Returning home… (Joshua 1-5)

October 13, 2010

The Bible reading plan I’m using (a link to which can be found at the bottom of the page) doesn’t go through the Bible from front to back. Each day of the week focusses on a different section of the Bible; Tuesday (which I’m reading on Wednesdays) is ‘History’, which begins with the book of Joshua. “O goody!” I thought “the one where the Israelites kill everyone else!”

But I am pleasantly surprised to be reminded that the first 5 chapters of Joshua contain no actual killing. Sure, there are more than a few hints that a lot of killing is about to take place; armed warriors are to cross the Jordan first, spies are sent to Jericho, Rahab tells them that “all the inhabitants of the land melt before you.” But the beginning of the Israelites’ return to the promise land has the power of God and the importance of God’ law at its centre. Throughout the Old Testament we are reminded of the Exodus story and here is no different. God brings the Israelites across the Jordan by stopping its flow, just like in the Exodus.

Then in Chapter 5 all those born in the time in the wilderness (which is everyone, all the previous generation have died) are circumcised. This is followed by an account of the celebration of the passover and Israel’s first meal of the “produce of the land”, which must have tasted pretty sweet after all that manna. And finally we are told of an encounter between Joshua and “the commander of the army of Lord”. This chapter, which is directly followed by the fall of Jericho, ends with the command “remove the sandals from you feet, for the place where you stand in holy.” Very Moses and the burning bush; don’t you think?

There are many mysterious and inspiring passages in these early chapters of Joshua, but I must admit I can’t help finding them tainted them by the anticipation of what is to come…”holy war”. Yet if I put that aside this time – I fear it won’t be so easy next Wednesday – I see that this is the home-coming of the Israelites. The climax of exile. A return to where they are willed to be by God. And every chapter revere’s God’s power to do this, through the narrative voice and the voices of Joshua, Rahab and God Himself.

So I try to ask what is this saying to me? I don’t think it’s as simple or cheesy as “God can part seas for you” and certainly not “God wants to give you stuff; just be good and do what you’re told and you’ll get it”. But maybe that there is always a way home, through the wilderness, it may take forty years and a complete change of personnel, but there is a way. And Iguess the problem is that the following chapters and books could be saying that once you’re home you can leave again, forget again. Wednesdays are going to be interesting…

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