What Does Devoted to Destruction Mean?


“Devoted to destruction.”

This phrase occurs just once in today’s reading. Joshua 2:10 says, “For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.”

“Devoted to destruction” is actually formed from one word in the Hebrew. The Hebrew word is herem. As a verb, “devoted to destruction,” it is used 50 times. The verb means to dedicate, to put under a ban. Herem is also used as a noun, “devoted things,” another 29 times. As a noun, it means ban, what is banned.

This phrase, “devoted to destruction,” has always stood out to me. You can find some form the of the phrase about 50 times in the Old Testament, but Joshua uses the phrase more than any other book.

Often times “devoted to destruction” is applied to whole cities. And, there are quite a few instances where whatever is “devoted to destruction” is done so at “the edge of the sword.”

Does this phrase literally mean that God destroyed whole cities – all the men, women, and children living in them – like we would drop a nuclear bomb on them today? That God told Joshua to physically destroy the babies in these cities? That God was continually wiping out whole swaths of people, committing genocide and/or mass murder?

I wrote about who is the destroyer in “Who Says ‘I Destroy’ – God or Satan?”

As I wrote in that post, God does not destroy. Therefore, the phrase “devoted to destruction” must mean something other than what most of take it to mean at face value.

So, what does “devoted to destruction” mean? How does Jesus translate this old covenant, dead letter, ministry of death and condemnation (Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 3, not mine), for us? How do we read this in the language of son, according to Hebrews 1:1-2?


In the Old Testament, Joshua is the primary person associated with the phrase “devoted to destruction.” This is very interesting because Joshua is a type of Jesus.

Joshua means Yahweh is salvation or the Lord is salvation. The name Jesus is simply the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name Joshua. Jesus means the Lord is salvation.

The names Joshua and Jesus were actually quite common in their day. Because Joshua was such a common name, Joshua was given an appellation so readers would know which Joshua the scriptures were talking about. Therefore, we often read Joshua, the son of Nun.

Nun is both a Hebrew word and letter. The letter was drawn with a pictograph that resembled a sprouting seed. A sprouting seed represents offspring, a new generation, or new life. Therefore, we could read Joshua, the son of Nun, as Joshua, the son of Life.

Like Joshua, Jesus is given a similar title. Mark 1:1 says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Also, Hebrews 4:14 says, “We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God.”

Now, we need to understand who God is. Romans 6:23 says “the free gift of God is eternal life.” God is able to give this gift and give it freely because he is life. According to 1 Timothy 6:13, God “gives life to all things.” John writes in 1 John 5:11, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” Indeed, in John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Therefore, we could read Jesus, the Son of God, as Jesus, the Son of Life. It’s not a coincidence that Joshua and Jesus share identical names.

So, in order to properly understand the phrase “devoted to destruction” we must know that it is Joshua, the son of Life, as a type of Jesus, the Son of God, that is doing all this devoting to destruction. Therefore, if we are to see Jesus in this, then how would Jesus, who came to give life and that life abundantly, devote something to destruction and yet at the same time give life?


John 1:1-4 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

John says that Jesus was the word that was with God all the way back in Genesis 1:1 when the heavens and earth were created. Everything was made through Jesus. But, how did Jesus, the word of God, begin creating?

Genesis 1:4 says, “And God separated the light from the darkness.”

Genesis 1:7 says, “And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse.”

Genesis 1:9 says, “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.'” God separated the seas and the dry land.

Do you see how God creates?

God creates by separating, dividing.

Now, it is no accident that John starts his gospel, “In the beginning…” He is telling us that he is going to tell us about Jesus and his new creation. Just like in Genesis, Jesus would create by separating, dividing.

In Luke 12:49-51, Jesus says, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

When Joshua was devoting cities to destruction he would burn them. And, here comes Jesus saying that he is going to cast fire on the earth. He’s speaking about Joshua devoting cities to destruction. Jesus says that this process of casting fire to the earth, burning cities, devoting them to destruction, is about division. Division is the process of creation, or re-creation as the case may be. Therefore, we begin to see that devoting cities to destruction, burning them, is really about re-creating them, not destroying them as we would think with our carnal mind.

Jesus says it a different way in Matthew 10:34, which says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” So, in addition to linking his process of re-creating by division with casting fire on the earth, Jesus links his process of re-creating with the sword. And, when Joshua was devoting things to destruction, he often did it “with the edge of the sword.”


Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Why did Paul write this? How did Paul come to this revelation?

Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:13, “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” Paul persecuted the early believers. He put them to death. Paul even stood by while Stephen was stoned to death. Paul was devoting things to destruction according to the carnal mind. He was doing it for the Lord, or so he thought.

When Paul was confronted by the Lord on the road to Damascus, Jesus asked Paul why he was persecuting him, not people. Paul learned right there that to persecute flesh and blood, to wrestle against flesh and blood, to put people to death, is to persecute Jesus. Paul was able to write “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” against people, because to do so it is to persecute and kill the Lord Jesus himself. Paul learned this in a first hand revelation from Jesus. Paul knows that we do not wage war against flesh and blood, against people, because Jesus revealed to him that God does not do that either.

So, if people, who are all made in the image of God after all, are not devoted to destruction in the New Testament, then what is?

In 1 Corinthians 5:5, Paul says, “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

In Philippians 3:19, Paul says that for the enemies of the cross of Christ “their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

In 1 Timothy 6:9, Paul says, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

Peter writes in 2 Peter 2:1, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”

Then, in verse 12, Peter says, “But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant will also be destroyed in their destruction.”

In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter says that in Paul’s letters “there are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”

If it is not people that Jesus brings to destruction, then what does this collection of scriptures show comes to destruction?

Notice that all of them contain the element of earthly things:

  • flesh
  • carnality
  • wrong desires
  • instincts
  • false teachings
  • wrong ideas
  • evil notions
  • senseless and harmful desires
  • ignorance
  • the twisting of scripture to fit our carnal thoughts

These are all things of this world, things of the earth. These are not flesh and blood themselves, but “the rulers,” “the authorities,” ” the cosmic powers,” and “the spiritual forces” that Paul says we do fight against. These are the things devoted to destruction.

John says it slightly differently in 1 John 2:15-17, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

It’s all the lusts and wrong desires that are not from God that are devoted to destruction.

Paul explicitly says this in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Again, the war is not against flesh and blood, people. Our weapons are not earthly but divine. These weapons have the power to destroy strongholds.

What is a stronghold?

A stronghold is a fortress, a fortified city, a walled city.

What was Joshua devoting to destruction?

Cities. Fortresses, Walled cities like Jericho. In other words, Joshua was devoting to destruction strongholds.

But, what Joshua was doing was a shadow of the reality of what God does through Jesus. Now, the strongholds, the cities, that are destroyed are in our minds. Divine power is used to destroy arguments and lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God.

The Hebrew word for “devoted to destruction” contains the idea that the thing was given to the Lord as an offering. It was being lifted up to God as an offering that would be burnt and consumed by the Lord.

This is exactly what Paul is saying. We raise arguments and lofty opinions – lusts, instincts, the twisting of scripture, senseless and harmful ideas, etc. – to God, devoted to destruction by God’s consuming fire.


So, how exactly does Jesus devote to destruction our flesh, our lusts, our wrong desires, and our arguments and lofty opinions that are against the knowledge of God?

Joshua did it devoting things to destruction “with the edge of the sword.”

Remember, Jesus said that he came to bring a sword, to divide, to re-create.

What is God’s sword?

Ephesians 6:17 says God’s sword , which is part of God’s armor, is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

The word of God is not the Bible. The word of God is Jesus.

Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Jesus is the living and active word of God. He’s sharper than any two-edged sword. It’s with the edge of the sword, the word of God, that the strongholds of our hearts and minds are devoted destruction. The edge of the sword, the word of God, Jesus,  pierces, separates, divides our soul from spirit. He divides the things of the earth from the things of heaven. Jesus divides the natural from the spiritual. He can do this because he can discern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.

Note, no creature will escape this. Everything God has made will be exposed before him in this way. The only real difference is do we come under the edge of the sword, the word of God, Jesus, now or at the end.

This is how we are made new creations in Christ through the things of this world being devoted to destruction in us.

We let Jesus devote to destruction, to put to the edge of the sword, to burn with his consuming fire, all of our false ideas that are against the true knowledge of God. Jesus destroys all the earthly things are minds were set on.

Therefore, we “seek the things that are above…Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1-2).

Therefore, we practice what Paul did. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)


I believe there is a very subtle but interesting clue in Joshua that devoting something to destruction does not mean killing it.

In the battle of Jericho, Joshua did everything as the Lord commanded. The whole city and everyone in it was devoted to destruction. And, the whole city was burned with fire. But, the text does not say that anything was killed. You may think that’s silly since the whole city was devoted to destruction and burned. You may say it’s obvious that everyone was killed.

But, not so fast!

Read the account of the next battle with Ai.

This time Joshua and Israel did not do everything as the Lord commanded. For one, Joshua did not follow the same battle plan of having the people march around the city. Second, a member of Israel had held on to some of the devoted, or banned, things from Jericho. Someone had held on to the false notions of who God is that were found in Jericho.

Therefore, in the battle against Ai, Israel devoted the whole city to destruction and burned it just like they did Jericho. But, Israel did something else in this battle. Now, we are specifically told that “Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai.” I think it’s more than a coincidence that someone in Israel held onto Jericho’s false ideas about God, devoted or banned things, and Israel killed in the next battle. Especially when that did not happen in Jericho.

Further, in the battle of Jericho the wall fell down flat. But, in the battle of Ai, it was the people that Israel killed that fell. It’s the same Hebrew word in both cases. The Hebrew word for fell here means to fall, to collapse. But, in can also mean to be inferior to. How interesting that the walls fell as inferior to God’s divine power for pulling down strongholds but the people fell as inferior to Israel’s carnal sword when Israel went to battle under their own plan and not God’s.

So, devoted to destruction is not killing people but destroying our evil thoughts. Satan is the killer and destroyer of people. Jesus is the destroyer of evil thoughts against the knowledge of God. This is how Jesus came to bring life and that life abundantly.

4 Replies to “What Does Devoted to Destruction Mean?”

  1. i am not sure how you reconcile the Scriptures to come to an understanding that the people of Jericho were not physically killed. my Bible says in Joshua 6:21: “the devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it — men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” DESTROY in this verse is the Hebrew word “charam” which can mean exterminate. my Bible also makes reference to Deuteronomy 20:16 as a parallel verse which reads: “however, in the ciities of the nations your Lord your God is giving you (Jericho) as an inheritance, DO NOT LEAVE ALIVE ANYTHING THAT BREATHES.” (sorry for the caps, but there is no other way to set text apart in this comment field)

    your article was very thought provoking, and it reminded me that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. but i do believe in the taking of the promised land, there was significant bloodshed. it is not because God committed genocide, as you suggested. when i read these Scriptures, it is difficult to imagine that whole cities were destroyed due to their wicked culture. but look at Sodom and Gomorrah … and many other examples through Scripture — Old and New Testament — where God removes from the earth those that have given themselves over to the dark world.

  2. I agree with MoJo. There is no good way to read the OT and not see that “charam” doesn’t mean kill. Obviously, when aimed at a non-living entity like a city, it means destroy, but if aimed at people, it means kill, especially as we see it carried out by Joshua, Saul, and others. The available definitions are “to curse, annihilate, or destroy.”

    The explanation you are giving seems like a hard hedge against Conditional Immortality or Annihilationism. Since in the NT it is the lost will be devoted to destruction. Paul says in 1 Cor. 16:22 that those who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ are anathema, which means cursed, and is also used in the OT to describe what Joshua did to the Canaanites.

    You are right that our sinful desires will be destroyed so that we live sinless lives in the New Heaven and New Earth, but for those who are not saved, if their sin is too removed, then they would be sinless, and would would be talking about Universalism. If they are not killed and their sin is not destroyed, then all sinful desires will not be devoted to destruction. Some will still exist. In order to truly remove sin, the sin and the sinner will need to be killed.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.