View print-optimized version

Daily Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, August 7, 2022  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Joshua 6:15–27

On the seventh day they rose early, at dawn, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city. The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live because she hid the messengers we sent. As for you, keep away from the things devoted to destruction, so as not to covet and take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel an object for destruction, bringing trouble upon it. But all silver and gold and vessels of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it. Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.

But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house, and bring the woman out of it and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” So the young men who had been spies went in and brought Rahab out, along with her father, her mother, her brothers, and all who belonged to her—they brought all her kindred out—and set them outside the camp of Israel. They burned down the city and everything in it; only the silver and gold and the vessels of bronze and iron they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. But Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, Joshua spared. Her family has lived in Israel ever since. For she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

Joshua then pronounced this oath, saying,

“Cursed before the Lord be anyone who tries
   to build this city, Jericho!
At the cost of his firstborn he shall lay its foundation,
   and at the cost of his youngest he shall set up its gates!”

So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land. (NRSV)

The destruction of Jericho—along with the overarching conquest of Canaan in Joshua—represents perhaps the thorniest theological dilemma in the entire Bible. In verse 17, Joshua tells his army before its siege that everyone in the city is “devoted to the Lord for destruction”—soon leading to verse 21’s brutal summary that men and women, young and old, even the animals were all put to death.

Some have tried to explain away the horror of this allegedly divine-sanctioned mass killing by suggesting the inhabitants deserved it because of their sins, that it represents hyperbole, or that it is the inevitable result of Israel’s claim on the land. None of these explanations satisfy basic morality, much less the “rule of love” or non-violence consistently advocated for in the wider biblical text—most notably in Jesus’ life and ministry, but throughout the Old Testament prophets as well. Instead, this passage is perhaps an extreme example of our human propensity to assume that what we desire is what God desires.

It is important to remember that this was a time period when conquest and wide-ranging destruction was very much a part of people’s lived reality—and the idea of being the conqueror rather than the conquered surely would have held a strong appeal. Nonetheless, the idea of conquest is incompatible with our faith, as we have been called into a deeper understanding of who God is and how God wants us to live in the world, starting with Israel’s leaders and prophets and culminating in God’s self-revelation in Jesus. Rather than give in to our worst inclinations, may we ever be striving to follow the better way set forth in Christ’s example.

Holy God, I am eternally grateful that you have shown your people a better way through the life and ministry of your Son—help me to follow and trust in you always. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

Devotion index by date | Id like to receive daily devotions by email