Today’s reading begins with the circumcision of the new generation of Israelites and concludes with Joshua reading the Law given to Moses by God.
The Israelites had traveled through the desert for 40 years because God refused to allow the rebellious generation that had opposed Him to enter the Promised Land. Although the text isn’t completely clear as to why, the new generation of Israelite men had yet to be circumcised in accordance with the covenant that God had made with Abraham generations before. Before the conquest of the Promised Land began, God commanded Joshua that all of the men of Israel be circumcised.
After their time of healing had ended, the warriors of Israel set out to take the Promised Land. One of the most famous battles in the campaign for the Promised Land was the battle for Jericho. The LORD commanded Joshua to assemble the men of Israel along with the priests of Israel carrying the Arc of the Covenant. The priests surrounded by warriors in the front and the rear led a single daily procession of the men of Israel around the city while blowing trumpets. On the seventh day, this procession occurred seven times. At the conclusion of the seventh trip around the city, the priests blew the trumpets and men of Israel shouted, and God caused the walls of Jericho to fall down flat. The city being completely exposed to the men of Israel was raided, conquered, and burned to the ground. All the people of the city were killed, and the silver and gold was taken by the Israelites to be placed in the treasury of the temple of the LORD. Some time before the battle at Jericho, a group of spies were sent into the city of Jericho and were assisted by Rahab, a prostitute living in Jericho. The spies had promised Rahab that they would spare the lives of her and her household because of her assistance to Israel. Of all of the citizens of the city of Jericho, only her and her family were spared.
As is seen time and again in the story of Israel’s conquest of the land promised to them by the LORD, the people destroyed cities and killed all residents of the towns that they conquered. It seems cruel and out of character for the God of the Bible who people know from what is written about Him in the New Testament as the embodiment of Love itself could command and approve of the slaughter of all men, women, and children of a given city. It’s stated in various texts that the native peoples of the Promised Land were exceedingly wicked and loved and worshiped gods that were an abomination to the LORD. God knew how persuasive these native peoples would be in tempting away His chosen people away from Him and knew that only by securing their death that He could truly possess the hearts of His chosen people.
Certainly there is a tension that exists between the God described in the New Testament as Love itself and the God seen in the Old Testament empowering the Israelites to take possession of the land that He promised to them. As Christians, it’s important not to read the God detailed in the Old Testament out of the Bible, but rather come to a greater understanding that He is far more complex than we will ever understand. His ways are certainly not our ways. Don’t try to explain it away. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. The same God that commanded the destruction of peoples in the Old Testament is the same God who suffered and died, hanging on the cross to pay for the sins of people that didn’t love Him and called for His death. Tough truths, but the same God.