Monday, July 6, 2009

Joshua: Why Total Destruction of the Enemy?

Getting back to my basics, I have begun reading Joshua. It was when I was recommending the Navarre Bibles to a friend for their excellent commentary that I realized I had forgotten to read them myself lately. At one time, Rose was reading through the Old Testament using them which gave me the required excuse to purchase a volume here and a volume there. However, I never delved into them myself. I love how the commentaries not only cover the Jewish point of view but also what the Church Fathers have seen as a logical forerunner for Christ and Christian living.

I am supplementing this with my Archaeological Study Bible (which has an adamant "yay Protestant Biblical books choice!" cheering section of the introduction) which I know is deficient in some ways. However, their practically pure archaeological take on things is also eye opening. One must just keep in mind that they may fall short when it comes to Catholic teachings if they happen to comment on those things (which I haven't seen happen yet other than in their stern comments about which books should be in the Bible).

I'll be sharing some eye opening bits with y'all as I go along.

So let's start with this, which suddenly helped me understand the reasoning behind God's orders to raze conquered cities to the ground. Not to mention requiring every person and animal be slaughtered. Never could figure that out and although our weekly scripture studies have gone a long way toward making me see that a loving, merciful God is shown throughout the Old Testament, this issue never squared with that. Certainly I never thought about how that policy might have an inner meaning for me.

But, read on ... for naturally I just wasn't thinking deeply enough. I have italicized the parts that spoke to me but am quoting the entire commentary on this particular verse.
Deuteronomy 7:1-6, 25-26, 13:13-19 and particularly 20:16-18 lays down detailed instructions about the policy of utter destruction (anathema or "ban); Israel is told to obey these instructions to the letter, to avoid being contaminated by the idolatry of the Canaanites. A policy which to us seems quite incomprehensible, savage and inhuman, it needs to be seen inn its historical context and to be set in the framework of the gradual development of divine revelation. Total destruction of the enemy was common practice in antiquity, but the biblical laws about it were very strict; it could actually deter people from ungodly war: if all booty must be destroyed (treasure, livestock, or persons who could be turned into servants or slaves), then there is no point in embarking on war out of greed or for aggrandizement. Even so, we need to bear in mind that this was a temporary law, for that time only, so neither this nor any other passage of Holy Scripture can be used to justify the use of violence or criminal behavior. God's revelation to man was a gradual process culminating in the Incarnation of the Word. The preaching of Jesus is the true reference-point as regards respect for life and for the lawfully held property of others. In the sermon on the mount our Lord said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you maybe sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt 5:44-45).

In mystical writing we find allegorical interpretations of this commandment to the effect that the soul needs to be detached from everything in order to draw closer to God. Thus. St. John of the Cross comments that this order about total destruction is given "so that we may understand that to enter into union with the divine, everything that lives in the soul must die, what is great and small, of much worth or of little, and the soul must remain without lust for it all" (Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1, 11, 8).


  1. It is rather interesting for me to read this post. Thanks for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to this matter. I definitely want to read more soon.

  2. Thanks! I have been doing a bit of research on various interpretations and understandings of this particular issue of the OT. It is a topic that almost always comes up as a question in bible study.