Imagine a book of the Bible so extra that Jesus himself didn’t quote it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you: the book of Joshua.
The book begins with a series of stories painting Joshua as the new Moses, but like a copy of a copy of Moses. You know… almost as good but not quite. Think about the PR job required to convince the world that Ray Perkins was going to be great following Bear Bryant. “Ray who?” you ask. Exactly my point. Joshua starts off kind of like that.
Long monologues demanding obedience like Moses? Check.
Sending spies into the land like Moses? Definitely.
Parting a large body of water? Kind of.
Talking directly with God? If middle management angels count, then yes.
To his credit, Joshua learned from some of Moses’s mistakes. As one of the original twelve spies he learned not to give the decision-making authority to a bunch of twenty-something year old soldiers. Don’t tell me if we should go. Just tell me how.
So after a quick hideout in the city brothel, armed with a narc on the inside, Joshua’s spies returned and the siege of the first city of the promised land was on. In just seven days Jericho fell. Literally.
The next city didn’t go so well. The plunder from Jericho was too much for one of the soldiers to resist. So he snagged some that wasn’t his. And when things didn’t go so well in the battle at Ai (not the ChatGPT kind) Joshua knew something was up. Achan was caught getting caught in the Old Testament is never a good thing.
What follows is an account of the cities and people that Israel destroyed conquering the promised land, often killing both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.
This, of course, raises several questions. For starters: WHAT THE ACTUAL #*©&???
Pretty hard to fulfill that whole “blessing to the nations” end of Abraham’s bargain if you’re busy erasing all memory of their existence. Let’s call this what it is.
And let’s deal with it.
First, can we agree that genocide is incongruent with “Love thy enemy”? And don’t be one of those people who justify their horrible treatment of whoever they’re bullying this week and saying it’s AcKshUalLy loving. That’s not what this is.
So then we’re left to either A) contextualize it away (it was a specific command for a specific season not to be considered a universal value of God), B) read it as hyperbole (God, or whoever’s writing, obviously didn’t really mean it), or C) rationalize that those Canaanites deserved it (Nothing teaches folks child sacrifice is wrong like killing their children).
Biblically, all of these options are plausible. And Biblically, all three are problematic.
Let’s pause here and address the verse everyone loves to tattoo on the inside of their forearm: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
This was obviously written to soccer moms reminding them not to worry about what the other ladies at PTO think of their outfit. Certainly it was not a pregame speech to an army the night before battle. Thank God for marionette-ing Joshua’s hand to write those words knowing their full meaning wouldn’t be realized for millennia.
Perhaps at this point it’s best to follow Jesus and just not address it.
The next half of the book reads a lot like a cartography textbook. Imagine eating a bran muffin during accounting class and you’ll get a rough idea. It’s basically Joshua divvying up the land among the tribes but instead of just drawing a map, he described the boundaries like an old man hanging out at the Piggly Wiggly gives directions to the best fishing spot: Go up the road a ways. Turn at the second fork and go until you see the big oak tree. Not the hickory. If you go that far turn around. There’ll be a white-faced Hereford standing by a fence. She’s always there. Pick some blackberries off the side of the road to give to her then jump the barbed wire. The pond is just over the hill. Make sure you take some live worms. Joshua 26:11-17
The book ends with an aging Moses, I mean Joshua, giving a final speech to the Israelites exhorting them to obey God’s commandments so that it goes well with them in the land. This, friends, is what we call foreshadow. Spoiler alert: they’re not gonna.
And this brings us to Joshua’s famous post-game one-liner: Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, …as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. The irony that the most militant among us love this verse so much is almost as depressing as the book of Joshua itself.
Obviously choose to serve the Lord.
And please make it the one who said turn the other cheek.