I’d really intended to keep after this Wordhavering blog after being away for awhile – if nothing else to force me into the discipline of writing, of getting out a little of what is crammed into my head and swirling about, just to relieve the internal pressure. But then these past two weeks I have been buried in Joshua – literally, I feel – as I’ve been preparing the first installment of study materials for my home fellowship (the Vineyard in Boise). It’s wonderful to have that first installment done – and now I figure it gives me something to post here – at least some portions of it.
The Old Testament book of Joshua is, indeed, a brutal, hard book raising some hard questions. I really didn’t want to skirt these in my introductory thoughts, and yet I didn’t want to get bogged down in them either. As it turned out, I managed to keep my thoughts down to about 4,000 words and eleven pages. Here is the first section of it. Feel free to comment and tell me how I did…
‘Land’ becomes a cipher for a total social order. The move into the Land is nothing short of that creative change from chaos to ordered cosmos. – Leonard L. Thompson, The Jordan Crossing
The description of Israel’s lands in Canaan begins with the success of Judah and concludes with the failure of Dan. The entire corpus manifests the steady unraveling of coherence.
– L. Daniel Hawk, Every Promise Fulfilled
The kingdom of God irrupts on earth: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Old Testament focuses on that inbreaking of God’s kingdom on Israel’s land and particularly on it’s capital, Jerusalem. “Land” or “earth” is the fourth most frequent word in the Old Testament… there is probably no subject as important as the Sworn Land…The prominence of land in biblical theology arises from the deep and moving yearning in the human spirit to have a home, to be in a safe place. – Bruce K. Waltke An Old Testament Theology
A yearning for a place is a decision to enter history with an identifiable people in an identifiable pilgrimage. – Walter Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith
“Moses my servant is dead.”
The book of Joshua marks a time of great transition. Jacob’s family of seventy that settled in Egypt became the slave labor force of Pharaoh and then after several centuries was delivered from bondage through the Exodus and became a nation with its own laws and constitution, priesthood and religion, faith and heritage.
But no land. Not yet.
God had pronounced them a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” But in their own minds they remained a nation of slaves and nobodies. Upon first approaching the borders of the land that God had promised their fathers, a promise dating back over 400 years, they can only see their inner inadequacies and external impossibilities; they chose to cower and run. They bottled out. An entire generation that could have entered in, that could have taken the land, turned away from fields of divinely promised blessing and meaning and destiny. Kings and priests chose to remain slaves; a nation of slaves became a nomad nation wandering forty years, walking in endless desert ruts, leaving graves all along the way.
An entire generation perishes in hopelessness and defeat.
All except for Joshua and Caleb.
Their eyes looked higher; they saw things unseen. Where others saw giants and obstacles, they saw divine possibilities and promise. And they led a new generation to take the land that God had already given them.
The book of Joshua is more than a history book. It’s a challenge.
It’s a challenge for each succeeding generation to have the courage and faith and fortitude born of divinely given hope to do the impossible – to grasp the divine hand and take the land placed before them by the One who owns all and who beckons them to enter their inheritance, their place.
Faith cannot be divorced from place.
Eugene Peterson in his introduction to the book of Joshua in the Message Bible captures it well:
As the book of Joshua takes the story of salvation forward from the leadership and teaching of Moses, it continues to keep us grounded in places and connected to persons: place names, personal names – hundreds of them. What we often consider to be the subjects of religion – ideas, truths, prayers, promises, beliefs – are never permitted to have a life of their own apart from particular persons and actual places. Biblical religion has a low tolerance for “great ideas” or “subline truths” or “inspirational thoughts” apart from the people and places in which they occur. God’s great love and purposes for us are worked out in the messes, storms and sins, blue skies, daily work, and dreams of our common lives, working with us as we are and not as we should be. People who want God as an escape from reality, from the often hard conditions of this life, don’t find this much to their liking. But to the man or woman wanting more reality, not less – this continuation of the salvation story – Joshua’s fierce and devout determination to win land for his people and his extraordinary attention to getting all the tribes and their families name by name assigned to their own place, is good news indeed. Joshua lays a firm foundation for a life that is grounded.
The book of Joshua is more than a history book. It’s a warning.
It’s a warning for us not to withdraw into a religion of abstract thoughts and debates and words and arguments as the world, quite literally, passes us by. It’s a warning for us not to miss the great adventure that He places before us. It’a a warning for a passing generation to lead and empower the upcoming generation to rise up to the challenges before them. It’s a warning for the upcoming generation not to melt away in fear but to follow the Lord wholeheartedly and with their own hands to take the land that He gives them. It’s a warning to us all not to live detached lives of private faith but rather to embrace a public faith that will fully engage our society, our culture, our world.
Joshua is not a pretty story.
Yes, we see here a river that parts, walls that fall, a sun that stands still, and a nation of former slaves who embrace their greater identity as a holy nation, taking their place as salt and light in the middle of the earth.
Success. Victory. But amidst the falling walls and parting rivers and piles of stones marking the footsteps of faith, we see other markers, other footsteps. Greed and betrayal, deception and missteps. And most importantly, as we move into the second half of the story, repeated cracks of failure, of initial faith and courage wavering, falling, failing. Judah can’t push out the Jebusites; Ephraim can’t get rid of the Canaanites in Gezer; Manasseh can’t move into it’s allotted towns; Dan is pushed back into the hills.
The book of Joshua is a warning to do more than make a good beginning, but to follow through in faith’s venture and to empower yet another generation that rises to carry on.