Bible in 90 Days: Joshua

To go along with your reading, here is the Introduction to the book for Joshua from The Message by Eugene Peterson:

Land. Land flowing with milk and honey. Promised land. Holy land. Canaan land. The land. Joshua, Moses’ successor as leader of Israel, was poised at the River Jordan to enter and take possession of Canaan, an unremarkable stretch of territory sandwiched between massive and already ancient civilizations. It would have been unimaginable to anyone at the time that anything of significance could take place on that land. This narrow patch had never been significant economically or culturally, but only as a land bridge between the two great cultures and economies of Egypt and Mesopotamia. But it was about to become important in the religious consciousness of humankind. In significant ways, this land would come to dwarf everything that had gone on before and around it.

The People of Israel had been landless for nearly five hundred years. The “fathers”—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons—had been nomads in the land of Canaan. That was followed by a long period of slavery in Egypt (over 400 years!), a miraculous deliverance into freedom led by Moses, and then forty years of testing and training for living as a free people under God’s guidance and blessing.

The company camped at the Jordan on the day that opens the Book of Joshua had nearly half a millennium of slavery behind them. They were a dispossessed, ragtag crew—and only very recently set free. The transition from being landless slaves to landholding free men and women was huge. Joshua leads the transition, first in taking the land (chapters 1 through 12), then in distributing it among the twelve tribes (chapters 13 through 22), and concluding with a solemn covenant-witness (chapters 23 through 24) that bound the people to the gift of land and the worship of the God from whom they received it.

For most modern readers of Joshua, the toughest barrier to embracing this story as sacred is the military strategy of “holy war,” what I have translated as the “holy curse”—killing everyone in the conquered cities and totally destroying all the plunder, both animals and goods. Massacre and destruction. “No survivors” is the recurrent refrain. We look back from our time in history and think, “How horrible.” But if we were able to put ourselves back in the thirteenth century b.c., we might see it differently, for that Canaanite culture was a snake pit of child sacrifice and sacred prostitution, practices ruthlessly devoted to using the most innocent and vulnerable members of the community (babies and virgins) to manipulate God or gods for gain.

As the Book of Joshua takes the story of salvation forward from the leadership and teaching of Moses, it continues to keep us grounded in places and connected to persons: place names, personal names—hundreds of them. What we often consider to be the subjects of religion—ideas, truths, prayers, promises, beliefs—are never permitted to have a life of their own apart from particular persons and actual places. Biblical religion has a low tolerance for “great ideas” or “sublime truths” or “inspirational thoughts” apart from the people and places in which they occur. God’s great love and purposes for us are worked out in the messes, storms and sins, blue skies, daily work, and dreams of our common lives, working with us as we are and not as we should be.

People who want God as an escape from reality, from the often hard conditions of this life, don’t find this much to their liking. But to the man or woman wanting more reality, not less—this continuation of the salvation story—Joshua’s fierce and devout determination to win land for his people and his extraordinary attention to getting all the tribes and their families name by nameassigned to their own place, is good news indeed. Joshua lays a firm foundation for a life that is grounded.

 

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