The Law and The Conquest

The next major point in our consideration of war must be the wars of Conquest, when Israel came to inhabit the Promised Land. It is worth noting that there are a number of battles described before Israel officially enter Palestine in Joshua. However, we will consider these wars under the heading of the Conquest for the main reason that all these battles were fought against nations who were prior inhabitants of the Promised Land.

There are two main reasons given in the OT for the wars of Conquest, and especially the severity of slaughter that amounts to genocide; the first is the possession of the land, and the second is the purity of the Israelite people. The first comes from the promise of land given to Abraham in Genesis 15. when this promise came, it came with the acknowledgement that it was already inhabited by “the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.” (Gen 15:19-21 HCSB).

After the Exodus, God promised that he would remove those people from the land:

27 “I will cause the people ahead of you to feel terror and throw into confusion all the nations you come to. I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you in retreat. 28 I will send the hornet in front of you, and it will drive the Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites away from you.

31 I will set your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates River. For I will place the inhabitants of the land under your control, and you will drive them out ahead of you. (Ex 23:27-28, 31 HCSB)

However, this promise also reveals the other reason for the removal of the original peoples:

32 You must not make a covenant with them or their gods. 33 They must not remain in your land, or else they will make you sin against Me. If you worship their gods, it will be a snare for you.” (Ex 23:32 HCSB)

Purity of Gods people and purity of their worship for him were a first order consideration.

These two themes – land and purity of worship – are constantly intertwined , both in the law set down in the wilderness, and in in the accounts of the Conquest. While Exodus introduces these themes, they are developed much further in Deuteronomy (though there are many documentary theories that involve a much later development or redaction of Deuteronomy, it is important to note that both Exodus and Genesis do hold this theology, it is not a ‘later’ development). Deuteronomy 7 is a good example:

1 “When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess, and He drives out many nations before you– the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you– 2 and when the LORD your God delivers them over to you and you defeat them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 because they will turn your sons away from Me to worship other gods. Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and He will swiftly destroy you. 5 Instead, this is what you are to do to them: tear down their altars, smash their standing pillars, cut down their Asherah poles, and burn up their carved images. 6 For you are a holy people belonging to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be His own possession out of all the peoples on the face of the earth. (Deut 7:1-6 HCSB)

(You will also note that a third theological motif is raised (or re-raised) by this passage: God’s providential care for his people is expressed in him winning their battles for them. We will consider this later.)

These intertwined themes seem to suggest that the wars against the original inhabitants of the land were unique in Israel’s history. Firstly, in Deuteronomy 20, God lays out rules for warfare:

10 “When you approach a city to fight against it, you must make an offer of peace. 11 If it accepts your offer of peace and opens its gates to you, all the people found in it will become forced laborers for you and serve you.

15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are far away from you and are not among the cities of these nations. 16 However, you must not let any living thing survive among the cities of these people the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. 17 You must completely destroy them– the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite– as the LORD your God has commanded you, 18 so that they won’t teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God. (Deut 20:10-11, 15-18 HCSB)

Secondly, the account of Israel’s early wanderings in Deuteronomy 2 lists a number of nations whom the Israelites were not to fight, because their land was not destined for Israel, e.g.:

5 Don’t fight with them, for I will not give you any of their land, not even an inch of it, because I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his possession. (Deut 2:5 HCSB)

Now, there is a lot that has to be said about the theology of the wars of conquest, and I will return to the subject, but the first thing to consider is that they seem to be unique. The reasons given by God for the wars are unique to the time, location and specific peoples, so the value of these wars to a theology of war might be more limited than many people think.


One thought on “The Law and The Conquest

  1. Pingback: The Land and faithfulness « Constantly Reforming

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