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Reflecting on Joshua 24

Joshua 24:1-25

24Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; 4and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. 6When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time. 8Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9Then King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand. 11When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. 12I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant. 14“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.

15Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” 16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” 19But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” 21And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 22Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” 25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

Some Thoughts, Consternations and Rejections

Taken from the point of view of the People of Israel, this is a great text. God called, God led, God protected, God released from slavery, and God gave them a land to live in.

The response in the text to this story was an invitation for a community, and for households in the community, to be in faithful relationship with this generous and loving God. Joshua and then many of the People of Israel responded to this with a vow to continue in the covenant with God.

So far so good.

But that good is rooted in violence, and so loses its goodness.

From the perspective of the Amorites, Moabites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites, and  Jebusites it is not so good.

In fact, the god revealed in this story is a thief and a murderer and then celebrates it.

As for me and my house, I will not follow this god.

This text as it in the lectionary is used by pastors and teachers as an invitation to faith for us and our household. But it leaves out the part of the passage about the murder and theft of other people's land and the story of God's authorization and assistance in that murder and theft. This is no doubt, a protest by the organizers of the lectionary

Anyone who is at all aware of the plight of Palestinians will likely hear in this passage a God who is for some people and against some others, who creates homeless people for a home for God's people.

Anyone who is aware of the toxic ideology of ISIS will likely hear in this passage the same kind of God that ISIS leaders promote.

In a time when the human race is seeing so much extremism, terrorism, and violence and alienation of one group from another this passage is more an expression of our problems than a correction to it.

If God is against some people and for some others, then we will always be choosing sides and hoping the hornets sent by God will strike down our enemies - unless of course the hornets come for us.

A god who commands, assists, leads, and then blesses and celebrates the killing of people and the theft of their land and property is not God.

Certainly not the God we need now.

This text, like all of the Bible, needs to be understood in its own cultural context. In that context "my god vs. your god" was a common way to understand conflict between people. When people fought each other they believed that their god's also fought each other.

It is also common for all human beings to justify our present situation as being right and good and beyond question. Ancient peoples were not necessarily worse than us - they often just used god language to do it.

Nevertheless, the God we need now is the God of all people, who looks at injustice and violence as a profound violation of the fact that we are all sisters and brothers of one another. This God works among us to provide, within a world of limited means, enough for all.

This is the God we need. I will follow this God. This passage falls far short of that God.

The same Bible, however, also contains writings that say that all people are God's children, that all nations are invited to the table of abundance on the last day, and that all nations will come into the new Jerusalem, the new City of Peace, when our imaginations about God and ways of living are changed and healed by God. The Bible does not speak with one voice. It is to be read and struggled with.

To read this text in public, without comment or context, can lead to the tacit support of the oppression of the Palestinian people in and near a City of Violence, the murderous idolatry of ISIS and our own temptation to make God be on our side.

The God pointed to and revealed in the majority of Scripture would probably appreciate it.