Joshua, Judges, and the Early Church – Part Two

Refer back to my earlier post, Joshua, Judges, and the Early Church, to get the background this post builds on.

New Culture

Perhaps part of the reason all of Israel except two people died in the wilderness before entering the land was that the Egyptian culture had likely been woven into Israel’s thinking and would have needed to be extirpated to maximize the success of the new nation. The specific reason they could not be allowed to enter was their unbelief; unbelief was partially bred into them by virtue of the culture, and although they remained a distinct entity ethnically, they would have lived under the oppression of a culture with its own false assumptions about reality. They grew up under the capriciousness of a worldly ruler who considered himself divinity on earth and had to adapt to function in that society. Most human beings cannot transcend the culture in which they live and are subject to it. The remembrance of the “leeks and garlic” of Egypt and the desire to turn back was an interesting way in which many of the children of Israel had whitewashed Egypt in their minds. Most of us learn how to become comfortable in our chains, and our mind adapts to them, like a tree that grows into a fence and then cannot be separated from it without cutting. Even Joshua was born in and spent his early life in Egypt up to Kadesh-barnea (when he was 40), so his worldview was largely framed by his early life on the other side of Sinai. This makes Caleb’s bravery to confront the people that much more impressive, and it is no wonder that Moses’ writings praise the fact that he had “a different spirit.”

The twelve disciples and the roughly 120 people who were in that upper room after Jesus’ passion, resurrection, and ascension were those who did not turn back their hearts at Kadesh-Barnea. Jesus had throngs of followers before his crucifixion. Likewise, most of Israel had followed along with those who said, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Still others had the same thought as they faced continuing Jewish persecution and Judaizing believers who sought that the new movement would go back into the law. Paul spends the better part of the book of Galatians telling believers in no uncertain terms that the Law is something they were brought out of, and while important for study, the goal of following the law perfectly is exactly how Israel fell; they looked upon the land in front of them as the spies had reported it at Kadesh-Barnea, and realized they could not possibly fulfill the law. The giants were too much, and the land devours those who inhabit it. Instead of this, Caleb and Joshua focused on the promise of empowerment and the promise of victory that they had heard of the God who miraculously brought them out of Egypt. Paul reminds believers that they are “children of promise,” and that “through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” Paul excoriates those who would have the new Christian movement return to the Egyptian bondage of the law, and even confronts Peter and others who acted in fear of the Judaizers:

[Gal 2:11-14 ESV] 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

So even Peter had dissembled and considered “turning back,” or at least giving the appearance that he had. Later on, the struggle would be to prevent believers from adapting too much to Roman culture or local cult worship – the “inhabitants of the land” – but for now, the struggle was those desiring to go back to Egypt and re-fasten their own shackles.

This insight has relevance for the flood, as well. Noah’s sons would have had their formative experiences prior to the event of the flood, and thus were heavily influenced by the culture around them, whereas their children would be less influenced. Many of those in Ham’s lineage – including Nimrod – were known for their submission to idol gods and rebellion against the true God. So the continuance of those corruptions occurred in Ham, but through Seth God eventually called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees to set the stage for retaking the land of Canaan. This is the theme of human culture derived from false gods in rejection to one true God. In every era, this becomes a self-perpetuating force that leads to the creation of increasingly united and eventually scattered pseudoglobal systems of man, in the form of the Tower of Babel, the Egyptian Nation at the time of Moses, the Assyrian Empire at the time of the destruction of Samaria, the Babylonian Empire at the time of Nehemiah and the return to Jerusalem, and the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus. In each case, “Babylon” or the global system in question represents the end-state of a form of corrupted husk of religion, where a central leader wields power under the auspices of religious authority.

Abraham was met by Melchizedek after his conquest of the kings of the godless nations and was blessed – he was drawn out of Babylon to fight against the king of “Shinar” (whose kingdom included the region historically known as Babylon), among others in defense of the region in which he dwelt at the time. That area eventually became corrupt and faced its own series of judgments. Israel spent time in the land promised to Abraham, but that land fell into corruption when he went into Egypt for a time.
Maintenance of the culture of the region was crucial; Isaac found he had to re-dig wells that had been stopped up by Philistines after Abraham’s death and re-establish the lifeline to water for his family to dwell there. Wherever those in special relationship with God are derelict in their responsibility, cultural vacuums emerge in time and bring destruction.

The Close of the Joshua Era and Apostasy

Christianity’s continuance through the Apostolic Age and the era of the Patristics would be a time of formation and crystallization of doctrine through turbulent times. The groundwork was laid during this time for a recognized hierarchy and institutional church structure. Paul told the elders of Ephesus about the precariousness of the situation:

[Act 20:28-30 ESV] 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

Paul knew inherently that there would be a tremendous amount of apostasy and infighting, but he trusted that in the end things would turn out for the good. It was not a question of “if,” but “when.” Moses wrote at length about the blessings and the curses that had been set before Israel depending on their obedience. Notably, he seems to imply that it would be about “when” they went astray rather than “if”:

[Deu 30:1-3 ESV] 1 “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2 and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you.

Deuteronomy 32:10-43 is a poem/song form of a prophecy about Israel’s entire life as a nation. The judgments are highly specific and tell what happened to Israel over time. A few very notable passages are below:

[Deu 32:15 ESV] 15 “But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
Jeshurun refers to Israel in his ideal state, as the word “yashar” in Hebrew is to be upright.
[Deu 32:15 ESV] 15 “But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
[Deu 32:16, 19-20 ESV] 16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. … 19 “The LORD saw it and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters. 20 And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness.

The end of the matter is described similarly to the passages about the Lord being seated until the nations are made his footstool:

[Deu 32:43 ESV] 43 “Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land.”

The era of Joshua closes with Israel having subdued the land, albeit incompletely, and Joshua’s reminders of their calling to conquer and subdue the land entirely with the subtext of becoming the new sons of God who would be a light to the nations under the dominion of the current sons of God. God promised to empower Israel to take its inheritance:

[Jos 23:9-10 ESV] 9 For the LORD has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. 10 One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you, just as he promised you.

Likewise, the same power to overcome to become the sons of God is promised to believers in a more spiritual sense. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension meant that the Holy Spirit would empower the church and believers to go into all nations and make disciples:

[Jhn 1:12-13 ESV] 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
[Luk 24:49 ESV] 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

However, the initial success of this movement would bog down, as it did in the time of the Judges. The promise of converting the inheritance of the nations would stand, but it would take some time for that to come to fruition. The first chapter of Judges is a catalog of areas where Israel fell short. God responds to this, and tells Israel:

[Jdg 2:1-3 ESV] 1 Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3 So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”

The persecution the Christian movement endured in the first few hundred years of its existence purified and strengthened it in many ways. It created a solid core of saints and witnesses who did many impressive things, often out of necessity. In parallel, the Judges who arose at various times would deliver Israel, and after the death of that judge, they would fall back into creeping syncretism with the pagans around them. However, there was, if by fits and starts, a progressive elevation of the authentic Christian movement. There was a strain of continuity back to the original teachings of Jesus and to his apostles which would emerge fully when the movement had gained enough of a following and enough power in the land in which they dwelt.

In the Israel side of this parallel history, this began underneath the priesthood lineage of Eli in the narrative of Samuel the prophet, the capture and return of the Ark of the Covenant, and the first instance of a unified Israel – under Saul.

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