JaninSanFran has moved me to reflect on something that has been bothering me lately. While Israel continues to destroy large parts of Lebanon in retaliation against Hezbollah, I've been continuing to pray the Daily Office. The readings for Morning Prayer have been the conquest narrative in the Book of Joshua, in which the Israeli invasion of Canaan is legitimated by divine command. There we find texts of terror like this:
Then the Lord said to Joshua, "Stretch out the sword that is in your hand toward Ai; for I will give it into your hand." . . . When Israel had finished slaughtering all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and when all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and attacked it with the edge of the sword. The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand - all the people of Ai. (Joshua 8:18a, 24-25)
This is hardly edifying; especially just after breakfast. In a world awash in the violence of competing fundamentalisms, nationalisms, and hegemonic globalism (aka U.S. imperialism), in which appeals to divine sanction for all kinds of barbarism is heard daily, how are we to respond to Scripture texts such as this?
The only sense I can make of such a text is to see it as part of the whole of Hebrew and Christian Scripture, a vast mirror that reflects back to us the many ways in which we humans try to understand and relate to God. It is a mirror that is sometimes painfully revealing of the ways in which we use and abuse God for our own purposes.
When I read texts like Joshua 8, I can only conclude that its inclusion as part of the canon of scripture is meant to serve as a warning: this is what God's people are capable of, and you are no better or worse; so beware. Beware of making God in your own image, subserviant to your own aggressive, greedy schemes.
The massacre at Ai is not meant to be emulated. It is meant to be condemned. Just as the massacre at Qana must be condemned. More than that, as Christian citizens of the U.S., whose government provides support and cover for Israeli aggression, we must work to delegitimize policies whose end is this kind of destruction. That is within the scope of our influence. My prayer is that Jewish and Muslim people of faith will exercise such influence as is within their power to deligitimize the terrorism and violence that is all too frequently justified by texts of terror.