The Lord fought for Israel (Joshua 10:42).
Today’s reading contains one of those stories in the Bible where we attempt to explain away all the violence we find on the page. We wonder how a merciful God could punish so harshly, how a just God could fight for one flawed nation over another. But God’s wrath and judgment are a response to humanity’s sin. Even Israel, God’s chosen people, were not exempt from judgment. God used Israel here as an instrument to judge sin, but generations later, God would use the Chaldeans to tear Israel apart in the same way the Israelites tore through Canaan.
The prophet Habakkuk complained to God about the judgment—not because God chose to judge Israel, but because of how God carried out His justice.
“[M]y Rock, you destined them to punish us.
Your eyes are too pure to look at evil,
and you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
So why do you tolerate those who are treacherous?” (Habakkuk 1:12–13).
The prophet seems to say, “Fine, punish us, but don’t use them.” In other words, justice sounds great, but only if we can somehow land ourselves on the instrumental side of God’s purposes—and then choose the instrument of judgment we’re most comfortable with. Far too often, we’re tempted to wring our hands with glee to decide how to mete out God’s punishment of our enemies: “Yes, God, pour your wrath on them, and mercy for me, please!” A preposterous request. I am as deserving of God’s wrath as the Canaanite kings, the Israelites, and the Chaldeans.
And yet, God’s answer is this: wrath for Jesus and mercy for everyone else. His wrath against godlessness and unrighteousness is poured out, but directly, mercifully, on Christ. The same root problem of sin plagues us today, just as it plagued those in the passages we’ve read today. The rooted darkness of their sin, their idolatry and devotion to false gods, had penetrated deeply into their hearts and every aspect of their lives. In His merciful justice, He prevailed over it for the good of His covenant people.
Yes, “the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel” (Joshua 10:42). He continues to fight for His people even now. Our God is unchanging, and Jesus Himself came as the remedy to this problem, once and for all time, for us on the cross. Why would He do this, sacrifice Himself for His enemies (Romans 5:8), those bent on loving anything and anyone but Him? For the joy set before Him, beyond the cross (Hebrews 12:2)—bringing us back into His loving presence, freeing us from our own internal battle with sin, and blanketing us securely in His holiness.