When we read the Old Testament accounts of God, through His people Israel, wiping out entire nations (see, for example the account of the destruction of Jericho, below) we can’t help but wonder, “Where do we fit into all this?” Surely God doesn’t go around wiping out entire civilizations today, does He?
When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. (Joshua 6:20-21 NIV)
It’s clear, from the context, that when the people took the city and destroyed every living thing in it, they were following God’s command. They were not mistaken about what He wanted them to do. After all, who brought down the wall? God is not only empowering the battle, He is participating in it.
Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:9-14 NIV)
In this account, God participates in the battle, making it clear that without His help the Israelites have no chance of winning. But in that last sentence we can see that there is more to this than God rooting for the home team. God is on the side of Israel, that’s for sure, but He has a definite purpose in defeating the Amalekites as well.
Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17-19 NIV)
The sin of the Amalekites makes them deserving of death.
With whom do we identify here? If this is the Word of God, which we believe it is, what does it have to say to us? How do we fit into the story? Unless we are Jewish, we really have to say that we have more in common with the Amalekites than we do with Israel. Most of us are Gentiles. And yet we belong to God, because of the New Testament. God’s eternal purpose, to win the whole world back to Himself, has been accomplished (at least in us) through Jesus Christ and His church.
Which brings us back to the original question. What does this story have to say to us? Where do we fit in?
1. By God’s grace, we have been made an exception.
In an article in Christianity Today*, Philip Cary offers an answer. “Our position is less like Israel’s and more like that of Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute in Jericho who befriends the Israelite spies.” Rahab is not an Israelite; she has no covenant with God; she has not even led a very good life. But she knows God and wants to be on His side. So she provides aid to the Israelite spies, and when the city falls her life is spared. God’s purpose has been fulfilled in her: He has won her back to Himself. And Rahab participates in God’s work; not only does she pave the way for the Israelites in Jericho, but she is one of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 1:5)!
Cary continues: “We have to acknowledge that the holiness of God does indeed mean death for us. At precisely this point, it should be clear that we have entered familiar territory for Christian theology. We know the wages of our sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and the holiness of God is therefore a mortal threat to us—which ought to drive us to faith in Christ.”
2. We are part of the nations, which God always intended to bless.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3 NIV)
The inhabitants of Jericho, like most Canaanites, were enemies of Israel. They opposed Israel’s occupation of the promised land. So God’s destruction of them was, in part, a fulfillment of His promise to Abram in Genesis 12.
The intent of God to bless all of the nations through His people Israel is clear in this promise as well as in repeated promises of God to Isaac and Jacob. The promise applies to us Gentiles in the 21st century in Jesus the Christ, who died for all, and in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word throughout the world.
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13 NIV)
This plan of God to include all nations in the scope of His blessing a “mystery.” He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
(Ephesians 1:9-10 NIV)
3. We are the instruments of God’s blessing to the nations.
Just as Rahab, through her son Boaz, played a significant role in bringing God’s Son into the world, we too have a part to play in continuing the spread of God’s blessing to the nations.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NIV)
Thus we are beneficiaries of God’s plan to regain dominion over the world, but we are also more: we are co-workers with Him. He saved us for this purpose.
*”We Are All Rahab Now,” Christianity Today, July 2013.