A word about Joshua 8

Posted by: Richenda at Thursday January 22, 2009 in

A couple of weeks ago, I was part of a discussion about neighbors, and how tough it is to love them if the one you have is delusional, cantankerous, threatening, and basically a rotten human being. This discussion led to a much wider conversation about the ongoing, seemingly unsolvable human tragedy: destruction on destruction in the Middle East. With Israeli tanks yet again rolling on Gaza, it seemed like here we were again, back in the trap of unending violence.

So, I decided this was something worth investigating, and I knew just where to look: Joshua. Of the plethora of stories in that book, the best biblical text for looking at senseless city-state violence seemed to me to be the story of the destruction of Ai (A-eye), Joshua 8:1-29. Read it and weep. Really.

We hate this text—well, most of us. There are the warmongers, of course, who seem to like to feel texts like these prove that violence is a good thing. But most of us…frankly…puke at texts like this and skip them. Or we try to make nice with them, something I call “happy face theology.” Very American, I think. I think sometimes Americans think if it’s in the bible, it has to be Good. So then follows the twisting and contortion required to try to make goodness where there is none to be found. We love redemption. But—sometimes there just isn’t any.

We ignore these texts at our peril. I recently preached on this text, but I’m not going to include that here. Instead, I just want to share a few notes. Hopefully, it will help.

Image from coolnotions from The Story of the Bible by Charles Foster. Image by F. B. Schell. Recolor by R. Fairhurst, 2009.

First, is this story factually true? Historians say no. There is no evidence of warfare on this scale during the migration of the Hebrews from Egypt to Israel (the final part of the Exodus journey). Instead, the archeology shows a gradual migration (movement) of people into (within) Canaan, where they settled in and mingled with the peoples of Canaan and regions of historical Palestine. There may have been skirmishes and conflicts, but evidence for large scale assaults on cities and other settlements have not been found.

If it’s (probably) not factually true, then it is a story told for some other reason than to record actual, physical history. This story may have existed in oral form in the earliest days, but this story was probably written down around the time of the Babylonian exile—hundreds of years after the Exodus. This period was one of tremendous suffering and upheaval for the Hebrew people. The Babylonians (the nation next door to them) swept in and conquered their kingdom, killing many, and capturing many more. Warfare at the time was cruel, and the Hebrews were politically and physically powerless. Many died, and of those who survived, many were forcibly separated from their homes and their temple.

When Joshua ‘tells’ us this story, we have to remember that it is likely a tale that comes out of circumstances like these. As such, it is probably a story of emotional truth rather than historical truth. It is a story of empowerment or revenge. Telling this story was likely a way the downtrodden and traumatized Hebrews could claim that they were not always the ones who were murdered or scattered. Once, they could claim, they too had had leaders who led victorious armies, armies so powerful they could inflict injury—tit for tat—against their enemies.

And remember, in those days, people believed it was God who brought victory, regardless of how eager or capable were the generals on the ground. So on the battlefield, though the human armies battled, it was really your God against your enemy’s God, let the most powerful God win. So in this story, the Hebrews want to show that they, too, had once had an army supported by a doting and powerful protector God. This means that, ultimately, that God would find favor with them again, and rise to protect and vindicate them.

Despite the shocking narrative, it is helpful to remember that this story is the expression of rage and pain and grief and powerlessness. It is a story of a people struggling with displacement, hopelessness and grief who had reached into the uncertainty of their world and “remembered” a time when they themselves had been strong and powerful.

The national identity of the Hebrew people (like the other peoples in the region and during this period) had always been strongly in relationship with God. This story is framed to show that relationship, and to show that the Hebrew God is in every way strong enough to battle the Babylonian God (Marduk) and win.

So. It helps to understand this story in this context. We read it today with horror because we know full well how capable human beings are of thinking and acting in this way. We know that we are in a world today where such things still happen.

But we have to remember that these stories in Joshua and elsewhere in the bible are a way of telling larger truths, and a way of recording the human understanding of relationship with God. While some stories in the bible show our goodness, or are tales of how to be Good, this story records our brokenness. The acts of brokenness in this story are not upheld as ‘good.’ Instead they serve as a bitter reflection of what we humans are capable of in the worst of times.

Together in our goodness and our badness, these stories can teach us about ourselves, and about our relationship with and understanding of God. Though they are difficult, there is a lot of value in texts like these. That revulsion you feel is real and justified. For these stories reflect our (at times terrible) humanity. They reflect our brokenness. But they also reflect our deep, deep desire to be God’s people.

So next time you see your rotten neighbor, or hear of violence in the Middle East, say a prayer and ask God to heal our brokenness. We do not want to ride out and be like Joshua. We want to learn from this terrible story to choose healing, and choose peace.

Still more snow...

Posted by: Richenda at Wednesday December 24, 2008 in

Christmas Eve and still more snow!

Here’s the picture from Saturday the 20th:

And here’s an update from this morning:

The poor bush on the front walk has collapsed, and I hope the trees hold out (they’re bigger).

More snow tomorrow? Perhaps.
Don’t forget, I know the truth! (If you’re not Canadian, from Wisconsin or Maine) you’re jealous! :)

A Wint'ry Charles Dickens. And Cats.

Posted by: Richenda at Sunday December 21, 2008 in

A layer of snow.
A layer of ice.
A layer of snow.
What a world! Crunch, crunch, crunch.

The layers spread out and cover all, snow on ice on snow—it’s like walking
on a giant windowpane packed top and bottom in tiny beads of Styrofoam.

And it’s pretty.

The walk to the mailbox proved a lot of fun, especially with the company of my sons, one who looked like a wint’ry Charles Dickens, the other who gave up trying to make snowballs with the powdery stuff to munch on the ice instead.

We’ve been snowbound for days, with only a quick break in the weather yesterday.

So, what do you do while the snow piles up outside?

Well…when you are trapped in a house with a filmmaker and a new camera, you get pictures. First was the “shutter project,” featuring a Borg action figure on a spinning turntable.

(It’s now a video if you have a Canon 5D Mark II and you’re interested.)

From there, he turned to taking pictures of the cats. lol.

And we got some good pictures, as Abbey (the tortie) proved herself a willing and photogenic model.

For you cat lovers, I’m including those pictures here, plus a larger size for downloading. They’re for your own fun, only. The photos are copyright Nathan Fairhurst and all rights are reserved.

Here’s a wonderful picture of Abbey. The snowstorm through the window behind
her ended up giving her a lovely aqua blue background.

Here’s a larger version of this photo.

Another of Abbey:

Here’s a larger version of this photo.

And this one is of Abbey on my son Michael’s shoulder.

Here’s a larger version of this photo.

Of course, we couldn’t let Abbey command all the attention, so we tracked down Oliver, who was asleep—and camera shy. Ollie is always up for a scratch, however, so with a little nuzzling we calmed him down enough to “smile” for the camera.

Isn’t he a darling? And to think someone dumped him in the woods at Christmas time (how many years ago?). He almost died of pneumonia, but we pulled him through. He’s every bit as sweet as he looks. Here’s a larger version of Ollie’s picture if you want one.

Snow Storms

Posted by: Richenda at Saturday December 20, 2008 in

This is my front yard after two snow storms in a row.

And yeah, I know all of you in Maine and Alberta think that’s pretty tame, but we live in Washington, near Portland, Oregon, and we don’t usually get back-to-back snow and ice storms. We probably have fewer snowplows than Florida, which is, at the moment, 76 degrees warm.

So Ack! With the third storm in a row on the way, we had an afternoon window before the temps dropped again to below freezing, the roads iced up, and the next storm blew in. This, then, is what the grocery store looked like at 4:15 yesterday afternoon.

The lines wrapped back and around. The photograph doesn’t really do it justice! And let me break it down for you. That’s me, at the far right waving (gotta love photoshop) that’s my cart near me. As usual, I managed to find the slowest line on the planet. The two people in the front must have purchased full carts full of 8oz yogurts that all had to be rung-up individually and packed in foam or something. They probably also had 800 expired coupons.

In the time I was in line, I got three phone calls from my husband (who is on his way home. With the storm window so short, we split our trips between two groups).

The first call: The snow plow came!
Me: Yippee!!

This is good news! It means I can get home fairly easily. Though I’m still in line, (the wait now calculable in geologic time) I’m not scared. The plow came!

The second call: We’re almost home, but the temp just dropped. It’s starting to ice up.
Me: Oh great. I’m still in line. (And I’m thinking, “the temp just dropped”? I’m picturing that scene from The Day After Tomorrow, when the freeze comes in and the helicopter goes down…)

At this point I begin to eyeball those around me. As I do, some Super Lucky Lady ahead of me gets pulled out of line by the Customer Service checker who has an open spot to check someone. But hey. Okay. I’m not panicked yet. Let’s not mention that Ms. Super Lucky probably lives around the corner while I have to drive 15 minutes up a cliff to get home.

There is also a Lucky Postal Worker behind me. Well…she started out behind me. But our line was so slow she gained ground rapidly and ended up far head of me. Urg! Then again. She’s a postal worker, right? And it’s Christmas Time, right? She’s probably been working her butt off and if anybody deserves a break it’s her.

The third call: It’s so icy we got stuck. We are putting on the spider spikes (essentially chains).

My demeanor has rapidly changed. I mean, to heck with postal workers! They have a lot of practice, don’t they? What about all that ‘neither rain, nor sleet, or falling snow’ stuff? I have to drive 15 minutes up a cliff!

I finally get my turn, and it would be like winning a trip to Disneyland except that I’m worried now about getting stuck and having to walk 100 miles to get home.

And then, I am finally free and racing to the car. I try to call my husband who I hope by now has made it home. No answer. I call my son who is with him. Also no answer. I call my other son who is also with him. Still no answer. They’re probably knee deep in sleet! This does not bode well!

I load up my car and the road looks good. We live a little higher in elevation than Vancouver and so I’m glad there is no ice yet in the valley to contend with.

And you know what? I got home just fine. I get to be lucky myself, because I was driving the AWD Forrester. It took the first hill. No problem! It took the second hill,
no problem! I went eeaasy on all the twists and turns. I passed the part of the road where my husband and boys had been stuck. Wheee! And drove straight up the cliff to my house. YES!

I made it home right after they did. I will consider myself lucky twice!


And, we’re getting another 10 inches of snow, apparently. I’m thinking the
Lucky Postal Worker isn’t so lucky after all. I hope she stays warm.


Posted by: Richenda at Sunday December 7, 2008 in

Isaiah and Eugene are right: We are such Blockheads!

I was reading through the Eugene Peterson’s The Message and I just love his translation of the verses (a quote from Isaiah 6:9+) at the end of Acts (28:26-7):

Go to the people and tell them this:
“You’re going to listen with your ears,
but you won’t hear a word;
You’re going to stare with your eyes,
but you won’t see a thing.
These people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won’t listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they don’t have to look,
so they don’t have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.”

I love how cleanly Peterson lays this out.

In the NRSV, the last two lines read:

and understand with their hearts and turn—
and I would heal them.

The NRSV is a more faithful translation of the passage, in that it incorporates the word ‘turning.’ The idea is repentance. To repent literally means, here, ‘to turn’ and what is meant by that is that repentance is literally a change of heart, a turning back to God. Not ‘trounced by God.’ Or, ‘shamed publicly in the town square so that they can be made to feel as small as possible.’ Nope. Just the word ‘repent’ in its simplest manifestation.

We protestants love to get all moralistic about the word ‘repent.’ We make it a power-over word and weigh it down with ideas of ‘you will pay’ and ‘you deserve punishment, you slug.’ We want to see you suffer for your sins. Sinner!

The trouble is, judgment is for Jesus, not us. And in this passage, Jesus has no condemnation for those who turn. Like the Prodigal Son, they are welcomed, loved, healed. Jesus isn’t interested in ‘making them suffer.’ Jesus is interested in their courage, so that they might unplug their ears and hear. So that they will not be afraid to look at their transgressions in the Light, and be healed and forgiven.

Eugene Peterson, in this translation, forgoes using the word ‘turn’ on the page. Instead, he delivers it as an experience at the end of the verses. As you read along, you think you know where you are headed. Jesus the judge! Isaiah the condemner! Those rotten people out there! Your neighbor the sinner who will finally get his!

But you would be wrong. You (fearful sinner or self-righteous jerk) read these lines in a tumble of momentum, dropping from from one line to the next, sure of where you’re headed. And then …screech! You are flung into a u-turn! You weren’t headed where you thought you were after all. This isn’t the race to blame and judgment you thought it was. You are, instead, turned to healing.

Gotta love it.

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