Updated: Mar 19, 2020

We have established that Israel’s Conquest was not a genocide, it was not a land grab against a weaker adversary, and it was not a self-serving nationalism. What then was it?

To understand the morality of Israel’s conquest, we need to get the big moral picture right. What makes something right or wrong? How do we make a moral judgment? What internal rules are we using when we make our judgments?

Getting the Big Moral Picture Right

Sovereigns and subjects

When we live in a country, we live under the sovereign rule of its government. If we hate a government enough, we may want to move to another country. When we are in the new country, we are under the sovereign rule of our new country. We always live under someone’s rules – whether we like it or not (unless we are the sovereign).

Sovereign states are always based on the geographical boundaries of land. The Singapore court cannot sentence a Malaysian living in Malaysia to death or vice-versa. But the Singapore court can sentence anybody from any country to death if they are living in Singapore. Sovereignty is land bound and land limited.

Sovereignty means the sovereign has coercive power. This power includes power over life and death. The government of a country can execute someone who breaks the laws of that country – regardless of whether we think it is right or wrong. For instance, Singapore places a death penalty on certain drug trafficking offenses. We may or may not agree, but we live under this law when we live in Singapore.

God’s sovereignty over the earth

The Bible starts with the creation story. God created the world, so he is sovereign over the world. He created Adam and Eve, placed them in the Garden of Eden. They did not have any rules and lived freely. That is, with the exception of one rule – they were not to eat from the tree of good and evil. And God, the sovereign, warned them that when they eat of it, they will surely die.

Guess what? They ate. The sovereign God then meted out the judgment, but with great love and mercy. They were banished from the Garden of Eden into the rest of the world. But God clothed their nakedness and shame; then God gave them a promise that the seed of the woman would one day bring them victory over their adversary the devil, and by implication, humanity will return to the Garden of Eden.

We fast forward. God fulfilled that promise in Jesus who would bring redemption to the world. This is available to all who want it. And at the end of human history as we know it, there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1ff).

God is sovereign over the world. That is the clear message of the Bible. From start to end, we live by his rules and he chooses to give us good gifts, but a judgment comes when we disobey his sovereign rule on earth.

God’s sovereignty in judgment

We messed up, and it is clear we cannot help ourselves! The only way the world can be saved from itself is when God becomes sovereign in the world again. It is more of God’s engagement and not less.

God exercised his sovereignty in removing Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. When we choose to reject God’s loving sovereign rule, he respects that choice. God does not remove free choice – whatever the consequences may be. How God dealt with Adam and Eve is how he deals with us. He covers our shame and finds a way for us to return to him and to redeem the world.

Humanity was supposed to find its way back to Eden through righteous living. But humanity failed miserably. “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5). Humanity became so evil that a reset was necessary. He sent a flood that destroyed all the creatures of the earth – with the exception of one family, Noah’s. This is an act of divine judgment and redemption at the same time.

What I find intriguing is that we don’t seem to react as much to God’s judgement on the world in the deluge as we do over the killing in the Conquest of the Promised Land. The Flood killed more people than the Conquest. We need to ask why one troubles us (the Conquest) and one does not trouble us (the Flood). We cannot ignore the Flood when we consider the Conquest.

The real reason why we accept or reject both the Flood and the Conquest is the same: “Can I accept God’s sovereignty over the world?”

If I even accept the idea of a God, I must accept he is sovereign over his creation. Otherwise he is not God. And if he is sovereign, he must act as a sovereign. The alternative is to leave it to sentient but wicked creatures to run the world – that is us humans. But see how we messed up!

The story of the Flood is the story of a patient sovereign God and wicked humans who corrupted the world to the extent that it could not be redeemed except a reset. And even in that reset, God had not given up on humanity, but set out to redeem humanity through one family.

The Flood account is brief, but the Conquest has more details. We will not be detained by the Flood account, but we just need to see there are instances of God’s judgment before the Conquest, and the Conquest is not unique in God’s sovereign judgment.

I will proceed to show that God not only acted sovereignly in the Conquest but he also acted as a patient and loving sovereign.

How God exercised sovereignty leading up to the Conquest

Abraham was living in Ur of the Chaldeans until God told him to move. He obeyed God and moved, and eventually arrived at the strip of land that is generally occupied by the Canaanites, which is later known as the Promised Land or simply the Land.

When God blessed Abraham and gave him the Land, it was not for Abraham alone. Abraham and his descendants were to be channels of blessing to the world. “…and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3). We need to bear this in mind: God’s redemption plan was to be carried out through the children of Abraham and through what will happen on the Land.

When God made a formal covenant with Abraham, he gave Abraham some details about when his descendants will possess the Land.

.....Then the Lord