Miracle Misinterpreted

Crossing Jordan
Painting by S. Bowman via Wicker Park Grace

Joshua 3:7-17

God said to Josh, “Today I’ll see to it that the Israelites give you high approval ratings. I’ll let them know that you have the same seal of approval from me as Moses had. You’ll be the one to command the sacred carriers of the contract box. Tell them when they get to the edge of River Jordan to stand still in the Jordan.

So Josh said to the Israelites, he said, “Come and hear what God says. Here’s how you’ll know that God is real, and that God’s fail-safe plan is to expel the Canaanites, Hittities, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites. The contract box of God (who is God of everything) will go first into River Jordan. So each of the twelve Israelite tribes select one man, and when the when the soles of the feet of the contract box carriers hit the water, the water coming downstream will be dammed up. They’ll stand up in a big pile of water.

So off they all went from their camp to cross River Jordan, the sacred contract box carriers out in front. As it happened, this was the harvest time when the Jordan overflows its banks. And when the box carriers came to the Jordan, and as soon as their feet touched the water, the water coming downstream stood still, rising as if behind a great dam a great distance away, at Adam (the city next to Zarethan), and the waters below kept on flowing out to the Dead Sea. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. The whole while they were crossing on dry ground the sacred box carriers stood in the middle of the dry Jordan riverbed. They stayed there until the whole nation had made the Jordan River crossing.

The first crossing at the Red Sea was about liberation. The second crossing at the Jordan River is about conquest.

It’s a classic example of how violence begets violence. Those who are abused as children are the most likely to be abusive when they grow up and have families of their own. Their excuse: that’s life. That’s the way the world is. And if God made it that way, God must be lending legitimacy to the continuing cycle of violence.

Never mind that God, in the truer picture given in Deuteronomy (5:12-15), said that there would be resident aliens in their towns and that they were to allow those foreigners to rest, because, “Remember, you were slaves in Egypt.” Never mind that God, in a truer picture given in Exodus (12:49) commands that “there shall be one law for the native and for the foreigner that resides among you.” Never mind that it’s repeated in Leviticus (24:22): “You shall have one law for the foreigner and the citizen, because I am God.” And why? Because the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is also the God of the Canaanites, Hittities, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites. Even if they don’t recognize it. Yet.

The problem with miracles as the basis for theology is that any given event, even an extraordinary one, can be interpreted more than one way. If the parting of the water was a sign from God, then what was it a sign of? Perhaps because, having come out of an abusive situation, this next generation of Israelites could only see their arrival as a license commit the same racist genocide they had endured. Perhaps, having never possessed anything of their own before, they could only see possession as something an exclusive. An all-or-nothing proposition. But God’s giving a gift to some people doesn’t have to imply God’s taking it away from others. One of the healthy signs of growing up is, after all, learning to share. And that would have been a miraculous crossing.