Friday, April 6, 2018
Do you imagine crossing the Jordan this way as a ‘Shock and Awe’ strategy, like the American pyrotechnics in Gulf Wars? The claim is that the enemies were demoralized by this ‘air strike by God’. My preferred picture is of sparsely populated Canaan absorbing a wave of refugees of women, children, and men surging out of the desert.
The ritual circumcision of the whole people is a powerful image, too, despite its dubious historicity. Faith may be partly given, inherited, but if not taught and practised, how long do we maintain moral norms without shared sources and authorities? Not long. Faith is a choice at a price in each generation – including ours.
This story has been retold for millennia, with different implications in each century. The Puritans of New England began as covenant communities of Calvinists – but had to adopt a ‘half-way covenant’ for their back-sliding children. Assimilation is a threat to any minority, Jewish, Christian, or First Nations. What’s your identity?
This may be another etiological legend to name the significance of the ancient shrine at Gilgal – it’s also a kind of collective redemption from the shame, or here, ‘disgrace’, of Egypt. Poverty and slavery are not simply enobling, and may bring out the worst in us in any generation, to be processed by descendants building free pride.
Joshua 5 says that Passover was celebrated soon after the crossing over across the Jordan. It lends itself to repetition in the Haggadah, story-telling at the Passover feast. We ate unleavened bread and roasted meat, ready to flee slavery, then got manna in the wilderness. Now, we provision ourselves from our new land, and as it yields to our work and feeds us, the manna stops falling.
Joshua has his own theophany, God-vision, of a man with a sword – neither enemy nor ally, but commander of the army of God. The Lord’s Army can be twisted into ‘our side’ among African child soldiers, or in fanatic fringe movements. Worse, ‘Gott Mitt Uns’, or ‘God is on our Side’ through 20th century world wars, can claim God for one empire or another. I read that God has an army on God’s side, siding with the powerless and defenseless.
We will need to talk in this season about ‘warrior’ cultures, and masculinity, and violence, and militarism. If we don’t, then what you ‘assume’ will make an ‘ass out of u and me’. It’s fashionable in complacent middle class educated first world subcultures to claim pacifism and dismay at violence, but as Mandela and Tutu used to challenge us from South Africa, we are complicit in covert violence when we suppress all overt reactive violence.
‘Warrior’ talk in the mouths of young First Nations men makes some sense to me, in a context of crazy incarceration rates and third-world living conditions. They remember with pride their ancient heritage, as another identity to balance dominant culture stereotypes that suggest that racialized people ‘deserve’ their disadvantage.
Take off your shoes – you’re walking on holy ground. So Moses did, and Joshua did, and we should. There is only sacred ground – but some is desecrated by lack of reverence.
When all the kings of the Amorites
beyond the Jordan to the west,
and all the kings of the Canaanites by the sea,
heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan
for the Israelites until they had crossed over,
their hearts failed,
and there was no longer any spirit in them,
because of the Israelites.
2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua,
‘Make flint knives
and circumcise the Israelites
a second time.’
3So Joshua made flint knives,
and circumcised the Israelites
4This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them:
all the males of the people who came out of Egypt,
all the warriors,
had died during the journey through the wilderness
after they had come out of Egypt.
5Although all the people who came out had been circumcised,
yet all the people born on the journey through the wilderness
after they had come out of Egypt
had not been circumcised.
6For the Israelites travelled for forty years in the wilderness,
until all the nation,
the warriors who came out of Egypt,
not having listened to the voice of the Lord.
To them the Lord swore
that he would not let them see
the land that he had sworn to their ancestors to give us,
a land flowing with milk and honey.
7So it was their children,
whom he raised up in their place,
that Joshua circumcised;
for they were uncircumcised,
because they had not been circumcised
on the way.
8 When the circumcising of all the nation was done,
they remained in their places in the camp
until they were healed.
9The Lord said to Joshua,
‘Today I have rolled away from you
the disgrace of Egypt.’
And so that place is called Gilgal
to this day.
10 While the Israelites were encamped in Gilgal
they kept the passover
in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month
in the plains of Jericho.
11On the day after the passover,
on that very day,
they ate the produce of the land,
unleavened cakes and parched grain.
12The manna ceased
on the day they ate the produce of the land,
and the Israelites no longer had manna;
they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.
13 Once when Joshua was near Jericho,
he looked up and saw a man standing before him
with a drawn sword in his hand.
Joshua went to him
and said to him,
‘Are you one of us,
or one of our adversaries?’
but as commander of the army of the Lord
I have now come.’
And Joshua fell on his face to the earth
and he said to him,
‘What do you command your servant, my lord?’
15The commander of the army of the Lord
said to Joshua,
‘Remove the sandals from your feet,
for the place where you stand is holy.’
And Joshua did so.