Reflection October 21st – Joshua Series

Reading: Joshua 11.

 

Preacher: Gemma Hayes

 

Good morning. I am Gemma and I am a member of the congregation of this church.
Awhile back, when the Joshua series was envisioned, the thought was that Ralph would do chapters 1 – 3, as he did last week, and then I would do 4 and then Celia 6.
However, last week in our bible study we found ourselves at chapter 11. And in my current grief and fear of what is happening in Israel, this one resonated. I have often felt God in
coincidence. And I wondered whether God showed me (us) this text? But why? What could it be saying?
So, this morning I am going to ask some questions of the text.
1) What would it be like for the ancient Judaeans reading this story?
2) Why did they need this story then, and why do we need it now?
3) And the final one, the hard one, is war ever part of the will of God?
I don’t pretend to know with any certainty the answer to these questions. But offer my thoughts in a spirit of reflection.
But, before I start. When my partner Samson was here, I suggested he preach at Shiloh’s dedication, but he said it is different here to the places he normally preaches. Where he preaches, he says there are more amens. So today, while the topic is very serious, every now and then I might say, can I get an amen, and you all say, amen.

 

Ok. Question 1: What would it be like for the ancient Judaeans reading this story?
For my phd dissertation, I wrote about an ancient scribe. And one of the things I suggested about this scribe was that he was a professional scribe who, prepared his texts to be read aloud
at group reading events. You might be surprised to hear that there are a lot of ancient manuscripts and documents that were clearly not penned by professional scribes, but I digress.
My scribe penned manuscripts to be read aloud at group reading events. And when you read Joshua 11, it seems to me possible to identify the parts that would be magic during one of these
reading events.

פִּתְאֹ֑ם וַֽיִּפְּל֖וּ בָּהֶֽם
The first line there on the screen. Suddenly they fell on them. Pittum. Doesn’t it even sounds like suddenly. And then the second line, one the screen there.

‏וַיַּכּוּ ‎a ‏ אֶת־כָּל־הַנֶּ֨פֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֤הּ לְפִי־חֶ֙רֶב֙ הַֽחֲרֵ֔ם לֹ֥א
נוֹתַ֖ר כָּל־נְשָׁמָ֑ה וְאֶת־חָצ֖וֹר שָׂרַ֥ף ‎b ‏ בָּאֵֽשׁ׃

And they punished every soul, destroyed by the sword, not a remaining breath, Hatzor burned in fire. Can you imagine it? You are an Israelite or Judaean, and you are ruled and regularly attacked by the Persians, the Seleucids, and then by the Romans. So when Joshua, your ancestor is winning, you’d feel excited, you’d be like Go Joshua. In this story, the land belongs to your people, and your people control their destiny. Can I get an amen?

 

Which brings me to our second question: Why did they need this story then, and why do we need it now?
The reality of the world is that it is violent. While I acknowledge that is a very general statement, and there is much about the world that has gone before us that we do not know or
understand. There is much evidence that demonstrates humanity’s history of violence, war, colonialism. We understand history via the rise and fall of kingdoms, empires and nation states, and both their small and great wars. The 66- 70 Jewish War, the Temple was destroyed. 2022 will now be forever remembered for when Russia invaded Ukraine. Just drive up Anzac Hill for the 8 – 10 wars that occurred in the 1900,s, and we are meant to be in a more peaceful era. Inevitably, large kingdoms or empires can impose themselves using violence on smaller less powerful people groups. Stories like the one we just read in Joshua, for the conquered when they were once the conqueror, are inspiring and exciting. Where for many of us the telling of history with great stories of conquest becomes tricky, uncomfortable, dangerous, is when those who possess land and riches due to past conquests
do not shift from the cheering and celebrating, or acknowledge the roots of their privilege.

You have to give it to the book of Joshua, it was honest. I recently heard an interview with the leader of Hamas and he claims, “we didn’t kill children.” And Israel’s constant mantra that they
are only killing Hamas leaders. It’s not Israel’s fault they hide behind civilians. Putin with his “military operation,” and us here in Australia, with barely a single monument to first nations
people who were slaughtered. Joshua says honestly, though brutally, we killed everyone, not a breathe was left.
The truth is that war and violence make everyone a target, and this includes our children.
Chapter 11 ends with Joshua dividing the different areas of land that he conquered among the tribes of Israel, giving it to them as נחלה , an inheritance or possession.
I cannot help but think, that a record like this should exist for Australia, that says to the North, “so and so” conquered the Yolgnu, to the south “so and so” conquered the Yorta Yorta, to the
east they conquered the Eora and the west the Palyku. At least then there would be acknowledgement that there were people groups on the land, but they were killed, and their
land was given to someone else. Maybe then the recognition recently sort by those who lost their landsand – נחלה הם – their inheritance, would not have been so ignored.
So, in short, a reason they needed this story then, and we need it now is for truth telling.
First, that war does not discriminate. Most lives that cross its path will be lost.
Second, what follows from war is the apportioning out of land and riches, of which the benefits or losses are incurred on generations to come.

 

Finally, Is war ever the will of God?
The way I see it, there are at least three ways one could answer this question in light of Joshua,
and in light of what is happening in our world today.
First, that war was the will of God in Joshua, but not the will of God today. Applying biblical
texts and biblical conquests to current events is dangerous. We read the Hebrew Scriptures to
understand the past and how God worked in the past, but we should not really bring that
thinking into today.
Second, that it was the will of God in Joshua, and therefore, possibly the will of God today.
Though it is not for us to decide when it comes to such matters who should live and die. We
just need to trust that ultimately God’s will prevails.

Third, that even in Joshua, a loving God could not have willed nor desired what reads a lot like colonization and slaughter. Rather what the authors and scribes of Joshua did was write God’s
will into the story. And to this point one might add, Jesus, Yeshua, shows us a God that says one should not be willing to kill another, but to die so that the other might live.
I imagine that among us there are people who hold each of these perspectives, and that they have reached these perspectives through much thoughtful deliberation about how the Hebrew
Scriptures reflect God. Furthermore, for all of us there might be times, when we can hold any one of these perspectives.
I therefore don’t have any clear answers.
However, in the process of holding Joshua 11 up to my current grief over Israel, and Australia for that matter, two thoughts emerged that I like to believe came from God.
1) First, God sees all. I do still believe even though I don’t have clarity about his, her, their will in it all, that God showed me this passage, Joshua 11, to tell me that they see me, they see my sadness and heart longing, and that they too see what is happening. And if God can let me know he sees me, God can also let those in Israel, Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan, know that in their darkest of places she sees them too. Can I get an amen?
2) Second, what I felt all week God saying to me, in the face of all this horror and disappointment and while I was writing this sermon, was, “you are not in heaven yet.” Which I had thought was the end of the message. But then yesterday I was driving home and I happened across this podcast on near death experiences, and I heard a man describe his experience. And I just felt it closed off what I was thinking about in terms of us not being in heaven yet. He said, “the most amazing thing happened at the end, I lay down and felt every single molecule of my body begin to vibrate and I looked ahead of me and just beyond my feet and just beyond the first beam of light was a tunnel of white light that was closing in towards me, and it was bright, and there were flames circling around it, but I felt no fear what so ever, I was in awe of it, and there was this energy of love from this tunnel of light, and I was being told that what I was looking at there was the source of all creation.”
Joshua 11 ends,

וְהָאָ֥רֶץ שָׁקְטָ֖ה מִמִּלְחָמָֽה

“and the land was quiet from war.”
If one is hearing the drums of war beating ever louder around them.
If they are finding all of the death, destruction and cruelty beyond measure almost too hard to look at, let alone for the people going through it, they might find some comfort in what I consider a very real possibility, that when we pass from this world to the next, from all this war, it will be quiet.
And for that, can I get a hallelujah?

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