Jun 28 2012

The Books of Acts & Joshua – Forward

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FOREWORD

This booklet, the third in the series “Short Notes on the Bible,” presents a study of the two biblical books “Joshua” and “Acts.” Although the reader might have the initial impression that those two books have nothing in common, a closer look will reveal several links in perspective, as expounded below.

Separated by a time span of about 1400 years, each of them constitutes the first historical book of its respective Testament (Old and New). Presenting the two books in a single study not only highlights the significant intellectual, social and civilization changes which occurred during the interval separating their writing, but also reveals the huge contrast between the Mosaic Law and the Grace which Jesus Christ instituted, and their societal effects. This presentation may also illustrate the roles which the Law and the Holy Bible played in human civilization in general. Hence, the Book of Joshua (and that of Judges) gives us a clear picture of how deeply humans had sunk in retardation and savagery as results of sin’s corruption. Meanwhile, we can see how God takes humans by the hand, gradually guiding their steps across the centuries, through the Books of the Old Testament, uplifting them from the soured human reality, implementing the very poor human logic and reasoning to reach the pinnacle of human spiritual thoughts, that being “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16); in guiding humanity’s steps, St. Paul says:“Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24)

As mentioned earlier, the Book of Joshua is the first of the historical books of the Old Testament; it is also the first book after the Torah, or the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses). It starts by the children of Israel’s crossing of the Jordan, and entering into their “rest” (Joshua 1:13 – 15), namely, the Promised Land. Analogously the Book of Acts, the New Testament’s historical book following the four gospels, starts with our Lord Christ’s ascension to heaven, the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 9: 12 & 24), entering to His rest, to place humanity on the right hand of the Father in His glorified body; humanity would have thus traversed to eternal rest in Christ’s body – the first fruit. Hence, St. Paul told the Ephesians in this context: “[God] raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”(Ephesians 2:6) Therefore, according to the Acts, the children of Israel’s crossing of the Jordan over to their rest as illustrated in the Book of Joshua was symbolic of humanity’s traversing the heavens, to the Holies, for eternal rest.

Both Books proclaim the effectiveness of the mystery of God’s word in humans, disclosed in due course through the saints. The word, concealed in the soul, is revealed through “….good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) In the Book of Joshua, the word is the Law of Moses; in the Acts, on the other hand, the word is the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25), announced in Christ’s commandments, and unveiled by the saints, thus fulfilling God’s righteousness in time. Combined, the two Books encompass a comparison between the work of the Law in humans, and the work of Grace; the latter represents the perfection of God’s revelation of His righteousness in us.

In the Book of Joshua, each tribe settled down in its place of rest after a war involving invasion, conquest and taking possession of the Promised Land; this corresponds, in the Acts of the New Testament, to invading the world with evangelism and preaching the gospel to all nations, so that the word of God ultimately resides in every soul, thus becoming a resting place for the Lord. Propagation of the word of God to the four corners of the earth carried an implicit form of invasion: to subject the nations, not by crushing them, rather, by inducing their submission to the work of God’s righteousness in the world, leading to humanity’s liberation from its servitude to this world’s leader, who rules through sin and evil. The Book of Acts explains how preaching Christ began, and how the Holy Spirit led its propagation.

In addition to desiring that all mankind be saved, not destroyed, our Lord God does not discriminate between nations. Contrary to what we might deduce from the Book of Joshua, God chose Israel in order to save, not to eradicate, the entire world. Thus, God’s purpose for choosing Israel, and establishing an eternal covenant with him, is that His righteousness and justice be proclaimed for all the world’s nations so that, in turn, Israel might become a blessing on earth, as Jeremiah said: “And you shall swear, ‘The Lord lives, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; the nations shall bless themselves in Him, and in Him they shall glory.’” (Jeremiah 4:2) Also in this regard, Isaiah says: “But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God Who is holy shall be hallowed in righteousness” (Isaiah 5:16).Therefore, through Israel, God is sanctified in justice and righteousness, before all the world’s nations, to proclaim general salvation to all.

In the Book of Joshua, though, we are confronted with very specific circumstances which illustrate a different picture. The Canaanites practiced idolatry in its basest and most ignoble forms: they worshipped the female deities ‘Ashtaroth’ (plural of ‘Ashtoreth’ or ‘Ishtar’) and the male gods ‘Baals’ (plural of ‘Baal’). They offered extremely savage human sacrifices to the god, “Molech”. Also, they debased women’s dignity, enslaving them for fornication in temples, to enforce male cruel domination using extremely corrupt and retarded religious slogans. Such idolatry propelled humans to an abysmally-low level of immorality; the only viable solution which God could see, was their elimination, as He did with Sodom and Gomorrah, in order to cleanse the earth. God created humans for dignity and glory; when they decline to the extent that all dignity is lost through corruption, entire nations can wipe themselves out through sin. History shows that evil resulted in the obliteration of many nations from the face of the earth, through the ages. When all hope of saving them is lost, it is preferable to eliminate those peoples, to avoid the spread of their perversion to surrounding nations. Such people they are already suffering to the extreme from their evil works.

On many previous occasions, nations’ indulgence in evil practices had resulted in God’s allowing their destruction. Rampant immorality naturally necessitates destruction. This reflects God’s compassion for His creation: He saves humanity and lightens human sufferings which result from evil. This time, God desired to destroy those nations by the hand of Israel himself, so that the Israelites, as they were entering the Promised Land, might see the dire consequences of evil, as a warning against the hazards of idolatry and its deleterious effects on nations. Moses had previously warned them several times against this danger, as stated in the Book of Deuteronomy. Later on, when the Israelites abandoned the Lord, betrayed the eternal covenant, committed adultery with the pagans, and offered human sacrifices to the god Molech, God treated them harshly, offering no favors to His chosen people; rather, He delivered them to captivity and destruction without pity – which is exactly how He treated the Gentiles. But, despite Israel’s betrayal, God “…..remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Jesus therefore, fulfilled the covenant, by proclaiming God’s righteousness among the Gentiles, as shown in the Book of Acts.

After the Promised Land had been entered, we find consistency between two incidents: the Old Testament’s transgression of Achan the son of Carmi (Joshua 7:1), and that of Ananias and his wife Sapphira in the New Testament (Acts 5:1-11). In both cases we feel the severity of the Divine decision, in conformance with the new law. The reason is that no one should belittle God: the fear of the Lord should be instilled at the outset, and the power and effectiveness of the Divine presence should be publicly proclaimed. In both cases, greed was the sin which caused the perpetrators to lie; concealing the truth is a sin which God abhors, and which necessitated the proclamation of the Divine wrath, and to make public the severe sentence.

“…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) This expressive verse concludes the Book of Joshua; it represents the book’s focus, namely, unity of the nation and its gathering under the hand of the Lord for doing good, and for rejecting the degenerate idolatry which corrupted Gentiles’ lives.

On the other hand, the Book of Acts starts with a splendid and brighter picture, portraying the unity, catholicity and fellowship under the authority of the Holy Spirit: “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44 – 47). This civilized picture is evident throughout the Book; the world continues its struggle in its attempts to attain this high standard, under the names of “socialism” and “democracy”. Furthermore, we find in the Acts snapshots of civilization which inspired humanity in its evolution. As an example, we see that for the first time recorded in history, elections were held to choose the congregation’s representatives for offering the best service to society, hence, the selection of the seven deacons. Chapter 15 also gives us a unique picture of a parliament-style free debate, to arrive at the soundest opinion, with no regard to participants’ level; this culminated in the debate’s leader announcing the final decision. That decision was not his own, rather, that of the group under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Fouad N. Youssef

Editor of the Word of Life magazine

                                           (Translated by Dr. George Ishack)

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