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Zach asks about Joshua 6:21. In keeping with Deuteronomy 7:2-5 it claims that God ordered Joshua not only to kill the adults but the innocent children as well.
Non-believers become impatient with believers who flutter around such biblical statements. Quite right too! Some believers simply will not allow God to be the God presented in scripture (more particularly, the OT). Passages like Deuteronomy 7 are dismissed as sub-Christian beliefs from a primitive time. That might be true but Iím one of millions down the years that canít go down that road. It takes more than explaining away a few texts like Joshua 6:21 to make the biblical God palatable to non-believers, especially non-believers who have little interest in giving their lives into the hands of Godóany God. Rather than clean him up so that heíll suit the tastes of a modern non-believing society Iím sure itís wisest and in the long term infinitely better to gladly receive him as he is. Poor George Bernard Shaw took offense at God because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son as an atoning sacrifice to save the world. (Of course GBS got a lot of misinformation from the doctrine of penal substitution theorists and that didnít help him to understand God.)
Iím not suggesting that passages like Deuteronomy 7 and Joshua 6:21 should be read, yawned at before we move on to something more "interesting". Thatís precisely what weíre not supposed to do! Passages like these, within the whole biblical witness, are supposed to make our hearts skip and our minds reel. It doesnít matter who it is that calls for the death of the innocent; weíre so shaped that such a call demands some kind of justification. What we normally doóand it isnít unreasonableóis to examine such a call in light of some general moral principles and when we do that, we find it extremely difficult to be satisfied with the results of the examination. But Bible believers while their lives reflect (or should) ethical and moral norms donít step outside the biblical witness when making their examination.
Immanuel Kant examined the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22 on the basis of moral norms and scathed Abrahamís obedient response. Everyone knows that parental responsibility is to protect their children and here is Abraham more than prepared to commit the ultimate "act of abuse". Kant said Abraham should have assumed that the one who spoke to him was a demon rather than God. A God worth worshiping simply would not call for the death of a son at his fatherís hand. Can you imagine what we would think today if a man killed his child, saying that God told him to do it? On the basis of abstract moral principles and as a norm for conduct Abraham was mad.
But believers read the Genesis incident (and everything else in scripture) as part of an ongoing narrative in which God reveals himself as redeeming the world. If we isolate the Akedah from its biblical narrative and the overarching purpose of the scripture, why, then, itís no surprise that Abraham would come out looking as if he was mentally unbalanced. It doesnít matter that in this case there was "a happy ending," Abraham had him dead (Hebrews 11:19). If God hadnít stopped him the boy would have gone down under the knife.
All that to say this: believers canít and shouldnít move from the biblical narrative into the realm of abstract moral discussion! Their faith stands or falls with the biblical witness and sound theological thinking in light of that witness. A believerís conviction if it is to be tested fairly must be tested within its own context. There was a time when men believed that only ships of wood would float and then somebody said that ships made of iron could float. A local blacksmith scoffed at the idea and proved he was right by throwing a horseshoe into a barrel of water. But for all that, given the right context and testing the view as proposed it turned out that ships made of iron could float.
It doesnít really settle the matter on Joshua 6 and Deuteronomy 7 that there have been times throughout history when loving parents put their children to death. Take the case of Massada, where, when the Romans finally took the fortress they found all the inhabitants dead, men, women and children. No panic, no fever. They thought the death of their children and wivesónot to mention themselvesówas better than surrender to the Romans and whatever was to follow. It doesnít matter for the moment whether we agree with their decision or not. Itís only important to know that nothing in all of this was spiteful, vicious or any of the other things we could easily imagine in abstraction. Imagine our thoughts if it had been written up, "Rebel leaders slaughter women and children!"