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Veggietales: A Call to Genocide?

Note: Overall I enjoy Veggietales and find them harmless to helpful. Today I’m writing about an exception.

Last week I saw “Josh and the Giant Wall!” which is part of the Veggietales series. I found myself appalled by the choice of Bible story to answer the problem posed at the beginning of the show and worried that if kids took the words of Bob the Tomato to heart, they could wind up thinking that genocide is a-ok if God wills it.

The customary format of a Veggietales episode consists of three main parts:

  • Reading of a viewer letter.
  • A Bible story that addresses the core issue of the letter. This story is usually broken up with a “Silly Songs with Larry”, but I’ve got no issue with that.
  • A wrap-up at the end about what kids should have taken away from the episode, along with a Bible verse that reinforces the lessons learned in the story.

Josh and the Giant Wall! consisted of the following:

  • A viewer letter from a boy getting beaten up at school. He wants to retaliate, but learned in Sunday school that God wants us to “be nice to people.” The Veggietale characters Bob the Tomato and Junior Asparagus sympathize with the boy. God sometimes gives us instructions that just don’t make sense. But we’re better off when we do everything that God tells us to. And a great illustration of this truth is …
  • A sanitized version of the fall of Jericho derived in large part from Joshua chapter 6.  The story starts off by noting that because the Israelites didn’t obey God’s command to enter the Promised Land the first time, they were forced to wait 40 years. Their new instructions were to walk around the city of Jericho once a day for six days, then seven times on the 7th day, then the walls would fall down. After some amount of bellyaching, the Veggie-Israelites do this. The wall falls down and the annoying and proud folks of Jericho scatter in Josh’s command to leave because “God gave this city to us.”
  • The wrap up of the end of the story repeats that God sometimes asks us to do things that don’t make sense to us, but that we should always do them because our lives will be better for it. And if kids want to know more about the great hero Joshua, they should read the Book of Joshua. The concluding verse is 2 Samuel 22:31, “But for God his way is perfect.” My bible’s translation renders that as “God’s way is unerring; the promise of the LORD is fire-tried; he is a shield to all who take refuge in him.” Pretty much the same concept though.

Although as a Christian, I do believe that God’s ways are better than our ways and we are sometimes asked to do things that don’t make practical sense to us, this episode scares me for the possible unintended consequences. It’s the uncritical acceptance of Joshua coupled with the admonishment that we are ALWAYS to do what God says using a literal reading of the Bible as our guide.

What would kids see if they took Bob’s advice and read the Book of Joshua? For starters, here’s what they’d read about the fall of Jericho in Joshua Chapter 6:

The seventh time around, the priests blew the horns and Joshua said to the people, “Now shout, for the LORD has given you the city
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and everything in it. It is under the LORD’S ban. Only the harlot Rahab and all who are in the house with her are to be spared, because she hid the messengers we sent.
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1 But be careful not to take, in your greed, anything that is under the ban; else you will bring upon the camp of Israel this ban and the misery of it.
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All silver and gold, and the articles of bronze or iron, are sacred to the LORD. They shall be put in the treasury of the LORD.”
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2 As the horns blew, the people began to shout. When they heard the signal horn, they raised a tremendous shout. The wall collapsed, and the people stormed the city in a frontal attack and took it.
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They observed the ban by putting to the sword all living creatures in the city: men and women, young and old, as well as oxen, sheep and asses.
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Joshua directed the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the harlot’s house and bring out the woman with all her kin, as you swore to her you would do.”
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The spies entered and brought out Rahab, with her father, mother, brothers, and all her kin. Her entire family they led forth and placed them outside the camp of Israel.
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The city itself they burned with all that was in it, except the silver, gold, and articles of bronze and iron, which were placed in the treasury of the house of the LORD.

Rehab’s family was spared because she hid the Israeli spies from the authorities in Jericho. But otherwise, 100% causalities. Not only men and women, but children too. Not just every single person in the city, but all of the livestock too. ALL living creatures. Put to the sword. Because God had placed the city of Jericho under His ban.

Of course, this wasn’t shown in the show. Veggitales, is a family show and even the sight of vegetables cut up into the the Lord’s salad would be too gruesome to show to their audience. But Bob did tell kids to go read the Book of Joshua and reminded them that God’s way is always perfect, even if it doesn’t make sense to us. Impressionable children could be forgiven for believing that they need to follow God even when his command is “Kill ’em all.” What happens when at some point in their lives a trusted elder or pastor tells them that time has come?

The Book of Joshua is a big reason I haven’t been a Biblical literalist for years now. Even if you believe that people in the Promised Land were Godless heathen, what did the infants and cows do that deserved cold blooded murder? I think the Bible needs to be read in the light of Christ, who told us to love and pray for our enemies and to “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.” If something in the Bible or in Church Tradition can’t fit into one of these filters, then I don’t believe that’s from God. I think all Christians should be taught this from the earliest years on up.

One other thing that saddens me about this show is that its lesson was worthy and there are better Bible stories that could have supported it. Here are two examples and I’m sure you can find more:

  • Matthew 14, where Jesus directs his disciples to feed five thousand men and their families with the five loaves and two fish they have and the disciples balk at first, but then obey. Miraculous results follow.
  • Daniel 1, where Daniel and his companions reject the King’s food and drink in order to follow the dietary laws of God. A royal official goes along, even though his job is on the line. At the end of a trial period, the official found that, “after ten days they looked healthier and better fed than any of the young men who ate from the royal table.”

Two great stories that answer the letter’s question “Why do I have to do what God wants, even when it doesn’t make sense?” where no one has to die or even flee their homes. Veggietales could have done better.

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