Joshua 23

Joshua 23,
Friday, April 27, 2018 

Here’s a clearer ‘happily ever after’ speech, a deathbed oration by a revered old leader.  It’s like Jacob saying good-bye to his 12 sons late in Genesis, or like Moses’s farewell at the end of Deuteronomy.  It’s a bit operatic, like the long solo of the hero showing remarkable lungs.
 
We are asked to frame this as long into a legendary peace from all enemies, when Joshua was 110.  In rhetorical terms, it is peroration, summarizing what came before – and what will follow in the next bit.  You did good, God did good, all prospered – but the covenant is conditional, and consequences will be as sure for unfaithfulness.
 
If the original militant versions of this story were belligerent toward neighbouring tribes, the people in the land around and among us, and perhaps ambitious and expansionary in the times of Solomon, by the time we read it, we know better than to hear a triumphal tale.
 
By the time of Josiah, we know that Assyria has replaced Egypt as our empire, and ‘ten lost tribes’ is already a fair way to talk about the remnant we hope to save in Judah and Benjamin.  By the time of a Second Temple, we’ve known exile, and return to the ‘people of the land’ who stayed and were Samaritans among the tribes.
 
As it has been read from the beginning, this is an argument against assimilation.  We are revolted by Joshua prohibiting intermarriage, from our liberalism, our fundamentalist faith in being rights-bearing atomized individuals.  Spectres of racializing religious wars and genocidal rejection of the ‘Other’ fill our heads and hearts. Ouch.
 
Put the anti-assimilation message in the mouth of a First Nations elder, and it begins to sound more plausible.  Put our self-righteous glib liberalism in the mouths of governmental monopolies on education and child welfare, and it is tyrannical cultural genocide. 
 
Don’t surrender your missing and murdered indigenous women to the apathy of institutions that do our sinning for us.  Don’t take their status when they marry non-indigenous men, or deny status to their children.  Who determines who is part of ‘us’?  
 
Can anybody simply claim unilaterally to be First Nations, from Archie Belaney claiming to be Grey Owl until Joseph Boyden’s cultural appropriation.  “Who do you think you are?” ask the people who have not validated the claim, regardless of genetic tests.
 
We are all too familiar with a particular reading of this text, from a peculiar subculture of political Zionism:  God gave us all this land, and any of us have a Right of Return, and divine title to all the land.  Settlers are simply fulfilling the charge of Joshua!
 
There are plenty of good Jewish readings of this text that simply claim God’s providential gift of a right to exist wherever we find ourselves, and to claim those gifts and use them to serve the divine. That is not imperialistic or genocidal to all other peoples.  
 
God ‘pushes back’ or ‘drives out’ other nations to make room for Israel to occupy.  It is not their own strength or warfare that makes space.  The providential gift is conditional on serving the divine, and just as blessings can reward obedience, curses follow self-serving.
 
That’s more than my 400 word quota for the day… what’s your word?
 
A long time afterwards, 
when the Lord had given rest to Israel
 from all their enemies all around, 
and Joshua was old
and well advanced in years,
 
 2Joshua summoned all Israel,
 their elders and heads,
 their judges and officers,
 and said to them,
 
 ‘I am now old
and well advanced in years;
 
 3and you have seen
all that the Lord your God has done
to all these nations
for your sake,
 for it is the Lord your God
who has fought for you.
 
 4I have allotted to you
as an inheritance for your tribes
those nations that remain, 
along with all the nations
that I have already cut off, 
from the Jordan
to the Great Sea in the west.
 
 5The Lord your God
will push them back before you, 
and drive them out of your sight;
 and you shall possess their land,
 as the Lord your God promised you.
 
 6Therefore be very steadfast
to observe and do
all that is written
 in the book of the law of Moses, 
turning aside from it
 neither to the right
nor to the left,
 
 7so that you may not be mixed
 with these nations
left here among you,
 or make mention
of the names
of their gods,
 or swear by them,
 or serve them,
 or bow yourselves down
to them,
 
 8but hold fast
to the Lord your God,
 as you have done
to this day.
 
 9For the Lord has driven out before you
great and strong nations; 
and as for you,
 no one has been able to withstand you
 to this day.
 
 10One of you
 puts to flight a thousand,
 since it is the Lord your God
 who fights for you, 
as he promised you.
 
 11Be very careful, therefore, 
to love the Lord your God. 
 
12For if you turn back, 
and join the survivors of these nations
left here among you,
 and intermarry with them, 
so that you marry their women
and they yours,
 
 13know assuredly
that the Lord your God
will not continue to drive out
these nations before you; 
but they shall be a snare
and a trap for you,
 a scourge on your sides,
 and thorns in your eyes,
 until you perish
 from this good land
that the Lord your God
has given you.
 
14 ‘And now
 I am about to go
 the way of all the earth,
 and you know in your hearts and souls,
 all of you,
 that not one thing has failed
of all the good things
that the Lord your God promised
concerning you;
 all have come to pass for you, 
not one of them has failed. 
 
15But just as all the good things
that the Lord your God promised concerning you
 have been fulfilled for you,
 so the Lord will bring upon you
all the bad things,
 until he has destroyed you
from this good land
that the Lord your God
has given you.
 
16If you transgress
the covenant of the Lord your God,
 which he enjoined on you, 
and go and serve other gods
 and bow down to them, 
then the anger of the Lord
will be kindled against you, 
and you shall perish quickly
from the good land
that he has given to you.’