Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you
wherever you go.”
It is probably no mystery that the favorite substitute teacher in my elementary school was also the oldest. A retired archaeologist and deep lover of history, he had long claimed the name Bunker Hill. He was hard of hearing, near sighted and slow moving – a fifth grader’s dream. In my school news of any sub spread quickly but when it was Bunker, elation traveled like a shock wave through the halls. As Bunker ambled around clearly disoriented and confused, kids would stand in the doorways greeting him and trying to coax him into their classroom. “Whose class? Yeah that’s us, come in here” they would say in hopes their teacher would play along and go home for the day. Meanwhile his assigned class enjoyed a beautiful unsupervised homeroom. Bunker would always be dragging an ancient suitcase, secured with worn leather straps and filled with finds from his previous digs. If you were lucky he would bring the framed photo of his deceased pet armadillo and tell stories of it locking itself in tiny spaces with the infamous armadillo exhale. He would stand in his stooped way at the front of the class sharing stories of his archaeological days while total chaos orbited around him. “This little beauty I dug up in New Hampshire” he would say, slowly reaching for a spoon inside his suitcase, bending just in time to miss a football sailing over his head. When Bunker subbed, it was that great combination of having a day off while still getting credit, like a field trip but without the nasty bus ride. Despite the incredible noise, destruction and sometimes violence that occurred under his “watch”, parents loved him. Other subs simply put in a movie, usually the one where Donald Duck learns math but with Bunker, they thought we learning something. Suckers. The next day had to have been a nightmare for the returning teachers.
Last week we finished the book of Joshua, which of course ends with the death of this beloved leader. Joshua had been anointed just before Moses had passed away and was quickly regarded as a trusted leader. Even though Joshua supposedly dies at the age of 110 (Joshua 24:29) he and God never appoint who will take his place. We can guess what happens next, there is a series of subs and therefore chaotic unproductivity. The Israelites don’t finish clearing the land of lingering people groups as per Joshua’s deathbed instructions. The various tribes do begin to occupy this land but agree to share it with the previous tenants thereby losing their inheritance as well as their status as a feared people group. After a few years of living amongst these other people groups, the Israelites begin worshiping their gods. It’s a sad, shameful mess, not at all a reflection of Joshua’s trust and leadership or the way God intended it. Seeing the need for one, strong leader God sets up a series of judges to rule the land but they have a tough job. Too long with too many stand-ins has created a people who are unruly, sluggishly corrupt and neglectful of everything God has done for them. All the miracles of parting waters, walls crumbling, battles won were forgotten, the stones erected in memory of God’s saving acts no longer served their purpose. More than a century of strong leadership and yet a short while with no clear leader the Israelites lose their place of power geographically, politically and spiritually. As we will see in the next several weeks, it will take a long time to get those people back.