Friday, July 5, 2019

The Holy War

"But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, … of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel" (Joshua 7:1).

God told Israel that Jericho was to be destroyed and burned up as a burnt sacrifice to Him. Nothing was to be taken from it because, as the first city conquered, it was a firstfruits offering to Him. Achan, however, took a valuable Babylonian robe and a large amount of gold and silver, and with his family hid them. By so doing, Achan symbolically transferred his allegiance from Israel to Jericho, his love from Israel to Babylon, and his trust from God to gold.

God’s anger burned against all Israel, and when they attacked a small village called Ai, they were defeated. Joshua, knowing something was wrong, sought the Lord. God told him that there was a man in the camp who had committed a sacrilege, stealing from God. Tribe by tribe, clan by clan, and finally family by family, the Israelites came before the Lord, and eventually Achan was isolated. Under Joshua’s exhortation, Achan confessed his sin and he and his family were stoned to death and burned, just as Jericho had been.

Holy war is characterized by the holy ban, called herem in Hebrew. The ban means the opposite of sacrifice. Those who refused to accept the burnt offering of the sacrifice were themselves made burnt offerings to God. This parallel has suggested to many scholars that the fire used to torch Jericho and burn up Achan would have been the same altar fire used to burn up God’s sacrifices. It was a prophetic picture of the fires of hell.

In the Old Testament, this fire was taken into Canaan and was used in holy war, the war of conquest. All men deserve to spend eternity in this fire, but God offers Jesus Christ as their substitute, for “He descended into hell” in our place. We should not be amazed when we see God destroying the wicked in this way. What should amaze us is that God withholds His just wrath so long and saves anyone at all.

At Pentecost in Acts 2, fire fell from God as tongues. The disciples preached the Gospel to Jerusalem and to all the nations, spreading the fire of God’s new holy war and turning men into living sacrifices. This holy war is still our task today.

Violations of God’s expressed law commands were often singled out and liable to severe penalties, including death. Even in the New Testament, Ananias and Sapphira were made a public example of God’s disciplining love. Consider how great is His mercy that we have not been subjected to the same deserved discipline.