But Did They Find the WMDs? Scripture Faithfully Questions Scripture – Brad Jersak
Back in February of 2010, while reading Eric Siebert’s book entitled Disturbing Divine Behavior, I engaged in a stimulating e-exchange with two friends (Brian Zahnd and Brian Schmidt) about the implications of a Christocentric reading of the conquest / genocide narratives in the Book of Joshua (I now prefer the terms “Christotelic” a la Peter Enns or “Cruciform” which I first heard through Zahnd). We were challenged to pursue a high view of Scripture that takes seriously the Bible’s invitation to and modeling of what Derek Flood would later describe as “faithful questioning” of the text (in his excellent book, Disarming Scripture).
During that discussion, I claimed such faithful questioning did not begin with Christ and the New Testament authors who question Old Testament reports of divinely-sanctioned violence. In truth, we see the practice already at work in the Old Testament … and not only when the Prophets question the Law (Jeremiah 7:21-23) or when the Chronicler contradicts earlier interpretations of David’s life (compare 2 Samuel 24 with1 Chron. 21). Such faithful questioning of the Joshua conquest already occurs right within the book of Joshua.
At the time, I identified two competing voices at work within Joshua that I labelled state-sponsored spin texts versus investigative journalist texts.
Brian Zahnd liked this description and responded with his typical acumen:
But did they find the WMDs? Joshua is episode 6 in a 66 episode saga. It’s a story in search of an ending … and we dare not cease our search for what God is like in Joshua. Of course if you want to cherry-pick the Bible to support militarism, Joshua is prime picking.This is why I insist we must center our reading of Scripture in the Gospels and their portrait of Jesus. The inscribed word must be interpreted by the Incarnate Word. Hear, hear! Indeed, the Gospel accounts of the Incarnation climax in the self-revelation of God-in-Christ as “cruciform”–literally “cross-shaped.” In the words of Gregory Boyd, the Crucified God crucifies the pagan image of the Warrior God that continues to entice Christians to this day. Boyd puts it this way:
… when Christ was crucified, all sin was nailed to the cross with him (Col. 2:14), which included all conceptions of God as a violent warrior. … we should forever set aside the sin-stained portraits of Yahweh as a violent warrior god that were crucified with Christ to manifest the nonviolent, self-sacrificial, enemy-embracing love of the one true God. In short, I submit that we should consider the crucifixion of the one true God to be the permanent crucifixion of the warrior God. (Greg Boyd, Crucifixion of the Warrior God, 552). However, Greg also makes it clear that while many of us have come to the same conclusion, we’ve taken divergent paths to get there. And those paths include sincere disagreement. For example, Greg describes the works of Eric Siebert, Pete Enns and Derek Flood as “dismissal solutions,” which he critiques as inadequate (a charge which Flood responds to here). In any case, these divergent attempts at dealing with OT violence share some measure of faithful questioning.
I only mention this to come around to my earlier point. Namely, I see this same faithful questioning at work in the Book of Joshua. But I don’t believe I’ve laid out that data before explicitly in public writing. In a forth-coming book (A More Christlike WAY), I hope to revisit this in detail, but allow me to share the basics here and now as I unpacked them in 2010. I wrote:
After reading ‘Disturbing Divine Behaviour’ I was driven back to the Joshua conquest texts.
I see that a state-sponsored militaristic spin appears already in Joshua and appears to include an agenda. Let me give you an example:
First, look at the Joshua texts that declare absolute victory during the Joshua conquest. I call these the “State Dept. Press Release” texts.
- Josh 1:3-5; Josh 3:9-10 We see God promising absolute victory, overcoming every enemy, and an extension of their borders covering the entire land. The text describes unequivocal victory and specifies conquest of the following people: the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites.
- Josh 10:14 We have the statement that God was on the children of Israel’s side and that God himself fought for them.
- Josh 11:20-25, Josh 21:43-45, 23:9 We have these and other records claiming a fulfillment of these promises in total victory. TOTAL:
21:43 So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. 44 The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. 45 Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.
- Judges 3:1-4 also provides a positive retroactive explanation about the failure to achieve the promised victory immediately (as promised). The conquest would need to happen little by little so that each generation of Israelites would have enemies to practice with so they could learn how to fight. (By the way, in Deuteronomy, the author had chalked it up to prevention of wild-life taking over).
But now look at the Joshua texts that declare the reality of their very limited victory. I call these the “investigative journalist reports” texts.
- Josh 5:14 We have the commander of God’s armies saying that he is on neither side.
- Josh 13:1-5, 13 Now Joshua is an old man and God lists all the peoples and areas of the land that had NOT been conquered, including some of tribes previously mentioned in the victory roll:
… all the regions of the Philistines and Geshurites: 3 from the Shihor River on the east of Egypt to the territory of Ekron on the north, all of it counted as Canaanite (the territory of the five Philistine rulers in Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron—that of the Avvites 4from the south, all the land of the Canaanites, from Arah of the Sidonians as far as Aphek, the region of the Amorites, 5 the area of the Gebalites; and all Lebanon to the east, from Baal Gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo Hamath.
- Josh 15:16, Judges 1:31ff, 3:5 This failure to conquer extended LONG past the days of Joshua.
E.g. Joshua 15:63 Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah. Judges 3:5 includes among the unconquered the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
This directly contradicts [faithfully questions] 3:10!
- Judges 2:3, 20-23 The failure to win is given a negativeexplanation in this case. In his anger at Israel, God nowbreaks his promise that he had sworn and says he will no longer drive out these nations before them. They will remain as a thorn and as a test.
What does all of this mean? Two very, very different and contradictory voices in one book! Someone must have compiled quite variant histories into one piece of literature, knowing that we could see these things for ourselves. But so what?
I wonder … when Jesus opened the disciples’ eyes to see Him in these texts, what did he say? Perhaps he would have said,
“You have heard it said, ‘God is on our side; pick up your swords and conquer’ but I say to you, ‘I am the commander of the armies of the Lord; who is on my side? Pick up your cross and follow me.'”
“You have heard it said, drive the Canaanites, Jebusites, and Hittites out of your land. But I say to you, drive anger, greed and violence out of your hearts.”
When I eventually presented this data to Dr. Lynch, he urged me not to simply use the second voice to negate the first voice. He believed that we ought to ask ourselves what revelation each of the two voices might communicate. He guided me to a very simple analysis of this very nuanced text:
1. The first voice (the rather triumphalist voice) insists, however brashly, that God is with us. God truly did enter a covenant relationship with a people to whom he would be faithful and through whom he would bless the world. Of course they (and we) are tempted to smuggle in corollaries, such as “God is for us but he’s against them,” and “God is a Winner, so we will alway win,” etc. The Book says so. And sometimes we do too. And when these expectations disappoint us, we are tempted to despair of the first revelation. Maybe God isn’t with us! Maybe God isn’t faithful to us! But this leads us to the revelation of the second voice.
2. Of course God is with us. Of course God is faithful. Even when “our side” doesn’t win. Even when we are unfaithful. Even when we suffer defeat or end up in exile. Let’s not lose sight of that beautiful revelation. The second voice is realistic and sometimes laments. And it adds the corrective revelation … our King, the second Yeshua, was enthroned on a cross. Our King says, My kingdom is not of this world, my weapons are not the weapons of the world. Lay down your sword and pick up your cross. We don’t takes lives to save our own. Follow me, laying down your lives so that you pass through death into life.
Thus, this faithful questioning does not deny the shout of victory, but it reinterprets the means and the results of that victory through the cross-shaped victory of the Cruciform God.