A Truly Fresh Start?

I wrote a post on May 24, 2013 about the underwater memorial in Joshua 4:9 and Jimmy Swaggart’s view that the stones comprising that memorial were from Israel’s experience in the wilderness, and that the message of the memorial was that Israel’s sins in the wilderness had been buried underwater, symbolizing that the sins were forgiven and forgotten by God.

While I acknowledged that there was no evidence within the biblical text for Swaggart’s interpretation, I thought that there was a theme in the Book of Joshua of Israel having a new beginning, a fresh start.  In Joshua 5, the Israelites are circumcised and, through that, the reproach of Egypt is rolled off of them.  Israel also observes the Passover.

But did Israel truly have a fresh start?  I noticed a passage that seemed to indicate the contrary.  In Joshua 22:17, we read, “Is the iniquity of Peor too little for us, from which we are not cleansed until this day, although there was a plague in the congregation of the LORD” (KJV).  And Joshua 24:19 states: “And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.”

Is God forgiving or not?  Has God forgotten Israel’s sins from the time prior to her entrance into the Promised Land or not?  Here are some ramblings:

I think that God was giving Israel a fresh start—-an opportunity to obey God—-but also that God still remembered her sin at Baal-peor.  Was Israel cleansed of that sin at Baal-peor, in the sense that God had forgiven her of that sin?  Well, yes, in the sense that God still had a relationship with Israel rather than forsaking or destroying her for her sin.  And yet, Israel still felt that God was holding over her head the sin of Baal-Peor that she had committed before she entered the Promised Land—-that she was not thoroughly cleansed.  And, for a time, that belief was actually encouraging Israel to be punctilious in her obedience to God: she was already dirty before God, on some level, so why make God madder?  It was like Israel was on probation: she had a second chance, but God still remembered her sin at Baal-Peor, so she’d better not blow her second chance!

In the case of Joshua 24:19 (“And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins”), I think that Joshua is essentially telling Israel to count the cost: she is eager to be in covenant with God and feels that she will be obedient, but Joshua tells her to think seriously about what she’s getting into: she is entering into (or reaffirming) a covenant in which God will take her sin seriously and will punish her for it.

Is this the sort of God I believe in?  I believe in a God who desires righteousness, like the God in Joshua 22 and 24.  Do I believe that God holds my sins over my head?  I don’t believe that God does so to condemn me, for God is committed to me and provides me with second, third, and even more chances.  But God may hold my sins over my head as a teaching device—-so that I remember the negative consequences of sin and thus choose not to pursue sin.  My understanding of God is perhaps more patient with me than God is with Israel in the Book of Joshua, but I can see at least some value in how the Book of Joshua portrays God.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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