Joshua 7

Joshua 7,
Monday, April 9, 2018

Did you get stuck on the weekend with the genocide at Jericho, or apprehensive about this coming week of slaughter?  Let’s tell a story of what went wrong coming out of Jericho. It’s about breaking the prohibition on plundering and pillaging.  Achan got greedy.

We’re back to spies – and they are a bit cocky.  Jericho was so easy, Ai would fall to a raiding party, leaving most of the people at ease. But 3,000 Israelites cut and ran, and suffered 36 casualties.  Now it’s the people of Israel whose ‘hearts turn to water’. 

Joshua folds, and whines to God.  Worse, he threatens God that it’s Yahweh’s reputation that is at risk.  God barks at Joshua to stand up and stop grovelling.  Acting like a free and responsible person includes taking responsibility for yourself – and as a leader for others.

‘Devoted to destruction’ is a denial of venal motives of profit, and commitment to following through on the providential opportunity given by God, not earned by our merit.  What God’s replacing, we don’t scavenge – we risk infection from the original disease.

Collective and vicarious responsibility is the issue here.  Just as we get our providential allotments, so the guilty are revealed. The guilty party is revealed, and punished – but the entire community shares his guilt until they punish him: from genocide to capital punishment.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the United Church of Canada was vicariously liable for harm to students of residential schools.  We did not do the crimes.  We did not intend them.  We were not negligent in how we ran them.  But the things were bound to result in the specific crimes that followed, and we didn’t punish.

As my mentor 40 years ago would often put it: “Our institutions do our sinning for us.”  We don’t have to see the suffering, but we are complicit.  For 25 years we have been sending troops to the middle east since the first Gulf War – and more die at home than in the field, from the moral confusion of our collective behaviour.  

Joshua is not a tract in favour of genocide or capital punishment.  It proposes modesty about our power, deference to divinity and humanity, and collective responsibility and repentance.  We do not stand over the text as innocent judges of Joshua, but as complicit accomplices in preserving our material wealth, at others’ expense.

That’s my 400 words for today – better that you should read Joshua.

But the Israelites broke faith
in regard to the devoted things: 
Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah, 
of the tribe of Judah,
 took some of the devoted things; 
and the anger of the Lord burned
against the Israelites.
2 Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, 
which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, 
and said to them,
 ‘Go up and spy out the land.’
And the men went up and spied out Ai.
 3Then they returned to Joshua and said to him,
 ‘Not all the people need go up; 
about two or three thousand men should go up
and attack Ai. 
Since they are so few,
 do not make the whole people toil up there.’
 4So about three thousand of the people went up there; 
and they fled before the men of Ai.
 5The men of Ai killed about thirty-six of them, 
chasing them from outside the gate as far as Shebarim
and killing them on the slope. 
The hearts of the people failed and turned to water.
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes, 
and fell to the ground on his face
before the ark of the Lord
until the evening, 
he and the elders of Israel; 
and they put dust on their heads.
 7Joshua said, 
‘Ah, Lord God! 
Why have you brought this people across the Jordan at all,
 to hand us over to the Amorites so as to destroy us? 
Would that we had been content
to settle beyond the Jordan!
 8O Lord, what can I say, 
now that Israel has turned their backs to their enemies!
 9The Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, 
and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. 
Then what will you do for your great name?’
10 The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Stand up! 
Why have you fallen upon your face?
 11Israel has sinned; 
they have transgressed my covenant
that I imposed on them. 
They have taken some of the devoted things; 
they have stolen, they have acted deceitfully,
 and they have put them among their own belongings.
 12Therefore the Israelites are unable to stand before their enemies; 
they turn their backs to their enemies, 
because they have become a thing devoted for destruction themselves.
I will be with you no more, 
unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.
 13Proceed to sanctify the people, 
and say, “Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow; 
for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 
‘There are devoted things among you, O Israel; 
you will be unable to stand before your enemies
until you take away the devoted things from among you.’
 14In the morning therefore you shall come forward tribe by tribe. 
The tribe that the Lord takes shall come near by clans,
 the clan that the Lord takes shall come near by households, 
and the household that the Lord takes shall come near one by one.
 15And the one who is taken as having the devoted things
shall be burned with fire, together with all that he has, 
for having transgressed the covenant of the Lord, 
and for having done an outrageous thing in Israel.” ’
16 So Joshua rose early in the morning,
 and brought Israel near tribe by tribe,
 and the tribe of Judah was taken.
 17He brought near the clans of Judah, 
and the clan of the Zerahites was taken; 
and he brought near the clan of the Zerahites, family by family, 
and Zabdi was taken. 
18And he brought near his household one by one, 
and Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah, 
of the tribe of Judah, was taken.
 19Then Joshua said to Achan, 
‘My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel
and make confession to him. 
Tell me now what you have done; 
do not hide it from me.’
 20And Achan answered Joshua,
 ‘It is true; 
I am the one who sinned against the Lord God of Israel. 
This is what I did:
 21when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, 
and two hundred shekels of silver, 
and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels,
 then I coveted them and took them. 
They now lie hidden in the ground inside my tent, 
with the silver underneath.’
22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent;
 and there it was, hidden in his tent with the silver underneath.
 23They took them out of the tent
and brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites; 
and they spread them out before the Lord.
 24Then Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan son of Zerah, 
with the silver, the mantle, and the bar of gold, 
with his sons and daughters, with his oxen, donkeys, and sheep, 
and his tent and all that he had; 
and they brought them up to the Valley of Achor.
 25Joshua said, ‘Why did you bring trouble on us? 
The Lord is bringing trouble on you today.’ 
And all Israel stoned him to death; 
they burned them with fire, cast stones on them,
 26and raised over him a great heap of stones
 that remains to this day. 
Then the Lord turned from his burning anger.
 Therefore that place to this day is called the Valley of Achor.

Settlers and Anarchists: 
What Side Are We On?
Reading Joshua and Judges
Easter Season, 2018
Trinity UC Kitchener

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Second Sunday of Easter
April 8, 2018

‘Go home! Go back where you came from! Get out!’

We’ve all got a story.  What’s yours?  Over this first week, I hope you were reminded of your story, and how it fits into ‘our story’ as ‘Trinity on Church’, in a ‘United Church of Canada’.  What other ‘our story’ narratives do you claim, as citizens of a city, part of an extended family or clan, identifying with a racialized group, or as gendered or identified by sexual orientation?  I provoke you to wonder about issues of economic class, within colonial and capitalist empires, and as ‘settlers’ in relation to indigenous peoples, First Nations  and Métis  people.  Our intersectional identities are complex, eh?

Can you ‘map’ your stories?  Which map of ‘home’, or ‘the old neighbourhood’, or ‘where I belong’, or ‘have a right to return’?  Again, these exercises of working in the first person plural or collective are surprisingly challenging in most groups.  What did you include, in how big a geography?  What features mattered? Our individualistic and narcissistic culture generates lots of ‘me’ but less ‘us’, more psychology than geography.  Adam Shoalts‘ ‘A History of Canada in Ten Maps’ is one approach.  How big is your ‘turtle island’?

This is not a study of Genesis, or of Exodus – though you can revisit those first scrolls of Torah at in the same format of brief texts and audio, arising from repeated local church readings.  The stories and maps of our universal humanity in creation as children of Adam, and of our particular peoples, in relation to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, shape the story and map of liberation from bondage in Exodus – and now in turn those of entering into a promise, and accepting a providential allotment prudently, in Joshua.  

As I acknowledged last Sunday, setting out on Easter, we are the first generation in millennia to deal with a current actual state of Israel, in territorial conflict with Palestinians.  European colonialism and North American capitalist imperialism, now facing resurgent Islam, have traded heavily on these biblical narratives, providing the finances and military material to shape these conflicts.  Naïve fundamentalist American Christians, and more sophisticated Jewish communities, lobby Canadian governments.  They assert these texts, and we concede their reading without offering our own.

This reading of Joshua also keeps the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) challenges in your face.  Our story and our map as a church is inextricable from the narrative of ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ through residential schools.   Our people, including All Native Circle Conference communities, claim God’s blessing upon our homes here.  We distance ourselves from crudely genocidal readings of Joshua, and ‘spiritualize’ or ‘personalize’ it, but what is suppressed erupts in shocking violations that cry for healing.

I was taught 40 years ago that if we cannot salvage a gospel that is not inherently anti-Semitic, we must abandon Christianity after the Holocaust.  I have long since extended the challenge to demand that if we cannot salvage a gospel in right relations to First Nations, we must also abandon Christianity in the face of the TRC. The academy and the bureaucracy will give us carefully parsed words, but we live it out in parochial life to bear repentant witness to hope, or not at all.

The first week was pretty easy, allowing us this discussion of stories and maps in our first conversations, 7pm Sunday evening April 8 and noon Tuesday April 10.  The week ahead gets a lot bloodier.   I did not write it – but I need your company to read it, here and now!