OT Conquests and the Intrusion Principle

Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority, Second Edition (1997), 162–164.

A familiar Old Testament ethical problem is that of justifying the Israelite dispossession and extermination of the Canaanites over against the sixth and eighth words of the Decalogue. Defense might be attempted by comparing the function of the ordinary state when, acting through its officers against criminals or through its military forces against offending nations, it destroys life and exacts reparations. The proper performance of this function is not a violation but a fulfillment of the provisions of common grace. For in God’s dealing with mankind in common grace he has authorized the state as “an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil” [Rom. 13:4].

Now it is true that Israel’s army was also an avenger for wrath. But while an analogy may be recognized between the two things being compared, the conclusion cannot be avoided that radically different principles are at work. For if Israel’s conquest of Canaan were to be adjudicated before an assembly of nations acting according to the provisions of common grace, that conquest would have to be condemned as an unprovoked aggression and, moreover, an aggression carried out in barbarous violation of the requirement to show all possible mercy even in the proper execution of justice.

It would not avail the counsel for the defense to claim that by a divine promise originally made to Abraham and afterwards reiterated to his descendants the land was rightfully Israel’s, nor to insist that the iniquity of the Amorites was full and cried to heaven for judgment, nor to advise the court that the conquest was undertaken and waged according to specific directions of Israel’s God to Moses and Joshua. Such facts would have no legal significance for the international tribunal judging solely by the principle of common grace.

It will only be with the frank acknowledgment that ordinary ethical requirements were suspended and the ethical principles of the last judgment intruded that the divine promises and commands to Israel concerning Canaan and the Canaanites come into their own. Only so can the conquest be justified and seen as it was in truth — not murder, but the hosts of the Almighty visiting upon the rebels against his righteous throne their just deserts — not robbery, but the meek inheriting the earth.

It was earlier maintained that Intrusion ethics required of him who would obey its demands the highest outreach of faith. Thus, in the case of the conquest, showing mercy to Canaanite women and children would not have been rising above a condescending, permissive decree to the heights of compliance with a loftier standard. It would have been falling, through lack of faith, into the abyss of disobedience. As a matter of fact, was it not the great men of faith, a Moses, a Joshua, a Caleb, who prosecuted the conquest with vigor? And was it not in consequence of spiritual declension in Israel that they soon began to spare and make peace with those Canaanites who were left in the land to try them?

The conquest, with the pattern of Old Testament action it exemplifies, was not, as it is so often stigmatized, an instance in the ethical sphere of arrested evolution but rather of anticipated eschatology.

Meredith Kline, God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (2006), 135–136.

During its Joshuan phase the role of the priests continued to identify the campaign against Canaan as a holy war. The high priest Eleazar was associated with Joshua as the medium of oracular directions from the Lord (Num 27:15–23; Josh 14:1; 19:51). And the priests with the ark of the covenant were positioned in front of the Israelite army at the crossing of the Jordan and again, with the sacred silver trumpets, at the demolition of Jericho. Another indication that the Joshuan campaign did not fall under the category of just war but rather of holy war is the intrusion of the principle of final judgment.

Israel’s taking the territory of Canaan away from the long-time occupants of the land, overriding the common grace conventions and anticipating the eschatological day of the Lord, is indeed the paramount example of intrusion ethics. Instances of the intrusion principle are also found in various episodes within the program of conquest as a whole. For example, there was Rahab’s divinely approved deception of the Jericho authorities to whom she would normally owe her allegiance (Joshua 2). And underlying the case of the Gibeonites’ deception (Joshua 9) was the prohibition against the Israelites’ making covenants with the occupants of the land — contrary to normal common grace policy attested in the practice of the patriarchs (cf., e.g., Gen 14:13). The Joshuan holy war against Canaan, with its intrusion of the ethics of final judgment, was a prototype of the final battle of Har Magedon on the last great day of the Lord.

Meredith Kline, God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (2006), 210.

Extermination of the reprobate cancels the covenant of common grace. As long as the present earth endures the wicked are guaranteed co-existence with the righteous in a commonwealth order of earthly life that affords a measure of temporal benefits to all (cf. Gen 8:20–9:17). But at the appointed time this age of divine forbearance, during which God’s people emulate their heavenly Father by treating their enemies with forgiving love, will come to an end. The time will arrive for the new ethics of final judgment that summons the saints to holy hatred of the ungodly and to the execution of the ban of utter destruction against them (Lev 27:29; Josh 6:17).

That ethic of imprecation and execration, of dispossession and obliteration, was introduced in the history of Israel’s conquest of Canaan as a prototypal anticipation of the final judgment. It was there an exceptional, intrusive feature within the broader, underlying common grace order, a temporary, limited abrogation of the principle of commonness, forewarning the world of God’s intention to apply this holy war ethic on a global scale in the coming hour of final judgment. The genotype of the wicked is an endangered species, inexorably destined to become an extinct species in the lake of fire.

Meredith Kline, Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy: Studies and Commentary (2012), 68.

Seven nations (Deut. 7:1; cf. Josh. 3:10; 24:11); in such lists elsewhere the number varies from three to ten. The seven specified here possibly is a figure for completeness. Thou shalt utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them (v. 2). The Hebrew root ḥrm, translated “utterly destroy” in the major English versions, means primarily “devote” and hence “ban” and “extirpate.” Many have found a stumbling block in this command to exterminate the Canaanites, as though it represented a sub-Christian ethic.

Actually, the offense taken is taken at the theology and religion of the Bible as a whole. The New Testament, too, warns men of the realm of the everlasting ban where the reprobate, devoted to wrath, must magnify the justice of the God whom they have hated. The judgments of hell are the ḥērem principle come to full and final manifestation. Since the Old Testament theocracy in Canaan was a divinely appointed symbol of the consummate kingdom of God, there is found in connection with it an intrusive anticipation of the ethical pattern that will obtain at the final judgment and beyond.

Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (2006), 158.

Eschatological intrusion was a feature of premessianic times as well as of the present new covenant days, even though the advent of Christ inaugurated a distinctive epoch in the whole development. There was indeed under the old covenant a comprehensive (partly realistic, partly symbolic) projection of the heavenly-eschatological domain into earth history in kingdom form in the theocratic kingdom of Israel. Heaven came to earth in supernatural realism in the phenomenon of the Glory-Spirit revealed in the sanctuary in Israel’s midst. The eternal cosmic realm received symbolic expression in the land of Canaan. As is shown by the sharp distinction between this holy, theocratic, Sabbath-sanctified kingdom of Israel and the kingdoms of the common grace world around it, the special Israelite manifestation of the kingdom of heaven was indeed an intrusive phenomenon in the common grace order.

Appropriately, in connection with the symbolic kingdom-intrusion under the old covenant there were also in-breakings of the power of eschatological restoration in the physical realm and anticipatory applications of the principle of final redemptive judgment in the conduct of the political life of Israel, notably in the deliverance from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan, and the restoration from exile, though also throughout the governmental-judicial provisions of the Mosaic laws.

In messianic as well as in premessianic times the intrusion of the heavenly-consummate reality has been accompanied by symbols of various sorts. There have been prophetic typological symbols of the coming intrusion in the Son and there have been sacramental symbols of the already realized intrusion through the Spirit — holy signs all of the presence of another world-aeon within the historical order of common grace.

One thought on “OT Conquests and the Intrusion Principle

  1. Thanks for this insightful curation of Meredith Cline’s thoughts, Tony David McKay

    Sent from my iPad


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