Joshua vs ISIS

I’m waiting for someone to come out of the woodworks and say that Joshua’s conquest of Canaan was no different than the actions of ISIS today. And could you really blame them for being confused? Both groups seem to operate under a “kill all unbelievers!” mentality – a clear violation of the Geneva Convention. Yet almost without exception, Christians affirm the actions of Joshua as moral and acceptable, and condemn ISIS for their violent atrocities. Is this a double-standard?

Divine Rights

If I were asked to articulate the difference between Joshua of the Bible and ISIS of the Q’ran,  I’d first start by stating that the Sovereign and Holy Creator of the universe is also the judge of all the earth. He reserves the right to judge all people at whatever time and by whatever agency He chooses. This is both a factual statement (Ps 98:8-9; Isa 5:16; Acts 17:31; Rom 2:5-6) and a historical statement:

  • In Noah’s day, God used a world-wide flood to judge all the people on the earth (Gen 7:21-23; 2 Peter 2:5)
  • In Sodom & Gomorrah’s, He sent fire and brimstone to judge all the inhabitants of those cities (Gen 19:24-25)
  • In Korah’s Rebellion, He opened up the earth to swallow up the wicked (Numbers 16:28-33)
  • In Egypt, He used nine plagues, then sent the Destroyer through the land, killing all firstborn (Exo 12:23-29; Ps 135:8).
  • He can even send invading armies – both good armies (Num 33:50-53) and evil armies (Isa 10:5-6) – to execute His judgment on a particular people.

In short, the Bible is consistent that the means and timing of His judgments are at His discretion.

Good Agents vs Evil Agents

Before we look at Joshua in the Bible and compare him to ISIS in the news, let’s first look at a Biblical army that more closely resembles ISIS: ancient Assyria and their battles against the Israelites fromS ~722BC to 700BC. The evil of the Assyrians is well documented in history. (Google will help you find more about them.) For the purposes of our discussion, it’s important to note the similarities between Joshua’s conquest and Assyria’s conquests:

  • Both Joshua and Assyria destroyed tens of thousands of men, women and children. (One might note that Joshua took no prisoners, while the Assyrians did. Hang on to that thought.)
  • Both were commanded by Yahweh, the God of the Bible, to attack the people they conquered. (Joshua got his instructions through the revealed will of God (from Moses Deut 11:24 and through God Himself Josh 1), while the King of Assyria got his command from God unbeknownst to him. Isaiah 10:11-19)
  • Both made a complete conquest of the land they were after. (More or less – but who’s quibbling? Josh 21:43-45 vs Isa 10:5-11)

But look at the outcomes: Joshua was rewarded by God for his faithfulness in fighting his battles, and the King of Assyria was punished by God for attacking Israel. The primary distinction between the two is the pride of the King of Assyria: he thought he was doing it for his purposes and his glory, and for this, God destroyed him for his prideful conquest of Israel (Isa 10:12-19). This passage is worth quoting [with comments]:

But when the Lord finishes all His work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, He will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for his arrogant acts and the proud look in his eyes.” For he [the king of Assyria] said:

“I have done this by my own strength and wisdom, for I am clever. I abolished the borders of nations and plundered their treasures; like a mighty warrior, I subjugated the inhabitants. My hand has reached out, as if into a nest, to seize the wealth of the nations. Like one gathering abandoned eggs, I gathered the whole earth. No wing fluttered; no beak opened or chirped.”

Does an ax exalt itself above the one who chops with it? Does a saw magnify itself above the one who saws with it? It would be like a staff waving the one who lifts it! It would be like a rod lifting a man who isn’t wood! Therefore the Lord GOD of Hosts will inflict an emaciating disease on the well-fed of Assyria, and He will kindle a burning fire under its glory. Israel’s Light will become a fire, and its Holy One, a flame. In one day it will burn up Assyria’s thorns and thistles. He will completely destroy the glory of its forests and orchards as a sickness consumes a person. The remaining trees of its forest will be so few in number that a child could count them.   (Isa 10:12-19)

God and the Proud

What we cannot miss here is that despite the King of Assyria fulfilling God’s “commands”, he did it with pride and arrogance. He thought he was the master of his fate, the captain of his destiny, and that all that he conquered was due to his own might. In his pride, he rejected the notion that God appointed him for this task (Isa 37:21-27), and for that, God destroyed him and his army. This pride is the key to seeing the night and day difference between Joshua and Assyria. Today, Joshua is in heaven; the kings of Assyria are burning in hell (Isa 30:30-33).

Another critical example of God’s timing in His judgments can be found with the Egyptians and Canaanites. Due to their wickedness, they were slated for destruction, but God chose to delay their judgment until His timing:

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs [Egypt] and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. … And they shall come back here [to Canaan] in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”   (Gen 15:13-14,16)

God and the Humble

There are many passages in the Bible that teach us that God judges the earth, punishing the wicked and rewarding the humble. Here are just a few:

And You — You are to be feared. When You are angry, who can stand before You? From heaven You pronounced judgment. The earth feared and grew quiet when God rose up to judge and to save all the lowly of the earth.    ​Selah.  Even human wrath will praise You; You will clothe Yourself with their remaining wrath. Make and keep your vows to the LORD your God; let all who are around Him bring tribute to the awe-inspiring One. He humbles the spirit of leaders; He is feared by the kings of the earth.   (Ps 76:7-12)

Our Lord is great, vast in power; His understanding is infinite. The LORD helps the afflicted but brings the wicked to the ground.   (Ps 147:5-6)

For Yahweh takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the humble with salvation.   (Ps 149:4)

Joshua was rewarded because he was humble in his faithful and obedient destruction of the wicked people of Canaan (if you’re curious about the sins of the Canaanites, see Gen 15:16 and Lev 20 – especially v23). Joshua’s humility is seen on many occasions, but the following examples will show that he (and, generally speaking, the rulers of the people of Israel) were not driven by a prideful, blood-thirsty genocidal maniac like ISIS is today:

  • Joshua and his men looked for converts who willingly converted. This includes Rahab the ExHarlot (Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (a particular tribe of Canaanites) (Josh 9).
  • They did not force converts at sword-point (or spitefully behead them if their prisoners claimed to convert – something ISIS has been doing)
  • Joshua and his leaders placed a higher priority to obeying the Word of God than following a blood-lust call of battle. When it was revealed that the Gibeonites deceived their way into a peace treaty, the elders of Israel refused to destroy the Gibeonites because that would violate their higher priority to keep their word/contract. God rewarded them for this decision. (Josh 9)
  • The converts that were added to their ranks did not have to serve as second-class citizens due to their race. This shows that God and the Israelites saw them as peers, not lesser citizens:
    • Rahab married into the line of Christ (Ruth 4:18-21; Matt 1:1-16).
    • The Gibeonites could call on Joshua and require his army to defend them against their fellow Canaanites that attacked them for defecting (God specifically instructed Joshua to honor their contract with the Gibeonites, clearly demonstrating that the eradication of the 7 Canaanite nations was less important than bringing on board converts ) Josh 10:1-11.
    • Approx 400 years later, God punished the nation of Israel with a famine because of an outstanding injustice that Saul inflicted upon the Gibeonites. This shows us that God acknowledged the Gibeonites standing as legitimate equals among the Israelites. 2 Sam 21:1-14.
    • Future generations of Canaanites that defected were treated by the Hebrews as equal citizens: Aranaugh the Jebusite. Uriah the Hittite. Etc. (Note that the pagans who joined the Hebrews but kept their pagan gods, language and customs were driven away. Neh 13:23-31).
  • Lastly – and most importantly – Joshua had unmistakable Divine assistance leading him. I don’t think ISIS can make the same claim:
    • It is the Lord Himself who tells Joshua to go into battle against Jericho, Ai, etc (Josh 1:1).
    • The walls of Jericho fell outward, destroyed by the Hand of God (there is strong archaeological evidence to back up the fact that these walls did indeed fall outward).
    • God refused to give them victory when they harbored sin in their midst (Joshua 7), and rewarded them with victory when they purged sin from their camp.
    • God sent hailstones to destroy their enemies – killing more enemies than Joshua & Co killed with the sword (Josh 10:11)
    • The sun and moon stand still so Joshua’s army could continue battle.

ISIS does none of these things, and has no divine assistance in their quest. Their rampage is the rage of bloodlust, forced “conversions” …and pride. And they’ve lost the battle to the “white devil”. (I wonder what their theology tells them about losing to the “white devils of the west”?)

The Bible does not acknowledge the actions of ISIS as righteous, and if they do not repent and beg forgiveness from Yahweh, they will end up in the same place their ancestral fathers ended up: in hell. (Isa 30:30-33).

Let’s pray for their repentance.

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4 comments to Joshua vs ISIS

  • Larry Carrière

    I heard this same theory of an uncanny parallel between the Book of Joshua and today’s ISIS phenomenon presented by none other than the esteemed Jewish Israeli scholar and activist Jeff Halper – (founder of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions – ICAHD).

    This occurred during a Sunday afternoon seminar / panel discussion in Jerusalem earlier this month in May 2015. This was the final event in a World Assembly of Pax Christi International which was held in the ancient City of Bethlehem, (West Bank) Palestine, on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the Catholic global peace movement of the same name. – (see

    Harper seriously suggested that all present do a review and re-reading of both the scriptural text, as well as considering the contemporary parallels in a kind of ‘discernment of the Signs of the Times’, as I understand the thrust of his extremely provocative argument.

    Thank you for the opportunity to engage in some meaningful dialogue on this topic.

    Peace be with you.

    Larry Carrière
    Pax Christi Toronto

    • admin

      Thanks for the feedback. I’ll be sure to look it up.

      As you can see by the date posted at the bottom of the article, I wrote it in September 2014, after thinking about it for some time (and having just completed leading a Bible study through the book of Joshua). I have never heard anyone talk about this, so I’m glad to see others thinking about it and preparing to give an answer for the reason for the hope we have within us.

      God bless.

    • Lars

      Larry, you are obviously coming at this from a Christian perspective but, if you can please step back and look at it from a neutral’s position. With few exceptions, the future Israelites were command to kill everyone in the villages they raided. If fact, some Israelite whose name escapes me, was killed by God for not showing mercy and not killing everyone. To address some of your points above:
      1) ISIS feels very strongly that they are following the commands of God, just as the Israelites did;
      2) ISIS is not converting pagans to Judaism, most of the people they are attaching are already in their faith. They are telling the Islamists in the region that region that their brand of Islam is wrong; something that Christians killed for in Europe through out the 1300-1600’s.
      3) ISIS is not blindly killings everyone, only those who stand up to them and their version of Islam. This is different from God’s command to the Israelites liberating Cannan. People who willing accept or convert to ISIS’s brand of Islam are accepted and given positions of power; like Jihadi John.

      I know you will have comebacks for all my points, people arguing from a perspective will always see events and history from their perspective. This is not wrong just a fact. I only urge you to step out of your comfort zone and look at the events around you as a neutral. If after doing that you still have reasons to accept your original arguments, I think your points will be stronger and on a much firmer foundation than before.

      PS – I am a Christian but not a Bible literalist.


  • admin

    Hey Lars – thanks for your feedback.
    Not being a Bible literalist does throw a monkey wrench into the works, don’t you think? I guess it might be worth exploring what “not a literalist” means, but at the end of the day, I’m not entirely sure what point there is to discussing a thing that you don’t believe to be factual. Kinda like trying to have an intelligent discussion about the existence of Bigfoot w/o believing the eyewitness reports. It begs the question of what a “neutral” position is, if you have only your imagination guiding you as to what is factual or not. Something to think about…

    Your comments about ISIS are worth noting. Be sure to also note where and when the Israelites did not execute everyone they came across. BTW, the incident you’re referring to is recorded in 1 Samuel 15, where Saul was punished by God for refusing to destroy all the Amalekites.

    But there were a number of times when God’s people -despite “standing orders” to the contrary- knew they were not to execute all the Canaanites, and showed mercy instead. If one has a strict black/white view on this topic, they should find it quite peculiar that God came along after the fact and blessed these displays of mercy – despite the fact that they seemed to be contrary to the standing orders to execute all Canaanites. I covered this briefly in the last section. It’s the paragraph that starts with “Joshua was rewarded because he was humble in his faithful and obedient destruction of the wicked people of Canaan…” Take another look at it. Looking at both the actions and motives of Joshua and his men makes for a very a sharp contrast to the behavior of ISIS.


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