Last night I watched a show on the History Channel called “Bible Battles” in which modern military historians examine Old Testament accounts of various battles. One of the passages that they highlighted was from Joshua:
Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed; take all the fighting men with you, and go up now to Ai. See, I have handed over to you the king of Ai with his people, his city, and his land. You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king . . .The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand — all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. — Joshua 8:1-2;25-26
The question was then, rightly, asked, what does this say about our God? The answer given by the military historian concluded that God must be an evil being if He exists at all. This leaves those of us who believe in God as a God who was willing to send us His only-begotten Son to die on the Cross for our salvation a bit of a conundrum. We are asked to reconcile these two seemingly radical different accounts about the character of our God.
Tonight, during the Vespers service of Christmas, we will read from the Prophecy of Jeremiah:
This is our God; no other can be compared to him. He found the whole way to knowledge, and gave her to his servant Jacob and to Israel, whom he loved. Afterward she appeared on earth and lived with humankind. She is the book of the commandments of God, the law that endures forever. All who hold her fast will live, and those who forsake her will die. Turn, O Jacob, and take her; walk toward the shining of her light. Do not give your glory to another, or your advantages to an alien people. — Baruch 3:35 – 4:3
This passage is placed in context of the Nativity — thus it speaks about Christ, who appears on earth and lives with humankind, who endures forever, who is a shining light. We are told to hold fast to Christ, to only give glory to Him, to prevent the alien theologies from reducing our understanding of Christ.
Joshua says something quite similar to the people of Israel from his deathbed:
Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. For 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, know 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. — Joshua 23:11-13
Thus, we are invited to understand the historical elements from the Book of Joshua metaphorically as our relationship with God. The enemies of the people of Israel — the nations, their religions and their gods — can be understood as sin. If we do not seek to eliminate sin from our lives, we will separate ourselves from God. This metaphor bears out when Israel turns away from God and the Northern Kingdom is destroyed by the Assyrians and Judah is held in captivity by Babylon.
We can take this metaphor even farther. Despite the fact that we live in sin — we are in our own Babylon captivity — if we turn back towards God He will deliver us. Jerusalem — the Kingdom of God — will be returned to us who hold fast to Christ just as Jerusalem was restored to those who remained faithful to God while in captivity.
Magnify, O my soul, her that has delivered us from the curse.
The people that delights in Christ has found its longing, counted worthy of God’s coming, now cries in supplication for rebirth as giving life. Do you, pure Virgin, grant The grace to worship then that radiant glory. — Ode ix, Canon of Christmas