Herem

27 02 2013

I have avoided the topic for years and really, I have not been taught about it except with soundbites of logic that I took for the gospel truth. Others have ignored the subject altogether hoping that no one asks the hard question. Why did a loving God order the massacre of entire populations including the elderly, women, children, and babies? Total annihilation. Take no prisoners. Show no mercy.

We look to Jericho as a great victory for God as the Hebrews entered the Promised land for the first time. It involved a six-day march around the city once per day. Then on the seventh, trumpets were blown, voices were raised, and walls came a tumbling down! What an exciting event showing both the promise and power of God. We have sang songs about the Walls of Jericho, drawn pictures, and handed out coloring papers to our children. But we stop there and rarely face the fact that Joshua 6:21 states, “And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.”

The word used in the Hebrew is “herem”, translated in the KJV as “utterly destroy” or some form thereof. Some modern versions soften the verse by removing the “sword” from the verse. but such removal is not justified. The utter destruction of Jericho was not an isolated event, it happened to many other cities in the campaign to conquer Canaan. It began with Moses on the East side of Jordan and continued on the West side by Joshua. Skeptics have labeled these men as mass murders. It was again used in the days of the prophet Samuel. Joshua 11:14 tells us that, “neither left they any to breathe.” You get the point, I will not elaborate on other examples.

I try to put myself in the sandals of those who held the sword as they were commanded to kill those who were not able to defend themselves. I could not imagine myself able to execute such an order. It is not only my preference to show mercy, it is my conviction. So how can one explain such an order given by a commanding officer, who got their orders from God? I refuse to have all the answers because it still baffles me, but let me offer these…

1. Judgment will follow continual rejection
Utter destruction came at the time of the worldwide flood. Every man, woman, child, and baby. Everyone that breathed were judged by God following a 120 year period of grace when Noah preached repentance. He had only 7 converts. Sodom and Gomorrah were utterly destroyed, every one that breathed. Perhaps one could make the argument that Melchizedek and Abraham were active voices for God during that time and were able to warn them to repent. In both instances the human element was removed and God was the agent of destruction. We are good with God giving and taking life, He is the author and finisher.

During the time of Sodom, The Amorites were not part of the same type judgment because, Genesis 15:16 says that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” They were given a space of grace, a time when mercy was extended and repentance offered. That space lasted hundreds of years. By the time we get to Moses and Joshua, their iniquity was full and the door of mercy closed (Joshua 5:1). The issue we have is that man is now the agent of destruction. Could man be used in such a plan of justice? Throughout history men have attempted to stop injustice with force. Of course, when it involved indiscriminate killing, it was rightfully declared as “war crimes”. By his very nature, God can never be guilty of war crimes. Was Joshua, Moses, Samuel guilty? Even though I do not understand the dynamic, I believe they were following orders from the One who gives life and takes it away. So what about all the deranged people on earth who believe they are on a mission of God to kill?

2. Herem was never a standing order given to man
It was given at one time in history, but never again. God is the agent of revenge and judgment,not man. In fact, 2 Peter 3:9 says that “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Even with such patience, continual rejection still leads to judgment. I do not know why things happen, but I still believe in an all-knowing God. I also believe in a God of righteousness and judgment, but also mercy. James 2:13 tells us, “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” Herem fit into his plan in days gone by; I will never be asked to join in such utter destruction.

3. Sovereignty needs to be accepted
Christians make a mistake in trying to justify God. Just let it go. We really do not have all the answers. We can say something like, “I don’t know why it happened, but I don’t have to understand a God who is beyond understanding”. That’s the best answer I have, but it is a lot better than the ones I have used.

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2 responses

13 11 2017
Melanie

It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate to
this outstanding blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle
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15 11 2017
daveluther

Thank you for your kind comment, Melanie. It has been about 2 years since my last post. I did not think they were doing any good. Perhaps I need to rethink the decision.

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