BiND: Day 17
Well, today we’ve had a verbal map. Sometimes I wish we could just look at a map instead of reading about it! It seems like it would be so much easier. But it was important to be specific about each tribe’s inheritance and boundaries—it would help avoid disputes further down the line (though there were still some disputes right up front!). It also helps illustrate further the fact that the land doesn’t technically belong to the Israelites—it isn’t “theirs” as individuals or even as families—God has given it to the whole community, and each portion is to be used by a tribe. And this temporary possession is contingent on covenant obedience. “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your strength and with all your might”—and “love” here doesn’t mean a feeling, it means an action. It means obedience and care, trust and loyalty.
I often feel as if the whole book of Joshua (which, as we learned earlier, was compiled by the deuteronomistic school) leads up to chapter 24. Joshua challenges the people: “choose this day whom you will serve” and then he even tells them they aren’t capable of serving the LORD, but they insist! Joshua (and the writers who wrote this story from the perspective of the exile) knew that the temptations would be too great, but the people choose God anyway. Unfortunately, as we see as we head into the book of Judges, that is a choice that has to be made over and over, practically every day or even every moment. To obey and trust and be loyal to God requires repeated commitment. Once Joshua and his generation die, the Israelites “don’t know the LORD”—which doesn’t necessarily mean that their parents were negligent in their duty to pass on the faith, but that they haven’t chosen to serve God. Instead, it seems, they serve whoever is convenient. Baal, Astarte, and Asherah are all fertility gods/goddesses—so they would be attractive to those who make their living off the land. Worshipping/appeasing a fertility god may seem like a good idea if you depend on the rain or the sun or the general ability for crops to grow. Interestingly, it seems that the people turn to God whenever their local fertility gods don’t work out—and God answers, just as God promised. Unfortunately, the way this is written makes it easy to create and maintain a therapeutic and deistic image of God—someone who’s there to help you out when you’re in trouble, no matter what the trouble, but isn’t around much otherwise. In many ways, that image of God has been the downfall and twisting of religion into self-service rather than God-service. Interesting to see that we are by no means the first to “use” God for our own personal good!
Just very quickly, and with no discussion on my part: it’s interesting to note that in the very first chapter of Judges there is a positive portrayal of a woman—and more are coming in tomorrow’s reading. Keep an eye on the parallels between the portrayal of individuals, especially women, and the trajectory of community life. It’s interesting!
photo is of Beth-Shean, mentioned in Joshua 17 and Judges 1 as a place where the Israelites had trouble driving out the Canaanites and so lived together with them. The hill in the background is a Tel, the place where the city was and so grew up and up over the centuries. The surrounding plain would have been the pasture land, though now, as you can see, it’s home to the ruins of the Roman-period city. photo taken by TCP.