Sep 3 2011 - E100.25b – Joshua 6, The fall of Jericho
Forty years previously, when the twelve spies had been sent to check out the character of the land God had promised them, the majority had come back saying that it was impossible for the Israelites to possess the land. It was inhabited by strong warriors who lived in large and fortified cities. How could the Israelites expect to defeat such people and possess their land?
The Israelites have begun to enter the land, and God will now show them how they will possess it; he will give it to them. At God's command, the army of Israel march around the city of Jericho with the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant – the symbol of God's enthroned presence with his people. On six successive days they march once around the city with the inhabitants watching from the walls. On the seventh day they march around the city seven times and then, with a blast of trumpets and a triumphant roar from the army, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
It's a remarkable story; a demonstration to both Israel and to the inhabitants of the land that God will give this land to his people. But it's also a problematic story. It involves a slaughter that comes uncomfortably close to genocide. It's this kind of stuff that gives the Bible a bad name and makes Bible-believers an easy target for the likes of Richard Dawkins. Nor can we read the Book of Joshua without recalling the history of the colonisation of the Americas and Australia and the unjust treatment of their native peoples – not to mention the more direct parallel with the creation of the modern state of Israel with the continued dispossession and suppression of the Palestinians. What are we to make of this story? How should we read it?
There are a number of points that need to be made. Firstly, this possession of the Land was directly commanded by God. It does not serve as a model or excuse for later acts of invasion, dispossession or genocide. It does not give a divine right to any one group of people to suppress another.
Secondly, the timing of this invasion had been carefully set by God. God had told Abraham that his descendants would be brought out of captivity to possess this land when "the iniquity of the Amorites" had become so great that it demanded God's action (Genesis 15:13-16). The Israelites were called to be agents of God's judgment in cleansing the land of a people addicted the most terrible forms of idolatry – including child sacrifice – and to settle in it as a people who would live in obedience to God. They were to be the model society; a light to the Gentiles; a demonstration of God's plan for human society.
Israel's failure to be all that they were called to be points us forward to our Lord Jesus Christ. He did not come as a mighty warrior to destroy sinners; he came as the Suffering Servant, the one who befriended sinners and called them to repentance. He is our model as we pray and work for the coming of his kingdom.
But the conquest of Canaan also points forward to the day of Christ's return, the Day of Judgment. On that day the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of God and of his Christ and he will reign for ever. On that day, all evil and evildoers will be banished as God creates a new society where he will live with his people.
Father God, give me a sensitive heart in the reading of your word that I may not use it to justify my own schemes but to learn more of your saving purposes. Help me to reflect your own character; make my heart more like that of Jesus my Saviour – you do not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. Increase my longing for that day when you will make all things new, the day when this world will be the world you truly want it to be.