I have been a pacifist for as long as I can remember. I understand the use of force is sometimes necessary in order to protect, but an offensive strategy of violence and destruction seems so … well, I was going to say, un-god-like … but that’s exactly the problem I have with this first testament conquering of Canaan. God is the leader of a battle that destroys people, families, cities, farms. There are a great many parts of scripture that I find offensive to my own set of values. This chapter is one of them. When I look at the map of “The Conquest of Canaan” (above), I see it like a football play book*, only, in the case of this war, “winning” meant genocide — the annihilation of whole people groups.
I can enjoy good strategy, and rooting for my team, especially in a TV show like “Game of Thrones.” But in these chapters of Joshua, God seems so … so male, so violent, so uncompromising, so cruel.
This is the God that wins. I get that. This is the God of promises-kept. This is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As Christians, this is our story. We are still in the early stages of relationship of God and God’s people. It’s a time of building trust, and loyalty, and love. And the battles of Jericho and the other cities have been going on for millennia. The hate, the violence, the entitlement … it goes on and on and on and on.
We’ll see lots of sordid stories as we read together. There are many of characters we may wish weren’t in the Bible at all … but they are. They are a part of who we are.
My own great grandparents told me stories of our life in Germany. After doing some family tree work, I know that my ancestors were Jewish and Lutheran and Catholic. I know the shame of having a history we may not want to embrace. There is no greater icon of evil than Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. My mother told stories of how she was instructed to tell the people in school she was “Scandinavian” because she had blond hair and blue eyes. “DO NOT let anyone know you are German.” Yet, my great grandmother would tell me stories of the children running down the castle hill in
Weinsberg, Germany, as a child, laughing and playing, a re-living the battles of yesteryears. My family history includes one of the worst battles of the German Peasants’ War … a battle Martin Luther riled against. Growing up German Lutheran, I revered Luther. And as a seminary student, I found great hope in the works of Bonhoeffer and Niebuhr and Tillich … all great German theologians. I guess all of our family/faith histories are filled with good and bad and all the stuff in between.
This story of Joshua taking the Israelites into battle throughout the region of Canaan is as formational for the Hebrew people as the story of Martin Luther was for my family, Columbus is for Americans, or the Alamo is for Texans. It shapes us, our values, our worldview. This stories, these battles, is a defining moment for the people of Israel. This is the fulfillment of what they had been promised generations before. This is God being with them. And the conclusion is a reaffirmation, a re-choosing of God …
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
So, we look at our stories and continually ask, through the lens of Christ, through the lens of history … what does this say about the God who we choose and who has chosen us? and what does the story say about us and our relationship with God? For me, the take-away for my faith this week, is this “choosing” of God even when it involves things we don’t like, battles that scare us, wandering in the middle of nowhere, not understanding the reason for pain and suffering … in all of that, we, like Joshua can “Be Strong and Courageous” as we choose to serve Christ.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
As we struggle to be obedient to the hope of Christ, the love of God, the healing of the Spirit in the midst of our own battles of life … we can remain strong, bold, and confident that God’s way is the path of good, of graciousness, of resurrection, and of life.
*as Dwayne points out to me, I have no idea what a football playbook looks like.