Thursday 12 September 2013

Bible Book:

Joshua 9:3-27 Thursday 12 September 2013


The Bible (like all religious books) can be used to liberate andtransform, but it can also be used to oppress and coerce. Muchdepends on whose interests were originally served by the text inquestion, and on whose interests are being served by laterinterpreters of the text. Responsible readers need to be aware ofthis, not least when reading a passage such as this one, whichprovides 'biblical' justification for slavery.

The conquest and destruction of the towns of Jericho and Ai, andthe wholesale slaughter of their inhabitants, was all done in thename of 'the Lord' and with his blessing. Anything of value waslooted "for the treasury of the Lord" (Joshua6:19). This has been common practice throughout history -nations, tribes and clans have always exploited their neighboursand the strong have always taken what they want from the weak,often attributing success to their superior religion orideology.

The Gibeonites, fearing that they were next on Joshua's 'todestroy' list, took a calculated risk, based on traditional notionsof hospitality towards strangers. It might seem odd to a modernreader, but travellers could expect to be treated rather betterthan neighbours, as is still the case in many parts of the world.So they pretended to have come "from a far country" (v. 6) andasked Joshua to promise to treat them as travellers. The Israeliteswere initially suspicious, but Joshua was eventually convinced bytheir elaborate deception and swore a solemn oath to do them noharm, and welcoming them as visitors.

All was well for a few days, until it became obvious that these'weary travellers' were, in fact, the Israelites' 'nervousneighbours' and that their towns were not far away. This presentedJoshua with a dilemma - was he still bound by their solemn oath notto destroy them, despite the Israelites' prior commitment to, andevident enthusiasm for, violent conquest 'in the name of the Lord'?But a solemn oath was a solemn oath, so, rather than upset 'theLord' by breaking an oath made in his name, it was decided to makethem their slaves instead - "hewers of wood and drawers of waterfor the congregation and for the altar of the Lord".

To Ponder

  • This is only one of many biblical passages which endorses thepractice of slavery - indeed, nowhere does the Bible suggest thatslavery is wrong. John Wesley (in 1774) was one of the firstChristian leaders to challenge that view by appealing to 'naturaljustice'. What does that suggest to you about the way that Wesleyread the Bible?
  • Can you think of any other issues where 'biblical teaching'might be seen to be in conflict with 'natural justice'? How might a'responsible reader' of the Bible resolve that conflict?
  • Allowing that 'slavery' might be preferable to 'slaughter', canobedience to 'the Lord' ever justify the exploitation ofothers?

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