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.”