Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reading in Joshua This Week #1 (Chapters 1-11)

JoshuaThis week we begin reading through the book of Joshua accompanied by the commentary, Joshua, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Mark Ziese. Joshua describes the successful conquering of the land of Canaan by the 2nd generation of the redeemed slaves of Israel, and then the beginning of the process (which would take at least 200 hundred years) of settling into the land. We will look at the first half of the book here and the 2nd half in a subsequent post. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The book of Joshua continues the story of his succession from Moses and moves the story of Israel into the conquest of Canaan. Joshua is given a fresh revelation of the command to inherit the promised land and drive out the Canaanites. The key is that they stay "strong and courageous" to trust God's promises despite the circumstances. The war begins with the odd story of Joshua sending the two spies. Rahab, the harlot, is the first Canaanite encountered and she responds with faith (the deal is based on Hesed) and is saved and included in the nation of Israel with the sign of a red ribbon. This closely parallels the story of another Canaanite prostitute, Tamar. It is interesting that both major battle sections in this book begin with the enemy joining Israel instead of being destroyed. 

The question that must be freshly answered by each generation is this: is he a promise-keeper? Contemplating this question reveals that the zone between Yahweh’s intentions and life’s circumstances is hardly a no-man’s land. It is every-man’s land. Experience reveals that a loss of faith—or put more darkly, the triumph of despair—begins whenever promise is overwhelmed by circumstance. 69

If the Tamar story makes Rahab’s move from the outside to the inside of Yahweh’s people plausible, the Passover account of Exodus 12 demonstrates it completely...Rahab is about to experience a “passover” and “exodus” of her own, albeit of a backdoor variety, or—better put—a back window-hole variety! For Rahab, it is not an entrance with doorposts and lintels striped in red, but a tiny gap in a defensive wall. Language permits the possibility that this mark may consist of red paint splashed about the window-hole on the mud brick. Joshua 2.8-14, 95–96

Israel faced a formidable boundary to come into the land - the Jordan River. Chapters 3-4 tell the story of the crossing in a way that highlights God's presence providing a miraculous "dry ground" crossing just like the exit from Egypt through the Yam Suph. The ark, carried by the priests, leads the nation into battle and, when they enter the chaotic waters, they are defeated and the people cross over. In chapter 4 they memorialize the crossing with two stone monuments in Gilgal. Joshua is shown to be the "new Moses," through whom God will do miracle to give his obedient people the land.

In the case of Joshua, Yahweh’s instructions have been delivered and responded to in faith. This first great miracle with Joshua as leader has been accomplished. It may be proposed, therefore, that Joshua responds to the crossing-over event with an act of thanksgiving that literarily imitates the pattern and specific vocabulary of Moses...Joshua is just like Moses. Joshua 4.9, 121

The Jordan crossing, under the leadership of Joshua, is presented as a kind of Red Sea crossing, an act accomplished under the leadership of Moses. Both events are a testimony to Yahweh, and a reason for reverence in Canaan...Because the fathers truly experienced it, the children may truly believe it. Joshua will return to this plea again and again. Joshua 4.20-24, 128

Chapter 5 describes the first day in the land and begins the preparations for battle. The Canaanites are demoralized but instead of attacking right away Israel prepares spiritually by circumcising their sons and celebrating Passover. They realize that this battle will not be won with military tactics but by trusting God's promise, obeying His commands and following Him. In a way these acts erase the unfaithfulness of the previous generation and show that this generation is the faithful one that, thus, will enter and enjoy the land.

A contrast of two generations emerges. It is a contrast between those who exit and those who enter, between those who disobey and those who obey, and finally, between those who died landless and those who are about to become landed...circumcision is held up for examination, but oddly enough, so is the conclusion that a physical mark alone can never be the full measure of God’s people. In this, the reader is forced to grapple again with the question of what it really means to be Israel. Joshua 5.4-7, 134

Chapters 6-8 describe the conquest of Jericho and Ai. The story actually begins with the promise and commission of the "Captain of the LORD's army" at the end of chapter 5. The point is made throughout this section that YHWH is leading the army and making the plans. If Israel follows and obeys they will be successful. If not, as in the 1st battle at Ai, they will fail. In this section Israel follows the path of Abraham, now as a nation, and sees the promises made to Abraham fulfilled through the nation right before their eyes. At the end of the section they reaffirm the covenant and review God's instruction. When Israel worships and trusts God and follows his instruction they are successful.

Precious objects are to be rescued from destruction because they are sacred, holy, special. Such exceptional qualities warrant exceptional treatment, and hence a different fate. The narrator’s careful juxtaposition of these objects with Rahab and her clan are emphatically repeated (6:17–19 and 6:24–25) and advance the conclusion that a rescue effort will not only be directed toward certain objects, it will also be directed toward certain people. In this prominent example within the text of Joshua, the reader observes the journey of Rahab as she “crosses over” into the “treasury” or more specifically, into the “household” of Yahweh, a move that disturbs dullish thinking about the boundaries of “Israel.” Joshua 6.16-19, 149

Achan sins and the consequences of that sin ripple throughout all Israel. In fact, thirty-six “innocent” individuals die as a result of Achan’s choice. This example is consistent with a larger reading of the text of the Old Testament that demonstrates how the covenant life of the people of God is critical of any view that elevates the wants of self above the needs of the community. Israel is never called to be self-indulgent, self-protecting, self-accumulating, or self-absorbed. On the other hand, Israel is called to be relational, invested in community, and preoccupied with the lives of one’s neighbors. Joshua 7, 161

It is easy to visualize the ambush team, bivouacking in silence, gazing into the starry sky and recognizing that many centuries earlier—perhaps on a night like this one—Abram breathlessly beheld that same view. Ancient promises are still at work, however cryptic, dormant, or slow. What is new and different now is that for the bivouac team these promises are being fulfilled, in part, by their own hands! Joshua 8.10-13, 178

The point grows ever clearer: gender, age, and even ethnicity do not disqualify one from the congregation. That which binds “Israel” together is the recognition of Yahweh’s presence, symbolized by the Ark-box, at the center of life and a mutual commitment to obey Torah. Joshua 8.34-35, 189

Chapters 9-12 describe the campaign to break the back of Canaanite resistance and prepare for settlement of the land. As the Central-Southern coalition of kings begins to form, one of the prominent cities decides to throw their allegiance to Israel. It is interesting that the two major campaigns in Joshua begin with the stories of Rahab and the Gibeonites. Both use clever maneuvering to get themselves into the place of blessing with Israel and are viewed favorably in the end by God. In the case of the Gibeonites, herem is changed to mean dedication to God and his "house" rather than extermination. The rest of the section focuses on the truth, patterned after Moses' speech in Deuteronomy 7, that YHWH is doing the fighting for Israel. All they have to do is follow. "Just as Yahweh delivers in his promise of victory, Joshua delivers by destroying both the captives and the chariot technology. Faith triumphs over metal and muscle." (239) At the end, the military power of Canaan is defeated and the land is ready for the hard work of each tribe to settle it.

That Israel would plunge blindly ahead, independent, out of range, yet cocksure, resonates with the ego of the human spirit. Still, that same spirit intuitively knows that the formula has never been: “God’s people lead—Yahweh follows”; it is the other way around. This message must be repeated again and again whenever theology becomes packaged and self-serving, ministry operates from too much strength, or God’s people become too cozy with a triumphalist culture.  Joshua 9.14-15, 198

It is Yahweh the warrior who not just initiates a panic, but pursues, smites, and hurls. As presented, Israel may give legs to the battle, but it is their God who does the real work that brings about a victory. Joshua 10, 217–218

Yahweh continues to fight for Israel. To remember this fact in the face of conflict, however, is no easy task. This is especially true when power presents itself with all the trappings of metal and muscle. Because such displays are so visibly overpowering, the temptation is to regard them as not just irresistible, but desirable as the only true forms of power. Anything else is either so inferior or so distant as to be unhelpful. Joshua 11 237–238

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