Joshua

Joshua leads the way to the Promised Land with a strong foot.

Written by Blue Pipe Thoughts.

I’ve never been one to enjoy books or movies about war, so I didn’t really find much to enjoy in Joshua. Unsurprisingly, entering the land that God had promised to them years before did not happen without some resistance to the Israelites, and all those years in the desert seem to have made them rather fierce.

  1. After the death of Moses, his helper Joshua takes command of the tribes and rallies them to enter and take control of their Promised Land – by destroying the current inhabitants utterly
  2. Joshua’s spies are aided in the city of Jericho by Rahab; she shelters them in return for a promise of safety when Israel invades
  3. The Covenant chest stops the river Jordan, allowing the invading army to cross to the promised land without getting their feet wet
  4. In the camp twelve stones (taken from the dry bed of the river Jordan) are set up as a visible reminder of the miraculous crossing
  5. Preparation for war with Jericho begins; the Israelite soldiers are circumcised, the people celebrate Passover, manna supply comes to an end and Joshua meets an armed soldier sent by God
  6. The entire city of Jericho and all living things within it – apart from Rahab and her family – are destroyed utterly by Israel
  7. Israel fails to win a battle against an insignificant town, the blame for which is laid upon a single person who stole from the Jericho loot set aside for the temple
  8. Joshua proves to be a wily military commander; under his instruction the city of Ai is ambushed and utterly destroyed
  9. The Gibeonites make a treaty with Israel by pretending to come from a distant land, seeking sanctuary
  10. Five local tribes unite to attack Gibeon and Israel is forced to defend them because of the treaty they made with them, but they don’t stop with one defeat and rampage across the region
  11. The war continues across the land in Israel’s favour, they show no mercy, eventually conquering the whole region
  12. A list of the thirty one kings conquered by Moses and Joshua, and the regions they had ruled over
  13. The lands belonging to the two and a half tribes who did not wish to dwell in the Promised Land are detailed (the descendants of Reuben and Gad, plus half of the tribe of Manasseh)
  14. Joshua gives the land of Hebron over to Caleb, who was one of the scouts sent by Moses forty years previously, and had been promised the land at that time
  15. Caleb’s daughter arrives with her new husband and demands extra land from her father
  16. The prime land on the banks of the Jordan are described; these have been allotted to the tribes descended from some of the sons of Joseph
  17. The descendants of Joseph in the promised land demand more space from Joshua because they are so numerous, but he only allows some overgrown wooded highlands
  18. The remaining land is apportioned by lot; Benjamin’s tribe gets Jerusalem
  19. The apportionment of land by lot continues for the remaining tribes, and Joshua is also given his own city to rule
  20. Six refuge cities for people awaiting trial are established, as per the instructions of Moses
  21. Some of the cities and their surrounding pasture are taken back from the tribes (again by casting lots) and are assigned to the priestly Levites, in accordance with the pledge made to their ancestors in Moses’ day
  22. Now that war is over, the two and a half tribes who aren’t staying in the Promised Land are sent back to their homeland on the other side of the river Jordan, where they build a replica of the Israelite altar as a reminder that they are God’s people too
  23. After many years have passed peacefully, Joshua summons the leaders to remind them that their success has come from God and that they must stay faithful, in order to keep what God has given to them
  24. As his final act Joshua gathers all of the Israelite leaders to remind them of God’s faithfulness to them, and to ask if they will serve God faithfully – they all pledge themselves enthusiastically

The story of the Gibeonites in chapter 9 is fascinating. So strange to have a story where Israel is comprehensively outmanoeuvred remembered in Jewish scripture. I wonder if it’s recorded as a lesson or out of grudging respect for what the Gibeonites were able to achieve? Somehow it reminds me of the conversation between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). Interpretation of that story differs, but I always felt that she was playing a game with Jesus, one which they both understood. In this case of course, the Israelites did not understand the risky game that the Gibeonites were playing with them, but they seem to have accepted the outcome of it all the same.

There seems to be a change in policy as the war goes on; in chapter 7 looting is forbidden and punished harshly, but in chapter 11 it seems to be commonplace. Is this the inevitable effect of prolonged and successful war? In the early chapters it seems that Israel are determined to rule by might rather than any other means, but as the story continues we discover other tribes who were not ousted by Israel who then apparently live among or alongside them, as slaves or servants like the Gibeonites did. I can’t imagine this would have been a peaceful state of affairs for any length of time, but it’s nice to have a break from the relentless slaughter. Then, at the end of chapter 13 (verse 15) it reads: “Then the land rested from war” – what a relief!

I was tickled by the story of Achsah, Caleb’s daughter, who is offered up as a marriage prize by him in return for taking the city of Debir in Hebron. There is a wonderful scene in which she first ‘prods’ her new husband into asking her father for more land than has been set aside for them, and then speaks directly to her father when he questions the request. She gets down off her donkey and demands a ‘blessing’ from her father. Her request is in fact very practical because the land promised to her new husband has no water source. Practicality and good sense aside, it is the fact of a daughter demanding a blessing of her father (something usually associated with sons), the fact that she is able to make the request directly (rather than negotiating through her husband), and the little descriptive detail of her getting off her donkey to talk to him. Clearly in Achsah we have another old testament woman of status and influence, such as those I found in Genesis. It’s nice to come across a scene like this in Joshua, which is otherwise very war and territory focused. Also, we are reminded that the daughters of Zelophehad (descendants of Joseph and Manasseh) inherited portions of land because their father had no sons in chapter 17. Of course the ‘famous’ woman in the tale of Joshua and the taking of Jericho, is Rahab – she of the red cord in the window. Once again we see a woman being bold and succeeding in the face of great odds, securing safety for herself and her family. Great stuff!