Since I appreciated and enjoyed Chris Wright’s The Mission of God, I thought it would be worthwhile to read some of his other works. I started with The God I Don’t Understand (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008). In this book, Wright reflects upon a few tough questions that have to do with the Christian faith. The four big themes are these: suffering and evil, the OT Canaanite conquest, the cross of Christ, and the end of the world (eschatology). I appreciate Wright’s level-headed biblical approach to answering these questions. At the outset, he reminds the readers that as finite humans, we cannot fully understand our infinite God and his ways – so we have to approach these topics with humility. At the same time, we don’t have to be skeptics about everything, because God has clearly revealed some things to us in his word.
One section that stuck out for me was how Wright wrestled over the OT Caananite conquest, when God told Israel to wipe out the inhabitants of Canaan. If you’ve struggled with this OT concept of herem warfare, I strongly recommend reading this section by Wright (who is an OT scholar by trade). Here’s one part I thought was helpful.
“…We need to know that Israel’s practice of herem was not in itself unique. Texts from other nations at the time show that such total destruction in war was practised, or at any rate proudly claimed, elsewhere. But we must also recognize that the language of warfare had a conventional rhetoric that liked to make absolute and universal claims about total victory and completely wiping out the enemy. Such rhetoric often exceeded reality on the ground.”
“Admittedly this does not remove the problem [of struggling with the concept of herem warfare], since the reality was still horrible at any level. But it enables us to allow for the fact that descriptions of the destruction of ‘everything that lives and breathes’ were not necessarily intended literally. Even in the Old Testament itself this phenomenon is recognized and accepted. So, for example, we read in the book of Joshua that all the land was captured, all the kings were defeated, all the people without survivors (such as Rahab) were destroyed (e.g. Josh 10:40-42, 11:16-20). But this must have been intended as rhetorical exaggeration, for the book of Judges (whose final editor was undoubtedly aware of these accounts in Joshua) sees no contradiction in telling us that the process of subduing the inhabitants of the land was far from completed and went on for considerable time, and that many of the original nations continued to live alongside the Israelites. The key military centers – the small fortified cities of the petty Canaanite kingdoms – were wiped out. But clearly not all the people, or anything like all the people, had in fact been actually destroyed by Joshua.”
This is helpful to consider when discussing the herem warfare the Israelites visited upon the Canaanites. Wright goes on to examine other aspects of this topic as well – again, this is worth reading.
I’ll have to visit other parts of this book later. For now, if those four topics above are things you’ve thought about in-depth, I recommend letting Wright be a conversation partner in your discussions and thoughts.
The above quote is taken from page 88 in The God I Don’t Understand.