Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Biblical Israel: fully corporate and fully individual.. and other musings on the book of Joshua

I am reading and outlining the book of Joshua for a class I have this semester and I was struck by a couple of things. The first is what prompted the title of this post.
In chapter 8, we find Israel going about conquering the land of Canaan, kicking butt and taking names wherever they go. Now, as you may or may not know, God gave them very specific rules in dealing with each territory they were to conquer. In certain cases they were to completely destroy everything and everyone they came across, in other cases only certain things were to be destroyed. Some things were able to be kept as plunder, while other things were devoted to the Lord, and still other things devoted to destruction. These rules were to be strictly followed.
So there they are, hundreds of thousands of Israelites romping through and every one of them is obeying and doing what the Lord has commanded them. Then after Israel destroys Jericho, one guy, ONE GUY, named Achan, takes for himself a couple things that were supposed to be devoted to destruction. He grabbed a jacket he liked, and some silver and gold. It wasn’t overly extravagant, but it was enough. Because of this one guy, when Israel comes up against their next enemy, the land of Ai, they are driven away and defeated. It wasn’t an incredible loss, as only 3,000 men were sent and only about 37 were killed, but regardless, they lost and this was against everything the Lord had told them. So Joshua goes and prays and asks God what happened. God tells him that someone has disobeyed and taken something that was supposed to be devoted to destruction for himself. So Joshua tells Israel what is up (all gazillion of them) and no one fesses up, so he has to cast lots to find out who it was. First the lots land on Judah, then the clan of Zerah, then the house of Zabdi, then each man in the house came forward until the lot fell on Achan. Then Achan finally confesses andthey find the loot buried in his tent and he and his whole immediate family are stoned and everything he owns is burned.
My point I guess is that it is amazing how the entire nation of Israel suffered through the action of a single man. It is even described as covenant breaking. This one thing done by Achan is described by God as all of Israel having broken covenant with Him. Then the individual is punished and the covenant is reestablished and all is well and good.
In Jesus we see almost the opposite happening. He comes and, instead of one man bringing down the rest of the ‘good’ nation, He comes as one man taking on the transgressions of the whole nation, as their one representative, and reestablishing the covenant with God. Of course it is different with Jesus, because the nation is expanded to include all who believe in Him, and the covenant is also expanded to be greater and far better.

The other thing I noticed in Joshua that really stuck out was in chapter 24 and verse 19. Joshua is reminding Israel what God has done for them and gives the famous lines “choose this day whom you will serve” and “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. The people right away jump on board and say of course we are going to serve the Lord, ‘far be it from us’ to do otherwise… and then Joshua says something to me that is very interesting, he says, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.” Then Israel responds saying “No, but we will serve the Lord”… either they are saying “we disagree, we will serve the Lord” or something like “that’s true, we can’t and he won’t, but we will serve the Lord anyway!”
It seems a wee bit strange to me, especially since Joshua then continues as if to say “well, don’t say I didn’t warn you!” (“You are witnesses against yourselves”)
One of the reasons it seems so weird is that back in Deuteronomy, Moses tells Israel that they can do it. That the law is not too hard for them, or too far out of their reach. There seems to me to be this tension between what the leaders of Israel really know about the law and what we know in retrospect. We know that Israel could NOT really fulfill the law because of the sinful nature of mankind. Joshua seemed to know that too, that God could not look past the nature of an unholy people who would surely disobey Him.

I don’t have an answer kids, but it’s something to think about.

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