As often happens when I take Sophie for a walk, instead of just “being there” and enjoying the day, I let my mind wander just to see what pops in. This morning I remembered my Sunday and Wednesday classes at church when I was young and how they taught us the song, “Joshua Fought The Battle Of Jericho”. So when I got home I got out my Strongs Exhaustive Concordance and my New International Version of the Christian Bible and dug around a little bit. And as always I had help from the internet too.
I’m not going to type out the words to the song but mostly it goes, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down. Joshua commanded the children to shout and the walls came tumbling down.” I have some vivid memories of my childhood and I remember learning this song and wondering why Jericho needed a wall around it and why Joshua wanted to get in so bad that he would wreck their wall to do it. I’m sure I drove my teachers crazy. Anyway, the book of Joshua in the bible tells the story of the taking of the land of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelites.
In Joshua 1:1-5 God tells Joshua that the land he promised to Moses will now be his (Joshua’s). It is the land of the Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, Hittites, and The Amorites. It seems there is a lot of “ites” there, meaning, there is already a lot of people living in the land. But God says it belongs to the Israelites and so they move in and take it. It seems history repeats itself. In Joshua 6:15-25 The walls of Jericho come tumbling down and they, “destroyed with the sword every living thing in it-men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, and donkeys.” (NIV) Joshua 6:19, says, “All the sliver, gold and articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the lord and must go into his treasury.” Here we see a glimpse of Joshua’s God and what he covets. Sliver, gold and bronze. Not the Canaanites whom he made in his own image, but gold and silver and bronze. Kill the men, women and children, but keep the gold, because it’s “sacred to the lord.”
So here’s what I want to know. What kind of sick mind decides to make a children’s song about the murder of hundreds if not thousands of men, women and children, even implicating the Israelite children in the story with the words, “Joshua commanded the children to shout, and the walls came tumbling down?” The song, “Ring around the Rosie” was written about the Plague in Europe. (Folklorists have rejected this idea.) Who comes up with this stuff and then teaches it to children? I had no idea what I was singing about in Sunday school. About how God loves gold and silver but not certain human beings. As it turns out, the land of Canaan had been cursed by God long before that. Sometime after the flood, it seems Noah made his own wine. One day Noah got drunk off his wine and passed out naked in his tent. His son Ham went in and finding him this way, went out and told his brothers. His brothers, while not looking at their fathers nakedness, covered him up and later told their father that Ham had seen him naked. Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” According to the Bible, Canaan is the son of Ham. So the land of Canaan gets cursed because Canaan’s dad sees his grandfather passed out naked and drunk.
I’m having a hard time understanding all this. The Bible says that God is loving and forgiving. And yet he commands Joshua and the Israelites to murder all the people in the land of Canaan, people that God presumably made in his own image, just like the rest of humanity. So are all the people of Canaan cursed because Ham saw Noah naked? But God created them all naked. Why would God curse an entire country of people because a son saw his father naked? Or was it because his dad was passed out drunk? Maybe that was embarrassing to God? I don’t know. But there are more things here that bother me than this. People who go to war and kill the enemies of their country often come back with PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is not a new thing, however it has been kept quiet for a long time because for some strange reason we humans don’t deal well with mental illness. They have lots of problems dealing with the things they were asked to do during their time in service to their country. According to the Bible however, nothing like PTSD is ever mentioned. The Israelites murder every man woman and child with swords. It would have been a blood bath. Women, children, babies, pregnant mothers and men as well. Run them through with swords. Blood, guts, body parts, and not a single one of the Israelites seems to have suffered any ill effects because of it.
My questions are many. If we are to live good lives, be moral people and treat everyone as we would like to be treated, why does the God who supposedly created us not have to live up to that standard? Why is God not as moral as we are. Are you outraged by murder? By the killing of innocent children? Why does God command his people to do this very thing. I can’t read the Bible without asking these questions. I just can’t. I have Christian friends who I love and admire. They tell me that there are lots of things in the Bible that we can’t understand but we are supposed to trust that God has his reasons. I just don’t know what to think about that. This is one reason why I didn’t do very well in Sunday school. I’ve never been comfortable with any of this.
There are two “answers” to this dilemma. Either the Bible is made up by man and attributed to a God, or the God of the universe really does exist and he is genuinely cruel and “inhuman.” I can’t think of any other way to explain it. Can you? I would love to hear your thoughts.
(Photos for this story are from picshark.com and patheos.com)