Friday

13 September 2013

“Joshua said to all the people, ‘See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.’” (v. 27)


Background

"He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins" (v. 19). So said Joshua to the Israelites, having reminded them of the ways in which "the Lord" had given them the land they were now occupying, in a story going back to Abraham. It is a story of violence and destruction, of "the Lord" striking the existing inhabitants of 'the promised land' with 'pestilence' ("the hornet" (v. 12)), and all to give Israel "a land on which you had not laboured, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant" (v. 13). On this basis, Joshua urged the people to reject the "foreign gods" (vv. 20, 23) they had previously worshipped, and to embrace the monotheism (worship of one god) of "the Lord" ('Yahweh'), with the threat that, if they did not, "the Lord" would destroy them as he had previously destroyed those who had resisted them. Not surprisingly, the people said 'yes', and Joshua recorded their decision with a memorial stone.

This early Israelite religion ('Yahwism') persisted for several centuries, and was only really challenged by the later prophets who responded, first to the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel some five centuries later and then, more radically, to the exile in Babylon which shook the surviving southern kingdom of Judah one hundred and fifty years later. A religion based on the belief that God will always look after you if you stay loyal to God is fine as long as things are going well, but is problematic when things start to go wrong - and much of the later Old Testament wrestles with this fundamental theological issue.

It is challenging, perhaps, to realise that the name 'Jesus' is simply the Greek rendering of 'Joshua', which means 'Yahweh is salvation', and to consider how many of his Jewish contemporaries hoped that he would bring the kind of salvation that Joshua represented, rather than fulfilling the hopes and dreams of the later prophets, such as Isaiah.


To Ponder

  • Is it possible to avoid either creating an image of God that serves our own interests, or accepting an image of God that others have created to serve their own interests? How?
  • Joshua's 'territorial' and 'tribal' view of God persists in the minds of many Christians, Jews and Muslims. Do you share that view? Why?
  • What might be the consequences of a faith based on fear and self-interest?


Bible notes author: 
The Revd David Rhymer

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