Moses has now passed away and Joshua has taken his place. A generation has passed away in the wilderness, paving the way for the next generation to take the Promised Land. Will they be holy and follow God? Or, will they fall into the same pitfalls as their parents? They were witness to the sins of their parents and their consequences. Joshua leads them across the Jordan on dry ground and sets up a monument at Gilgal to commemorate the event (Joshua 4). This event seems pretty menial in comparison to what God did at the Red Sea. Why did Joshua see the need to set up a monument as a reminder of what God has done? Were they even around for what happened at the Red Sea? How does this tie into last week’s lesson on the Shema?
The spies have already given a good report that the land is theirs for the taking. They do not make the same mistake as the 12 spies 40 years before. Rahab informed them that the people tremble in fear because of all the LORD has done. Rahab and her family are spared because she helped the spies. What does it say to an Israelite reading this story that Rahab, a prostitute from Jericho, has more reverence for the power of God than the entire generation that died in the wilderness?
Joshua is about to lead Israel on conquest to take Jericho and is confronted by a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. This encounter is left out of The Story but is an important story for us to hear. Take a moment to go read Joshua 5:13-15. Joshua has his “burning bush” moment. Joshua asks which side the man is on, Israel’s or their enemy’s? Neither. He is for the LORD. We often forget that it is God’s mission that we have joined, not the other way around. There’s a sobering quote from Abraham Lincoln that came to mind when I read this section. When asked if he thought God was on their side or not, he replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.” How do you know if you are on God’s side or not? What does this have to do with the Shema we talked about last week?
One of the hardest questions that comes out of the book of Joshua is how do we address the criticism that we worship a God who is so quick to obliterate entire nations of people – men, women, children, and their pets? Responses we’ve given in the past have not always been satisfactory. How is the loving God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore, patient and slow to anger in this story? Is God just flying off the handle?
These stories have to be placed within the context of the larger story. God is ultimately concerned with reconciling his creation back to himself. Are there parts of the creation that have become so cancerous that they simply need to be removed? Take a moment to do some research on the people who lived in Canaan and the kind of things they were doing. Child sacrifices, sexual sins as worship to foreign gods, bestiality, incest, etc. are all active parts of what the people in Canaan were doing. This is why God is so concerned with how Israel interacts with the people in the land. God has given them 400ish years to correct their ways (while Israel was in Egypt) and they have not relented. Is this harsh? We need to be careful in these discussions. God does not need us to defend him. We need to also be careful with how we apply this discussion to our lives today. Unless God has come down and spoken directly to us about a group of people, we should not assume that they are unfit to live. God uses Israel to cleanse the land but also warns Israel that the same fate could come on them if they are not faithful. God’s desire is that all of creation would be reconciled to himself.
The conquest of the land is an uncomfortable discussion. Many “Turn or burn” sermons have been preached in this mindset and we’ve swung the pendulum to the far other extreme of an all loving God who ultimately doesn’t care how you live because he loves you anyway. We need to take sin very seriously and we need to take reconciliation seriously. What are we doing to reconcile the world back to God? Please send any questions or remarks you have! I’d love to hear from you.