Seal the Deal

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Photo credit: Andy

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

Then Josh gathered all the Israelite clans for a spiritual retreat at Shechem: the clan leaders, the executives, the judges, and the bureaucrats. There, Josh said to the people, “This is what God, your God, says:

Long ago, your ancestors Terah with his sons, Abraham and Nahor, lived on the other side of the Euphrates and served other Gods. But then, I took your ancestor Abraham from there and led him here to Canaan. And I made his descendents a multitude.

“So now, have respect for God, and be faithful and serious about doing what God says. Get rid of those other gods your ancestors worshiped back in Egypt, and worship this God. If you’re not willing to do this, figure out right now which gods you’re with, the gods of your ancestors, or the gods they had here before you came here. As for me and my family, we’re with God.”

The people answered, “It wouldn’t be like us to forsake God to serve other gods. God brought us and our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt. God did miracles. We saw them! God protected us from enemy nations all the way here. God helped us take this land from the Amorites. So, we’re with God. God is our god.”

Josh said, “I don’t believe you’re up to it. God is so pure and so jealous that, if you rebel, if you do wrong, if you leave God for foreign gods, then in spite of everything God has done for you God will destroy you.”

But the people said, “No, we’re with God.”

Josh said, “Fine, you’re blood is on your own hands. You’ve chosen God.”

They said, “Fine.”

Josh said, “Ok then, get rid of the foreign gods you have all around here, and get with God’s program.”

And the people told Josh, “We’re with God. We’ll do what we need to do.”

So Josh made a contract that day between the people and God, and sealed the deal along with all the terms of the agreement at Shechem.

Of course, if you read the whole story from the Exodus up to this point, their assertion that “It wouldn’t be like us to forsake God” is utterly laughable. And, if you read the whole story, you also know that Joshua’s threats about God wiping the people out are also unsubstantiated. Because as often as the people screw it up (which happens on every other page) God forgives them.

So the truth of the matter is that people aren’t generally as committed as they want to be, and God isn’t as hard-ass as people represent God to be.

But the other truth of the matter is that there seems to be this blank check deal between people and God. People, in spite of their history of waffling, want to be committed to something great and extraordinary, something beyond themselves. They want this and will affirm this even while the clinging to the destructive habits from their past, and the addictions of their present. People, it seems, are hardwired to hope that they can be better. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s what makes progress possible.

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.