Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Book of Joshua

At church today, I decided that I will use Sunday, the Lord's Day, to blog the Bible. My first book for the blog is Joshua, because it is my favorite. It is my fav because first, the character, Joshua, himself. Chapter 1, verse 1 introduces him thus:

[1] Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass,that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying,[2] "Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel."

At this point in the Bible, we've just sloughed through 4 different books about Moses and the 40 years in the desert. Moses is forever having his ups and downs. He doesn't want to confront Pharoah at all because he "is slow of speech". He certainly has his moments (Charleton Heston) but for a great prophet, he certainly gripes a lot. At one point, he even has his Bill Clinton moment (i.e. Monica Lewensky). There are lots of reasons why God does not permit him to enter the promised land.

With Joshua, there is a change of pace right at the beginning. After a speech from God lasting 8 more verses, the ball is handed to Joshua. Verse 10:

[10] Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying,[11] "Pass through the host, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the LORD your God giveth you to possess it."
No squawking, no complaining, no big wrestling with his inadequacies; God has commanded, so he just does it. I like that.

This book is about the conquest of the promised land. We're talking of the land presently known as the country of Israel. In modern times, this land was pretty arid and generally undesirable but in those days it was prosperous, "the land flowing with milk and honey." To the south and southeast was the deserts that continued down to Arabia but in those days it formed part of "The Fertile Crescent" that stretched from Egypt in the west to Bablylon (modern Iraq) in the east. With the Mediterranean directly west, giving it access to the sea, international commerce as well as domestic agriculture gave this land a high level of prosperity.

The next 5 chapters (Chapters 2 through 6) tell the marvelous story of the siege of Jericho. This city is one of the oldest in the history of the world. Archeologists are dating it back to 7,000 b.c. Even in Joshua's day, it must have been one of the world's greatest metropolises. He was only able to take it through divine intervention. The picture shows the Jews in procession. With one final blare of the trumpets, the walls came tumbling down.

The next five chapters (7 through 12) tell of the conquest of the rest of the land. The book emphasizes obedience to God rather than military superiority.

Another reason why I like this book is because it contains some of the most troubling passages in the Bible, too. The enemies of the Jews are all bad - each and every one of them. They are slaughtered, even to the children, even to the animals. From chapter 6:
[21] And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the word.
The book is unabashadly racist. There is just no getting around this. I also note how this is a very ancient book. Homer, and the rest of classical literature were centuries in the future at the time these events occured (14th. century b.c.) and standards of civilization were so much lower. I get impatient when people judge distant civilizations by the standards of the present, so I make allowances for different standards then and now. Still, all this slaughter! Despite the repeated assurances that the peoples were especially wicked, the modern reader must wonder how many Rahabs dwelt among them.

(Rahab was the good Jericho lady who helped the Jewish spies and hence was saved.)

What would have happened if the spies had entered someone else's home instead of Rahab's? What would have happened to Rahab it she had not lived next to the city wall? Was she especially virtuous or just especially lucky?

In Chapter 9, we find that virtue takes second place to geography. The people of Gibeon send a peace embassy to Joshua. The negotiations center on the issue of whether the Gibeon's land is near or far. Joshua accepts their word that they live far away and grants them peace. When he learns that they live close, he is enraged. Since he has given them his word, he spairs their lives but enslaves them, instead. The narrative treats this as another example of the local's wickedness, yet it is hard not to sympathize with them.

The best and the worst of the Bible are found in this one book.

There is another aspect here. This is also a very honest book. The Bible chronicles the Jews bad things as well as their good things. Even to the most ancient of writers, these stories must have shown that things were not right. Even the most ancient of partisans would have glossed over these stories.

The next 10 chapters tell us how the Jews divided the land among themselves and settled in.

Chapters 23 and 24 gives us Joshua's farewell address to the people. I especially like Chapter 24, verse 15
[15] And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
The theme of the book is obedience to God. While it is God's place to judge us, not our place to judge Him, I wish He had behaved more Godly in this book.


Anonymous said...

Job Chapters 38 - 41

We have no idea why he destroyed all those people....And if we did know would we understand it?

I appreciate your post mate. Good to see things from the good book ANYWHERE!