Joshua Overview

If you want to hate God, Joshua is a great starting place. For us believers, grappling with Joshua often involves a heaping helping of of rationalisation.

Yes, it presents like a story of racial cleansing, yes, the violence seems contrary to everything God stands for, like loving your enemies and turning the other cheek.

People talk about the “God of the old testament” but Jesus was only quoting him when he said “love your neighbour as yourself”.  To question the taking of Canaan is to ask God, old or new testament, to be consistent with himself. Be consistent with yourself!

My own rationalisation, which wavers as I read through the book in detail, in summary is ‘shit happens’.  Wars happen, death happens.  The history section of the OT starts with the Israelites throwing the Canaanites out of Canaan, and it ends with the Israelites being thrown out by Babylon and Assyria.

The battles for the promised land are represented by 2 that are told in detail.

Jericho, is done God’s way. They have a chance to repent.  Then judgement by God. No glory to the Israelites, no plunder.  Except someone disobeys the last rule. The battle for Ai is done disobediently, ie: trusting in their own strength and seeking their own glory. They are defeated.

A warrior angel appears and Joshua dares ask him which side he is on. Neither side, but they are walking on holy ground. In their time, both Canaan and Israel used the valleys for child sacrifice, and the high places for ritual prostitution. Used it for their dreams of unjust wealth and jealous bloodbaths.

Providence keeps giving me experiences with indigenous Christianity at the moment.  It starts to attune you so that the references to land, to creation, stand out. As Israel’s history gets to crisis point, Isaiah has a vision of God gathering the outcasts and misfits, and bringing them through a desert that is in bloom, to a new Jerusalem, as the new creation claps its hands.

And here in Joshua, when the tribes are new to the land, it is wonderful to them and they rejoice over every inch of God’s promise. Holy ground.

The creation is a symbol that God’s promises are steadfast, outlasting our lifespans long or short.  Its also a reminder that God has inherent rights over our existence. A creator can determine their creation’s fate.

The long story of God’s recreation, of his abundance, love and salvation, really is more important than the story of whether your sin bound judgement comes today or tomorrow, in war or in peace. We fret about the manner and time of death, God frets about the fact of it.

Joshua the new Moses
1 Joshua literally takes Moses’ mantle and is told to be strong and courageous
2 They spy on Jericho, with the help of Rahab the prostitute. I delight at her salvation and doubt at the destruction of the rest 
3 Crossing the jordan, a repeat of the red sea miracle, hairs on neck moment
4 A cairn of 12 rocks to claim the land, the men camp at the edge of Jericho
5 Time for circumcision, Passover for the first time in 40 years. A warrior angel appears, says God is on neither side in the coming battle and declares it holy ground

Taking the land
6 Jericho destroyed. They had 7 days to repent. I contemplate fairness and lifespans
7 Next, defeat for Israel because of the sin of one, taking some plunder from Jericho
8 City of Ai destroyed, I twist in knots trying to understand the killing
9 Gibeonites deceive Israel into integrating rather than destroying them, a biblical plan B
10 The killing picks up pace, as does the desperation in my prayers
11 Destruction of the northern Canaanite kings. I think I’m coming down with something
12 List of Kings destroyed. I’m going a bit numb/gaga

Dividing the land between the twelve tribes
13 They start to divide the land between the tribes. Levis, like so many Jews down the ages, have no land of their own
14 Divvying up the rest of the land. Caleb the faithful spy is rewarded. I consider the racist aspects of project promised  land
15 List of lands and cities of Judah, original inhabitant comingle, weren’t wiped out
16 More lists. I compare the tolerance of ethic inhabitants in defiance of God’s word to living with sin. Pray for a hard edge
17 More land splitting
18 7 tribes to go. Ben’s land. I consider what a pivotal point this was for several of the world’s religion
19 Joshua gets a city to mark the end of land splits. They meet at the tabernacle

Promise delivered
20 Refuge cities practical “god is refuge” available to locals and foreigners… a system of mercy in a brutal book
21 48 Levite cities, incl. refuge cities. Ends on a note of mercy, and noting that God delivered on every one of his promises

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Joshua 24

Joshua gathers the people one last time before he dies. He recites the whole history of the nation, from before Egypt, the rescue the time in the wilderness and the giving of the promised land.

Then the choice, the two ways to live: choose you this day who you will serve – I will serve only the God of Abraham.  He’s jealous, its monotheism or bust.

The people resoundingly go for Joshua’s god, a covenant and a memorial stone is laid. Joshua dies having fulfilled God’s task for his life.

Of course it all goes pear shaped after that, we’re going to read Judges next, which is much messier and tells the story immediately following Joshua.

But this is a moment of supreme clarity. Two ways to live. God’s or mine.

Joshua 23

Be strong.

Old and about to “go the way of all earth” Joshua summarises very clearly what has happened for the people.

The Lord has kept his promise and given the land to them.  He has no illusion that it is their military strength that has won the land: “one of you drives out a thousand because the Lord is on our side”.  God has kept every promise.

They must stay true, and they will be blessed.  Staying true means sticking to the law of moses, not associating with the Gods around them. Mixing, intermarrying, watering down their faith, will lose all that they have gained.

Its very clear, very clear.

Joshua 22

The tribes given land on the west side of the Jordan build an altar there, giving rise to a misunderstanding.

The rest of the tribes of Israel think they have set up an alternate religion, another altar for sacrifices and atonement. It is enough for them to match for war against the western tribes.

Discussions are had and an explanation given that the altar will not be used for sacrifices but as a witness that they are one people with the eastern Israelites. Everyone is happy and there is no more talk of war.

The people really get it at this point. So often they are the ones who are faithless, but here they are full of zeal for God’s kingdom.

Joshua 21

48 cities set aside for the Levites to live. They don’t get their own region, they live among the whole nation. The cities all have common land for them to run livestock.

The 48 includes the cities of refuge from the last chapter.

Then a great summary of the book to close: God delivered in every word of his promises.

Joshua 20

The chapter talks about the cities set aside as refuge cities.

It reminds me of the way the equity court, which started as religious courts in Britain, could soften the harshness of the common law.

This concerns the mosaic law that anyone who kills could be avenged by death at the hands of the family of the one killed. But what if the killing was not intentional: manslaughter or accidental killing?

You could go to these refuge cities and plead for shelter, and stay there until the current high priest died, whereupon you were free to return to your home without fear of recrimination.

This applied even to foreigners living among the Israelites.

The geographical selection of the cities and the roads built to them were designed to make it easy to escape vengeance if you needed to. None were more than a day’s journey from anywhere in the land, apparently.

It’s an example of God building this society on mercy and fairness. I suppose it has echos today in the idea of churches providing sanctuary.

The Psalmists would return again and again to the idea of God as their refuge.  Here is God forging the theme from the founding of the promised land. Jesus would claim to be our hope.

After all the killing that has gone into claiming the promised land, this mercy is confronting and somewhat conflicting.

But as I concluded in the chapters about the conquest of the land, killing does not mean the same to the creator. Similar feeling to the rainbow that follows Noah’s flood. We all die, but not in vain if we end our days in god’s hope.

Joshua 19

The end of dividing up the lands. Last of all they give Joshua his own city, which it says he builds and dwells in. The energy of the man.

All this is done as they camp and in the door of the tabernacle, by the priest, who is impartial as they get no land – God is their inheritance.

I should make a tag for using lots. It’s a reoccurring theme… trusting God to luck.

Joshua 18

There are still 7 tribes who haven’t had the land allocated so Joshua gets organised. He sends out a survey party with representatives from each tribe to define the parcels of land and then they are allocated by lot. A practical system.

Does that mean the rest of Joshua will be devoted to announcing the seven winners and describing the boundaries of their portions? Yeah, pretty much I gather.

If course it’s a moment lodged deep in the psyche of two, possibly three of the world’s great religions. The promised land, my portion and my lot. God’s blessing, god’s grace, as deserved as the luck that drove the casting of the lots.

Benjamin’s lot is carefully described by borders. Relatively meaningless and boring today, but it would have been wondrous to them, cherished.

It’s a fittingly strange way for a nation to move into its homeland, for a fittingly strange nation.

If God had not chosen them I suppose they would have remained an ethnic sub group of Egypt for ever.

Some people never accept god’s choosing, they harden their hearts and break mine.

Joshua 17

The plot of Joshua has really gone to pot. Another chapter about how the land was divided.

I wonder if this was god’s plan, because they are moving into land that has not necessarily been conquered. Was the conquering time supposed to be longer, but Joshua just got old and the people tired of war?

The tribe of Joseph and Joshua have a very typical negotiation recorded. They say they are a great tribe, so why have they only one lot of good land and some hilly land full of warlike people with iron chariots? He says that if they are so great, then they’ll beat the warriors and use the mountain land well… reminds me of asking my dad for stuff.

It’s commented that a largish parcel of land went to a group of women, sisters in a family without male heir who argued their right. A bit of ancient gender equality!

Had homegroup last night, much to pray for. Sickness, sadness, family strife.

Joshua 16

This is the fourth chapter in a row telling how the promised land was divided up among the people. Why didn’t they just make it one long chapter? The divisions are odd.

Again the detail noted about an intermingled group of ethic inhabitants. It seems I’m not the only one who struggled with the absolute nature of god’s command to destroy the inhabitants. And it’s true that Israel never would live up to the image of a faithful nation.

It’s a bit like god’s command for us to destroy sin in our lives. To be sanctified. We never quite do. We leave sin living there in our hearts and habits.

And often it is as comfortable to us as just getting on with the locals would have seemed to the Israelites. Here in my demographic Christians have always been the comfortable ones, middle class, dominant, fitting right in.

Teach me to be hard edged with evil lord. To live your holiness, love what is right.