1–7 May 2016.
The ancient Romans used to tell a story about the way their empire began. Twin baby boys, Romulus and Remus, were abandoned by their father, but were then saved by a female wolf. This wolf fed them with her own milk, cared for them, and helped them grow strong and fierce. As men, the brothers became mighty leaders, and Romulus founded the great city of Rome.
Is this story true? Of course not. But every ancient nation had their own mythical stories about how they began – stories that often advertised how fierce and powerful they were. We see the same thing in Israel.
We remember how in 1 Samuel 8, Israel’s elders start complaining. They want to have a king and be like other nations. This upsets Samuel and God too, because the Israelites aren’t happy to live simple lives, follow God, and be God’s people. They want to have a king and armies, and be a fierce nation like everyone else. But that means they will also need a great story about their beginnings.
Jewish scholars tell us that the book of Joshua is this story. Bible teachers, historians, and archeologists tell us that the stories we read in Joshua didn’t actually happen. But like Rome’s Romulus and Remus myth, these stories aren’t supposed to be true history. Instead they talk about how the ancient Israelites wanted to see themselves – and how they wanted others to see them.
But as we read Joshua this month, it’s so sad to see the way Israel imagined themselves, and their God too. The story-tellers describe the Israelites as fierce soldiers always ready for war, and God as a mighty, divine warrior. This God leads Israel to attack and kill everyone around them so that, as 4:24 tells us “all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful.”
It’s so sad that the Israelites gave up on a God of peace and love, just to have a violent national story like everyone else. Maybe, like God says in 1 Samuel 8:7–8, this is just another step in Israel’s long history of leaving God behind. I hope we won’t make the same mistakes.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis