There is a term in this chapter of Joshua that keeps popping up in the Old Testament—something that I have a lot of questions about. It is the Hebrew word charam. In many Bible versions, when a text includes this word, there will be a footnote at the bottom to explain that "The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them." In the Hebrew lexicon, the word can mean to consecrate, to devote, to forfeit, to utterly destroy.
For me, this raises some very serious questions. For if I want to see something or someone devoted to the Lord, I wouldn’t immediately think that destruction would be an appropriate action. So what is going on here? What did the Israelites think about this concept of devoting things to the Lord? What was their understanding?
Well, we might start by looking at the three primary Hebrew words for consecration: qadash, nazar, and charam. Qadash means to be clean—either ceremonially or morally. It includes the idea that something can be pronounced clean. Nazar means to abstain from impurity. It tends to connote restriction—keeping something away from impurity. Charam, on the other hand, means to be specifically and wholly devoted to God. Instead of restriction, it connotes action—giving something in its entirety.
Don’t get me wrong: I still have a lot of questions about the idea of charam as it relates to Israelites killing heathens. However, even with the questions, I remain firmly convinced (through evidence we’ve examined thus far) that having the Israelites destroy whole nations was never in God’s ideal playbook. He had other methods in mind; it was the Israelites who were bent on fighting. Still, in my mind, that doesn’t dissolve all the questions.
In the meantime, however, I think there is something important that we can learn from charam. God wants every part of us. He doesn’t want to just be Lord of a little bit. He wants to be Lord of it all. He wants every part. And, in truth, it really can’t be any other way. God can’t be "a little bit" Lord just like a woman can’t be "a little bit" pregnant. You’re either pregnant or you’re not. He’s either Lord of our lives or He’s not.
That’s a sobering thought for me—a control freak in (sometimes) recovery. I want to know everything that’s going on in my life. I want to look at all the plans ahead of time and be able to put my stamp of approval on them. It’s difficult for me to just let it go and let God do His thing. It’s easy to want to hold back parts of my life just for me. But if I am going to truly be consecrated to God, I must submit to the idea of charam. Everything in me must be devoted to destruction.
I guess that’s really the irony of the whole thing. Sin wants to destroy us. If we don’t surrender to God, our sinfulness will kill us. Like the heathens (and, eventually, the Israelites who followed them down the path of idolatry), we will arrive at a very dead-end, for there is no life outside of God.
But God wants to destroy our sin! So if we will surrender to Him, if we will allow Him to be Lord of our life, if we will devote ourselves to His "destruction," we will find ourselves free from sin’s grasp and fully alive for the first time. For as Jesus said, "Whoever has a desire to keep his life will have it taken from him, but whoever gives up his life because of me, will keep it." (Lk 9:24)