View 4—The Hebrew word “destroy” has a different meaning than we think.
If you read these passages, you’ll notice a footnote in your Bible almost every time the word “destroy” is used. It’ll say:
The irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord.
This Hebrew word here can also mean “consecrate” or “put to religious use” or even “redeem.”
Now it’s very possible that during these wars, the Israelites had to defend themselves, and these were not bloodless affairs. Yet at the same time, when God says “destroy them all,” it also implies that God wants to redeem these so-called enemy nations so they may be free from their own oppressive cultures. In other words, God would indeed “destroy” these men, women and children by rescuing them into a safer society.
These other nations were worshiping demonic gods. They were sacrificing their children in furnaces and performing weird sexual rituals and cannibalizing each other. To call on their gods, they often cut each other with swords and spears. These were barbaric, harmful cultures that had been corrupted by thousands of years of fear and tyranny. Even the women and children must have been indoctrinated into these terrible practices.
What better way for God to flex His power than to bring them home to Himself?
There are way too many other passages in the Bible where God tells the Israelites to welcome the exile and stranger. God says multiple times, “You yourself were exiles in Egypt and delivered.” God constantly remarks on caring for the widow, the poor, the orphan and the foreigner. With such a consistent theme of God loving the world, I find it hard to imagine that God suddenly says, “Kill those who disagree.”
In the documentary Collision, in which atheist Christopher Hitchens and pastor Douglas Wilson have a debate tour, they both end up talking about what to do to your enemy, such as murderers and terrorists. Hitchens says, “I’m not going to love them. You go love them if you want; don’t love them on my behalf. I’ll get on with killing them and destroying them, erasing them.” Wilson replies, “I can echo that, I can say, ‘Amen,’ but God destroys enemies two ways: God destroys enemies by taking them out the traditional way and God also destroys enemies by transforming them into friends. That destroys an enemy too.”
They’re actually both right. When you see an unrepentant group like ISIS, we can’t be still. At the same time, Scripture seems to be saying, “Destroy them by the redemption of total grace.”
Personally, I take a mixture of Views 3 and 4. I’m not sure about View 2 and even less sure on View 1. The important thing is: I don’t want to tell you what to think. I can only tell you how. But the next time you read through these passages of Scripture, it will be helpful to have a wide interpretive approach.
The thing is, if you assume God is bad, He will be bad no matter how much good He does. If you assume God is good, there’s so much insight into what He does in Scripture through a broken, hostile humanity. I only need to see Jesus to trust the rest of Scripture to be good and true.
These passages are difficult, but not without reasonable explanation. Be blessed in your discovery as you see Him in new unforeseen ways, my dear friend.