Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Joshua 7-12: Six Chapters of War

Jericho is the first of many cities in the area of Canaan to be destroyed by Israel, and once it gets flattened, the Hebrews are chomping at the bit to go on to the next city.  But if you're at all familiar with the story, you know that they jumped the gun on this one.  It's a little town with a little name: Ai.

What happens is, in the case of Jericho (and several of the other cities), God told the people that they couldn't take anything from Jericho.  Not just that all the people had to die, or even that all the people and all the animals had to die, but they couldn't even take gold or silver out of the city.  So along comes this guy named Achan, and I'll give you three guesses what he does.  Yeah.  To be specific, he takes a lot of something: a mantle, two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weight fifty shekels.  A shekel is 9.56 grams, or a little over a third of an ounce.  200 shekels is a little over 4 pounds, and fifty shekels is about one pound.  Now, I don't know what the subjective value of these things would have been to that society, but right now, gold is being traded at over $1000 per ounce and silver at over $16 per ounce.  So if Achan had taken that amount of gold and silver today (I have no idea what a mantle is), it would amount to about $18,783 in gold and $1125 in gold that he stole.  That's if it were today.

So math aside, Achan screwed up, so after being found out and confessing, he is stoned to death - and not just him, but his family too.  Why is that?  I looked up some commentaries and one of them pointed out that Achan is the fifth generation after Judah, making him one of the older Israelites, maybe in his 50s at this time.  Based on that and the fact that God had previously commanded that no child was to be killed for the sin of their father, I think it is a safe inference to make that Achan's children 1) are adults, and 2) along with Achan's wife, knew about his sin and hid it from Joshua.  Being an accomplice to an evil - or just not saying anything - is sometimes as bad as doing the crime yourself.

So after this matter gets cleared up, so to speak, Israel goes on to defeat every tribe that is in the land God has promised them.  Different people try different things to defeat them, including making a sneaky promise, banding together with other tribes, and so forth, but nothing works.  A total of 31 kings, including the ones we've already learned about in Numbers and earlier in this chapter, are defeated by the Hebrews.

One of the kings mentioned, one of five actually who join forces in an attempt to stop Israel in its tracks, is named Adoni-zedek, and can you guess what city he is king of?  Jerusalem.  If you know any Hebrew at all, you probably know that the word "Adonai" means "lord," and you may also know that "zedek" means "righetousness."  Put those words together next to Jerusalem, and does this name sound familiar to you at all?  It sounds frighteningly close to Melchizedek, the guy Abraham met waaaaaaaay a long time ago in Genesis.  But this guy appears to be bad and definitely not in Israel's side.  Descendant?  Unrelated coincidence?  I have no idea but it's really weirding me out.

What do we learn about God in a chapter that basically is one war story after another?  I think we learn first of all that he was faithful to Abraham and the covenant he made with him and Isaac and Jacob.  I think we also learn that God is punishing the sins of the Canaanites.  Depending oon what city they go to, there are different levels of destruction that must be brought to the city; in some, every living thing is killed.  In others, every living thing is killed and none of the spoil can be touched.  In some, only the people are killed, and in the ones outside the promised land, only the men are killed.  I read this and I recall a passage way back in Genesis that I will paste here for you:

Genesis 15:13-16 "God said to Abram, 'Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.  But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.  As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.  Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquty of the Amorite is not yet complete.' "

In other words, God had already given the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants, but he was going to give the pagan people in the land four hundred more years to repent and turn from their ways.  It seems from the context like they were just doing things a lot more immoral than what was going around in the surrounding areas, because God didn't call for any kind of conquest or judgment on any other tribes.  And I really believe that if these nations had  turned to God, he would have forgiven them.

And this in turn brings a passage to mind from 2 Peter.  Read it with the Canaanites in your mind:

"[B]y the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by waterthrough which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (3:5b-9).

God is patient with us - he is literally waiting for us to repent, and sometimes he withholds judgment in anticipation of that.  But there is evidently a point at which the time is up, when you either have repented or you are not going to.  The Bible says that today is the day of salvation - not tomorrow, not someday when you get around to it.  We don't know what exactly the Canaanites were doing that God disliked so much, but we do know that everybody does things that are wrong, and I even think everybody does things that are in rebellion of what we know is right.  And in the end, all sin separates us from God.  You cannot endure his presence unless you are no less than perfect.  I don't think it's because God is an Adrian Monk germ-freak afraid to get his clothes dirty; I think it's because our God is a consuming fire and everything that is not pure and holy already will be scorched when it comes into contact with him.  That's a problem, and that problem is what the nation of Israel was created to demonstrate.  The only way for us to enter God's presence is for something completely innocent to stand in our way - and friend, you and I will never be that.  No matter how good you become in your life, you can't erase the bad things you've done.  Only one person can do that, and his name is Jesus.  His blood is the only detergent that can wash the stain of our sins completely away.  All you have to do is take your dirty laundry to him and ask him to clean you.  The Canaanites had four hundred years to get things straight with God, and they missed the opportunity.  Don't let it pass you by.

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