Some final thoughts on herem. First, I am no authority – there are many incredible resources on apologetic questions like this, and I would suggest C.S. Lewis (problem of pain, great divorce, mere christianity) or tim keller’s the reason for God. I’m just a hack.
One question that springs to my mind is, “What happened to God??” Why are the Old Testament and New Testament understandings of God so different, where the OT God seems to be all about justice and holiness, but the NT God is a God of mercy and grace? To those outside the faith, these two conceptions of God are so starkly different that it seems as if God re-invented himself at some point. How do we make sense of it all?
The answer, of course, is Jesus! It is Jesus that serves as that perfect middle marker between these two conceptions, that God is holy and just (as we read in the OT), but that justice is poured out onto Jesus instead of ourselves (from the NT) – here in Christ, the holiness and mercy of God are perfectly balanced. The character of God has not changed at all because in Jesus we see the perfect revelation of that character: a God who is both just and merciful, holy and forgiving, a God who pours our wrath upon himself – a God of grace. In essence, Jesus made himself herem so that we would never have to!
What do we take away from this? Practically speaking, when it comes to understanding the most difficult parts of Scripture, it is important not to look at those events in total isolation, but in the larger context of what is to come. Trying to understand Jericho and herem on its own is impossible, but remember it is dwarfed by what Jesus did on the cross and the larger redemption plan God is bringing for the world. Keep Christ in mind, and remember that of all things, God works for eternal redemption.
On a personal note, a couple of things: first, this should serve to remind us of what an incredible personal transformation occurs when we accept Christ into our lives – this was no small thing, but completely changed us as we read in the book of Ephesians:
Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
It can be difficult, but herem serves as a reminder of how profoundly Christ changed the world itself, that we had chosen for ourselves only destruction and nothing more, but now with Jesus Christ…we have new life, a new hope, a new family, forgiveness from sins, eternal life, meaning and purpose…in short, Jesus changed everything, metaphysically and personally!
Lastly, don’t mess around with God. We often see him as a senile, faraway grandfather character, but the book of Joshua refuses this characterization. He is faithful and just and holy and wrathful, and we should not minimize or emasculate him. There is a wonderful quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where a character asks if Aslan is safe, and Mr. Beaver responds,
“Safe? Who said anything about safe?…of course he isn’t safe! But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
The book of Joshua is a not-so-subtle reminder that we rightly are to fear God…but that he is good. Even with this…there are no easy answers. I hope that the arguments I have provided have helped in part. In the end, I take my greatest comfort in the following passage:
Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”
We will not comprehend all things in this world, and some ideas and events will always be a mystery to us. But it is through the things that have been revealed to us that we establish our trust in the One who holds that which is in secret. We have personally experienced his goodness and mercy, so we place our trust in the God who has revealed himself to us, even for the things that we do not understand. And one day, he will make it all clear.