israel’s spies, even when Jericho’s king heard of them and commanded Rahab to present them to him (Josh. 2:3). Later, Rahab told them, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you” (2:9–11). That sounds like faith, and her actions soon prove it. In hiding the spies, Rahab aligned herself with God and joined his people.
Before Jericho fell, she placed a scarlet cord in her window, so the warriors would spare her when Jericho fell (2:15–21). Rahab believed in God’s power and mercy and trusted him. Because she risked her life, she gained it.
The rest of Jericho, however, perished. On day seven, after Israel marched around the city seven times, the people shouted, the trumpets blew, the walls fell, and the soldiers devoted the city to destruction (6:19–21).
Making Sense of Difficult Passages
First, since the fall, God typically interacts with those outside the covenant through common grace. He makes his sun shine on both the evil and the good. A time comes, though, when common grace ends and God judges. This occurs when each person dies, and also when Jesus returns.
Second, God occasionally lets foretastes of judgment day break into the age of common grace. We remember the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues in Egypt, the conquest of Canaan, and the soldiers who tried to kill Elisha.
In the new covenant, God exercises judgment through excommunication (1 Cor. 5:3–5), by putting the unrepentant outside his community. Today, God typically defers judgment, giving people time to repent. He withholds judgment until the last day, but he has the right to judge at any time. That is the case with the flood, Egypt, and Jericho. In those cases, judgment breaks into the present, to warn people about the coming destruction. Jesus says the flood teaches us that the Lord will come unexpectedly to judge “all the nations.” We must prepare for that day (Matt. 24:36–44; 25:31–46).
In the new covenant, God exercises judgment through excommunication (1 Cor. 5:3–5), by putting the unrepentant outside his community.
Jesus made the same point when a tower collapsed and killed 18 people. He asked the crowd, “Do you think [those 18 people] were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No . . . but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1–5). Everyone merits judgment.
In Genesis 15, God had said Israel would take Canaan after “the iniquity of the Amorites is complete.” Romans agrees (Rom. 2:3–5). For extended periods, God lets people go in their sin, but iniquities accumulate.
In the children’s game Blockhead, players stack up irregular blocks to form an increasingly shaky tower. It always collapses. Like those blocks, our sins are stacking up, ready to collapse into judgment. So let us not judge God, but remember that he judges us. We must not mistake his patience for indifference. We dare not read Joshua and interrogate God, demanding, “What have you done?” Apart from God’s grace, we live in Jericho and his judgment will fall on us. We need to prepare as Rahab did, by confessing his power and joining his side.
Judgment as Essential Theme
When I had young children, I heard a report that moved me to tears, then rage. The previous morning, a father and his young daughter were in their yard when a car jumped the curb and struck the child. The driver was drunk and had just been released from jail for drunk driving the night before. It was his fifth arrest, so the law required substantial jail time. But the judged chose to ignore the law and a child died as a result. My initial grief shifted to anger at a judge who failed to do justice. There are great evils in this world. People do terrible things, sometimes for generations. Canaan did great evil and God stopped it.
Let us not judge God, but remember that he judges us. We must not mistake his patience for indifference.
Beyond that, the gospel is incoherent without God’s just judgment. Paul says “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” The gospel—that “the righteous shall live by faith”—isn’t an abstraction; it is God’s answer to his own wrath (Rom. 1:17–18). God is merciful and withholds the justice we deserve if we accept his remedy for sin—repentance and faith in Jesus, who exhausted the punishment we deserve, forgives us, and lets us join Rahab, on the Lord’s side.