God’s People, part 28: Conquest

Read Judges 1

“When the Israelites grew stronger, they forced the Canaanites to work as slaves, but they never did drive them completely out of the land.” (Judges 1:28 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

heb-ass01sPart 28: Conquest. “Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection”, proclaimed the famous Puritan John Winthrop in his sermon A Model of Christian Charity.

“We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”

John Winthrop paused. It had been a long journey to the New World. They had crossed the entire Atlantic Ocean with the hopes of getting to his place filled with such hope and such uncertainty. Looking out at his band of exiles, Puritans fleeing religious oppression in England, Winthrop continued, “The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with… For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”

While I don’t normally use long quotes in these devotions, the words above are words that continue to live on in the American psyche. They were idealistic and Americans still hold on to the hope those idealistic words created; however, they were also prophetic, for they warned of the consequences of failing to live up to the kind of justice, mercy, and humility that honors God. Since that time, America has been a struggle between the righteous idealism found in Winthrop’s words, and the reality of the consequences of conquest, greed, injustice, cruelty and pride, which Winthrop warned of.

Like Winthrop leading the Puritans to a new world of promise, Joshua had led the Hebrews to the land that God had promised them. And like the Puritans, the Hebrews came upon a land that was already occupied by people long established there. The Bible, of course, states that God intended for it to be this way and that God was giving this land to the Hebrews. What’s more, God commanded the Hebrews, under the leadership of Joshua, to drive out the people from that land.

We could get into a debate about whether we should interpret the Bible literally here and/or whether God would ever truly want anyone to come into the homeland of another and obliterate them; however, that debate is neither here nor there for the purposes of this devotion. The fact is that the Hebrews began a systematic campaign of conquest in the land of Canaan and, one by one, took over all the land. The other fact is that they made many missteps along the way, and often sought their own glory, rather than heeding the guidance and warnings of God.

The rest of the Bible outlines all the problems that arose out of that flawed conquest. While they did successfully take possession of Canaan and forged their own kingdom in it, they also had created enemies throughout the entire region, including some who were still living in the land. The rest of the Hebrew Scriptures are spent detailing all the conflicts that were sparked by competing kingdoms in the surrounding area. Soon after Joshua died and the conquest was complete, the people ended up electing guardian rulers, called judges, to protect them from their enemies.

While we will be talking about some of these judges in upcoming installments of this series, it goes without saying that the negative consequences of their conquest went on to haunt the Israelites throughout the years, even into the modern age. The same is true for every major empire, including the United States of America, that waged wars of conquest. Violence begets more violence and, as Winthrop warned, one falls hard when they claim to be God’s but don’t live up to God’s standard. God’s conquest has never been for land or money, but for the very hearts of people. The question for us is this, are we the type of people who will seek out our own glory in God’s name, or will we bring glory to God’s name by giving God our hearts?

“The march of conquest through wild provinces, may be the march of Mind; but not the march of Love.” – Herman Melville

Lord, I lay down my pride and give you my heart, so that I may be changed by your love. Amen.

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