10 September 2013

Joshua 7:16-26

"Joshua said, ‘Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord is bringing trouble on you today.’ And all Israel stoned him to death; they burned them with fire, cast stones on them…” (v. 25)


This passage is part of the aftermath of the fall of Jericho, described in Joshua 6. The Lord had commanded the total destruction of the city and the wholesale slaughter of all its inhabitants, mean, women, children and livestock. The spoils of war, however, "all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron", was declared to be "sacred to the Lord" (Joshua 6:19) and earmarked for "the treasury of the house of the Lord". Achan, however, decided to keep some for himself, with the unfortunate result that the Lord was furious with Israel, and Joshua lost his next battle, against the people of Ai (Joshua 7:1-5). The remedy was to find the guilty one, and burn him to death, along with his family and possessions. This duly took place, with preliminary stoning for good measure.

Stories like this present the responsible reader with a problem, not least because such passages in 'holy books' can be used to justify persecution, violence and wholesale murder in the name of God. And there is plenty of this kind of thing to be found in the Christian Bible. More mildly, today's passage could be used, for example, to coerce a congregation into more generous financial support for the church - "don't keep for yourself what belongs to God….". Is this 'responsible' use of Scripture? Wise readers might ask questions like, 'what does this passage tell us about the origins of Israelite religion?' or 'how does this compare with the later prophets' ideas about God?', but also 'whose interests are served by this passage?' or 'whose power and authority is supported by this passage?'.

The answers might be quite straightforward - such as that early Israelite religion was pretty much like the religion of every other Canaanite tribe, with their own violent, vengeful tribal god, very different from the loving, forgiving and generous God of the prophets five centuries later. And this passage, as well as claiming that Israel's religious leaders had two-way conversational contact with God, also justified the great wealth of the temple built by Solomon some three hundred years after Joshua. So the passage certainly reflects priestly interests, if not the interests of the people of Israel.

To Ponder

  • How would you explain this passage to:
  1. a 'Bible-believing' Christian?
  2. an atheist?
  3. a child?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.