Tuesday 10 September 2013

Bible Book:

"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)

Joshua 7:16-26 Tuesday 10 September 2013


This passage is part of the aftermath of the fall of Jericho,described in Joshua 6. The Lord had commanded the total destructionof 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 declaredto be "sacred to the Lord" (Joshua6:19) and earmarked for "the treasury of the house of theLord". Achan, however, decided to keep some for himself, with theunfortunate result that the Lord was furious with Israel, andJoshua lost his next battle, against the people of Ai (Joshua7:1-5). The remedy was to find the guilty one, and burn him todeath, 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 tojustify persecution, violence and wholesale murder in the name ofGod. And there is plenty of this kind of thing to be found in theChristian Bible. More mildly, today's passage could be used, forexample, to coerce a congregation into more generous financialsupport for the church - "don't keep for yourself what belongs toGod….". Is this 'responsible' use of Scripture? Wise readers mightask questions like, 'what does this passage tell us about theorigins of Israelite religion?' or 'how does this compare with thelater prophets' ideas about God?', but also 'whose interests areserved by this passage?' or 'whose power and authority is supportedby this passage?'.

The answers might be quite straightforward - such as that earlyIsraelite religion was pretty much like the religion of every otherCanaanite tribe, with their own violent, vengeful tribal god, verydifferent from the loving, forgiving and generous God of theprophets five centuries later. And this passage, as well asclaiming that Israel's religious leaders had two-way conversationalcontact with God, also justified the great wealth of the templebuilt by Solomon some three hundred years after Joshua. So thepassage certainly reflects priestly interests, if not the interestsof the people of Israel.

To Ponder

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