Over Giants and Kings - thrive UMC Official Blog

Over Giants and Kings

16 So Joshua took this whole land: the highlands, the whole arid southern plain, the whole land of Goshen, the lowlands, the desert plain, and both the highlands and the lowlands of Israel. 17 He took land stretching from Mount Halak, which goes up toward Seir, as far as Baal-gad at the foot of Mount Hermon in the Lebanon Valley. He captured all their kings. He struck them down and killed them.18 Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. 19 There wasn’t one city that made peace with the Israelites, except the Hivites who lived in Gibeon. They captured every single one in battle. 20 Their stubborn resistance came from the Lord and led them to wage war against Israel. Israel was then able to wipe them out as something reserved for God, without showing them any mercy. This was exactly what the Lord had commanded Moses.

21 At that time, Joshua went and wiped out the Anakim from the highlands. He wiped them out from Hebron, from Debir, and from Anab, from the whole highlands of Judah, and the whole highlands of Israel. Joshua wiped them out along with their cities as something reserved for God. 22 The Anakim no longer remained in the land of the Israelites. They survived only in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, exactly as the Lord had promised Moses. Joshua gave it as a legacy to Israel according to their tribal shares. Then the land had a rest from war.

Joshua and the Israelites struck down these kings of the land and took over their land on the west side of the Jordan. This ran from Baal-gad in the Lebanon Valley as far as Mount Halak, which goes up toward Seir. Joshua gave it to the tribes of Israel as shares of property. This was in the highlands, in the lowlands, in the desert plain, in the slopes, in the desert, and in the arid southern plain. The land belonged to Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.

Today we’re wrapping up our series on the book of Joshua, in order to transition into the season of Advent. And I wanted us to spend some time with this strange story from the Hebrew Bible so that we might use it as a kind of reference-point to help us view the life and ministry of Jesus with a set of fresh, new eyes.  Because, after all, they share some striking parallels: Joshua son of Nun was the one who brought the Israelites into the Promised Land; and it was Jesus, Son of God (and Mary) who later invites his followers to enter the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.  And there are other parallels, some of which I’ve mentioned in weeks past: for instance, they both entered the Jordan River to begin their mission; and they were both named ‘Yehoshua,’ which is a name that designates them as saviors of some sort.  They were also both called by God to carry out the instruction of Moses, and they both changed how God’s people would relate to the holy teachings for generations to come.   And perhaps even more importantly, they both set radical new precedents for how to relate to your neighbors, through word and deed.

However, when we set the two men side-by-side, we’ll also quickly notice some startling distinctions between the two Joshuas –of which we’ll talk a bit more about in the months to come.  But before we can do that, we need to spend one more week looking at the exploits of Moses’ immediate successor.  Because, as we find from this morning’s reading, he was a busy man indeed.  And the impression we get from the last chapters of Joshua is that he successfully exterminated all of the people that were under the ban, meaning he eradicated the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites, as he said he would all the way back in chapter three.  And if we would have continued our reading in chapter 11 just a little bit further, we’d see a list of 31 kings that Joshua supposedly deposed and executed.  And in this list is included the king of Jerusalem.  The impression the story seems to give here, then, is that the Israelites conquered the whole land in a single generation. At least 31 cities were besieged –and given into Israel’s hand- in Joshua’s lifetime; and it sounds like the eight tribal neighbors were all at least mostly eradicated in a single tactical swoop.

But there’s just one major problem with all of this: pretty much all of these alleged enemies of both God and Israel show up again in later books of the Bible!  In fact, of the 31 cities Joshua supposedly captured for Israel, four of them are attacked and captured (again?) in the very first chapter of the next book in the Bible, called Judges –after, it says, Joshua has died.  And in 2 Samuel, chapter 5, we find that Jerusalem is somehow still under the control of the Jebusites, all the way until the moment King David captures the city.

And remember the story of that steamy business where King David spies a sultry bathing Bathsheba?  Her husband, if you’ll recall, was ‘Uriah the Hittite.’  You remember the Hittites, right?  The Hittites were supposedly number 2 on the list of peoples Joshua set out to exterminate; and then, several generations later, we see Israel’s golden king allied with them!  And David likely had more allies from among the other banned tribes as well –in fact some biblical scholars believe that the priest he appointed, Zadok, may have actually been a Jebusite priest native to Jerusalem before the conquest (banned tribe #7 –but this theory is contested).

Now, in case I’ve lost some of you in the details here, let me get to the point.  Here in the Old Testament, we have a couple of very distinct stories about how Israel came to occupy its territory, and how it related to its closest neighbors. And it’s important for us to recognize these differences, because I think it has something very important and wise to show us, when it comes to relating to our neighbors today.  In one case –as we find it in Joshua- Israel stormed into the land, and immediately wipes everyone out, without mercy. Here the clear message is that exclusive-loyalty to their God will remove all of their obstacles and enemies –because, remember: it isn’t Israel’s army that delivers the victory, it’s God.  Then, on the other hand, in the books that follow –in Judges, and in first and second Samuel- we see Israel coming to occupy the land much more slowly, and often making allies with other nearby tribes along the way. They even allied with the banned tribes, when it suited their purpose.  In these biblical stories, there is a lot of political maneuvering that goes on; and the relationship between Israel’s leaders and their God is a lot more messy and complicated than it was in Joshua.

And when you set these two stories side by side, you can’t help but wonder: how should we treat our neighbors today?  When we are surrounded by people with different beliefs, and different customs, and different economic interests, how should we approach a relationship with them?  Should we view them as a potential threat, who could seduce us away from our faith and our way of life? Or should we be encouraged to see them as possible allies –or at the very least, as people like us who are only trying to make a place and home for themselves, just like we are?

Moreover, when we look at how the Israelites remember their history and origins, we are encouraged to review our own.  For instance, for Israel, who set the orthodox tradition for their people, with the right relationship to God and neighbor –was it Joshua, or King David?  Who deserves the credit for claiming their most important city?

We can look at our own history in the same way: just think about how we now remember Christopher Columbus.  Is he a hero or a villain, according to your personal record?  Do we celebrate his ingenuity and bravery for setting a new course across the Atlantic, and making an important discovery, which would later allow us to come and live in this great land? Or do we erase him from history, since his treatment of the natives of this land was so brutal and violent?

It’s so interesting to me how, every once in a while, I will run into some people who just have incredibly strong feelings about Christopher Columbus, and the holiday named after him.  He died over 500 years ago!   But it still matters today, because the way you tell the story changes how we treat our neighbors, doesn’t it?  It changes how we look at them.  And it changes how we look at ourselves, since our place is at least somewhat tied to his action.

The same can be said for Joshua.  And for King David.  Because there were some people who, when they looked back at what went wrong in Israel and Judah, they pointed to David: because he invited some people from other tribes into important political and religious positions!  And he let them have their sacred poles and their places of worship on mountain-tops!  David, they said, was too concerned with diplomacy, and not nearly strict enough when it came to following the laws of Moses!  ‘Oh, if only he had been more like Joshua, we would never have lost our land and our home!’ they thought.

So we have our Joshua supporters. And at the same time, there were avid David supporters.

But here’s the thing I want all of you to notice today: the Bible included both of them.  Both men’s claims to founding Jerusalem are included –even though one seems to critique the other.  In fact, that may even be the point!  After all, as the book of Ecclesiastes points out, in chapter 3:

There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens:     a time for giving birth and a time for dying, a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,     a time for killing and a time for healing, a time for tearing down and a time for building up,

a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,     a time for loving and a time for hating, a time for war and a time for peace.

“There is a season for everything…”

This past week, as a nation, we celebrated Thanksgiving. It’s a now-national holiday that reminds us of the perils some of our immigrant ancestors faced in coming to this land and making it their own.  It’s a time, every year, where we’re called to remember the promises this plot on the globe had to offer people from around the world.  For pilgrims and people of a religious minority in Europe, this new land offered a place to practice their faith without government interference, or public persecution.  For the poor it offered economic opportunity.  For the shamed and the displaced, it offered a new chance to start again.  For the wealthy and powerful, it offered more wealth, and more power.

Thanksgiving is a time where we also remember the struggles people faced to come here.  And to stay here.  Not only was it a difficult and dangerous journey, but this promised land offered new perils of its own.  There were new neighbors –people who already lived here; some of whom were very welcoming; and some who were more suspicious.

Thanksgiving is also a time where we remember the toll the presence of our national forbearers took on the land and the people who lived here.  Their presence –and really our presence- costs something.  Here, other peoples were displaced or died to make room for the settlers and pilgrims we celebrate.  So we remember the evil that’s been done to others so that we can enjoy and obtain certain blessings. For that is a part of our past and our story too.

Therefore today is a time to give thanks.  For all of it.  We give thanks for the blessings we’ve received, and we give thanks for the good neighbors with whom we share and enjoy them.  But more than that, we even give thanks for the struggle.  For it is out of the struggles we’ve endured, and from the messes that we’ve had to navigate, that we’ve become who we are. And hopefully our being is something to be grateful for.  The whole mixed mess has come together to form a part of our identity –individually, politically, and religiously.

Let us turn to God as a sign of our gratitude; so that we ourselves might be redeemed in it.

Let’s pray.