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Home Truths from Joshua

Not all Canaanites were totally destroyed by Joshua's army. Some of them were to be allowed to live, usually as slaves. This was going to be a challenge for God's people, as Joshua himself explained, just before his death:

Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have until now. The LORD has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the LORD your God. But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the LORD your God has given you. (Joshua 23:6-13)

He lays it all out for them. He reminds them of their unique status as God's people. How could they want it any other way? The people respond:

Then the people answered, "Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God." (Joshua 24:16-18)

The people responded, of course we will follow the Lord. We're not crazy, we know what's good for us! But Joshua knew better, he knew his people; so he gave them some home truths:

Joshua said to the people, "You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you." (Joshua 24:19-20)

This could be a comedy moment, perhaps from a Mel Brooks film. You could imagine the people shuffling uncomfortably, twiddling their thumbs, avoiding eye contact with Joshua. Of course we will serve the Lord!

Joshua persevered and pushed the point further.

"You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD." "Yes, we are witnesses," they replied.

Still shuffling awkwardly, eyes darting to the left and the right, nervous whistling. Then Joshua hits them with a thunderbolt.

"Now then," said Joshua, "throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel."

The correct response would have been, yes we will throw them away. We'll just fetch them now while you prepare the bonfire. Instead their response is perhaps a bit flat, robotic and insincere. There seems to be no record of the "foreign gods" being thrown away.

And the people said to Joshua, "We will serve the LORD our God and obey him."

Joshua gave them the benefit of the doubt and made a covenant with God on their behalf at Shechem, but he must have been groaning inwardly.

Joshua died before things started to go badly wrong. We are shown this at the start of the book of Judges. The Israelites still had more fighting to do before they could fully claim the land. They met a determined foe and weren't able to drive out all the Canaanites, so kept them as slaves instead. What followed was the biggest shift in God's relationship with the Israelites since the Covenant was given on Mount Sinai all those years earlier.

Steve Maltz
June 2013

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)

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