Difficulties in Joshua

Difficulties with Joshua

There are many difficulties for a contemporary reading of the story of Joshua. We exist in a certain culture, with certain values and sensibilities about what is good and civilized and right. I don’t want to try and solve all of these problems this morning, because others will address these issues as they come up chapter by chapter. But since we are launching into this book together I thought I should say something to create a framework.

Joshua is the detailedstory ofthe Conquest and colonization of a land that was settled by other people groups.  And not just that, but Joshua is the story, in many cases, of the genocide of other other tribes and people groups, including women and children. This is a difficult issue to grapple with. 

Another Issue at hand in Joshua is the concept of Herem. It is translated as ‘devoted to destruction’ in your bibles.  When Israel’s armies attacked a city or a village, they killed everything living, in some cases even the animals that could’ve been used for food, but in almost every case all living humans were destroyed. This is a difficult, almost unimaginable kind of violence and destruction that doesn’t make sense to us.

Another issue that is in our current news is the Present day conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.  Many of you may ask when you read the news…Whose land is it anyway?

The question that arises for Christians and for modern people reading Joshua is this…How can the God that Jesus trusted also be the God who commanded the extermination of the people groups living in the Promised Land?


(I confess my own question: why couldn’t God have introduced the way of Jesus as the people entered the Promised Land? Why not release healing power and the way of peace into the Israelites, and then send them out into the Promised Land like Jesus sent out the 12 and the 72?)

Commentators and teachers of Joshua take many different strategies to try and answer these difficulties. The best ones I think are honest and humble and start by saying “There aren’t easy answers to these complex stories and issues!”  That’s where I’ll start.  But let me offer a few thoughts. 

  1. The story of God from Adam and Eve through Malachi, matters. The fullness of Time in God’s plan matters. Every part of this OT story is necessary in the larger wisdom of God’s salvation mission. The whole story holds together, and you can’t skip or delete what seems unpleasant just to read the easier to digest parts. It is a coherent story.
  2. Historical Context matters. Israel existed as one people in a variety of cultures… cultures that were often times brutally violent, vicious and dangerous to their surrounding neighbors. Conquest, pillaging, rape, theft were common parts of life. Israel does not stand out as worse than the practices of their neighbors, and often times their methods were LESS horrific than the practices of surrounding nations.
  3. Sin’s devastation is profound, and God’s plan arose slowly and deliberately within the midst of the mire and muck of our sin. God always words from within humans as he finds them. When we read this part of the story, there are elements that help us see God’s plan elevating God’s people from the muck around them…but we don’t see the end of God’s plan and we don’t see a story that is free and clear of the destructive force of sin.  Moving forward through history, Jesus pulls us out of the muck of sin and death and gives us everything we need for radical kingdom life with God..Jesus was a radical step forward in showing us how God truly is and what life with Him is truly like…but we’ve had this message and his example for 2000 years and we still haven’t learned how to consistently live in the reality that Jesus made possible.  If the world should exist for another 1000 years, the future church will look back at us with horror and wonder if we were really believers, just like we look back at the church of the middle ages and wonder if any of them knew God’s grace! 
  4. We live in the middle of kingdom conflict. Since the time of Jesus, his followers have waged kingdom war in heavenly places.  Ephesians 6 is a picture of how Jesus taught his disciples to fight.  But though we fight a battle in the spiritual realm and share the gospel of Jesus to people who are living in the kingdom of darkness, we should not underestimate how real the powers and realms of darkness are.  The Israelites were commissioned to clear out every place and every person who had given residence to the kingdom of darkness.  The land of Palestine was filled with idolatry and demon worship and violence.  There is a description given during Noah’s time that fits the Promised Land: Genesis 6:5  The Lord observed the extend of human wickedness on th earth, and he saw the everything they thought of imagined was consistently and totally evil!  The Promised Land, which belonged to God, had been overrun by the powers and rulers and principalities of darkness.  The people were enslaved and terrorised by the enemy.  They were sacrificing their children to demons and living under the full detriment of sin.  It took a physical army to remove the physical strongholds of a spiritual power, so that God’s people could inhabit the land and make it a stronghold of God’s goodness. 
  5. Another helpful perspective is to think about parents’ heart for their children. You may have heard the term ‘mama bear’ referring to the protectiveness a mother feels for her children.  Think of a Grizzly sow with a young cub!  Now think of a Father’s heart to protect and provide for his children.  I think of what I would do to make sure my kids could eat and sleep in safety.  The story of Joshua is the story of the ultimate ‘mama bear’ or the ultimate protective Father.  Have you seen the movie ‘Taken’ with Liam Neeson?  To me, that picture of a strong, rescuing father whose main priority overrides all other normal protocol is key to understanding Joshua. 
  6. In the end, we start with Jesus. WE see Him and we know that He is good.  We trust what He says. He says the Father is Good. In fact he says that we see the clearest vision of the Father when we look at Jesus himself.  And we can trust that Jesus is showing us the Father, and we can trust that the Father Jesus represented must be good, even when we are left with questions about the God we see acting in Joshua.  Because of our trust in Jesus, we don’t have to have all of our questions answered. Mystery is an unavoidable part of life with God, who is bigger, wiser and more profound than our brains and hearts can comprehend.  Jesus becomes our anchor point and the holding place for our trust. 
    1. Kara is reading The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe right now. We were laying in bed, and she paused to quote CS Lewis…

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

            In the end, each person is left with a choice… you either take God or you leave Him…but if you take Him, or if you are TAKEN by Him, you do so on His terms.  God is who God is, and our narrow slice of understanding cannot possible contain or explain or tame a God who is unfathomable. 

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