Monday, February 1, 2010

Joshua 1-6: We're Goin' to the Promised Land!

Okay, does anybody else read the story of Jericho with the music to Veggie Tales' Josh and the Big Wall running through their mind?  I do.  "You silly little pickle, you silly little peas, you think that walking 'round will bring this city to its knees?"  But more on Jericho later.

We begin with God commissioning Joshua, following the death of Moses, so this book picks up right where Deuteronomy left off.  Then Joshua appears before Israel and they vow to obey him.

What interests me about this chapter, and also about the end of Deuteronomy, is the charge to Joshua to be "strong and courageous."   Including Deuteronomy 31, Joshua is told to be "strong and courageous" seven times - first by Moses, then by God, then by the people of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh.  It makes me wonder if Joshua was really not that strong and courageous of a person.  Do you ever wonder why he was Moses' successor instead of Caleb?  Caleb is mentioned more in Numbers - he's the one mentioned as speaking favorably about the promised land way back in Numbers 13, for example.  He seems to be the strong and courageous type.  But I think Joshua had been prepped to take over Moses' job because he was his assistant, and he even went up to Mt. Sinai with him.  I think God wanted somebody who was as close to Moses as he could get.  Moses wasn't strong or courageous either, and we all know how much that mattered to God.  I think that you don't have to be brave to be brave . . . I think courage is something God can give you, and something that comes when you know you're on God's side.

In chapter 2, Joshua sends spies into Jericho kind of like Moses did earlier, but he only sends in two.  Think that's a coincidence since only two of Moses' spies (including Joshua) gave a favorable report?  I don't.  Anyway, they meet a girl named Rahab; apparently she's a prostitute, although I've read that the word could also be translated as "inkeeper."  Either way, she's hospitable and she hides the men while people come looking for them, and asks that Israel spare her life and the lives of all in her family in return.  So they make a deal with her that if she puts a scarlet cord in her window, then everybody within her house will live, but if she doesn't have the cord in her window, the deal's off.  Interestingly, it says she ties the cord in her window right when the spies leave.

Then Israel crosses the Jordan River, only they cross it by God cutting off the water upstream so the people can cross it on dry land.  This seems like a completely useless miracle because we just saw mention in the last chapter of fords, meaning there is a part in the river that is really, really shallow and can be crossed without a bridge.  I don't think that the point of the miracle was practicality, though.  I think the point was to remind the Israelites of what happened at the Red Sea.  I've noticed that God often does things in pairs (you'll hear more about this after I finish Judges) - for instance, Jesus feeds 5000 people, then he feeds 4000 people.  I think it's a way of reinforcing or confirming the message.  Joshua is new in charge, just as Moses was new in charge when he led the people out of Egypt 40 years ago.  Both miracles were signs that the power of God was on this chosen leader, only Joshua didn't have 10 plagues already under his belt, which makes this miracle even more important.  This is a way for God to show people that Joshua is the guy to follow.  It's also, I think, a miracle for the sake of the people who didn't see the Red Sea parted - since, remember, that was 40 years ago.  They've grown up hearing about it, and maybe this is a way for them to experience what it may have been like to see it happen.

Chapters 4-5 are more religious and less actiony.  In chapter 4, God has Joshua make a memorial pile of stones taken out of the Jordan River - a stone to represent each tribe of Israel - so that in future generations, the descendants of these people will ask their parents why that pile of stones is there, and they'll tell their kids about the crossing of the Jordan.  It says that the pile of stones is still there "to this day."  More on that later.

In chapter 5, God tells Joshua to circumcise all the males in Israel.  For some reason, nobody has been circumcised for the last 40 years while they were traveling.  I'm really not sure why that is.  Like, Moses didn't circumcise his kid either until an angel appeared on the road to Egypt about to kill one of them, and even then his wife did it. Did Moses just have a thing about circumcision, so he never told the people to do it?  I don't know.  Or was it like a travel concession - while you're on the road you can put it off.  I have no idea.  Anyway, that's what they do in chapter 5.  But then something really cool happens.

Joshua goes outside one day and sees a guy with a drawn sword.  Joshua asks him whose side he's on, and the guy says he's not on either side; he's the captain of the LORD's army.  Cool!  You can give me battle strategy advice, right? says Joshua.  Well not really.  Joshua falls on his face - which, for future reference, is the appropriate response when you're in the presence of the LORD, as it appears was the case here, because the angelic captain has Joshua remove his shoes.  Then (moving into chapter 6) he tells Joshua how to win the battle.  Basically he doesn't have to do anything except look weird, and God will take care of the rest.  So that is what they do.

Pause for a second.  Did the captain of the LORD's army just say he wasn't on Joshua's side?  Now maybe by that he meant that he wasn't an Israelite, and that probably is what he meant.  But I always felt like it meant something else too, that God is above the temporal divisions we humans make between ourselves.  Just like we say today that God isn't a Republican or a Democrat, He's not an Israelite either, and he certainly isn't under Joshua's command.  I think that it is not so important to have God "on our side" as it is for us to be on God's side.  Think about that for a bit and see if those two perspectives lead to different conclusions.  I think they do.

I love it when God's instructions don't make sense.  Here, walk around this fortified city, as if you haven't been walking enough over the last 40 years.  Walk a complete lap once every day for six days.  On day seven, lap it seven times.  Then blow trumpets and yell.  Trust me, it'll work!  Um . . . are the walls sensitive to sound waves?  But they do it, and it does work.  When they start shouting and blowing their trumpets, the walls fall flat - that's what it says, like "timber!" fall down flat.  They've found Jericho, by the way.  It looks like it suffered from earthquake damage is what archaeologists say.  Except for this one little spot along the wall which was left intact when the rest of the walls fell.  That would be Rahab's house.  Back to her.

So Rahab kept her promise, which means that the spies (and therefore all Israel) kept their promise, and when they destroyed everything in Jericho, they let Rahab and her whole family join up with them, not as slaves but as naturalized citizens.  We later find out that Rahab marries a guy named Salmon and has a son named Boaz.  We'll meet him later.  Pretty cool, huh?  And it says that "Rahab has lived in the midst of Israel to this day."

Now, you will find the phrase about something being somewhere "to this day" repeated a lot in this book, but we don't get any sense of when "this day" is until just now when it is used of Rahab.  Notice that Rahab is a living person, so if she has lived in Israel to this day, it means "this day" is during her lifetime, dating the book of Joshua to within a few decades of this event.  Also, I think I take back what I said about Joshua not writing the last part of Deuteronomy.  Among other reasons, the wording about "to this day" is a repeated phrase that I've only seen in this book.  So maybe Joshua did write it after all.

So that's where chapter 6 ends.  I'm going to stop on the high note, because there's bad news and I want to save it for next time.


Michelle said...

As usual you have given me a fresh perspective on a classic story I thought I knew. I loved the part about us not being worried about God being on our side, but us needing to be on HIS side. The Holy Spirit really posesses your fingers as you type.

Michelle said...

PS I love that Veggie Tales episode!

Zoe said...

Thanks Michelle, that means a lot to me. A lot of the things I write, I think, are things that I heard at some point growing up but have maybe forgotten or just not thought about in a long time.

And I love Veggie Tales. Josh and the Big Wall is one of my favorites.