Lesson 18: Be Strong and of a Good Courage #BCCSundaySchool2018

Lesson 18: “Be Strong and of a Good Courage”

The essential question of the Book of Joshua is what it means to be a member of the House of Israel. At the end of Deuteronomy Moses challenges the Israelites, offering them a stark dichotomy:

I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish.
(Deuteronomy 30:15-17)

The land of Israel that the Israelites spend much time conquering in this book is the promised land, but it’s also a land of seduction and temptation: a land full of other gods. It’s easy to imagine those “other gods” are simply pagan deities, but Joshua makes clear this is not true. Just as the Lord God establishes his relationship with the Israelites by offering them a covenant, so do other gods seek to tempt the Israelites away from that covenant through offering power, exclusion, wealth, luxury, hedonism: sins, those things which detract from the terms of the covenant made.

How should the covenant shape Israel’s self-understanding?

First, God—reminiscent of the gift of manna—promises them victory by his hand, not theirs. The Israelites are not to become proud or confident in their own strength; they are rather to receive victory as a gift in all humility.

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.(Joshua 1:8)

This promise is demonstrated in the Israelites’ triumph at Jericho, which they win not through force of arms but through an elaborate religious ritual.

Second, and one illustration of that victory, and what it means to be an Israelite: Rahab.

According to Joshua 2, Rahab is a prostitute who lives in Jericho. She is not an Israelite, and yet she is God’s chosen means of bringing his people salvation. She hides two spies Joshua sends to Jericho, telling them

For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt  . . . As soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.
Joshua 2:10-11

Rahab, whom the king of Jericho pushes around (2:3), who lives on the outskirts of Jericho, physically (2:15) and socially (2:2), sees in the god of these men hiding in her home a God who saves the slaves and the outcasts, and she takes that god for her own.

As God then uses her to bring salvation to the spies she hides, so does God use Israel to save Rahab. When Jericho is brought low:

The young men who had been spies went in and brought Rahab out, along with her father, her mother, her brothers, and all who belonged to her—they brought all her kindred out—and set them outside the camp of Israel . . .Her family has lived in Israel ever since.
Joshua 6:24-25

The covenant of Israel is not closed, even at this early date. The covenant of Israel is open to those who seek deliverance and who believe that God is a God of liberation. Just as God works to save the outcasts, so does God work through the outcasts to save us all.

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham . . .
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David.

Matthew 1:2, 5-6

Last, memory.

When the Israelites cross into the promised land over the river Jordan, Joshua stops them and tells them God wants them to plant twelve stones at the point of their crossing.

When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”
Joshua 4:6-7

Again, the motif of God parting water to bring forth his creation: we saw this upon the creation in Genesis 1, at the ceasing of the flood in Genesis 7-8, when the Israelites fled Egypt in Exodus 14, and of course at every baptism from that of Jesus Christ forward.

The stones stand as a reminder to the Israelites’ children, and so does Israel itself. Upon the occupation of Israel Joshua gathers Israel to him.

 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.
Joshua 24:2

So begins Joshua’s long recapitulation of the history of Israel, from Abraham through the crossing of the Jordan. The covenant Joshua asks his people to make is not simply a covenant to serve God. It is a covenant to—like Rahab—remember who they are, and more, what God has done for them. And as it was for Rahab, it is the memory of God’s grace that makes them who they are.

I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out.

When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you. . . . sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow.

I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built.
Joshua 24:5, 11-13.

The covenant the triumphant Israelites make is to remember that but for God they were slaves; they were refugees; they were persecuted and beaten and won only because God had given them mercy. The covenant the Israelites make is to be triumphant without triumph, conquerors without conquest. They do not win because they earned their victory, but because God had saved them and gave them a gift. They are Israelites because God has chosen to save them, and us.

Comments

  1. Lesson 18 Attention Activity: Get a piece of paper and ask a member of the class to get the paper to stand upright and hold a book.
    Are you kidding me? We are adults with brains or are we not?
    The attention activity should be this: Have the class members read Joshua 6:21

    21 And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.

    Ask the members of the class to reflect upon the most gory war movie they have ever seen. Remind class members that these aren’t guns and bombs at a distance but swords and knives, so this is eye to eye, skin to skin, blood to blood. Ask members to picture these “covenated men of God” going from house to house taking woman and children and babies into the street and killing them amongst bloody cries and horror. Now since the room is maybe quiet at this point let members sit on this and let it sink in. After the moment of reflection, ask with elevated voice with indignation, “Is this of God?” Ask the class if this is something any human can do? Could they do something like this? Could they stab anyone and see them bleed and die in front of their eyes? Can they kill woman and children?
    I tried to give a sliver of this to the class I attended 4 years ago. As I did I was shut down by a former bishop in the room with something like this, “They were wicked and this was God’s way of helping the wicked to stop sinning”
    I was done. I didn’t go back to Sunday school for 2 years and have only been back twice a year to check up on all the lameness in the room.
    What do we do with a God in the Bible that we try to justify as righteous and good while he loathes his children who sin and reaps down destruction upon them by his wrath or with his servants, it is all the same.
    Help me work this out. I have three answers for this.
    1. God can’t make us humans put knives into bodies it just can’t be. So obvious. From Abraham/Isaac to Joshua, humans just can’t do this and stay sain, think of Hamlet and Macbeth or watch the movie ‘71. Humans freak at the moment of decision.
    2. Victor’s whitewash their deeds. “Wow look at all these bodies! Who’s idea was this? Oh, it was God’s. He wanted us to do all this, for sin and sinners are an abomination.” The Bible was written centuries after the events. The author’s make God all powerful and desires righteousness and a covenant people to follow Him.
    3. It never happend. Archeologists tell us there was no Hebrews wandering in need of a homeland, Moses is fictional hero, and fortunately there is no evidence of a conquest. Jericho never happened! Writers in the 700ish BC made it all up! (See Peter Enns, The Bible tells me so.)
    Can anyone help me add to the list to make sense of the God of war in the Bible.

    (If there be any faults in the writing, it is the weakness of my iPhone and not mine)

  2. While teaching Sunday School, I find myself gravitating more and more towards James Faulconer’s Old Testament Made Harder, with lots of thought-provoking questions. The official church manual just doesn’t do it. I also recommend Jeffrey M. Bradshaw’s Old Testament KnoWhy’s over at the Interpreter Foundation for deeper insight.

    I tend to think that IF any of this slaughter actually happened, it was the works of men and not because of the commandment of God. As you say, the Bible was written hundreds of years after the events, and things, especially conquest narratives, get exaggerated. And as someone else said, whose name I forgot, “The Bible is what happens when God lets His children tell the story.”

  3. The Book of Mormon testifies of the Bible and the Bible testifies of the Book of Mormon. The Articles of Faith declare “We believe the Bible as far as it is translated correctly”. There is a stick of Judah and a stick of Ephraim. Their purpose is to testify of Jesus Christ; his mission and his power.

  4. I’m currently weighing the idea that none of the scriptures are literally all true, because of the nature of Orality. It’s a huge relief to be able to not take the scriptures literally, but it’s also a lot to unpack. I’m teaching this tomorrow and looking forward to it less than the talking donkey and genocide at the end of Numbers. So I’m probably going to treat it all as metaphor. How do courage and strength help me vanquish my enemies, like fear, doubt and hate?