The Conquest of Canaan. Adam Hamilton, Peter Enns, and Others.


Listen to this Podcast or read the text below. They are identical.



Many within the Church today wish to pick and choose the teachings of Scripture that they accept and those they reject. There are two issues in particular that these people often mention as objectionable: the “violence” in the Old Testament, especially the Conquest of Canaan, and the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. One often gets the impression that the second of these, sexuality, is their main concern, but the first is where they begin because they believe that they can use it to discredit the Bible’s authority. They appeal to our age’s sensitivity to “genocide” (Despite the fact that we are the most violent period in the history of the world and that we kill millions of the unborn). One thinks immediately of Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton, pastor of the largest United Methodists Church in America, and The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns, who was dismissed from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Books like these focus on the “violence” of the Conquest and conclude either that ancient Israel misunderstood God’s instruction and/or that, in fact, the conquest never happened.

Usually the people who follow this line of thought take the Conquest out of its Biblical context. If we would address this matter fairly, there are several important considerations that must be mentioned.

(1) The Conquest and the New Testament Writers

Neither Jesus nor any New Testament writer critiqued or denied the Conquest.

(2) The Conquest and Biblical Support for “Violence.”

When taken as a whole, the Bible affords no justification for “genocide.” In fact, its teaching that human beings are made in God’s image and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves stands as a firm bulwark against the mistreatment, much less the killing, of innocent human beings. Even the Old Testament specifically includes the foreigner, the stranger, and even the enemy within the bounds of those who are to be so treated. From the earliest centuries of the faith Christians have reached out to helpless elements within society.

(3) The Conquest and Biblical Theology

We must pay close attention to the role that the Promised Land and its conquest by the People of God play within the message of the Bible. The Promised Land was not just a piece of real estate. It was the place God chose to dwell in the midst of His people in order to make His name known to the world. It was “holy” because it was the place where God’s people lived in fellowship with their “holy” God. He delivered them from bondage in Egypt and made covenant with them at Sinai so that He could bring them into this place of fellowship with Himself. As His covenant people they were to live in fellowship with Him in this land in such a way that their new kind of life reflected His holy character before the nations of the world. Their common life was indeed to reflect their love for God and for their neighbor. The Promised Land, then, became the new “Eden,” the new place of fellowship with God, and the type or picture of the ultimate eternal dwelling place of God with his people in the New Heaven and Earth. Thus, to remove the Conquest /Land is to tear the fabric of Biblical teaching. God’s people today are called to a conquest of sin and evil through the power of God and to a life of faithfulness lest they lose their inheritance as did Israel of old.

(4) The Conquest and God

Furthermore, the Scripture is clear that Israel did not conquer the Land by its own strength. In fact, the Bible makes it very clear that Israel’s attempt to take the land on its own was an utter failure. The Land was God’s gift to Israel which Israel claimed by trusting God in a conquest that was the work of God, who was the Conqueror. The Conquest was not so much God’s judgment on individuals, as on oppressive, corrupt, idolatrous, Canaanite society. Furthermore, Israel itself, when it became corrupt and godless, received the same judgment at the time of the Exile. The Bible is clear throughout that the eternal Creator God has the right to judge nations and peoples for their wickedness by the use of other nations or through natural disasters. It would be improper to demand proof that class-oppressive, sexually perverse, child-sacrificing Canaanite society was “worse” than some other societies before “approving” of God’s judgment. The Bible is clear that the eternal God is not subject to such exacting finite, fallible, but hubristic human accountability. This was the Land the omnipresent God had chosen for His special presence on earth and no unholy thing was to pollute it.


In light of these considerations it is clear that to represent the Conquest of Canaan as simply an example of Israelite ethnocentricity and Canaanite ethnic cleansing is to grossly misrepresent the Biblical account. I’ve spent most of my life studying Scripture and trying to help others understand its teaching. My book Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles (Thomas Nelson, 2014) shows how each part of the Old Testament fits into the entire Bible. Yet Adam Hamilton and others may have gone too far in their attempts to “make sense” of Scripture. Christian faith has always affirmed that God has truly revealed Himself in Christ and in the Scripture. But it has also insisted that God is greater than His self-revelation, that His ways are not our ways, that we will never fully understand the infinite God. There will always be the Divine Mystery that surpasses human comprehension. If, then, we insist on making everything in Scripture conform to our modern, finite prejudices and sensibilities, we will end up worshipping an idol of our own making rather than the living God who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ. Christopher J. H. Wright’s book The God I Don’t Understand is an effective antidote to our overconfident conformity of God to our own image. And, by the way, Dale Ralph Davis’ Joshua: No Falling Words (Christian Focus, 2000) is an excellent exposition of the book of Joshua.

“Walk Humbly with your God”—the Simple, Direct Message of the Old Testament Prophets in a Cruel, Greedy, Corrupt World.


Our Sunday School Class, Sunday, September 6, 2015

For June, July, and August we studied the Old Testament prophets in our Sunday School class. We had selections from the earliest prophets such as Hosea and Amos, from the great prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and from the latest post-exilic prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. These prophets addressed both Israel and Judah. They spanned a time frame from the eight to the fifth century B.C.  They warned God’s people of the coming exile, they promised God’s disobedient people that God would again save them by delivering them from exile, and eventually they encouraged the exiles who had returned to live as the people of God.

This repeated, continuous exposure to the broad sweep of the prophets underscored the simple directness and constancy of their message throughout the varied circumstances of their lives and across the centuries in which they ministered. Some Sundays I said to myself, “What do I do? This lesson says the same thing as the last three lessons? What am I going to say differently this week?” This continuity is built on the fact that the prophets called God’s people back to the covenant God had made with them at Sinai and thus to the Mosaic Law. By living in obedience to this covenant they as a people were to reflect the character of the God they served before the nations—they were to “be holy” as their God was holy.*

Thus the message of the prophets clarifies for us what the concern of that covenant was and what it means to reflect God’s character—to be holy as He is holy. The prophets’ first concern was for God’s people to serve Him alone—to tear down every idol that would deflect their loyalty from Him. They were, indeed, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5, NKJV). Only then would their lives reflect God’s character.  The clear message of the prophets, then, is that reflecting God’s character means living in integrity, sexual purity, self-restraint, justice, and mercy. Faithfulness to one’s husband or wife was a direct corollary of faithfulness to God. Integrity was to be expressed in honest business dealings, in the refusal to give or take bribes, and in keeping one’s word. Justice meant treating all people fairly. The meaning of mercy is evident from the prophets repeated concern for the helpless—for such people as the widow, orphan, and alien. Justice and mercy go hand in hand. Justice protects people from abuse but showing mercy or compassion to those in need is also the right or “just” thing to do. If we do not forget the prophets’ concern for sexual purity, the oft-quoted verse from Micah is a good summary of their burden—“And what does the Lord require of you, But to do justice, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NKJV). Note the emphasis on “love” mercy.

Some may object by saying the prophets also had other concerns—they condemned God’s people for not offering their best animals in sacrifice and for not keeping the Old Testament Sabbath.  One must remember,  however, that these were the ways in which Old Testament people showed their loyalty to God alone. (Freeing those dependent on you from work on the Sabbath was also an expression of justice and mercy, by the way). Thus the prophets’ concern for these things only underscores rather than detracts from their message of devotion to God, integrity, sexual purity, justice, and mercy.

Studying the prophets during these months has only emphasized the difference between what God requires and the personally and politically corrupt, greedy, cruel world in which we live. At the present moment it confronts those of us who profess to follow Jesus, the one who fulfills the prophets and in Himself embodies both the justice and mercy of God, with the hungry who cross our borders and with the plight of millions of Syrian refugees fleeing the violent destruction of their homes.

At you will find a compelling blog on the plight of these refugees. If you haven’t already read it, please do so.

*For more on how to understand the Old Testament prophets and on their relevance for today see Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles (Thomas Nelson, 2014) 195-220. Check out the page by that title on this web site.


The Picture on the Box–How the Bible Fits Together



shutterstock_68666755(I’ve been trying to write a description of how the Bible fits together in 1000 words or less. This article is my best attempt so far. Would appreciate anyone’s comments or feedback. There is so much  more I’d like to say!)


When I got home yesterday I saw the card table set up in front of the fireplace. My wife Rosa was once again hard at work on another thousand-piece puzzle. One of her achievements hangs on the wall of our bedroom—it is a large field of brilliant poppies. I walk over to the table to see her progress.

The first thing she does is spread out the pieces face up. Many Bible readers stop here. They read the Bible as if each passage were a little piece by itself.

So, how does Rosa put the pieces together? She begins by looking at the picture on the puzzle box. This brief essay is a sketch of “the picture on the box.” I want to help you get the Bible big-picture so that you can see how the “pieces” fit. The Bible “puzzle” is a mural of vivid scenes that tell the most important story in the world.

Next, Rosa identifies those pieces that make up the border. Genesis 1-11 frames the Biblical puzzle by introducing God, humanity, the world, and sin. God’s plan for humanity was three-fold: (1) to live in obedient fellowship with Him, (2) to live in joyful harmony as His people, and (3) to responsibly enjoy the world He had created. Genesis 3-11 describes mankind’s rejection of God. Humans refused to trust His goodness, deliberately disobeyed His command, and put themselves in the place of God by taking charge of their own lives. The results were tragic—alienation from God, conflict and violence among people, and the misuse and destruction of the God-given world.

The Bible mural depicts the story of God’s remedy for this human predicament. Its pieces inter-lock because they have been cut to reveal the restoration of God’s three-fold plan. The fullness of the divine solution fills the canvas of the final scene at the end of the Bible (Revelation 21-22)—there will be a new, redeemed humanity cleansed from evil and free from suffering, in perfect fellowship with God, enjoying unbroken harmony, and living forever in the bounty of the New Heaven and Earth. The scenes in between mark the path from the tragedy of Genesis 3-11 to the glory of Revelation 21-22.

In the first scene (Genesis 12-50) God promises Abraham posterity and land. This promise will find fulfillment in restored divine fellowship, human harmony, and renewed enjoyment of creation. God’s three-fold restoration will be offered to the world.

The next scene (Exodus through Joshua) unveils God’s initial fulfillment of this promise. God used Moses and Joshua to deliver Abraham’s now numerous descendants from Egypt, unite them into a nation at Sinai, and bring them into the Promised Land. That land was the place for obedient fellowship with God, harmony with one another, and restored enjoyment of creation’s blessings. Three things demonstrate that this restoration, though real, was not complete. First, life in the Promised Land was good, but not eternal. Second, these blessings did not yet reach the world. Third, God’s people continued in persistent disobedience. This mighty deliverance from Egypt was a dramatic picture of the full restoration God would offer the world through Christ.

The Book of Judges is a graphic picture of this persistent disobedience and its tragic consequences. God responded by establishing two institutions—the Davidic Dynasty and Jerusalem with its Temple. The purpose of these institutions was to establish God’s people in obedience through godly leadership and centralized worship. However, human institutions could not cure the propensity of the human heart for disobedience.

The Bible puzzle includes two complementary pictures of the Davidic Dynasty and its history. The first is found in the books of Samuel and Kings, the second in Chronicles through Nehemiah. The first focuses on the persistent disobedience of kings and people; the second, on the past goodness of God. The first calls for repentance, the second offers the penitent hope—God’s past goodness assures us of the greater salvation to come (in Christ). The Davidic dynasty finds fulfillment in the incarnate Son of God who would establish God’s people in obedience. Jerusalem foreshadows the final destiny of God’s people in the eternal City.

Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs are an interlude within the historical account of God’s dealing with His people. These books are a kaleidoscope of scenes that realistically portray human sorrow and joy in relation to the purposes of God. For the faithful the end of this tragic, mortal life is, by the goodness of God, eternal joy.

The Old Testament reaches its climax with “the goodly fellowship of the Prophets” (Isaiah through Malachi). These divinely commissioned messengers announced God’s judgment on the persistently disobedient people of God described in Samuel through Nehemiah. They also proclaimed God’s coming deeper work of salvation that would surpass liberation from Egypt by liberating people from sin. This salvation would be established by the One whom King David foreshadowed. It would be accomplished by God’s giving His Spirit to His people. It would reach its consummation in a sin-free new Heaven and Earth free.

This puzzle climaxes in three vivid pictures that make up the New Testament and depict the fulfillment of God’s promised restoration—restoration accomplished; restoration experienced; restoration consummated.[1] The Gospels show us how Christ has accomplished all that is necessary for the restoration anticipated by the Old Testament. Acts and the letters of the New Testament help us understand our present experience of the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Revelation describes the consummation of God’s plan at the return of Christ when all will be made new.

Here ends this brief sketch of “the picture on the box.” In subsequent essays we intend to give more detailed attention to the scenes that make up this mural as we “work on” different parts of the Biblical puzzle together.


[1] Gareth Lee Cockerill, Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 221-40.

To Whom do We Pray?

The Direction of Prayer

The Direction of Prayer

I recently walked into a beautiful Mosque in Central Asia. No one could mistake the direction toward which prayers were offered. There it was, the Mihrab, an indentation in the wall that looked somewhat like a large arched door beautifully decorated with tiles and calligraphy. See the picture above. The Mihrab showed worshipers which way to stand so that they would face Mecca and pray to the One God proclaimed by Muhammad. The place of each worshiper facing the Mihrab was marked on the carpet covering the place of prayer. There was little confusion over how to pray or the God to whom they were praying.

We who follow Jesus don’t have such a structured way to pray. We can face any direction. Sometimes we also have confused ideas about the God to whom we pray. It is so easy to imagine God the way we want Him to be—which, of course, is a form of idolatry. C. S. Lewis said something like this, “The prayer before all prayers is, may it be the real God to whom I pray and may it be the real ‘I’ who prays.” How do we come to understand the “real God”? I am gratified at the way in which David Wells has answered this question in his recent book, God in the Whirlwind (Crossway, 2014). He urges us to go beyond simply looking up individual verses that describe God. If we would know God, we must “begin at the beginning and see how God revealed his character across time” (page 41). We must immerse ourselves in the whole sweep of God’s revelation contained in the canon of Scripture and culminating in Christ. That immersion must be one of submission. As we humbly submit to God’s self revelation he uses it to reshape our thinking about Him. In the first chapter of the above book Wells warns us against allowing our own culture rather than Scripture shape our understanding of God.

I’ve written Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles (Thomas Nelson, February, 2014) with this purpose in mind. I wanted to help ordinary believers gain a sense of Scripture’s wholeness. I have offered this book as an aid in understanding the contribution each part of Scripture makes to the whole with suggestions on how each part applies today. My prayer is that Christian Faith in the Old Testament will help people in both pew and pulpit to humbly gain an ever more accurate understanding of the God revealed in Scripture, whose fullness is beyond our comprehension, but “whom to know” in His self-revelation “is life eternal.”

The “Big ONE”—in the New Testament, and in the Bible

Last week I was telling you about how I, as a new missionary, learned to communicate with the students at Kamakwie Secondary School. I remember the first night when I went over to meet some of the young men in the dormitory—although they were speaking English, I couldn’t even understand their names. I’ve told people that I was so green in those days that I made the grass look red!

Anyway, as I said last time, I learned that I could help them grasp the message of the Bible by focusing on the people of the Bible. The Old Testament was about Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, etc. The New Testament was about Jesus and those who followed Him. We made banners for the New Testament books and hung them in the classroom. The Gospels gave us four pictures of this Jesus. Acts continued the story after his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. It told about what he, through the Holy Spirit, continued to do in his followers’ lives. The letters explained more about him and the Revelation looked forward to his second coming.

Last week we talked about the “Big Four” in the Old Testament—Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon. The New Testament, however, is about the “Big One.”—Jesus. The “big four” lead us to the “Big One,” who is really the “Big One” in the whole Bible. Let’s look a little at how that happens.

Several years ago Rosa and I went through the Creation Museum near Cincinnati with our oldest grandson, Patrick, and with our dear missionary friends, Chuck and Ruth Pierson. How I remember walking from the hall of Creation to that of Chaos. In the hall of Chaos I saw such pictures of human misery. One felt the consequences of Adam’s sin—the awfully separation from God, the destruction of human harmony through selfish violence, and the disruption of humanity’s relationship with creation. The first eleven chapters of Genesis depict this situation so well.

The First of the “Big Four”—Abraham. But then God came to Abraham (Genesis 12), and promised to redeem humanity and restore fellowship with God, harmony among people, and enjoyment of creation. All of this through him and his family.

The Second of the “Big Four”—Moses. God used Moses, the second of the “big four,” to begin making this restoration a reality by delivering Abraham’s descendants from Egypt. This deliverance “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5:15 ESV) reestablished their fellowship with God. God confirmed his relationship with them at Sinai and constituted them as a people who would live in harmony under his covenant. Finally, God brought them into the land where they would again, if they were obedient, enjoy the blessings of creation. This was a genuine deliverance, but it was incomplete. Obedience led to a good life, but not eternal life. Their fellowship with God was real but limited. God’s promise did not yet extend to the whole world. Finally, God’s people, beginning right at Sinai (Exodus 32),continually turned away from God into sin.

The Third of the “Big Four”—David. According to 2 Samuel 7, God established King David and his house to “plant” his people. That is, David and his descendents were to direct the people so that they would live in obedience and enjoy the blessings of God’s covenant.

The Fourth of the “Big Four”—Solomon. Under Solomon, David’s son, the people experienced the height of God’s blessing. Solomon’s later reign, however, foreshadowed the history of disobedience that followed. More often than not, David’s children confirmed the people’s habit of disobedience—until the nation was carried away into exile. The prophets began to look forward to great David’s greater Son who would fulfill the mission of David’s house by truly delivering God’s people from their faithlessness.

The BIG ONE—This “Big One” would be the son of David, but He would also be the Son of God—“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”); “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:23, 21 ESV).

The Book Christian Faith in the Old Testament is here!

I was so excited to get the first copies of my book: Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles, Thomas Nelson, February, 2014.
Below is an imaginary interview that highlights the benefit and unique character of this book. I say “imaginary,” because I actually wrote both parts–both the questions, attributed to “Jim,” and the answers, attributed to me.

Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles, Thomas Nelson, 2014, by Gareth Lee Cockerill

Jim: Dr. Cockerill, your book has an interesting title, Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles. Just what is the purpose of this book?
Cockerill: Thanks for asking that question, Jim. I wrote this book to help ordinary Christian lay people understand the Old Testament as a whole and the vital message of each part of the Old Testament. Modern Christians are often woefully ignorant of the Bible’s first thirty-nine books!

Jim: But why is it so important to understand the Old Testament? Doesn’t the New Testament give us all we need to know about Jesus?
Cockerill: To read the New Testament without the old is like reading only the last chapter of a novel. The New Testament claims that what it says about Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old. The Christ of the New Testament fulfills the promise of God to Abraham, the history of God’s Old Testament people, the longings of the Psalms, the message of the Prophets, and more (see, for instance, Luke 24:27 and Acts 17:2-3). In fact, the Old Testament was the only Bible that the first Christians had.

Jim: I see, that is the reason for your sub-title, The Bible of the Apostles.
Cockerill: Yes, the Apostles began preaching Jesus with no Scripture but the Old Testament.

Jim: What led you to write this book?
Cockerill: Jim, for more than thirty years I have been fascinated with the study of how the Bible fits together and especially with the role of the Old Testament. This passion began in the 1970’s when I was doing my Ph.D. at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. It was fueled by my study of the Book of Hebrews, which draws so heavily on the Old Testament, and nurtured by my teaching of the Bible, both at seminary level here in the United States and while I was serving in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I began to see how grasping the Bible as a whole enriched my understanding of each Biblical book and passage. I saw how comprehension of Scripture’s unity facilitated my students’ understanding. Most of all, I saw how God could use this grasp of the whole Bible to make us more godly.

Jim: I see that you are pretty passionate about the Bible and about its unity! What, exactly, will a lay person get by reading your book?
Cockerill: This book offers three important benefits: (1) The reader will grasp how the Bible as a whole fits together. (2) The reader will come to understand the contribution that each part of the Old Testament makes to the whole. (3) The person who reads this book will gain insight into how each part of the Old Testament applies to us today and helps us live the Christian life. Christian Faith in the Old Testament helps us to identify with God’s people throughout history and to be reshaped by the word of God.

Jim: There are a number of recent books on the meaning of the Old Testament. What makes your book stand out from others?
• First, this book is written for lay people. It is both understandable and engaging. I was blessed to have several pastors and lay people read the manuscript. Then I took out anything that they did not understand. My son-in-law, Carey Vinzant, who is an excellent stylist, helped me. Thomas Nelson provided excellent editorial service. Furthermore, very chapter has helpful charts and diagrams. My students know that I am very visual!
• Second, the reader can use this book to go straight through his or her Old Testament. Many books on the meaning of the Old Testament rearrange the books in some supposed historical order.
• Third, this book tells you not only how each part of the Old Testament fits into the whole, but how each part applies to us today.

Jim: Great, but is this book only for lay people? What about pastors and students?
Cockerill: This book was written with clarity and without technical jargon for the benefit of lay people. It was, however, written for intelligent people. Theological students and pastors will find it useful for themselves and for ministry. Steve Schellin, Senior Pastor of Southland Community Church, Greenwood, Indiana, has this to say: “As a pastor, Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles really connects with me. I will use this well-written and informative book often in my reading, preaching, and teaching. In addition, I will encourage my congregation to read it! Dr. Cockerill helps everyone to grasp the wholeness of Scripture and provides aids to help us live an obedient life that reflects the full-scope of the bible’s teaching.”

Jim: Dr. Cockerill, just one more question. What about the difficulties that some people find in the Old Testament? Do you deal with them?
Cockerill: Jim, this is not a book about Old Testament “difficulties.” It is my conviction that we cannot deal with these “difficulties” until we have a grasp on the Old Testament’s unity and message. Only then do we have a context for deal with these questions. I have focused on helping people grasp this unity. Occasionally, however, when appropriate, I address problems some have raised about the Old Testament.

Jim: Thanks, Dr. Cockerill, for sharing with us about Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles. We appreciate what you have done to help us deepen our knowledge of Scripture. I look forward to reading this book.
Cockerill: Thanks, Jim, for the encouragement. There is one more thing I would like to say. I have written with a sense of vocation and the conviction that God wanted me to share the insight he has given me with his people. He has confirmed this conviction with what appear to have been a series of miracles—getting the contract for the book in the first place, completing the book on time despite added responsibilities, and getting the fine endorsements for this book from so many people that I respect. It is a privilege to lay this book at the feet of Jesus to use as he wills.