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Perspective – Talking As If

And Joshua said, “By this you will know that the living God is among you, and that he will certainly drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites.” — Joshua 3:10

The king and his men went to Jerusalem, against the Jebusites who were living in the area . . . — 2 Samuel 5:6

So what happened?  God was surely going to drive them all out when the Israelites entered the land and then something happened, and things weren’t so sure.  In fact, gentiles were living in the land with the Israelites throughout their history.

This isn’t any new sort of a problem.  We all know about it.  What’s more important is that the author of Joshua clearly knew it.  He was living at a time when all these people had not truly been driven from the land, yet he’s quite willing to write this promise into the text.

We find an explanation of the change, of course, in the history that occurs in between in the rest of the book of Joshua and in the book of Judges especially.  The very firm statement is conditioned on the behavior of the Israelites who don’t carry out their part of the task.

A modern tendency would be to “spin” this statement and make sure that everyone understands that God’s command was originally conditional.  But the author of Joshua sees no need for spin.  He allows Joshua to speak here as though something is absolutely certain even though he knows that it won’t have happened by his day.

I think many ways of speaking about spiritual things are similar to this.  We speak “as though” even though sometimes we may not know for certain or may not really understand.

One example of this is the way the Bible speaks about predestination and free will.  Despite the different answers of Arminians and Calvinists none of us really know how this works from a God’s eye view.  I really enjoy speculating, and my thinking leads me to be pretty heavily Arminian.  But a glimpse from somewhat nearer God’s perspective might change everything.

In my own return to the church after some years away I felt very much like I was in a Calvinist experience.  It was like unwillingly following railroad tracks right back into the church.  I will even speak of it that way.  But you would be wrong to assume that I actually believe there is no choice.  That is what it felt like.

Language in scripture and theology is often a distant reflection of the topic, because spiritual matters respond so poorly to the language of the material world.  But it’s all we have, so we need to make the best use of it that we can.

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