Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 81: Joshua 10-12; Psalm 68; John 2

Terror, shock, defeat...
It is hard for me to read Joshua with any joy. Though Israel has entered the Promised Land, and is experiencing success as it moves to wrest possession of the land from its inhabitants, I bear witness to the fact that while victory is given them from God the words "wiped out" are being applied to people who have made their homes in this land for generations. Whole cities are being erased. Whole peoples are being put to the sword. Kingdoms are falling. For Israel, this is a new beginning. For the rest of the people of the land, it is the end of the world. Their only two choices are subjugation to Israel, or destruction. Total destruction.
the destruction of the city of Ai
I realize that celebrating the "victory of our God" is a primary way we worship, and that as we approach the Eastertide of the Church and our remembrance of Christ's resurrection it is only natural that we should rejoice in God putting death to flight. I can accept that, as death is not my next door neighbor. Death, to my knowledge, has no family and no lands from which to be displaced. Death is not a person. I can accept the defeat of Death.

But what of the people displaced or destroyed by Israel's victories? Thirty one kings, their kingdoms and their peoples are killed. All of them. Thirty one kingdoms are toppled. Cities are burned. "Collateral damage" is an understatement. The land knows no peace.

We would be doing God, and ourselves, a disservice if we attempted to pull back from the terror, shock and defeat of Joshua and choose instead to focus only on the victories and triumphs. If we are going to express faith in God, then we have to be willing to embrace, and struggle to understand God's leading Israel into a Promised Land whose inheritance demands genocide in order to be fulfilled.

the water that becomes wine
Contrasting this with Jesus' first miracle as it is related in the Gospel of John, it would be an easy choice to simply dispense with Joshua and focus instead on our Lord's turning of water into wine. A God who makes sure celebrations can continue is "good;" but one who demands genocide is "bad." We don't enjoy that luxury. Our God is one, and the God incarnate we celebrate in Jesus, with the Father and the Holy Spirit is the same God who called to Moses out of the burning bush. That God is the same god who shows Israel the Promised Land. That God is the same god who unleashes the Israelites on the natives in that land.

I don't have an answer to that challenging apposition. What I do have is the resolve to hold the tension between a God who gives victory in conflict with a God who calls for justice, peace and life for all the nations. Even as we cannot embrace the resurrection without accepting the reality of the cross; we cannot rejoice in life without accepting the cost that our lives require of the world around us. Joshua just makes that cost explicit, as the census of defeated kingdoms at the end of chapter 12 gives testimony. It is a hard tension to keep. When kept, I believe, there is in that tension a teaching for us to remember that no victory comes without cost in this world. The only victory that gives life to all is Christ's resurrection, and even that is only experienced in the wake of the crucifixion.

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