God reassured Joshua that he was back on his side, now that the disobedience of Achan (who stole articles from Jericho that had devoted to demonic entities) had been dealt with: ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged’ (v.1).
We can all rely on God’s promises when he clearly speaks to us. God told Joshua that the city of Ai had been delivered into the hands of the Israelites – all they had to do was attach it. After the upcoming victory, the Israelites would be allowed to take all their possessions and livestock from the defeated city. Ai had obviously not been quite as corrupt as Jericho. God is a master strategist and the Holy Spirit, the master of wisdom, will tell us the best way to accomplish any holy task. Joshua was instructed to set an ambush behind the city.
Joshua drew out all the fighting men from Ai and made them pursue the Israelites. Every single man unwisely left the city, It was a simple matter for the Israelite ambush hidden to the West to enter the undefended city, capture it and set it on fire. The main army of the Israelites turned to fight their pursuers once the city had been captured and the men from the Israelite ambush left the captured city and attacked the army of Ai from behind. God had formulated a perfect military strategy. The Israelites killed all the 12,000 inhabitants and hung the king of Ai on a tree. The city was turned into a permanent heap of ruins. Killing all the men and women sounds harsh by modern standards but they were all worshippers of demonic entities and they couldn’t be allowed to pollute the faith of the Israelites and corrupt them. The Israelites had to follow God’s precise instructions to preserve their precious relationship with him. They depended on his favour completely. They took all the livestock and plunder from the devastated city but only because God had permitted them to do so (v.27).
Joshua renewed the covenant with God at Mount Ebal. He built an altar of uncut stones on which they offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings (v.31). Joshua copied the law of Moses onto stones and he read out all the law again to the whole assembly, including women and children and foreigners who lived among them (v.35).
Things were looking up for the Israelites again. If they kept being obedient to God, following his laws and carrying out his instructions perfectly, everything would work out easily for them.
All the kings West of the Jordan heard about the total annihilation of Jericho and Ai and came together to make war against Israel. So what! They didn’t have the one true God fighting for them. Bring it on. It was similar to when the modern nation of Israel was established in 1948. The Jews were almost immediately attacked by Arab armies from five countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The aggressors were never going to win. The Israelites are God’s holy people and he had promised that territory to them.
The people of Gibeon decided they could only survive the onslaught of the Israelites by trickery. They sent a very ragged delegation, pretended that they were from a ‘distant country’ and asked for a treaty (9:6).
The Israelites were slightly dubious, They couldn’t make a treaty with someone who lived near them. as they would need to take over their territory and annihilate them. The Gibeonites said they were from ‘a very distant country’ (v.9). They pretended they had travelled for weeks by packing mouldy bread, worn-out sacks, old wineskins and by wearing old clothes and patched sandals.
The Israelites made yet another terrible mistake. They did not ask the Lord whether the Gibeonites were telling the truth before Joshua made a peace treaty with them (v.15). Moses would have asked the Lord. We should consult with God throughout the day about any decisions we have to make. The Holy Spirit living within us will let us know what is true and what is our best course of action. Secular people say: ‘follow your gut feeling’. As baptized Christians, we know that the font of all knowledge, the Holy Spirit, does not live in our guts. He lives in our hearts.
The chief priests asked their captive, Jesus, ‘Are you then the Son of God?‘ Jesus replied ‘You are right in saying I am.’ (v.70).
‘I am’ is a reference to the most holy name of God revealed in Exodus 3:13-14: ‘God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you’.
In John 8:58, Jesus said, ‘before Abraham was born, I am’. He was claiming equality with God by using the holy name.
I totally agree with the Jews that no-one should ever say the formal name of God, the one beginning with a ‘Y’. It is totally holy and worthy of our utmost respect. We should always say ‘The Lord’ instead.
The chief priests tried to have Jesus condemned by Pilate by falsely accusing Jesus of opposing ‘payment of taxes to Caesar’ (23:2). They thought that a threat to the Roman income would be a good way to get Pilate fired up.
Pilate was keen to release Jesus. Pilate had no concern for a dispute about someone claiming to be king of a conquered nation: ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man’ (23:4).
However, Pilate was too weak to let Jesus go straight away. He sent him to the evil Herod for a second opinion. This Herod was the son of the King Herod who had tried to kill Jesus, as soon as he was born, by massacring all the young male children in the surrounding area.
Herod was ‘greatly pleased’ (v.8) to see Jesus. He had enjoyed listening to John the Baptist, until he had his head cut off. Many evil people are fascinated by holy men. They are drawn to the power and truth of their words. God always draws people to him, no matter what their background and reputation is. Herod wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle to order as a kind of parlour magic trick. ‘Jesus gave him no answer’ (v.11) so Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. They sent Jesus back to Pilate and that day, the former enemies, Herod and Pilate were reconciled. Quite often, evil people who hate God find they can get on with other groups or individuals they normally dislike if they can unite in support of an evil act, such as abortion,
Both Pilate and Herod were prepared to let Jesus go after unfairly ‘punishing him’ to show off their power. There was ‘no basis for your charges against him’ (v.14).
The crowd shouted for a convicted murderer, Barabbas, to be released instead of the innocent Jesus (v.18-19).
Barabbas’s full name was actually ‘Jesus Barabbas’ – as Jesus was a relatively popular name at the time. Jesus meaning ‘God is salvation’. Barabbas is an Aramaic name meaning ‘Son of the Father’. So the choice for the crowd was between two men both named Jesus, one called ‘Son of the Father’ and the other one actually son of the Father.
Jesus died in place of a convicted murderer as he was also dying to release the entire human race from the death sentence for our sins.
For the third time, Pilate tried to release Jesus but the shouts of the crooked crowd prevailed. Pilate caved in to the pressure. He decided to crucify our innocent saviour just because the crowd kept on shouting. Pilate was guilty. Leaders have to continue with the strength of their convictions, they cannot cave in to pressure.
We have to keep our faith to our final breath and refrain from mortal sin that could jeopardise our place in heaven. Many pastors teach, ‘Once saved, always saved’ but that is nonsense. When we are saved, we have to stop sinning to remain saved. A person cannot say they are saved and then continue to work in an abortion clinic killing unborn children everyday. They will go to hell without full renouncement of their profession and repentance. A serial killer can’t continue with their crimes after meeting Jesus without divine retribution. The biggest threats to our everlasting salvation are the grave sins of adultery and murder that are so commonplace in our modern society. Everyday medical practices such as IVF, or the morning-after contraceptive pill, open up the opportunity to kill a human being just as the baying crowd participated in our innocent Saviour being killed. Every fertilised embryo is a human being. If we have helped created them, we need to be very careful what happens to each and every one of them.
The Mother Church teaches that no-one can be certain of their salvation. We know that baptism is necessary to be saved but the judgement on our individual salvation belongs to God. Presumption is a sin and exists in two kinds. We can presume upon on our own goodness (hoping to able to save ourselves without help from above) or we presume ‘upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit) (CCC,2092). We all have to hope in God’s mercy and die with ‘God, have mercy on me a sinner’ on our lips.
We have a beautiful psalm today containing a wonderful everyday prayer: ‘Have mercy on me O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin’ (v:1-2).
A Catholic priest prays for this washing and cleansing before the prayer of consecration in the Holy Mass. The priest must wash his hands at this point because he is about to touch the very bread of life himself.
We were all sinful at birth (v.5), sinful from the time our mothers conceived us because we inherited ‘original sin’ from our ancestor Adam. We are all born with an in-built urge to do bad things and be disobedient to God. We are all born with a sin which is ‘the death of the soul’ (CCC, 403). We have an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence”. When we are baptized, all original sin and personal sin is erased and we turn back to God. However, we remain weakened and inclined to evil and so need to invite the Holy Spirit fully into our life to give us power to overcome sin. The Holy Spirit living in our hearts will sanctify us (make us holy) if we allow him to.
The Holy Spirit will also teach us wisdom in our most inmost place (v.6).
When we are baptized we are cleansed from all sin and are ‘whiter than snow’ (v.7).
When we make a valid confession, it is like receiving a loving hug from our Father, welcoming us back home. Our sins aren’t just forgotten, they are completely deleted. If you are ever asked to attend an exorcism, be warned; a demon possessing someone likes to name out loud the sins of everyone else present in the room. The more embarrassing and incriminating the better. It’s as if a demon can just read our sins out from a book. We must be sure to attend an exorcism with no unconfessed sins. Then the demon can say nothing about us, our sins have been deleted from God’s face. God has blotted out our iniquity (v.9). Thanks be to God.
Image: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons