The Story Comes Full Circle

We are going through The Story at Central right now and this past weekend we covered Joshua and the city of Jericho. I had a few people ask me about how we reconcile God’s command for the Israelites to wipe everyone out. That includes women and children. Stop for a moment and actually imagine God asking you to carry out that order. Sound horrific? Hopefully it does. This leads us to a problem that any critical thinker who ponders this story has to wrestle with. What do we do with this story in light of what we see in Jesus? We have a few obvious answers to this question:
  1. It is literal history and we must accept it as is.
  2. It is an allegory and is not to be taken literally in any way (as the early theologian Origen does)
  3. Something else is going on with this narrative that requires deeper interpretation.
Consider for a moment an encounter Jesus had with a woman as told in Matthew 15:21-28. A woman comes to Him and asks for Jesus to heal her daughter who is demon possessed. Shockingly, Jesus refuses. Then she pushes back on Him. It doesn’t change His response however. He simply tells her:
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
Phew, at least He’s not holding anything back. Now we expect her to walk away in shame. But she doesn’t get the memo. Instead, she fires back again:
“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
For us today, this conversation has officially entered bizarre status. This woman speaks of herself as a second class citizen and Jesus seems to be playing along. However, we are pushed out of our haze with the final line of the story.
Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
What does this story have to do with the story of Joshua? I’m glad you asked. Consider the following two insights:
  1. Joshua and Jesus are the same name in two different languages. Joshua is the Hebrew version and Jesus is the Greek version.
  2. The woman Jesus talked to was a descendant of the people Joshua was supposedly told to eradicate completely. Matthew points out that she’s a Canaanite.
In Matthew 15 we have a reframing of the Joshua narrative. The new Joshua, obviously more significant than the first, now reverses what we originally saw. After initially appearing to uphold the old order of things, Jesus then shockingly welcomes in someone who was out. As Philip Jenkins concludes of this passage in his book, Laying Down the Sword, “The Story comes full circle and the extermination order is repealed.” What a powerful way of understanding what Jesus came to do. We can now commit to the more difficult analysis of reading Joshua through the third answer above and choosing to see how it points us to the fullest version of God we have in Jesus on the cross. The heart of God is not what we see with Joshua but rather what we see Jesus do with the Canaanite woman. The story comes full circle. (tweet this)

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Founder of Communion Wine Co.