21 They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.
This is the one of the most difficult passages in Scripture, where everything is destroyed in Jericho. We usually shy away from issues like this, but we need to wrestle with this, for the sake of our own faith as well as our apologetic to the rest of the world. And this will not be our only confrontation with this idea in the book of Joshua…
The word used in this passage is herem, with means “to be devoted or consecrated to the Lord, as if to destruction”. This is what occurs at Jericho, where every living thing is destroyed, except Rahab and her family. This is a very confusing and difficult idea for us to digest, because it seems so contradictory with our understanding of who God is…how are we to make sense of this?
First, the theological answer. Remember from Romans that the wage or consequence of sin is death – so in reality, all of us deserve the same punishment as the people of Jericho – we have reaped herem for ourselves. It is terribly cynical, but the honest truth is that’s what we all really deserve, each and every one of us, as a consequence for our disobedience and sin. And the fact is that these terrible things do not occur all the time to all of us because God’s universal grace protects us all and keeps this universe together.
But this is how I have come to grips with this idea, when I take the concept of herem and apply it to my life – not in killing things of course, but dying to myself. You see, that definition of herem, “to be devoted or consecrated to the Lord, as if to destruction”, perfectly describes our spiritual state:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
You see, we are herem – when we become Christians, we completely die to ourselves, are wrecked for God, crucified with him, set apart only for Him and His purposes, as if to destruction. But the beauty is that we do this not for destruction, but so that Christ may live in us, and we may live through him eternally! It is through Christ that we finally can make sense of herem, that things that are devoted to destruction can be given new life.
I am herem.
1. Have you ever had a discussion with someone about how God could allow or even command destruction? What was your response?
2. There is no single nor easy answer to the question of herem – despite the above explanations, do aspects of herem still not make sense or sit well with you? (this is completely okay to admit!)
3. Do you feel like you are herem for God, completely sold out to whatever he wants? If not, what do you think is the biggest obstacle to living in this way?
3. Another definition of herem is “consecrated”, or “set apart”, which again points to us as Christians. Think about your daily life – what practices, habits, or mentalities mark that you are consecrated and set apart for God? In other words, can others tell that you are herem?