School · theology · Theology Thursday

What is Just to you, may not be Just to me

On Monday I had a reading response due, in which we picked something from the chapter that interested us and wrote a bit on it. What stuck out to me in the reading was the justification for war. The people of Israel thought they were justified in conquering the land of Canaan, which was promised to them by God, because the sin in that land had grown too great. So while this justified their actions to them, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t justified to the Canaanites who were being attacked. So this is my response: (To clarify, the Cycles of Judgment I  refer to is: the people sin -> God is angered -> the people are oppressed -> the people are distressed -> they cry out in repentance -> God sends a deliverer -> all is good -> people sin and the cycle starts anew)

Throughout the Old Testament there is so much war, violence, and genocide sanctioned by God, and sin is at the heart of it all. The Cycles of Judgment model used by Bartholomew and Goheen show how sin is used as the justification for war. (86) In the example of Israel’s invasion of Canaan, they summarize, “God patiently waits until the evil in the land of Canaan has grown to a point at which he is compelled to judge its people.” (84) The people of Israel are not allowed to conquer the land of Canaan for four generations after their exodus from Egypt because, “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:16) God has promised the land of Canaan to Abraham, but cannot justly give it to him until the sin in the land has reached a critical point, making sin the justification for Israel’s war and oppression against Canaan. Conversely, when the people of Israel are conquered and oppressed by other nations, it is because their own sin has reached a similar breaking point.

While this justification seems quite simple from the Israelites’ perspective, how did this reasoning look to the Canaanites? Did Mesha, King of the Moabites, think it was just when Joshua stole his land and slaughtered every living creature within it? For the nations who did not subscribe to the sovereignty of the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were the wars wrought in that god’s name justifiable? Were these nations aware of their sinfulness, and would they agree it deserved to be punished by war and oppression? I would venture they did not agree with the justification.

As Christians, the Bible is our source that defines what is right and wrong, just and unjust. We believe it was by God’s will that the wars and conquests of the Old Testament took place. From our perspective, the Cycles of Judgment model is a straightforward explanation for these actions. However, I think it is prudent to consider this justification from the other side as well. What is just for one side may be unjust for the other, and history will slant to the side that writes it.

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