Judges 3: Wherein we find lots of “dirt”

Leave a comment

God is very concerned that the new generations of Israelites aren’t paying the iron price for their stuff, so he sends some people over to “test” them (Judges 3:1):

  • 5 Philistine lords
  • The Canaanites
  • The Sidonians
  • And a bunch of Hivites

Unfortunately, this testing backfires a little and the Israelites start bedding down with their antagonisers – living with the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, intermarrying and “serving the Baals and the Asheroth” (Judges 3:7). This mirrors, with a slight difference, the formula we saw earlier, when the Israelites “served the Baals and the Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:13).

Othniel, son of Kenaz

The first judge is our old friend, Othniel, the circumstances of whose marriage we saw in Joshua 13:17 and Judges 1:13.

God sells the Israelites into the hands of King Chushanrishathaim of Aram-naharaim, which my RSV renders as Mesopotamia. The people are oppressed for eight years before God takes pity on them and raises up Othniel, Caleb’s nephew. Under his leadership, Israel finds peace for forty years, until Othniel’s death.

It’s quite interesting to see these two little snippets of stories. It suggests a much larger story that didn’t make it in.

Ehud, son of Gera

After Othniel dies, the people go right back to their wicked ways, so God sells them to King Eglon of the Moabites (who defeats Israel with the help of the Ammonites and the Amalekites). Israel is oppressed for eighteen years.

This King Eglon, we are told, was rather on the corpulent side. According to Jack Collins, Eglon’s name is something of a joke:

Eglon’s name (Heb. עֶגְלוֹן), it’s worth noting, bears a striking resemblance to the Hebrew words ‘egel (עֵגֶל), meaning “fatted calf,” and ‘agol (עָגֹל), “round,” so the non-Hebrew reader has already missed that the villain of the piece is essentially named “King Swolencalf.”

When God enters the reconciliation phase of his relationship with Israel, he brings up Ehud, son of Gera, of the tribe of Benjamin. Ehud, by the way, is left-handed. This is important to the story, but it is also something of a joke. As Jack Collins explains, “Benjamin” means “son of the right hand.”

Ehud rescues Israel, by Ford Madox Brown

Ehud rescues Israel, by Ford Madox Brown

His left-handedness gives him the advantage he needs. When he is selected to bring a tribute to the Moabites, he straps a sword to his right side, under his clothes. The text doesn’t spell this out, but it seems that any weapons-checking would have assumed that he would have been armed on the left side (a right-handed fighter would cross his arm over to his left side to draw), so they would have missed a weapon hidden on the wrong side.

Once the Israelites make their tribute, they make to leave but Ehud hangs back, telling King Eglon that he has a secret message. King Eglon dismisses his staff and takes Ehud up to “cool roof chamber” (Judges 3:20), which is apparently a bathroom (I’m assuming that the coolness refers to a draft, which would tame the smell?). I didn’t pick up on this when reading, but Brant Clements suggests that perhaps the idea is to give Ehud his private audience while sitting on the toilet as a sort “see what I think of you Israelites” message.

Once Ehud and King Eglon are alone, Ehud – badass that he is – says “I have a message from God for you” (Judges 3:20) and stabs the king through the belly with his sword. He thrusts the sword in so deep that the hilt goes in. He stabs so hard that “the dirt came out” (Judges 3:22). I think that means either that he punctured the king’s intestines, or perhaps that the king defecated. Either way, it’s quite clear from the context that “dirt” is a euphemism.

His job done, Ehud locks the door and escapes (or escapes and then locks the door, depending on your reading).

The servants come to check on their master but determine that he must just be focusing really hard on his business, so they delay in unlocking the door and discovering the body. It seems possible that the smell of the “dirt” makes them think that their master is live and well and happily voiding his bowels in the company of that Israelite guest.

His business done, Ehud runs to Seirah, sounds a trumpet to gather the Israelites, and marches on the Moabites while they are leaderless. Ten thousand Moabites are killed, “all strong, able-bodied men” (Judges 3:29), and Israel gets to rest for the next 80 years.

I really enjoyed Jack Collins’s two posts on this story, which go into quite a bit of detail on the many puns used. The story was funny on first reading, but absolutely hilarious with the commentary Collins provides. Go read Part 1 and Part 2.

And since it’s obligatory, I’ll close off this section with a mention of Deut. 2:9, where God tells Moses: “Distress not the Moabites, neither content with them in battle.”

Shamgar, son of Anath

Shamgar is hardly worth a mention – or, at least, that’s what the author(s) thought. We are told merely that he killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad (a ‘goad’ being a spiked stick used for driving cattle, according to freedictionary).

His section ends with what is clearly an editor insert: “he too delivered Israel” (Judges 3:31). Ah, so that’s what he was doing with that oxgoad!

Judges 1-2: Introduction to the judge cycle

8 Comments

Judges opens up with a listing of tribal conquests in the Promised Land. There’s evidence of an editor’s hand in trying to place Judges as a continuation from the Book of Joshua (I assume that’s the Deuteronomist editor, given the way it’s done), but it’s sloppy. Even as a translation, it’s quite clear where the older portions are coming through.

For example, Judges begins with “after the death of Joshua” (Judges 1:1), but what follows is totally its own thing. The language is different, the tone is different. It’s abundantly clear that an editor, trying to upcycle old stories to make his theological point, simply glued that fraction of a sentence onto the beginning of the text to situate it in the broader historical narrative. You can still see the seams, however, as the sentence continues with the Israelites asking God “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” If this were really the work of a single historian taking down the narrative as it was, the people would have no cause to ask this as Joshua was the first to go up against the Canaanites. It’s done, that part of the story should be over.

Well, here, the answer is Judah. Which is another interesting detail – for a couple sentences, Judah is not a tribe but a person, as he was back in Genesis. It was a tremendous lightbulb moment for me as I saw these three separate layers shine, like looking at pysanki. You have the oldest portion of the story, where the tribes are personified as people who have personalities, deeds, familial relationships. Then you have the middling portion where tribes act independently, trying to carve little territories out for themselves. Finally, you have the newest portion, the portion from whatever region where Joshua is a folk hero, and you have his narrative made grander, his tribe’s history made into the history of all the tribes.

Judah asks “Simeon his brother” (Judges 1:3) to help him fight for the land he’s been allotted and, in return, he will help Simeon in his own lands. My study Bible notes that “the tribe of Simeon plays no significant role in the later history of Israel. Not mentioned in the Song of Deborah (5.2-31), it was probably entirely absorbed by Judah at an early day” (p.293). In other words, it seems likely that this story of the two brothers helping each other out likely came out of the memory of their intertwined history.

Together, the brothers defeat Adonibezek, who is apparently some sort of leader among the Canaanites and Perizzites. Having defeated him, the brothers then cut off his thumbs and big toes. This is apparently the thing to do with subject kings because Adonibezek, the very opposite of a sore loser, says that he used to have 70 thumbless and big toe-less kings eating his table scraps and that he is now, himself, brought as low. They bring him to Jerusalem and he dies.

Tribal Conquests (sort of)

The personification of the tribes ends, and the story continues by referring to “the men of Judah” (Judges 1:8). These men fight against Jerusalem (where they, curiously, had brought Adonibezek) and, taking it, set it on fire. They then go after the Canaanites living in Hebron. We start to see how this narrative was once independent of the Joshua account, rather than a continuation of it – Hebron was taken by Joshua in Josh. 10:36-37.

Judges 1 - Chariots of IronThen Judah goes off and conquers some other people in other places. One of them is the city of Ekron. This city was allotted to Judah in Josh. 13:3, but was also allotted to Dan in Josh. 19:43. Here, it seems to have reverted back to Judah.

The only place where Judah fails, according to the text, is in the plain. Unfortunately, they are not able to defeat them because “they had chariots of iron” (Judges 1:19). You’ll recall, of course, that Manasseh and Ephraim encountered chariots of iron in Josh. 17:16, and had concerns that they might not be able to beat such superweapons. In that story, Joshua reminds them that they have God on their side and therefore even chariots (though they may be of iron!) pose no threat. Clearly, that was a theological insert by our busy little editor rather than a testament to God’s actual power, because Judah is unable to stand against them though that very same Lord was with him (Judges 1:19).

Over at Daylight Atheism, Adam Lee tries to understand this passage’s significance in understanding the evolution of religious belief:

On the other hand, it may just be that this verse was written when Yahweh was regarded as a local deity, supernaturally powerful but not invincible. In this respect, the biblical authors might have conceived of him as similar to the ancient Greek gods, who according to the Iliad could be wounded by humans. Iron chariots, in the world of the the Ancient Near East, were the most technologically advanced weapon of war in existence. They seem to have played a decisive role in conflicts like the Battle of Qarqar in 850 BCE, when an alliance of smaller kingdoms (including King Ahab of Israel, whom the Bible’s authors reviled) fended off an invasion by the regional superpower of Assyria.

It’s possible that the Bible’s original authors imagined God as not powerful enough to overcome this technology, and that the dogma of his total omnipotence was a later innovation. (By Judges chapter 4, God seems to have acquired the ability to defeat chariots.) If so, this verse might be a fossil of that earlier belief, preserved in the text like a prehistoric insect in amber. As a part of modern Judeo-Christian theology it’s like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit, but if we take a more rational view of the Bible as a collection of human-written and human-compiled documents, verses like this may provide valuable clues about its origin and evolution.

What follows is something of a change in tone. While Judah gets about half a chapter narrating its various successes (and one failure), the rest of the tribes are not quite so celebrated:

  • Benjamin fails to drive our the Jebusites in Jerusalem so that they must live together “to this day” (Judges 1:21) – apparently Judah’s conquest of the city in Judges 1:8 didn’t help.
  • Manasseh fails to conquer a bunch of places, but at least the Israelites are later able to enslave those natives (Judges 1:27-28).
  • Zebulun likewise fails a bunch, but enslaves the people later (Judges 1:30).
  • The same for Naphtali (Judges 1:33).
  • Ephraim fails, but has to live with the natives without getting to force them into labour (Judges 1:29).
  • Likewise for Asher (Judges 1:31-32).
  • Dan is pushed off the plain and into the hills by the Amorites, but Joseph (that would be the combined tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim) come along to harass and enslave them (Judges 1:34-36).

It’s implied that all the tribes had some successes and some failures, yet for some reason much is made of Judah’s successes while none are mentioned for the others. I found this strange, and it only got stranger when I read my study Bible notes and found out that Judah’s successes may actually be the work of our old friend the editor: “The account of their [Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron] capture is almost certainly unhistorical; the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) says specifically that Judah “did not” take them” (p.294).

In light of the theological point being set up by this chapter, it would make far more sense for Judah to receive the same treatment as the other tribes. And yet, they are given many successes (and, possibly, even some of their failures were alter edited into successes). It makes little sense, and it’s hard to imagine why the editor included it at all.

Itty Bitty Stories

The first chapter of Judges includes a few extra stories. The story of Caleb offering up his daughter, Achsah, to any man who takes Debir is taken almost verbatim from Josh. 15:13-19. If you remember, Caleb’s nephew, Othniel son of Kenaz, takes him up on the offer. Once he and Achsah are married, she tells him to petition her father for a field. The granting of the field is skipped over, but having gotten it, Achsah then asks for some springs to go along with it (which she does while dismounting a donkey in both versions, which is a rather random detail to be considered important enough to include in both versions!), and Caleb grants them.

We’re also told that the Kenites, which either includes Moses’s father-in-law or who are descended from Moses’s father-in-law (Judges 1:16 – I’m unclear on how to read the passage), went along with Judah into the Negeb and, there, they settled together. My study Bible notes that “the Kenites were a nomadic tribe closely allied to the Hebrews” (p.294). This is not the first time we’ve heard of them: In Genesis, God tells Abraham that his descendants will be given the land that currently belongs to the Kenites, among others (Gen. 15:18-21). The only other mention I can find of them is in Numbers, where Balak has a weird prophecy that involves a Kenite city being burned and the people taken captive (Num. 24:21-22). This is certainly the first time I’ve ever heard them mentioned in relation to Moses or his father-in-law.

The final story involves the tribe of Joseph (which appears as a whole tribe, not divided into Ephraim and Manasseh) going after a city named Luz. They send out spies who hang around outside the city until they see a man coming out. They accost him, saying that if he shows them how to enter, they will spare him (apparently the gate is cleverly hidden, bear with me). The man agrees, Joseph’s army destroys the city, and somehow it gets renamed Bethel. The man leaves with his family and heads into Hittite territory, where he founds a new city and names it Luz, presumably for good luck. “That is its name to this day” (Judges 1:26).

The moral of the story

If you’re confused as to why we’ve just spent half a chapter hearing about Israelite failures, Judges 2 provides your answer. An “angel of the Lord” (Judges 2:2 – who is also the Lord himself?) appears to someone and says that he brought the Israelites out of Egypt on the condition that they “make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars” (Judges 2:2). Their failure to adequately perform is the reason that so many natives remain among them. Further, the punishment of this is that “their gods shall be a snare to you” (Judges 2:3).

It’s all rather silly. They are supposed to need God to destroy the natives, but they didn’t destroy the natives, so they’ll be punished by being unable to destroy the natives. Further, the punishment for fraternizing with the enemy is having lots of temptations to fraternize with the enemy. It reminds me of the Garden of Eden story. It’s clear that this passage is an editorial insert that seeks to a) explain the continued presence of non-Hebrews in Israel despite all the “promised land” rhetoric, b) provide a moral context for the stories that are to follow, and c) set up a pattern to explain any contemporary social ills, particularly in relation to foreign peoples.

So Joshua – who is suddenly alive again, praise the Lord! – dismisses the people and everything is okay until the generation that had seen God’s works died off. The next generation, however, started serving the Baals and the Ashtaroth (Judges 2:13). This begins a cycle in which God turns against the people, selling them into the hands of the enemy du jour, then cools off a bit and raises up a judge save them, then the judge dies and the people return to their wicked ways, so God throws a fit and sells them into the hands of the next enemy. This is, I am given to understand, the pattern we will see repeated throughout Judges.

The backstory out of the way, I believe we should be seeing our first judge on Monday!

Joshua 23-24: Promises are made and people die

Leave a comment

I mentioned in my post about Joshua 1 that, according to Collins, “key points in this [Deuteronomistic History] are marked by speeches. A speech by Joshua in Joshua 1 marks the beginning of the conquest, and another in Joshua 23 marks its conclusion” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.94-95).

That’s pretty much the ground covered in Joshua 23.

Years have passed in peace and, now old, Joshua calls together all the elders. Strangely, he tells them that he has “allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off” (Josh. 23:4). Strange because for all the talk of peace for many years and the end of the conquest, it’s quite clear that there’s plenty of warring left to do if the Israelites are to accomplish their stated goals.

But at least he promises God’s support in the remaining conqueration.

Was Joshua’s task not to take the whole of the land promised to the Israelites? Why did he not finish? It seems like the author(s) was dealing with a conflict between the rhetoric of the story being set down and the reality they lived in.

I also think that the idea of ‘work left to do’ might serve another purpose. In the context of a land half-occupied by Assyrians and soon-to-be overtaken by Babylonians, I can well imagine that the people may have wanted to read: “The Lord your God will push them back before you, and drive them out of your sight; and you shall possess their land, as the Lord your God promised you” (Josh. 23:5).

Assuming that the authors are writing with purpose, Collins writes:

The need for fidelity to “all that is written in the law of Moses” is also emphasized in Joshua 23, the farewell speech of Joshua. Joshua concedes that the Canaanites have not been wiped out and warns against intermarriage with them (23:12-13). The prohibition of intermarriage is found already in Deuteronomy 7 with reference to the seven peoples of the land. It did not necessarily apply to all peoples. Some distinctions between Gentiles were possible. Deuteronomy 23 distinguishes between the Ammonites and Moabites, who may not be admitted to the assemble of the Lord “even to the tenth generation,” and the Edomites and Egyptians, who may be admitted after the third. The thrust of Deuteronomy, however, is to maintain a distinct identity, and this could be threatened by intermarriage with any Gentiles. After the Babylonian exile, moreover, a significant part of the Jewish people lived outside the land of Israel, and the need for boundaries over against the Gentiles became more urgent. In this context, distinctions between Ammonites and Edomites lost its significance and all intermarriage was discouraged. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.106)

Joshua then passes on to a summary of the story so far, starting with Abraham’s entry into Canaan, through Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Jacob going into Egypt, Moses and Aaron leading the people back out, and then fighting loads of people. There’s even a mention of Balaam (though his donkey is, sadly, absent).

The new covenant

As Brant Clements points out, Joshua speaks directly on God’s behalf, tripping only once in Josh. 24:7, where he reverts to the third person.

Joshua 2Mostly, the speech serves to reinforce that all the Israelite victories have been God’s, and that it was God’s hand who guided them through the last couple hundred years of their history. At the end of this, Joshua asks the people not to serve other gods, even if their fathers did. The people agree.

Joshua then reminds them that if they serve other gods, God will “consume you” (Josh. 24:20). The people promise a second time.

Finally, Joshua reminds them that by giving their word they serve as a witness against themselves if they ever backtrack. The people promise a third time.

The implication is that the people had the choice, at this point, between following God or not doing so, that it is this promise that binds them (and not the promises made earlier to Moses). This is reinforced when Joshua finishes my making “a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem” (Josh. 24:25).

I’ve been theorizing throughout this book that Joshua may have once been a prophet/founder figure competing with the Moses-based cult. I don’t think it gets any clearer than it does here, where Joshua appears to go through all the same motions as Moses with no real acknowledgement that it’s been done before (despite the mention of Moses in the historical summary).

He even, after giving the statutes and ordinances, write his own “book of the law of God” (Josh. 24:26).

To memorialise this new covenant, Joshua places a great stone under the oak in the sanctuary at Shechem (Josh. 24:26). The reference to anything being “in the sanctuary” feels rather anachronistic. Apologists online seem mostly to argue that the oak is in the same field as the ark, but it sounds an awful lot like there is an actual sanctuary at Shechem at this point, one where Joshua was known as the covenant-bringer, not Moses.

My study Bible does corroborate that Shechem had some covenant-related importance: “The Canaanite god worshiped at Shechem was called Baal-, or El-Berith, “god of the covenant” (Jg. 9.4,46). The city thus had covenant associations for the Canaanites as well as the Israelites” (p.292).

According to Victor Matthews, this story became important for the later Samaritans:

Instead, they [the Samaritans] declared Mount Gerizim near Shechem to be their place of worship (see Gen 12:6-7 and Josh 24 for events justifying their position). The Samaritans took advantage of Alexander’s political goodwill to construct an alternative temple on Mount Gerizim around 330 B.C. (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.165).

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that the oak at Shechem is mentioned. In Genesis 35:4, it is where Jacob buries all his household idols at God’s command.

Many deaths

At 110, Joshua dies and is buried on his land at Timnathserah.

Joseph’s bones – which had been brought up out of Egypt – are finally buried at Shechem, on the land that Jacob bought in Gen. 33:18-19.

Eleazar dies and is buried at Gibeah.

Joshua 13-21: Land allotments, oh my!

Leave a comment

Always a bit of a Debbie Downer, God begins by telling Joshua that he’s getting old and that there is still much land to be conquered. He then proceeds to list these lands in Josh. 13:2-6.

The narrator follows up by describing the boundaries of the land under Israelite control on the east side of the Jordan, reminding us once more about how Moses defeated King Og and King Sihon (will he ever stop going on about that?). We are told that the Israelites had failed to drive out the Geshurites and Maacathites, who still live within Israel “to this day” (Josh. 13:13).

The actual allocation sections are a little scattered, so I’ll deal with the content out of order. In Josh. 18, Joshua tells the tribes who still require lands to each send out three men to scout the land and write descriptions of it. When they return, Joshua will use a lottery system to divide it among the tribes. This all takes place at Shiloh.

ChariotsBecause the place names are extremely boring, I will just list verse references plus any detail that happens to attract my interest. Here are the tribal allocations:

Judah: Josh. 15:1-12, 20-63. Though God had promised to Joshua that no one would be able to stand against him (Josh. 1:5), the people of Judah were not able to drive out the Jebusites, who were the people living in Jerusalem. Because of this, “the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day” (Josh. 15:63).

Reuben: Josh. 13:15-23.  Amid the listing of territories, we are reminded that the Israelites killed Balaam, “who practiced divination” (Josh. 13:22). This was, if you remember, a totally awkward twist from Numbers 31

Gad: Josh. 13:24-28. In Josh. 13:27, we are told that Gad gets “the rest of the kingdom of King Sihon. This conflicts with Josh. 13:21, where we are told that Reuben is to receive “all the kingdom of King Sihon.” The biblical penchant for exaggeration is all well and good, but probably a terrible idea when relating tribal land allocations…

Manasseh (eastern half/Machir): Josh. 13:29-31, 17:3-6. In Josh. 17, we are reminded of Zelophehad’s daughters – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah – who are to receive an inheritance in their own right. Here, the women are given their lands.

Manasseh (western half): Josh. 17:7-13. Once more, the Israelites are unable to kill off all the native inhabitants, so that the Manassites have to wait until they strong enough to enslave the Canaanites.

Ephraim: Josh. 16:1-10. Once again, we are told that they were unable to drive some people out – the Canaanites of Gezer remain and, we are told, have been enslaved.

Benjamin: Josh. 18:11-26.

Simeon: Josh. 19:1-9. Though the apportioning of land was supposed to have been fair, for some reason Joseph had given too much to Judah. So when he gets to Simeon, he doesn’t have enough territory to give and has to carve pieces out from Judah and give them over. Mastermind Joshua strikes again. You’d think he’d have planned ahead a little…

Zebulun: Josh. 19:10-16.

Issachar: Josh. 19:17-23. Excavations began on what is believed to be Anaharath, one of Issachar’s towns, somewhat recently!

Asher: Josh. 19:24-31.

Naphtali: Josh. 19:32-39.

Dan: Josh. 19:40-48. We are told that Dan took land from Leshem, renaming it “Dan” after their ancestor. Unfortunately, they are given Zorah and Eshtaol, which had already been given to Judah back in Josh. 15:33. Poor Joshua just cannot wrap his head around how this stuff works…

Levi: Josh. 21:1-45. Though they get no territory per se, the Levites do get cities, as well as a little pasture land. A portion of the Kohathites are given thirteen towns from Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. The rest of the Kohathites get ten towns from Ephraim, Dan, and Manasseh. The Gershonites get thirteen towns from Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Manasseh. The Merarites get twelve towns from Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun. We are told that Caleb had been given the fields and villages of one of the towns now being given to the Levites.

Caleb and Joshua

Caleb: Josh. 14:6-15, 15:13-19. You’ll remember Caleb has the scout who (with or without Joshua) stood against the other scouts in their position that the Israelites should not rush into the Promised Land. I can’t recall if Moses promised him his own land as a reward at the time, but the text here says that he did. And so, while Joshua is drawing all his lots, Caleb approaches and demands his reward. Though he is 85 years old now, he claims that he is still strong enough to fight and, therefore, would like to be granted the hill country where he had initially seen the Anakim (the giants he saw in Numbers 13). Joshua agrees, giving him Hebron – previously named Kiriatharba. The Arba in the name is the “greatest man among the Anakim” (Josh. 14:15). Incidentally, there’s a discussion over at Remnant of Giants about whether “Anakim” here should refer to a specific group of people, or whether it is used more broadly as a term for giants.

We have to wait until the next chapter and half of Judah’s allotment before we find out what happens next. Caleb heads up to Hebron and defeats Anak’s three sons, Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. Having now a taste for blood, he heads off to fight Debir, offering his daughter, Achsah, as a wife for anyone who conquers it for him. Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, takes him up on the offer and marries his niece. She tells her new husband to ask her father for a field and they are given some land in the Negeb. Later, while dismounting a donkey (presumably not an unflattering nickname for Othniel), she asks her father for water springs as well. Caleb gives her a few.

It’s a cute story, but we were told in Josh. 11:21 that it was Joshua who had defeated the Anakim in Hebron and Debir.

Joshua: Josh. 19:49-51. Now that all the lands are distributed, God tells the Israelites to give Joshua some land, too. I love this little detail – we are specifically told that the Israelites gave Joshua his land (on God’s command), just in case anyone dared to wonder if perhaps Joshua was skimming a little from the top for himself! Of course, we’re also told that he specifically asked for the town they gave him, so it still feels a little like a stacked deck. Either way, he receives Timnathserah, which is in his tribe’s – Ephraim – land.

The Remainder

In Josh. 20, the cities of refuge are appointed. You will remember these cities from Numbers 35. We had been told that there should be six of them in total, and they are:

  1. Kedesh in Naphtali’s territory
  2. Shechem in Ephraim’s territory
  3. Kiriatharba (Hebron) in Judah’s territory
  4. Bezer in Reuben’s territory
  5. Ramoth in Gad’s territory
  6. Golan in Manasseh’s territory

The latter three had already been appointed in Deuteronomy 4.

The tribe of Joseph (composed of Manasseh and Ephraim) complain to Joshua that they are too numerous for the amount of land they were given. Joshua, who sadly lacks a head for numbers, also managed to muck up Judah’s portion (giving them too much) in Josh. 19:9. To solve the problem, Joshua sends them into the forests belonging to the Perizzites and Rephaim to clear some space for themselves.

But, reply Manasseh and Ephraim, those guys have chariots of iron! (Josh. 17:16) Joshua reassures them that they will be fine, and that they will drive out the Canaanites even though they have chariots of iron and are very strong.

Joshua 11-12: The king(s) in the north

Leave a comment

Having heard of, but not learned from, the Israelite conquests in the south, Jabin king of Hazor decides to form a new defensive pact with Jobab king of Madon and the unnamed kings of Shimron, Achshaph, the northern hill country, the Arabah south of Chinneroth, the lowlands, and Naphothdor. Altogether, he calls in Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Hivites, and they all encamp “at the waters of Merom, to fight with Israel” (Josh. 11:5).

God gives Joshua a quick pep talk, reminding him not to be afraid, oh and also to make sure that he hamstrings all the enemies’ horses and burns their chariots. Joshua and his army barely have to lift a finger until after the battle is over because God rushes ahead and smites all their enemies, scattering whatever survivors remain. Then Joshua and his men spring into action, hamstringing all the horses (seriously?) and burning all the chariots.

These seem like strange details to add, especially given how many times they are repeated. I still don’t understand why the horses needed to be hamstrung rather than, say, simply killed, but Victor Matthews provides some possible explanation for the burning of the chariots:

Israelites also used bronze weapons, but their lack of metallurgical knowledge, and the Philistine monopoly over the tin trade, probably forced many of their soldiers to use slings and farm implements to defend themselves. Some iron weapons were undoubtedly captured during raids by Israelite forces, but without the knowledge of metallurgy to repair and fabricate new weapons out of scrap metal, they would have become useless eventually. This may explain why the forces under Joshua chose to burn the chariots of the northern coalition of Canaanite kings rather than use them themselves (Josh 11:9). The Israelites could not repair the chariots, and they did not want to leave them behind for Canaanites to use against them in the future. Also, the chariots would have been of little use to Israelite bands operating out of the rugged hill country. (Manners & Customs in the Bible, p.59-60)

On to Hazor

Having removed the feet of the king of Hazor (get it? defeated? de-feeted? Oh, I slay me!), Joshua turns his sword toward the city itself – killing all its inhabitants and burning it down to the ground.

On Hazor, my study Bible indicates that it “was one of the largest cities of Galilee. Excavations have impressively demonstrated its importance in antiquity and confirmed the fact that it was captured at about the time indicated in this narrative” (p.277).

On the subject, Collins writes:

Similar results were obtained at Jericho and Ai, the two showpieces of the conquest in Joshua. Neither was a walled city in the Late Bronze period. Of nearly twenty [page break] identifiable sites that were captured in the biblical account, only two, Hazor and Bethel, have yielded archaeological evidence of destruction at the appropriate period. Ironically, Hazor is said to be still in Canaanite hands in Judges 4-5. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.96-98)

With Hazor out of the way, they move on to a bunch of other cities. These, however, they do not burn  to the ground. Rather, they kill all the people but keep the stuff for themselves. As if to fudge over that this is a clear violation of the rules governing holy war laid out in Deut. 20, the narrator tells us that in doing this, Joshua “left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses” (Josh. 11:15).

Victory of Joshua over the Amalekites, by Nicolas Poussin, c.1625

Victory of Joshua over the Amalekites, by Nicolas Poussin, c.1625

I also noticed that the narrative construction seems to flip-flop between this God>Moses>Joshua chain and the Moses>Joshua chain that we get, for example, in Josh. 11:12 (“[…] as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded”).

We are told that God “hardened” the hearts of the enemies so that they should seek to fight rather than make peace as Gibeon did, but I have to wonder, whose hearts did he harden, really? According to God’s instructions to the Israelites, they are forbidden from making peace, and have done so only when tricked into it. The consistency of the natives’ hearts seems somewhat irrelevant, given that God has already commanded that they all be slaughtered.

As a final note, we are told that Joshua also managed to kill most of the Anakim (except those in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod), fulfilling the promise made in Deut. 9:3. If you’ll remember, the Anakim were first met by the Israelite scouting party way back in Numbers 13.

That done, Joshua was finished “and the land had rest from war” (Josh. 11:23). With that, I am given to understand that the narrative portion of Joshua is essentially over. Booo!

Summaries

According to Collins, the Deuteronomistic Histories favour certain narrative devices, such as speeches and narrative summaries (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.94-95). We’ve seen this, of course, in Deuteronomy. Most notably, all of Deut. 1-3 is a recap of Moses’s story.

The summary begins with Moses’s exploits on the eastern side of the Jordan, describing his defeating of King Sihon of Heshbon and King Og of Bashan, because we cannot ever be allowed to forget that Moses beat these two guys. Like, ever. These lands, we are told once again, were given over to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh.

The rest of the chapter covers Joshua’s exploits, who are helpfully listed:

  1. The king of Jericho
  2. The king of Ai (which we are told once more is next to Bethel)
  3. The king of Jerusalem
  4. The king of Hebron
  5. The king of Jarmuth
  6. The king of Lachish
  7. The king of Eglon
  8. The king of Gezer
  9. The king of Debir
  10. The king of Geder
  11. The king of Hormah
  12. The king of Arad
  13. The king of Libnah
  14. The king of Adullam
  15. The king of Makkedah
  16. The king of Bethel
  17. The king of Tappuah
  18. The king of Hepher
  19. The king of Aphek
  20. The king of Lasharon
  21. The king of Madon
  22. The king of Hazor
  23. The king of Shimron-meron
  24. The king of Achshaph
  25. The king of Taanach
  26. The king of Megiddo
  27. The king of Kedesh
  28. The king of Jokneam in Carmel
  29. The king of Dor in Naphath-dor
  30. The king of Goiim in Galilee (which my study Bible tells me is Gilgal’s Greek name)
  31. The king of Tirzah

Joshua 10: And then a bunch of other stuff happened…

3 Comments

Now that we’ve gotten through the brief digression with the Gibeonites, we can get back to the five kings. Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem, is getting pretty nervous hearing about the falls of Jericho and Ai, so he decides to call in his buddies to form an alliance. Hohan king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish, and Debir king of Eglon all join in.

They are particularly concerned about the alliance with Gibeon, because “all its men were mighty” (Josh. 10:2), not to mention clever in a Bugs Bunny sort of way! Marking quite a change from the slavery curses of Joshua 9, here the Gibeonites couldn’t be on friendlier terms with the Israelites, they “had made peace with Israel and were among them” (Josh. 10:1).

The five kings move their armies to attack Gibeon, and the Gibeons appeal to the Israelites for help. Joshua, bound now by his allowance, moves his own army out from Gilgal to meet them.

The Israelite army marches all night and launches straight into battle (a detail possibly intended to be read as a miracle by anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter and had to go to work in the morning).

The five kings are routed and, as their armies flee, God does his part by pelting them with “stones” or  “hail-stones” from heaven (Josh. 10:11).

Then there’s the bit about the sun standing still, but I’ll cover that in its own section.

Back to the five kings, they make it all the way to Makkedah, where they hide in a cave. Cornered, they are easy enough for Joshua’s army to catch. Joshua displays his Alpha Male status by having all his leaders put their feet on the kings’ necks, then kills them (the kings, not his own leaders), and hangs their bodies from trees for the rest of the day. In the evening (in compliance with Deut. 21:23), the bodies are cut down and shoved back into the cave, the mouth of which is sealed with great stones “which remain to this very day” (Josh. 10:27).

Since he’s in the neighbourhood, Joshua decides to make a quick stop to cross Mekkedah off his Conqueror’s To Do List. He treats the king of Mekkedah “as he had done to the king of Jericho” (Josh. 10:28). Unless I am mistaken, however, I don’t believe that his treatment of Jericho’s king was every explicitly narrated.

The day the earth stood still

The miracle of the sun standing still really surprised me. This is a story that I thought I was very familiar with, since it’s so much in the popular culture.

What I was expecting was a narration of a battle where the Israelites were outnumbered or otherwise at a disadvantage. If night fell while the battle was still on, they would be overpowered. So, at the height of the battle, God makes the sun stand still, keeping it day and light until the Israelites are victorious.

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still, by Joseph-Marie Vien

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still, by Joseph-Marie Vien

What I got instead seems embarrassingly mundane. The armies of the five kings are running away, and Joshua tells the sun to stand still at Gibeon and the moon to stand still in the valley of Aijalon. They do so while the Israelites “took vengeance on their enemies” (Josh. 10:13). What they are taking vengeance for is not specified.

So the miracle is that the sun “did not hasten to go down for about a whole day” (Josh. 10:13). I hate to break it to my Sunday School teacher but…. that’s what it does every day. In fact, that’s kind of how we measure days…

We are also told that this “miracle” is confirmed by the Book of Jashar, which we obviously have no extant copies of.

The passage is also fairly ambiguous – what does it mean to say that the sun stood still? Does it mean that the sun, itself, stood still? Did the rest of the galaxy stop as well, or did we fall behind in the rotation? Or did the sun only stand still from an earth viewer’s perspective? In other words, was it that the earth stopped spinning?

If we’re even talking about a “standing still” as my Sunday School teacher would have it, the cascade of consequences seems somewhat endless.

But Claude Mariottini argues that the passage might not even refer to the sun standing still at all:

In Hebrew, the word translated “stand still” literally means “be silent.” In this context, Joshua was commanding the sun “to be silent,” that is, to keep from shining. Since the sun was rising in the east, his command to the sun was that it refrains from shining.

When Joshua came to fight against the Amorites, he came at night and caught them by surprise. Joshua was aided by the darkness caused by a huge storm that produced hail so big that it killed many people. In fact, the biblical text says that more people died from the hailstones than the people of Israel killed with the sword.

Since the hailstorm did not affect the army of Israel, Joshua needed the storm to last so that the hail could continue decimating the army of the Amorites. Consequently, Joshua’s prayer was for more darkness (the continuation of the storm) and not for more light. The reason Joshua’s army did not kill many soldiers was because the storm prevailed most of that day.

The view that Joshua prayed for more darkness is in agreement with the biblical text because the sun stood still (was silent, did not shine) for a whole day. This view also allows for a better understanding of the text without forcing upon it an interpretation that would require the reversal of the laws of physics.

Of course, we’re still left with little more than a creative interpretation of a very ambiguous passage.

Far more interesting is J.R. Porter’s assertion that “Gibeon was an ancient sanctuary, important in later Israelite history, and there is evidence that Shamash, the sun god, was worshipped there. The poem was originally addressed to Canaanite astral deities but was transferred to Yahweh by the Israelites.” (The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p.65)

This leaves us wondering about the purpose for the scrap’s inclusion. It doesn’t flow with the narrative and (to the extent that such can be determined in a translation) even the style and language use seems to differ from the text surrounding it. It feels stitched into its place.

And all the south

As I read Joshua, I’m struck by how local it feels considering that it’s supposed to narrate the invasion of an entire country. The elaborate stories all seem to take place in a very small territory. Once the narrative moves away from its borders, the story starts to seem rushed, not so much telling a story as simply listing names.

I’ve been theorizing that Joshua was a local “founding figure,” perhaps an analogue to Moses and Abraham. The fact that the richness of his story is so geographically confined would, it seems, support this theory. After all, the denizens of the Jericho/Gilgal/Ai area would hardly waste their time coming up with such detail for stories that take place in locations that the storytellers may have never even seen for themselves.

So Joshua may have been the founder of a particular tribe, for example, and then enlarged as he came to be woven into the narrative of unity and federation.

So the final portion of Joshua 10 tells of Joshua’s conquest in the south, the cities he takes listed with very little interest or creativity on the author(s)’s part: Libnah, Lachish, Gezer (whose king, Haram, comes to Lachish’s defence), Eglon, Hebron, and Debir.

Joshua 9: Joshua continues to display questionable judgement

Leave a comment

A bunch of kings in the area start getting nervous about Joshua’s inept bungling into conquest, and start talking about forming an alliance. Then that narrative is suddenly dropped (to be resumed in the next chapter) in favour of the one involving the Gibeonites (who will also make a reappearance in the next chapter).

The Gibeonites, you see, have figured out that Joshua has the ark – think of it like the nuclear arsenal of the ancient world. So long as Joshua has God on his side, they can’t hope to fight him and survive – the only option is to join him. But there’s a problem, Deut. 20:15-16 forbids the Israelites from becoming friendly with anyone currently living in the Promised Land. So the Gibeonites, probably reflecting for about half a moment on Joshua’s decision-making skills so far, decide that a little trickery is worth a try.

Joshua 3They dress themselves in rags and worn-out shoes, they fill their bags with stale and moldy food, they probably even roll around in the dust a bit to complete the effect.

They then go to Joshua and introduce themselves as emissaries from a distant land, showing him their worn gear as proof of their long journey (though Gibeon itself is a mere seven miles away from Ai, according to my study Bible, p.273). Joshua, choosing not to consider that he hasn’t been in the area long enough for emissaries to have been sent from much further than the real Gibeon and apparently unwilling to check in with God or, heaven’s forbid, check a map, strikes an alliance with the Gibeonites.

It takes him three whole days to finally come back with a “heeeey, wait a minute!” But when he does, it’s too late. The alliance has been struck and he can’t back out of it now.

Joshua, displaying once again that he is not the leader of the Israelites because of any personal intelligence that recommends him above his fellows, confronts the Gibeonites and asks them “Why did you deceive us?” (Josh. 9:22). Like, really? He needed to ask after just burning Jericho and Ai to the ground, slaughtering every living thing (except the trees)?

Realizing that he can’t slaughter the Gibeonites, Joshua does the next best thing: he enslaves them. Henceforth, they shall be responsible for the hewing of wood and the drawing of water for the as-yet-non-existent Temple.

EDIT: According to Paul Davidson of Is That In The Bible?, it appears that Gibeon was not inhabited during the late Bronze Age.

Joshua 3-4: Throwing rocks in the water

2 Comments

Likely itching at the sandals, the Israelites finally move out from Shittim and camp on the banks of the Jordan River to wait out the final three days before the conquest is officially slated to begin.

At Joshua’s request, the officers tell the soldiers to keep an eye out for the ark; when Aslan – I mean the ark – is on the move, they must follow. But they must also practice good road safety and travel a minimum of 2,000 cubits behind, just in case the ark needs to hit the brakes.

While they wait, they must sanctify themselves. It’s quite clear that this is to be a holy war, not just an invasion.

Crossing the Jordan River, by Christoph Unterberger, 1780s.

Crossing the Jordan River, by Christoph Unterberger, 1780s.

Meanwhile, God hands Joshua the keys, telling him that he has the authority to tell the priests where to go. It feels like this points to monarchic involvement (perhaps commissioning or patronizing) in the composition of Joshua. It’s like for all that the Deuteronomic History we’ve read so far as consolidated power in Levitical hands and warned the future monarchy against getting grabby, we’ve also seen little reminders like these that the king is still king.

Because God just can’t see a river without seeing an opportunity for a little peacocking, he makes the Israelites stand on the shores of the Jordan and watch while the Levites step into the river with the ark. The river’s flow miraculously stops, and “the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap” (Josh. 3:16). Downriver, the flow was cut off entirely (yet another of Joshua’s lovely narrative details – I’m really enjoying this book much more than the slog we’ve been having since Genesis ended!).

This is clearly a repetition of the Red Sea parting, linking Joshua to Moses and indicating a continuity of leadership. Numbers had mentions of Joshua continuing after Moses, but I get the impression that Deuteronomy and Joshua have really been thumping the point, making me wonder if perhaps there was an alternative successor that the Deuteronomic History authors were competing against. Anyone know if there’s something to this?

It would never have occurred to me to look into the actual depth of the Jordan, but David Plotz mentioned it in his post: “I know what those of you who have been to Israel are thinking: The Jordan “river” is about as deep my bathtub, and not much wider! But the book specifies that the crossing was at flood stage, when the river is somewhat more intimidating.”

Tim Bulkeley also commented on how unimpressive the Jordan River is today, and warns his listeners against using today’s river to imagine what Joshua’s army would have encountered. It would have had a very variable flow in ancient times. And, “even today the Jordan valley has (in places) dense bush, making it a strange and dangerous place for people more used to dry pastureland.”

Joshua’s stones

40,000 soldiers cross with the ark.

At some point during this time, something happens involving twelve stones. Unfortunately for literalists, what happens is a little fuzzy.

Joshua calls for one representative from each tribe to collect one rock each from the river bed (while it’s still exposed) and bring them to their first camp-site in the Promised Land – in Gilgal. Joshua also places twelve stones into the riverbed (replacing the ones taken?) which the book’s author(s) claim are still there to their day. But then Joshua brings the twelve stones to Gilgal and sets them up there, so that they clearly can’t still be in the river.

It seems that two, or possibly three, separate narratives got shoved in together.

J.R. Porter writes:

The character of the Gilgal legend indicates that it was a pre-Israelite holy place, probably the site of a Canaanite festival, which re-enacted the victory of a deity over the forces of chaos, as in the stories of the gods Baal and Marduk. The events at the Jordan and at Gilgal may well be the real source of the tradition of Israel’s crossing of the sea. (The new Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p.63)

In other words, it’s possible that this episode wasn’t added to link Joshua onto Moses’s authority, but rather that Moses was given his crossing to link him to this holy site.

I wrote in What’s the deal with Joshua that his appearances in Exodus and Numbers feel very forced, like he was stitched in to lend legitimacy to his future appearance as Moses’ successor. Now, I wonder if he wasn’t at one time a competing Moses figure (which would explain his presence on the mountain in Exodus 24 while Moses is receiving the commandments, his presence with Moses again during a revelation in Exodus 32, and his association with the tent of meeting in Exodus 33).

Pure conjecture on my part, but I wonder if Joshua wasn’t at one time a competing forefather figure who lost out to the far larger Moses camp. Yet, he had achieved enough of a following to remain in the oral narrative canon, eventually becoming a successor rather than competitor.

 

Joshua 2: A fortuitous distraction

3 Comments

In his first act as the big cheese of the Israelite people, Joshua sends out two spies to get a feel for the territory, instructing them to pay special attention to Jericho. Unfortunately, Joshua experiences a bit of the first timer’s misfire, picking quite possibly the most ludicrously unqualified of all the possible spies available to him. Thankfully, he also has a fair bit of beginner’s luck, as we shall soon see.

These bungling spies head out from the Israelite camp and seem, almost immediately, to end up in the home of a prostitute. To be fair, they’ve been hanging out in the wilderness their entire lives, but still. There’s no word that they even attempted to do as Joshua instructed.

My poor study Bible, apparently trying to provide a more flattering excuse for the spies’ priorities, includes a note saying that the spies chose to approach Rahab because, as a prostitute, strange men coming to her house would have been less conspicuous (p.264). Nice try, editors!

As Abbie from Better Than Esdras points out, that’s not even the worst of their blundering, because Jericho’s king hears of their presence in the city almost immediately.

Which is where the beginner’s luck comes in. Rahab, the prostitute, just so happens to be on the Israelites’ side, so, in an episode worth of Don Juan, she hides the spies among the flax stalks on her roof when the king’s guards come a’knocking.

She tells the guards that the spies had been there (but that she hadn’t known they were spies), but had already left. The guards, on her instruction, rush out to find the two spies.

Back on the roof

Back with the spies, Rahab explains that word of God’s power displays among the Egyptians and Amorites travelled much faster than the Israelites did, so some plural “we” heard of them and “our hearts melted” (Josh. 2:11). It’s not indicated whether she’s referring exclusively to her own family, or more broadly to the residents of Jericho, or even to the residents of Palestine.

Rahab and the Emissaries of Joshua, 17th century

Rahab and the Emissaries of Joshua, 17th century

In any case, she makes them swear that they will spare her and her family in exchange for her having sent the guards away. Interestingly, her family members are listed as her father, her mother, her brothers, her sisters, and all their households. It would seem that she is unmarried and, perhaps also, living with her parents. At first, this made me wonder how old she is supposed to be. Then I wondered if this means that her parents are complicit/involved in her prostitution.

The spies agree to her terms, telling her to tie a red cord in her window and gather her whole family together in her house. Following her advice, they will hide in the hills for three days until the guards give up, and then head back to Joshua.

Conveniently, Rahab’s home has been built into Jericho’s wall, so she tosses a rope out the window and the spies are able to make their escape.

Final notes

The red cord that the spies tell Rahab to tie in her window may be a way to connect her to the last prostitute heroine we saw, Tamar:

Remember Tamar, the woman who pretended to be a prostitute with Judah back in Genesis? When her twins were born, a red cord was tied around the hand of one, Zerah. That cord provides a symbolic connection to the red cord Rahab dangles out her window. (Kenneth C. Davis, Don’t Know Much About the Bible, p.150)

I also saw a connection between the red cord in the window and the lamb’s blood the Israelites were to paint onto their door frames during the Passover.

With regards to prostitution, Brant Clements points out that we’ve seen no moral judgement on men who’ve bought the services of prostitutes:

It is interesting, at the least, to notice that Israelite men consort with prostitutes and no moral judgment is pronounced upon them in the text. When Judah slept with Tamar (Genesis 38) he was not judged for patronizing a sex worker, but for withholding his son Shelah from his widowed daughter-in-law.

Prostitution in general seems to get something of a pass as far as sexual morality goes. There’s the prohibition on Israelites (of any gender) becoming cultic prostitutes in Deut. 23:17-18, but that’s all I can think of. Meanwhile, in both narratives featuring actual prostitutes (or, at least, acting in such a capacity for a single client in Tamar’s case), the women are pictured as heroines and rewarded.

In other words, there seems to be no connection between prostitution and any sort of moral degeneracy. I didn’t expect to find this attitude at all, though I suppose I shouldn’t be as surprised as I have been. While a woman clearly isn’t allowed to lie about her virginity (as evidenced in Deut. 22:13-21), lack of virginity itself doesn’t seem to disqualify a woman from having positive reputation – as we see in discussions about remarriage after divorce, or the requirement that women marry their sexual partners (so long as the sexual encounter doesn’t meet Deuteronomy’s criteria for rape, as explained later in Deut. 22).

David Plotz wondered why so many of the women who get narrative time are prostitutes (or, at least, having sexual encounters outside of the marriage bed – a definition expanded to include Dinah from Genesis 34). He theorizes:

I have a rudimentary theory about this. In many tribal cultures, women have been essentially banished from the public sphere in order to control their virtue. We see this in strict Islamic cultures today, where women are punished for speaking to men besides their husbands and relatives. Throughout the Bible, the Israelites have been obsessed with controlling the sexual behavior of their girls and women—this is why there are so many darn laws about female purity, sexual misbehavior, and intermarriage. The Israelite women seem to have played no role in public life. Except for Moses’ sister Miriam (and, in passing, Noa and her sisters), there hasn’t been a single woman since the Exodus who’s had any kind of public responsibility. So, why do we read about prostitutes? Perhaps because prostitutes were the only women involved in the Israelites’ public life.

The last interesting facet of Rahab’s story is that she is rewarded for lying. I’ve frequently heard of the missionary tactic used by Ray Comfort where the missionee is asked “Have you ever told a lie?” If the answer is yes, the missionee is declared a bad person worthy of hell (and, therefore, in need of divine mercy, Christ’s sacrifice, and all the rest of the spiel).

This is certainly backed throughout our reading: Exodus 20:16, Exodus 23:1-7, Leviticus 6:2-4, Leviticus 19:11, and Deuteronomy 5:20. Nowhere is there any mention of mitigating factors. Nowhere is the “Anne Frank is hiding in your attic and the Nazis are at your door” thought-experiment invoked.

And yet when we see characters lie in the narrative, they are almost invariably on the Goodie side. Whether it’s Jacob tricking his brother out of his inheritance (Genesis 27), or the midwives lying to the authorities to save the Israelite babies (Exodus 1:18-20), or Rahab lying to save the Israelite spies.

This is precisely why, if we’re going to be talking about biblical morality, we cannot employ the “clobber-text” method. If we look only at the rules and not the narrative, we do not get to see the complete picture, because while the rules may be defined and, often, very stark, the narratives fill in the missing nuance.

In other words, Ray Comfort is wrong. Lying, alone, is not a sin condemned by God. Over and over again, God is pleased with lying, he even commands it (as in Exodus 12 where he gets the Israelites out of Egypt under a false pretext).

I really enjoyed Rahab’s narrative. It’s full of narrative details (the house built into the wall to facilitate the spies’ escape, the red thread, the hiding of the spies in the flax, etc.) the likes of which we haven’t seen since Genesis!

Deuteronomy 31: Passing the baton

1 Comment

At 120 years old, Moses is told that he will not be going over the Jordan River with the rest of the people, so a replacement must be named. God chooses Joshua son of Nun. So Moses dutifully summons Joshua to him in front of everyone and tells him to be strong and courageous, and to remember that God is with him. That seems to be taking it rather well, considering what Moses has been. If he feels any resentment at having to pass the baton, he doesn’t seem to show it.

Moses Receiving the Law, by William Blake, c.1780

Moses Receiving the Law, by William Blake, c.1780

Moses then “wrote the law” (Deut. 31:9), supposedly the book of Deuteronomy, but that’s an assumption. It could just refer to the ordinances. Once it is written, Moses hands it over to the Levites to carry along with the ark, and also to the elders of Israel – which could mean that he either wrote multiple copies, or that both groups are responsible for the book.

From then on, Moses charges them to read out the book to the whole congregation every seven years, at the feast of booths, so that they can all hear it and learn it. This includes the men, the women, the children, and even the sojourners.

God then makes another seven days” call, and calls Moses and Joshua to the door of the tent of meeting, appearing to them as a pillar of cloud. There, he tells Moses that the people will betray him, so he’ll turn away from them so that “they will be devoured” (Deut. 31:16-17). To prepare his “I told you so” moment, he asks Moses to write down a song. Moses does so, and then God commissions Joshua, a repetition of the story from Numbers 27.

To close off, Moses gives his own warning to the people, saying: “Behold, while I am yet alive with you, today you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more after my death!” (Deut. 31:27). A point that might have been better made if Moses himself were not about to die for his own rebelliousness.

The whole chapter bounces all over the place and was rather hard to follow. I think Brant Clements of Both Saint and Cynic sums it up well:

Verses 14-18 “predict” God’s rejection of Israel. In verses 19-22 YHWH instructs Moses to write “this song” (What song?). Verse 23 focuses on Joshua again. Verses 24-29 hark back to 9-13. Here Moses is instructed to place the book he has written beside the ark of the Covenant. And then in verse 30, we are given an introduction to Moses song which begins in chapter 32 (Oh, that song!).

Older Entries Newer Entries