Bystanders and Onlookers to the Workings of the World. Happy Rosh Hashanah.
Now this sort of class i like: not being the last to arrive (because many classmates had stumbled home mere hours before, after F1 after-parties), hard work on grape varieties, viticulture, viniculture and the geography, grape varieties, wine regions and wine styles of New World wines,
accompanied by decent bottles – a 2009 Napa Cellars Chardonnay from, well, Napa Valley,
It’s amazing to think of the extreme enjoyment that can ensue from just one sort of plant – the grape vine. Then take just two species of grapevine – the vinifera and the labrusca. Then further divide these species into known grape varietals. Then multiply these varietals by different sorts of terroir, climate, happy interference of noble rot, weather conditions and vinicultural methods, and the mind boggles at the palate-tingling permutations of wine possibilities…
Yet it is even more amazing that any grape is harvested at all. Studying viticulture made us realise just how touch-and-go each harvest is: there are various bacterial, viral and fungal diseases that run rampant in vineyards that attack roots, trunks, branches, shoots, flowers or grapes; not being able to check the water table might lead to overwatering the plants, leading to their death; too strong a wind might blow away the flowers before berry set; bad weather during flowering might lead to millerandage; too early a frost or hail might damage unharvested grape etc.
Because we are not cognisant of the details of agriculture, we do not consider the miracle of well-stocked markets (supermarkets or farmers’ markets). “In the end”, said the tutor, “it’s really up to…” and he pointed to the heavens.
Sadly, even the Israelites who heard God’s promise of deliverance from slavery in Egypt and saw God fulfilling his promise with amazing miracles (aka “the ten plagues”. Exodus 6-12) forgot who really controlled and sustained the world. When presented with the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, all except Joshua and Caleb refused to go in, claiming that God wasn’t powerful enough to give it to them and in fact had brought them out of Egypt to kill them (Numbers 13-14)! Since they refused his good gift, God gave them what they wanted and allowed them to wander in the desert for 40 years until that disobedient generation (even Moses!, but with two exceptions – Joshua and Caleb) died out.
So the Book of Joshua starts with the death of Moses. We did a quick study:
Q: What does God ask Joshua to do now that Moses is dead?
“Now therefore arise” and take the Promised Land (Joshua 1:2).
Q: How could they now do what they couldn’t do while the great Moses was still alive?
It was never about Moses’ leadership ability (rather spotty anyway if you read Numbers). Rather it had always been God who would give the land to them, just as he had promised (Joshua 1:2-9). God also promised that he would be with them – they only needed to be strong and courageous and believe that God was trustworthy enough to act on his promises.
Q: First the people had to cross the Jordan, at the time of the harvest when water levels were so crazy high that the river overflowed its banks. Just great. How did they cross over?
By obeying God’s instructions to have men carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth lead the congregation. Once the soles of those men were dipped in the Jordan, the waters rose up in a heap very far away, and the people were able to cross over on the dry river bed – it was God who would allow them to cross over since he was in control of all things (Joshua 3)
Q: Why did God do this miracle (ie. God is in control of all things but why did he decide to do an extraordinary thing instead of an ordinary thing)?
- God wanted to exalt Joshua in the sight of all Israel so that they would know that God was with him, as he was with Moses (Joshua 3:7) – that Joshua’s victories were not on the strength of his military skill
- to show to the people that God was among them and that he would not fail to drive out the scary occupants of the land before them (Joshua 3:10) – that they would remember God’s faithfulness and sovereign goodness
Q: What’s the significance of manna being replaced with the produce of the land of Canaan after the first Passover they celebrated in Canaan? (Joshua 5:10-12)
The Passover was a celebration of God’s provision – the Israelites were as deserving of God’s judgment as the Egyptians. It was God who gave them a way out of the imminent killing of the firstborn so that the punishment passed over them. Manna too was God’s provision to the Israelites for their sustenance during the desert years. And though seemingly less “supernatural”, God also provided the good produce from the land for their daily needs.
Q: Joshua 5:13 – 6:5. Marching around the walled city of Jericho and blowing trumpets to conquer it? Hardly common-sensical military tactics. Why did God instruct the Israelites do something so foolish in full view of the watching citizens of Jericho?
Quite the usual practice from our God it seems. Doing something so silly while trying to be the aggressor requires trust and faith in God and his word. And God shows that actually, he’s doing all the work around here.
Q: So Jericho was captured. However, despite explicit orders (Joshua 6:18), a chap named Achan went and saved some of the nice things that God had doomed for destruction and kept them for himself (Joshua 7). What could he have been thinking? And why was it quite unnecessary to do this? (Joshua 8)
Perhaps he thought that God didn’t know what was good and perhaps he didn’t think that God would give him any thing so nice and beautiful as the cloak from Shinar and the silver and gold. But this disobedience was unnecessary – he should have known from the Passover, the manna, the crossing of the Jordan, the bountiful produce of the land etc that God sure knew how to take care of his people. It is the serpent’s old trick (circa Genesis 3) to make us believe otherwise.
Q: In Joshua 11:1-15, the ragtag Israelites came up against a massive horde of people with superior military technology (horses and chariots). But God gave the Israelites victory over them. Why did God instruct Joshua to hamstring the horses and burn the chariots?
So that the Israelites see quite clearly that they won future battles not because of their newly-acquired weapons of minor destruction but by the strength of God alone.
Q: Joshua 13 – 22 go into great detail about the land conquered and the distribution of land to each tribe or half-tribe. Why was this necessary?
- showed that God’s promises to Abraham (yes all those years ago.) and Moses were coming true
- well, this was written first, historically, to the Jews and they would surely be interested in the minute details of their inheritance in the land!
On one hand, we have people who distrust God’s goodness and so disobey him and on the other, a reminder of how one, Caleb, believed even when no one else did and was vindicated in his faith in God in the end
What are Joshua’s last instructions to the people (Joshua 23-24)?
- reminded them that they needed to keep obeying God – they would know what to do because this had all been written in the Book of the Law of Moses
- reminded them that there was a lot of land to be conquered and that just as God had promised it to them, he would also give it to them
- reminded them that God was faithful – all the good things he had promised had come true, but in the same vein, they should be sure that all the destruction he had promised for distrusting him would also come to pass
- asked them to choose whom they would serve – the all-powerful good faithful God or some worthless powerless god
How did the people react?
They swore they would worship only God.
But the next book, the Book of Judges, tells us that this clarity of thought was soon lost. And it is no different for us moderns thousands of years later.