Thursday, March 6, 2014

Skin Color, Cannibalism, and Courage

Recently, I preached a sermon on Joshua and the courage God gave him to conquer the Promised Land. In researching the message, I came across a claim that the Canaanites in Jericho were cannibals who especially targeted enemies of lighter skin, believing that they gained power by consuming these lighter races. After I preached the sermon, I started chewing (sorry for the pun) on this concept and decided to do more research. To my surprise, I couldn't find anything on skin color linked to Canaanite cannibalism. While it stands to reason that skin color in the ancient world would quickly identify different people groups as well as enemies, and while it's also possible that the Canaanites had darker skin than the Israelites, I found it suspicious that I couldn't substantiate the assertion that skin color was a major factor in the detestable practice. I did, however, find support for the idea that Baal worship included cannibalism along with the belief that participants would somehow gain power from their enemies if they ate them. So, for those of you who may have a bone to pick (sorry) with me about this, I'm modifying my sermon on the website and leaving you with the following revision of the main point I was making. And, by the way, the next time you're thinking of making a meal of someone, leave skin color out of it :-)

All of us have Jerichos God calls us to. Some may, indeed, involve skin color. God may call us to stand against overwhelming racism or some other social evil. Some Jerichos look like an illness or a divorce or joblessness or a broken family. Regardless, we will face overwhelming challenges in this life. And some of them will absolutely terrify us. In the midst of it, remember, courage comes from seeing the perspective of the Almighty. In Joshua's case, God gives him the monumental and horrifying task of conquering the literal city of Jericho, which was basically an evil version of the Emerald City complete with two massive stone walls that were at least six feet thick and 20 feet high. And, and by the way, Jericho was inhabited by big, harry, gigantic zombie warriors who made the Klingons look like tooth fairies. Oh, and what were these zombie people called? They were called "Canaanites." There is a word in our language that comes from the Canaanites. It’s the word “cannibal.” Evidence suggests that "cannibal' is a compound word that may come from “Canaan" and "Baal." Baal was one of their gods and the Canaanites were known to eat their enemies in worship to him (see Num. 13:32). Can you imagine how frightening this must have been for Israel!!! They're going to war against giants who literally want to eat them for lunch! And if all this isn’t bad enough, God tells them the way to conquer this warrior city is by circling it a bunch of times with a marching band. "March and make noise and you’ll kill the Hannibal the Cannibal Klingons." For those of you in Rockford, talk about the Phantom Regiment! This is a band that is about to turn into ghosts because these giants are going to skin them alive! But I want you to see something. Look at Joshua 6:2:
"Then the Lord said to Joshua, 'I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.'”
What’s interesting about this is that God speaks in the past tense about something that hasn’t happened yet. God tells Joshua He has delivered Jericho before they even take one step in their march. You see, from our lower story, we see a terrifying battle that is so big we don’t know how we could ever win. Haven’t you ever said, “I don’t know if I can do this? This is too much for me!” I have. The battle is so overwhelming, I feel I’ve lost before it even starts. But in God’s upper story, it’s already won. Listen, when we’re close to God, the battle is over before it even starts. Nothing and no one can beat God. Pastor Kyle Idleman has a great quote. I love this: "Courage is fear that has said its prayers." It's okay to be afraid. Courage isn't the absence of fear. Courage is the result of focusing on God instead of Jericho. So, be of good courage. The Lord your God is with you!

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