Holy War

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Why did Israel wage a "holy war" when entering Canaan?

Why did Israel wage a "holy war" when entering Canaan?

The term 'holy war' does not appear in the OT. The closest in OT terminology that we get to 'holy war' is 'Yahweh's battles' (1 Sam 25:28) and the lost poetry? the 'Book of the Wars of Yahweh' (Num 21:14). (Thavis 1988) That so many people died in the conquest of Canaan and in subsequent battles always causes problems for students and their teachers. If the Israelites acted out of justifiable self-defence we could understand? but going on the offensive at Yahweh's orders is another matter. To begin? we need to bear in mind that the Israelites sometimes regarded God as a warrior! (Ex 15:2; Ps 24:8). Many subtle references to Yahweh as warrior abound in the OT. (Tauran 2002)

For example? read the beginning of Ps 18. Yahweh is a standard/banner for going into battle (Ex 17:16). Yahweh fights on behalf of Israel (Ex 14:14; 1 Sam 11:14) and spurs the Israelites on to battle by sending a panic among them (1 Sam 11:7). It is not Israel's strength that assures them of victory but God (Judg 7:1-8). Before battle? Israel consulted with God. (Skillen 2002)Instruction about war is given in Deut 20:1-20; 21:10-14 and 23:9-14. Exaggeration came into play when composing and editing OT texts? and comparing Joshua to Judges it is obvious that exaggeration has been used in Joshua. Jensen (God's Word to Israel 118) writes about the exaggeration in the battle texts in Joshua. For example? he says that Israel practiced the ban (slaying everyone in defeated towns) as did her neighbors? but we find it in the most artificial parts of the narrative (10:28-40). The only challenge to the concept of war in the OT comes from the prophets. Their best-known statement on peace is in Isa 2:1-5 and Mic 4:1-3. (Powers 2003)

Turning to the NT? there is no condemnation of war on the lips of Jesus. He does express what is true for some at least? that those who live by the sword die by the sword (Matt 26:52). John the Baptist warned soldiers not to abuse their power (Luke 3:14). Read Eph 6:11-17 where Paul says the war we wage is a spiritual war against sin. Again? in 2 Cor 6:4 Paul writes of taking up spiritual weapons. (Holmes 1984) The NT writers reinterpret holy war in a spiritual way.

However? we are still left with the problem of innocent people suffering violent deaths by the Israelites acting under God's orders. In an attempt to come to terms with this difficult problem let us consider what some recent commentators have said. McKenzie writes? 'Modern readers find the Israelite concept of the holy war a primitive type of morality; that it is? but it is doubtfully more primitive than the modern concept of war. Where the Bible relates the thought patterns of early Israel? (Atkinson 1995) it does not seem to rise above the thought of its ...
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