The Principle of Context from Joshua 7:1-26

Something my study of Joshua examined this week was the correlation between the Old Testament literary devices (plot, characters, conflict), and the principles we the church try to pull from the Old Testament that don’t actually apply when viewed in the context of scripture. The post below was the result of that particular study.

Literary Features of Joshua 7:1-26

This section of Joshua addresses two interconnected stories, the defeat of Israel at Ai and the sin of Achan.  This was basically Israel’s first defeat in the conquest, and after a stunning victory by God at Jericho, Israel suffered a humiliating defeat by a small city said to be no match (Joshua 7:3) for Israel’s might of 30,000 men.[1]

In this narrative, the author, generally said to be Joshua, uses a bit of irony by comparing and contrasting, the previous story in Joshua 2 about Rahab and the sheltering of the spies.  The irony used by Joshua is that someone who had only heard of the God of Israel listened and obeyed (Joshua 2:21), while the sons of Israel who had actually witnesses God’s fulfilling promises and power, disobeyed (Joshua 7:1).  Throughout both narratives many parallels are seen like this one.  Rahab, a woman, was a Canaanite, and her family survived, while Achan, a man, was an Israelite, and his family perished.  Rahab hid the spies on her roof, and Achan hid his stolen items under his tent.  The Israelites, through God’s hand, won a great victory at Jericho by following God’s instructions, and they were humiliated at Ai when they failed to follow God’s instructions.

Another literary feature used in Joshua chapter 7 is a somewhat obvious cause and effect.  When looking at Israel’s sin, the author makes a point to show that this sin was a grievous act against God Himself.  More than just a theft and violation of the Eighth Commandment, (Exodus 20:15) it was an adulterous act.  This was the same Hebrew term used in Numbers 5:12-13 to describe the betrayal of an adulterous wife, now used to describe Israel.[2] This act of sin was the cause of Israel’s defeat at Ai as the Lord’s anger burned against Israel (Joshua 7:1, 11-12).  Joshua 7 is split into two sections, verses 1-15 dealing with Israel’s defeat, and verses 16-26 dealing with Israel’s sin.  One section examines the event or action that then caused the effect in the other section.  Ai was a small city, one that Israel should have easily taken (Joshua 7:3-4), but instead Israel lost 36 people (Joshua 7:5), and the previously promised city of Ai.

Interpretive Issues or Problems Often Presented Today

Many times the 21st century church is quick to point out all kinds of life application principles from the Old Testament that just are not present in the context of the written text.  Context is extremely important when dealing with the Old Testament and many times the principles taken can do, what Haddon Robinson describes as, “the heresy of application” by creating what was never there in the first place (see “The Heresy of Application” by Robinson).[3]

In Joshua 7, principles from all across the spectrum of sin can be used for life application.  Some principles are better than others, but some, like “effectively overcoming defeat” and “how to fight despair and depression” are probably not the principles the author had in mind when he wrote Joshua 7.  Yes, Joshua basically whined, moaned, and mourned about Israel’s sin and loss at Ai (Joshua 7:6-7), much like they had done in the past (Numbers 11:4-6 and many others), but the overall context of the entire book of Joshua was not out to teach a principle about how to overcome depression.

Contextual Application Principles from Joshua 7:1-26

The application we can take away from Joshua 7:1-26 is about sin.  This can be presented in so many different ways like fighting covetousness, secret sins, sin effecting more than just the individual, hidden sin that harms the whole church body, the small sin, fighting the sins of the flesh like gossip, criticism, envy, jealousy, and countless others examples that could be extracted from the reading of Joshua 7.  An overall principle in the context of the book of Joshua is probably closer to a statement like “the worst enemy that you have is yourself.”[4] “[You] are the greatest handicap that you have in your Christian life”, and often the most destructive block to God’s blessings.[5] Israel was given the land by God; all they had to do was take it.  There were three small enemies that stood in the Israelites way when they arrived, Jericho, Ai, and the Gibeonites.  Israel’s army of 30,000 fighting men (Joshua 8:3) was no match for Ai (7:3); all they had to do was to keep from defeating themselves.

Another similar, in context, principle that can be taken from Joshua 7 would be that Christians today are given enormous spiritual blessings by God, but how many Christians live as if they have none, as if that are not really entitled to the blessings of God.  Israel was given a huge piece of land (Joshua 1:3).  God gave them title to over 300,000 square miles of fruitful land, and even at the height of Israel’s day, they only took possession of 10% of God’s promise to them, only about 30,000 square miles of the Promised Land.[6] How many Christians or churches in our 21st century culture are not taking possession of 90% of God’s blessing because of sin and unfaithfulness to God? Principles, even heretical principles, can easily be taken from the Old Testament scriptures and applied to our 21st century culture.  Perhaps the most important principle in teaching from the Old Testament is the principle of context.

[1] Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen and H. Wayne House, , Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary, ed. Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen and H. Wayne House (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 284-285.

[2] David M. Howard, Jr., The New American Commentary: Joshua, Vol. V, Joshua (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 188.

[3] Haddon Robinson, “The Heresy of Application,” Preaching Today’s Sermons, 2001, (accessed June 18, 2010), 16-19.

[4] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vols. 2, Joshua-Psalms, 5 vols. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1982), 16-19.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

3 Monastic Principles of Pachomius for Today

The pursuit of the monastic lifestyle was something that was key to Christianity, and is something that is still relevant to our day and culture. These monks originally started out as hermits who sought the solitude of a cave or the desert in order to have a closer relationship with God but to also remove themselves from the corruptions of the church. Often these first monks were more interested in living a simple life than education or any worldly possession.

By the time of Pachomius around A.D. 320 there were so many hermits living in the desert and caves that Pachomius said we can do this together in one community of hermits (about 100 at the time) with rules to guide our life [as monks], and he started a monastery. As we know from the time of St. Francis, more and more monasteries were being formed and they would eventually have to seek out the Pope for approval of their “Rule”. For the Pachomius monastery, he determined that they would have three rules for living. First, poverty, designed to break the chains that bound people to their possessions, second chastity, to cure you of the sin of lust there would be no contact with the opposite sex, and three obedience, to overcome the self will of the mind. In other words, simplicity of living was the call for a monk.

Present Day Principles for us Non-Monks

Most subsequent monasteries would have their own Rule, which each resident was to follow, and many were adjustments to the original three Pachomius had made back in A.D. 320. If we look at these three principles for non-monastic life in modern 21st century life, we can see that they still apply, much like scripture written two thousand years ago still applies to our lives today.

Vow of Poverty

First, poverty (as a means of obtaining a status of being poor) is something in the 21st century that is almost impossible for one to truly attain, if living in American. Even the poorest citizens of our country have more possessions and benefits from modern times than any other country or time in history. The world (and America) of course has not be able to “rid” society of poor, and Jesus even said that we would always have the poor among us (Matt 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8), so even though it goes against everything that is capitalism, there are many things we can gain from applying this principle in our lives today.

We have made being poor like a disease, where the cure is to buy more stuff, collect more possessions, and generally consume more and more. Of course one can be materially rich and spiritually poor and they don’t have a correlation with each other. We cannot obtain spiritual riches by physical possessions and we cannot generally obtain material possessions if we are poor by means of becoming spiritually rich (though there are what seem to be obvious exceptions to this, I would suggest that materials means obtained via a spiritual source does not increase the spiritual richness of your life).

Choosing a life that is guarded to the consumerism and materialism of our culture is important. Every possession is an expression of our witness to others and we can’t (and probably shouldn’t) always explain in great detail why we have or don’t have this or that, we either do or don’t, and that is the instantaneous judgment of society. To understand this is principle is to make our witness as effective as possible to those we influence the most, consciously or unconsciously.

Vow of Chastity

Second was that of chastity. If you watch the news much it doesn’t take long to see that there are those who are still fighting [to remove] the chastity of today’s Priest (thought they weren’t always celibate). This principle is more than saying Catholic clergy should not marry, it deals with one of the most accepted and destructive forces in our 21st century lives today, lust.

The word lust appears over 30 times in modern translations and James puts it this way: “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:15) For Pachomius to deal with this most dangerous of sins he attempted to remove all temptations from his monastery, but one of the biggest issues with lust is that it is an internal sin, committed in the heart of those who Believe against God Himself.

Today these temptations are a way of life. This is how we sell products to consumers, it consumes the Internet, it is all over the news, and evidence of its destruction is everywhere. Is this relevant today and how does this principle help us since we are not all going to just choose not to be married (nor does the Bible tell us not to marry)? It is probably the most relevant of moral issues today. Ignoring lust is a victory for Sin. Understanding our own weaknesses is important. We can look at lust as something that will not sneak up on us, something that we can defeat and overcome; not of our own accord but only with God’s help can we master lust.

Vow of Obedience

Obedience is something else that is talked about throughout scripture, and one of the three Pachomius felt was most important in living a pure life devoted to Jesus. This principle was primarily to fend off ourselves from ourselves, to overcome the self-will of the mind.

Where is obedience in our culture today, does it even still exist? Pachomius wanted his monks to be obedient to the monastery, knowing that, although they (we) might not understand everything but in being committed to obedience they would in turn be obedient to the One who saves (Romans 6:16).

Obedience is another tough principle today when we are dominated and controlled by no one but ourselves. We are (basically) free to live how we want, choose the career we want, live, eat, sleep, and travel any way we want. This may not be the case in North Korea but here in America we can basically be obedient to our self-interests without regards to the betterment of society as a whole. Scripture tells us this is no way to think or live and although we may think we don’t affect anyone but ourselves, inevitably our actions of obedience or disobedience often affect an unknown chain reaction of people, for positive or negative.

Temperature and Dew Point Converge into Fog

Fog in the Trees

Did you notice the fog this morning? Fog is really cool to me.  It doesn’t happen all that often but usually occurs when the relative humidity comes close to 100%, is more commonly around the 40° temp range and happens when the temperature and dew point converge within about 4° of each other.  If you were in the southeast area of Alabama we had a wonderful blanket of fog covering the area last night and this morning.  For those of us who love the humidity, especially in the winter, breathing the thick air is great.

It did add one more weather image to my tree portfolio (see below) but it got me thinking about what other things in our lives can converge to make something rare, unique, perhaps fleeting, and burns off and disappears when hit by a little heat?  That may be a little too philosophical for this time in the morning but there are many things that change molecular structure when heat is applied, including our own lives.  How often do we change our mind, our convictions, our principles, and forget things we have learned when a little heat is applied then all those things just evaporate?  Hopefully not to often.

My Utmost for Politics and Religion Indifference

I will say right off the bat that this post will be totally uninteresting to some and all of my 10 readers may dislike it, but I feel like change is coming to my blog and I am writing this post to map it out for myself. There are a lot of random thoughts here and I jump back and forth, but I will try to tie them all together over the next few months through different blog posts, so for now, just roll with me if you can.

The two taboo topics of discussion in the workplace (politics and religion) are now taboo everywhere, which slowly makes us indifferent to either which in turns makes us unwilling to discuss, learn, and grow in the history that makes up topics like politics, religion, and government. Have we forgotten in this country (the U.S.) that there are countries in this world like North Korea, China, Cuba, and parts of Africa where they can not openly discuss opposition to their government or religious ideas?

I just love websites I go to that say no talking about politics or religion. In some cases that may be appropriate, but that has bled over into everything in everyday life. I am tired of hearing and seeing fellow Brothers and Sisters that avoid talking about politics (and matters of “other” faiths) because it is divisive. Newsflash, if you call yourself a Believer in Christ, you have chosen a side. Although Christ is open to ALL who believe in Him, we know not everyone will. It is hard to think of God as a God of love, and who leaves people out of his Heavenly kingdom but we also can’t even start to think we understand God from God’s point of view. On the flip side, there is “the world” (that would be those who don’t choose Him) that also refuse to talk about religion because it is divisive in nature.

We are quickly becoming a socialist society that no longer wants to listen to an opposing side and are guided to lean towards a muddy middle ground on everything. In the “can’t we all just get along” world, we move to the center of the undecided’s (those who can’t seem to make a decision until someone tells them how they should feel about the topic at hand) where we can all come together and get nothing done. Problem is, that is the most boring and uninformed place to sit, and is not only a cop out, but dangerous.

We have to be careful to not speak badly about another “religion” like extremist Muslims who’s plan is to do harm, and ignore comments by people like Helen Thomas of the White House press corp when she says things at Mr Obama’s “press conference” like “so-called” terrorists when speaking about people who terrorize other people. Don’t know what I am talking about… you could be guilty of political indifference yourself.

Why does this matter? It matters because we are now so far removed from our government, those who make the laws, and how it effects our lives, that we have become indifferent. Indifferent to a government that doesn’t blink an eye to spend $800 billion (about the size of our current national debt, in other wards, doubling the size of the national debt) for things like Frisbee golf courses and digital TV converter boxes, that we don’t even take notice. We just go merrily about our business and hope it doesn’t eventually intrude on our own life.

What did Jesus come to this earth to do? Reach over the isle and make friends, being careful not to be divisive? No, he came to fulfill the Torah, the law. Many times as Believers we ignore or are indifferent to politics because it is divisive. We want to make sure we don’t exclude anyone we could proselytize to by saying the word Democrat or Republican, or liberal or conservative like either of those determine who we are as a person. As one conversation went today, Jesus was not a Methodist, I promise. He was a person who spoke about principles, ideas, and how to change the status quo of thinking.

When we choose to ignore (by ignore I mean not discuss openly for means of not offending someone) divisive people, comments, or conversations, I don’t think we can grow. I am more than happy to listen to an opposing side to my own beliefs if it can be presented in an intelligent manner. I can talk to or converse with right wing religious fanatics and atheistic agnostics until if they can speak intelligently about their own point of view, but it is hard to do that if you don’t know why you stand where you do.

All that to say I am going to be doing some minor changes to the categories on my blog to speak my mind about topics of religion and politics. I am moving my photography category into Media since it is a media form, Faith will be Religion, etc etc. Like I said, if you don’t like politics or religion, stick to my Journal or Media categories.

Anyone who really knows me, knows that I have a great desire to please everyone all the time, so this is a pretty big change for me, but I hope this brings more transparency to my blog and my way of thinking. I am tired of being politically correct in my speech and writing and tip toeing around on my blog. I don’t plan on doing so from this point forward. If you don’t like divisiveness (meaning standing, and knowing where you stand), then read my “journal” section and ignore the politics and religion posts, I will keep those posts to the activities in my life.

If you would like to know where I come from, I do have some starting points, and as stupid as I thought Facebook’s “25 Things About Me” goes, I think that is a starting point to getting to know someone. I mention these things so you know the very basis of where my future opinion may stem and how I come to certain conclusions. I will list these on Facebook shortly (I think), but to get rolling…

  1. I am not for a political party, but I am for certain principles and ideas like smaller government and lower taxes.
  2. I do not consider myself to be part of a denomination but part of the body of Believers of Christ. I work at a Methodist church but I am currently a member of a Baptist church in Dallas. I don’t care much for non-doms because often they don’t know what they Believe
  3. I watch and read news and politics from all over the place, not just one single source or location
  4. I believe the solutions to the problems of this country are going to be solved by people, not government
  5. I think people forget all about what history teaches. I am slowly trying to relearn what I did not learn in school when I found it useless but now find it priceless

I picked up this book the other day called “I am a Christian” by Jesse R Wilson, written back in 1935 and as I flipped through the book and read a passage to a friend of mine who said “good call” sarcastically. Point is, we don’t always have to just scratch the surface. Everything is up for discussion and debate except the death and resurrection of Jesus, that I hold to be an uncompromising Truth.