Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Joshua is an annoying book, purely because of the staggeringly high amount of killing God seems keen on.

Yet, having sat down and read the whole thing today, Joshua also has a really clear structure and message to it.

In the first part we’re told how, because just one guy (Achan) disobeyed God and stole some stuff, our supposedly loving God decreed that he should be killed.

He who is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done a disgraceful thing in Israel!'

- Joshua 7:15 (NIV)

Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them.

- Joshua 7:25b (NIV)

(In my ironically entitled ‘Good News’ translation, "all that belongs to him" is translated as including his family)

This really seems to make a mockery of their supposed forgiveness-offerings. It also seems to make a mockery of Jesus’ later words to love your enemies. Basically, it seems to make a mockery of the New Testament.

The fact that God had earlier let about 36 other people also die on account of Achan’s actions just makes it even harder to fathom.

Anyway, after God has got the Israelites to kill Achan, he moves them onto bigger and bloodier things.

God has recently brought the Israelites into the long-awaited promised land. Unfortunately there are already people living there. So, barring Rahab’s family, God tells them to literally kill everyone in sight.

For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

- Joshua 11:20 (NIV)

The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them.

- Joshua 21:44 (NIV)

That’s right - everyone.

But the Israelites did not drive out the people of Geshur and Maacah, so they continue to live among the Israelites to this day.

- Joshua 13:13 (NIV)

Whoa-whoa-whoa, which was it? Everyone, or just most people?

Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah.

- Joshua 15:63 (NIV)

The second one? Well then how come the other excerpt said that “the LORD handed all their enemies over to them”?

They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor.

- Joshua 16:10 (NIV)


Okay then, so having subjugated the few lucky locals who survived, the third section sees the ‘good guys’ dividing up the blood-stained promised-land.

Then, close to the end of the book, they’re all about to live happily ever after until some of them go and build another, unauthorised, altar, a move which fairly petrifies the entire rest of the community. Everyone protests to the perpetrators thus:

When Achan son of Zerah acted unfaithfully regarding the devoted things, did not wrath come upon the whole community of Israel? He was not the only one who died for his sin.' "

- Joshua 22:19-20 (NIV)

Now that’s interesting. The prospect of receiving judgement for one’s own crimes, sad to say, just doesn’t scare us that much. But that’s not what’s happening here.

These people – the “whole assembly” – are scared witless because they’ve seen how God has used them to execute judgement on entire peoples. They know that if just one of them sins, they’ll all have to pay. They have something that we’ve lost in our society – a very real sense of moral responsibility to each other. These guys won’t break God’s law because:

a) their loved ones will suffer for it, and
b) because of the amount of pressure from everyone else not to.

And indeed, this ‘new altar’ incident turns out to have been an innocent misunderstanding. The group have built another altar because, despite everyone present’s shared commitment to God, they know that one day, when they are long gone, their descendants probably won’t understand God’s ways as well as they do.

After all, their descendants won’t have witnessed first hand God’s horrific judgement upon all the peoples they’ve driven out. And upon them for Achan's sin.

Well I think that’s what’s going on anyway.

In the fifth and final section, Joshua spells the choice out:

"Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. But just as every good promise of the LORD your God has come true, so the LORD will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. If you violate the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the LORD's anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you."

- Joshua 23:14-16 (NIV)

The awful suffering of the old inhabitants of the land sends a clear moral lesson to the Israelites. But what of the dead? What of the roughly 36 people who died on account of Achan’s sin?

We sure don’t have the full picture here. We don’t know how many personal chances God gave those people before these events.

But we do know that, with or without God, those people had a choice what sort of life to lead. And if they chose a good one, then later stuff in the Bible would suggest that God, ultimately, saved them, even after death.

If nothing else, perhaps The Book Of Joshua tells us more about its eyewitness author(s), than the events they were writing about. With God giving the Israelites all these victories in war, it’s understandable that they might perceive that aspect of his character clearer than other aspects.

Today, we have the benefit of the rest of the Bible and our own relationships with God, which flesh-out much more of his character and hopefully give us a fuller, more rounded understanding of him.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are some Christians who say that “God is love.”

While I agree that love is one aspect of God, I think there is much, much more to him than just that one thing.

On the available evidence, I might call you a blog-reader. But there is surely much much more to you than just that…


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