We are working our way through several of the views about how to understand the violence of God in the Old Testament in light of the love and mercy taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
One view is that such an attempt is futile from the start because it is like comparing apples and oranges.
We must not equate what Jesus was trying to accomplish in His life and ministry with what God was trying to accomplish through Israel in the Old Testament. The two events had different goals and different methods, and trying to fit them together is like trying to put a square into a round hole.
Jesus, it is argued, was trying to set up a spiritual kingdom, governed by the rule and reign of God within men’s hearts. In the Old Testament however, God was trying to set up an earthly kingdom, one that had rulers and laws with a system of taxation, government, and military might.
The Kingdom of God in Israel
In a world like ours, countries need military might and wartime violence to establish borders, maintain peace and security against invading armies, and protect itself from crime and revolutionaries within its borders. In this view, since Israel was a theocracy, God, as the “Commander in Chief” sent Israel to war against her enemies. He gave the order to kill, destroy, and annihilate those who threatened the earthly government which He installed in Israel.
The Kingdom of God in Jesus
Jesus, on the other hand, came to install a Kingdom that was “not of this world” (John 8:23; 18:36) and therefore, did not need to issue commands for His followers to kill others for their common cause. The Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, and as such, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers of the air (Eph 6:10-20).
So just as it would seem to be impossible for any earthly government to exist without a standing military, without violence toward enemies, and without governing rules for order and peace which include death to traitors and some form of capital punishment, so also God had to include such things in the earthly government which He set up in Israel. But Jesus had different goals and different methods, and so He was able to show a way of peace and non-violence toward His enemies, and call His disciples to do the same, for His Kingdom is not of this world.
It seems true that earthly governments need various forms of violence to maintain peace, safety, and security for the citizen of that country. And Jesus even indicates that if His kingdom was of this world, His followers would rise up and fight to protect it (John 18:36).
Is the Kingdom of God in Jesus “Plan B”?
The main difficulty with this view, however, is that it seems that the way of Jesus in setting up a spiritual Kingdom is “Plan B” in God’s redemptive purposes. It almost seems like God tried to set up an earthly kingdom through Israel, but when that didn’t work, the Trinity sent Jesus to try a different tactic. It could be argued that the coming of Jesus was intended all along as “Plan A” and that the first “attempt” of God in setting up an earthly kingdom through Israel was just to show the futility of such actions, but then we face the problem of why God would command Israel to engage in such violence if He knew it was futile.
Does it really seem right for God to command the death of thousands of people just to prove a point?
Even though it may be true that worldly government needs violence to exist (though even this is not indisputable), a better way of reading Scripture is that the plan and purposes of God have remained the same from the very beginning, and that Israel was not a failed attempt by God to change the world, nor was He making an example out of Israel and the Canaanites about the futility of violence.
Instead, it seems more likely that whatever God was accomplished in Jesus, He was also accomplishing in Israel. We must seek to understand what God was doing in Israel by looking at what God did in Jesus.
Jesus is not “Plan B” but is The Plan from the very beginning, and what God did in Israel shows and points toward what God ultimately accomplished through Jesus.