Sunday, August 10, 2008

Old Testament Violence (13) - Jumpy Joshua

What happened after God defeated the Amorites is bizarre. Joshua told the sun and moon to stand still so that Israel could slaughter the fleeing Amorites.

There are several odd things about this incident.

  • The Lord had already defeated the Amorites and chased them out of the area. I am not sure why Joshua wanted more time. It seems like he wanted to get in on the Lord’s victory.
  • he Lord had said that he would bring the victory, he did not tell Joshua to slaughter the Amorites.
  • God did not instruct Joshua to make the sun stand still.
  • Joshua seemed to be trying to go one better. God had sent hail stones, Joshua would control the sun and moon. This seems like hubris.
  • I am not sure why God listened to Joshua’s command to the sun. I suspect that because Joshua had made this reckless command in front of the Israelites, God did not want to dishonour his leadership at a critical time during the taking of the land.
  • Israel took vengeance on the Amorites, even though God had not commanded it. These particular people had only threatened Israel, so they were was actually nothing to avenge.
The author of the book of Joshua noted the event as strange.
And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the LORD heeded the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel (Jos 10:14).
The Lord had fought for Israel and won a victory, but he listened to a human voice and allowed him to disobey and slaughter the fleeing army. Even the author of Joshua finds this hard to understand.

The problem is that Joshua misunderstood his calling. He had the gift of miracles. God had given him power to perform miracles. Joshua had used this gift at Jericho, when the walls came tumbling down. However, he was not content with this miracle and spoilt it by supplementing his gift with the sword, and the slaughter of all the inhabitants.

At Gibeon, God confirmed Joshua’s gift of miracles by responding to Joshua’s declaratory prayer, even though he prayed for the wrong reason. God is sometimes so keen to get us doing his stuff that he does stuff for us, even when we stuff up. The miracle of the sun standing still was God’s blessing on Joshua’s faith and gifting, not approval for the slaughter that followed.

God intended Joshua to release his miracle power to defeat the surrounding nations. They would see the awesome power of God and be so filled with fear that they would flee. Joshua did not get this and fell back on the power of the sword.

Part of the problem is that Moses had not fully understood his gifting. He had experienced many miracles in Egypt and a great victory over the Egyptian army at the Red Sea.Each time he had stretched out his staff, a miracle followed. God did the work. Moses and the people just had to be still.

Despite these amazing experiences, Moses mixed the power of the staff with the power of the sword when attacked by the Amalekites. He stood on the hill with staff and prayed. Joshua stayed on the plain and fought with the sword. Joshua did not see Moses praying, so he thought that he had won a victory with the sword.Joshua assumed that his fighting was the key to the victory. This was his first encounter with the nations and Moses had trained him to trust in the power of the sword.

If Moses had used the used the power of the staff against the Amalekites with Joshua standing at his side, Joshua would have learned how to release the power of God. Instead he set him on the wrong path by sending him out against the Amalekites with the sword. He taught Joshua to use the sword, when he should have been training him to use his gift of miracles.

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