11 September 2013

“For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.” (v. 26)


Today's passage is the sequel to the story we looked at yesterday. Having lost 36 Israelites in the first, humiliating, battle for Ai (Joshua 7:1-5), Joshua plotted his revenge by tricking its inhabitants into an ambush, with the Lord's help. The city was burned down, all 12,000 inhabitants were slaughtered and "the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their booty, according to the word of the Lord that he had issued to Joshua" (v. 27). The king of Ai was captured and hung, and the city left in ruins. And no doubt there were cries of 'Praise the Lord!' at the successful outcome of what today we would undoubtedly regard as a religiously-motivated genocidal war crime.

 As yesterday, we are faced with a problem: how should we understand a passage like this? It is part of the Christian (as well as the Jewish) Bible and it features in the liturgical lectionary for public reading in church as part of organised worship. We might choose to ignore it and read a comforting Psalm instead, or, as is often the case, leave out the Old Testament reading altogether. But that is to avoid the challenge of taking the Bible seriously as responsible readers - to choose to treat it simply as a selective 'pick and mix' of texts that serve our own purposes and reinforce our existing beliefs (just as this text once served the purposes of its original editors/compilers). It would be worrying, for example, if Christians (or Israeli settlers) used this particular passage to justify violence and oppression, just because it's 'in the Bible'.

To Ponder

Responsible reading, which takes the Bible seriously, asks intelligent questions of the text and recognises that we inevitably bring our existing understanding with us as we read. So we might ask the kind of question we considered yesterday, as well as the following:

  • How do you decide which bits of the Bible you will choose to inform your understanding of God, and which bits will you treat with suspicion?
  • Do you regard the whole Bible as equally 'inspired', or are some bits more 'inspired' than others?"
  • Is it wise to pay more attention to the New Testament than to the Old, given that it was the Old Testament which shaped the beliefs of Jesus and Paul? Why?

Bible notes author: The Revd David Rhymer


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