“No Mercy” No More

canstockphoto5304327The theme of the book of Joshua could be stated as, “Show no mercy.” When the walls of Jericho came a tumbling’ down, the Israelites “devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.” (Joshua 6:21)

No mercy.

Then they moved on to the small, lightly-populated village of Ai, and were soundly defeated. Turns out that one of the Israelites, Achan, snuck some valuables out of Jericho instead of utterly destroying everything. That ticked God off, so he didn’t deliver Ai into the hands of Israel.

What was the punishment for Achan?

“Then Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan son of Zerah, with the silver, the mantle, and the bar of gold, with his sons and daughters, with his oxen, donkeys, and sheep, and his tent and all that he had; and they brought them up to the Valley of Achor….And all Israel stoned him to death; they burned them with fire, cast stones on them, and raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his burning anger.” (Joshua 7:24-26)

No mercy.

Then they attacked Ai, killing everyone—men, women, boys, girls, babies—everyone.

“The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand– all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.” (Joshua 8:25-26)

No mercy.

When five Amorite kings attacked Joshua’s army, the people of Israel were merciless in their slaughter. God even joined in the slaughter, throwing huge hail stones down from the sky. And when nightfall threatened to end their orgy of destruction, Joshua asked for, and God granted, more daylight. And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.” (Joshua 10:13)

A little extra time to show no mercy.

And thus it goes in the whole book of Joshua. With just a few exceptions—they couldn’t destroy the Jebusites in Jerusalem, for instance—the book of Joshua claims that Israel utterly conquered with merciless violence the entire territory of Canaan.

The book of Joshua presents a very simple equation: if you show mercy to your enemies, God will not be merciful to you.

There are some, perhaps many, who would glorify the God-sanctioned mercilessness of the Israelites, but the story doesn’t end there. When Israel sinned repeatedly against God, the Assyrians attacked and mercilessly destroyed them until there was nothing left except the southern nation of Judah.

Judah wouldn’t escape for long, however. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon would attack and destroy Jerusalem, carrying off everything of value. He made King Jehoiachin watch while his sons were killed before his eyes, and then he the took Jehoiachin’s eyes, blinding him before leading him off to captivity in Babylon.

No mercy.

In other words, you reap what you sow. If you are merciless toward your enemies, they will show no mercy towards you.

Joshua presents one picture of God. Jesus presents a very different picture, “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” (That’s from the book of Jonah, just so you don’t think that everyone in the Old Testament agrees with Joshua.)

The fifth Beatitude—“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy”—is a simple statement of cause and effect, of what goes around comes around, of reaping what you sow. If you show no mercy, then when it’s your time you will receive no mercy. The merciful are the blessed ones; they too will reap what they have sown.

If you sow mercy, you will receive mercy, and if you don’t, well…

At least you know what to expect.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / ramirez

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