Friday, March 04, 2016

Reading in Joshua This Week #2 (Chapters 12-24)

JoshuaThis week we complete the 2nd half of 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 looked at the first half of the book here. 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…

Chapter 12 begins the transition from conquering the land to occupying and settling the land with a list of the 31 kings conquered. The point would be that God has been faithful to bring victory to Israel, and now each tribe must trust God's promises in the same way as they move to occupy the allotted territories. The division of the land east of the Jordan is remembered in chapter 13 and then the division of the land west of the Jordan begins in 14. It is introduced with a short section about Caleb's request for land around Hebron and his settling of the area. Faithful Caleb becomes the example of how all the tribes should have settled their allotment, but they did not follow his example.

How did Yahweh lead Israel into Canaan? The answer is simple: victoriously. Joshua 12, 254

Boundary lists and village inventories hardly make for gripping narrative, unless, of course, the larger trajectory is kept in mind. Israel has been charged with “a great commission.” To be successful in this, they must be strong, courageous, careful, and meditative—not just once—but over and over again. Site by site, boundary by boundary, region by region, tribe by tribe, as each name is pronounced, a new opportunity for faithfulness—or faithlessness—arises. Joshua 13, 256

Caleb becomes the poster-child of obedience and success in Cisjordan; his vignette provides an opportunity to compare and contrast all other examples (such as the Joseph tribes in 17:14–18)...Caleb’s story serves as a calculated prelude to the mechanical description of land division to follow. Will other individuals of his ilk rise to the challenge of giant-killing and stronghold-taking? Joshua 14.6-15, 276

Chapters 15-19 continue the story of the division and settlement of the land. Each tribe is responsible to trust God's promise and settle into the land. Judah (15) does better than Joseph (16-17) but neither fully drives out the Canaanites and settles into the land. This does not bode well for what will happen in the next generation. Women, Acsah and the daughters of Zelophahad, seem to be the positive exception as they boldly seize the promise and receive more than would be expected.

All told, site names and boundary lines collude to suggest this is no make-believe land. They are pebbles of promise that collectively give voice to a larger prayer: a prayer for a future kingdom where heaven and earth are one (cf. Matt 6:9–10). Joshua 15, 280

The careful reader must place the demand of Zelophehad’s daughters beside the similarly positioned demand of Caleb’s daughter, Acsah (15:13–19). Finally, the passage has pull due to the striking observation that the request for inheritance emerges from the mouths of women. As in the case of Rahab at Jericho, the “alien” at Shechem or Gibeon, or even Caleb the Kenizzite, the narrator continues to challenge social boundaries of identity, power, and gender drawn by, between, and among the people of God.  Joshua 17.1-6, 310

Rather than facing their assigned duty, they ironically clamor for more, requesting an additional—or possibly an easier—assignment. This can’t-do attitude stands in sharp contrast with the can-do attitude previously encountered in Judah’s allotment story (15:13–19). But the claim here is more than troubling, it is downright revealing. It betrays a perspective that not only challenges the allotment system (and hence the power behind it), it communicates lost hope. Put more darkly, the Joseph tribes blame God for the current failure. The campaign has stalled because his blessing has expired. Joshua 17.12-18, 312

Chapter 19 concludes the allotment of the land to the tribes. Each tribe is given their land to subdue and settle into by God. What He has provided now they must work to maintain. The section ends ominously with the tribe of Dan unable to subdue their land and settling in a land of their own choosing.

The Danites abandon the land given to them by lot (and hence, by Yahweh, as presented) in order to seek an inheritance of their own choosing...The contrast between the vignette of Caleb and the men of Judah (14:6–15) as a lead-in to the first tribal allotment and this vignette of the men of Dan, offered at the conclusion of the final tribal allotment, cannot be more strategically placed or boldly drawn. Something is terribly wrong and the careful reader knows it. Joshua 19.40-48, 337

Chapters 20-21 describe the faithfulness of Joshua to provide cities in the land as a refuge for the fugitive to get a fair trial and for the settlement of the priests and Levites. The curse on the tribe of Levi in Genesis 49 is turned to blessing as the Levites are "scattered" through Israel, but now as priests and teachers to help keep the nation faithful to Torah. The passage emphasizes that God has fully kept his land promise to the nation. Now it is up to the tribes to trust God and settle in it.

All six settlements are open to those to come from within or without the ranks of Israel. This last point may be contemplated in light of ḥāram warfare previously described in chapters 1–12. The ethics in play for subduing the land and the ethics in play for managing it are not to be confused. Joshua 20.7-9, 342

Who can forget that the promise of land has been sworn by an oath in the dim past? Who can forget that land for the landless is a gift to be claimed by the obedient act of walking upon it? Who can forget that the byproduct of obedience is rest, a pure and exhilarating freedom? And finally, who can forget that all this has been the issue of a reliable source, the very mouth of God? Joshua 21.43-45, 350

Yahweh has been faithful in swearing, giving, offering rest, and speaking. Failure to follow this good lead is not necessarily the fault of the leader. It may be the choice of the follower. Joshua 21.43-45, 351

The book concludes as it began with speeches of Joshua. In 22, Joshua recognizes the faithfulness of the Eastern tribes, sends them home, and then must create a delegation to make peace between them and the tribes who settled in Canaan. A key point here is that faithfulness, not location, determines who is an Israelite. He then drives this point home to the leaders in chapter 23. God fought and won the previous battles for them. Therefore, the important thing for the nation is to stay in good relationship with God and be diligent to stay faithful to Torah. If they do not, they will become like the Canaanites and receive their fate. Finally Joshua calls the people to covenant commitment to stay faithful. He predicts that they will not be able to do it, even as he tells them to choose and sets up a memorial of their choice. Sadly he was right as the next book, Judges will show.

The narrator shrewdly points out that a true destruction of the land comes as a result of needless bickering, in this case, from the very center of Israel. Like Rahab and Caleb, the two-and-a-half tribes of Transjordan are of questionable status and limited power. Yet by their words and actions they demonstrate that true Israel cannot be defined by land-lines alone. “God’s country” cannot be plotted on a map, on this side or that side of the Jordan. Oddly, the Israel that the reader expects is not the Israel that the reader gets. Joshua 22, 369

Man-on-man contests of strength or wits are not the true measure of faithfulness. Rather, as outlined in the opening charge of the book (1:1–9), Joshua encourages God’s people to continue keeping and doing torah. It is to this end, that their strength and care must be used. Joshua 23.6-8, 374

Now, Joshua chooses it, leading with his familial clan: as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. Person by person, family by family, the decision must be made. This kind of growth happens from the roots up. Joshua’s challenge cements the case that those who become Israel are those who are chosen and rescued by Yahweh. Those who remain Israel are those who choose and serve Yahweh. Joshua 24.14-15, 383

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