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Posts Tagged ‘joshua’

What is a girl like Rahab doing in a place like this? The Old Testament? Isn’t this supposed to be a religious text? Still, we read “They went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab.”

The story we find in Joshua 2 is fascinating. It is easy to be pulled in by the plot. But then, this is not what we might expect when reading the bible. We might expect to read the bible to learn something religious, perhaps a spiritual lesson or two. Instead we find a story about spies, sneaking around, hiding on the roof, withholding information and secret escapes, lying to the king. Espionage and harlotry? The bible is always full of surprises.

This is not the only place we find Rahab. The Gospel of Matthew tells us “Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab.”  There aren’t many females listed in this family tree, but Matthew wants us to know Rahab is an ancestor of King David. Not only that, she belongs to the family tree of Jesus. What is a girl like Rahab doing in a place like this?

The New Testament is not finished with her yet. In Hebrews 11 we read “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish… after she had welcomed the spies in peace.” Hebrews 11 is a place for people of great faith. And we find Rahab hanging out here with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses and David. A guy like Joshua is not even listed by name. We don’t find Daniel or Jonah or some others that I met in Sunday School when teachers were trying to hide girls like Rahab from me. What is a girl like Rahab doing in a place like this?

The bible knows life is not a list, we are not only what we learn or recite. Life is an adventure, a story you and I belong to. The bible pulls us into a story because it is our story. The bible knows religion doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t intersect with the rest of life. Text and life always go together, if they do not, neither has much value.

So here we are in this story. Reality is staring us in the face and uninvited guests are walking in and out. But everyone has a place in this story. Would you hide Rahab in your family tree? Would you keep her identity a secret? Would you include her as a person of faith? Would you meet her for coffee? Invite her to church? Save her a seat next to you? Would you include her in the story?

The bible knows what she is about, knows her history, yet clearly calls her by name as part of our story – may we follow its lead.

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I enjoy a good spy story. Perhaps that is why I was glad when we recently spent time in the Old Testament book of Numbers. Chapter thirteen begins with the Lord speaking. Usually when the Lord speaks in an Old Testament text we are trained to expect something religious. Instead, the word from the Lord is “Send out spies.” The rest of the chapter is about the selection of spies, the completion of the spy mission, and listening to the spy report.

I enjoy a good spy story. That may be why I enjoy the way Virginia Stem Owens lures the reader into one with paragraphs like this; “It is one thing to openly declare yourself a mad scientist or a marginal contemplative so that the rest of society can take precautions against you. But it’s quite another to go about disguised as an ordinary citizen, making your contributions of children, taxes, and casseroles while all the time you’re up to something quite different.”

I enjoy a good spy story. This makes me eager to see the next Jason Bourne movie. Before that happens however, we will be spending some time in the Old Testament book of Joshua. It is not lost on me that chapter two begins like this, “Then Joshua the son of Nun (interestingly one of the spies of Numbers chapter thirteen) sent two men as spies…” Who knew the Old Testament was so full of espionage?

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When Joshua gathered the tribes, he included them in a story starting with the call of Abraham, making its way through slavery in Egypt, and bringing them to the promised land. Joshua then challenged the people to choose whether they will serve Yahweh or some other god. His choice was already made. The people responded likewise, Israel would serve God alone. Joshua 24 appears to be a ceremony of mass conversion. Whatever importance we give this, here we have a report of new people giving their allegiance to Yahweh.

This brings us to the period known as the “Days when the judges ruled.” A day that “There was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” At this time Israel was a loose confederation of clans, surrounded by enemies, without a central government. Yet, in times of danger a hero would arise, someone filled with the spirit of Yahweh (Judges 3.10; 14.6) called a judge. The judge would rally the clans in order to oppose the foe. It is surprising Israel was able to stay together without a central government. It wasn’t easy; sometimes they even warred against one another (Judges 12.1-6).

While it may be surprising Israel was able to survive as a tribal system for so long, the text suggests  that what happened in Joshua 24 contributed to their survival. On account of what happened there they were a people of Yahweh. Yahweh was never an idea or a philosophy to live by. Israel was alive only because of the God who had rescued her from slavery. Yahweh was no maintainer of status quo, but a God who called people into a new future. Israel’s earliest literature highlights a God who has no rival. Yahweh is creator of all things without need for assistance.

It is interesting that pagan gods were part of nature religions. These gods were heavenly bodies or forces of nature and often reflected rhythms of nature. Yahweh in contrast, is not bound by natural forces. Instead, Yahweh is powerful over them and is not associated with repeatable events of nature but unrepeatable historical events. Yahweh commands the powers of nature – plagues, sea water, wind, earthquake, and storm are all under His control. Israel would have perished in the desert if it weren’t for the repeated saving action of Yahweh.

John Bright is surely correct when he states this period is “One of theological irregularity.” We do not know much about any of these judges. Although it was difficult to persuade Israel to act as one, each of them was able to rally the clans during dangerous times. The text suggests they were raised up with God’s spirit upon them to save Israel from her enemies. At times, the idea of a central government with a king was considered. Gideon seems to speak for the people when he states in Judges 8.23 “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” The people of God would live under the rule of God.

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The patriarchal clan migrations may have been the beginnings of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. However, it becomes much more than that. While we are most familiar with Joshua’s account of a sudden, bloody, and complete conquest (Joshua 1-12), the text also suggests it was a long and complicated affair (Joshua 13. 2-6; 15.13-19,63; 23.7-13; Judges 1).

The complications become evident when we find the following among the people of God; alongside descendants of Jacob there are Egyptians (Leviticus 24.10), Midianites (Numbers 10.29-32), Amorites (Joshua 6), Kenizzites (Joshua 14.6) and other fugitives. The list could be made longer but this short list is enough to demonstrate Israel was growing even while in the wilderness. Even some who did not experience the exodus were becoming converts. The text does not always tell how but does reveal God has always been interested in bringing new people into the gathering He calls His own.

John Bright tells us many of those who were grafted into the people of God had long been settled in Palestine and joined the Hebrews when they arrived from the desert. Some who were without a place in established society would have gladly joined the Hebrews. That the God who had delivered slaves from the Egyptians would include them in an inheritance of promised land would have been appealing. In such a company one could find an identity and connection they had never experienced before. Numerous conversions were likely taking place. Bright says “Clans and villages by the dozen must have been converted to Yahwism.” While this likely benefitted in military ways, it does suggest a mixed people as suggested in Exodus 12.38 “Many other people went up with them” or by Numbers 11.4 “The rabble among them.”

The fact remains that for those who resisted, conquest was bloody and brutal. This is likely part of the reason numerous towns and villages were ready to join the Hebrews. After hearing the stories, who would want to resist? Sometimes this occurred willingly, sometimes out of fear (Joshua 9). Others were likely conquered without military action but from uprisings within. Although enclaves of other peoples remained and tension continued for many years, Israel was in possession of the land they would occupy for centuries to come. Not long after this representatives gathered (Joshua 24) and made a covenant to be the people of Yahweh and to worship Him alone. It is evident this is no longer just a clan religion.

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