Yesterday I had a great time facilitating the discussion in our small group at church about the book of Joshua. Our new church has been so gracious to us and has really made us feel welcome and has even let me lead the last two weeks. We have a great round-robin style schedule for facilitators and I love that. I can sit back and receive the wisdom of others for the next few weeks.
But back to Joshua. Joshua is a hero to many people, especially pastor/leader types because of his precarious position of taking the mantle of leadership from a hero like Moses and then charging forward into new territory. The Lord tells Joshua over and over again to be strong and to have courage, and most importantly, he affirms that he is present with Joshua wherever he goes. These are the same types of encouragements we receive in the New Testament and through the presence of the Holy Spirit so we can somewhat identify with Joshua.
However, there are some really hard things in Joshua that are not quite so ideal.
1. Rahab–No doubt she was a victim of sexual oppression. For her the Hebrews were liberators from a system that forced her to perform a the whim of a male dominated society. They were her opportunity for a better life. However, she also lied. Her lie saved the spies, but she lied. This troubles some people. However, it does not trouble me because there is gray in the world and lying in order to preserve life is not only justified it is the higher ethic. Our military does it all the time.
2. Violence–There is a lot of violence in the book of Joshua. Entire cities are destroyed in total war that resembles jihad more than a military campaign. One of the words that comes to mind is genocide. So violent is the book that one of the great miracles is when Joshua asks the sun to stand still. This is astounding, not because the sun did stand still and therefore time stopped moving forward, but what makes this truly astounding is the why of Joshua’s request. He wants more time so he can kill more thoroughly. There are several attempts to answer this violence from a compassionate Christ-follower perspective, but for me the only logical answer is that the Hebrews at this time were barely more than barbarians as were most of the other people groups and this the way they behaved. God worked in the midst of their limited faculties to build a society that would someday teach us, through the prophets and ultimately through Christ, that violence is really not much of a solution to any problem. In fact, keep this in mind, that as a victim executed by the oppressive government of Rome and the religious leaders of the Jews, Jesus has a lot in common with the residents of Ai or Jericho.
3. Mission Not Accomplished–Joshua rides off into the sunset at the end of the book and the narrative feels like the work is done, the land is vanquished, and we can all live in peace now. However, there are years of turmoil (probably 200-250 years or so) left before things are somewhat settled, and even then that settling is not permanent. It feels like the writer of Joshua is leaving us with a false impression of what was really going on. Thankfully, we have Judges, which gives us a more tragic look at the “Rest of the Story.”
4. Joshua’s Failure–Joshua excelled at battle tactics. Indeed, the second battle of Ai includes a brilliant feint and end around which was devastating. However, as a leader he failed to secure the next generation. When he leaves the scene, there is no clear indication of who will follow his footsteps, who will be the go to person for the hard decisions. Each tribe goes home to its appointed land and there is no leader appointed. Joshua does not do for someone else what was done for him. Moses laid hands on Joshua and prepared him for the mantle and burden of leadership. This is instructive for us as we learn from Joshua’s negative example. Each generation carries the responsibility to help the next be ready for leadership when it comes. Churches fail at this quite miserably and it is to our shame.
Please don’t get me wrong, there is much in Joshua that is laudable and exemplary. However, the book as a whole reminds us of a very important Bible study principle: Do not confuse what the Bible describes with what the Bible prescribes. Joshua is not a book of commands nor is it a great example for us. Instead it is for the most part simply a witness to a very exciting, messy, and adrenaline filled moment in the history of the people of faith.