Facing a Difficult Text

Read Joshua 8:1-29

So the entire population of Ai, including men and women, was wiped out that day—12,000 in all. (Joshua 8:25 NLT)

A prominent Christian leader recently used this text to justify genocide, “in the name of God.” His logic went something like this: Joshua and the people of Israel were following God’s command. Following God’s command meant killing 12000 people. Genocide is ok, as long as it is sanctioned by God. What?! I have a serious problem with that logic and that conclusion. That being said, this is a really difficult text. It is unsettling to read a text like this and truth be told, I struggle with what to say or think or write in response.

The way I see it, there are a several different options. 1) I can take the easy way out and write it off as a mystery — one of those things that I’ll either understand or no longer be concerned with in heaven some day. 2) I could follow the logic of this prominent Christian leader, and rely on his conclusion to be my own. 3) I can just highlight this text (and others like it) in black so I am no longer able to read them in my Bible — pretending that they don’t exist. 4) I can cleverly craft a way to soften this text so it is more palatable and compatible with my image of how a loving God should behave. I could keep going. I’m sure there are plenty more options to consider, but here is where I am landing this morning:

Even amid the obvious difficulty in this text, the intersection between this story and our own for me comes down to this: This story illustrates the depth of God’s love for his people and his desire for his people to be in relationship with him. Long ago God established a covenant relationship with his people. A relationship that makes binding God’s promise of love, provision and protection. The terms of this covenant were made complete once and for all by Jesus death on the cross. All that was required on our end of the covenant has been fulfilled, not by our own work or right belief, but by God’s grace. In the time of Joshua, however, the people of God were still trying fulfill their end of the deal on their own and there were significant consequences when they didn’t . If we back up to chapter 7 we can see that the covenant has been broken and for Israel, that has meant significant loss… 3000 soldiers. So the Lord says to Joshua,

“Israel has sinned and broken my covenant! They have stolen some of the things that I commanded must be set apart for me. And they have not only stolen them but have lied about it and hidden the things among their own belongings. That is why the Israelites are running from their enemies in defeat. For now Israel itself has been set apart for destruction. I will not remain with you any longer unless you destroy the things among you that were set apart for destruction. “Get up! Command the people to purify themselves in preparation for tomorrow. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the LORD. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you.” (Joshua 7:11-13 NLT)

As long as the covenant was broken, it quite literally meant death for the people of God at the hands of their enemies. In chapter 8, however, the covenant has been restored and their enemies (the same ones who had killed thousands in chapter 7) were destroyed.

The world Joshua lived in was savage and brutal in ways that are often difficult for us to imagine. Not many of us face the same kind of brutality and threat in our daily existence. As God’s people today, however, this story serves as reminder of God’s power to overcome any threat that stands in the way of the fulfillment of God’s promise, protection, and provision in our life. The enemy for us might not look like 12,000 people of Ai. For us maybe it looks like a battle with self-image, or job loss, or bullying, or fill-in-the-blank with whatever binds you. Whatever the enemy, God has promised to protect his covenant people… you and me.

Yes, this is a difficult text, but God is good. So may God bless and keep you as you wrestle through this today, and may you forever find confidence in God’s promise to provide for and protect you in the face of even the most impossible threat.

*NOTE: I use the Moravian Daily Texts to select the texts for each morning. We have been going through the gospel of Luke, but while I was on vacation last week I mistakenly wrote on the readings for this week. This week I will reflect and write on the Old Testament readings and resume with Luke next week.

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