25 Starting today, I’m going to make every nation under the sky terrified of you. When they hear about you, they will tremble and despair.”
Episodes like the one described in 2:34-35, in which entire populations are wiped out, are among the most deeply troubling parts of the Bible. Particularly when this is done under the leadership of people appointed by God, or even on God’s direct instructions, many serious questions are raised. How is this consistent with God’s mercy? Interpreters have taken different approaches to try to account for episodes like these, but many problems still remain.
Perhaps the best that can be done is to acknowledge that the Bible presents us with a mixture of materials. Mostly God’s mercy, kindness, and forgiveness are stressed; but sometimes we do see judgments of God, whether through natural forces such as flood and fire, or through human armies, carried out against entire populations. Which of these attributes, mercy or justice, most essentially characterizes God? Which passages should we consider normative for our own guidance today, and which ones should we see as exceptional and interpret in light of the others? Discerning why and how these exceptional circumstances arose remains a matter for thoughtful students of the Bible to reflect on with reverence and concern.
26 We were in the wilderness of Kedemoth when I sent messengers to King Sihon in Heshbon and offered him these terms of peace: 27 “Allow me to go across your land. I’ll keep to the King’s Highway; I won’t turn off to the right or to the left.