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Holy God, Human War

Holy God, Human War

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Published by David Driedger

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Published by: David Driedger on Dec 09, 2008
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06/16/2009

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 Holy God, Human War 
October 26 (Joshua 3)We have come now to the banks of the Jordan River. We have witnessed Godestablish themes of chaos and order in the creation account. We encountered Abrahamand then followed his descendents into Egypt where they became slaves and then weredelivered by Moses and led into the desert to receive God’s instruction from Mt. Sinai.Then they wandered in the desert for forty years until they reached the banks of theJordan River about to enter the promised land. In popular culture the crossing of theJordan River is a metaphor of death and the movement into eternal life. In our imagerythe other side of the Jordan brings us directly into peace and rest. This sort of imagery of the land itself is not entirely unwarranted but it is how the land is settled that we willspend time reflecting on this morning. The people are not brought into a land that isalready prepared for them. Rather it is a land they themselves need to clear. This is adifficult part of the Old Testament for us to understand. It may not be too strong astatement to say that the stories found here have literally turned some people away fromfollowing the faith.This is one of the common commands that God gives to the people in the book of Deuteronomy as they prepare to enter the land,
When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— and whenthe LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Donot intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred  stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire.
 
 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God.
 
You must destroy all the peoples the LORD your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their  gods, for that will be a snare to you.
When you enter the land, let it all burn; men, women, children, livestock, wealth, put it tothe sword and set it on fire. The word of course in our contemporary vocabulary isgenocide, the systematic killing of an entire people group. By the time we near the endof some of the Israelites campaigns we hear phrases like, “Joshua subdued the wholeregion. . . . He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as theLORD, the God of Israel, had commanded.” When we retell the popular story of the battle of Jericho that is even depicted in the well-produced Veggie Tales we tend not toemphasize the ending of that story. We honour the expression of faithfulness in how the people march around the wall of Jericho and how the God brings the wall down at their shouting on the seventh day. Less often do we draw attention to what happens after thewall comes down. It says that the people “devoted the city to the LORD and destroyedwith the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheepand donkeys. . . . Then they burned the whole city and everything in it.”
 
2We are setting stones at the front of the church as a reminder of the stories andacts of God in the lives of God’s people in the Old Testament. The main image for thisseries comes from the beginning of the book of Joshua where the people build amonument as a reminder of how God parted the waters of the Jordan, like the Red Sea,and allowed the people to cross over it. This however was not the only monument the people were to build in the book of Joshua. It became a little chilling as I took note of allthe other monuments that were built throughout the book.The next monument of stones is set over the grave of Achan. It is important toremember that in these conquest stories the Israelite’s battles were to never for the purpose of acquiring wealth or slaves. In many of the battles we read in English thateverything was to be
devoted 
to the LORD. This was the purpose of destroyingeverything the people and the possessions. It was so that they were taken out of the realmof the temporal, out of the use of the people, and placed in the realm of God. Itsomething like the old western saying, “Kill em all and let God sort em out.” But after the battle at Jericho we find out that a man named Achan from the tribe of Judah took some of the possessions from Jericho and kept them for himself. Because of this the people lost their next battle because God was not with them. Then after being defeatedJoshua seeks out God and finds out that someone had taken possessions for their own.Joshua calls the people out tribe by tribe and family by family until he comes to Achan.Achan confesses to his actions and says that when he saw all the beautiful things inJericho he wanted them for themselves and so he took them and hid them in his tent. The people then took Achan, the things he had stole, his other possessions and his sons anddaughters and then it says that all of Israel stoned them to death and the burned them. Itis over this place that they set a large pile of stones.After the people defeated the city of Ai it says that “Joshua burned Ai and made ita permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day. He impaled the body of the kingof Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised alarge pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day.”The Israelites continue their campaign and word spreads about them throughout the landand so the king of one city contacts four other kings in the hope that together they candefeat the invading Israelites. In fighting against these kings it is said that God also senthailstones from the sky killing more of the people than the Israelites did. The kings fledand hid in a cave where some Israelites trapped them in. When Joshua arrived he said,
‘Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me.’ So they brought the five kings out of the cave. . . . When they had brought these kings to Joshua, he summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders who had come withhim, ‘Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings.’ So they came forward and  placed their feet on their necks. Joshua said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.’ Then Joshua put the kings to death and exposed their bodies on five poles, and they wereleft hanging on the poles until evening. At sunset Joshua gave the order and they took them down from the poles and threwthem into the cave where they had been hiding. At the mouth of the cave they placed largerocks, which are there to this day.”
 
3These too are the markers of God’s presence in the stories of Joshua.I suspect you are beginning to get the picture. This is a difficult part God’s storyfor us to understand especially if we believe that this too is God’s word that still speaks tous today. One scholar has said that in reading this book the “the smoke of burning townsand the stench of rotting flesh hangs over its pages.” We also carry with us the shamethat these texts have been used in the founding of law and in dealing with native peoplehere in North America. These texts have been used in the oppression of people in SouthAfrica. Groups of Palestinian Christians and Israelis have at times appealed to these textsin their causes. Contemporary atheists point to these texts and ask how on earth peoplecan allow them to be a part of their sacred scriptures. Is
this
story in any way a part of 
our 
story?
Should 
it be a part of it? In the early church Marcion said we should do awaywith the Old Testament all together because themes like this one.He asked how the God of love in the New Testament could be reconciled with the God of the conquest. Modern scholars say that much of the text did not happen historically theway it is depicted in Joshua. Some interpreters say that we need to read this symbolicallyfor its relevance. Whatever we do it is important to approach this text with greathumility.What does this story tell us about our concept of God? We cannot deny that inthis instance God is sanctioning, actually God is commanding the outright killing of a particular people. But we also cannot deny that God is commanding a particular form of warfare. This war is not based in revenge. It is not based on greed. It allows for noimmediate profit. As was mentioned earlier this war was devoted to God. Everything inthis stretch of land was to be returned to God. I am not saying it makes this story anymore digestible only that we need to be clear about what the story portrays.The story portrays a God who is concerned about a people who are enslaved inEgypt, a people whom God promised would bless the whole earth. This people groupwas delivered from slavery and then promised a place to live and worship. This group of  people was to be a singular and uncompromising expression of God’s will. As such the people were to worship and serve God alone and not turn to any false idols. The peoplethen were to erase, destroy any trace and expression of other gods. Now what the book of Joshua makes very clear right from the beginning is that the expression of God’s willis not confined to a biological or ethnic people group. It is not confined solely to thegroup that was wandering in the desert.At the very beginning of the book we encounter the Canaanite prostitute Rahabwho lives in Jericho and hides the Israelite spies so that they are not caught.She tells the men that she has heard of what their God is doing and asks if she be spared.Then in a scene that is reminiscent of the Passover she is told that instead of marking her door with blood as they did in the Passover she is to tie a red cord from her window andthen just as in the Passover anyone who was inside of her home would be saved. Thisforeign woman who was a part of nation that was to be destroyed was accepted into the people of God and it is believed that it is this woman who is referred to in Jesus’genealogy given in the book of Matthew. Also the people of Gibeon tricked the Israelitesinto making a treaty with them and so they too became part of the God’s community.And as I mentioned earlier the people of Israel themselves were not immune God’s judgment as we saw in the actions of Achan.

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