Monday, February 15, 2010

Joshua 13-24: Dividing the Land

Sorry I got behind again!  I'm going to finish Joshua today, but I might take a little more time with Judges.

So what happens now is that the promised land starts to get divided among the twelve tribes.  And that takes seven chapters.

In chapter 13 we see a list basically of what people/places have been conquered and driven out of the land, and which have not.  So there are some pagan cities and peoples who have not even been touched yet.  We also review that Moses promised land in Gilead to Gad, Reuben, and half the people of Manasseh, which they can now go back to because they kept their promise to help the rest of Israel fight the Canaanites.

In chapter 14, Caleb asks Joshua for a certain piece of land.  I really appreciate Caleb here.  He is basically Joshua's number 2 guy, although not officially (I don't think), and he's the only other person Joshua's age who's still alive because he was the guy who thought they could take on Canaan way back when the 12 spies were sent out and 10 of them were chicken.  I'm sure he does have a right to his choice of land.  Now, I get the feeling that if this had been Aaron or Miriam, they'd have griped and complained behind Moses' back by now, but Caleb doesn't do that.  He just goes to Joshua and makes his request.  Simple, bold, radical - the direct approach is generally always best.

So then for the next several chapters, we read what the borders of each of the territories are, and what cities are included in them.  I have to admit, this part got pretty dry.  I mean, do we really need to know exactly what Judah's western border is in explicit detail?  Well, I guess Judah needed to know.  Maybe it was written down like this so they wouldn't have border disputes later on, or maybe they just liked to record things.  Anyway, I'm sure there's a good reason as to why all this is in the Bible; it's just not very interesting for me to read.  I suppose if I were an archaeologist, it would be much more interesting because I would know what all these places are.  Kind of like how the genealogies are a little more interesting for me to read because I'm something of a genealogy buff.

By the time we get to chapter 20, all the land's been divvied up, and now it's time to designate six cities of refuge (we've read about those several times now).  I wonder why there are only six of them?  I guess they were planning on not having a whole lot of manslaughter-ers in the area, or maybe this just made it easier to keep track of who could and couldn't go where.  Anyway, in chapter 21 we see that there are 48 cities total that are just for the Levites to live in, and those are spread across the whole nation since Levi doesn't have their own section of land.

There's a great little addendum at the end of this chapter, once all the land has been given out: it says that the LORD gave Israel all the land He promised them, and that He gave them peace all around, and that not one of His promises to them failed to come true.  Isn't that just lovely to read? I think it is.  This stuff that we've been reading about since Genesis about promised land and a nation as numerous as the stars and all that - for the first time, it actually exists.  The nation of Israel is now more than a theoretical concept.  All the laws that God's been giving them for the last three books about "when you enter the land, do this," they can now do.  It's great.

So then something weird happens.  Once the tribes that live on the east side of the Jordan go back to their places, they rig up an altar.  Now, if you remember from a few entries ago, they weren't supposed to sacrifice stuff just any old place but only in the place God said.  So all the other tribes get really freaked out about it and march on Gilead.  What?  Well, for once the people are really concerned about doing things God's way, that's what.  They've just barely settled into the land, and they don't want anybody screwing it up for them.  Luckily, there's nothing to worry about.  The Reubenites and Gadites and Manassehites (?) have only put this altar thing up as a memorial to remind them that they belong to Israel, and so that their descendants and the other tribes' descendants will know that they're really part of each other and serve the same God, although there's a big river in between them.  So the other tribes say "false alarm!" and go back home.  I just find this really interesting.  After more than 40 years of people doing things their way and not giving a rip about what God wants, this generation is really committed to keeping God's laws.  If only it would last.

By this time, Joshua is an old dude.  He knows it's just about his time to go, so he gathers the elders together for a farewell address, like Moses did.  He urges them, just like Moses did, to remember the LORD and obey Him and teach their children to do likewise.  He reviews their history - everything that God has done, all the battles He's won for them and the good land that He's given them.  This is where that famous verse is: "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."  And the people respond to this, "We'll serve the LORD too!"  Joshua says "yeah right, you're going to turn away from Him."  The people say "No, we really will serve God."  So Joshua says "Okay, don't say I didn't warn you."  And he writes, presumably, the book we are now reading.

Finally, Joshua dies at age 110, which means the last paragraph wasn't written by Joshua.  We find out that Israel did indeed serve the LORD all during Joshua's lifetime, and during the lifetime of the people who immediately succeeded Joshua.  I don't know if that is when this little postscript was added, or if it was written later, because it doesn't tell us what Israel does after Joshua's successors die.  We'll find out very soon though, as we move into Judges.

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