IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?
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Like most books in the Old Testament the Book of Joshua is based on sources. The most obvious is the Book of Jashar (10.13). Another is found in the material on which the chapters about the division of the land were based. When dealing with covenant matters it was commonplace to record the history surrounding them almost immediately, and the author would no doubt have had a number of such records to call on. Wholesale word for word copying was a method of the day.
But if we seek to differentiate them we must be careful. We must not see Joshua as a modern book written on modern principles. It was not a history (although based on historical material) but a record of God’s covenant activity. It was seeking to convey God’s triumph. And it was written to be listened to, not just read. So called ‘doublets’ were part of the ancient style to ensure that facts became imbedded in the minds of the listeners and so that they could ‘go along’ with them as they listened. They were commonplace in much ancient literature. They do not necessarily demonstrate dual authorship.
The Book of Joshua was written in a country which centuries before had produced a remarkable alphabetical script which had made writing and reading available to the common man. This is evidenced from signs scratched on pottery and metal found in Palestine dating before 1500 BC and from the turquoise mines of Sinai (sixteenth century BC) where slaves had written on the walls in proto-Hebrew many centuries before the time of Joshua. We can compare the young man who wrote information down for Gideon at Succoth in Transjordan (Judges 8.14). This was in direct contrast to the cuneiform Akkadian script used in the Amarna letters (mainly letters from Pharaoh to vassals and letters back to him, connected with Canaan, Syria and elsewhere) although many are written in western Semitic dialects of Akkadian. Fourteen tablets in cuneiform Akkadian have also been discovered at the site of Taanach. A clay tablet inscribed in a Canaanite cuneiform alphabet was also found there.
As to who wrote the book we do not know. There are, however, many indications that at least part of it was written within the lifetime of those who participated in its activities. Consider the regular use of ‘to this day’, occurring throughout the book. This was especially so as Rahab was said to be living among them ‘to this day’ and the context makes it clear that Rahab herself was meant (see on 6.25). Consider also the use of ‘we’ in 5.1. Furthermore the use of ancient names for cities confirms the ancientness of the sources (e.g. Baalah - 15.9 - which in 1 Samuel 7.1 is Kiriath-jearim).
We can also consider the fact that Manasseh was still being treated, along with Ephraim, as a sub-tribe of Joseph (16.1), while Levi was still seen as one of the twelve, albeit a special one. Thus all the tribes apart from Manasseh have said about them ‘this is the inheritance of the children of --- according to their families’. For this summary description with respect to the tribes compare 13.23 (Reuben); 13.28 (Gad); 15.20 (Judah); 16.8 (Ephraim); 18.28 (Benjamin); 19.8 (Simeon); 19.16 (Zebulun); 19.23 (Issachar); 19.31 (Asher); 19.39 (Naphtali); 19.48 (Dan). Levi’s inheritance was YHWH Himself (13.33). By this phrase the inheritance of each tribe was summed up. It was a period of transition towards Manasseh becoming a full tribe and Levi ceasing to be regarded as one in practise.
But in the end there is only one certainty for us to work on and that is the book as it has come to us, as incorporated into the Scriptures in the Massoretic text in the latest editions, warts and all. It is on that that we have commented. (That is not to deny that we can use versions and translations, or even other Hebrew texts where they are available, it is only in order to fix a standpoint of comparative certainty from which we will work).
The first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) have depicted the establishment of a people for God who were intended to be ‘a kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19.6), taking YHWH’s message to the world. It began in Genesis with the call of Abraham, accompanied by the twofold promise of the establishing of his descendants and through them achieving the blessing of the whole world (Genesis 12.2-3; 18.18; 22.18). It continued through Isaac and Jacob (whose other name was Israel), and then through his twelve sons who became the ‘fathers’ of the twelve tribes of Israel. ‘Israel’ originally here means the patriarch Jacob (for they are ‘the children of Israel’) but eventually ‘Israel’ becomes the name of the people. It should, however, be noted that Israel was not made up simply of people directly descended from Abraham, or from Jacob. Right from the beginning the majority of ‘the children of Israel’ were in fact children of the servants who belonged to the household.
The family tribe of Israel then moved down to Egypt (Genesis 46; Exodus 1.1-7). Their ‘households’ would include servants and others who had joined their tribe for mutual benefit - thus numbering a few thousand. We should recall that Abraham could previously call on 318 fighting men ‘born in his house’ (Genesis 14.14).
In Exodus we are told how Moses led these people’s descendants, together with a great multitude of people from mixed races (Exodus 12.38) who were also suffering under Egypt’s harshness and took advantage of the opportunity presented to leave with them, out of Egypt, with a view to entering Canaan and establishing themselves there. This large body of people of many races all aligned themselves with the twelve tribes and from then on they would proudly look on themselves as ‘children of Israel’, eventually tracing their ‘descent’ (by adoption) back to one or other of the patriarchs. So ‘Israel’ was multiracial from the start. Their subsequent adventures on the way to Canaan are depicted in Exodus and Numbers.
Under God Moses organised this group of conglomerate peoples into tribes which were joined in confederacy around a central sanctuary. But this fact alone proves that the roots of the tribes were already there, fiercely and jealously guarded. They were separate tribes with their own leaders, and the newcomers (Exodus 12.38) would ally themselves to one tribe or another depending on which they had had contact with. But they would all be united by their worship of YHWH, and ideally they would meet three times a year at that central sanctuary to worship together, to express their unity, to hear the Law (Torah - Instruction), and to celebrate their harvests and make atonement for sin. And every seven years the Law of YHWH would be read out in full. All were bound by that covenant, and if any tribe found itself assailed by its enemies it could send out a call and the other tribes would come to its aid. It was a mutual help confederacy.
Meanwhile Moses appointed a young man to be his close associate and trainee, his ‘servant’ or personal assistant. His name was Joshua. He was trained to be a capable general under the hand of Moses, whose training in Egypt had been of the best. Thus when Moses died on the final approach to the promised land the reins fell into the hands of Joshua. He it was who was to lead the people into Canaan. He had a twofold commission. To establish the people in the land, dividing it up among them, and to destroy or drive out the natives of Canaan so that they would not pollute Israel with idolatry and evil ways. The Book of Joshua describes how he did successfully establish the people in the land, largely in the hill country and in the forest lands, gradually moving outwards, although still with ‘much land to be possessed’.
His first task was to secure Israel’s presence in the land and he accomplished that by a series of victories against different kings in different parts of Canaan. But this did not mean that the land was possessed, for having gained one victory he would move on to the next, the defeated people meanwhile re-establishing themselves in many of their cities, having, however, learned the lesson to leave Israel alone.
The establishment of the people in the land was enabled by a number of factors;
The settling in did rely on non-interference by Egypt who looked on Canaan as tributary to them, although sometimes only loosely, and this was especially so around the 12th and 11th centuries BC, which is why neither Joshua nor Judges give any hint of Egyptian interference. That there was limited interference comes out in that Pharaoh Merenptah (c.1220 BC) records (rather optimistically) destroying ‘Israel’, as a result of which he declared ‘her seed is not’. Whether ‘her seed’ meant her crops or her people we do not know. If the latter it demonstrates that Egypt was not fully aware of what was going on. They were used to the fact of constant civil wars in Canaan and wandering Habiru (stateless people) attacking cities (see the Amarna letters). But on the whole Egypt at this time tended to leave Israel alone, especially in the hill country. They probably had no idea of the scale of the Israelite incursion.
Certainly Israel’s first intent was to establish themselves in the less populated hill country, if for no other reason than because that was the first land that they came to once they had crossed the Jordan and had captured Jericho in the Jordan rift valley (the long rift valley largely below sea level called the Arabah stretching from the source of the Jordan in the North, through the Sea of Galilee (or Chinnereth) down to the Dead Sea and beyond, with mountains on either side). This rift valley separated the mountainous country of Transjordan from the mountains and hill country of Canaan and was below sea level.
We must recognise the difficulty of what Joshua had to do. It is one thing to win battles and capture cities, it is quite another to settle those cities and maintain a hold on them and on the land. We must remember that the mountains and forests, which were such a help to Israel, could also help those attacked to disappear and then return again, something which undoubtedly regularly happened. When invading a country you cannot afford to leave too many men behind to retain possession of what is captured. Thus cities were captured, repossessed by the Canaanites and then had to be captured again. And archaeology bears witness to the frequent sacking of cities around this time. One important point as regards ‘cities’. These could vary from the huge Megiddo (60,000 inhabitants?), through Hazor and Taanach (40,000 inhabitants each?), down to many ‘cities’ of a few hundred inhabitants, or even less. And each would have their ‘king’.
But the aim of the book is to show that Joshua succeeded in settling Israel into the land. It does deliberately portray his victories as though he swept all before him, and in some ways he did do so, for he did successfully implant Israel in the land. But its other purpose was to show the triumph of YHWH. It was a true account, for what it recorded was true, but it was also a prophetic writing, a selection of events to present an idea, and not a strictly unbiased history. It presented an image and a theology, and mainly ignored the problems and difficulties that would come.
On the other hand, unlike the panegyrics of the Egyptian Pharaohs and the Assyrian kings, having presented the image it then went on, because it was concerned with truth, to point out the difficulties honestly. In the end, having gained the first optimistic impression, we are left in no doubt about the actual position. It was all a matter of perspective. And we must remember that people who lived in those times were aware of the true situation when invasions took place, and what they could accomplish. They did not see Joshua’s victories from an armchair. They knew what happened after a victory had been won and the victor passed on to other battles.
The truth is that history is always written by selection of the facts. There is no other way (except to invent it) and for that reason one writer’s view of history often seems diametrically opposed to another’s. So in Joshua it was the triumphant facts that were deliberately emphasised, the others being mentioned because of the basic honesty of the writer. In Judges the opposite was the case. The good times were merely stated as ‘the land had rest for so many years’. We actually get the impression that there were not many good times at all, but a careful reading soon confirms that that was not true, otherwise indeed Israel would not have survived. And to be fair the writer did declare his intention from the very beginning.
Note On The Use Of Numbers In Joshua.
Today we read in the Scriptures of numbers in ‘tens’, ‘hundreds’ and ‘thousands’, and to us these have specific number meanings. We think mathematically. (Although we actually do regularly use ‘hundreds’ and ‘thousands’ simply to mean ‘lots’, e.g. when we say, ‘I’ve got hundreds of them’, or when we say ‘I have a thousand and one things to do’). If we had lived among the Australian aborigines or similar tribes around the world in the last century our counting would be limited to twenty at the maximum, and more probably ten or less. We would not think mathematically at all. This latter situation is much nearer to the true situation for the tribes of Israel, who were mainly cattle herders and shepherds, and it was indeed true for the majority of the Canaanites as well. (This is not to suggest that they were primitive, but merely that they were like the vast majority of people at the time and had little use for numbers except for trading). Thus their use of larger ‘numbers’ was vague. They thought rather in terms of groups. Words were used for different sized groups which would later gradually be transferred to be used for specific numbers. People were reckoned ‘by families’.
We know that their word for ‘a thousand’ (‘eleph’) could also be used of ‘a family’, ‘a captain’, ‘a sub-tribe’, ‘a military unit’ and so on, and that was what it originally meant. The same probably applied to ‘a ten’ and ‘a hundred’. Certainly ‘ten’ could mean ‘a number of’ (Genesis 31.41). The main classifications used were ‘tens’, ‘hundreds’ and ‘thousands’ (Judges 20.10; compare Exodus 18.25; Deuteronomy 1.15 ). But reckoning was overall done ‘by families’ (Genesis 10.5 and continually through the Bible), and these ‘numbers words’ therefore initially probably indicated ‘a close family’, ‘a wider family’, and ‘a sub-clan’, (compare Joshua 7.16-17), the size of each varying with the peoples using them. Note how in 1 Samuel 10.19-21 ‘thousands’ in verse 19 becomes ‘families’ in verse 21. It is therefore extremely questionable how far we can take such larger numbers as signifying exact quantity before the time of the kingship when it would be necessary to use such in transactions between kings and for taxation purposes.
In the same way we must recognise that ‘three days’ was probably a stereotyped phrase for a short period between one and a half (part of a day, a day and part of a day) and six days. It was the equivalent of ‘a day or two’ or ‘a few days’. The next step upwards would be ‘seven days’. Compare how in Genesis journeys were always shorter (‘a three days journey’) or longer (‘a seven days journey’). ‘Three’ and ‘seven’ were the popular numbers of antiquity in all countries throughout the Ancient Near East and could be used in a general way as well as specifically.
Commentary On The Book of Joshua Chapters 1-4.
Israel now prepare to enter the land of Canaan, and experience the miraculous power of YHWH in opening up the River Jordan so that they can pass over. Meanwhile two military scouts have reconnoitred Jericho, being saved from capture by a prostitute innkeeper Rahab who is promised that when Jericho is taken she and all her close family will be spared. The crossing of the Jordan is safely accomplished and twelve stones set up as a memorial of the event.
Chapter 1. God Instructs and Encourages Joshua.
The book of Joshua commences with the fact that, with Moses being dead, YHWH directs and encourages Joshua to take command of the children of Israel, and to go over Jordan with them. His purpose was that Joshua might take possession of the land of Canaan, and divide it among them. To this end YHWH initially gives him firm and gracious promises and strong assurances of His presence, and some important advice with respect to his behaviour. On the basis of this Joshua orders the people to be ready ‘in three days’ to go along with him. He particularly addresses the Reubenites and Gadites, and half tribe of Manasseh, who had settled in Transjordan, and puts them in mind of what Moses had ordered when they had obtained permission to do so. They had subsequently promised to go along with their ‘brothers’, and assist them in conquering the land. This they had readily agreed to do, and they had at that point promised total obedience to him. Now they were being called on to fulfil their obligation.
YHWH Issues His Instructions To Joshua And Assures Him Of Success, Conditional On Obedience (1.1-9).
1.1. ‘And it happened after the death of Moses, the servant of YHWH, that YHWH spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' deputy minister, saying.’
Moses was dead! The death of Moses inevitably resulted in a new beginning without Moses. For so long Moses had led the people (over forty years). He had spoken to them on God’s behalf. He had always been there. Through him God had performed His wonders. He had been uniquely the Servant of YHWH. And now he was dead. We can imagine the effect that this devastating news would have had on the people of Israel. He had been the bulwark on which they had leaned, the target for their dissension when they were dissatisfied. But he had always been there. Thus both God and the people now looked to another, to Joshua, Moses’ trained assistant, to carry on his work. Note the beginning ‘and’. The Book is seen as a continuation of what has gone before. Moses may be dead but the salvation history goes on.
‘The servant of YHWH.’ This was the prime accolade, only given in Scripture to two people, firstly to Moses, and then, once he had proved himself, to Joshua (Joshua 24.29; Judges 2.8). It demonstrated the high regard in which they were held. Others, including Caleb, David and the great Servant in Isaiah, would be described as ‘My servant’. But none were described by others in the Old Testament as ‘the servant of YHWH’. The term ‘servant’ so used meant a high official as well as a loyal servant.
‘YHWH spoke to Joshua the son of Nun.’ We do not know how YHWH did speak to Joshua. This was more than could be communicated by Urim and Thummim, the means by which He communicated His will to Israel in the future. Probably it came to him in a dream of the night (Numbers 12.6), or possibly while he was at prayer, as he considered the future. Either way words which had been deeply impressed upon him from the memorable words of Moses in his speeches in Deuteronomy, words which he could never forget, came into his mind. He knew that YHWH was pressing them home on him. It may even have been by hearing the voice of the Angel of YHWH (compare 5.`3-15), for this was a unique moment in history, a time of deliverance. But the constant use of Deuteronomy throughout the book favours the former.
The name Joshua means ‘YHWH is salvation’. It translated into Greek as ‘Jesus’. He was originally called ‘Hoshea’ (Numbers 13.8; Deuteronomy 32.44), but Yah was added when he became God’s appointed man (Numbers 13.16). Alternately it may be that Hoshea was a shortened form of his name, with his full name being Joshua from the beginning.
1.2 “Moses, my servant is dead, now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land which I give to them, to the children of Israel.”
Because of Moses’ prior disobedience God had said that Moses would not be allowed even to enter the land of Canaan (Numbers 20.12; 27.13-14; Deuteronomy 1.37; 3.26-27; 32.52; 34.4). Thus until Moses’ death invasion had not been possible. There is a warning in this that even a great man can falter and can become a hindrance to the work of God. But now Moses was dead. And while to the children of Israel the death of Moses was a tragedy of unimagined proportions, for they must have felt deeply bereft, to God it presented them with an opportunity. Now they could go forward, and He would be with them.
‘Now therefore arise.’ With God every tragedy is an opportunity. An opportunity for men to rise by His power over it and use it as a stepping stone to better things. There was first sufficient mourning (Deuteronomy 34.8). Due respect was paid to Moses. But then God expected Joshua to go forward.
‘Go over this Jordan.’ Interestingly this is a phrase only found on the lips of YHWH (Deuteronomy 3 27; 31.2). The River Jordan lay before them, making its way through the deep Rift Valley (the Arabah). There were no fords at this time for the river was overflowing its banks (3.15). Thus it appeared a great obstacle, and yet beyond it lay their destiny. It was, however, no obstacle to God. With His help it could be overcome, and the destiny achieved. It was a momentous situation. While the river, overflowing its banks was difficult, almost impossible, to cross by such a mixed and large group, it was the stepping stone into their future. We too should remember that whatever equivalent of Jordan we face, even if it overflow its banks, if God go with us we need fear nothing.
‘You and all this people.’ That was both Joshua’s encouragement and his responsibility. He had strong forces behind him, but he was responsible for their future. They were his strength but they were also his problem. How was he to get so many, with their wives and children and provisions, across the flooded waters of the Jordan?
‘Into the land which I give to them, to the children of Israel.’ Here was the necessary certainty. YHWH was giving them the land. It was thus theirs to possess. And He was here acknowledging that mixed, multi-racial group as being within His promises, as being now ‘the children of Israel’, those who would receive the inheritance promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel). Note that they were not called ‘the children of Jacob’. It was Jacob as the new man Israel, the chosen one, who was seen as their ancestor.
1. 3 “Every place that the sole of your feet shall tread on, to you I have given it, as I said to Moses.”
The land was to be theirs, but it had to be possessed. Step by step they would receive it as they went forward by faith in YHWH. Sometimes it would be two steps forward and one step back, but always they should go onwards until the whole was theirs. For once they had trodden it, it belonged to them. And all this was in accordance with His promise to Moses. Moses may be dead but God had not forgotten Moses, and He had not forgotten His promises to him. They still stood firm. These verses (3-5) echo the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 11.24-25. There too possession would depend on going forward in obedience to YHWH.
We too must remember that those who would accomplish things in God’s name must be prepared to go forward step by step. As we do so He will lead us in the way (Genesis 24.27) and grant us our part in His work.
1.4 ‘From the wilderness, and this Lebanon, even to the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun (the west), shall be your border.’
The land was strictly defined. The wilderness is that which they came through on their way from Egypt, the wilderness of Edom, Kadesh and Sin, beyond the Negeb up to the Edom border; Lebanon and the land of the Hittites was the land to the north, roughly up to the Euphrates. ‘The land of the Hittites’ was probably northern Syria, called this also in Assyrian inscriptions and the Amarna letters. The Great Sea was the Mediterranean. The fourth border was the Jordan, although some see ‘this Lebanon’ as marking the eastern border and referring to the easternmost of the Lebanon ranges, indicated with a wave of the hand even though not in sight.
But ‘all the land of the Hittites’ may be intended to be a general term (like Canaanites and Amorites) to indicate Canaan where there were colonies of Hittites. Thus some see it as signifying Canaan, the one nation standing for the many of those named as inhabitants of the land. (LXX omits the phrase, finding it difficult). Notice the more exact definition of the land to be possessed in Numbers 34.1-15 with the northern border at mount Hor (one of the northern summits of the Lebanon range), Lebo-hamath (or ‘the entering in, or border, of Hamath’) and Zedad. Lebo-hamath is now testified to as a city archaeologically.
Under David and Solomon (1 Kings 4.21) the whole area would come under Israel’s influence by one means or another (apart from Phoenicia, although that became connected through marriage. Philistia was subdued), but they did not cast out their inhabitants, they made them tributary or made treaties with them, and thus when Solomon and finally his sons failed to maintain their position, much of it was soon lost to them. That was because possession was dependent on obedience to YHWH and it was obedience that was lacking. It is always so with God’s gifts. They must be possessed. And if we fail to possess them we lose them.
There is an important lesson here. God did at this stage make the whole land available to them. He promised that it was theirs for the taking. When they failed to possess it, it was not His promise that failed. What failed was obedience. Thus did they lose what should have been rightly theirs because given to them by God. We never dream how much we lose through disobedience.
1. 5 “There shall not any man be able to stand before you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so will I be with you, I will not fail you, nor forsake you.”
God’s promise to Joshua was that he would triumph wherever he went, not necessarily always immediately, but always in the end. Furthermore He would also be with him as He had been with Moses, guiding, advising and strengthening, protecting him against all comers. He would not fail him. He would not desert him. He would always be able to be sure of YHWH’s backing.
‘“There shall not any man be able to stand before you.’ The promise is comprehensive. They were guaranteed final victory. Compare for this Deuteronomy 7.24. And it was to be for ‘All the days of your life.’ Compare Deuteronomy 4.9; 6.2. These promises are always available to those who look to Him and obey Him when they are engaged in serving Him truly.
1.6 “Be strong, and of good courage, for you will cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.”
Joshua was to be ‘strong’. The word often indicates strength of hand, but in this case his hand was to be strong because his spirit was strong. ‘Of good courage.’ This word also indicates being strong, and especially strong in spirit. Thus the meaning was ‘be doubly strong’, strong in action, strong in heart, strong in spirit. (Compare Deuteronomy 31.7).
‘For you will cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.’ Notice the word ‘inherit’. It links closely with the word covenant. The land was to be theirs because YHWH had covenanted it to them by an oath. Because of this covenant it was theirs by right as a result of God’s gracious covenant love. Thus their possession of it was inevitable. Compare Deuteronomy 31.7. The same idea is applied in the New Testament to our calling in Christ. That too we ‘inherit’ because chosen and endowed by Him (Ephesians 1.11; Colossians 1.12; 1 Peter 1.4).
In these two verses YHWH brings to the mind of Joshua words of Moses spoken earlier as recorded in Deuteronomy. As he lay there in his dream they echoed and re-echoed in his mind. This is also true in the following two verses.
1.7 “Only be strong, and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.”
Here the strength and courage is related to the keeping of God’s Instruction, (torah - ‘the Law’). He was not only to be strong and courageous in battle but also in life. He was strictly to observe God’s moral law. Obedience was more important than physical strength and physical courage, although it would enable him in both. But failure in obedience would mean that it did not matter whether he was strong in any other way or not. He would fail.
‘Observe to do.’ See Deuteronomy 5.1, 32; and regularly in Deuteronomy (fourteen times). It is something that requires hard work and deliberate and constant attention and determination. It will not just happen. It requires careful study of the word of God and a heart fully responsive to God.
‘Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.’ See Deuteronomy 5.32; 17.11, 20. Success would depend on strict conformity to the will of God. Indeed it was that that would guarantee success. But treating God’s law lightly and deviating from it one way or another would result in disaster, for God would no longer act for him.
‘Turn not from it.’ The ‘it’ is masculine and has in mind the law thought of as ‘the book of the law’ (law is feminine). However LXX omits ‘law’, and the ‘it’, making it refer to what Moses had commanded. It may be that that was the original Hebrew reading, but it is more probable that it is simply LXX correcting a seeming difficulty, something which it does regularly.
1.8 “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
The idea here is of learning by heart and then constant spoken repetition (they could not carry written books around in their pockets for the ‘books’ were bulky and not portable). Day and night he was constantly to take the opportunity of repeating to himself the memorised word of God, and that with the aim of observing all that was in it. It is fine to rejoice in the promises of God, but we must also take careful note of the instructions of God. The result will be success in what we do. Joshua’s success would depend on his knowledge of and submission to the word of God.
‘This book of the law.’ See Deuteronomy 28.58, 61; 29.21; 30.10. Reference is to ‘the book of the law’ written down either by Moses or under his supervision. It may well be that Joshua had obtained the book from those responsible for watching over it for the very purpose of meditating on it. It was probably written on papyrus brought from Egypt, or possibly on leather. (He may have written it himself on Moses’ instructions, see Exodus 33.11).
‘Meditate in it day and night.’ A thought taken up by the Psalmist in Psalm 1.2. If we would succeed with God we must meditate regularly on His word and ensure that we live out every word of it.
1.9 “Have not I commanded you? Be strong, and of a good courage. Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for YHWH your God is with you wherever you go.”
God had pointed to the land he was to possess (verses 2-4), He had pointed to the enemy (verse 5), He had pointed to the purpose, to cause the people to inherit the land promised to their fathers (verse 6), He had pointed to the word of God and the need for obedience (verse 7-8), now He pointed to Himself. It is YHWH Himself Who has commanded. That is why Joshua can have strength and courage. That is why he need not be afraid. It was because YHWH his God was with him wherever he went.
He had, of course, indirectly pointed to Himself all the way through. “I give it to them -- to you I have given it -- I was with Moses -- I will be with you -- I will not fail you or forsake you -- I swore to your fathers to give them”, God was in it all, but here He laid the greatest stress on it, “is it not I Who have commanded? -- it is YHWH your God Who is with you’. YHWH, ‘the One Who is there’, ‘the One Who causes to be’, the One Who always is, the God of creation, the God of battle, remember that it is He Who is with you, and with you wherever you go”.
‘Do not be afraid, nor be you dismayed.’ He would face many problems, many enemies, many seemingly insurmountable difficulties, but he need not fear any, he need not be dismayed at any, because it was his God YHWH Who would be with him wherever he went. And He can surmount anything.
With these words God bolstered the courage of Joshua, who was apprehensive as a result of taking over the role of Moses and apprehensive as he looked across at that unknown land. We can only imagine the thoughts that were in his mind. What did lie before them? He did not know. But knowing that he had God with him, what else could he need? He was content.
These words have much to say to us. Whatever our calling in life God calls us to be strong and courageous. He also calls us to meditate in His word day and night with a view to obeying all His commands. And in all this we must remember that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15.22). If we are not obeying Him in the details of our lives there is little point in making great offerings.
Joshua Calls On The People To Make Ready For Crossing The Flooded River And Calls On The Transjordanian Tribes To Supply Their Fighting Men To Assist In The Conquest Of The Land (1.10-18).
1.10-11 ‘Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying “Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, saying, ‘Prepare victuals, for in three days you are to pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which YHWH your God gives you to possess it.’ ” ’
The officers (shoterim) of the people are mentioned in Deuteronomy 1.15; 20.5-9. They were the chief men of the tribes. In Deuteronomy 16.18 they are parallel with the judges. Moved by his dream Joshua told them to prepare the people for the crossing of the River. Although they were still receiving the manna (5.12), that would not be so easily gatherable on a war footing, and anyway it would shortly cease, so they needed to ensure that they were well provisioned. Now that they were out of the wilderness and close to the land, plenty of food would be available, such for example as they had captured in battles against the Amorites. The word for ‘victuals’ also includes hunted game.
‘In three days.’ That is, in a short time. ‘Three days’ is a standard way of saying ‘a few days, shortly’. (It means any period less than the next step up, ‘seven days’). Time was not as precise for them as it is for us. Life was more relaxed.
‘You are to pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which YHWH your God gives you to possess it.’ Compare Deuteronomy 11.31; 1.8; 3.18. Moses’ words were burned into Joshua’s mind and became God’s voice to him. Notice his encouragement to the people, they were to possess what God had given them to possess. Thus they could be sure that He would enable them.
1.12 ‘And to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, Joshua spoke saying.’
These were the tribes who had requested permission to stay in Transjordan and settle there. Moses had agreed, after much heartsearching lest it displease God, on condition that they assisted in the capture of the land (Numbers 32.1-27). So this was a solemn formal approach by Joshua as he gathered the leaders of the three tribes together to establish their commitment to their promise in the form of a covenant. It was a formal swearing of loyalty and obedience to Joshua in the task that lay ahead, binding them in the sight of YHWH on penalty of death.
1.13 “Remember the word which Moses, the servant of YHWH, commanded you, saying, ‘YHWH your God gives you rest and will give you this land.’ ”
Joshua reminded them of their promise made. These tribes had already been given their ‘rest’, no longer journeying, no longer always on the move. They could build their homes and permanently pitch their tents, sow their seed, plant their vineyards, and recognise that they had reached ‘home’. It was otherwise for the remaining tribes.
1.14 “Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle, shall remain in the land which Moses has given you in Beyond Jordan, but you shall pass over before your brothers, armed, all the mighty men of valour, and shall help them.”
It should be noted that this was what they had themselves proposed. The ‘all’ may not necessarily have been intended to be taken literally. It may well have been expected that some guards would be left both to arrange for protection and to assist in necessary tasks. Furthermore the older men would not be required to go. They were no longer reckoned as ‘mighty men of valour’. This would be a task for the younger men in the prime of life.
But the majority of their men of fighting age (forty military units - 4.13) must accompany the invading party, for they were part of the tribal confederacy. Israel were a confederacy of twelve tribes bound together by the covenant with YHWH and worship at the Tabernacle, the central sanctuary. ‘Before’ means ‘in the presence of, together with’.
‘Beyond Jordan’. This was the official name given to land both east and west of Jordan, used at the time of writing, and probably the name by which it was already known by the people of the land. Compare ‘Ebir-nari’ (Beyond the River) a province of the Persian empire (Ezra 5.3, 6) which included Palestine. Using it need not mean that the speaker was on the other side of the river. (Just as today we might speak of being ‘in Transjordan’).
1.15 “Until YHWH has given your brothers rest, as he has given you, and they also have possessed the land which YHWH your God gives them, then you shall return to the land of your possession and possess it, which Moses, the servant of YHWH, gave you in Beyond Jordan, toward the sunrising.”
God’s intention was that all his people should have ‘rest’ and ‘possess’ the land. Possessing it meant working it and making full use of it. Thus His purpose was that they should be able to settle down in peace, security and comfort, sow their fields, care for their flocks and herds, gather their harvests, and worship contentedly. This was now the position of the tribes in Beyond Jordan. They must thus work to ensure that the same became the lot of the whole tribal confederacy.
There was here a great lesson in unselfishness. All the tribes were to look out for each other. How quickly this would be forgotten. Had this unity been maintained, and had all the tribes always responded when called on, the future would have been very different. For that was part of the significance of the covenant, immediate response when one member needed help.
The aim was that as they all gathered three times a year at the appointed feasts at the central sanctuary, to renew their covenant with YHWH and worship Him together, they would recognise that they were one nation with YHWH as their King. And that therefore each part was as important as the next. Unity would be strength. What did later result, as seen in the Book of Judges, was only a poor imitation, and yet without it Israel would not have survived as such.
1.16 ‘And they answered Joshua, saying, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us, we will go.”
Their response was excellent. They solemnly swore to put themselves under Joshua’s command to do whatever he demanded of them, until he was ready to release them. These are the words that God expects also to hear from us.
1.17 “In the same way as we have obeyed Moses in all things, so will we obey you. Only Yahweh your God be with you, as He was with Moses.”
This was rather a rosy view of the relationship that they had had with Moses. They had not always been quite so responsive. But in general it was true. It would of course be much easier to maintain this unity and response when they were moving forwards towards a goal than when, having reached the goal, they had all settled down in different places. That was one reason why the gatherings at the central sanctuary would be so vital. It was to renew their central goal. But here the intention was good. They would obey him as they should have obeyed Moses.
But the proviso was that Joshua should prove himself YHWH’s man, and that would be demonstrated by success, the final proof that YHWH was with him. It was not that they doubted that He would be. It was a statement of confidence. They were indicating that really they were committing themselves to YHWH, and to Joshua because he was YHWH’s man. It is ever God Who must be central in our thoughts. Men are but His servants.
1.18 “Whoever he be who will rebel against your commandment, and will not listen to your words in all that you command him, he shall be put to death.”
Their covenant was solemn for the penalty for breaking it was death. They agreed that disobedience to Joshua, whether by one or by many, would be punished by death. In a war situation such disobedience would be treason. It could jeopardise the whole venture.
“Only be strong, and of a good courage.” Joshua’s part was to have the strength and courage of a good leader resulting from his devotion to YHWH, for that was what YHWH had commanded him. Let him fulfil his commitment to YHWH, then they would fulfil their commitment to him.
Chapter 2. The Spies in Jericho.
This chapter gives an account of the spies sent by Joshua to Jericho. It describes their entrance into the house of Rahab, who hid them from the king's messengers. It also describes her account of the fear and dread of Israel that had fallen on the Canaanites, and the request that she made to them, in return for her assistance, to save her and her father's house, when the city should be taken. She asked for a sure sign of it to be given to her. The spies solemnly promised to honour her request, and gave her a sign by which she could ensure her safety, a scarlet cord, and with a charge for her not to tell anyone, they were let down by a rope from the window of her house, which was on the outer wall. From there they made their escape to a mountain, where they waited a day or so, before returning to Joshua, and making their report.
Joshua Sends Out Spies who Are Hidden By Rahab. She Misleads Their Pursuers (2.1-11).
2.1a ‘And Joshua, the son of Nun, sent out of Shittim two men as spies secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” ’
These would be trained fighting men experienced at scouting. They were also young men (6.23). The aim was to cross the Jordan, probably by swimming it (compare 1 Chronicles 12.15), and to survey the land with a view to planning strategy, reconnoitring for camping places and seeking to find out what they could about Jericho. Their hope was probably to slip into Jericho without being spotted, for they did not realise that Jericho was already very much aware of the Israelite army across the Jordan.
Shittim was elsewhere called Abel-shittim (Numbers 33.49), which probably means ‘the stream of the acacias’. Shittim means ‘the acacia trees’. Josephus later spoke of an Abila in the area which was possibly the same place, probably located at Tel el-Hamman, although others prefer Tel el-Kefrein. It was about sixteen kilometres (ten miles) from the probable crossing point.
‘As spies secretly.’ That is without letting their own people know. He did not want to spread alarm among his own people or let them think that he was afraid. Joshua wanted the spies to then report back directly to him. He was aware of the danger of the people getting the wrong impression and remembered what had happened thirty eight years previously when spies had been sent out (Numbers 13-14).
Jericho was actually a fairly small city with less than two thousand inhabitants, but because it guarded the way into the land and was on its mound it must have appeared larger than it was, and a major problem was going to be the breaching of its walls. The Israelites were not skilled in siege warfare. Its name probably connects it with an early western Semitic moon god called Yarich. It was also known as ‘the city of palm trees’, being near an abundant spring and oasis, an important position in the hot tropical climate of the Jordan Rift, well below sea level. The main problem archaeologically speaking is that after its capture by Joshua, largely because of the curse that he put on it, Jericho was not rebuilt as a city for over four hundred years. Thus any remains would be subject to constant weather erosion and scavengers over a period of four hundred or more years. Not much evidence was likely to remain.
2.1b ‘And they went, and came into a prostitute’s house, whose name was Rahab, and lay (or ‘slept’) there.’
We do not know how the spies knew of Rahab, who was probably the equivalent of an innkeeper. They may have met her in the square by the gate, or she may have had a sign of some kind on her house. And as Rahab probably acted as the equivalent of an innkeeper, offering beds to strangers and general ‘services’ to all, they would see her house as a place where they could obtain information. Such places were always a source of vital information. In the Code of Hammurabi the death sentence was declared against any innkeeper who failed to apprehend ‘rogues’ and hand them over to the authorities, because it was recognised that that was where such people gathered. A similar law may well have applied in Jericho.
The word for ‘prostitute’ can also signify a cult prostitute (see Ezekiel 16.15, 16; Hosea 4.14; 9.1; Micah 1.7), but probably not here.
‘Lay (slept) there.’ This may simply mean booked accommodation, or that they rested, or it may refer to them going to sleep after sunset, or indeed all three.
2.2 ‘And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, there came men in here tonight of the children of Israel, to search out the land.”
Someone, possibly one of the ‘guests’ made suspicious by their questions, or possibly a watchman at the gates who noticed where they went (Rahab’s house was on the city wall), sent a report to the local king about their visit. They would be given away by their clothing, their looks, their dialect and the workings of suspicious minds. Indeed spies had probably been expected and they would be on the watch for them, for news would have come through about the total defeat of the Amorites and that a large army was waiting to cross the Jordan once the floods had subsided.
2.3 ‘And the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, which have entered your house, for they are come to search out the whole land.” ’
The king, a petty kinglet of a small city, immediately sent Rahab a message, no doubt for her ears alone, telling her to arrange for the visitors to be seized and brought to the king. Indeed the messengers were even then almost certainly outside the house waiting to arrest them.
‘Who have come to you, which have entered your house.’ Such repetition occurs regularly in ancient literature. While not so necessary to a reader, it assists a hearer to take in the story, become a part of it and remember the details as the story unfolds. A listener is not able to check back on the facts.
2.4a ‘And the woman took the two men, and hid them.’
We should probably read these as pluperfects, ‘had taken the two men and had hidden them’. (Hebrew is only interested in the fact that the thing happened, not when it happened. It has no way of indicating the different past tenses). The sharp knock on the door, so unlike that of her usual visitors, probably alerted her to the situation with the result that she would have hid the two men out of sight before she opened the door. This was an introductory comment prior to her excuse to the messengers. But why should she do so? Possibly because she knew that the city had little chance against the large Israelite army after what they had done to the Amorites, and probably also partly because of the way her fellow citizens treated her. Possibly she saw the opportunity to start a new life. Possibly also she had heard of the power of the God of Israel and had a yearning within her for something new, and a sense that here might be the answer. For the truth is that God was at work.
‘Hid them.’ Literally ‘hid him’. Either seeing the two men as one, or meaning ‘each one’, possibly hiding them in different places.
2.4b-5 ‘And she said, “True, the men did come to me, but I did not know where they came from. And so it was that about the time of the shutting of the gate, when it was dark, the men went out. Where the men went I do not know. Chase after them quickly, for you will overtake them.”
Her excuse was first that she had not realised who the men were, and secondly that they had left in time to get away before the shutting of the gate, just as it was getting dark. The suggestion was that they had escaped, and that the best thing therefore was for them to chase after them to catch them before it was too late.
Rahab is often criticised for lying. This raises an interesting moral question. When only two courses are open to someone, both ‘sinful’, does that mean that they have no alternative but to sin? The truth is that one of the two actions must be the right one in the circumstances, and therefore morally right in that particular case. Here the truth would have immediately sentenced these brave men, who were there in the service of God, to death. That would have been sinful. Was it more sinful to lie? One of the courses had to be chosen, thus one was right (silence would have been just as bad). To be the direct cause of the men’s death would have been grossly wrong. If we accept that, then the lie was right in this particular case. Her contemporaries would not have cavilled about that. Rather they would have thought that her greater sin was her treason.
2.6 ‘And she brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof.’
Compare 2 Samuel 17.19. The word for ‘hid’ is different from verse 4. It may be that in verse 4 she had just quickly hidden them out of sight, but now found a more secure hiding place under the stalks of flax spread out on the flat roof to dry out. Alternately we must remember that the account was written to be read out aloud, and such an introductory comment as that made earlier, made to prepare the hearer, followed later by a more detailed explanation, was an ancient technique, and occurs often in Scripture (e.g. Judges 6.24, 26, and often).
The roof was a regular drying place for produce from the fields. Flax was cultivated in Palestine and Egypt (see Proverbs 31.13; Isaiah 19.9) and was one of the gifts of lovers to prostitutes (Hosea 2.5, 9). It grew to a height of a metre (three feet) and produced beautiful blue flowers. Its shiny seeds produced linseed oil. The woody fibre of the bark provided the flax fibre woven into linen.
2.7 ‘And the men pursued after them by the way to Jordan, to the fords, and as soon as they which pursued after them were gone out, they shut the gate.’
Believing her words the pursuers left the city and made for the fords of the Jordan, using the regular road, ‘the Way to Jordan’ (Judges 3.28; 2 Samuel 19.15), hoping to catch the men there, and the gate was then shut after them. This may not have been the first time that night that the gate had been shut, for it may have been shut previously and they may have arranged for it to be opened in the king’s name The mention of it is to demonstrate the fear in all their hearts. Even though the king’s men were to come back they dared not leave the gates open.
2.8 ‘And before they were laid down (or ‘slept’), she came up to them on the roof.’
This may mean after they had been first hidden in verse 6, but before they laid down finally to sleep (compare Genesis 19.4), or be referring back to a conversation which took place before they were finally hidden under the stalks, she having left them for some reason and then returned. The telescoped descriptions hid far more detailed happenings for at present they were in little danger and would not just lie under the stalks all the time. It possibly indicates that she had had time to think and had come up with an idea.
2.9 ‘And she said to the men, “I know that YHWH has given you the land and that your terror is fallen on us and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.” ’
Here is a clue to her behaviour. News and rumour had spread widely while Israel were capturing the land Beyond Jordan, brought probably by those who fled from them. The news was about this terrible nation with their terrible God, YHWH, Who seemed invincible, a nation who claimed He had given them the land of Canaan and that they were coming to take it.
‘Your terror is fallen on us -- the inhabitants of the land melt away.’ This was as Yahweh had promised Israel (Exodus 15.15-16; Deuteronomy 2.25; 11.25). The gist of her conversation is translated in words reminiscent of these promises. She would, of course, be speaking in a Canaanite dialect, not in pure Hebrew.
LXX omits ‘all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.’ Perhaps it was not in their copy of the Hebrew text (compare verse 24 where it is in LXX). Or perhaps they were abbreviating the text. LXX in Joshua is based on a shortened text and the translators were ready to be quite free with it.
2.10a “For we have heard how YHWH dried up the waters of the Sea of Reeds before you, when you came out of Egypt.”
Compare 9.9-10 also Exodus 14.21. The story of what happened at the Sea of Reeds had become famous, passed on by travellers and storytellers from mouth to mouth, no doubt improving as it went. Most of Canaan would have delighted in the discomfiture of the Egyptians, and the story would have brightened many a weary night until they suddenly learned that the same people were now threatening their own borders.
2.10b “And what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were in Beyond Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed (‘devoted’).”
See Numbers 21.21-35; Deuteronomy 2.26-36 especially verse 34; 3.1-12. The practise of ‘devoting’ conquered people to a god and destroying them was known elsewhere and was common. In the Moabite Stone we read of Mesha devoting the city of Nebo to his god(s) Ashtar-Chemosh and slaughtering all its inhabitants. This practise was, in the case of Israel, reinforced by the fact that Israel must not live among the Canaanites and Amorites, but must destroy them or drive them out because of their debased religion, lest they themselves become corrupted by it. The Canaanite religion was a religion obsessed with perverted sex, distorted but physically attractive. But the news of the intention of the Israelites was sufficient to chill the heart of those waiting for an invasion to come.
We may sometimes question why they behaved so harshly, but we need to recognise the harshness of the times, and the necessities that were laid on them (as well as God’s right to bring His judgment in any way that He decided was right). Everyone in Canaan (and elsewhere) accepted that they themselves had a right to possess other people’s land and drive out the inhabitants. That was not open to question. The only thing that prevented it was their weakness or strength at any particular time (what happened in Judges when there were strong kings over different nations, brings this out). The Amorites mentioned here had refused Israel safe passage along the King’s Highway. In other words their threat had been that if Israel did not go back, or if they tried to take the road though their land, they would slaughter them all, men, women and children. Israel had been left with no alternative but to reply as they did, for the alternative was to leave alive an enemy who at any moment could rear up against them, having obtained reinforcements, and Israel had no cities in which to guard their women and children. In such circumstances the only ‘good’ Amorite was a dead one. As for the Canaanites in the future. They would on the whole resist Israelite occupation of the land tooth and nail. They were not peace loving nations suddenly attacked by a warlike Israel. Israel were in constant danger of attack from them. Even though much of the land that they initially occupied was uninhabited no one would cede it to them. They had to fight every inch of the way. But added to that were the evil practises which were a part of the Canaanite way of life. They were probably riddled with sexually transmitted diseases due to their sexual perversions, and mingling with them would have destroyed Israel both spiritually (as indeed it did in the end) and physically. The only path really open to them, as YHWH had made clear, was either to drive them out or slaughter them.
2.11 “And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts melted, nor did there remain any more spirit in any man because of you, for YHWH your God, he is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath.”
The name of YHWH had become a terror in the ears of the Canaanites, as One God Who acted in both heaven and earth (Deuteronomy 4.39; 3.24), and thus closer and more personally active and wider ranging than their own gods, One Whose activities could be seen in what He did, defeating other people’s gods (heaven above) and taking possession of their land (earth beneath). We must not think of her as having a deep philosophical view of God, She was impressed by facts. Her primitive belief would grow and expand once she united with Israel, but she had the basics.
The wording of her new belief was as found in Deuteronomy 4.39, the wording of which had possibly become attached to the name of YHWH in the news about Him that travelled around, or it may have resulted from translating her similar words in those terms. It was her belief in these facts that had persuaded her to side with Israel. But we must not read into them yet a full blown faith. She was feeling her way to the truth.
Thus the hearts of the Canaanites had melted on hearing about what He was doing, and their spirits had drooped within them (contrast Deuteronomy 1.28). The words of Deuteronomy would be familiar to the writer, who would know them by heart, and they are echoed throughout verses 9-11, probably unconsciously, as her words were translated from the Canaanite dialect.
Rahab’s Arrangement With The Spies For The Safety Of Her Family Members (2.12-21).
2.12-13 “Now therefore, I pray you, swear to me by YHWH, since I have dealt faithfully with you, that you also will deal faithfully with my father’s house, and give me a true token, and that you will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brothers, and my sisters, and all that they have, and will deliver our lives from death.”
They were to swear by their own God, for then they would take it seriously. The word ‘faithfully’ is the word used for ‘covenant love’, containing ideas of kindness, loyalty and faithfulness. Kindness on its own is not strong enough as a translation. It involves commitment. She considered, quite reasonably, that her actions had committed them to her so that she could count on their assistance in return. With that in view she asked for a token of that commitment, which they gave her with an oath (verse 14) and with a piece of scarlet thread which was probably itself a commitment token (verse 18).
A piece of scarlet thread seems to have been a regularly recognised token (Genesis 38.28, 30; Song of Solomon 4.3). Possibly it was a commitment token (sometimes a love token), worn round the neck (compare Genesis 38.18).
‘That you will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brothers, and my sisters, and all that they have, and will deliver our lives from death.’ They would recognise that any commitment to her involved her family. She pleaded only for close family, blood relatives and their families, that they would be given their lives and allowed to retain their possessions. As she does not mention a husband she was clearly unmarried (or widowed).
2.14 ‘And the men answered her, “Our life for yours, if you do not tell about this our business, and it shall be, when YHWH has given us the land, that we will deal faithfully and truly with you.” ’
Their pledge was a strong one, that their own lives might be forfeit if they failed (compare Ruth 1.17; 1 Kings 2.23; 20.10 for similar oaths). The condition was that she did not inform anyone about what they had been doing there, or what they had promised her. They were confident that YHWH would give them ‘the land’, that is, in this case, that part by the Jordan. And when He did so they swore to show faithfulness and kindness and to be true to their promise.
LXX omits ‘if you do not tell about this our business’ but compare verse 20 where LXX does have it. It may well be that LXX was ironing out repetitions.
2.15 ‘Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the town wall, and she dwelt upon the wall.’
The rope could have been fastened to some object in the room (they were no longer on the roof for there is a window) so that they could safely descend (compare 1 Samuel 19.12). She was probably used to doing this. A house on the wall was useful for a prostitute so that her clients could easily escape unseen if the need arose. Note the typical repetition common in ancient narratives.
In verses 14 and 15 the activity is stated briefly and will be followed by an expansion in detail in the following verses. This was typical of early style. It causes some modern commentators difficulties because they overlook this difference in style,
2.16 ‘And she said to them, “You get to the mountain, lest the pursuers fall in with you, and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers have returned, and afterwards you may go your way.” ’
The pluperfect might be intended to be used, ‘she had said to them’, in order to demonstrate that this is going back to what they had discussed before being let down by the rope, with the facts being stated so that the hearers gathered the gist of the story, then the details being filled in later. This view gains support from the repetition in verse 20 of ‘telling about this our business’ in verse 14, which may be intended to indicate where the more detailed account ties in with the earlier summary account. There is no pluperfect in Hebrew because they were not so consumed with the idea of being chronological. They were more interested in what happened than when it happened. Time did not control them (they had no word for the philosophical idea of time).
Alternatively she may have spoken to them through the window once they were safely on the ground. The walls would not be very high and the window, small for security reasons, even lower, especially in a small house. It would not necessarily be more than three metres (ten feet) from the ground. Neighbours were probably used to hearing whispers from her window and would ignore it.
Her advice was sound. The mountain crag was to the west, the fords to the east. Thus they would not accidentally meet up with the search party. No one would expect them to go west. And there were plenty of caves to hide in.
‘Hide yourselves three days.’ That is, do not return until at least the day after tomorrow, giving a day’s breathing space for the search party to get back. Then they could safely go on their way. ‘Three days’ generally meant ‘a few days’ and when exactly calculated regularly meant a part of a day, a full day and then a part of a day. That was the way in which they thought.
2.17 ‘And the men said to her, “We will be guiltless of this your oath which you have made us swear.” ’
In such a case as this constant reassurance was required, for it was a matter of life and death. Their assurance was that they would not let her down. They would fulfil their part in the oath. They were promising that when all was done they would so act that no guilt would be able to be laid at their door.
2.18-19 “Behold, when we come into the land, you will bind this line of scarlet cord in the window which you let us down by, and you will gather into your house your father, and your mother, and your brothers, and all your father's household, and it shall be that whoever shall go out of the door of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless, and whoever shall be with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him.”
The piece of scarlet cord seems to have been a regular recognised token, possibly a love or commitment token somewhat like an engagement or eternity ring (Genesis 38.28, 30; Song of Solomon 4.3) worn round the neck, which was sometimes used as a guarantee and may have borne a seal so that it was recognisable (compare Genesis 38.18). One of the men handed over his token as their guarantee and commitment that the woman would be secure, along with all who were in the house.
The scarlet thread was to be placed on the window on the wall of the city. It was in some ways similar to the blood of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12), for it would protect from YHWH’s avengers. The protection of the building itself was not the original intention for the spies did not know how God would open up the city, but it achieved this as well (6.22-23). Note that it was placed on the window on the wall of the city, not on the door of the house, so that in any attack on the walls that area would be spared. This practical note is a sign of authenticity, even though in the event it was not necessary. The walls were not attacked.
The warning that only those who remained within the house would be safe was again similar to the Passover (Exodus 12.22). It was the only way in this case in which the people could be identified. By it they were sanctified (set apart as holy and untouchable) to YHWH under the sign of the scarlet thread.
The two spies stated that they would bear blood guilt if anyone within the house under the sign of the scarlet cord should die. On the other hand any who refused that protection and left the house would bear their own guilt.
2.20 “And if you say anything about this our business, then we will be free from your oath which you have made us swear.”
If they later discovered that she had betrayed them, or if there were more than one scarlet cord suggesting the same, then all amnesty would be cancelled and they would be free from their oath.
2.21 ‘And she said, “Let it be as you have said.” And she sent them away, and they departed, and she bound the scarlet line in the window.’
She sent the spies away to safety and ensured her own safety by fastening the scarlet cord in the window. Not necessarily immediately, but in good time for it to do its work. (It does not say when she did it. It is we, not they, who are slaves to chronology).
The Spies Hide In A Mountain And Once It Is Safe To Do So Return To Joshua (2.22-24).
2.22 ‘And they went, and came to the mountain, and stayed there three days until the pursuers were returned, and the pursuers sought them in every part of the way, but did not find them.’
The mountain was Jebel Quruntul, a desolate ridge to the west of the city, full of caves and ravines, an ideal hiding place. Meanwhile the searchers searched every bit of the area between the city and the river and obviously did not find them.
‘Stayed there three days.’ This could have been any amount of time from one and a half days to four or five days, or even six days. ‘Three days’ simply means ‘a number of days but less than seven’. The next description up would have been ‘seven days’. Possibly Rahab had given them food, but these were trained men, they would know how to find food.
2.23 ‘Then the two men returned, and descended from the mountain, and passed over, and came to Joshua the son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them.’
When they felt it was safe the two men left the mountain, crossed the Jordan, probably by swimming, and reported everything back to Joshua.
2.24 ‘And they said to Joshua, “Certainly YHWH has delivered all the land into our hands, and moreover, all the inhabitants of the land melt away before us.” ’
Their report was confident. It had been demonstrated quite clearly that the people were terrified of them so that it was clear that YHWH had delivered the land into their hands. We cannot, however, doubt that they also made a full report about the topography of the land and the prospects for their troops, and for the camp as a whole.
Chapter 3. The Momentous Crossing of the Jordan.
Joshua removes from Shittim to the River Jordan, and there Israel stays for a short while. Later the people are directed by their ‘officers’ to move once they see the Ark being borne by the priests, and they are informed of the distance that they should keep from it because it was holy. As a consequence Joshua orders them to sanctify themselves against the next day, when wonders wil be wrought, and when the priests will be ordered to take up the Ark and go in front of the people.
Following this Joshua is encouraged by YHWH, and instructed to command the priests, when they come to the Jordan, to stand still in the midst of it. Then he declares to all the people that, as a token that God would drive the Canaanites from before them, as soon as the feet of the priests bearing the ark tread in the waters of Jordan, the waters wil be parted, and will make way for them to pass through. This happens as predicted with the result that all the Israelites pass over on dry ground.
Joshua Brings The People Down From Shittim To The Jordan In Readiness For The Crossing, And His Officers Give Instructions To The People As To What They Are To Do (3.1-4).
3.1 ‘And Joshua rose up early in the morning, and they removed from Shittim and came to Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and stayed there temporarily before they passed over.’
The following morning Joshua gave orders and they struck camp and moved to the edge of the Jordan, where they set up a temporary encampment. The excitement must have been intense. The big moment for which they had waited so long had arrived.
‘Joshua rose up early in the morning.’ Compare 6.12; 7.16; 8.10. He wanted to make full use of the day. While the people did have lampstands which gave off dim light, daytime was the time for doing things, and people therefore tended to rise at dawn and go to bed ‘early’, especially when something important was going on.
3.2-3 ‘And so it was that after three days, the officers went through the midst of the camp and commanded the people, saying, “When you see the Ark of the covenant of Yahweh your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then you shall remove from your place, and go after it.” ’
They stayed encamped by the Jordan ‘for three days’, that is for a few days, (the constant mention of ‘three days’ was not in order to tie in the accounts but simply because ‘three days’ was a standard way of saying a short period of time of less than a week, anything from one and a half days to five or six days). This was while they were making final preparations for the next move. But they had no idea how they were going to get across the river. They were leaving that to Joshua and his advisers, and to YHWH. They simply did as they were told.
The command was that when they saw the Ark starting out, borne by the Levitical priests, they were to follow at a distance. There seems little doubt that the Ark was seen as sometimes leading into battle (see the Battle Song in Numbers 10.35; also see Numbers 14.44; 1 Samuel 4.3), thus the following of the Ark was an indication of the warfare ahead. It had now replaced the pillar of cloud. Now that they were entering the land the pillar of cloud would be no more. The way was no longer uncertain. YHWH would from now on lead them on His throne (the mercy seat on the Ark was His throne) as King over them and Lord of Battle. The pillar of cloud had signified guidance and protection. The Ark symbolised covenant certainty, war, kingship and victory. Having said that, however, the Ark had also led the people in the wilderness (Numbers 10.33). Even then they had been marching forward into the unknown to battle (Numbers 10.35).
‘The Ark of the covenant of YHWH your God.” Here the full stress is laid on the significance of the Ark. It was the Ark which contained within it the covenant made between YHWH their God and themselves. It was the guarantee of His promises. They would go forward as His people. Thus would He go forward with them over Jordan and into battle as YHWH their God.
Note on the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH.
Gold overlaid wooden receptacles and portable shrines are known from the ancient Near East in pre-Mosaic times, although not as containing treaty records. Among certain Arabic tribes even today there are objects similar to some extent with the Ark, which still survive. In time of war they accompanied the tribe into battle and guided them in their wanderings. They stood near the tent of the chief and often contained sacred stones. They were seen as containing some mystic, numinous, indefinable power and to be connected with the gods. The idea may well go back into the mists of time and would explain why the significance of the Ark, superstitiously speaking, was recognised by enemies (1 Samuel 4.7).
In the case of Israel the idea was taken over for a twofold purpose, firstly in order to represent the portable throne of YHWH as ever present with them, and secondly in order to contain within it the tables of testimony, the covenant between YHWH and His people, which we call the ten commandments, but which was in fact a covenant based on the fact that He had delivered them out of Egypt and out of slavery. This ties in with the major descriptions used such as ‘the Ark of YHWH’ and ‘the Ark of the covenant or testimony’. The whole idea was that YHWH was their invisible King and Overlord, in treaty relationship with His people, whilst they were His people, united with Him in that covenant. The sacred chest had been taken over and given a totally new significance.
Here in Joshua it has a multiplicity of titles, ‘the Ark’ (3.15; 4.10; 6.4; 6.9; 8.33), ‘the Ark of the covenant’ (3.3; 3.6 twice; 3.8; 3.14; 4.9; 6.6), ‘the Ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth’ (3.11), ‘the Ark of YHWH, the Lord of all the earth’ (3.13), ‘the Ark of the covenant of YHWH’ (3.17; 4.7; 4.18; 6.8; 8.33), ‘the Ark of YHWH your God’ (4.5); ‘the Ark of YHWH’ (4.11; 6.6; 6.7; 6.11, 12, 13 (twice); 7.6), ‘the Ark of the Testimony’ (4.16).
Elsewhere the most common usages are ‘the Ark of the covenant of YHWH’, ‘the Ark of YHWH’ and ‘the Ark of God’.
The addition of ‘the Lord of all the earth’ specifically has in mind the parting of the Jordan in relation to which the term is used (3.11; 3.13). ‘The Ark of YHWH’ in Joshua has mostly, but not exclusively, in mind going into battle (6.6-13 - six times; 4.11 also relates to going into battle, see verse 13, compare 1 Samuel 4.6). But that is not so in 3.13, where it is conjoined with ‘the Lord of all the earth’, 4.5 where it is conjoined with ‘of God’ and 7.6 where ‘of the covenant’ would be unsuitable because the covenant had been broken. It is clear that its basic name was ‘the Ark’ and that genitival phrases could be added to amplify it, but none to be seen as required technically or with an exclusive meaning. They were thus appended for a particular reason in each case, even if that reason is not necessarily always discernible to us.
The phrase ‘the Ark of the covenant’ by itself, without a further genitive added, is unique to Joshua. This demonstrates the great emphasis on the covenant as such by Joshua. After Joshua this description is never used without a genitival addition such as ‘of YHWH’. This unique phrase is only used seven times (always in the book of Joshua), yet appears in sections which are allocated to different authors in the Documentary theory. This demonstrates the weakness of that theory and substantiates the unity of the book. It must be regarded as very unlikely that two or more authors or redactors would have each used this unique phrase only in the Book of Joshua when it is used nowhere else. It indicates one author.
The LXX overwhelmingly has a tendency to change most references to ‘the Ark of the covenant of the Lord’ which is the regular phrase for the Ark throughout the Old Testament, from Numbers onwards, when connected with the covenant. But it twice leaves ‘the Ark of the covenant’ (3.8; 4.10) which confirms its unique use by Joshua. It never has ‘the Ark of the Lord’, sometimes changing it to ‘in the presence of’ or ‘before’ the Lord (4.5; 6.7; 7.6). Its testimony is therefore not reliable as to the original text.
End of note.
‘The priests, the Levites.’ This phrase was used in Deuteronomy signifying the Levitical priests (Deuteronomy 17.9, 18; 18.1; 24.8; 27.9). This indicates that all priests were Levites, but not that all Levites were priests. Deuteronomy 18 clearly distinguishes between priests (verses 3-5) and Levites (verses 6-8). The writer of Joshua clearly knew, probably by heart, the basic content of Deuteronomy, which itself was based on the covenant treaty form current around 12th century BC, demonstrating that its basic content at least is of an early date. Normally the Kohathites bore the Ark once it had been covered by the priests with the veil (Numbers 3.31; 4.5 compare Deuteronomy 10.8) but not when it was leading into battle uncovered (1 Samuel 4.4 - they would not take the veil into battle) or on special occasions such as when it was brought in to the Most Holy Place of the temple where the Levites could not enter (1 Kings 8.6 compare Deuteronomy 31.9).
3.4 “Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure, come not near it, that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not crossed over this way up to now.”
This suggests that the Ark was uncovered, which was why it was being borne by the priests (see Numbers 4). Compare the similar sized gap around Levitical cities (Numbers 35.5). Note that the gap was between the Ark and the people. It would not have been empty for it would contain all the priests going ahead, followed by the Levites, marching ahead of the people. This was similar to the Tabernacle where the priests could enter the Holy Place, and the Levites the outer court, the former forbidden to the people totally, the latter having a part which was for their use, but only when partaking in religious activities.
The gap would have been maintained while crossing the Jordan with the people crossing on both sides, either one or two thousand cubits away from the Ark depending on whether we interpret the two thousand cubits as the total gap (one thousand on each side), or as two thousand in both sides. In the case of the Levitical cities the former appears to be the case.
The priests, and even possibly the Levites, formed a protective wall around the Ark. The standard cubit was about 17.5 inches (just over half a metre). The purpose of the Ark going ahead was to show them the route to take over the Jordan. ‘Passed this way’ or ‘crossed over this way’ is a verb largely used in this narrative of crossing the Jordan (2.23; 3.1, 6, 11, 14, 16, 17). The point here is that they had never experienced YHWH’s unique power in the way that it would be revealed here as they crossed over into a land they had never seen.
In view of the fact that this gap is not mentioned in the Law, and is not mentioned elsewhere, we are justified in seeing it as a unique requirement only for this occasion. The reason for it would seem to be because of the unique revelation of His power to be given here. He wanted them to be aware that He was there, invisibly but certainly, thus rendering the area around the Ark ‘holy’. This was also one reason why they had to sanctify themselves before the event. He was about to reveal Himself as Lord of all the earth by His power expressed in the stopping of the Jordan. During this manifestation of power, this ‘doing of wonders’, this personal revelation of His presence, none must be near, except for the priests and the Levites. God wanted His people to remember this occasion vividly and to be aware that He Himself had been there in numinous power.
Joshua Calls On The People To Sanctify Themselves In Readiness For YHWH Acting Among Them And Subsequently Orders The Priest To Move Forward With The Ark, Receiving Both Encouragement And Further Instructions From YHWH (3.5-8).
3.5 ‘And Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow YHWH will do wonders among you.” ’
The uniqueness of the occasion is again stressed here. They were about to see the wonders of YHWH. They must therefore be ‘sanctified’ in preparation for it. This would include washing their clothes thoroughly and abstaining from sexual contact (Exodus 19.10, 15; Genesis 35.2).
‘Tomorrow YHWH will do wonders among you.’ This was the reason for the special requirements. They were to behold the wondrous working of YHWH that previously they had only heard about. YHWH was about to come near and manifest Himself. Compare Exodus 4.13 where Moses also spoke of seeing the deliverance of YHWH. So they were to be sanctified ‘lest YHWH break forth on them’ (Exodus 19.22).
The similarity between this and the crossing of the Sea of Reeds was to be recognised. They had left Egypt by passing though the waters, they would enter Canaan by passing through the waters. It was a new beginning, a new birth, brought about by the miraculous power of YHWH. In a sense it was the adoption of the new generation of Israel. We must not read cleansing into this passing through the waters for that idea is not prominent in the Old Testament. They spoke rather of the power and manifestation of YHWH - Psalm 114.3, 5, 7. In the Old Testament water spoke of new life and deliverance (Isaiah 44.3-5; 32.15). You could always tell where there was water, because there there was fruitfulness and life. (Washing with water in the ritual was always preparatory to cleansing, not a vehicle of cleansing in itself unless it was sprinkled with the ashes of a heifer and thus became ‘cleansed water’).
This revealing of wonders was deliberate on the part of YHWH. At this time of the year (April) the Jordan overflowed its banks. At any other time the fords could have been used to cross it, but not at this time. The Israelites were to cross the Jordan when the river was at its widest and deepest, and was flowing its swiftest. They were not, of course, aware of this. They were not familiar with the Jordan. As the snow on Mount Hermon melts and the rainy season ends, the Jordan rises at this season to a depth of 10-12 feet (3-4 metres) and floods to a width of 300-360 feet ( 100 metres) at this point, unlike the slow moving, turgid river of the dry season.
But in this crossing of the Jordan there was a divine necessity. It could not wait. It was to be the springboard to which they would look back and remember that YHWH was with them. Whenever they doubted they would remember the crossing of the Jordan, and how YHWH had therefore put the land at their disposal. And it was to be the complete validation before the people that Joshua was the new Moses (verse 7).
3.6 ‘And Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, “Take up the Ark of the covenant and cross over before the people,” and they took up the Ark of the covenant, and went before the people.”
The stress here is on the fact that they moved forwards as the people of the covenant, in obedience. When they normally go into battle it will be following ‘the Ark of Yahweh’, but here it is with ‘the Ark of the Covenant’. Note the emphasis on obedience. ‘Take up ----- they took up.’ The swollen river lay before them but they did what they were bid.
3.7 ‘And YHWH said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to magnify you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” ’
God now revealed to Joshua His purpose, that the people might realise that the God Who had revealed His power on Egypt was equally with Joshua. He knew how important it was at this critical stage that the people had an unrivalled leader in whom they could trust.
‘That they may know that as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.’ As the waters divided and they walked across on dry land, and remembered how their fathers had done it so long ago, they would be aware that here was another Moses who enjoyed the full backing of YHWH, and through whom YHWH would reveal His power.
Throughout the narrative we will be told that YHWH spoke to Joshua, but no hint is given as to how this took place, whether by commands within his mind impressed on him, or by a spoken voice. That it was YHWH Who spoke comes out in what results from obedience to His commands.
3.8 ‘And you shall command the priests that bear the Ark of the covenant, saying, “When you come to the brink of the waters of Jordan, you shall stand still in Jordan.” ’
The priests were to be commanded to go forward with the Ark of the Covenant and when they came to the brink of the waters they were to enter and stand still with their feet in the waters (verse 13). And while they stood there YHWH would cause the waters to cease flowing.
Joshua Instructs The People Concerning What YHWH Has Promised As He Goes Before Them As The Lord Of All The Earth, Promising That The Waters Will Be Cut Off Before Them Enabling Them To Cross (3.9-13).
3.9 ‘And Joshua said to the children of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of YHWH your God.” ’
Possibly ‘here’ meant before the Tabernacle, as he spoke in God’s name. He wanted them to be aware that his words were from YHWH Himself. He was YHWH’s mouthpiece.
3.10 ‘And Joshua said, “By this you will know that the living God is among you, and will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites.” ’
His emphasis was that they might be aware as a result of what happened that their God was a living God, One Who was there, One Who acted, One Who did wonders. And as they saw what He did there they would realise that this was proof that He would indeed without fail drive out from before them the inhabitants of Canaan.
This idea of ‘the living God’ comes from Deuteronomy 5.26. There it was linked to God’s revelation of Himself on Sinai. No one knew better than Moses that He was ‘the living God’. He had met Him at the burning bush, experienced His wonders in Egypt, been guided by Him at the Sea of Reeds, and spoken with Him on Mount Sinai. Now Joshua wanted them to know that the God of Sinai was to be seen as among them again, as ‘the living God’, the God Who would reveal Himself in action on their behalf..
The seven Canaanite peoples are as mentioned in Deuteronomy 7.1 but not in the same order. They are not simply a repetition of Deuteronomy. ‘Seven’ nations, the number of divine perfection, signifies all the peoples in Canaan. See also Joshua 24.11. The terms Canaanites and Amorites were both terms regularly used to describe the general population of the country and the terms were often interchangeable. However there was sometimes some distinction in that often the Canaanites was the term for those occupying the coastlands and the Jordan valley while the Amorites could be seen as dwelling in the hill country east and west of Jordan. And as here they could also be distinguished from other inhabitants of the land.
The Hittites were settlers who had come from the Hittite Empire further north and had settled in Canaan. The Hivites may have been the equivalent of the Horites (see on Genesis 36). Their principal location was in the Lebanese hills (Judges 3.3) and the Hermon range (Joshua 11.3; 2 Samuel 24.7), but there were some in Edom in the time of Esau (Genesis 36), in Shechem (Genesis 34) and in Gibeon (9.7). The Perizzites were hill dwellers (Joshua 11.3; Judges 1.4 on) and possibly country peasantry, their name being taken from ‘peraza’ = hamlet. This is supported by the fact that they were not named as Canaan’s sons in Genesis 10.15 on. The Girgashites were mentioned in Genesis 10.16 as descendants of Canaan, see also Genesis 15.21 and Nehemiah 9.8. They were attested at Ugarit in terms of the names ‘grgs’ and ‘ben-grgs’. The Jebusites were the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the hills round about (Numbers 13.29; Joshua 11.3; 15.8; 18.16). Thus the population was very mixed and open to invasion and infiltration.
3.11 “Behold, the Ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth, passes over before you into Jordan.”
Joshua now added to ‘the Ark of the covenant’ the phrase ‘the Lord of all the earth’. He was impressing on them Who it was that they were looking to. He was probably remembering the words of Abraham ‘the Judge of all the earth’ (Genesis 18.25) and Melchizedek’s words to Abraham, ‘God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth (Genesis 14.19) and applying the idea to the present situation. But here He would be revealed as Lord of all the earth, not Judge (although the ideas merged in ancient times). It was as Lord of all the earth, and thus its Controller, that He would be able to control the waters of the Jordan. The same phrase occurs in verse 13, and nowhere else in Joshua, demonstrating its particular applicability to that ‘wonder’.
Comparison can be made with the Baal epic from Ugarit where it was said of Baal, ‘Baal the mighty is alive; the Prince, Lord of the earth, exists.’ If the Canaanites could think of Baal as ‘Lord of the earth’ how much more could Israel see YHWH as such. The difference was that Baal constantly died and was brought back to life in the round of the seasons (as the vegetation died and then later sprang up again) while YHWH ever lives, as the Living God, but it does evidence the fact that the title ‘Lord of the earth’ was contemporary with, and even prior to, Moses and Joshua.
3.12 “Now therefore you, take twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, for every tribe a man.”
Compare 4.2 where the reason for choosing the men out is explained. This continues verse 11 as one sentence. Joshua is not said at this stage to have explained why the men were to be chosen out but we do not need to doubt that he said enough in order to enable the selection of the right people. The deliberate omission of the information is in order to heighten the interest of the listener. They are kept hanging on, asking themselves, ‘why were the twelve men chosen? What would they have to do?’ When the answer comes in 4.2 it will therefore have the greater impact.
For as chapter 4 demonstrates these twelve stones were an important sign for Israel, both for the present and the future. But they were already being made aware that it was something to do with the crossing of the Jordan. He wanted them to have plenty of time in advance so that they could select suitable men, men of the highest quality, for some important task not yet made clear. Joshua was a wise leader. He knew that such choices must not be rushed. He wanted the decision made early so that there would be no delay once the time came. Thus when the task did have to be done (4.2-3) the choices would already have been decided on and there would be no hesitation. This was a wise precaution and demonstrated that Joshua was a wise leader of men, not just a spiritual robot. Levi would not be represented (see Numbers 13.4-15). They had no inheritance in the land except as YHWH’s men.
3.13 “And it shall be that, when the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of YHWH, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off, even the waters that come down from above. And they shall stand in one heap.”
As verse 8 told us they were to advance on the Jordan and stand still with their feet in the water. Now they were told why. It was because as they stood there the waters would be cut off and would cease coming down the river bed, and would stand in one heap. This may well have occurred because a downfall of sand and rock had blocked the river at exactly the right time, heaping the waters up. Such downfalls of sand and rock are known to have achieved this situation from time to time with the Jordan, and it has often been observed. One such occurred while Garstang was there. The main miracle here was the timing.
‘The Ark of YHWH, the Lord of all the earth.’ A slightly different phrase than in verse 11. There the covenant of YHWH with His people was pre-eminent, here it was YHWH as the God of battle Who was in mind, as 6.8 onwards demonstrate. Both are intertwined in the whole account. Notice again ‘the Lord of all the earth’. No one else could stop the waters of the Jordan. They were going across in covenant with YHWH, and they were going across to do battle, and the Lord of all the earth was with them.
The Priest Move Forward Bearing The Ark, Followed By The People, And As Soon As The Priests’ Feet Touch The Waters, The Waters Are Cut Off And The Priests Bearing The Ark Are Able To Stand On Dry Ground In The Midst Of The Jordan So That All The People Can Cross Over On Dry Ground (3.14-17).
3.14-16a ‘And so it was that when the people removed from their tents to pass over Jordan, the priests bearing the Ark of the covenant being before the people, and when those who bore the ark were come to Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the Ark were dipped in the brink of the water, for Jordan overflows all its banks all the time of harvest, that the waters which came down from above stood. They rose up in one heap a great way off at Adam, the city which is beside Zarethan, and those that went down towards the sea of the Arabah, even the Salt Sea, were wholly cut off .’
This long and complicated sentence describes what happened. The people struck camp, the priests then bore the Ark before the people, they arrived at the Jordan, their feet entered the water, and then it happened. The waters ceased a great way off so that where the river had been swollen and raging it became an empty river bed before their very eyes.
‘The people removed from their tents to pass over Jordan.’ They took down their tents and packed their possessions for the last time in Beyond Jordan. For they knew that somehow, although they did not know how, they were going to cross over. Then they marched two thousand cubits behind the Ark, led by the priests who carried the Ark, the Ark which witnessed to their covenant with YHWH, and by all the priests and Levites.
And the priests who bore the Ark marched steadfastly up to the swollen, fast moving waters of the Jordan and stepped into the waters at their edge.
Then ‘the waters which came down from above stood. They rose up in one heap a great way off at Adam, the city which is beside Zarethan.’ Compare Exodus 15.8 whose language is reflected here. Adam was just over twenty eight kilometres (seventeen miles) north of Jericho, near Zarethan in the Jordan valley (Zarethan was probably on the west side of the Jordan), where there is a ford over the river. The river may have been blocked as a result of an earth tremor causing the collapse of high banks of the river and of cliffs by the Jordan. This would make a dam against which the waters would rise up in a heap. It would leave a twenty eight kilometre (seventeen mile) gap for the Israelites to make use of. Similar events are well documented as having occurred at times through history in, for example, 1267, 1909 and 1927. But this was at God’s timing.
‘And those that went down towards the sea of the Arabah, even the Salt Sea, were wholly cut off.’ Once the waters stopped flowing from above, the waters below would subside, and eventually disappear into the Dead Sea leaving a further stretch of dry land for any number to cross. ‘The Sea of the Arabah’ would appear to be the ancient name of the sea, which was later called ‘The Salt Sea’. The name ‘The Dead Sea’ is post-Old Testament.
Notice how quietly the miracle is described. There is no fanfare. It is just assumed that the disappearance of the waters occurred because the priests bearing the Ark entered the waters (contrast Exodus 14.21), although later it will be made clear that it was YHWH Who did it (4.23).
3.17 ‘And the priests who bore the Ark of the covenant of YHWH stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all Israel passed over on dry ground, until all the nation were passed clean over Jordan.’
The priests then marched with the Ark into the middle of the Jordan and stood there on dry ground (ground on which there was no standing water) while all the people crossed over and safely reached the other side of the Jordan, having no doubts because they were confident that YHWH Himself was holding back the waters. They had arrived in Canaan!
‘Passed clean over Jordan.’ Literally ‘were finished to pass over’, thus had finished passing over.
For the meaning of ‘dry’ compare Genesis 8.13, 14 where in verse 13 the ground was no longer covered in water and in verse 14 it had dried out. The noun here relates to the first.
‘The ark of the covenant of YHWH.’ The longer appellation stressed that it not only at this time reminded them of their covenant with YHWH, but also that that covenant was with YHWH, the God Who does wonders.
Chapter 4. Setting Up A Memorial.
This chapter describes how God commanded that the men of Israel should take twelve stones out of the middle of Jordan. They were then to carry them to the first place that they lodged at as a memorial of their passage over it. It also describes how Joshua set up twelve other stones in the river itself, and how many men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, went before the Israelites when they crossed over. Once this was done, the priests were ordered to come out of Jordan, and the waters then returned to their place. The time when this miracle was wrought is noted, and an account given of Joshua's placing the twelve stones, which were taken out of Jordan, in Gilgal. The use that they would have in the future time is then explained.
The importance of this episode comes out especially in the deliberate repetition and tracking back that takes place which has confused many scholars. They overlook the fact that this was intended to be read to the people, and that the repetition and tracking back enabled the listeners not only to grasp the story but to take part in it and to grasp it fully so as to remember it. It helped to ram the significance of the story home to them, together with each important detail, so that they would not overlook it or forget it. They could not glance back at the previous page to remind themselves what had happened, so the account repeats it to ensure that they have grasped and absorbed it. A reading of many ancient narratives will bring home how this was an important method used by ancient writers.
Twelve Stones Are To Be Taken Out Of The Jordan And Placed In The Place That they Lodged At That Night, Symbolic Of The Safe Passage Over The Waters Of The Twelve Tribes (4.1-8).
4.1-3 ‘And so it was that when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, YHWH spoke to Joshua, saying, “Take you twelve men out of the people, a man from each tribe, and command them saying, ‘Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones, and carry them over with you, and set them down in the lodging place where you shall lodge this night.’ ” ’
The piling up of stones was a recognised method of establishing a memorial. It carried covenantal overtones (Genesis 31.46-48). Here, as in Genesis, each tribe was represented by a stone. As promised the twelve tribes had reached the promised land. God had fulfilled His covenant. Other examples of memorial stones can be found in Genesis 28.18; 31.45-49; Joshua 7.26; 8.29; 24.26; 2 Samuel 18.18. In no case were they put in a circle.
The command was through Joshua to the people. ‘Take you (plural).’ It was the people who were to select the twelve men. These twelve men, representatives of each tribe acting on behalf of the people, were then to take from the place where the priests stood with the Ark, in the middle of the Jordan riverbed, twelve stones, and place them where they lodged that night on behalf of the whole people.
‘Out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm.’ This may signify that the priests very sensibly stood on rocks on the damp river bed, but it need not mean that those actual rocks had to be selected.
It should be noted that there is no mention of a circle of stones and Gilgal strictly means ‘a rolling’ or ‘the cartwheel’, not specifically a circle. If the account was supposed to explain a famous circle of stones that fact would surely have been made clear. The usual method was to pile up stones and there is no reason to doubt that this was what was done in this case. The pile showed that the twelve tribes had survived and had arrived and camped there.
4.4-5 ‘Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man, and Joshua said to them, “You, pass over before the Ark of YHWH your God into the midst of Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel.”
The twelve men whom Joshua had told the tribal leaders to select (3.12) were now informed of their purpose. They were to go into the middle of the river where the priests had been standing, and each was to bring a large stone, small enough for one man to carry but large enough to require shoulder work, to the bank.
‘Pass over before the Ark of YHWH your God.’ This probably signifies that the Ark was still in the river bed with the priests, and they were to cross to where it was and come ‘before’ it, and gather the stones. This seems the most likely as it was the Ark’s presence that guaranteed that the waters would not flow. It must be seen as probable that these men had re-sanctified themselves for the task, although possibly their previous sanctification (3.5) was sufficient, for they alone were allowed near the Ark by divine dispensation (compare the elders on Sinai - Exodus 24.9-11). Alternatively it could mean that the Ark had now been brought to the west bank and they were to enter the river bed again, followed by the priests with the Ark, for the purpose of gathering the stones. This latter is unlikely as the Ark would surely have led the way.
The differing ways of describing the Ark by the attached genitival phrases was to bring out the different aspects of and sacredness of the Ark. It represented the binding covenant, the words of YHWH; it represented YHWH Himself as the King on His throne; it represented the covenant of YHWH Himself, it represented the covenant of YHWH their God, it represented the Lord of the whole earth.
4. 6-7 “That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask in time to come saying, ‘What do you mean by these stones?’ Then you shall say to them, that the waters of Jordan were cut off before the Ark of the covenant of YHWH. When it passed over Jordan the waters of Jordan were cut off, and these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel for ever.”
The stones were intended for a permanent sign to future generations, to remind their children, and their children’s children, of this amazing event. They would be able to stress that the stones came from the bottom of the river when it ceased flowing at YHWH’s command. Note the repetition to bring home to the hearers the important and central fact, ‘the waters of Jordan were cut off’. Repetition was like two witnesses, it stressed the truth that was stated.
4.8 ‘And the children of Israel did so, as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan as YHWH spoke to Joshua, in accordance with the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and set them down there.’
This was what they had been commanded to do and this was what they did. The overall stress is that they were obedient to what YHWH commanded. They took up twelve stones from the bed of the river, one for each of the tribes of Israel, and carried them to the place where they lodged that night.
Notice the stress that all Israel was involved in the act of the twelve men. The men did it as their representatives, but it was all Israel who were doing it. This was stressed by the plural ‘you’ in verse 2, and now here.
After The Priests Bearing The Ark Leave Their Stations And Make For The Bank, The People Having Safely Crossed While They Stood There, A Further Twelve Stones Are Set Up In The Midst Of The Jordan In The Place Where The Priests Had Stood As A Sign The YHWH Had Been Active There (4.9-14).
4.9 ‘And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the Ark of the covenant stood, and they are there to this day.’
As well as setting twelve stones from the river on the land, Joshua also arranged for the placing of twelve stones in the river from the land. This was a wise move. The twelve stones on the land could be vandalised or removed by enemies but those in the river, placed so as to be obvious from the shore, would not be likely to be so treated. They may have been placed by the ford so as to be in shallowish water, which may well have been where the priests crossed and stood. The stones were there as replacing the priests. There may well have been twelve priests bearing the Ark as representing the tribes. But every time an Israelite crossed the ford at that point he would see the stones in the water and remember how the priests had stood in the Jordan riverbed with the Ark of YHWH their God, Lord of the whole earth, and how it had been dry.
‘They are there to this day.’ This could have been said a few years later. It is not necessarily an indication of a long gap. Could this suggest that the stones placed on the land were not in fact there to that day?
Alternatively we could read the whole verse as meaning (to paraphrase and amplify) ‘and Joshua set up the twelve stones which had been laid down (per verse 8). These were twelve stones which were previously in the midst of Jordan in the place where the feet of the priests which bore the Ark of the covenant stood (as mentioned in 4.3), until he arranged for them to be taken up and set in their night’s lodging place, and they are there to this day’. So ‘in the midst -- stood’ is seen as explaining which stones were in mind and where they came from. NIV reads it this way. But if it is so it reads very awkwardly.
4.10 ‘For the priests who bore the Ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until everything was finished that YHWH commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua, and the people hurried and passed over.’
Note here the twofold emphasis. Firstly that the people obeyed YHWH in everything that He had commanded through Joshua, and secondly that Joshua behaved uprightly in the way that Moses had commanded him, by obeying YHWH in accordance with the laws of Moses, turning neither to the right hand or to the left (1.7 compare Deuteronomy 31.7). In all that Joshua did Moses was behind him and was his mentor.
Note also that the priests stood firmly in the midst of the Jordan with the Ark of the covenant of YHWH until everything was completed. For all would believe that were the Ark to leave the river the waters would flow again. It was only YHWH Who was holding them back.
‘And the people hurried and passed over.’ There were many of them and many possessions. As hour by hour passed they swarmed over, moving quickly so that those behind might also be able to follow.
4.11 ‘And so it was that, when the people were clean crossed over, the Ark of YHWH crossed over, and the priests in front of (in the presence of, in front of the eyes of) the people.’
Once all were over and the stones in the Jordan were in place, and the other stones were on the bank waiting to be set in their night’s lodging-place, then the priest’s finished their crossing, bearing the Ark of YHWH ready for the battle to come (see verses 11-12), in front of all the people.
‘In front of’. ‘In the presence of the people’ or ‘before the people’, compare the use of ‘before’ in 3.5). It means in front of their very eyes.
4.12 ‘And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spoke to them, about forty eleph ready armed for war, passed over before Yahweh to battle, to the plains of Jericho.’
This is not chronologically placed. The point is that they passed over at some stage in the sight of the people and in the sight of YHWH, ready armed for the coming battle, just as the ‘Ark of YHWH’ had crossed over ready for the battle. This was not just a crossing over, it was a crossing over with a martial purpose.
‘To the plains of Jericho.’ These were in striking contrast to what they had left. The plains of Jericho were well watered and fruitful, with rich soil, a greenhouse climate and irrigated by perennial waters.
‘Forty eleph.’ That is, forty fighting units (the word eleph means ‘family’, ‘clan’, ‘sub-tribe’, ‘military unit’, ‘captain’, or ‘thousand’). Compare Judges 5.8; 2 Samuel 10.18. These were all the young fighting men of these tribes, fit and ready to serve Yahweh. The older men and the younger remained to assist their families to settle.
4.14 ‘On that day YHWH magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life.’
That day was the making of Joshua in the eyes of the people more than any other day before or after. It filled them with awe. They recognised that here was one who was entrusted with awesome powers by YHWH, just as Moses had been before him, that Joshua was a second Moses. And they never forgot it.
The Priests Bearing The Ark Leave The Center Of The Jordan With The Result That The Flood Waters Return And All The People Encamp At Gilgal Where The Stones Taken From The Jordan Are Set Up As A Memorial (4.15-24).
4.15-16 ‘And YHWH spoke to Joshua, saying, “Command the priests who bear the Ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan.” ’
Having described the exit from Jordan of the Ark in verse 11 the writer now amplifies what happened and adds to it the words of Joshua about the event. This repetition and moving onwards is typical of ancient narratives. It occurs regularly throughout the Pentateuch (and is misrepresented by modern commentators as the evidence of sources as though ancient men wrote in the same way as moderns). There were of course possibly sources (such as the Book of Jasher) but not as suggested by the Documentary Theory.
The Ark is here called ‘the Ark of the Testimony’, a regular description only otherwise found in Exodus, although ‘the Ark of Testimony’ is used in Numbers 4.5; 7.89. It then became ‘the Ark of the covenant of YHWH’ (Numbers 10.33; 14.44; Deuteronomy 10.8; 31.9, 25 see also 31.26). This description was thus of great significance. The Ark of the Testimony was the initial description of the Ark which resulted from the revelation of God at Sinai and the giving of His ‘testimony’, His covenant in Exodus 20.1-17. Thus here the description emphasises that YHWH’s spoken ‘testimony’ to Israel was renewed as they entered the land. Jordan had become a new Sinai, where the revelation of YHWH’s power had been revealed, and from which His people would move in the strength of a renewed covenant. This will immediately be followed by the circumcision of the people (5.3).
4.17 ‘Joshua therefore commanded the priests saying, “You, come up out of Jordan.” ’
The emphasis is on the fact that Joshua did precisely what YHWH commanded. The aim is to bring out Joshua’s instant obedience to YHWH’s commands.
4.18 ‘And so it was that when the priests who bore the Ark of the covenant of YHWH came up from the middle of Jordan, and the soles of the priest’s feet were lifted up to the dry ground, the waters of Jordan returned to their place and went over all its banks as previously.’
The removal from the middle of the Jordan, of the Ark with its attendant priests, produced a remarkable effect. For immediately waters began to come down the river bed from the north, steadily increasing until once again they became a river in flood, overflowing its banks. Even the release of the waters were under YHWH’s control. Notice the mention of dry ground. That means completely dry rather than being simply not covered by water.
4.19 ‘And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, on the eastern border of Jericho.’
This time note is reminiscent of time notes in the account of the flood (Genesis 8.14), the account of the Exodus (Exodus 16.1) and of similar time notes in the Babylonian flood story. They were clearly ancient practise in such narratives. The tenth day of the first month was the day when Passover lambs had to be set aside (see 5.10; Exodus 12.3). It was indicating that YHWH had again protected His people. Israel had two dates which were seen as inaugurating a new year, one which began in September/October (Exodus 23.16), the agricultural year, and one which began in March/April. The latter was instituted at the Exodus (Exodus 12.2), a memorial of the great deliverance from Egypt, while the former went back into time immemorial.
The fact that the latter did not fully take over from the former demonstrates the strength of custom. They would always through the centuries think of the agricultural year as beginning in September/October and the redemptive year as beginning in March/April. Until their lives became more regulated by the establishing of a sophisticated royal court it mattered little. As a whole they thought more in terms of seasons than of months. The Canaanites at Ugarit used totally different names for the months of the year, although we only know four names of months in early Hebrew, Abib (Exodus 13.4), Ziv (1 Kings 6.1, 37), Ethanim (1 Kings 8.2), and Bul (1 Kings 6.38), three of those coming from the time of Solomon. Usually months were identified by numbers (Genesis 7.11; 8.4, 5; Exodus 12.2; 19.1; Numbers 33.8; Deuteronomy 1.3).
‘They encamped in Gilgal.’ Gilgal means ‘a rolling’, therefore ‘that with which one rolls, a cartwheel’. The Israelites were a practical people and thought of wheels as ‘rollers’ rather than as ‘round’. However, from its use scholars have suggested ‘a circle’ and relate it to the stones set up by Joshua, but there is no reason for thinking that Gilgal referred to a circle of stones other than speculation. The stones were in fact probably put in a heap. The description ‘Gilgal’, if it was Canaanite, probably relates to some local phenomenon such as a place where stones were rolled for the purpose of offering sacrifices. It was on the eastern side of Jericho. The watchmen in Jericho must have been terrified as they saw this great army camping there. (There were other Gilgals elsewhere in Canaan (12.23; 15.7) which supports a Canaanite origin for the name).
The site of Gilgal is considered by many to be Khirbet el-Mefjir where evidence of early iron-age occupation has been discovered, and it fits in with the topographical data, as indeed does the whole account. It became a permanent camp for Joshua during his activities in Canaan (5.10; 9.6; 10.6, 15, 43; 14.6). No doubt he found great strength from returning to the site of YHWH’s great work, and it was relatively secure from attack, with the east bank possessed by Israel.
4. 20 ‘And those twelve stones which they took out of Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal.’
This was in obedience to YHWH Who had told them that they must be set up at the place where they first lodged (verse 3). The stones had been carried there and laid there (verse 8), now Joshua erected them in a pile (or in a line, or even as a memorial altar) and declared their significance and importance for the future. The heap was a witness to the faithfulness of YHWH and His great power (compare Genesis 31.48). It indicated the border of the land and that YHWH watched over the land (compare Genesis 31.49, 52).
4.21-22 ‘And he spoke to the children of Israel, saying, “When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What mean these stones?’ Then you shall let your children know saying, ‘Israel came over this Jordan on dry land’.” ’
The stones also stood as a witness to future generations of this amazing event when the people had crossed over the riverbed of Jordan at a time when it was in flood, because YHWH had held back the waters so that they could cross, and had immediately released them once they were across. For the question asked by the children compare Exodus 12.26; 13.8, 14; Deuteronomy 4.9; 6.20-21; 11.19; 32.7. The teaching of children about YHWH and His activities on their behalf was considered of vital importance in Israel.
4.23 “For YHWH your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until you were passed over, as YHWH your God did to the Sea of Reeds, which he dried up from before us, until we were passed over.” ’
Note the change of pronoun to ‘us’. Joshua had been present at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds when they left Egypt, and he now likened the two events. The same God had taken them through the waters then and had brought them through the waters now. He was the same God as the Great Deliverer from Egypt. The two events were constantly linked together in the people’s worship of God (see Psalm 114).
These words are not part of what is to be specifically said to the children although no doubt the gist of them would be conveyed, for, had they been, the same pronouns would have been used throughout.
4. 24 “That all the people of the earth might know the hand of YHWH, that it is mighty, that they might fear YHWH your God for ever.”
These two great events were not just a witness to the children of Israel but to the whole world far and wide. They too would be made to recognise the great power of YHWH, and learn to ‘fear’ Him (compare Deuteronomy 28.10), especially when One Who was greater than all would one day come up out of that Jordan to become a witness to and sacrifice for that world.
For the fear of YHWH compare Deuteronomy 6.2, 13; 4.10; 5.29. Joshua was steeped in the ancient traditions and especially in Moses’ teaching in Deuteronomy. It signified reverent awe. We too must remember that like them we must love God and fear Him. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. He is not to be treated lightly.
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