Joshua: Readers’ Notes

Posted on 27 March 2008

Readers’ notes for the whole of the Old Testament book.

The Book of Joshua

Readers’ Notes by Stephen Dray, Ferndale Baptist Church

Introduction

Few can have forgotten their encounters with the book of Joshua. Perhaps years ago, the derring-do of Joshua, the great military leader, will have entranced the young Sunday School pupil as the account of the utter ruin of the walls of Jericho were recounted and choruses sung and enacted, celebrating the victory. At other times the comfort of the words ‘Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged’ will have become a very personal message in the midst of trouble and difficulty. Then there may well have been an occasion when ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD’ has been a real challenge. And time would fail to tell of encounters with the stories about Rahab and the spies, the examples of Caleb and Joshua (and even the daughters of Zelophehad), of Ai and Achan, of the sun standing still, of giants .... Here is the stuff of great sermons and exciting Bible studies!

However, there are dark corners in this book too and lists of unpronounceable names and localities, detailed instructions to ancient people that seem to have little relevance today. Nevertheless, even this is part of the inspired Scripture of which Paul could say ‘it is profitable’. Thus the following studies are designed to follow familiar paths as well as explore ‘spiritually’ dust-filled and cobweb strewn cupboards. And it is hoped that, as a result, the old will become fresh and shimmer once again with excitement and that the new and neglected will reveal unexpected and priceless treasures.

1:1-9:  Stepping out of the Shadow

Poor Joshua! The contented ‘No. 2’, he suddenly finds himself thrust into the limelight. Moreover, this was at an age when most have retired and are looking for a quiet life. Further, it was at a crisis point in the life of the people he was called to lead. Finally, it was to follow in the footsteps of one of the greatest men who ever lived!

Something of the anxiety and dark foreboding he must have felt (and with which we can probably identify) echo throughout these early verses. He is referred to as ‘Moses assistant’ (1), Moses being mentioned six times in nine verses! Then, the latter is given one of the greatest accolades in the Bible: ‘the servant of the Lord’ (1); similar phrases occurring later (2,7). How aware Joshua must have been of stepping into shoes that seemed all too great for him!

Further, there is the task with which he is confronted. To ‘cross the Jordan’ (2) might seem a big enough challenge! But he is then to conquer a vast territory ‘from the desert and from Lebanon to the great river, the Euphrates - all the Hittite country - and to the Great Sea on the west’ (4). Joshua would have known, what the story subsequently reveals, that this included the homes of giants and one of the largest cities in the ancient world. He would have been fully aware of the crack troops and sophisticated weapons that his enemies would possess. He must have known the technical mastery that the Canaanites had developed to defend their cities….. He knew he was fighting with an ill-equipped, inexperienced ‘rabble’ who had been wandering as nomads in a desert for forty years: not the best training for the task…. At his age, we can understand him stretching out for his pension book! But though the task seemed impossible and his own resources inadequate to the task the word of command comes, ‘Now then…get ready… cross’ (2).

Most of us already know the sequel. As the book closes we are told ‘Then Joshua sent the people away, each to his own inheritance’ (24:28). But this is some forty years away!

However, it is at this point that we are introduced to Joshua’s God and the following story is really about him. He is the one who is ‘about to give’ the territory to the Israelites (2) and who will be with Joshua ‘wherever you go’ (9). And he already has a track record: ‘As I was with Moses’ (5)! Tumbling through Joshua’s mind must have been a kaleidoscope of images. He would recall the oppression of his youth and the heavy tasks he had been called upon to undertake. But he would also have remembered with awe the plagues that God wrought through Moses and that brought the super-power of Egypt to its knees. For an old man the dividing of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharoah’s home guard would have been as vivid as if it had happened yesterday! Then there was the LORD’s miraculous provision for his vast people in a barren environment for forty years! At the same time there was some unfinished business between the LORD and Moses. Dead the latter might be, but God had made some promises to him: the possession of ‘every place where you set your foot’ (3). All this must have been reassuring.

Nevertheless, Joshua was clearly a timid man. Past history and solemn promises were all right but he still shook in his sandals in the face of the present challenge! There was the understandable danger that he would ‘freeze’ with fright or plum the depths of depression faced with a challenge simply too big to contemplate. Thus, the LORD comes to him with words of challenge (‘be strong and very courageous’, 6.7), encouragement (‘do not be terrified, do not be discouraged’ (9), and reassurance (‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’, 5, ‘the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go’, 9). Thus, to the guarantee of God’s promises are added the certainty of his presence.

There is, however, a condition. Fundamental to the fulfillment of God’s promises is a life-long commitment to ‘be careful to obey all the law’ (7). This is to be accomplished by a whole-hearted, moment-by-moment saturation in its teachings and willing obedience to its demands: ‘Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate upon it day and night… be careful to do everything written in it’ (8).

The following chapters ‘check this out’. Will Joshua find that in what Eugene Peterson calls his ‘long obedience in the same direction’ God will honour his promises? Above all, will God prove to be the sort of God we, too, can love, trust and obey? In the face of our frailty and the giants, citadels and other enemies that surround us, can we hope to experience his faithfulness to all that he promises us and know the blessing of his presence? Read on!

1:10-18:  Whose Agenda?

At first sight this little section appears to offer little but a rather uninteresting filling to the sandwich that contains Joshua’s call and the dramatic account of the spies visit to Jericho. But fillings can be deceptive: a bland appearance betraying a mouth-watering taste. So it also is with the Bible… not least the book of Joshua… and here!

Thus Joshua rises well to the first challenge. The Jordan, we will soon discover, was in flood; a muddy, tree-strewn, torrent of substantial width faced by a people without swimming skills or means to cross!

Nevertheless, Joshua knew his God… and his Bible: a fact demonstrated by the manner in which this section is saturated with the book of Deuteronomy.[1]  Thus, Joshua did not call a council of war but ‘ordered’ the civil and military leaders of the people to prepare for action (10). He did this, not on the basis of any personal claim to authority, but the authority of God’s promise: ‘the LORD your God is giving you [the land] for your own’ (11). Indeed, while the people needed to act (as Joshua had done so promptly) the emphasis is placed upon the one who would accomplish his purposes through them. In this way, ‘The people will take possession. Yes, but only of what the Lord their God gives them.’[2] Thus, Joshua ‘is the military commander par excellence in Israel by the very fact that he carries out the command of the heavenly general.’[3]

At which point we are introduced to a group of people who keep ‘popping up’ through the book of Joshua: ‘the Reubenites, Gadites and the half tribe of Manasseh’ (12). These were people who, on the authority of no less that Moses, had been allocated territory east of the Jordan river.[4] Their territory had already been won and sufficiently secured for ‘your wives, your children and your livestock [to]... stay in the land’ (14). Thus, these two and a half tribes had every human reason to ‘down tools’ and head off home.

But human reason must bow before the LORD’s command! Thus Joshua required them to join the other tribes in the conquest of the west bank (15). Pink puts it this way,  Joshua ‘did not beg for compliance as a favour to himself - I hope you will be willing to serve under me. Nor did he appeal on behalf of his brethren - the other tribes will be encouraged if you are willing to help them. Nor did he bid them remember their promise to Moses. No, he pressed upon them the Word of God.’[5]

And the two and a half tribes ‘came up trumps’: they pledge absolute fidelity to Joshua (16).[6] However, this is not blind obedience. Joshua is obeyed, as Moses before him, precisely because he is walking in the pathway of the LORD’s commands (17,18). Their final words are touching: ‘Only be strong and courageous’ (18). Perhaps they recognised what the LORD did: Joshua’s own sense of unworthiness. They certainly offered pastoral concern to ‘fire his enthusiasm’.[7]

Thus they are presented to us as models. They set aside personal agendas: the fact that their own goals had been met and the natural desire to avoid the dangers ahead and stay at home with their families. They were committed to follow the word of God and faithful God-obeying leadership. They were ready to recognise and support their leader in his vulnerability. They become the first to follow Joshua’s own example.

2:1-24: A Preaching Prostitute

For all the familiarity of this story, there is much that is rather peculiar about it. Why, for example, include a story about a prostitute in the middle of a narrative in which 1:18 seems to naturally lead to 3:1? And what is the story intended to teach?

This is where Old Testament narrative requires something of the skills of a detective. Such stories are often allusive and we need to hunt out the clues to unlock the meaning. Several seem to exist here. First of all, the story suddenly becomes ponderously slow. When this occurs in Hebrew stories it appears to have been a way of expressing emphasis. The author, therefore, clearly regarded the story as important to what he was trying to share. Secondly, the chapter shows all the marks of very carefully planning. Davis highlights this in the following chart:[8]

1a Joshua’s Commission

  2-7 Arrival/Concern: Protection of the Spies

    8-14 Confession of Faith

  15-21 Escape/Concern: Protection of Rahab and Co

22-24 Return to Joshua.

This sort of structure is known ‘in the trade’ as a chiasmus and it tends to throw the emphasis upon the central section. Indeed, Davis also notes that suspense is created at the end of verse 7 and this is unrelieved until verse 15. He says it is as if the reader is being told, ‘Don’t bother your head about how those two fellows will escape; there is something far more important I want to tell you.’[9]

Thirdly, as with many stories, the climax of a Hebrew tale often comes right at the end. That appears to be the case here as the spies report ‘The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands’ (24).

Finally, Old Testament stories are full of humour. This is not normally the belly-splitting stuff but gentle, dry irony.  Could that be true here? Joshua has been called to live by faith in the land. Here ‘sinful’ and ‘pagan’ Rahab shows what is required before ever Joshua is seriously put to the test! Thus she becomes a model and challenge to him!

With all this in mind, we can read the story more intelligently. We might gag at ‘good Christian boys’ visiting a brothel.[10]  But ethical niceties sometimes need to be set aside in the context of war and the author shows little interest in the sort of questions that may preoccupy us and lead us to miss the point of his story. Indeed, the choice of a sleazy ‘down-town joint’ where the proprietor was often ready to offer additional favours was wise. Men, not least strangers missing ‘home comforts’, would have often trod a path to her door without comment. It made a good hiding place. Further such made Rahab’s ‘yes the men came… but they left’ (4) plausible. A brothel is characterised by its quick turn-over!

Yet, although they would probably have spoken a dialect familiar to cosmopolitan Jericho, the city was (as will become still more apparent) on high alert. The spy network quickly picked up their presence and reported it to the king who took immediate action. (2,3). Here we might expect the chapter to end, but….

We are surprised by Rahab’s response. She had ‘taken the two men and hidden them’ (4, see also the repeated emphasis in verse 6) and then sent the king’s men off on a wild goose chase… Or should we be surprised? It is often said there is honour among thieves and perhaps Rahab could further her reputation as a safe haven for other visitors. Was she angling for future business?[11]

The sequel shows that the answer is yes and no! Now, in the central section of the chapter (8-15) the reason for Rahab’s rather peculiar behaviour is revealed. At nightfall, the two astonished spies are doubtless thunderstruck as Rahab shares not her body but her faith with them. It is possible that her affirmation ‘the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below’ (11) still betrays a failure to have reached a full monotheistic faith. In the circumstances her inability to dot her i’s and cross her t’s is understandable. The spies, however, were less interested to check whether her theology matched precisely with theirs! More staggering was her, ‘I know that the LORD has given this land to you’ (9). Rahab uses the past tense: as far as she is concerned the occupation has already taken place. And she knows it ‘deep down in her gut’. The verb used here implies a deep and strong conviction.

What follows demonstrates the humour of the writer. For forty years the Israelites have been wandering around the wilderness in a faithless state. In the meanwhile the significance of events forty years earlier (‘we have heard how the LORD dried up the Red Sea…’, 10) and more recent news (‘what you did to Sihon and Og’) has not been lost on the Canaanites. In fact while Israel had been frightened of the Canaanites, the latter’s ‘hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed’ (11). Jericho, at the height of its powers, was demoralised and ripe for taking. Thus a pagan prostitute proved the mouthpiece of God and reassured the spies that ‘their God was big enough for the job.’

We should not fail to admire Rahab. Schaeffer says, she was surrounded by a ‘hostile and awesome environment… she was still surrounded by a monolithic mentality, and entire world-view. She was pressured by a powerful city and an ancient culture… At the moment she could see nothing with her eyes which indicated it would fall… [Nevertheless] Rahab knew! And what she knew was totally against her culture. She believed in a new God, a God totally and diametrically opposed to the gods of Jericho… she stood for the unseen against the seen, standing in acute danger until Jericho fell’.[12]

All this, naturally, led her to seek the mercy of the LORD (12,13). Here is faith in action: she doesn’t sign the spies’ decision cards but casts herself upon the mercy of their God.[13] Small wonder she is commended in the list of heroes and heroines of faith in Hebrews 11:31!

The spies’ flight is described in a very matter-of-fact way: it is presented as scarcely more that necessary background information (15,16,22). What is far more important is that (while apparently hanging on the rope!) the spies affirm that should Rahab meet the conditions her family will be embraced within the ‘family’ of Israel and treated just as they would be (17-21). Hence we are given a gentle reminder that Old Testament religion was not so much racial as religious. As with Ruth, Rahab had ‘come to take refuge’ (Ruth 2:12) under the LORD’s wings and was reckoned as a true Israelite.[14]

And then the climax of the chapter (24)! The spies return and report Rahab’s words in the form usually adopted for a prophetic oracle! Thus encouraged, Joshua is surely ready for action.[15]

3:1-17:  Life on the Threshold

What a story! Hundreds of years, generations of longing, many years in slavery and living as nomads in the desert: but now…... Israel is on the threshold of the land of promise. Having moved from ‘Shittim’ (eight miles from the Jordan), and following an early start, the people are camped on its banks.[16] The promised land is merely a mile away, its mountains and oases in full view (1,2). God is faithful.

But ‘three days’ wait (2) must have seemed a long time: enough to impress on the people the hopelessness of their situation![17] During the ‘harvest’ (15) the Jordan changes character. At other times of the year it is a narrow, easily fordable channel, only a 100 metres wide. However, in the autumn the wider channel, clogged with bushes can be filled up to 15 metres in depth. Moreover, the steep descent from Galilee to the Dead Sea makes it a raging torrent, impassible to the most intrepid.

At which point we are introduced to the ‘ark of the covenant’ (3). Up till now the ark has taken something of a back seat. Israel has been led by the cloud and fire. But just as the manna seems to have ceased, so the cloud now appears to have withdrawn. From now on, and for centuries, the ark will be the symbol of God’s presence in the midst of his people, kept by its custodians, ‘the priests, who are Levites’.

In the meanwhile, it appears that the LORD had already revealed his plans to Joshua (3,4) and the people are stationed ‘about a thousand yards’ away (4); apparently to get a grandstand view of what is about to happen.

One final act of preparation is required: ‘consecrate yourselves’ (5). The precise reason for this is unclear. Some suggest that it emphasises that co-operation and obedience to God’s will are necessary to enjoy God’s victory. This is, of course, true (as chapter 7 will shortly demonstrate). However, perhaps the focus is rather different here. Thus, Davis comments, ‘it is crucial that Israel recognise that what happens is indeed Yahweh’s work; and unless they have the proper insight, expectancy and preparation, they could see Yahweh’s work and yet not understand the true value and significance… God’s people must be rightly prepared for God’s “show” if they are going to appreciate it, if they are going to be fortified in faith.’[18]

I love the way the author of Joshua tells his story! Just when we are on tip-toe waiting to witness the ‘amazing things’ (5) of which Joshua has spoken, we are tantalised by having to plough through nine verses of final instructions! However, this both heightens our sense of expectancy and throws the contents of these verses into focus. Indeed, as the story unfolds we are further tantalised by the command to take the ark and ‘go and stand in the river’ (8). Why? We must wait to find out. Meanwhile we might be frustrated by this, but the author has something important to share. What, then might this be?

First of all, the ark and the importance of the faithful service of those with responsibility for it is emphasised (6,8, see also 15). What will take place is the LORD’s work. Secondly, what follows would offer the people the credentials to follow Joshua confidently in the future (7). Effective work demands confidence in the leadership. Thirdly, the people are assured that the promises that the LORD has made in the past are about to become reality: they are on the extreme edge of history in God’s making (9-11). Fourthly, Joshua’s ‘certainly’ (10) and the mute obedience of the priests demonstrates confidence in God’s word and that the lessons of the past have been learned. Here they appear as exemplary leaders for the people following them.

And then, a further stalling tactic! Twelve men are set apart for an unspecified task before…... an incredible miracle is predicted, to the second, in advance: ‘as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD - the LORD of all the earth - set foot in the Jordan, the water flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap’ (14).

The miracle is, however, described in a very matter-of-fact way. There is something rather anti-climactic in the simple chronicle that follows (14-17). But then what did we expect of the ‘Lord of all the earth’? Surely nothing less that absolute fidelity to his word!

Of course, the previous generation had been consecrated, miraculously brought through the waters of the Red Sea. But, faithless, they had died in the wilderness. How will the next generation fare? Read on!

4:1-24: Oh No! Two Church Meetings!

I abominate meetings! I like to get on with the action. So what, on earth, is Joshua doing calling two ‘church meetings’ (1-18, 19-24)?[19] Yet we need to pause, as Israel did. We are beginning to learn that the author of this book tells the story his way: but always to a point. So why these two stories?

First of all we are reminded of the obscure reference in 3:12 to the appointment of twelve men. Here they are given a ‘job description’: to ‘take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan… and put them down at the place where you stay tonight’ (3).

To what purpose? Joshua spells it out (4-7). Simply it is that ‘Getting through the river isn’t the end of it all; you must remember what happened there.’[20] To help the ‘little grey cells’ Joshua resorts to a favoured strategy. Throughout the book memorials are set up as visible reminders and places of pilgrimage so that neither those who experienced what happened there, nor those that followed, could forget their history. This was important. What took place that day embraced all the Israelites (hence ‘twelve men ... from each tribe’, 4), both present and future (‘In the future, when your children ask you’, 6). It was a living ‘memorial’ (7), an aide memoire, of the mighty redemptive acts of the LORD of the covenant. After all, it is our memories that so often let us down in the life of faith. Of course, the LORD is not in the habit of doing these things: that is why what is stressed here is the importance of faithfully recalling and witnessing to what he has already done.

Preachers are often encouraged to make the same point in a number of different ways for the sake of emphasis. Yes! I too have suffered where it is overdone… and yet repetition does help us avoid missing an important point. The fact that verses 8-18 are a bit repetitive should, therefore, encourage us to listen; something critical is being communicated. Time and again, these verses emphasise obedience: ‘so the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them’ (8), the priests and people did ‘everything the LORD had commanded Joshua’ (10, see also the example in 15-18). Above all ‘The LORD said to Joshua’ and so ‘Joshua commanded the priests’ (15,16). Here then is community where from the senior leader, through the other leaders and to the people, fidelity to God’s words is the ‘core value’.

But not all is repetition. We are given (again in a matter-of-fact way) further details of the crossing. All the emphasis here lies upon the fundamental inactivity of the people. The ark was centre stage (it is mentioned five times in eleven verses). It was the LORD who was at work. All the people did was that they ‘hurried over’ (10). You bet they did! What an exciting day: rushing through the river-bed to place their feet upon the promised land. Another day there will be work to do. Here the LORD, and he alone, is at work!

In the midst of all this God’s promise to Joshua was fulfilled (14) and he was ‘exalted… in the sight of all Israel’ (compare 3:7). Interestingly, in the latter passage Joshua was promised exaltation like that of Moses. However, Moses leadership had been accompanied by a lot of ‘aggro’ down the years. Joshua seems to have largely escaped this, but then it is the LORD’s way to exceed his promises!

‘Church’ Meeting No. 2 (and be warned! several more are coming up in chapter 5) is found in verses 19-24. Yet neither this meeting nor those that preceded or follow is what you would normally expect of a military commander before engaging in war!

The early verses are a bit of a puzzle. Which stones are these? Were there two memorials or one?[21] In a study such as this one can leave the details to the scholars. Two points are, however, of interest. As 5:11-12 will emphasise, this was the season of the Passover. This meeting appears, therefore, to be preparatory to the events of chapter 5. The Passover had symbolised how an unholy people, covered by the blood of the lamb, might know God’s friendship and see his mighty power. Forty years later a new generation, who had now experienced a repeat of the Red Sea and the fulfillment of the Exodus, needed to be reminded of some very basic truths (20-23)! The stones were a start (and their importance repeatedly stressed), but there were other important lessons to learn before the people, within sight of the city of ‘Jericho’ and on its ‘eastern border’ (19) could deal with problem no. 1.

Secondly, God ‘performs his acts before the forum of the peoples’.[22]  But he does this not merely to flabbergast his enemies but ‘so that you might always fear the LORD your God’ (24). Thus, remembering his works is a powerful incentive to faithfulness.

5:1-12: Yet More Meetings!

This chapter seems to commence a new section of the book, linked by similar headings (5:1; 9:1,2; 10:1,2; 11:1-3). In this case 5-12 are a major section of the book with 5-8 a sub-section. Nevertheless, it is closely linked to the preceding section by the ‘church meeting’ motif. This shows the consummate artistry of the author of the book.

The interesting thing about the first verse and its reference to the fact that the Amorites’ ‘hearts sank and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites’ is that Joshua, at this point, could not have fully known this. Indeed, as we shall see in 15-18, he seems quite uncertain as to the way ahead. So we have been let into something that the Israelites don’t know yet… They must have felt incredibly vulnerable. We, however, know a greater power was at work.

This makes what happens next remarkable. In response to the LORD’s command (1,7a,8) they undertake a painful medical operation on all the male population: such as to make them incapable of military service for at least a few days (8)! This might be ‘jeopardising everything’. [23] And why ‘flint knives’ (2)? After all Joshua was living in the Bronze Age.

The answer to these puzzles lies in the past. An ancient custom was being revived: the experience of the founder of the nation (see Gen. 17:11) repeated in his descendants. In this way the original meaning and significance of circumcision was highlighted. It referred to those who were graciously chosen by God as his people.

To unravel this further, we need to be introduced to two Hebrew word: am and goy. Both these words mean ‘people’ but they tend to be used in two slightly different ways. The latter word is usually adopted to refer to ‘pagan’ nations. The former word tends to refer to Israel as the people of God. In this chapter Israel entered the wilderness an am (4) but died a goy (6). This generation, too, remain a goy (8) until after their circumcision.

Verses 4,5 are variously understood. The allusion is to Num. 14:28-32, but it is not clear whether the neglect to administer the rite was the result of disobedience or at the direction of God. In the light of the previous paragraph the latter seems more likely. Circumcision had been withdrawn from a people who were now a goy. Verse 6a seems to favour this interpretation.

The latter part of verse 6 is slightly obscured by the NIV translation of two identical phrases by ‘the LORD had sworn’ and ‘he had solemnly promised’. The former is the better rendering. Thus, God is as faithful to his oath to provide an inheritance to Israel as he is faithful to his oath to deny access to those who had ‘not obeyed the LORD’. In a nutshell, this is the fundamental theological perspective of this book.

But now…(and this is the point of this section), a new generation are given the gracious opportunity to enter into covenant with the LORD (7). By their obedience the reproach under which they had lain since the apostacy of the previous generation is removed.[24]

In this context the Passover can now be celebrated (10), since circumcision was a precondition (Ex. 12:48a). Indeed the ultimate object of the Passover, to free a people from bondage and enable them to enjoy the full blessings of the land of promise, begins to be fulfilled here. With what joy the people must have enjoyed the ‘produce of Canaan’ and tucked into the ‘unleavened bread and roasted grain’. What a whoop of delight must have gone up when they realised there was ‘no longer any manna’ nor any need for it (11,12).

Significantly, all this is enjoyed without a military campaign. What was important was not so much military strategy but that the people were in a right relationship with the LORD. Already in a land where the inhabitants are ‘fighting shy’ Israel is enjoying the riches of the land. This is not, of course, the whole story… but it is the story at this point and it is a point that must not be missed.

Finally, we ought to note a point made by Davis. He says, ‘we must beware of thinking that God is only in the earthquake, wind and fire; of thinking that manna not grain is God’s food. Most of God’s gifts to his people are not dazzling or gaudy but wrapped in simple brown paper. Quiet provisions of safety on the highway, health of children, picking up a paycheck, supper with the family - all in an ordinary day’s work for our God.’[25]

5:13-15: Not the Person to Meet on a Dark Night!

Don’t blink or you will miss one of my favorite bits in the book of Joshua. Yet the unexpectedness of its appearance and content should, perhaps, alert us to the fact that the author is playing another of his ‘tricks’ to draw attention to the story.

Completely ‘out of the blue’ Joshua is found alone ‘near Jericho’ (13). In fact the Hebrew text uses a word that usually means in or on. Perhaps this is intended to conjour up a picture of Joshua right underneath the wall as they tower in all their impressive might above him! If so, his reconnaissance must have brought home to him the intractable nature of the problem (see 6:1). And, as he ‘looked up’ (at the walls?) he spotted a fellow soldier, armed for battle: ‘a man… with a drawn sword’.

If this was frightening, the words the man uttered were even more astonishing: I am ‘commander of the army of the LORD’ (14). Joshua’s response indicates he was quick to grasp that this was an appearance of God himself since ‘he fell face down to the ground in reverence’.[26] That he had got it right is confirmed by the man’s response where (in a clear echo of Moses’ experience of the burning bush, Ex. 3:5) Joshua is commanded to ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy’ (16).

In this context, Joshua’s questions are interesting. To ask, ‘Are you for us or our enemies?’ (13) was understandable under the walls of Jericho. The answer, however, is something of a surprise: ‘Neither’ (14). Joshua will eventually get an answer (6:2) but there are more important issues on God’s agenda. The first is surely this: the worship of God for who he is, is at the heart of a relationship with one who doesn’t simply take sides. The presence of God with his people can (as the sequel in chapters 7 and 8 will show) unleash his power against them! This is what it means for him to be ‘with’ them. Thus, in answer to the question ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’ (Joshua is still apparently hankering after guidance) the reply simply restates the reality of God’s holiness.

At the same time there was plenty to encourage Joshua. The anxious general was met by a fellow-soldier and one who was ‘commander of the army of the LORD’ (14). He had the hosts of heaven at his disposal. Perhaps, this was a reminder that he has ‘not come to take sides but take over.’[27]

Thus, before ever the campaign proper takes place and after Israel has recommitted itself to the LORD, its leader is reminded (in an awesome and unforgettable way) that there is one ready to fight… but only for his holiness and on behalf of a holy people.

6:1-27: The LORD ‘fight the Battle of Jericho’

Now for the story we have all been waiting for! This is, of course, one of the great tales of the Bible, one many of us have known from childhood. Yet, by now, we may expect a few surprises from the author: indeed familiarity may, perhaps, blind us to the rather peculiar way the story is told. Indeed most of the chapter seems occupied with rather secondary and background material.

Nevertheless, there can be little doubt of the challenge Israel faced (1)! Jericho was a frontier town, a key Canaanite city and a powerful fortress. It was probably regarded as impregnable: especially now it was bolted and barred.[28]

But such was to leave the LORD out of account: always a hazardous business! Despite its ‘king and mighty men’ (2) the LORD’s work was as good as ‘done and dusted’: note the ‘I have delivered’ which stresses it is his work and, from his perspective, can be spoken of in the past tense!

Meanwhile, however, it did not appear like it! Moreover, the LORD proceeded to give the most bizarre instructions to Joshua (2-5): but then God’s sense is not always ‘common sense’.

The next part of the story is interesting. Joshua passes on an expanded version of the LORD’s instructions (6-11) but it is far from clear that he explained to the people what they could expect: nor that they would be required to repeat the process.

In the circumstances, it is difficult not to admire the people. Day after day (12-14) the people silently go about this strange and apparently purposeless ritual. While it might have been faintly disquieting to the inhabitants of Jericho, the impact of the journey is more likely to have discouraged the Israelites. Quite apart from the words of scorn that doubtless echoed from the wall of Jericho, there would have been the rather unpleasant items that besieged people tend to throw over the walls at passing pedestrians! Above all, the sheer folly to overcome a well-equipped and defended city by a group of nomads who could only stretch to rams horns (the best rendering of ‘trumpets’ ) must have become apparent…. and drawn barbed comment. On the seventh day, this must have appeared even more so as time and again the people traipsed around the walls: despite Joshua’s now cheering words (15-19).

But, before we read what happened, we need to note the rather strange way the story has been told. Verse 6-13, describe the first day… then everything speeds up and five further days are dismissed in a single verse (14). Then, just when we expect the denouement, the author records another speech: another of his ‘delaying tactics.’ Yet that is surely the point. For the author, these verses are the most important in the chapter. The outcome of the battle is certain: described with the utmost, matter-of-fact brevity (20). If Jericho is not taken it will not be the LORD’s failure: but the absence of humble trust in the people and faithful obedience to his instructions.

And surely this is the point that is re-emphasised in the final verses (22-27): the interweaving of the sacking and defeat of Jericho with the deliverance of Rahab and her family.[29] For this story is a triumph not simply of Joshua or the people’s faith but of her’s too. But it was not Joshua who ‘fit the battle of Jericho’: the author rejects such a man-centred theology. It was the LORD whose victory was witnessed by a people of faith. And such a God was to be feared among all those who came in contact with him or his servants (27).

Finally, since this was the LORD’s battle, the spoils were his (18,19): the people must wait for their turn. Meanwhile the site was symbolically cursed (see Deut. 13:16): a permanent reminder (another one of Joshua’s ‘pilgrim’ sites) of the fate of all those who depart from a covenant relationship with God.

7:1-26: Down with a Bump

After the heady experiences at Jericho, Israel is immediately plunged into the depths of disillusionment, despair, confusion and defeat!

In order to help us understand the point of this chapter, the author has provided us with three ‘keys’ to unlock its meaning. First of all, he lets us into a secret of which the actors in the story were, at first, unaware: ‘But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things’ (1). We are even told the culprit’s name, ‘Achan’, and the LORD’s response ( his ‘anger burned against Israel’ ).

Secondly, he carefully crafts his story around another chiasmus. Davis illustrates it is this way:

Yahweh’s wrath (burning), 1

  Disaster for Israel - defeat, 2-5

    Leaders before Yahweh - perplexity, 6-9

      Divine revelation of problem, 10-12a

        Mid-point, 12b

      Divine instruction for resolution, 13-15

    Israel before Yahweh - clarity/exposure, 16-23

  Disaster for Achan - execution, 24-26a

Yahweh’s wrath (turned away), 26b[30]

This structure will assist the interpretation of the chapter.

Thirdly, just as verse 1, lets us ‘into a secret’, the final verse indicates all this is an ‘object lesson’.

With this in mind, we can explore the chapter.

If the Canaanite prostitute acted faithfully, here someone who should have known better, an Israelite, ‘took some [of]... the devoted things’ (1). But Joshua is completely unaware of this….

Thus, he goes about his routine business as military commander. As before (chapter 2), spies are sent ahead (2) and their report emphasises the insignificant nature of the task immediately ahead (‘ not all the people will have to go up’, 3). Joshua respects their knowledge and advice and only ‘three thousand men went up’ (4). Some query Joshua’s strategy here: they suggest that Joshua acted without any command from God, with self-confidence and prayerlessness. But we should be careful not to read into the story something that is not there. We actually have no reason to suppose that Joshua hadn’t done these things (others would do all these things later and still suffer defeat: see Judges 20). Nevertheless, the troops were ‘routed’ (4), casualties occured with ‘thirty six… killed’ (5) and the people were demoralised (‘the hearts of the people melted’, 5).

Small wonder, Joshua ‘tore his clothes and fell face down to the ground’ and all credit to him (and ‘the elders’) that he took his bewilderment to ‘the ark of the LORD’ (6). In the despair of uncomprehending faith (7)[31] he accuses the LORD of letting his people (7), Joshua (8) and the LORD’s own honour down (9).[32]

The LORD’s response must have initially given Joshua a shock: it certainly lacked the ‘pastoral touch’. Thus, he says, ‘Stand up. What are you doing down on your face?’ (10). Joshua had to learn that there ‘is a time to be on bended knees before God but this was not it.’[33] However, grace and mercy quickly follows as the LORD reveals that ‘Israel has sinned’ (11), this is the reason for their defeat (12a) and, the crunch, ‘I will not be with you any more unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction’ (12b). The LORD does not leave Joshua in the dark… but he does emphasise action is required to deal with a serious issue! This, as Davis’ analysis above indicates, is the critical point of this chapter.

Familiar as many of us are with this story, we ought to pause at this point. Joshua is told that the people have sinned, whereas we know that Achan is the culprit! The point that is being made, however, is that the contamination of a part effects the contamination of the whole. Further, Israel had to learn that to retain the LORD’s presence required they took absolute fidelity to all that he required with the utmost seriousness. The LORD is not a talisman!

So action is demanded (13-15) which stresses the ‘complete purity among God’s people as a prerequisite for covenant fellowship between the people and their God.’[34] Indeed, the Hebrew word translated ‘disgraceful thing’ (15) is usually used in the context of sexual sin. Thus, Israel’s action is seen as spiritual adultery that breaks the ‘marriage’ covenant between the LORD and his people.

Again, to Joshua and the people’s credit, they do not ‘beat about the bush’. They act immediately, follow the LORD’s instructions to the letter and Achan is forced out into the open and exposed as the culprit (16-18).[35]

Joshua’s response is remarkable. Whatever his personal hurts, the pain of bereavement of the unnecessary loss, or his sense of outrage for others, his words are tender: ‘my son’ (19) and they do not dwell upon his feelings but the LORD’s honour.

This evokes Achan’s confession in which, the psychological process of sin is ‘set forth masterfully’:[36] ‘I saw… I coveted… I took’ (20, 21). The items that attracted Achan were a substantial horde of ‘silver’, a large ingot of ‘gold’[37] and a sumptuously woven, princely-style, ‘robe’ such as were known among the chic and wealthy in the ancient world (20,21). Wealth and honour had snared him. However, pathetically, Achan indicated he could not really enjoy them: ‘they are hidden in the ground inside my tent’ (21). Thus Edersheim says, ‘How miserable the whole thing must have sounded in his own ears, when he had put the facts of his sin into naked words; how paltry the price at which he had sold himself, when it was brought into broad sunlight.’[38]

Prompt and fully obedient, but highly painful action is taken: such is the cost of faithfulness to the LORD (22-26). Sin required radical surgery not a plaster! Both Achan and those implicated in his sin (he could not have hidden the items without their knowledge) were ‘stoned’ by the whole community (‘all Israel’) since they all needed to unite in rejecting sin. The heaping up of ‘a large pile of rocks’ was a common way of dealing with criminals (rather like a gibbet in later times) and was a way of exposing infamy and offering a warning to others. Burning was an act of purification: a symbolic destruction of the contagion cause by sin. The name given to the place, ‘the Valley of Achor’, was a permanent reminder of the disaster that had befallen Israel there. Only then, ‘the Lord turned from his fierce anger’ (26).

So even the ‘new’ generation of the people were as susceptible to temptation as that which fell in the wilderness. Any sense of superiority that might have existed up to this point is exposed for the folly it is! Israel had been warned… how would they respond?

8:1-29: The Grace of the LORD’s Forgetfulness

We have now become familiar with the thoughtful and skilled manner in which the author of Joshua tells his story. Faced, then, with the rather peculiar structure of this chapter, we are bound to look for the rationale behind the way the tale is told and, in that way, discover the point it is making.

Sometimes a ‘zoom lens’ technique is helpful in studying a passage. That is true here. At the beginning of chapter 5 we noted that 5-8 are ‘marked off’ as a section by the similar introductory formulae in 5:1 and 9:1. The present passage, therefore, brings this section to an end. This seems to thrust 8:30-35 into the limelight as a mini-conclusion. The fact that the content of these verses is unexpected (we expect more ‘ripping yarns’ of victory) seems to further highlight these verses. In addition to this, there is something of a pattern discernible in chapters 5-9. The stories begin and end with Israel at worship (5:2-12; 8:30-36). Within this envelope there are two accounts of Israelite victories (5:13-6:27; 8:1-29) with the centre-piece being the defeat at Ai (7:1-26).  This establishes two parallels in this chapter: 8:1-29 with 5:14-6:27 and 8:30-35 with 5:2-12. Thus 8:1-29 parallel the victory over Jericho.

But this is not all. 8:1-29 also contains a ‘panel’ structure in which two parts of the chapter correspond to one aonther. Davis, again, helpfully identifies it in the following way:

Reassurance from Yahweh, 1-2

  Instructions to the ambush, 3-9

    Joshua and all Israel go up, 10-13

      “Victory” over Ai, 14-17

Direction from Yahweh, 18

  Action of the ambush, 19-20

    Joshua and all Israel turn back, 21-23

      Defeat of Ai, 24-27

(Summary, 28, 29)[39]     

Since this is so, 1,2 and 18 are thrust into prominence and provide the key to the understanding of the rest of the material.

The moment we start reading this chapter we sense we are hearing echoes. Thus the first verse, with its reassurance ‘Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged’ brings 1:9 back to mind and ‘I have delivered into your hands’ reminds us of 6:2. It is possible that ‘Take the whole army with you’ is a veiled criticism of Joshua’s conduct in 7:3,4. Perhaps, more likely, it is a way of stopping Israel glorying in their own achievements. Certainly, the repetition of earlier promises without any mention or concession to recent events is a message of grace since the words indicate God is ready once again to fight for his people (not against them). And the victory is secure: once again the past tense is used!

Verse 2 strikes, however, a different note. In contrast to 6:18,19 the spoils of Ai may be appropriated: ‘except that you may carry off the plunder and livestock for yourselves.’ Achan’s covetousness was unnecessary: the LORD is no one’s debtor… but he does expect the firstfruits.

The story then begins to take a different turn from the ‘battle of Jericho’. Here the people have a more active role: ‘Set an ambush behind the city’ (2). Thus, the following verses (3-8) describe careful planning and a thoroughly thought-out strategy by Israel’s commander: within the parameters of what the LORD had commanded, of course!

Israel was having to learn that God does not always work in the same way. God was also ‘letting the people in lightly’. Thus, at Jericho they did nothing, here they have to learn to flex their muscles… what will come next?

The details of the combat described here are confusing (but then warfare often is) and has taxed scholars down the centuries. But this confusion should not become a distraction. Slowly, but surely, with the steady but emphatic plod of a village policeman, the inevitable is described. Thus, and artistically, the glory of the LORD is praised.

And the story is told twice: or at least (as noted above) there are two parallel sections. Thus, in verse 18, which commences the second part the LORD’s command and Joshua’s immediate response is recorded. Again, the LORD’s specific guidance is ‘filled out ‘by Joshua’s initiative and the people’s sterling efforts and success achieved ‘as the LORD had instructed Joshua’ (27).

So Ai is defeated, another community overthrown. It becomes another barren site with no inhabitants but the birds of prey and the memorial to another cursed man, whose earthly remains lie under a monument to the folly of failure to follow the LORD.[40] Ai is forsaken, under the curse of the LORD: but not to be forgotten: the stones a perpetual reminder of the call to obedience and the folly of unbelief.[41] Indeed, this is highlighted throughout these verses. Without the LORD on their side, the inhabitants of Ai demonstrate their ignorance (14), stupidity (16-17) and naivety (20-28).

8:30-35: Back to Basics

And so the present section that commenced at 5:1 comes to a close and fitting climax. Shechem, not named here,[42] was in the locality of ‘Mount Ebal’ and ‘Mount Gerizim’ (33) and was about 20 miles from Ai, a couple of days walk. While some speculate that this was undertaken as a sort of tactical retreat for military reasons, it seems preferable to see the choice as dictated by religious factors. In fact, it was near this city that Abraham had first received the promise of the land (Gn. 12: 6-7), where Jacob had been restored from a period of backsliding and buried the family gods (Gn. 33-34). What better choice for the people who have lived to see the promises fulfilled and, themselves, need to recognise their recent failures and the call to abandon all for the LORD! Above all, however, the LORD had commanded it (Dt. 27): and Israel is anxious to be faithful.

Knowing our author by now, we are not surprised that his language is saturated with Scripture. Thus the ‘altar’ (after the model given in Ex. 20:24) is set up and, the sacrifices that accompanied the covenant ceremony on Sinai are offered. Indeed the whole account is something of a repetition of Sinai. Such an altar was designed to celebrate the fact that ‘grace reigns through righteousness’.[43]

This is emphasised by the different offerings (31). The ‘burnt offerings’ were a substitutionary offering to God on behalf of sinners. The ‘fellowship offerings’ celebrating friendship with the LORD. Here then, at the LORD’s ‘dining table’ the family are reconciled and able to ‘break bread’ together.

But those, thus reconciled, must listen to Father-God. Thus, the law was copied on what were probably plastered pillars (32), ‘all the words of the law’, including ‘the blessings and the curses’ (34), were read to the entire community: ‘including women, children, and the aliens’ (35).

Thus, after the initial skirmishes in the land and the positive and negative lessons that the people have learned, this is re-enforced by the covenant renewal ceremony. Israel is reminded that there is no God like theirs: one who is full of grace, faithful to his promises and embraces his people as his family. At the same time, they are reminded that one of the privileges of family life is discipline: and their Father-God is holy and seeks holiness in his people: a holiness demonstrated in their wholehearted obedience to his word; all of them… and to every word!

9:1-27: A Blessed Mess!

We noted above that 5:1-8:35 were united together as a section by the structure of the narrative and the way in which the ‘introductory formula’ about the ‘kings’ of the Canaanites having ‘heard’ of Joshua’s exploits occurs in 5:1,2 and 9:1,2. In the same way, the following two chapters are both divided from the immediately surrounding chapters and united in the larger section running from 5:1-12 to 12:24 (the description of the conquest) by the same formulae. Indeed, 9:1,2 anticipates 10:1-43 but, in a manner typical of the author of Joshua, tension and expectation are heightened by including a very different type of story: the submission of the Gibeonites.

But why? This is where some detective work is again necessary and where we need to be careful that we do not become preoccupied with our questions but listen to the text. Several things are, indeed, striking. First of all, the Gibeonites (who, as 10:2 notes were an efficient fighting unit) are contrasted with the other peoples of the neighbourhood. Thus, ‘the kings ... came together to make war’ (1,2) whereas the Gibeonites ‘resorted to a ruse’ (3) so as to establish a ‘treaty’ with Israel (6). Secondly, the Gibeonites then make their own confession, one that echoes that of Rahab in chapter 2, and flanks the narrative. Thus, in their initial plea they say, ‘We have heard reports of him [the LORD]: all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan’ (9,10).[44] Similarly they defend themselves with the words: ‘Your servants were clearly told how the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land…’ (24). This would appear to be given a positive ‘spin’. Finally, the Gibeonites are given responsibility to be ‘woodcutters and watercarriers’ (21) but, in the aftermath of their second confession, this is further specified as ‘for the community and the altar of the LORD at the place the LORD would choose’ (27). There, in a highly dignified role, they remained ‘to this day’ (27): never, apparently, a snare to Israel. Thus, in three separate ways, the Gibeonites seem to be presented in a positive light in this chapter.

In contrast, the confederation listed in 1,2 apparently constituted the political power-block of southern Canaan, probably supported by the Egyptians.[45] They were first mentioned in 5:1,2 paralysed with fear. Here they rouse themselves to do something but action fails to materialise and the coalition splits with the defection of the Gibeonites. Only the latter spurs them to eventual action and, probably, enables them to overcome their mutual hostilities. All in all, a pathetic picture of sin and its effects.

The rest of the story is fairly self explanatory: at least at a surface level. Meanwhile, however, we are left with all our questions. For example, were the Gibeonites right to do what they did? Certainly, the Israelites disapproved. Thus Joshua says, ‘Why did you deceive us…?’ (22). But having been ‘conned’ he was bound to say this! What, then, did the author think? Here verse 4 is interesting when it says the Gibeonites ‘resorted to a ruse’. The Hebrew word used here has a range of meanings. It is used of the serpent in Gen. 3:1 where it is translated ‘crafty’ in the NIV. However, it frequently occurs in the book of Proverbs in a positive sense of wise decision-making. Could the author intend to be ambiguous? Might he be pointing out that life is often messy: reminding us that sometimes we need to be ‘wise as serpents’?

And what about Joshua and the Israelites? Is it significant that they did ‘not inquire of the LORD’ (14)?[46] Might this indicate a failure on Joshua’s part, especially in the light of Num. 27:21? Yet, Israel had asked the right questions and applied the obvious tests (8,9, 14,15). Indeed, the Gibeonites had offered tangible evidence, a realistic report and a spiritual testimony: all of which must have struck a chord.[47]  Should the Israelites have not used their minds and only sought the LORD?

Answers to these questions seem as many as the commentators who have written about them! Certainly, the context hints that a mistake took place; but what was it? The passage is, variously, seen as evidence that no course of conduct can be so clear as to excuse seeking direction from the LORD, that we need to avoid a cocksure attitude that means we fail to detect our subtle enemies, that victory can be turned into defeat through complacency, that when committed we are most vulnerable to deception, that we need both common sense and the Spirit of God and that neglect of prayer weakens discernment… Perhaps the author leaves his story deliberately vague to invite such reflection!

What is, apparently, commended is the leaders refusal to take the easy way out when their error is exposed (16-21): ‘we have given them our oath before the LORD’ (19) was determinative of their conduct. Yet should even this always be so?

All of which brings us full circle. The chapter is full of questions, tells a story that leaves lots of messy loose ends and describes a very human tale: full of the frailties associated with sinful humanity. At the same time it commends the Gibeonites! In fact the overwhelming message of this chapter is that the LORD is a ‘missionary’ God. It is not on the basis of race but of commitment to the LORD that his people are to be defined. Thus Achan and his family are ‘out’ while Rahab, her family and the Gibeonites are ‘in’. However, they got there, the Gibeonites are clearly regarded as rightfully there before the altar of the LORD.

Consequently, there is grace here! Mistakes were made but, amid all the confusion, the Gibeonites did find themselves a privileged place within the community of Israel and in the service of the LORD who does not wish any who seek him to perish.

10:1-43: Credit where Credit is Due

This chapter finds itself structurally defined by the two introductory formulae of 10:1 and 11:1. But what a peculiar chapter it is! It begins with one of the most remarkable stories in the whole of the Bible (1-29); only to end with the first installment of one of the many ‘boring’ lists in Joshua (30-43). To the first reader, however, such the latter would have been far from boring and, overall, the message of the chapter would have accelerated the heart beat… for here something of vital and exciting significance to their past was being retold.

Up till now the Israelites have had it easy: Jericho fell down, Ai was an insignificant provincial town and the Gibeonites had given up without a fight! However, this has secured a wedge of territory in the middle of Canaan and the southern cities are in danger of being isolated. Thus, the situation changes… big time. Enraged, and, understandably, ‘very much alarmed’ at the capitulation of the Gibeonites (who, hitherto, had been part of the coalition’s crack troops: ‘all its men were good fighters’ 2), the confederation of Egyptian-backed cities based around Jerusalem are aroused to action.[48] The size of the threat is probably emphasised in two ways: first, by repetition (3-5). The Israelites are no longer playing war games: this is serious, the ‘big boys’ are threatened. Secondly, however, we are struck that Gibeon, with its strong standing army, sends word saying ‘quickly… save us! Help us’ (6). Indeed the reference to ‘the Amorite kings from the hill country’ may be a veiled reference to ‘crack’ troops.[49]

So Joshua prayed…. well no he didn’t! Sometimes action not prayer is the answer when the way ahead is clear. Joshua had an obligation to the Gibeonites and so he ‘marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men’ (7). Granted, the LORD encourages him: but the words are old and familiar ones: ‘Do not be afraid…I have given them into your hand’ (8). This is little more than an invitation to trust an old promise, but in a new and far more threatening situation. Gradually, the LORD is discipling his people for ever greater challenges.

The following story is well known and scarcely needs retelling. However, as with many familiar stories familiarity can breed contempt or, at least, cause us to miss the point. Several things stand out in the verses 8-21. First of all, the LORD expected Joshua to think for himself and take action. Thus, we are told that ‘After an all-night march… Joshua took them by surprise’ (9). Nevertheless, and secondly, ‘The LORD threw them into confusion… The LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel… Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!’ (10, 12, 14). For all Joshua’s efforts (and they are not minimised) they would have been in vain if the LORD was not fighting with Israel: Ai had proved that. Thirdly, while Joshua’s prayer is remarkable (‘sun, stand still’, 12)[50] emphasis still lies on the LORD who is the subject of all the verbs in verses 10-12. Joshua is not the hero of the story: the LORD is! Finally, the victory was overwhelmingly complete (16-21). The insurmountable enemy and its cities is routed: ‘Joshua destroyed them completely’ (20, see also 27).

Meanwhile the kings of the five confederated cities had been discovered and captured (16-18) pending the end of the battle. Afterwards (and how the author relishes repeating ‘the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon… these kings’, 23,24), they are slain ‘and left hanging on the trees until evening’ (26). Such would have emphasised that they were cursed: and their final resting place would have been a warning to others not to rebel against the LORD (27). Before this, however, the leaders of Israel were called upon to ‘put your feet on the necks of these kings’ (24) as a sort of promise that ‘This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you are going to fight’ (25).

Hence the final verses! The victory just described was but the first of a long campaign: but one in which, as predicted, victory was succeeded by victory until ‘Joshua subdued the whole region’ (40). Thus, not only was the centre of the land secured but, now, all the territory to the south was too, and all that was need was for the tribes to undertake the ‘wiping up’ operations. No wonder every next battle is loving and awesomely recorded by the author as an act of worship!

Indeed, credit is given where credit is due: ‘Joshua conquered… because the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel’ (42). Thus Pink says, ‘There is no magnifying the human instrument, no paying homage to the national hero, but, instead, a placing of the glory where it rightfully belongs.’[51]

11:1-23 The Big One

This chapter continues the description of Joshua’s victories. It does so is such a ‘laid back’ manner, omitting all the details that might have made it interesting, so that it is possible we miss the fact that some very important truths are being communicated.

The final verse of the chapter is the provisional conclusion of the first half of the book of Joshua (the full conclusion is reached in the following chapter). Simply, and in a very matter-of-fact manner, we are told ‘the land had rest from war’ because ‘Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed’ (23)

The steady progress of the previous verses has, inexorably, led up to this. In words that are carefully crafted to reflect God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 15:18-21) and Moses (Ex. 3:8, 17), the LORD fulfils his promises to the letter. The very understated way the story is told is surely intended to communicate the thought ‘well he would, woudn’t he!’

In the meanwhile, however, the chapter also stresses that to do this, the LORD accomplishes the humanly impossible. In chapter 10, we noted that Israel was faced with a ‘real’ enemy for the first time. In this chapter, they face a superpower! There they subdued the substantial powers in the south of the land, here they are faced with the northern coalition.

Archaelogical studies have confirmed the picture hinted at in the early verses. ‘Hazor’ (1) was one of the megalopolis’ of the ancient world. The size of the ruins suggests it could have contained a population of 40,000 people: larger than the population of London until the last few centuries. But that is not all. It was the centre of a massive federation of city states (10) that were capable of raising a vast army: ‘as numerous as the sand on the seashore’ (4). Such were equipped with the most sophisticated military hardware of the ancient world, ‘a large number of horses and chariots’ (4), and had placed themselves, strategically, in the best defensive position ‘at the waters of Merom’ (5). In the face of this Israel was an ant engaged in battle with an elephant! The situation was hopeless.[52]

In the previous chapter (10:8) the LORD merely repeated his earlier promises and encouraged Joshua to use his particular abilities as a military strategist. Here the story is different and Joshua is given specific instructions: ‘You are to hamstring their horses and burn their chariots’ (6). Throughout this book we have discovered that the LORD does not use an inflexible method: but whichever way he adopts, he leads his faithful people to victory!

And so it proved (6-15). Hazor and all the surrounding cities are razed to the ground (10,11), ‘totally destroyed’ and plundered (12-15).  Just as God had said to Moses (note this point is repeated 12,15,20, 23) so he delivered. Thus ‘although the narrative almost has the form of a chronicle, it does not fail to note that the credit for the victories belonged to the LORD.’[53]

The one great victory is followed by a brief description of what was a ‘long’ campaign (18): perhaps as much as seven years.[54] Victory was won over the long-haul: doubtless amid privation, danger, fear, uncertainty and disappointment. The LORD was rewarding faithfulness, endurance and stickability… even in an octogenarian!

In all this, the LORD demonstrated that the worst fears of the Israelites were unnecessary. Joshua, we

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