Meditations on “God of Transformation: 5: Go take the land
Josh 1:1-3 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.
The taking of the land of Canaan is truly a story of transformation – but it is a messy story, because it involves sinful human beings. Yes, the people of Israel may have been called by God at Mount Sinai to be a special people for Him, but the unfolding centuries simply tell us, or perhaps reveal to us, that they were just the same as any other human beings – sinful. The call to them was twofold – to clear the land of its present occupants and to establish themselves there as God’s holy people to reveal Him to the rest of the world. If only it was that simple, but they are sinful just like any other human being and whoever you look at in the Old Testament it is a story of getting it wrong, of failing, of slipping away from God. Oh no, don’t have any romantic feelings about the people of Israel; they were then, and still are, just sinful people.
Yes, they are clearly in God’s plans and purposes but simply because He chose them, not because they were righteous. (see Deut 9:4) This is the big lesson about Israel – they were ordinary people, yes, people called into relationship with God but still ordinary people. Yes, there have lots of good things, as the apostle Paul said, “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs.” (Rom 9:4,5) Yes, all these things marked them out, but they were still sinners, as their history shows so vividly. If you wanted to check the assertion that we are all sinners, just look at the life of Israel recorded in the many books of the Old Testament.
When it comes to the Exodus, travelling to Sinai, then travelling to the Promised Land, it is characterized by grumbling and even sinful rejection of God within just a month or so of having had the most amazing revelations of God on Mount Sinai, and after having witnessed His incredible activity dealing with Pharaoh and Egypt and delivering them out of slavery. On one hand it is the most amazing record of the powerful works of God in deliverance and of His incredible grace in not destroying Israel for their constant and ongoing folly, but on the other side it is this amazing and frightening record of the folly of sinful mankind who, when handed salvation on a plate, criticize and grumble at every step along the way! That’s what we’re like.
So they approach the Promised Land, having seen all these wonderful works of God, they send in twelve spies who come back and of whom ten give a damning and negative report of what the opposition was going to be like. So they refuse to enter and take the Land so the Lord consigns the older generation to live out their lives wandering in the desert until that generation (over the age of twenty) had passed away and the younger generation could then enter.
Now the taking of Canaan, I have found over the years, is the primary account in the Bible that raises the ire of critics. Many times on my blog sites I have had people ranting about a God who could consign an entire people (well actually a collection of peoples) to death. This is genocide. Well I have even heard leaders at seminars trying to defend this and it annoys me that the detractors and, it seems, most of the defenders, show they have not bothered to read carefully the books of Exodus through to Joshua. I have researched this and if you want to see it in detail go to Chapter 19 of my book, “The Judgments of a Loving God” on http://www.readbiblealive.com where I go into this in detail – but it is a work in progress.
Here is the most damning fact against those detractors. In those books above that refer to the taking of Canaan, the Lord instructs Israel to DRIVE OUT the inhabitants of the land and the words drive, driven or drives appears 33 times. The word ‘destroy’ appears just 4 times in respect of the inhabitants and there are question marks over those because they sometimes seem linked with ‘drive out’ suggesting that the ‘destroy’ means remove their existence from the Land BY driving them out. When there was subsequent destruction it was because the inhabitants, bound by their occult practices, failed to give way to the fear of the Lord and ended up fighting Israel and deaths occurred as in any other common war at the time. According to God’s instructions the possibility was a clearing of the Land without the death of any person. We know that is not what happened but according to His instructions that was the possibility.
To consider the transformation of the land we first need to note a description of life in Canaan before Israel came from a dictionary/encyclopaedia: “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artefacts ….. their ‘worship’ was polytheistic and included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution and divination,” i.e. it was a land riven by occult practice, fear and superstition and extreme child abuse and sexual exploitation. Life counted for little.
Now consider God’s intent: a land where the people lived under the Law of Moses which extensively worked at creating a harmonious society by laying down ways of living where the weak and the vulnerable and the alien were cared for. Furthermore there were laws recognising that people could get it wrong, and so showed ways of restoring human relationships (sometimes through restitution) and restoring relationships with God through the sacrificial system. The objective was peace and harmony, and respect for human life and for individual humans.
Before we finish we should perhaps just note how this picture of taking Canaan works as a symbolic picture of our lives when we come to Christ. (see Eph 2:1-3). All of the old worldly and sensual practices are to be “put to death” (see Col 3:5) and the sanctification process that will continue throughout our lives on this earth is about bringing every area of ‘the land’ that is our life under the rule of King Jesus. It is a powerful picture of transformation which starts at new birth and continues throughout our lives here on earth.