Are there parts of the Bible you hope others never read because you aren’t sure how you would defend it? In the past week, I’ve just finished the Book of Joshua and started Judges, which include some of those difficult passages.
Joshua stands tall as a man of faith and courage, but it was while he presided over the conquering and thus, the killing of thousands of people as entire populations were destroyed in Israel’s claiming the land promised to Abraham. And what’s more, the first part of the Book of Judges is an indictment against Israel for not completing the job, that is, for not killing all of them. Why? How can this be defended?
I’m not sure we have the insight to fully understand the historical situation, nor is this a repeatable model that is an option for us in dealing with evil today (though I do accept the tenets of just war theory as developed by Augustine, Aquinas and others).
However, there are indications that these societies had become so decadent in their religious and sexual practices that they were morally and physically diseased beyond reclamation. Variations from place to place inform us that in some cases, the cattle were to be killed and in others they could be taken as the spoils of wars, perhaps suggesting areas of bestiality, and thus widespread infection, where the plague of disease had to be stopped. Ultimately, the text says that this was God’s command to Joshua, reminding that God is the final arbiter, “vengeance is mine… says the LORD.” (See Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pages 157-159).
The greater concern, which rather quickly developed, was Israel’s adopting the ways and the gods of these pagan people; a primary factor in this decline being inter-marriage (Judges 3:6).
International or inter-racial marriage is not the problem; there are wonderful examples both in Scripture and contemporary life of beautiful marriages and families with much ethnic diversity, and there is no basis for us to oppose such marriages.
The problem is so called “inter-faith” marriage; the marriage of one who claims biblical beliefs and faith in YHWH (the LORD) with one who does not. This problem persisted throughout the Old Testament era and is addressed in the last book as a “faithless” act and an “abomination” to marry “the daughter of a foreign God” (Malachi 2:10-12).
With more complete revelation, this is now defined as personal faith in Jesus Christ. New Testament teaching expressly forbids being “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) and requires marrying “only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39), though urging those believers who are already in a spiritually divided marriage, not to separate (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). Both those marrying and their parents are held accountable, meaning whover has influence within the diversity of various cultures (parents, grandparents, friends, church members and leaders), must use that influence to uphold the biblical standard.
A broader principle for Christians today is that we are not to avoid being “in the world,” a common New Testament phrase for the evil world system, but while “in the world,” we are “not of the world” (John 15:19; 17:14, 16), not living by the standards and mores of this world but by the different standard of Christ and Scripture. Believers tend toward two tragic extremes, separation in which we lose all meaninful relationship with unbelievers or immersion in the ways of unbelievers, neither of which makes it possbile for us to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) as Jesus called his disciples and “… children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:15).