Friday, November 11, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: Warp Speed Ahead!

We have been proceeding through Joshua at a pretty good pace so far already, but in order to finish the book in eleven sermons (which is how many I had over the summer), we need to speed up even more. We are about to do that at proverbial "warp speed" because in this Friday post and in the next, I am going to cover twelve chapters worth of material, with the noted exception of Jos. 20, which will be the text for the next sermon.

Fortunately, the book of Joshua lends itself to that pace in second half of the book because most of the content of chs. 11-22 is summaries of the final conquests and the dividing up of the land between the tribes. So, this week I am going to cover some historical issues from these chapters, and next week we will look at some theological highlights from that section.

You might not notice historical issues at first when you look just at the book of Joshua itself, but when we get to Judges, some have said that these two books present contradictory views of the conquest of the Promised Land. Voltaire was one of the first to make this claim and use it as a reason not to trust the Bible, and many have attempted to say the same thing since. Voltaire claimed that Joshua describes a period of "unstoppable progress" in taking the land--that the Canaanites were all wiped out and the cities were left empty for settlement. Then, he claimed that the book of Judges makes it appear that the conquest was a gradual process with many setbacks and ultimately incomplete. That, he claimed, is a contradiction. So, from a historical perspective of Scripture, how are we to take this challenge?

First, read more carefully: When you think you have a problem with Scripture, ask for God's help and read more carefully. In Jos. 13:1-6, the LORD tells Joshua, "There remains yet very much land to possess," and Joshua tells the people to go to their allotments and proceed with the gradual, cleanup work of driving out the remaining Canaanites. So, the book of Joshua does not teach that Israel took the entire land with "unstoppable progress." You see, what the first twelve chapters of Joshua describe for us is not a total defeat of the enemy but the cropping of the leadership, the destroying of the strongholds, and the breaking of the back of the enemy. One can think if it kind of like the difference between D-Day and V-Day in WWII. On D-Day outcome of the war was essentially decided, but there was still lots of work to do before V-Day finally arrived. For Israel, once those strongholds were taken and great powers defeated, the land was won for them, but the tribes still had the task of driving out the remaining Canaanites in their areas. (That is what was supposed to happen in the book of Judges, but Israel failed because of their sin.) Voltaire's challenge comes from making unfounded assumptions based on a cursory reading of the books.

Second, the books of Joshua and Judges use language that helps us to see this difference, though it is somewhat hidden in the English language, so let me try to expose it. In Joshua, the verb predominantly used for the defeat of the Canaanites and the taking of the land is lakad, which means "to take, to gain control," which is indicative of what Israel does in the book of Joshua: they delivered the devastating blow against the Canaanites and gained effective control of all the land. In the book of Judges, however, the word dominantly used for what they are commanded to do is yarash, which means "to possess (for yourself), to dispossess (from others), or to drive out." (In fact, this is the verb God uses in Jos. 13:1 where He tells Joshua there is much land "to possess," i.e. what the tribes are now to do in the book of Judges.) And, that is what the tribes are commanded to do in Joshua 13-22 and what they were to do in Judges: to occupy completely the defeated territory and either kill or drive out the Canaanites that still remained in the land they controlled. What has been taken (lakad-ed) may still need to be dispossessed of remaining Canaanites (yarash-ed). The alleged contradiction between these books fades when we expose the careful distinction the authors make between what Israel did under Joshua and what they were supposed to in their own allotments in the book of Judges.

So, again, these books are historically accurate and consistent, and chs. 11-22 give us the details of the taking of the control of the Land and the distributing of the Land to the tribes for the final driving out of the remaining Canaanites, which is what was supposed to happen in  the book of Judges. This is another example of how God's Word is entirely trustworthy in all its assertions, whether theological or historical or scientific.

By His Grace,

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