In Acts 13 we read a remarkable sermon of Paul to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia in the synagogue.
“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen.  The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it.  And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness.  And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance.  All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet.  Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.  And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’  Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.  Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.  And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’
 “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation.  For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him.  And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed.  And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.  But God raised him from the dead,  and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.
The sermon continues, but this section is what drew my attention the other morning.
Paul is constructing a brief, periodized, universal history of God’s dealings with Israel from the time of the Exodus to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God elected Israel and saved them from bondage by his own hand. God led them into the promised land of Canaan. God gave them leaders like the Judges, the Prophets, and the Kings, especially David, whom he chose to supplant Saul. And finally, in fulfillment of all prophecy, he gave them Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah and true Son of David. In his life, trial before Pilate, crucifixion on a tree, and resurrection God has accomplished our salvation in history.
Unlike his argument in Galatians 4:21-31, in this section Paul does not betray any interest in what might be termed allegorical or even typological connections, which only appear in the following verses where he cites several Psalms as having been fulfilled in Christ. For the most part, Paul is dealing with what might be termed a simple, narrative history where events like the Exodus are happening on the same plane as events like Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan, his trial before Pilate, and his post-resurrection appearances before witnesses–the types of events of which Luke sought to make a diligent search and an orderly account in his Gospel (Luke 1:1-4).
And right there, in the middle of this orderly, historical account of God’s gracious dealings with Israel, he says, “And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance” (v. 19). Just as God set Israel free from Egypt by his own hand and delivered the promised land to them just so he destroyed the seven nations in the land of Canaan. The narrative of election, the Exodus, the Davidic Covenant, and the Resurrection is the narrative of the Conquest. And the chief Protagonist and Agent in each event is none other than the One God of Israel.
Now, I know there’s more to say here. As even conservative OT scholars point out, there are all sorts of important narrative tells within the conquest account leading us to see that the destruction was not total, that God is also said to “drive them out”, that much of what we’re dealing with is Ancient Near Eastern rhetorical exaggeration, and so forth. For more on that, see here.
All the same, it’s clear that for Paul not only are, “the narratives of exodus and conquest are inseparable components of Israel’s origin story” (Daniel Hawk, The Violence of the Biblical God, 165), but that they are inseparable components of the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel. Indeed, assuming Paul knows the narratives well (which his letters give us no reason to doubt), then not only does he know that the conquest was carried out by the hand of Joshua and the Israelites, but that doesn’t stop him from ultimately attributing their works to God as their ultimate author.
If we look to the apostles to guide us in approaching the Old Testament in light of the Gospel, then this is one more data point leading us to conclude that we must wrestle with these narratives as historical happenings. And not only as happenings but as divine doings. The works of the same God who raised Jesus from the dead.
Soli Deo Gloria
Derek, if you have a chance, soon, for your own teaching and writing ability, go to Israel. I went in February and it has transformed my Biblical understanding. I wish I went 40 years ago.
Great insight. The same could be argued with the expansive sermon given by Stephen before his stoning. He remembers that “our fathers who received [the tabernacle] brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations God drove out before them” (Acts 7:45). What does this unashamed affirmation of God’s acts of violence in the past mean for Jesus’ own teachings on violence?