Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Be Strong and Courageous (Joshua 1-6)


Enough of the legal contracts and pensive contemplation. Strap on your sword and grab your spear. It’s time for war, slaughter, and plunder!

The Lord gives Joshua his marching orders:
Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. … Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Strength and courage – two virtues that the people of Israel have been sorely lacking. The first time they came into the land, ten of the twelve spies came back cowering in terror, infecting the whole nation with fear. Only Joshua and Caleb had been eager to begin the invasion, but the people’s hesitation put this moment off another 40 years.

Now Joshua sends another group of spies into the land – only two this time. And where else would a group of unsavory nomads who had been in the desert for decades go, at the first sight of civilization, but to the house of Rahab the prostitute in Jericho? She proves even more congenial than expected, and hides the spies from the king’s soldiers. When the coast is clear, Rahab gives them a little glimpse of the morale of Jericho:
We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.
Rahab goes on to beg them to swear to God that they will spare her life in the sack of the city when it falls. They agree. The spies escape and report back to Joshua, who is thrilled to hear the news.

As a reminder that he’s the same God who parted the Red Sea and conquered Pharaoh’s army, the Lord dries up the Jordan river. 40,000 ferocious Israelite warriors pour into Canaan, with Joshua their general in the van. They take care of ritual obligations (this generation hadn’t yet been circumcised), eat their final meal of manna, and prepare for battle.

Joshua is told to march the men around the city once per day for six days, and then seven times the seventh day. Echoing God’s work in creation, the marching is a reminder that the Lord is doing the work here. After the last lap, they all give a shout. The walls crumble as if pummeled by cosmic artillery, the bloodthirsty soldiers roar into the defenseless city, and Jericho burns to the ground.

Their orders are simple: leave nothing alive and take no personal plunder. This city is an offering to the Lord. Only the prostitute and her family may survive.

The people’s spirits are high, their loyalty to Joshua firm, and their confidence in God steadfast. They are a far cry from the sniveling rabble that their parents were at Sinai. They are also a far cry from the wandering sheepherders that their forefathers were in this same place. The God of creation is leading them into a good land: driving out the current tenants with his flaming sword. They have nothing to fear but fear itself.

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