Five books down. Sixty-one to go. If you’ve kept up with the Chronological Bible Reading Plan, you’re well on your way. We’ve completed the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number, and Deuteronomy) and, in terms of the story of the people of Israel, we find ourselves on the cusp of the Land of Canaan as we begin the book of Joshua.
Prior to the transition of leadership to Joshua, Yahweh revealed Himself to Moses and through mighty acts of salvation God redeemed His people out of bondage in Egypt. Once emancipated, the people received the law at Sinai through which God established His covenant love for Israel. Now, with Joshua at the helm, God is presented as the divine Warrior who carries His people into the Promised Land where they will find rest.
That sounds nice, right?
Yeah… until you get to the wholesale slaughter of the Canaanites, sparing not even woman or child. What’s up with that?
Even the most seasoned Christian bristles at what initially appears to be divinely sanctioned barbarism used to expand Israel’s territory and annihilate anyone who stands in the way. Surely it is examples like the ones found in Joshua that incite so many who are hostile to Scripture to accuse God of being blood thirsty, an ethnic cleanser, or, at the very least, bipolar (i.e. the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrathful judgment while the God of the New Testament is a God of gracious love). Atheist Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, is famously quoted as saying, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Try saying that ten times fast.
If you call yourself a Christian, you can neither downplay these issues with pat answers nor ignore them as inexplicable anomalies. You see, truth without love is abuse. Love without truth is neglect. Jesus Christ, who is the very same God of the Old and New Testaments, embodies the Gospel as an alternative – a third way marrying truth and love in which God’s righteous judgment and His tender mercy exist in perfect harmony.
Therefore, as we seek to navigate the book of Joshua, it will be helpful to keep in mind a few key ideas. First, God is Creator and therefore all that we see is His. We are tenants and He is, quite literally, our landLord. In other words, God owns first right to any and all land. If He wants a particular geographic area for His purpose, it is well within His prerogative to seize it. Second, all people are sinners. Therefore, all people are worthy of the judgment of God who is perfectly righteous and holy. The Pentateuch provides moral rationale for the destruction of the Canaanites. Their wickedness was evident and judgment was just (Genesis 15:13-16; Leviticus 18:24-30; Deuteronomy 9:5). Israel was the agent through which God’s judgment was administered and a vessel through which His righteous intentions were made clear. Third, through the Mosaic covenant ratified at Sinai, membership in the people of God necessarily required dual obligations both to the “church” (faith in Yahweh) and the “state” (identity as an Israelite). In this way, God instituted a theocracy for Old Testament Israel, one whose political and religious purity was to be preserved. If unrepentant Canaanites were permitted to remain in the land, their influence would likely dangerously syncretize Israel’s life and worship (and eventually, in fact, it did). Fourth, and finally, while the destruction of the Canaanites was stated unequivocally and uncompromisingly, God’s grace was always available to non-Israelites to surrender and live, especially through a genuine profession of faith (e.g. Rahab in 2:9; the Gibeonites in 9:1-27). These four factors speak to the justice and rationale for the events that occur in this significant period of Israel’s history.
Before I wrap this up, we must consider the Christology present in the book of Joshua. As we’ve seen before through Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses, many Old Testament characters serve to prefigure Christ in different ways. The same is true for Joshua, whose name means “to rescue/deliver” (or, more literally, “he saves”). Etymologically, Joshua = Jesus, so that’s convenient. But more substantively, Joshua is significant because where Moses failed, Joshua secured victory much like Jesus, on a cosmic scale, succeeded where Adam failed. Like Joshua, Jesus completed the Exodus in the fullest sense, not simply by capturing the Promised Land (Canaan) through battle, but by securing the Promised Rest (salvation) through bloodshed – His own. Jesus is the Interceder par excellence. Plus, the Son of God makes a cameo in Joshua 5:13-15, which is pretty cool (what is known in theological terms as a “Christophany”).
As always, please feel free to ask questions. You can either email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) or, if you’d like to start a broader conversation, you can post a public comment/question here on the blog. Thanks for reading.