So they finished dividing the land.
Joshua 19:51 (NRSV)
When I was in college I took a semester off and worked as an abstractor. It was tedious, monotonous work. In the morning a stack of property abstracts sat on my desk in the Polk County Office Building. One by one I would walk a legal history of property around the Recorder’s Office checking various land and tax records for buyers, sellers, and the property itself to make sure that the abstract was accurate and no one was trying to pull something (on at least one occasion, I caught people attempting to do just that).
That semester my acquaintance with property records and their arcane legal descriptions gave me an appreciation for the value and importance we humans place on land.
“Give me land, lots of land, with the starry sky above!”
I finished my college career and a few years later found myself leading a congregation in a small Iowa farm town of 300. As a city boy, this was my first real exposure to the way farming exists for so many in my home state: legacy, business, family, inheritance, and life. It is hard to appreciate just how inseparable people become with the land they and their family possess.
Every Sunday there two old farmers who sat in the back pews as far away from one another as possible. The two had a long standing dispute over a boundary line and fence between their adjacent properties. They never spoke to one another.
As I read through today’s chapter, which is basically an ancient abstract, I had all sorts of thoughts about land and the value we place on it. The property descriptions laid out in these chapters are so black and white, but you have to believe that there are all sorts of stories and emotions that the book of Joshua does not record. Families feeling cheated that another tribe got more land. A tribe thinking they should have such and such a village, river, well, forest amidst their property. Tribes disputing exactly how to interpret what it meant that the boundary “touched Tabor.” In time, these tribes would end up in a bloody civil war. How much bad blood was rooted in resentments hidden in these property descriptions.
This morning I’m thinking about God’s original admonishment that we should “subdue” the earth, and how we may have misinterpreted His intent. History teaches me that we’re really good at misinterpreting things. I’m thinking about Jesus who owned so little and encouraged his followers to hold on loosely to the things of this earth (including, I imagine, the earth itself). I’m thinking about Iowans intimate relationship with the land from which we make our livings and feed the world. I’m pondering the ways that possessions, including that same land, can end up coming before and between relationships.
I’m happy not to be an abstractor.