New article up on Christianity Today's "Preaching Today" site: tackling some of the tough holy war & violence passages in the Old Testament. It's basically a condensed version of Chapter 14 from Skeletons. Check out the full article here.

Preaching Holy War

Is God a genocidal maniac? Many people fear the holy war passages of the Old Testament make him out to be. “Show no mercy.” “Utterly destroy them.” “Do not leave alive anything that breathes.” Those are some pretty drastic marching orders. At first glance, God can look like an ancient military commander who’s lost his marbles in war, suddenly unleashing rapid machine-gun fire on a conquered village of unarmed civilians.

Do these passages depict genocide? Are Jesus’ grandparents carrying out vicious massacres at his Father’s command? How do we reconcile these tough passages with the goodness of God and help our people understand them well? How do we preach on holy war? Here are a few angles I’ve found helpful.

Military cities

The cities Israel takes out are military strongholds, not civilian population centers. Say the word citytoday and most of us think of metropolitan centers flooded with civilians: houses, restaurants, businesses, hospitals, and schools. But in the ancient Middle East, things were different.

The cities in the book of Joshua were military outposts that defended the roads leading up to where the people were (think “the Great Wall of China” as a military defense against invasion). Women, children, and other civilians were in the towns and villages of the surrounding countryside, looking to the “cities” for military protection.

Jericho, for example, was the first line of defense, a fort only six acres large guarding the travel routes up to Jerusalem, Bethel, and Ophrah. Civilian populations lived in villages and towns up in the hills. For example, Jericho and Ai (the two cities given the most attention in the book of Joshua), probably only held 100 – 150 soldiers each. So when Israel “utterly destroys” a city like Jericho, we should picture a military fort being taken over—not a civilian massacre. God is pulling down the Great Wall of China, not demolishing Beijing. Israel is taking out the Pentagon, not New York City…

Read the rest of the article here.