We have been through some perplexing books and now we come to Joshua. A small side note, Joshua is the Hebrew equivalent of Jesus. Poor Moses did not get to make it to the promised land but it is Joshua who leads the people of Israel out of the wilderness into the promised land to inherit the land that is promised to him. That’s what it sounds like right? What is interesting is the contradictions of the narrative and archeological evidence against the stories themselves.
Wait, shouldn’t we take the Bible literally? The readers and authors of Joshua did not intend so. Let us look at some of the contradictions. Almost immediately, the Israelites violate God’s law and are not punished, but prevail in the huge victory at Jericho. “Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy,” reads Deuteronomy 7:2. Yet, they make a covenant with Rahab and their family and show them mercy. In Chapter 9, the Israelites also make a pact with the Gibeonites violating Deuteronomy! This happens on several occurrences and we are not appalled, but there must be something there to which we should pay attention.
Ok, but God promised them victory of all nations and that happens. (Maybe we should deal with the fact that this sounds like genocide in another post). They utterly destroyed many towns and conquered everyone because the Lord was on their side. “There was not a town that made peace with the Israelites, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon; all were taken in battle” (Jos 11:19). Hmmm, but “None of the Anakim was left in the land of the Israelites!” Well, except “some remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod.” (Jos 11:22). There are examples of this slight contradictions peppered through the narrative. As you can see, this voice is often injected into sentences amidst the overwhelming triumphant voice.
In addition, there is no known evidence for all of the battles and destruction that took place, but likely there were smaller skirmishes for the tribe of Israel. For example, we do not find evidence for the destruction at Jericho. So, what do we make of this subversive voice that permeates through the book?
Perhaps as Christians reading this Scripture we can see this voice through a Christ-like lens. Perhaps us, like Rahab, find ourselves brought into the fold as the gentiles were brought in by Christ. The triumphant voice of God prevails, but so do the stories of God’s mercy. As we read and have read Joshua, look at this different voices, motifs, and images coming through. What does it tell you about God? God’s mercy, power, love, forgiveness and our own humanity? As humans we are not very good at keeping covenants over centuries and we have a God who has an unceasing mercy and love for all of God’s people.
The Rev. William L. Packard
I am excited to read the Bible with you, not only for the knowledge and ability to say, "I've read the whole thing," but for the wonderful things that occur when Scripture is read intentionally each day.