JOSHUA Hanged on a Tree (Part 2)

16 These five kings fled and hid themselves in the cave at Makkedah. 17 And it was told to Joshua, “The five kings have been found, hidden in the cave at Makkedah.” 18 And Joshua said, “Roll large stones against the mouth of the cave and set men by it to guard them…

22 Then Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me from the cave.” 23 And they did so, and brought those five kings out to him from the cave, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon. 24 And when they brought those kings out to Joshua, Joshua summoned all the men of Israel and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Then they came near and put their feet on their necks. 25 And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.” 26 And afterward Joshua struck them and put them to death, and he hanged them on five trees. And they hung on the trees until evening. 27 But at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set large stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day. (Joshua 16–18, 22–26)

I have, previously, looked into this matter of Israel taking a defeated Canaanite king and “hanging him on a tree” (or “impaling him on a stick,” as the Hebrew reads literally). About the humiliation of a defeated, enemy king implicit in this act of torture, likely mutilation, and then public display of his abused, battered, and dead body for all — Israel and Canaanite — to see.

The humiliation here continues. Like cowards, the five kings flee their doomed and defeated people and hide in a cave. Where they are trapped. Joshua has the stone that trapped them rolled away, the kings dragged out, and adds to the humiliation — he tells their Israelite executioners to “put your feet on the necks of these kings.” They have been subjugated, and they will die, these five Amorite kings who led the alliance against Israel’s fraudulently acquired Gibeonite (Hivite) allies.

“Do not be afraid or dismayed,” Joshua tells the Israelites as he prepares to kill the enemy kings, reminding them that this job of conquering and subjugating Canaan will involve a lot of bloody, brutal, inhumane, and conscience-wracking work.

After which, they are “hanged on five trees” (or, “impaled on five stakes” JPS Tanakh), a demonstration to anyone who would look the lengths Israel is willing to go to demonstrate its seriousness about taking this land.

Taken down at sunset as Deuteronomy 21:22–23 commands (otherwise the presence of the dead body hanging/impaled will defile the land), the bodies are laid back in the cave. Which is then blocked up with stones. And they remain there “to this very day.”

We tend to think of crucifixion something exclusive to the Romans, a punishment doled out to rebels, to those who openly challenged the power of Rome, and a very public punishment at that. But clearly it’s something Israel did too. Here, this very public hanging on a tree/impaling on a stick is saved for the leaders of doomed and defeated enemies. Not rebels, but enemies to which no quarter shall be given and none expected.

For those who hang, it says: “We are willing to do this to any who oppose us. This is what we do to our enemies. Gaze upon our power and despair.”

For those who are hung, it says: “This is the fate of the doomed, of those who oppose power. Gaze upon me and despair.”

And these five defeated, enemy kings … are still entombed. Their bones still lie in that cave.

The allusions in this passage — in the treatment of the king of Ai and the five Amorite kings — to Christ are clear. They are enemies punished publicly, in the most humiliating way possible. This is what we do to enemy kings. We hang them. We impale them. We leave them up for all to see. So that the whole world will know what we’ve done.

What we’ve done.

That the killing was done by one whose name was Joshua — ַיְהוֹשֻׁע, one who saves — makes this even more interesting. Because in the gospels, the one who saves is the one who is killed. We pronounced him our enemy, and demanded his death. And we hung him on a tree.

In his humiliating public death at our hands, he says to us: “Gaze upon me, on what you have done, and see the glory of God, your salvation, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

And … there is a stone tomb outside Jerusalem that, unlike this cave at Makkedah, is empty.

It is empty.

JOSHUA Heeding the Voice of a Man

1 As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 2 he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors. 3 So Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me and help me, and let us strike Gibeon. For it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” 5 Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it.

6 And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, “Do not relax your hand from your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered against us.” 7 So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. 8 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” 9 So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. 10 And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. (Joshua 10:1–10 ESV)

This is where the sun stood still, where stones fell from heaven and obliterated the fleeing army of the five Amorite kings as the birds destroyed Abraha’s army as it laid siege to Makka in Surah 90 of the Qur’an.

This is a battle Israel fought not on behalf of itself, but of its newfound Gibeonite allies — Hivites who signed a covenant with Israel, who sought Israel’s protection because they feared Israel’s God, who lied about who they were, and how far they came, in order to make that covenant with Israel.

A covenant Israel had no business making. A covenant forbidden in the Torah because the people of Gibeon are Canaanites.

Israel did not have to wage this battle, to fight this fight, as the five Amorite kings lay siege to Gibeon. Joshua did not have to take his mighty men of valor up from Gilgal to save this people who lied their way into a covenant with Israel. And God, who had forbidden even the idea of Israel cutting covenants with Canaanites, did not have to favor Israel in this battle.

But Joshua leads the army to Gibeon. And Israel’s God is there too, fighting for Israel, in a battle on behalf of a people Israel was absolutely forbidden from cutting a covenant with! God, who gave the law and said no mercy and no covenant with the Canaanites, now telling Joshua “do not fear!” as Israel prepares to do battle on behalf of dishonestly acquired Canaanite allies.

So much for the law. I’m not saying it isn’t important. But it isn’t all there is. God meets Israel in its situation — a situation that has careened completely out of control, if obeying the law were all that mattered. And God meets Israel in that situation, where Israel is, in what Israel has done, and fights for Israel.

God is fighting for Canaanites here. The very Canaanites God commanded merciless war against.

I wrote yesterday that it seems, at least here, that the words of God’s people are at least as important as the words of God given to God’s people. The author of Joshua, in speaking of the sun standing still over Gibeon that day, said it this way:

There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel. (Joshua 10:14)

Except that there have been many such days since. Not when the sun sat still in the sky. But when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, and fought for his people.

JOSHUA A Deal is a Deal

3 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, 4 they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, 5 with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. 6 And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.” … 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.

16 At the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, they heard that they were their neighbors and that they lived among them. 17 And the people of Israel set out and reached their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim. 18 But the people of Israel did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. 19 But all the leaders said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them. 20 This we will do to them: let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them.” 21 And the leaders said to them, “Let them live.” So they became cutters of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation, just as the leaders had said of them. (Joshua 9:3–6, 15–21 ESV)

The first thing to know about the people of Gibeon — and its dependent cities — is that they are Hivites. They are one of the seven “nations” (גּוֹיִם goyim) inhabiting the land of promise given to Israel in Deteruonomy 7. They are doomed for destruction. And they know it.

In doing so, they have betrayed an arising alliance between Canaanite kingdoms and city states to deal with the threat that is Israel. They have decided to try and make a separate peace.

The ruse they use — there’s an awful lot of subterfuge in scripture, and a damn lot of it is successful — is to pretend they are from farther away than they really are. They wear worn clothes, patched sandals, dry and crumbly bread, and wine in old wineskins. To pretend they are people other than who they are.

They come to make this deal because they are afraid. They have seen what Israel had done — no, they have have what Israel’s God has done — and they are terrified.

9 They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. 11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’

We are your servants. עַבְדֵיכֶ֣ם אֲנַ֔חְנוּ, using the same Hebrew word — עבד ebed — used to describe Israel’s status in Egypt.

Israel agrees. On the third day after the covenant is cut, Israel discovers the real identity of their newfound friends and allies. Despite what must be intense anger on Israel’s part, they keep the word of their covenant. “We swore an oath,” Israel says. The Gibeonites effectively surrender to Israel

24 … Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. 25 And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it. (Joshua 9:24–25)

Joshua enslaves the Hivite inhabitants of Gibeon and its satellite cities, the price they will pay for their deception.

But perhaps it beats expulsion and/or extermination, I suppose. Better to live on your knees than to die on your feet.

A couple of things here.

First, the Gibeonites understand who is at work in the war overtaking their land. They don’t fear Israel — they fear the Lord, the God of Israel. They know the land has been promised, and they’ve heard — heard — of what Israel’s God has done in Egypt, in Jericho, in Ai, and they know they don’t stand a chance against the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

They fear God. Their covenant may be with Joshua, but they want to be on the right said of Joshua’s God. They have become the sojourners we saw in the last chapter, foreigners who have defected to Israel and adopted its cause as their own.

Because they fear God.

Second, the Torah is clear — absolutely no deals with any of the Canaanite people. “You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.” (Deuteronomy 7:2b) That is the law. Violating this is as much an abomination as anyone who marries his half sister, or takes two sisters as wives, or any man who lies with a male as with woman.

And yet here is Israel, tricked into a deal in much the way Abraham tricked Pharaoh into thinking Sarah was simply his sister (as opposed to also being his wife), or Jacob was tricked into marrying two sisters. Gibeon got the better of Israel. Israel has violated the law, the command of God given to Moses, a teaching made for their own good.

Israel lets it stand. “Let the wrath be upon us!” they say. Oh, the Gibeonites pay the price by being enslaved (this passage has, sadly done much to justify slavery as a part of conquest), which is hardly a good thing. But when faced with a clear violation of the teaching, Israel does not try to right the wrong. Israel lets the violation — including the subterfuge — stand.

Israel’s word matters as much as God’s. Think about that for a moment. It’s not that the teaching given to Israel through Moses doesn’t matter — there will be consequences for Israel because of its failure to follow through with merciless war against the people of Canaan. That war is for Israel’s own good — the gods of the Canaanites will prove an endless distraction for Israel.

But just as God is learning to deal with faithless Israel, Israel is slowly beginning to learn what God’s faithfulness means. That God won’t just be there to redeem Israel only when Israel behaves itself, but also — and perhaps especially — when Israel fails or refuses to follow the command of God. Yes, Israel is tricked, but that should give Israel more justification for vengeance against Gibeon, more reason to set fire to these cities and kill all who live in them. Instead, Israel stands firm on its word: “Let them live.”

The covenants we make as the people of God matter. They matter as much as any commandment God has given us.

They might even matter more.

The Failure of Elites

Jason Crowley of The New Statesman has an interview with political philosopher Michael Sandel that is all sorts of interesting:

There is a widespread frustration with politics, with politicians and with established political parties. This is for a couple of reasons; one of them is that citizens are rightly frustrated with the empty terms of public discourse in most democracies. Politics for the most part fails to address the big questions that matter most and that citizens care about: what makes for a just society, questions about the common good, questions about the role of markets, and about what it means to be a citizen. A second source of the frustration is the sense that people feel less and less in control of the forces that govern their lives. And the project of democratic self-government seems to be slipping from our grasp. This accounts for the rise of anti-establishment political movements and parties throughout Europe and in the US.

And this:

One of the biggest failures of the last generation of mainstream parties has been the failure to take seriously and to speak directly to people’s aspiration to feel that they have some meaningful say in shaping the forces that govern their lives. And this is partly a question of democracy: what does democracy actually mean in practice? It’s also closely related to a question of culture and identity. Because a sense of disempowerment is partly a sense that the project of self-government has failed. When it’s connected to borders, the desire to reassert control over borders, it also shows the close connection between a sense of disempowerment and a sense that people’s identities are under siege.

A large constituency of working-class voters feel that not only has the economy left them behind, but so has the culture, that the sources of their dignity, the dignity of labour, have been eroded and mocked by developments with globalisation, the rise of finance, the attention that is lavished by parties across the political spectrum on economic and financial elites, the technocratic emphasis of the established political parties. I think we’ve seen this tendency unfold over the last generation. Much of the energy animating the Brexit sentiment is born of this failure of elites, this failure of established political parties.

In this, I think movements like Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the Tea Party, Brexit, Bernie Sanders, and the success of Donald J. Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination for president all reflect a similar anger and frustration that social democratic politics, in becoming technocratic and managerial tools of finance capital, have betrayed the promise of democratic self-government — freedom, social equality, and some basic measure of security (economic and otherwise). It isn’t just that the tools of government aren’t used well, but that the very design of systems — from policing to trade deals — are actively used by a small group of elites to their benefit and to the detriment of everyone else.

It has also meant an end to whatever shared sense of national purpose has exited in Western states since the end of WWII. So, people struggle — to gain, or regain, a sense of control, dignity, and meaning in their lives. Against the sense that the risks are all socialized but the benefits have all been privatized, handed over to a few. Against the fact that politics anymore seems to only exist to bolster Goldman Sachs’ profitability at the expense of so many who have lost hope, who aren’t sure they have a future anymore.

The elites in the West have failed. Not only are they incapable of governing, I suspect western elites are increasingly incapable of thinking straight. Of understanding what it is they are facing, and of responding to it in a meaningful way. In the US, Trump and Sanders reflect a people searching for a unified and dignified purpose in politics, and while that might be the thing that led to dictatorship following the First World War, it also reflects a desire to live in a nation that is more than a resource for Wall Street (of The City) to strip mine and imprison. I don’t have any faith in this political aspiration — national greatness usually gets people killed — I see its point.

Anyway, read the whole thing.

JOSHUA Sojourners

30 At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, 31 just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. 32 And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. 34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them. (Joshua 8:30–35 ESV)

So here’s my question — sojourners? Who are these sojourners who are wandering with Israel?

The word in Hebrew here is גֵּר ger from the verb גּוּר gur which means to tarry as a sojourner but can also mean to attack or to strive or to be afraid. It is related to an Arabic word, جار jaar which means neighbor from the verb جور jawara which has as its original meaning to deviate or to stray or to wrong, persecute, oppress but in other forms (ask me later about semitic verbs and their wondrous and varied forms!) means to live nearby or next to or to seek protection or even to protect.

It’s important to understand just what is meant by a sojourner here. These aren’t visitors, people wandering around taking in the sights. They aren’t tourists. A sojourner is someone who “separated himself form his clan or home, and places himself under the legal protection of another man or group of men.”1 These are people who are not Israel but who look to Israel for protection and have attached themselves to Israel. They are foreigners, refugees, migrants. Another definition of גֵּר in other closely related semitic languages is client in the sense of someone in a subordinate relationship with a patron or a lord, someone who promises loyalty and service in response for protection and maybe some level of provision. (Vassal would be another way to describe this relationship.) These are people who no longer have the protection of their tribes, clans, or kingdoms, and have separated themselves — either voluntarily or because there was no other choice, their survival and existence was at stake — and attached themselves to a people they are not related to.

Think Rahab, the prostitute, who betrayed her people in Jericho and took Israel’s side in the conquest and destruction of her city. In this context, Rahab is a sojourner. Sojourners are non-Israelites who seek Israel’s protection and take Israel’s side in its struggles.

The Torah is emphatic that Israel have only one law for sojourners and Israelite alike. When God tells Israel, “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt,” God is reminding Israel that not only were they strangers in Egypt (non-Egyptians ethnically and religiously), but they also sought and worked for Egypt’s good. Egypt betrayed Israel, and not the other way around.

God is reminding Israel that it has an obligation to those who take Israel’s side, and seek Israel’s protection. They are no different from Israelites, even if they are not related by blood and do not share in the patrimony or the promise.

So who are these sojourners?

According to Louis Ginzburg’s The Legends of the Jews, they have been with Israel since the Exodus:

The cavalcade consisted of six hundred thousand heads of families afoot, each accompanied by five children on horseback, and to these must be added the mixed multitude, exceeding Hebrews vastly in number.2

To which Ginzburg adds the following footnote:

According to Philo, Vita Mosis, 1. 27, he mixed multitude consisted of two distinct classes: one was made up of bastards, the sons of Egyptian woman and Hebrew men; to the second belonged all those who out of love for the God of Israel followed His people. ShR 18. 1 likewise speaks of the pious among the Egyptians who even before the last plague had proclaimed their belief in the true God, and celebrated the Passover together with the Israelites.3

If Ginzburg is to be believed, the sojourners outnumbered the actual Israelites in the Exodus!

So, in this Joshua passage, I suspect most of these sojourners are Canaanites — individuals, families, clans, tribes — that have seen the handwriting on the wall and switched sides, throwing in their lot with Israel in exactly the way Rahab and her family did. Along with some others who joined Israel along the way.

And some … well, we’ll meet them tomorrow.

  1. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, 439–449 ↩︎
  2. Legends of the Jews, Volume II, p. 375 ↩︎
  3. Legends of the Jews, Volume V, p. 439 ↩︎

SERMON Fire and Death from Heaven

I did not preach today, but if I had, it would have been something like this.

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost (Year C)

  • 1 Kings 19:15–16, 19–21
  • Psalm 16
  • Galatians 5:1, 13–25
  • Luke 9:51–62

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:51–62 ESV)

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a regular devotional reading through the Old Testament book of Joshua. It’s a tough book to read, because it’s the story of Israel taking its patrimony, conquering the land of promise, a fight God demanded be waged without mercy, without quarter, without negotiations or deals.

So far, we’ve seen Jericho and Ai put to the sword, their streets run red with the blood of all who dwelt in them, burnt to the ground and left as ruins — ruins that, at least in the biblical narrative, stand “to this day” as a silent witness to the war, and to the command of God. To the calling of a people to follow that God.

But it is our story, this conquest. It is who we are. It is what God once demanded of us. It is, too often, what we still demand of ourselves. Because we think it’s what God wants.

Something I want you all to remember — Israel failed in its conquest of Canaan. Oh, Israel takes and settles the land. But long after the powerful united kingdom under David and Solomon is established (and then shattered by civil war), the land of promise is still full of Canaanites. Israel could not keep the commandment of God to show no mercy, make no deals, and reserve for God alone the plundered wealth of the Canaanites. We will see this later this week when my devotional gets to the people of the city of Gibeon — Hivites according to Joshua, and Amorites according to Samuel, but either way, Canaanites all the same — who deceive Israel into making a covenant with them. God has commanded Israel, demanded his people set their face on the expulsion and extermination of the Canaanites.

And Israel cannot. They cannot. We cannot.

So as the disciples wander through Samaria, they are wandering across a long-ago conquered land, a place once inhabited by people who called themselves Hivites and Amorites and Jebusites. They are wandering through conquered villages, through land now solidly Israelite but a millennia before was called by other names in other tongues. Names that likely persisted just as the people, their customs and their gods and their languages, held on even as they were conquered, enslaved, and assimilated into Israel.

And all that before civil war brought idolatry, Assyrian conquerors, Babylonians, Persians, Alexander the Great and his successors, and finally, Romans. While no conquest is ever permanent, every conqueror has left a mark on this land, on this people.

The Samaritans are a remnant, what was left of the people of the idolatrous northern Kingdom of Israel. They have a version of the Torah, but they long ago abandoned worship in Jerusalem, and never really acknowledged the centrality of the temple. They would worship at Schechem (modern Nablus) and Penuel (where Jacob wrestled with God), where the rebel leader-turned-king Jeroboam would place golden calves and tell his new nation:

You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. (1 Kings 12:28)

This people have not faced Jerusalem for some time. Not for many centuries.

So it makes sense, when the Jesus show wanders through, they wouldn’t be that supportive of a prophet with his face set toward Jerusalem. Why would they want anything from Jesus? What would Jesus mean to them?

What began centuries before in Samaria as a rebellion against centralized authority — against Solomon’s rapacious successor who taxed and conscripted far too much — has hardened into an unthinking prejudice. Into blind mistrust, fear, and smoldering hated.

So of course they don’t receive Jesus and his followers. Why would they? The people of Samaria renounced their portion of King David long ago. They cast off those promises God made to his people in and through David. “We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse!” they said. And they meant it. So who is Jesus to them? The fulfillment of promises? Long awaited redemption? The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? Not hardly.

That the disciples want these people — these enemies who have rejected and shown no hospitality to Jesus — wiped off the face of the earth makes sense. After all, they have said no, and that no should be met with a strong rebuke. Even retribution. No one should say no, not even to forgiveness, healing, and grace!

And they believe they can, these disciples of Jesus, command fire from heaven. They believe they should.

I wish we had the words of Jesus’ rebuke here. I wish we has exactly what Jesus told his disciples. I wish we knew whether it was “No!” or whether it was more than that.

But whatever Jesus said, we know this. Unlike his namesake in the Old Testament whose book we have been reflecting upon — Joshua, ַיְהוֹשֻׁע, “the one who saves,” rendered into Greek as Ἰησοῦς, or Jesus — he did not raise his javelin at this city and command its destruction. He did not order his army to march around it and blow the trumpets, or lie in wait to ambush it. He did not put it to the sword, let its streets run red with blood, and then burn it down. He did not indulge his disciples’ fantasies about vengeance and retribution.

He moved on. He moved on.

He let his enemies be. He let his people’s enemies be. He let dead history stay dead. It would not matter any more. Not the generations and not the centuries.

Because there has been enough conquest here. Enough bloodshed. Enough fire from heaven. Yes, there will be more. It never ends, this fire from heaven, which we call down upon the wicked, upon enemies, upon those who have wronged us or broken the law. We call it down. And it comes. It never seems to stop.

But Jesus moves on. He will have no part in fire from heaven. And in Samaria, among the people who disowned David and his promises, among the descendants of the Hivites and the Amorites and the other Canaanites once fated for conquest and colonization, he finds followers. Some come to him. Some he calls. Others know the importance of following, but wish to tidy up their affairs before the wander off with Jesus.

Among the enemies of God, Jesus finds followers.

We who follow Jesus, whether we find him or whether he finds and calls us, should move on too. Whatever history tells us, or whatever our political and social arrangements say about who our friends and enemies are, we move on. We don’t look back to the past, and we don’t get stuck in the present moment. We don’t wallow or lament the cruelty, the hatred, the anger, or the callous lack of welcome and hospitality. We move on. We set our faces forward, toward Jerusalem, toward the Cross, toward the empty tomb, toward that salvation which takes away the sin of the world.

Regardless of where we are, or who is with us, we proclaim the kingdom of God.

JOSHUA Hung On A Tree (Part 1)

23 But the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him near to Joshua.

24 When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. 25 And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai. 26 But Joshua did not draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had devoted all the inhabitants of Ai to destruction. 27 Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their plunder, according to the word of the Lord that he commanded Joshua. 28 So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. 29 And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. And at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day. (Joshua 8:23–29)

So says the Lord our God:

22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:22–23 ESV)

Ai is taken by a feint, a rouse, a deception — one of many in Israelite warfare that will give the battlefield to Israel. And the city, and all that are in it — 12,000 human souls — are killed.

All but the king. Who is taken, likely abused and tortured, and “hanged on a tree.” (“Impaled on a stick” according to the JPS Tanakh, also translated that way in Deuteronomy 21) The word here, in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) is “ξύλο,” or wood. Peter will use similar language his defense of the faith in Acts when he preaches in the temple:

“We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.” [ὃν ὑμεῖς διεχειρίσασθε κρεμάσαντες ἐπὶ ξύλου, literally “by your hands hung on a pole.”] (Acts 5:29–30)

This is used twice more in Acts. Here…

And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree [κρεμάσαντες ἐπὶ ξύλου]… (Acts 10:39)

And here…

And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree [καθελόντες ἀπὸ τοῦ ξύλου] and laid him in a tomb. (Acts 13:29)

This punishment — and we will see more of it in a few days — is reserved here for the king of an enemy city. What crime this unnamed king of Ai (מֶלֶךְ הָעַי) has committed we do not know, save for maybe being the king of an enemy city.

So far as I can tell in scripture, this punishment — hanging on a tree, impaling on a stick — is reserved solely for enemy kings. For those Israel, and its commander Joshua —  יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, Ἰησοῦς, “the one who saves” — conquered, defeated, and captured in battle. It is the ultimate humiliation, this public death, this hanging, this impaling, this nailing, the ultimate expression of power and contempt, reserved for the leader of a city given into the hands of rapacious, conquering Israel.

For an enemy — our enemy — given into our hands, one God has delivered up and devoted to destruction.

JOSHUA No Forgiveness

19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor. (Joshua 7:19–26 ESV)

What we have here, brothers and sisters, is a sinner. A real, honest-to-God sinner. Brother Achan put us all at risk by taking and keeping a coat and some money, things God wanted set aside, God wanted to keep for himself. Brother Achan took these things thinking god wouldn’t notice. That God wouldn’t see.

But God did see. And God knew. And we paid a price — our army was routed at Ai. And until we deal with this sinner, we will be defeated. We will not stand before our enemies. God has abandoned us. As God told us,

“Something proscribed is in your midst, O Israel, and you will not be able to stand up to your enemies until you have purged the proscribed from among you.” (Joshua 7:13 JPS Tanakh)

It is not enough that Brother Achan has confessed, though it is well and good that he has. Because, sisters and brothers, we know that confession is good for the soul.

However, we offer him no forgiveness. We cannot. There is none to offer. Because what he did put us all at risk. This poor decision of his, taking things that by right belong to the Lord our God, brought the judgement of God down upon us. Put our entire enterprise, our nation, at risk. For that defeat, and all the defeats that will come as long as he in our midst, we must do more than expel him.

Fire and death. For him and his family. And everything he owns.

For we must purge the sinner from our midst.

We must.

JOSHUA Melting Like Water

6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! 9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” (Joshua 7:6–9 ESV)

Interesting how quickly Joshua panics when a few Israelites are killed and the army retreats in haste.

By a few, I mean 36. Or, as both the ESV and the JPS Tanakh state (in fine journalistic fashion), “about thirty-six.” Three-dozen dead, give or take. Out of 3,000 soldiers, who then flee before the gates of the city of Ai [עַי]. It’s a rout, this little battle, and “the heart of the troops sank in utter dismay” (Joshua 7:5 JPS Tanakh) or, literally, “melted and turned to water” (וַיִּמַּס לְבַב־הָעָם וַיְהִי לְמָֽיִם).

It isn’t much of a defeat. But after Jericho, which God simply handed over to the Israelites, it was a humiliation.

I sympathize here with Joshua, whose cry here echoes the cries of Israel as it faced hunger, thirst, an Egyptian army, and the deep blue sea. Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you — accusing God or Moses or both — brought us out here to die? Would that we had been content with the food of Egypt, where we had full pots, than this miserable manna we must gather every morning! Did you bring us out of Egypt simply to kill us and our children?

Would that we had been content across Jordan, Joshua says. Lived quiet lives. We’re doomed. We look weak, and everyone knows it. We’re doomed! (Forgetting that the tales of what the Lord God had done for Israel so frightened the people of Jericho they had no fight in them.)

So Joshua asks:

What will you do for us now?!?

This is faith. A bold faith. A frightened faith. A desperate faith. A fighting faith. A faith that demands God act on behalf of God’s people. A faith that knows that without God’s redeeming acts, we are doomed.

What it isn’t is doubt. When Israel cried out in despair, in hunger, in thirst, in fear, Israel did not doubt. And God did not feed Israel, or slake their thirst in the wilderness, or even deliver them from the Egyptian army by parting the Red Sea, without Israel first despairing. “Did you bring us out here to die?” To look to God, to be afraid, to cry out in despair, to demand deliverance, that God act on his promises and save his people — this is faith.

This is faith.

Going, But Definitely Not Quietly

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything as good as this Boston Globe essay by correspondent Albert Brown about the discontent sweeping the West, typified by the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump and Britain’s Brexit referendum:

Three dates are useful in understanding the deeper roots of what is happening to this country — 1945, 1956, and 1966. 1945, when the Second World War ended, still feels like yesterday in the English imagination. We were bankrupt, with our cities bombed to rubble and hundreds of thousands of young men killed or wounded. Food, clothing, and petrol were all rationed and would be for another five years. But when you ask if British society was better then, a huge majority of the English people think it was. The overall figure is 51 percent worse today to 27 percent better, and when you break it down it is only those under 24 or nonwhite who think things have really gotten better since the war. Otherwise men and women from every region of the country believe that British society has got worse in the 70 years of European peace and unimaginable prosperity since the war.

In 1945, things were dreadful, but everyone knew their role and knew what their country should do. Now things are very much better, but no one knows where they belong. The post-war consensus and much of the optimism lasted until about 1973 but collapsed altogether under Margaret Thatcher. In a sense, this campaign is the last outworking of her legacy. Both sides of the argument are the children of Thatcher, who opposed the European Union rhetorically and emotionally but did as much as any political leader to knit us into the single market.

I don’t think there’s any underestimating the effects of this collapse not just of a sense of order but a sense of shared purpose. And that collapse of shared meaning and purpose, on both side of the Atlantic, has hurt the white working classes the most (because they were the people who benefitted the most from the New Deal — in the US — and the post war welfare state in both the US and Great Britain). Yes, it is taken out on immigrants in both places, largely because they are seen benefitting from the new social order of globalization in the ways the declining white proletariat is not (and this includes receiving benefits from those in power, including a rewriting of social rules in their favor).

Trump could be seen as a logical outcome of the Reagan revolution, of a Republican Party that — like Thatcher’s Conservatives — publicly ran on nostalgia while governing in ways that benefited and entrenched globalism and internationalism. Brown gives Bill Clinton kudos for feeling pain, but honestly, what he says here about Brexit supporters could also be said about much of Donald Trumps’ base and America in the 1990s:

The Leavers [those supporting Britain leaving the European Union] are mostly those who lost out from what Mrs Thatcher did but drew nourishment by what she said. So they felt doubly betrayed in the post-Blair era, when the economics of the new order went on hurting them, and the rhetoric turned against them, too.

A very important part of the Leave campaign is the rebellion against authorities of any sort, whether these are experts or politicians. It is assumed that they act only from self-interest and that this never or very seldom corresponds to the self-interest of the ordinary person. This is a general phenomenon across the Western world, of course, but it is rendered particularly acute in England by the collapse of the old Imperial state and the eclipse of traditional patriotism.

The extraordinary militarism of English society had obvious drawbacks, for us as well as for the rest of the world, but it did promote social cohesion as nothing else could. If you look at the war memorials that stand at the center of almost every village in the countryside, there will be names from every social class. The upper classes will have been the officers, and the poor will have been the ordinary soldiers, but they are all just as dead, and they are remembered side-by-side because they all acknowledged the common authority of a particular kind of patriotism.

Nothing in my lifetime has come near to replacing that as a narrative to hold the country together.

While there is a distinct and very overt White Nationalist element to the Trump campaign (Note to progressives: careful what you wish for when you label white people; you might just get it), I suspect a majority of Trump supporters miss what they believed was America and feel a deep nostalgia for a “better” time when the country was much more overtly unified in meaning and purpose. They miss the America that was in the three decades following the Second World War. (Or they miss the idea of that America.) They miss having a country where we are all in it together, as opposed to diverse groups set apart by skin color, ethnicity, and sexual orientation that all seem — to them — to be seeking power and position at their expense in a world that no longer makes sense or has much meaning.

Yes, their remembered America was a lousy place to be brown and queer. But there is little chance of restoring even an echo of a shadow of that post-war world. There are no factories, no world in need of what the US and Britain can make, and the decades have shattered any cultural consensus that could create a broadly shared national meaning and purpose. In many ways, I envy Grandpa Featherstone and the life and opportunities he had, but his world is gone. All we have is this one.

The terrible, awful, horrible truth is, people will be left behind, abandoned, cast off at the side of the road, to fend for themselves as events and progress pass them by. The Trump and Brexit campaigns cannot change this awful reality, whatever they might promise.

But neither should we ignore it. Because in a world that at least aspires to democratic rule, to giving people a voice, there will a price paid when people are left behind. Do not expect anyone to ever vote for their own marginalization or destruction.

And do not ever expect anyone to go quietly either.