Is the God of Joshua a Monster? (Sermon Notes)

Yesterday we engaged a tough topic in our Sunday morning worship at Christ Community. Specifically, I addressed the conquest of Canaan commanded in Deuteronomy 20 and recorded in the book of Joshua. With bestselling books written by popular atheists decrying the God of the Old Testament it’s an issue the church can’t avoid.

Never AloneHere’s all 11 points I made:

Is the God of Joshua a Monster?

Understanding the Canaanite Conquest

  1. God was patient with the Canaanites. (Genesis 15.16) God held his own people in Egypt for over 400 hundred years allowing the Canaanites time to repent.
  1. The Canaanites weren’t innocent. Archaeological study of the inhabitants of Canaan reveal they were engaged in human sacrifice, temple prostitution etc.
  1. God didn’t fight for Israel. He fought for himself. And when Israel disobeyed, God used other nations to judge Israel in war. (Exile into Babylon)
  1. The commands in Deuteronomy and the record of the conquest in Joshua are hyperbolic. In ANE (ancient near east) writings we see the same language used of Israel. We see God speak the same words against Israel in Jeremiah 25.8-10. Another reason we know this is hyperbolic language is because Judges 1 tells us the conquest was never completed.
  1. God’s commands to destroy are primarily directed towards Canaanite idolatry, not Canaanite people. (Deuteronomy 20.16-18) Rahab is an example of someone who received mercy because she recognized Israel’s God and abandoned her idolatry.
  1. Israel had no blank check to wage warfare with whomever they chose. God severely punished Israel for warring against those God had not authorized. (1 Samuel 4-6)
  1. Yahweh War was specifically and exclusively for the people of Israel as both the people of God and a theocratic state. Yahweh War isn’t for NT church because the church isn’t a theocratic state. Jesus adamantly rejected physical violence as a means to advance his cause. (Matthew 26.52) This means any Christian using violence in the name of God is in sin.
  1. The teaching of Jesus and the Apostles is that while Christians are heavenly citizens living in and looking forward to the Kingdom of God, they are also resident aliens who are called to enter into the culture of their earthly exile. This means we can serve and protect the culture in which we live. (Romans 13.1-4)
  1. God has declared a future time of final judgement when all evil will be destroyed from the earth. If the image of a God who commanded the killing of people in the Old Testament offends you then you won’t like the Jesus of Revelation 19 (Revelation 19.11-21). This includes all those outside of Christ. For this reason, CCC will always be a missionary sending church.
  1. Instead of asking, “Why did God destroy the Canaanites?” a better question is, “Why doesn’t God destroy all humanity?” (Romans 3.23)
  1. If God was willing to pour out wrath for sin on his Son, Jesus, who was innocent, what do you think he’s willing to do to guilty people?

I ended the sermon by calling the people to consider the patience of God, to profess Christ as savior, and to be witnesses of God’s mercy and patience.

Studying Joshua: Recommended Resources

Yesterday our church began an 8 week study through the Old Testament book of Joshua. If you’re interested in studying Joshua for yourself here are a few resources I’d recommend:

Bible Dictionary:

Holman Illustrated Bible DictionaryThe Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary is my go-to Bible dictionary (I have 4-5). When studying an ancient book like Joshua having a handy reference for terms, cultural practices, and geography is essential.

Brand, Chad, Charles Draper, and Archie England. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Bible Publishers, ©2003.


No Falling WordsIf you could only afford one commentary on Joshua I’d tell you to buy this short paperback from Dale Ralph Davis. No other commentary will teach you to read Joshua for all it’s worth. It’s accessible, insightful, and convicting. Davis offers study questions at the end of each chapter, and at just under $15 you won’t find another Joshua commentary this affordable.

Davis, Dale Ralph. Joshua: No Falling Words. Focus On the Bible. Fearn: Christian Focus, 2000



howard_joshuaA step in a more scholarly direction lands at David Howard’s New American Commentary volume. There’s no Hebrew to read, but the work is twice as long as Davis’ commentary. Here you’ll find answers to questions on Joshua’s authorship, date, composition and other critical questions. For those who want the scholarly material without being a scholar.

Howard, David M. The New American Commentary. Vol. 5, Joshua. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, ©1998.



WoudstraThe final commentary I’d recommend would be the New International Commentary on the New Testament’s offering from Woudstra. Footnotes for miles. Still no Hebrew, though the formatting/writing style is the least accessible of the three commentaries recommended. I usually look to this series of commentaries to help me understand the text at the paragraph level.

Woudstra, Marten H. The Book of Joshua. New International Commentary On the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, ©1981.

Special Issues:

The hairiest issue for Christian in Joshua is that of the Canaanite Conquest. Why did God command the killing of the men, women and children who occupied the land of Canaan? How can we reconcile the commands of God to kill in the Old Testament with the commands of Christ to love in the New Testament? Here are three resources I read to help prepare for this question.

show them no mercyChristians disagree with how to answer for the Canaanite Conquest. This book offers 4 different positions from and evangelical point of view (though I’d argue that the first position from C. S. Cowles borderlines evangelicalism at best). Reading this book will not just help you understand how to answer the question of genocide in the Old Testament, it will make you a better theologian and Bible reader at the same time.

Cowles, C S. Show Them No Mercy: Four Views On God and Canaanite Genocide. Counterpoints. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2003.


copanIs God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan answers numerous questions asked about the God of the Old Testament. The four chapters dedicated to Yahweh War in Joshua represent the best contemporary scholarship has to offer from a theologically conservative perspective.

Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, ©2011.



Holy-War-in-the-BibleHoly War in Bible is the most technical/scholarly of these three books. Essentially a collection of theological papers edited into a single volume, the book addresses the topic from a variety of viewpoints. Ethics professors, Old Testament scholars and philosophers combine to round out a full fledged discussion on subject. This book isn’t for the casual reader or the uninitiated, but I’ve found it abundantly helpful.

Thomas, Heath, Jeremy A. Evans, and Paul Copan, eds. Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013.


If there are other resources you’d recommend I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.

How Should I Read Joshua?

Some books of the Bible are easy to read, understand, and apply. Philippians comes to mind here. Others, like Revelation, present a challenge. To me, Joshua can be tricky, and since our church is heading into an 8 week series through the book I wanted to help you read Joshua better for yourself.Here’s a link to the PDF. Print it out. Put it in your Bible. Use it when you read Joshua. After the PDF link I’ve posted the content in blog format in case you want to dialogue with me in the comments.

How Should I Read Joshua

Never Alone

How Should We Read Joshua?

Joshua is a historical narrative. It’s the record, in story form, of how God continued his mission in Israel after Moses died. If you want to get to most out of reading Joshua, or other historical narratives in the Old Testament here are a few tips:

Historical narratives should be read and understood in big chunks. While the New Testament epistles may include 10-12 topics, most historical narratives focus on 3-4 big ideas which are elucidated through stories, accounts, and dialogue. You can’t just read a few verses to find the meaning of Joshua. You have to read and digest large sections.

  • Stories- Joshua 5 is the true story of how God won the victory over Jericho for Israel.
  • Accounts- In Joshua 24 Joshua gives an account of how God has led Israel in previous generations.
  • Dialogues- God speaks to Joshua in chapter 1.

Historical narratives use literary devices to convey meaning. Here are a few examples we see in Joshua:

  • Setting- Israel is on the edge of the promised land. This causes us to ask, “Will God now deliver his promises that date back to Adam and Abraham?”
  • Plot- As the narrative unfolds we see that though Israel takes possession of large swaths of the promised land they still don’t fully realize God’s promises. The plot of Joshua ends with the reader still looking forward to a future fulfillment of God’s promises.
  • Characterization- God is portrayed as ever faithful. Israel is portrayed as unfaithful.
  • Irony- Nothing about yelling and blowing trumpets at walls makes them fall down. The irony of God’s commands about Jericho show us that God is the one who conquered.

Look Ahead to Jesus. Every book of the Bible is about Jesus. We see the culmination of God’s faithfulness to all generations at the cross where Christ died for the sins of the world and was raised for our justification. We see that God assures the victory, not us, when Jesus conquers the big Jericho of our sin. We can live boldly for Christ as we press into the victory that he has already won.

As you read historical narratives like Joshua, be on the lookout for stories, accounts, and dialogues. These are the bones of the text that help you get a feel for what God is teaching you. Can you summarize the plot of the book in 2-3 sentences? How does the author characterize God, Israel, other nations? How do the themes and stories of Joshua ultimately point to the bigger story of Jesus?

What Do We See When We Read Joshua?

As we planned this series in Joshua we saw three big ideas we want our church to adopt:

  1. God’s plans don’t change. He is the same to every generation. He commissions new leaders (ch. 1), reminds people of his faithfulness as they cross the Jordan(chs.3-4), and purifies them so they can follow him (ch. 5).
  1. God’s plans won’t fail. He, not us, assures the victory. We gives victory through unlikely means (ch. 6), he saves us from our failures (chs. 9-11), and he gives us himself as an inheritance (chs. 14/19)
  1. Because the victory has been won, we can live boldly for God’s glory. When we see God’s faithfulness we call one another to faithfulness (ch. 22) and his covenant love to us causes us to commit our way to him (ch. 24)