Sunday, 3 April 2011

Conquest and Compromise

Observations on Josh 4-7

As mentioned in the previous post, the people of Canaan are dreading the arrival of the Israelites. When they hear that God has dried up the river Jordan, their hearts melt with fear.

Israel consecrates itself to the Lord by mass national circumcision and Passover. Had the Canaanites had any sense, they would have seen this as their chance to strike (just like Simeon and Levi did back in Gen.34:25), but they are so awash with terror that even though the whole Israelite army gets laid out for a week like sitting ducks - they still don't try to gain an advantage.

As promised, back in Ex.23:20-21, the Son of God, then appears to Joshua under the title of "Commander of the LORD's army." Note the parallels between this encounter and the visitation at the Burning Bush back in Ex.3. Both Moses and Joshua are told to remove their sandals. Both the Angel in the Bush (Ex.3:2) and this Commander are ascribed the title "the LORD" (Ex.3:7, Josh.6:2). However, note also the contrasts. In the Burning Bush (or rather thicket) Moses sees (a picture of) Christ as the suffering servant and the one who through his own suffering will redeem his people, but Joshua meets Christ, the victorious warrior, ready now to lead his people into conquest and expansion. (Matthew Henry has a lovely comment on this.)

The people are briefed that this city is to be devoted to the LORD. No one is to plunder anything for himself or his family. It follows the Biblical principle of bringing the first of all we have to the LORD and not the leftovers. They march round the city declaring the victory of God and on day seven, the walls collapse and they put the people to the sword and raise the city to the ground. Rahab and her family are safely brought out and put "outside the camp", (presumably for ritual cleansing before being incorporated into the nation of Israel).

They all move on to the next town, Ai. But shock horror, they are defeated. Joshua wails before the LORD, but God won't have any of it. The reason for failure is compromise in the camp. Achan coveted things that he saw in Jericho and took them for himself. It is a sobering thing to see that when a Christian sins, they don't do it in isolation, it affects the effectiveness of the whole body of which they are a part.

Achan is charged and put to death, along with his whole household. (They knew he had disobeyed God - Josh.6:18-19 - and had not turned him over to the authorities in the spirit of Deut.13:6-11).

Joshua 7 is not a justification to mount witch-hunts on each other, but it should be a reminder that the success of the Church's mission does in some measure depend on the way we humbly, graciously and courageously confront wilful sin when we find it in ourselves (1Cor.9:27) and in each other (Matt.18:17). Not something that people like me, from an insanely self-centred culture, like to hear.

Matt.18:15-17 and James 5:16 are the key texts here. Repentance and reconciliation are always the desired outcome.

No comments: