A Battle Without Mercy

Open Your Bible

Joshua 11:1-23, Psalm 110:1-7, Ephesians 1:3-14

What do we do with the violence in the Old Testament?

This is a question I hear often from members of our church, and for good reason. Whenever we read stories like the one in Joshua 11, it can be difficult for us to reconcile these accounts with what we understand about the person of Jesus. For this reason, for thousands of years, many people have wondered if the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament are, in fact, somehow different. 

Theologian N.T. Wright warns against this disjointed approach to reading the Bible, but he also cautions against drawing neat and tidy conclusions about passages like Joshua 11. In the crucifixion, Jesus received the punishment we deserve, and this is the primary paradigm by which we understand God’s judgment; God’s final word on human depravity is not condemnation, but the possibility of redemption in Christ. 

That said, what can we take from passages like this one? 

While we must be cautious about applying Joshua 11 to literal battles, it certainly teaches us something about spiritual ones. In the early chapters of the book, Joshua picks up the mantle of Moses’s leadership and fights many battles. In the end, “Joshua took the entire land, in keeping with all that the LORD had told Moses. Joshua then gave it as an inheritance to Israel… After this, the land had rest from war” (Joshua 11:23). He does all of this later in life, so he has earned a reputation as an effective military leader. Even so, he understands that Israel is not his to lead. Not truly. Instead, Joshua defers entirely to the legacy of Moses and the will of God.

This example is not especially notable until we compare it with a later leader, King Saul. In 1 Samuel 15, God gives Saul nearly identical instructions: go, conquer, and destroy entirely. Saul successfully completes the mission, mostly, but he spares some of the best sheep and cattle to keep for himself. Even though he conquers the Amalekites, God is displeased and rejects Saul.

It’s important for us to understand that God is less concerned with the battle than He is with the orientation of our hearts. Joshua understands this. He realizes that, although he is the leader of Israel’s army, he is not ultimately in charge of God’s people. And he refuses to win the battle “his way” because he trusts God more than his own judgment.

For those of us facing battles of our own today, we ought to ask ourselves some searching questions. When faced with one of life’s battles, will I respond like Joshua, or take matters into my own hands? Will I choose “what works,” or what is faithful? Will I be absolutely, positively obedient to the commands and character of God, even when it does not at first make sense to me?

Both options can achieve a similar outcome. But only one is a faithful response.

(57) Comments

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57 thoughts on "A Battle Without Mercy"

  1. Susan Lincks says:

    Poor horses, but trust in God is the message.

  2. Casey Evans says:

    Yes, it’s those little details along the way that really test our heart – and they’re the ones Gods cares about, the orientation of our hearts even more than the battle

  3. Casey Evans says:

    Yes, it’s those little details along the way that really test our heart – and they’re the ones Gods cares about, the orientation of our hearts not asthe battle

  4. Jessica Fowler says:

    I also highlighted that they had rest from war! You will too! Also we need to go and obtain the inheritance we have in Christ Jesus!

  5. Anastasiia Sibirtseva says:

    It’s time to practice obedience and trust.

  6. Kathryn Wright says:

    I think sometimes it’s hard to understand scripture like this regarding God’s wrath. While I get the picture of why the Canaanites had to be slaughtered, it can be hard to accept. I also think about the verse regarding God’s ways are above our understanding. I think it’s not for us to argue but to trust and accept God’s ways and knowledge are above our own understanding.

  7. Mari Sanchez says:

    I continue to pray to seek HIS will and direction over all. His way is always better than my way!

  8. Megan L says:

    Happy birthday!

  9. Saile Guzman says:

    From my hands into yours, Lord ♥️

  10. Elizabeth Dodson says:

    To your question about killing women and children: Though absolutely horrific (especially to people as removed from death and warfare as we are), strategically it makes sense. God’s desire was to root out a culture already given over to death in every way, and God doesn’t view women as somehow “innocent bystanders”. We are just as intelligent, capable, and influential as men, just as capable of evil and sin. Women are also unique in their responsibility to cultivate culture. The Canaanite women were the adults teaching and nurturing their culture to their children and in the community. Do you think if some group of people came into our country and killed all of our men, but allowed us to live and bring up our children, that we wouldn’t be nurturing bitterness, hatred, and plans for revenge? Planning it ourselves?

  11. Melissa Mcronney says:

    Lord help us to trust and obey You

  12. Denise N says:

    We too are these people, even now, but we have Jesus. Who has taken our sins upon Him. Thanks be to God. This isn’t to be taken lightly by any means. It’s very humbling to think I could easily be destroyed for my disobedience, hatred, evil heart. The Father is perfect but loves us so much. I’m so grateful that I live on this side of the NT.

  13. Alison Wortman says:

    These passages are hard to read. The thought of such slaughter makes me sick to my stomach. Were these people sinners – yes. Are we somehow better – no. Yes God is loving but he is also just. We too deserve to be annihilated. We are all sinners. God loves us so much he wanted to save us from his judgement. Knowing what we deserve makes Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross even more meaningful.

  14. Shelley Merkley says:

    I didn’t finish with my typo…Caitlin, we repeat behaviors that we were brought up on. That is why these children had to be destroyed too. It’s hard to read and I can’t imagine how the army of Israel felt as they had to obey God and kill everyone in these towns.

  15. Shelley Merkley says:

    Caitlin, I understand your thoughts completely. These people were worshiping many Gods, practicing witchcraft, children were sacrificed, they committed idolatry, and more. The evil that was there was practiced for generations so these patterns would continue even if these children were spared.
    Have you ever caught yourself doing something one of your parents did that you would aware y

  16. Jamie Trice says:

    I need to put my faith in the Lord to fully take over some situations in my life and it’s so gm hard to let go and let God do His work which makes no sense when we know how His outcome is way better.

  17. ERB says:

    @MERCY I can’t tell you how much your encouragement and exhortation means to me!! Thank you!!! I love the verses you gave me and will be adding them to my journal and daily prayer life. I want what the Lord wants no matter the cost to me!! Heart circumcision is incredibly painful and challenging and I am absolutely sure that’s what God is doing, in both my life and this elder’s life. Thankfully God has brought me to a place where I am not bitter, resentful, unforgiving or angry.. I just get sad and discouraged…Seeing these unchanged patterns and excuses of behavior in someone who is says he’s living his life for God, is hard to see, heartbreaking actually. I don’t want the enemy to keep claiming ground that should be God’s. I want to see forward motion and change. I want to see this elder’s heart get ministered to, I want him to know how much God loves, values and cherishes him. My heart is for God to be made known in all areas and aspects!!! Your example of gold and dross (impurities) rising to the surface was the PERFECT word picture!! I will continue to pray and let God work. I KNOW He will be faithful!!! Thank you so much for praying with me, it means so much!!! ❤️❤️❤️

  18. Caitlin says:

    I do have a lot of questions. If God loves us so much why slaughter women and children? Did the young children even have a chance to repent? If Jesus took the wrath of god for us so we wouldn’t have to it feels a lot like hatred to me. Reading this is shocking because in my mind I always imagined a forgiving and loving father. Not one who had to send his only son down to take the wrath for us. It seems kind of inhumane.

  19. Lisa C says:

    Thank you❤️

  20. Carmen Shiery says:

    I too struggle with the wrath of God sometimes, wondering, were all the people (children too) wicked in their hearts in all those nations and cities that they had to be completely annihilated? But I’ve come to the same conclusion, that this side of Heaven and the throne of God, faith doesn’t mean we have to have all the answers. And I believe God is reigning on His throne and I trust Him more than anyone or anything. He is a God of grace and love, He is also One to be revered and honored. It is super hard to explain how God is still a good God though to non-believing family and friends when there’s such pain and sorrow in this earthly life.

  21. Ashley Thomas says:

    Do I trust God more than my own judgment? Wow. How convicting!

  22. Mercy says:

    Erb, I too had similar problems with elderly family members in the past. All buttons were pushed when living together, including being provoked, misunderstood and even accused. It was painful trial time. The Bible says, Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:1). God used my own mother in a difficult season to train me. I was so miserable (like you described) taking her daily criticism, blaming and negativity. I prayed for quick deliverance from this situation. But God has his timing, we don’t know how long the training might take. For me it was a few years. God can change people’s heart, but most of all, He wants to change YOUR heart. “Heart circumcision” must take place and this hurts. He wants to peel off all the self layers, unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, the FLESH must die. He let the “temperature” go up, so all the impurities will rise to the top to be skimmed, like a furnace purifies gold if you will. My mom, who did not know the Lord then (while visiting us), she was super difficult, later received the Lord when my church asked, to my surprise, she said yes and even made a poem about Jesus and read it in front of everyone. Furthermore, she later apologized and made several amends to compensate for the hurts she caused. God did not waste our pains and tears, and He will use it for His glory. I will pray for your strength to endure, and great victory to come. Be strong and very courageous! This too shall pass Erb.

    “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). “No temptation has seized you that isn’t common for people. But God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities. Instead, with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13). God loves you so much!

  23. Sara Farrell says:

    It still blows my mind that the wrath of God is what took all of these kings and kingdoms and armies and people down. The wrath of God did alllllll of that. And Jesus took on the full wrath of God. This passage puts me in awe again of the cross and of what Jesus went through for us. Thanks be to God.

  24. Nancy Hoffman says:

    Lord help me to chose faithful obedience over what looks right to me that your name would be glorified in all the earth!

  25. Kimberly Hartjen says:

    The parts of these passages that always break my heart a little are the “For it was the Lords intention to harden their hearts so that they would engage Israel in battle, be completely destroyed with out mercy, and be annihilated, just as the lord had commanded Moses” vs 20—-our whole family reads these books together and talk about Gods Word as a family. I have to admit these verses are hard to explain to myself much less my teenagers. I have to pass them through what I know of my God. He is good. PERIOD! And all He does has a purpose and a plan behind it. But they are so hard to read! I almost feel like someone is telling a lie about the Father I love and adore. But they are His Word! Soooo faith and trust is where I have to land my heart. And hopefully my kids will land their hearts there too! (BUT THESE VERSES DO SHOW HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO BE IN HIS WORD, THE ENTIRE WORD!).

  26. Bobbi Hague says:

    God is more concerned with my heart less with the battle. This is good for me and especially this morning. I hope to remain faithful. ❤️

  27. Peggy Jenkins says:

    As I read the scripture from Joshua today, the complete obedience is what stood out and the results from complete obedience. How many times do I stop short in my obedience to the getting by point but not fully obeying? The results will be different. Lord give me a heart and mind for complete obedience.

    1. Megan L says:

      Love this.

  28. Bonnie Cochran says:

    After reading such an intense passage in Joshua and then finishing it out with the Ephesians passage, I realize just how difficult and heartbreaking sin truly is. To see Joshua carrying out the will of God and also doing what Moses said, and THEN reflecting on Jesus carrying out the will of God and doing what God sent him to do, is just humbling. God stands on His word, and will carry it out.
    The battles that I face what seem like everyday, I return to the question: “Will I be obedient to the command and character of God, even when it doesn’t make since to me at first? Both options can achieve a similar outcome. But only one is a faithful response.”
    Father God, help me make the decision that follows your will and not my own. Help me make the faithful response to your calling. Amen.

  29. Stacy Smith says:

    I really loved how she said that God is less concerned with the battle than with the orientation of our hearts. I need to be more like Joshua and trust God more than I trust myself.

  30. Linda Gilbow says:

    Part of the reason that we struggle with these passages in the Old Testament is because we forget how awful sin is. We’re not as shocked by Noah and the flood; I wonder if it’s because when we were children we concentrated on the animals two by two, plus didn’t get all the details of people drowning. God is Holy. He must judge sin. However He is also merciful, and we need to hang on to the fact that He had given the people of these nations time after time after time to repent. Eventually all sinners get to the point of no return. I don’t understand it all, but I do know that in the end times the battles will be even worse. This interlude of the church age is a time for all Christians to be spreading the gospel so that many people can be saved and spared the final judgment.

  31. KJ Johnson says:

    From the devotional “he trusts God more than his own judgement” fighting battle after battle is wearing. Completely wiping out- that is exhausting. I’m sure there were times this mortal man asked is this really necessary isn’t there an easier way? Our battles are to be fought completely trusting in the Lord his word and his ways above our own. He sees the big picture and the promises ahead.
    HEATHER- prayers for you health and your son today,

  32. Jennifer Ficklen says:

    “God is less concerned with the battle as he is with the orientation of our heart.” This rings true for me today . I am so grateful and thankful that he walks daily with me. He corrects me and he directs me. I have lost many battles but I have also won many battles. God has always been my my side and to hear that he’s more concerned with the orientation of our hearts and not the bottle itself is a relief. We don’t always win the battles, but with Jesus we win the war. The bible says we do not battle with flesh and blood but with the spirit.

  33. Heather O’Malley says:

    Wow…how will I respond to the battles I’m facing? I’m certainly facing some doozies right now! My own health concerns, my teenage son’s feelings of isolation and loneliness…our family is under attack by the enemy. I pray that God’s will be done, not mine.

    Thank you for the prayers yesterday! The breast biopsy went as well as something like that can go. Now I wait. But “For God alone, oh my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I shall not be shaken.” Psalms 62:5-6

  34. E _ says:

    “God is less concerned with the battle than He is with the orientation of our hearts.” That’s powerful! Leaning into that truth today. God, may my heart be fixed on you and your will for me.

  35. Mari V says:

    Got to get ready for work. But this devotional reminded me of a parenting class I took. Shepherding a Child’s Heart. When it all comes down to it what matters most is what is the condition of our hearts. I am applying this to myself. What is the condition of my heart and why do I do things that I do. I want to follow Joshua’s example and do things God‘s way no matter if I can’t see the big picture. And that’s OK because God does.

  36. ERB says:

    I am REALLY struggling today ladies… I have a family member (an elder in my life who I live with) keeps continually and repeatedly choosing to excuse sin…pointing out others faults & reactions to take the focus and responsibility off of themself, instead of acknowledging, repenting and resolving. This has been happening for as many YEARS as I can remember and there doesn’t seem to be any forward progress or even a desire beyond saying the “right thing” to get out of dealing with the issue/themself…
    I have gone through every spectrum of emotion both in my flesh and in the spirit. I have apologized, repented and changed my behavior that wasn’t from God (with God’s grace) for my fleshly reactions/actions but this family member, uses my heart after God against me, keeping a record and pointing out that it’s all my fault (or anyone else’s fault that tries to communicate, confront, resolve) in other words their reaction and sin is ALWAYS justified… there’s a LOT of “I’m sorry, but…” and I am at a breaking point!!! I know and believe that God is the Only One who can change a heart… and it’s not my responsibility to make someone see/change.. Oh… I need WISDOM in how to walk this out… Please help me!!!

    Reading Joshua and seeing the consequences and seriousness of sin is really weighing heavy on me about this situation. I pray daily for this person and want with all my heart for them to be set free from themselves and this behavior…so they can have a better more honest relationship with God. I know that praying is all that I can do… and that I can’t change this person or make them see something… but it truly breaks my heart. Their decisions, stubbornness and consideration of self is AFFECTING so many people around them. It has caused numerous divisions and so much strife!!

    Lord, PLEASE help me to know what to do and to walk in this, the way You would want me to… uproot strongholds, tear walls down, kill off anything that isn’t of You…let their be a new foundation which is built on Rock (not slippery sand) which is on YOU Father. Amen!!

    …if any of you ladies have any insight I would very much appreciate your feedback, thoughts and prayers. Thank you.

    PRAYER REQUEST UPDATE: I got my 24hr medical test results back. I didn’t pass the test medically speaking.. but my doctor noticed a HUGE difference and is super excited about the progress my brain is making (I have seizures) and my seizures have decreased significantly!! All of this is because of prayer and the amazing grace and faithfulness of God!!! To Him be all the Glory!!! Thank you for praying dear sisters!!

  37. Jen M says:

    So, so good. Sharon – Thank you for addressing the fact that this violence and lack of mercy feels disconnected from how we see Jesus.

    Sarah – Your comment is perfect. We are no longer the same people. We cannot use passages like this to justify war, insurrection, genocide… Thank you for saying what I was thinking. Yes and amen!

  38. Desiree R says:

    @Jess T – I love this ❣️

  39. Taylor says:

    Such great reflection questions from Sharon in today’s devotional (also wrote down Churchmouse’s questions in my journal to reflect on). What came to mind when reading today’s Scripture from Joshua was that God is ALWAYS in control – even in the battle. My current battle is job searching and boy is Satan creeping in with some nasty thoughts about myself, my future, where I put my hope etc. I trust that the Lord is control of my unique situation as He is in control of all of your battles. May it produce a faithful response in us! I also loved Kristi L’s comment of connecting the battles in Joshua to the gospel. Have a blessed weekend sisters!

  40. Audrey Kennedy says:

    Love this: God is less concerned with the battle than He is with the orientation of our hearts. ♥️♥️♥️

  41. Christine Cyphers says:


  42. Jess T says:

    I can’t imagine how the Israelites felt as they finally walked into the promised land, set their things downs, let their kids run around in freedom, and took a big deep breath. Reminder today that as I’m in what may feel like the years of wandering and battles, the promised land is still promised. I’ll keep moving forward, choosing to believe that the day I can set my things down and take a huge deep breath are just ahead. Happy weekend sisters! Praying we all get a taste of that promised land this weekend ❤️

  43. J says:

    Hard passages with the violence. Tony Evans explains it like this: “ God hardened Pharoahs heart after Pharoah first hardened it himself. God does not harden the hearts of people who are seeking Him, but of those defiantly rejecting Him. The Canaanites were determined to do wrong. When people reach the point of willful rebellion, God will harden their hearts to accomplish His purposes.”

    I’m still working through this. Not easy. He is the sovereign God of the entire universe, and He loves us, but requires our worship, trust and obedience. Repentance and forgiveness when we fail but are seeking Him still. Thank you God for all You are!

    1. Megan L says:

      Thank you for this perspective!

  44. Churchmouse says:

    God is sovereign. Always has been. Always will be. God has a plan. It will come to pass. God has a purpose. He is not capricious. Do I believe in, and accept, His sovereignty, His plan and His purpose? Do I believe He is good? When reading hard passages of Scripture my mind often turns to these questions.

  45. LivingJoyfully says:

    “… God is less concerned with the battle than He is with the orientation of our hearts.”

    That’ll preach. I’m going to need to sit with that.

  46. Sarah says:

    Trust and obey.
    Be strong and courageous.
    Love one another.
    Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

    We make it all so complicated. We read passages like these in Joshua and justify war, insurrection, superiority, and even genocide (“ethnic cleansing”). But while the God of the Old Testament IS the same God as 2021, we are not the same people. We have evolved as a society. We are not those war-faring people of thousands of years ago, and we cannot justify brutality today by claiming God condones it as kingdom work.

    It all boils down to a few simple commandments, all grounded in love. We make it so complicated, so twisted.

    Be strong.
    Be brave.
    Love your neighbor as yourself. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
    Take care of the vulnerable.

  47. Sarah Luehof says:

    Very helpful devotional to help understand the violence b
    V. Jesus way.

  48. Sue HoweRatterree says:

    That has been one of my questions for a while – why is there so much death and killings and destruction in the Old Testament? Makes so much more sense to me now as we fight the spiritual battles. Jesus took the ‘death and destruction’ for us. Faith and Obedience are key factors. Thankful for His Mercy and Grace.

  49. Terri says:

    Is Saul in heaven? If you choose “what works” instead of ” what is faithful ” will you go to heaven? Heven is the goal. Compared to eternity these few years here are not long.

  50. Kristi L says:

    As I read Joshua 11:20 today, this verse from 1 Peter came to my mind:

    “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
    ‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

    At one time, we had not received mercy. Like the people in the promised land, we were destined for death and judgment. BUT because of God’s great love for us and His mercy, He sent His Son to take the punishment for our sins and gave us new life in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). Reading passages like this in Joshua, though difficult, have made the gospel even sweeter and more precious to me. So thankful for the mercy of God!

    “…he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
    ‭‭Titus‬ ‭3:5‬a NIV‬‬

  51. Susan Crocker says:

    God is always after our heart! Appreciate this reminder .

  52. Kate Condran says:

    Great reminder & encouragement – what is the alignment of my heart?

  53. Maura says:

    Tough reading indeed today. These passages are always so hard to read because I know the grace and mercy of God. And so I believe when I read of these battles that though I cannot comprehend it even in His direction to Moses, which Joshua carried out there is grace and mercy, that I cannot see, until I think on Jesus and I have to trust. Prayed for your requests yesterday Sisters. Praying for teachers and students, All Healthcare professionals. God’s strength in the current battles of dealing with overwhelming circumstances. Hugs and love to you all. He is so good!!

  54. Magdalena Hauman says:

    It’s difficult to understand all the violence but we see that in the OT sins were dealt with almost immediately- Deut 10 explains some of the violence, God’s judgement against those nations for their actions and because He doesn’t want His people led astray. God knew that we can’t keep the covenant and sin comes completely natural to us and that’s why He sent Christ – now we aren’t judged immediately for our trespasses (not because God grew soft, but because of His mercy) but rather at the end. He works everything out for His good will and purposes to bring praise to His glory. We can only trust and follow where He leads.

  55. Susan Crosby says:

    Before all of the battles Joshua is called to the Lord tells him Do not be Afraid…this devotion reminds us about spiritual battles right along with physical battles we may face daily…not exactly like the battles Joshua was led into but they are battles none the less that we can choose how we face them. I pray my choice is a faithful one and not a choice of what works. I am reminded of a song out now. I’m gonna see a victory I’m gonna see a victory because my battles belong to the Lord. He will fight our battles.❤️ May we not be afraid!