When I first believed in Jesus, I learned about the Trinity through the New Testament. Through Christ, God the Father offered forgiveness and new life to anyone who believed – Jew or Gentile. The Holy Spirit was poured out on believers after Christ’s death and many became children of God. Peter received visions of inclusiveness and Paul actively sought to spread this GOOD NEWS to as many as he could. As I continue to grow in my faith, and began studying scripture in its entirety, I have wrestled deeply with parts of the Old Testament. It contains both forgiveness and judgement – a God who is holy, just and merciful. It is difficult for me to wrap my mind around the orders to completely wipe out entire communities. It’s hard for me to reconcile, when Jesus has taken the penalty for my own sin and God has extended grace.
Every time we come to God with an earnest desire to know and understand Him better, He is faithful to reveal Himself. While the first twelve chapters of Joshua involve heavy bloodshed that can be hard to comprehend, it gives us a glimpse into how seriously God takes sin. If we avoid asking the hard questions, we miss the opportunity to better understand our God, and develop our ability to help others.
One thing I have also come to realize when studying scripture, is the significance of historical and cultural context. I’ve read commentaries on how the pagan practices in some of these nations were so ingrained and overarching, that some writers felt the people’s death was merciful. If any of the people had been allowed to live, they would probably have returned to practices such as sacrificing children, in hopes that it would appease their “god” and get their land back. Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message, writes that the “Canaanite culture was a snake pit of child sacrifice and sacred prostitution; practices ruthlessly devoted to using the most innocent and vulnerable (babies and virgins) to manipulate gods for gain.” Yet even within this destruction, some were spared. Rahab and her family survived – God clearly offered mercy in the midst of judgement.
After these nations were destroyed, the rest of the book of Joshua is devoted to assigning God’s people their land and their name – their place as His people. Joshua gives the Israelites a final address that echoes Moses in Deuteronomy 30:
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” ~ Joshua 24:14-15
As you read this book this month, pray about the places in your life where God is calling you to radically remove sin. How can you reflect who you are as one of His people today?