15 June 2015

Reading Joshua together

Matthijs and I have been reading through Joshua. It's not exactly the obvious choice of a Bible book to read through as a couple, but reading it together helps me catch up on my reading so that I might get through the Bible this year.

It's been a surprising adventure. As Matthijs reads, one of us sometimes stops and says, “what was that?” One obvious place was the story of Rahab (Joshua 2). After spending time with prostitutes in Amsterdam, the story has a few more layers. Like the fact that most prostitutes are very good at telling people what they want to hear. “Why yes, those Israelite men have already left.” “And certainly everyone in Jericho is afraid of all the Israelites.” I find it interesting that the spies report to Joshua that everyone is afraid of them when the only place the Bible reports them visiting is the prostitute Rahab's house. And it's on the basis of her word that they report this information. The only other proof the Bible gives is that they were being sought out by the king's men, but this might be standard procedure when foreigners sneak in to spy.

The long lists of people conquered, kings killed, and land divided is another aspect of Joshua I'd managed to forget. About a week of listening to names of people I don't know and places I've almost never heard of is more than enough (unfortunately, it's definitely more than a week's worth of reading).

At the same time, in the midst of the lists are some surprising moments. End of chapter 10 says that Joshua defeated the whole land and all their kings, he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel had commanded. Yet, at the end of chapter 15 it says “but the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalm, the people of Judah could not drive out; so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day.” End of chapter 16 notes how they did not drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer. How can there be no one remaining in the land while there are Jebusites and Canaanites still in the land? Can both statements be true?

To me this is one of the joys of reading the Bible together: to have those “wait a minute, what did it say?” moments. And then to wonder what's going on. I think most of us hear the book of Joshua saying that all the peoples in the land were conquered - because that's part of the theological message of the book: God is with them and is faithful to his promise of the land. So how then could there be people still remaining in the land? Yet, I think we miss something when we ignore what the text itself is saying, especially when it doesn't fit our own preconceived ideas of how it should be.

Alongside the strong theological message in Joshua of God's faithfulness, there's another undercurrent in the book of theological significance: the people are not entirely faithful (Achan's sins in chapter 7 being evidence of that). Saying that there were people Israel could not drive out seems to me to be another way of pointing to the people's lack of faithfulness. In the book of Judges, the theological undercurrent is exactly the opposite. The dominant theological message presented in Judges is that the people did what was right in their own eyes. Yet, alongside the unfaithfulness of the people, the book of Judges also has a theological undercurrent: God is faithful in delivering them.  

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