Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Northern Conquest

Daily Readings
Proverbs 28 + Joshua 11 + Nahum 1:15-2:13 + Ephesians 6

Quote of the Day
When one will not listen to the law,
Even one’s prayers are an abomination. Proverbs 28:9

Daily Text: Joshua 11:1-7, 10, 15, 18, 20

Northern Conquest
Chapter 10 reflects Joshua’s defeat of the southern part of the land, and chapter 11 extends that to the northern section of the promised land. King Jabin of Hazor is the principal party to organize and come out against Joshua. Hazor was a major city, covering 175 acres—ten times the size of the next largest city. 40, 000 people may have lived in this city in the 13th century B.C. when the Israelites conquered and burnt it. The archeological evidence is solid. While there is no proof that the Israelites did this to Hazor, there is the record in Joshua and very few quibble with it. How in the world did this wandering band of people move into this country, face the overwhelming odds they did and come out on top? The testimony of chapter 11 is that if Joshua did what the Lord commanded he would be victorious. It didn’t come overnight. Verse 18 notes that “Joshua made war a long time with all those kings,” but in the end, “Joshua took the whole land,…and …gave it for an inheritance to Israel…[verse 23]” Obedience leads to the fulfillment of God’s promises.

from Jericho
Frank Foxcroft


In the long march of every life,
Where there is much of toil and strife,

Remaineth still some Jericho,
Some firm stronghold where lurks the foe.

And as the Israelites, of old,
Trusted the promise, we are told.

And had the patience to fulfill
The unknown mysteries of God’s will;

So we, if we with patience wait,
Unbought by love, unmoved by hate,

Shall see the walls of error go
As went the walls of Jericho.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Holy War

Daily Readings
Proverbs 27 + Joshua 10 + Nahum 1 + Ephesians 5

Quote of the Day
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Ephesians 5:8, 9

Daily Text: Joshua 10:5-14, 25, 42

Holy War
From chapter ten these passages have been selected because they reflect the ‘doctrine’ of holy war, that is the belief that God was fighting for Israel. In retrospect the exiles read Joshua and knew that God was on their side and if he was there once he could and would be again. Joshua honored the treaty with Gibeon and marched all night from Gilgal to Gibeon to come to their rescue. Soggin suggests an 8-10 hour march could have accomplished this. At dawn Joshua strikes and the enemy is routed. But is it Joshua and his army that makes the difference? The credit is given to YHWH. Hailstones big enough to kill were more efficient than Joshua’s army. What is important here is the attribution to God’s help, without being too particular about why the hailstones didn’t also kill Joshua’s men in the thick of the fray. The battle was won on God’s account, and then there is this wonderful ancient piece of poetry (vss. 12, 13) quoted from the Book of the Upright or Book of Jashur (a transliteration) or perhaps even more accurately Book of Songs [416:130]. If the first title is accurate this is a collection of odes and songs to Israel’s great leaders and refers to their righteous conduct. It is only quoted one other time in the bible in II Samuel 1, but it may well have been used many times without attribution. It was quite ancient by the time Joshua was written and the poems may go back to the time of Joshua at least.
It is a miracle story, and its use confirms the holy war theme in this chapter. God is for Israel. No question. He would even interrupt foundations of the universe for those he loves, simply to give Israel time for an extending mopping up exercise. Was there ever such love? No, never, for the king of love is our savior.

X. J. Kennedy

Earth stopped. The Holy City hit a mountain
As a tray of dishes meets a swinging door.
Oceans lunged to converge, one with another.
He who had called that halt stood bemused there.

Who would have thought a simple invocation…?
As brazen leaves, troops fell. His walking stick
Tapped as he limped across a foiled battalion.
Sun and moon hung stone still, their axles stuck.

No cricket sprang from upright walls of grass.
Clouds swung in bunches, wingless. Who could look
Long on so high a carnage: all creation
Crushed like a sprig of heather in a book?

Futile to wail, wear sackcloth, tear his tongue out—
How could he feel commensurate remorse?
At last the sun, God resting noncommittal,
Rose in confusion and resumed its course.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Daily Readings
Proverbs 26 + Joshua 9 + Jonah 4 + Ephesians 4

Quote of the Day
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come tothe unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

Daily Text: Joshua 9:3-6, 14-15, 22-23
3 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, 4they on their part acted with cunning: they went and prepared provisions, and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, 5with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes; and all their provisions were dry and moldy. 6They went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the Israelites, "We have come from a far country; so now make a treaty with us." 14So the leaders partook of their provisions, and did not ask direction from the LORD.
15 And Joshua made peace with them, guaranteeing their lives by a treaty; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them.
22 Joshua summoned them, and said to them, "Why did you deceive us, saying, 'We are very far from you,' while in fact you are living among us? 23Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall always be slaves, hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God."

Gibeonites managed accommodation with Israel without military confrontation. They employed a ruse that worked to gain them a treaty of protection and inclusion into Israel. Two rather startling matters became apparent within Israel as a result of Gibeons deception. First, Israel’s leaders, even though somewhat suspicious, failed to inquire of God before signing the requested treaty (vs. 14). One would think that Joshua, having followed Moses for forty years, would have had that lesson down perfectly. Evidently, not. How about us? Do we ask for direction before we take large or small decisions to their conclusion?

Second, the congregation was quite unhappy with the leadership when they discovered how they had been duped. This experience harks back to the unhappiness of the congregation with the leadership under Moses in the wilderness, but with a new twist. Then the congregation was usually in the wrong and the leadership in the right. This time it is the congregation that is in the right and the leadership clearly in the wrong. In the past Moses simply asked direction from God on what to do with the congregation God took care of it. Not much possibility of that this time for the leaders error was in not consulting God to begin with. The result is that the leaders, Joshua included, are in a bind. They must please or at least satisfy the congregation. No more is their leadership taken as divine right. So the leaders responded in two ways. They said, it is too late, we have signed a treaty in YHWH’s name (vs. 19)! And Joshua, as judge, summoned the Gibeonite ambassadors and inquired of them as to why they had deceived him. As a result he passed sentence on them committing them virtually to slavery in perpetuity to the Israelite congregation, thus justifying himself before the people. Leadership is ever a challenging task, but how much more challenging it is when we do not advantage ourselves of God’s leadership and direction.

Bayard Taylor

Who, harnessed in his mail of Self, demands
To be men’s master and their sovran guide?—
Proclaims his place, and by sole right of pride
A candidate for love and reverence stands,
As if the power within his empty hands
Had fallen from the sky, with all beside,
So oft to longing and to toil denied,
That makes the leaders and the lords of lands?
He who would lead must first himself be led;
Who would be loved be capable to love
Beyond the utmost he receives, who claims
The rod of power must first have bowed
And being honored, honor what’s above:
This know the men who leave the world their names.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Promise and Faithfulness

Daily Readings
Proverbs 25 + Joshua 8 + Jonah 3 + Ephesians 3

Quote of the Day
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20, 21

Daily Text: Joshua 8:1-2, 30
Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Do not fear or be dismayed; take all the fighting men with you, and go up now to Ai. See, I have handed over to you the king of Ai with his people, his city, and his land. 2You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king; only its spoil and its livestock you may take as booty for yourselves. Set an ambush against the city, behind it."
30 Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel,

Promise and Faithfulness
The difference between the first approach to Ai and the second was critical. In the first approach the report of the spies was taken without attending to the sin in Israel. The result was disaster. This time, with the sin addressed, and the people once more faithful to the covenant and listening for the guidance of God, Ai falls easily before the military of Joshua. The land has been promised, but it is coming at the price of faithfulness to YHWH. Having learned that, Joshua completes the mopping up of the campaign in Ai and then builds an altar and leads the people in teaching and worship. This is a lesson to be learned throughout the history of this people. It is a lesson contemporary in its application and must be learned and practiced daily by us all. The promises of God come with the faithfulness of God’s people. Hope springs out of the connection between promise and faithfulness.

To Zion

O people long oppressed and stricken sore,
Condemned as wanderers on the earth to mourn
Across the age-long darkness of thy fate,
There breaks at length the radiance of the dawn.
Behold a land, thy birthright and thy home,
On thee by Heaven bestowed, by Heaven withdrawn
Yet promised to thy seed forevermore;
Yea, He, the Mighty One, Himself hath sworn.
Behold its plains unsown, its rock-strewn slopes,
Whereon no more the vine and almond grows.

Those barren hills again shall cedars crown,
The land for thee shall blossom as the rose.
Return to thy rest, at last return;
Cry to the South “Give back! Give back O North!”
Those mountains summon and those valleys cry,
By twos and threes, by tens, in troops go forth
Though yet afar the Peace of Zion waits,
Perchance through flames and blood they pathway lies,
Fear not—Be strong—Thy heritage regain
O Judah, tarry not! Israel arise.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The One and the Many

Daily Readings
Proverbs 24 + Joshua 7 + Jonah 2 + Ephesians 2

Quote of the Day
They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy (KJV). Jonah 2:8

Daily Text: Joshua 7:1, 6-11, 20a, 24-25

But the Israelites broke faith in regard to the devoted things: Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things; and the anger of the LORD burned against the Israelites.
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the ground on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. 7Joshua said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Why have you brought this people across the Jordan at all, to hand us over to the Amorites so as to destroy us? Would that we had been content to settle beyond the Jordan! 8O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has turned their backs to their enemies! 9The Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. Then what will you do for your great name?"
10 The LORD said to Joshua, "Stand up! Why have you fallen upon your face? 11Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I imposed on them. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have acted deceitfully, and they have put them among their own belongings. 20And Achan answered Joshua, "It is true; I am the one who sinned against the LORD God of Israel. 24Then Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan son of Zerah, with the silver, the mantle, and the bar of gold, with his sons and daughters, with his oxen, donkeys, and sheep, and his tent and all that he had; and they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25Joshua said, "Why did you bring trouble on us? The LORD is bringing trouble on you today." And all Israel stoned him to death; they burned them with fire, cast

The One and the Many
Achan’s sin is Israel’s sin. This notion that the entire community is affected by the acts of one is common throughout biblical theology and extends easily into the New Testament [Cf. Paul’s admonition in I Corinthians 5, and his image of the body]. In Hebrew conception the personality of one person extended far beyond his own person to that of his family, his possessions, his tribe, his people. A man’s soul or nephesh is not “conceived as but one part of man’s being, but the complete personality as a unified manifestation of vital power; it represents what Pedersen as called ‘the grasping of a totality.’ Likewise “…a man’s personality is thought of as extending throughout his , ‘house’ or ‘household’. …Accordingly, in Israelite thought the individual, as a nephesh or centre of power capable of indefinite extension is never a mere isolated unit; he lives in constant reaction towards others” [420:4-7].

Israel lost the battle, and did so in an obviously overwhelming fashion, not to be characterized as the simple loss of 36 soldiers out of 3,000, but more likely a much larger percentage. It was serious and Joshua responded in despair. His prayer is not only desperate, but he charges God with failure. Verse 9 could easily be seen as a taunt, “What will you do for your great name?” The loss of one’s name is a further extension of the view seen in paragraph one above. Lose your name and your loss is complete. So the taunt is that if Israel is lost, God will be lost from the stage of humankind. YHWH’s response is immediate and peremptory. He is not happy with Joshua, “Stand up! Why have you fallen upon your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant….” Achan has sinned, Israel is implicated and by reference so is Israel’s God. The power of one person! But that person’s power is as great when it is for good. So we ought never to see ourselves as simply one among many. We are both one and many.

The H. Communion
George Herbert

Not in rich furniture, or fine array
Nor in a wedge of gold,
Thou, who from me wast sold,
To me dost now thy self convey;
For so thou shouldst without me still have been,
Leaving within me sin:

But by the way of nourishment and strength
Thou creepst into my breast;
Making thy way my rest,
And thy small quantities my length;
Which spread their forces into every part,
Meeting sins force and art.

Yet can these not get over to my soul,
Leaping the wall that parts
Our souls and fleshly hearts;
But as th’ outworks, they may control
My rebel-flesh, and carrying thy name,
Affright both sin and shame.

Only thy grace, with which these elements comes,
Knoweth the ready way,
And hath the privy key,
Op’ning the souls most subtle rooms;
While those to spirits refined, at door attend
Dispatches from their friend.

Give me my captive soul, or take
My body also thither.
Another lift like this will make
Them both to be together.

Before that sin turned flesh to stone,
And all our lump to leaven;
A fervent sigh might well have blown
Our innocent earth to heaven.

For sure when Adam did not know
To sin, or sin to smother;
He might to heaven from Paradise go,
As from one room t’another.

Thou hast restored us to this ease
By this thy heavenly blood;
Which I can go in, when I please,
And leave th’ earth to their food.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Battle of Jericho

Daily Readings
Proverbs 23 + Joshua 6 + Jonah 1 + Ephesians 1

Quote of the Day
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…. Ephesians 1:20

Daily Text: Joshua 6:1-3, 7, 21, 26

Now Jericho was shut up inside and out because of the Israelites; no one came out and no one went in. 2The LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have handed Jericho over to you, along with its king and soldiers. 3You shall march around the city, all the warriors circling the city once. Thus you shall do for six days, 7To the people he said, "Go forward and march around the city; have the armed men pass on before the ark of the LORD." 21Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys. 26Joshua then pronounced this oath, saying, "Cursed before the LORD be anyone who tries to build this city--this Jericho! At the cost of his firstborn he shall lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest he shall set up its gates!"

The Battle of Jericho
The story of Jericho is the most famous of all the stories of Israelite capture, and it is the one most difficult to establish! Archaeologically it appears not to have occurred. Jericho at 840 feet below sea level is the lowest city on earth and at over 10,000 years of age is the oldest city on earth. One question is why did Joshua take this city if it was to be razed and cursed against rebuilding? This cursing of a captured city is unique in the bible.

One possibility is the discovery that schistosomiasis was found to be prevalent in the one water source at Jericho during the 13th century B.C. Its host, a species of snail (Bulinus truncatus) is known to thrive in water sources used by humans. Genito-urinary schistosomiasis causes dramatic signs of illness including symptoms of depression and reduced fertility [419:214]. Could it be that part of the intelligence carried by the two spies from Rahab included this information and Joshua wishing to eliminate any threat to his rearguard as he moved up the valley, determined to annihilate the city with all living creatures, and then cursed it to keep his own people from settling there?

Much of the description of the taking of the city seems more in line with a liturgical celebration than an actual military campaign. For example, all of the people took part (vs. 7), priests were involved, much blowing of shofars, rams horns, and the only things kept were the gold and silver, bronze and iron for the temple treasury. So this late description may well have incorporated a liturgical festival as the setting for remembering an original taking of the city. In addition to some ancient and major walls built for a larger city of some 8 acres, there was it appears a small city at the time of Joshua and they may have used an upper defensive wall made of brick. It could be that this is the wall that tumbled and it would explain why Rahab and her family who lived in the wall, the more ancient wall, were not killed when the ‘wall’ fell. Generally, speaking, the biblical tale has well-established historical roots. The fact that only Jericho is hard to verify is grounds for accepting its original destruction. That it was very important conceptually as the first city to be claimed in the promised land, gives us one of the reasons for its inclusion primarily as a liturgical recital. Regardless, it is endlessly fascinating.

Women of Jericho
Phyllis McGinley

Though seven times, or seventy times seven,
Your armies circle our beleaguered town,
Not with their clamor may our gates be riven;
O, not by trumpets shall the walls go down!
Send out your troops to trample the fresh grasses
With horns and banners! They shall find defeat.
These walls can bear the insolence of brasses
Sounded at noonday in the dust and heat.

It is the whisper, only, that we dread:
The hushed and delicate murmur like low weeping
Which shall assail us, when , as do the dead,
The warders sleep and all the town lies sleeping.
That holy word is whispered which can fell
These armored walls, and raze the citadel.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Remove Your Sandals

Daily Readings
Proverbs 22 + Joshua 5 + Deuteronomy 34 + Romans 16

Quote of the Day
The commander of the army of the LORD said to Joshua, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so. Joshua 5:15

Daily Text: Joshua 5:13-15
13 Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?" 14He replied, "Neither; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, "What do you command your servant, my lord?" 15The commander of the army of the LORD said to Joshua, "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so.

Remove your Sandals
The commander of the army of the LORD stands before Joshua and he falls to his face and worships him. This passage is so like that of Moses and the burning bush that it must be mentioned. Perhaps because this is its reference there is an anomaly here that is pointed. Joshua sees the figure and when the figure announces who he is Joshua falls to his face. He is not on his feet when he is commanded to take off his shoes because he is ‘standing’ on holy ground! But the point is made.

There are two issues to be commented upon. Who is the man with the drawn sword? Is he an angel or is he the LORD himself? John Calvin [99:I,XIV,5:166] references ancient Christian writers who suggested that the man is Jesus. I find it hard to read Christian and trinitarian references back into the Hebrew Scriptures. However, there are numerous occasions when God appeared in human or angelic form and was worshipped without demure [cf. Genesis 18:1, Genesis 32:28-30, Exodus 34:6,8, Judges 6] the humans believing they had encountered God himself. There were other occasions where an angel, presumably a different order of being, refused worship [cf. Revelation 19:10; 22:8,9]. My tendency in this instance is to assume the encounter is with God, much like the encounters of Moses.

The second issue is that of the holy ground. What is the command? “Remove your sandals.” This is not an experience of place. Note that earlier in this chapter there are experiences of place where evidently circumcision occurred, perhaps for centuries just prior to Passover, Gibeath-haaraloth, and the place, Gilgal, where the Passover itself was celebrated not only on this occasion, but perhaps for long years. These ‘places’ are unlike the ‘place’ that was holy for Joshua. That ‘place’ was holy because of his experience of the holy, and no further reference is made to it. What was required of him? Only that he take off his shoes. This is Joshua’s encounter with the holy. God may have spoken to him before. He may have participated in marvelous works like the rolling back of the Jordan River, but this is his Sinai encounter—and no more is heard of it. He lives out his life on the strength of this vision of the holy. All meaning, all behavior, all of life is thereby lived in the light of this encounter.

No Man Saw Awe
Emily Dickinson

No man saw awe, nor to his house
Admitted he a man
Though by his awful residence
Has human nature been.

Not deeming of his dread abode
Till laboring to flee
A grasp on comprehension laid
Detained vitality.

Returning is a different route
The Spirit could not show
For breathing is the only work
To be enacted now.

“Am not consumed,” old Moses wrote,
“Yet saw him face to face”-
That very physiognomy
I am convinced was this.