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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Josh. 9-11(Conquistadores)

Chapter 9 explains the presence of an indigenous minority in the Kingdom of Israel.  The Gibeonites, who we all know as wood cutters and water carriers, tricked the Israelites into believing they were from a far away kingdom as Joshua troops advanced from Jericho.  So, Joshua entered into a treaty with them--without consulting with God, p.s.--and when it was discovered they were practically neighbors, it was too late to reverse the treaty.  That's why Gibeonites are there even today.

Chapters 10 & 11 detail Joshua's military victories.  Notably, that time when the sun stood still for almost a day.  "There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when YHWH listened to a human being.  Surely YHWH was fighting for Israel!"  Josh. 10:14.  So, I guess those football prayers are worth a shot. 

By the end of Chapter 11, Joshua has completely destroyed the Northern and Southern rulers of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.  This period features uncharacteristic obedience on the part of the Israelites and their ruler. 

These stories demonstrate a longing for cultural, maybe even racial, "purity" that is pretty troubling. Particularly in light of the fact that unlike those telling these stories who never possessed the power fantasized about here, modern Israelis and their American allies do have the power to completely wipe out the occupants of the "Promised Land."  Is that happening now?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Josh. 5-8

This passage begins with a powerful reversing of the exodus.  They have just crossed the Jordan, made dry by God, and now they restore the tradition of circumcision.  Then they celebrate Passover; then the manna from heaven stops--because they don't need it anymore. 

Then there is the battle for Jericho.  The battle is a cool narrative about obedience to God, courage in the face of danger and having faith in a miracle.  It also contains details of killing every man, woman and child inside of the city except the Prostitute Rahab.  (btw, it's not clear to me how the Israelites felt about prostitution in general.  I know a Levites daughter can't be a prostitute, but that sort of begs the question about who can be a prostitute.)

The need for obedience is emphasized further with the story of Achor.  He hid some spoils of war and brought them back.  Because of this person's disobedience, God turns his back on the Israelites and they loses what should be an easy battle.  Achor is stoned to death, which explains the big pile of stones still there to this day.  These passages, as I recall, are littered with "which is still there to this day" type stories.

Don't worry, they rally and go back to destroy Ai.  The passage ends with Joshua restoring the covenant to Mount Ebal and writing the blessing and curses that Moses told him too.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Josh. 1-4(the good stuff)

In the first chapter of Joshua, we start off with the Big Promised Land, from Mediterranean to the Euphrates.  Josh. 1:4; see also e.g. Deut. 11:24 We also get a big pep talk from the Trans Jordan tribes who are all in to help conquer the Little Promised Land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. 

Then we get into some great Bible stories.  Chapter 2 is about Rahab, the prostitute who hid the Israelite spies.  The Israelites promise not to forget her when they return since she was helpful to them.  Maybe we should call the movement to help Iraqis who served as translators the Rahab Project.  The story is well told with details about where the spies hid.  Also, like Balaam, Rahab seems to at least respect YHWH despite not being Israelite.

Chapter 3 and 4 deal with crossing the Jordan.  This time, it is the priests carrying the Arc of the Covenant that cause the waters to separate.  The author cannot help but remind us that this is very similar to when God parted the Red Sea.  Again, interesting description, like describing the water as "the water from upstream stopped flowing.  It piled up in a heap a great distance away at a town called Adam."  Josh. 3:16. 

On our way to Jericho.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Deut. 32-34 (the end) Ps. 91

Here we have the song of Moses.  It is longer than the song of Moses provided immediately following the crossing of the Jordan, and much longer that Miriam's song.  Compare.  Describing the Lord as "My Rock and My Salvation" and as "My Refuge" are something I've come to hear often in churches today. The latter comes from Psalm 91 also.  Otherwise, Moses' song has three point (1) God is Awesome, (2) the Israelites will sin and be punished, and (3) God will be there when they repent. 

We also have Moses' blessings for the tribes of Israel.  Unlike Jacob's blessings, Moses' are all positive.  No memory about who defiled whose father's bed or killed a bunch of people as revenge for their sister's romance/rape.  The order of the tribes is interesting.  Reuben, Judah, Levi.  Okay, makes sense, but then skips to Benjamin then Joseph.  Kids of the wives, I suppose, but why Benjamin first.  then Zubulun (with Issachar as an after thought), Gad Dan, Naphtali and finally Asher.  Asher does get kind of a badass blessing, "the bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days."  Feels kind of steampunk. 

Finally, the book of Deuteronomy closes.  You can practically hear the music swell as they bury Moses and mourn for him for thirty days.  Then the camera pans to Joshua who has been anointed by Moses.  Moses, the greatest Prophet Israel has ever known.  Now, it is time for a warrior. 

In reality, I'm about to start reading about lists of people who were killed, including women and children. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Deut. 30-31

Today's selection lays out some important principles that are carried forward in Christianity today.  First is the notion of repentance.  After you've received the curses described above, if you repent and return to obedience then you will be blessed again.  Second, it is your choice.  You can decide to follow the path of life or the path of death.  Now, this passage is addressed to the People rather than to people.  But the idea of free will to choses whether to be blessed or cursed remains in Christian theology.  Finally, it is a question of heart and soul, not just outward action.  The passage returns again and again to the idea of holding the law in your heart and soul.  The actions are necessary, but as manifestation of where you heart is.

I hear Jesus' teaching in Deuteronomy especially.  The dual notion of obedience and faithfulness seems particularly familiar to me.

Today's selection closes with the turnover to Joshua.  I've written about this before.  [Here and here]  But I think this transition of leadership just has a very poignant touch.  I can't help but speculate that the authors remembered those who died while in Babylonian exile yearning to sing their songs of Zion once more. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Deut. 28-29

Before Moses renews the covenant made at Mt. Sinai in Horeb, we get the promise of blessings following obedience to the Law, but then we get another round of curses.  Unlike the curses before, which seem focused on the behavior that will bring the curse, we get a graphic description of what "will" happen to the nation if it is disobedient.
49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. 51 They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine or olive oil, nor any calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until you are ruined. 52 They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the Lord your God is giving you.

53 Because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you. 54 Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, 55 and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities. 56 The most gentle and sensitive woman among you—so sensitive and gentle that she would not venture to touch the ground with the sole of her foot—will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter 57 the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For in her dire need she intends to eat them secretly because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of your cities.
Deut. 28:49-57.  Within the limits of my layman's exposition, this seems to be the vivid cultural memory of what conquest prior to exile was like, of the horrors of siege warfare in the first millennium BCE.  The terrifying presence of a foreign power speaking a language you do not understand.  The reference to cannibalism and the complete suffering that destroys even familial love strikes an intense tone.

Perhaps more so that the intervening centuries of evolving language and culture, this gap of shared experience makes Scripture difficult for the modern American reader.  I watched the movie Lion this week.  It is an amazing film that works hard to put you behind the eyes of a helpless one from the unthinkable poverty of India.  It is a worthy but unsettling practice to project oneself into such places, I think.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Deut. 24-27

This section closes out the laws with miscellaneous requirements and instructions on giving.

The selection contains some things I like, how to care for the poor and how to avoid excessive burden on a borrower, and some things I'm not found of, like how to throw away your wife if she is unpleasing to you.  For the most part, it gives insight into what was important to Israelites.

The admonitions regarding tithing and first fruits it gives the context that we still use today.  God has given you everything, you should give some back.

Then, we switch back to the curses and blessings as sort of the close out of the document.  This time with the people saying "Amen," to each of the behaviors that will bring about a curse.  A service of blessings and curses seems unlikely to be popular in modern churches.  Although, I am reminded of Luke's formulation of the Sermon on the Plain, which includes both Blessed are . . . and Woe to those . . .