- Revelation 19:6-16
- Joshua 11:18-23
My dear friends in the Lord, Jesus Christ,
If the only attribute God possesses were love—as many people apparently think—Christians would be stunned into silence at every occasion of death, pain, war, suffering and pain.
What do we make of a verse like:
For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He [God] might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He [God] might destroy them, as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Joshua 11:20, NKJV)
To answer the question about war and bloodshed in the Bible, we have to step back from these events and put it in the perspective of the whole of Scriptures. Let’s ask a few questions.
Who is God?
Creator of the world
The world did not create itself. Such a notion is scientifically and morally impossible. Something cannot come from nothing by itself. If that was a possibility, what came about by itself cannot set moral laws over itself. So, the Bible says it plainly and simply:
Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31, NKJV)
God is the sovereign owner of this world over which He set his law. We are created in his image, and our calling is to rule over his creation in such a way that his ownership is stamped on all we do and make.
His attributes are known and must be proclaimed: He is infinite in being and perfection, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous; He is most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; He is the rewarder of them who diligently seek Him; He is also just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and will by no means clear the guilty.
A society without God denies these realities. They believe the lie that the world made itself, and that God has no say in this world, that his law has no place in life. There is one aspect about Him they do like: his love.
Consequently, we witnessed that a Christian rugby player who confesses the moral will of God got the sack. Why? Although about everyone on the Rugby Board does not believe in God, heaven or hell—and for that matter, in sin—no player is allowed to judge others, even if is meant for their eternal salvation. How can a God of love send anyone to hell; if there were such a place? He would sooner send everyone to heaven: if there were such a place!
See, in the eyes of the world, God is the benevolent, impersonal but super-rich granddaddy who is supposed to dispense gifts whenever they ask.
God’s holiness and sin
Adam and Eve sinned against God. His holiness demanded that He passed justice on them, which He did. Exodus 3 ends on a terrible note:
… therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man… (Genesis 3:23–24, NKJV)
In his grace and mercy, God did not strike them with immediate death. On the contrary, He gave them the promise that from their seed, someone will eventually destroy death and sin.
God’s long-suffering and love
Let’s skip about 1000 years from Adam to Noah. During that time God raised up people like Enoch, of whom the Bible says “he walked with God” (Genesis 5:21). One of his sons was Methuselah, who became 969, who was the grandfather of Noah. In his time, the Bible records another terrible thing:
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth… for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5,7 NKJV)
In 2Peter 3, Peter writes about this terrible event.
… they deliberately forget that … by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. (2 Peter 3:5–6, NIV)
Peter then refers to the long-suffering of God:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8–9, NIV)
If we read this verse in the context of God’s judgement of sin by the flood, the thousand years between Adam and Noah actually points to God’s long-suffering. Even then, godly men warned against the coming judgment. Noah was a preacher of righteousness, and for 120 years he proclaimed the judgment of God upon sin.
God’s righteous judgement
So, when God’s judgment ultimately came, no-one could blame God. He was just in judging the world: He owned it, He glory was trampled upon, there was a time of grace to repent, but that grace was spurned.
Think about the helpless cries of hundreds of thousands of people who perished in the flood. Does a God of love do this? Yes, because He is sovereign, just in his holy judgments. It’s his world; He can do with it as his righteous holiness demands.
We may just remember God’s righteous judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as the Egyptians in the of the exodus. Many thousands of people died under God’s hand at the time.
Who is man?
To answer the question “Who is man?” we sometimes make unbiblical assumptions. God is not only love, and we are surely not innocent. If mankind were innocent and without sin, we could make God only love.
We are children of Adam and Eve. As a result of their sin, we too fell from original righteousness and communion with God; we became dead in sin and wholly corrupt in all the parts and faculties of our soul and body. Even if we sometimes do good, it cannot contribute anything to our salvation.
The world drowning in the flood in the time of Noah were not innocent; so were the folk in Sodom and Gomorrah and the Egyptians in the time of Moses; so the people who died in battle under Joshua. In all instances, God granted them time to repent, but they rejected that offer.
Judgment is diverted with repentance
Amos 3 teaches us a valuable lesson:
If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it? Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. (Amos 3:6–7, NKJV)
These are rhetorical questions. The statement is that typically the people in a city hear a trumpet and react. If calamity strikes that city, it happens after the warning of the trumpet before God strikes with judgment. The Lord does nothing before He makes his will clear through the prophets. God’s judgement is sure, but his grace provides time for repentance.
When God calls Abraham and confirmed his covenant with him in Genesis 15, He promised that He would give the land to his descendants. God adds this critical line:
But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:16, NKJV)
What does “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” mean? Who were the Amorites? They were the people who lived in the Promised Land at the time. God said He is still allowing grace for them and would not allow his people to settle before He has not judged their iniquities. Kent Hughes remarks:
God was revealing to Abram that he is patient beyond human calculation. This long-suffering on the part of God was memorialized by Paul in this question: ‘Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?’ (Romans 2:4). Long-suffering is God’s modus operandi in history. (Hughes, R. Kent. 2004. Genesis: beginning and blessing. (Preaching the Word). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books)
Rahab and her family were saved. Why? Because she did a good deed to hide the spies when they checked out Jericho? No! The Bible is clear about the confession of Rahab:
… the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. (Joshua 2:11, NKJV)
God saved them. Judgement was diverted because of repentance.
The Gibeonites were saved. Why? So they said to him:
…your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God; for we have heard of His fame.
Their city was not destroyed when Joshua destroyed all the other cities (Joshua 11:19). God saved them. Judgement was diverted because of repentance.
The time for grace runs out
After the 400 hundred years in captivity, God moved his people into the land He had promised to Abraham. The iniquities of the Amorites have reached fulfilment.
Israel was at war with the Canaanites, but behind these human soldiers, God was waging war against sin. In the book of Joshua, God waged war with sin wherever He found it. When God commanded the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, He was using Israel like a broom to sweep a filthy society off the map. Joshua was simply the servant of the captain of the vast armies of the Lord (Josh. 5:14). God Himself, though unseen by the people, would lead the Israelites against their enemies. Besides being transcendent, He was also immanent. He also marshalled the forces of nature to fight for His people. He restrained the waters of a river (Joshua 3:14–17), He shook the walls of Jericho (6:20), He sent stones from heaven (10:11), He lengthened the hours of a day (10:13–14), all to accomplish His purpose. (Zuck, Roy B. 1991. A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament. electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press.)
To gain what God offered them as an inheritance, the Israelites had responsibilities to carry out. God’s methods of providing what He has promised are unpredictable and often seem strange, even foolish, to His servants. But God asked the Israelites simply to trust and obey Him. They needed to refrain from what was forbidden, as well as to do all He directed.
The battle of the Lord of lords
As Joshua led the armies of Israel to wipe out the evil from their promised land, so Jesus Christ is doing—and He will complete his work in final judgment—by his word. Our reading from Revelation 19 gives us a vivid image of a rider of a white horse. His name is Faithful and True. With justice, He makes war. He is dressed in a robe dipped with blood, and his Name is the Word of God. We don’t do battle like Joshua through so-called holy wars. Our warfare is not by sword and military might. Jesus, our Lord, goes before us. Out of his mouth comes a sword with which He strikes down the nations. Not by power nor by might, but by the Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).
Jesus Christ will rule over his enemy with an iron sceptre. And, listen, He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.
This battle will culminate in the final war between our Lord and Satan with his cronies. That beast and false prophet will be captured, they will be thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulphur. The rest will be killed with the sword that came out his Christ’s mouth (Revelation 19:11-21).
Why the bloodshed and war in the Old Testament? One reason: God’s holy judgment on sin.
That was then. What about us? Hear the words of grace today:
Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ (Revelation 19:9, NKJV)
Now is the time of grace. God’s mercy is long-suffering. Hear his voice. Come to Him; don’t be counted among those who will be part of the biggest prayer meeting on earth that day, praying to the hills and mountain rocks:
Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:16–17, NKJV)
Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 June 2019