Joshua's Conquest and Manifest Destiny
The Book of Joshua starts with these words of commission to Joshua, the successor to Moses, the one who will lead the people of Israel into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, so that they might take possession of it. There is only one problem with this scenario -- the land is already inhabited. How then do we hear these words?
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, 2‘My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. 3Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. 4From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. 5No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ (Joshua 1:1-9 NRSV).
More specifically, as you ponder these words, how might they speak to an American view of itself -- the principle of Manifest Destiny. It is this principle that propelled a nation across a continent, it is also a principle that displaced and dispossessed the peoples who lived in the land. The stories of the Tail of Tears and the many Indian wars that colored the move west, are reminders of the cost of Manifest Destiny.
I hadn't thought much about the connection of Joshua to the American ideology of Manifest Destiny, but Professor Dan Hawk of Ashland Theological Seminary has seen the connection, and apparently has laid this out in a new commentary on Joshua called Joshua in 3-D (Wipf and Stock, 2010). I've not read or seen the commentary, but in a posting at Allan Bevere's blog (the first of five guest postings), he writes:
Manifest Destiny was itself constructed from the building blocks of a more primal narrative – the story of the conquest of Canaan in the book of Joshua. Although Manifest Destiny incorporates other building blocks (such as the claim that the conquest was divinely commanded), the three narratives follow many of the same themes. At the heart of all is the story of the conquest of indigenous peoples and the appropriation of the land’s bounty, with fear and mass killing of the indigenes as a prominent thread.
Many Americans see the nation's history as one of divine mandate and protection. We are the "City on the Hill," the elect and called ones. This sentiment leads many to ignore the dark side of our history -- the Genocide of the Native American population, the enslavement of Africans, Jim Crow, segregation, incarceration of Japanese citizens, imperialist control of the Philippines, etc. Hawk raises the question of how Joshua can serve as a mirror for Americans to reflect upon their own self-understandings and actions.