Tag Archives: joshua

Bible in 90 Days: Day 17


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.


Bible in 90 Days: Day 16


BiND:  Day 16


Well, here we are entering the promised land!  It’s been 40 long years wandering in the wilderness of repetition and names and numbers (well, or 15 days).  Now there is some pretty serious action going on!  Joshua leads the people across the Jordan and chases out/kills all the indigenous people in order to set up shop in Canaan.


There are some really interesting things to note about the book of Joshua in general and today’s reading in particular.  First the whole book.  It’s important to know that these books, from Joshua through Kings, are from the school of Deuteronomy.  In fact, they are often called the “Deuteronomic history” which essentially means that we can read Deuteronomy as a theological preface/prologue/foundation for the “history” we read in these next two weeks.  So as you’re reading, think about how the authors of Deuteronomy thought about the Israelite community and about God and that might provide a key to understanding some of the stories.


Next, a few interesting things from today’s reading.  Did you notice how Joshua became the new Moses?  As he led the people across the Jordan, the river stopped flowing and the people passed through on dry ground.  The people worshipped God at a home-made mountain (I can only imagine that those rocks got pretty heavy!) on the other side of the river.  And at the end of the whole episode, God’s messenger appears to Joshua and orders him to take off his sandals because he’s standing on holy ground.  So Joshua became Moses and relived the Exodus with an entirely new generation of Israelites.  They even revived the ritual of circumcision and celebrated the Passover, pretty clearly showing that authority had passed from Moses to Joshua, and also clearly making and re-making the community into God’s holy and chosen people.


You may have noticed that there is a significant amount of violence going on so far in the book of Joshua.  It’s horrifying to think that God ordered the slaughter of thousands of innocent people, and just as horrifying to think that God’s covenant community justified their war ambition by placing words in God’s mouth (though that does happen frequently throughout human history).  Archaeologists and biblical scholars have been working on what was going on with Joshua and the Israelites for decades.  It seems that Joshua lived in the 13th century BC (early Iron Age) and that the book was compiled in the 7-6th century (during the monarchy and exile).  Archaeologists are having a hard time finding evidence of as much destruction as is noted in this telling, and some scholars suggest that during the exile this was written as a way to evoke the “good old days” when Israelites had a close relationship with God, doing everything God asked and reaping the rewards.  Theologically we still have a quandary, though.  One of the things we talk about in confirmation class is that we have to come to terms with, basically, one of two ideas.  Either God didn’t actually command all this violence but was used as an excuse by the people who wrote about it (hard to stomach for those who want to take all of our Scriptures seriously), or else we have to realize that deep in our history as people of God, and deep in God’s history, is a residue of violence that is not easily overcome but needs to be dealt with anyway.  So when we read stories like the destruction of Jericho or the 30 other “kingdoms” (cities), how do we deal with that and with the fact that we believe every person is made in the image of God and one of the commandments is “thou shalt not kill”?  It’s an open question for Christians and people of other faith traditions alike.

photo is of modern Jericho, by kara melissa, from Flickr.