Tag Archives: Book of Joshua

I’m Achan…or…He Still Hangs with Thieves

To be connected to the church is to be associated with soundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murderers, adulterers, and hypocrites of every description (and that’s just the clergy! mf). It also, at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul within every time, country, race, and gender. To be a member of the church is to carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest herosim of soul…because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion. God hung among thieves.  – Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing

You could call it a Spartacus moment.

Traversing in devotions through the story of Achan – the thief nailed with stolen goodies hidden under his tent and subsequently stoned to death, then burned, and buried along with his family under a huge pile of rocks whose story you can read about in Joshua chapter 7 in your Old Testament – I was stirred.

I was dissatisfied with what I wrote in the church devotions about it.

More stirring.

Can’t really respond to the sermon preached about Achan this past week because I listened to it horizontally (call me Anemia Man). But then I read a friend’s thoughts about the story and sermon in a Facebook post. For him it was an Old Testament Smack Down with the message “Don’t be an Achan!” with blistering judgment and footnoted grace. Whether that’s a fair characterization of that particular sermon, I can’t comment on. But I know that over the course of twenty years I preached the sermon he perceived. Over and over and over again.

Blistering judgment. Footnoted grace.

Look what happened to Achan. Are you an Achan? Don’t be an Achan! Achan only suffered stones and temporal fire; for you it will be brimstone and eternal flames!

Yeah. Kinda been there. Have a collection of t-shirts, too.

Which brings me to my “Spartacus moment.”

I’m Achan.

Not because I stole candy and magazines and hid them under my bed when I was ten. We love our pastors to talk about their sins – you know, the ones that happened a decade or more ago. As long as their sins and weaknesses and dirty secrets are back there somewhere in the foggy past. We don’t love it so much when the sins and weaknesses and dirty secrets are right here and right now – like the rest of us. We might not stone them and burn their bodies. But we do fire them. But back to the point:

I’m Achan.

And more than that, so are you. That’s right, this should be a wonderfully freeing Spartacus moment for each of us. Imagine the story that way: “Are you Achan, son of Carmi?” “No, I’m Achan.” “No, I’m Achan.” The entire congregation, pastors first, rise to their feet, each in turn. “I’m Achan!”


Now, I know, we’re only supposed to confess our own sins, but if Paul can say, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” then I can say we are all Achans.

And we are. Each of us. All of us.

We all have things buried under our religiously tidy tent floors that we pray never sees the light of day. Like the thoughts you had just this morning or even while you were reading this sentence. That apathetic stare in the face of human need as you saw yet another one of those cardboard signs on the street corner. That anger that boiled up inside at that perceived slight – but fortunately never made it to your face. That self-satisfying pride that flooded through you when you won that argument, the doubts that plagued you, and – good God – did you see what she was wearing?

I’m Achan.

It’s said that Jack Miller, founder of World Harvest Mission, used to say that the entire Bible could be summed up with two sentences: (1) Cheer up: you’re a lot worse than you think you are, and (2) Cheer up: God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is.

Not bad.

I’m Achan. Outwardly, religiously respectable – “What a fine Christian young man you are,” as my mom would always say to me when I was in my Sunday best. “Oh holy Mike” as one of my friends often sings to me (like the carol). But I’m a thief. And good thing: he hung with thieves. He still does.

He casts no lots to nail down my guilt and then to pass judgment. No stolen goods are dug up and laid before the congregation’s watching eyes. No stones. No fire. No family swallowed up with me (have you noticed the contrast? Under the ministry of death [religion] whole families were consumed, swallowed up, devoured along with the erring parent; under the ministry of life [Jesus] whole families are rescued, redeemed, healed; just a thought).

Instead, in his mercy he collapses the tidy religious tent over all that it was hiding, then reaches out his hand and says, “Come, child.” And so Achan’s valley of trouble and judgment, of bloody rocks and fire, is transformed from dead end tombstone to a door of hope. Sonship. Inheritance. Home.

And that, in a word, is the difference between Joshua and Jesus.


That’s the devotional intro I should have written.


Posted by on March 13, 2012 in Joshua, musings, Old Testament


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New Year’s Reflection: Time to Cross Over

Back to Joshua again. This is the intro to the first week’s upcoming study in Joshua 1:1-9. Seems appropriate today. I’m posting the Hobbit trailer at the end because, (a) It is most cool; and (b) It fits the post and the day. There are comforts of our accustomed existence we must be willing to leave – privately, corporately, religiously, socially, you name it; comforts we must risk never returning to, or at least never returning to the same. I’m also reminded of Stonewall Jackson’s final words: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.” Yeah. Let there be some of that in this new year too.

Warm-up: Joshua 1:1-9

“Moses my servant is dead…”

Transitions. Bridges. Crossings.

They can be fraught with uncertainty, peril, anxiety – or anticipation, hope, and adventure.

Usually all of the above.

We are so wedded to the way we were, to who and how we have always been – even when who, how, and where we have been is anything but ideal, as in the case of the Israelites.

For 400 years they had heard the promise repeated, passed down, recounted, as a nation of former slaves looked toward a land that few of them had ever even seen. Perhaps it seemed like a dream – distant, unattainable, always over the horizon, always out there.

As they trudged on through their circular desert tracks, Moses was their one constant. Moses had led them, fed them, judged them, rebuked them, instructed them, encouraged them, and finally brought them to river’s edge – to the last barrier that stood between them and home. Now the stark words come:

Moses my servant is dead.

“Get Going. Cross this Jordan River…”

And now comes the nudge, the divine push.

“In three days you will cross this Jordan.”

We usually have to be nudged or perhaps even shoved out of our paralysis as we face an uncertain shore. We may not like where we are or where we have been, but at least it’s familiar. We know these ruts, we’ve grown accustomed to these walls. We have an amazing capacity for nostalgia over even the worst of times and spaces.

Get up. Get going. Cross over.

I’m reminded of the Omaha Beach scenes from Saving Private Ryan, of green troops huddled behind obstacles amidst exploding and ricocheting shells, as Captain Miller pulled at the men around him to get moving for the simple reason that anyone who stayed there was a dead man.

Get up. Get going. Cross over.

To stay where we are is death and decay. To cross over is destiny.

And so God pushes and prompts his new man, his Joshua, in a personal charge laden with commands, imperatives, and promises; a charge he will then turn around and pass on to the other leaders around him and then to all the people. It’s time to get moving.

And so the charge comes to us – calling us out of the familiar and accustomed, out of personal and corporate ruts and embedded behaviors; calling us to get up, get going, and cross over to our own awaiting land of possibilities, dangers, and divine destiny.

Get up. Get going. Cross over.

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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Joshua, musings, Old Testament


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More from Joshua: Taking the Land

Just realized I hadn’t gotten around to posting the rest of the Joshua introduction…

“Take the land” can sound a bit militant and unsavory. We don’t even popularly in our culture view the pilgrims and explorers who came to this country and “took the land” as heroes to be lauded. They’re more like distant relatives from our past for whom have to apologize, at best.

The call to “take the land” is not a call to a new jihad for Jesus, a militant uprising in which we evict our neighbors and take over the world like some predictable James Bond villain (fiendish laugh included, preferably with waxed black mustache, a nervous twitch, and, of course, a nerfarious white cat in his lap). Let us recall that the primary image of the kingdom of God presented by Jesus (our Joshua) was not a giant nail pounded into the earth by a cosmic hammer, but rather that of a farmer sowing seed in the field. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of small seeds extravangantly, scandalously cast about in the midst of scavenging birds, weeds, and thorns. It is the tiniest bit of yeast hidden in the mother of all lumps of dough. It is the smallest of all seeds (commonly so regarded in Jesus’ culture) – the mustard seed – issuing in a plant large enough for birds to nest in.

“The good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom,” Jesus said in one of his kingdom parables (see Matthew 13:38).

As good seed, we don’t root out or evict anyone. We grow where we are planted, right along with tares. God harvests. The kingdom challenge – the challenge ultimately from both Joshuas – is two-fold: to be planted, to find where in his world you are meant to be rooted and then to grow where you are planted.

So what does this look like in practical terms?

Landa Cope in her book The Old Testament Template tells of channel surfing one day and coming upon a program featuring a British journalist who was testing the proposition that if many Christians live in the same community they will significantly impact that community for good. The greater the Christian presence, the greater the benefit to the society at large. He then proposed to look a the most “Christianized” city in America to see how the influence works out practically. Defining “Christianized” as largest percentage of the community being self-identified believers who regularly attend church, he came up with Dallas, Texas. He then looked at statistics and studies on crime, safety on the streets, the justice and penal systems, health care, infant mortality rate, education, jobs, housing, economics, homelessness, etc.

The resulting profile was appalling.

Cope was devastated by the conclusions. As she states, “No one would want to live in a city in that condition. The crime, the decrepit social systems, the disease, the economic discrepancies, the racial injustice, all disqualified this community from having an adequate quality of life. And this was the ‘most Christianized’ city in America. I wanted to weep.”

And for Cope the worst was yet to come.

The journalist then took this devastating picture of a broken community to well-known pastors and Christian leaders and simply asked them, “As a Christian leader, what is your response to the condition of your community?” To a man they gave the same essential answer: “This is not my concern. I am a spiritual leader.”

She doesn’t quote the verse at this point, but it’s what leaps out at me as I read this: “You are the salt of the earth (land). But if the salt has lost its saltiness with what can it be salted? It is then good for nothing except to be thrown outside and trampled underfoot by men (at least it can perhaps serve as rock salt on slippery winter landscapes – see Matthew 5:13).”

The challenge of Joshua, if we have ears to hear, is to take the land; to be the “salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this land” (Matthew 5:13, Message) – salt that actually makes it out of the shaker; to be the light “bringing out the God-colors in the world” (Matthew 5:14, Message). As the Message version goes on to say, “God is not a secret to be kept; we’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives.”

That is taking the land.

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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Joshua, musings, Old Testament


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Joshua Jihad: Theological Whiplash

Second section of my comments on Joshua – addressing what is a key stumbling block for many to read this book – or even to read any of the Book. I guess you could say I’m taking a stab at answering or at least reflecting on the problem.

Is there an answer here – one that will really, finally satisfy us?

What about the Canaanites? The problem of “holy war”

One day while I was teaching the Bible to undergraduates, a first year student articulated a problem succinctly that I had to write an entire book to address. I was telling the class that the Exodus is the central event of the Hebrew narrative, asserting that this story of liberation from slavery was deeply inspiring, especially in comparison to so many other foundational stories of conquest and plunder. This was, after all, not a story that described the rich getting richer, but the enslaved getting freed. I added some remarks about class consciousness and liberation theology to make the story more contemporary, and lingered over the fact that this story has now come to have urgent political force in Latin America and South Africa as it had during the U.S. civil rights movement. Then, in the midst of this celebration, the student raised his hand and asked simply, “What about the Canaanites?” Suddenly all the uncomfortable feelings I had been repressing about the Bible for years flooded me. Yes, what about the Canaanites? And the Amorites, Moabites, Hittites? While the biblical narratives charted the creation, cohesion, and calamities befalling a people at the behest of their God, what about all the other peoples and their gods? Having long seen the Bible put to uses that I could not excuse – hatred of Blacks, Jews, gays, women, “pagans” and the poor – I now began to see some complicity, for over and over the Bible tells the story of a people who inherit at someone else’s expense. – Regina SchwartzThe Curse of Cain, p. ix-x

The struggle for land is so deeply embedded in the human soul – it is so central to our way of viewing the world – and it has led to so many devastating wars, to rethink land and its value might well be another form of the gospel needed desperately in a modern age.  – Gary Burge, Jesus and the Land

So, what about the Canaanites? What about “holy war”?

The simple question that confronted an Old Testament college professor is not one to be quickly dismissed or glossed over. We feel the complicity. We sense the conflict.

We typically rebuke our Muslim neighbors for embracing a religion with such a track record of violence, past and present. And yet here we sit with Joshua. We sense that we need a little more than an evasive and condescending, “Well, that was different.”

Let’s just say that if Joshua were made into a film, it would not be a “chick flick” – and it would not be rated “G.” It is filled with violence and carnage. Men and women, young and old. Slain. Cities burned. Bodies in heaps. Vanquished kings impaled on tall spikes, their dead bodies later to be flung into the ruined gates of their demolished cities.

How can God not only “wink” at this but actually command his own “jihad” on Canaanites?

How can this be the same God that we have come to know in Jesus?

Theological whiplash.

Turning once again to Peterson’s introduction to Joshua, he well states the problem and points to a solution:

For most modern readers of Joshua, the toughest barrier to embracing this story as sacred is the military strategy of “holy war,” what I have translated as the “holy curse” – killing everyone in the conquered cities and totally destroying all the plunder, both animals and goods. Massacre and destruction. “No survivors” is the recurrent refrain. We look back from our time in history and think, “How horrible.” But if we were able to put ourselves back in the thirteenth century B.C., we might see it differently, for that Canaanite culture was a snake pit of child sacrifice and sacred prostitution, practices ruthlessly devoted to using the most innocent and vulnerable members of the community (babies and virgins) to manipulate God or gods for gain.                                                                                                                                       

Peterson’s pointing to the perspective of time, culture and history certainly is key. We need more than our current cultural perspective – we need a historical (and theological) wide angle lens. The fact is that Joshua picks up a tale that is rooted in the story and promise made to Abraham 400 years previously:

The LORD said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.  In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”  -– Genesis 15:13-16 NIV

Four hundred years prior to Joshua’s day, Abraham had walked and sojourned among the ancestors of the very people Joshua’s generation would have to confront and expel and destroy. Abraham bargained for a burial plot with some of them. He was the guest of some of their kings who turned out to have just as much integrity as he did – or more. There was even a priest of the Most High God from the ancient Jebusite city of Jerusalem with whom Abraham shared a meal and to whom he gave a tithe from the spoils of battle. But there was also the king of Sodom from whom he would accept nothing. There were the cities of the plain from which his nephew Lot barely escaped with his life. The fiery, calamitious destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was more than a localized expression of divine wrath against a few cities gone completely wild with violence, oppression and utter moral chaos – it was a warning to an entire Canaanite society that was already in serious decline. It was a warning that stood before them for four centuries. A warning ultimately unheeded as they continued their downward spiral into moral and spiritual oblivion.

The fact is the Lord is the Landlord of the entire planet (see Psalm 24:1; Acts 17:26). And he reserves the right to evict any and all tenants that abuse the land and terrorize the neighborhood. He frequently uses natural calamities to accomplish this (as, evidently, with the cities of the plain in Genesis 19) or through the instrument of war waged by other nations (as in the case of Joshua). God both roots people in places and uproots them from those same places (see Jeremiah 1:10). But he always gives notice – often four centuries’ worth of notice or more. The Canaanites being “evicted” as tenants of the land is not regarded as unique, biblically – and Joshua’s generation was specifically told to evict and uproot them and no others (see Deuteronomy 2:9-23).

But still we can feel torn at the scenes of divinely sanctioned carnage – which is a good sign for us. Much better that, than to proudly parade and use these stories and scenes to adorn our latest military, religious and political platforms of our national agendas of expansion and acquisition. We must remember the lesson Joshua learned before evicting a single Canaanite tenant: the Lord is not a nationalist – he is not on anyone’s side (cf. Josh 5:13-15).

We should remember that God doesn’t enjoy these scenes either, necessary as they may have been in the dark history of this world. He takes no pleasure in the death and judgment of the most vile and violent tenants in his world (see Ezekiel 18:32).

We should remember that in using Joshua’s generation to evict the Canaanite tenants occupying the land, God was also placing the family of Abraham in the land he had promised and foreseen for them, a land in the middle of the earth, on the highway of the nations; a land where they could be salt and light in a dark and oppressive world; a land from which they could and would utlimately bring blessings untold to all the nations of the earth in a coming Messiah and kingdom that would ultimately make any more stories like the book of Joshua unnecessary.

We should remember that in that Messiah – our Joshua (Jesus) – swords are finally beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks as the nations learn war no more; that in our Joshua hesed (divine mercy and grace) triumphs over herem (divine curse and judgment). Our Joshua impales no kings on tall spikes. He instead allowed himself to be impaled by the kings of this world, and through that cosmic act of love, he has changed everything.

We should remember that our Joshua, on the one occasion he encountered a descendent of the Canaanites divinely targeted in that first Joshua’s day, first played to and thereby exposed his generation’s shortsightedness and bigotry and then ultimately heard the Canaanite woman’s request and healed her demonically oppressed daughter and sent her home in peace.

The first Joshua did not lead people into rest. Our Joshua does.

It’a whole new way of looking at “taking the land.”


Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Joshua, Old Testament


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