Gerald D. Vreeland
Author. The book is anonymous. The title "Joshua" is taken from the principal figure. It is possible that Joshua also wrote this book. This theory of authorship becomes difficult in light of the book including the death of Joshua (24:29–33). However someone else could have added these appendices (cf. Dt 34:5–12), perhaps Eleazar or one of the elders who outlived Joshua. Joshua could have written most of the book himself as hinted by the first person plural in the narrative (5:1 NASB footnote indicating "other mss. read we," 6).
Date. Two dates for the book are ably defended by scholars. Some defend a date parallel with the 19th Dynasty of Egypt (1300s BC). The events, however, may be safely dated in the late 15th and early 14th century BC. In 1 Kg 6:1, readers are told, "In the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv which is the second month, … he began to build the house of the Lord." This date for the beginning of the temple construction would be spring of 966 BC. Counting backward 480 years to the exodus from Egypt and then adding 40 years for the wilderness wandering, one arrives at the date of 1405/6 for entrance into the land. This also fits the 300 years later indicated by Jephthah (Jdg 11:26).
From the standpoint of secular history, the Merneptah Stela should be considered. Merneptah reigned 1236–1223 BC. Merneptah was the pharaoh after Raamses II, the pharaoh of the exodus by adherents of the later exodus theory (for these matters, see the introduction to the commentary on Exodus). The monument mentions Israel as already in the land (ANET3, 376–78). Thus the exodus would be dated at about 1230 BC. The stela does not regard Israel as emerging; it views her as an indigenous enemy. At the time of the Merneptah Stela, Israel occupied a prominent place regionally and a distinct position culturally. Recent studies on the Berlin Pedestal, the base of a recently rediscovered monument with hieroglyphic writing on it naming Israel, indicate that Israel was an enemy of Egypt in the late 18th Dynasty, perhaps in the early 1300s BC. Again, it shows Israel as an indigenous enemy.
The events of the book cover 25 to 30 years. The three initial campaigns took about seven years (Jos 14:7, 10). If Joshua was 79 at the time of the invasion and 110 at death, the total period covered is about 31 years. This makes it likely that the events of the book of Joshua span about 1406 BC to approximately 1375 BC.
Theme and Purpose. For OT theologians who view the center of their theology as promise/fulfillment, this book represents the fulfillment of centuries of prophetic promise and historical movement. Thus the narrative has a twofold emphasis: the destruction of an idolatrous people and the progress and victory of faith in the one true God. The theme is "the venture and victory of faith." As an historical account, the book of Joshua demonstrates the faithfulness of God, despite the inconsistent nature of the faith of God’s people. It shows Him as the covenant-keeping God (Jos 1:16). The purpose is to strengthen faith in and commitment to the Lord by giving a history of the conquest of Canaan and the distribution of the land among the tribes.
Contribution. It is impossible to think through the Bible without including Joshua. The bare fact of "Israel in the land" presupposes the people getting there. Many of the cities mentioned in the conquest are revisited in the drama of biblical narrative. Soon enough the story will spiral into the despair engendered in the epoch of the Judges; but for now, at the outset, Joshua presents the conquest of the land with Joshua and Israel just as God had promised Abraham.
Joshua sets a context for what follows in the OT. Judges would be a theological whiplash (how something begun so well could proceed so poorly!) without the words, world, and themes of Joshua. Readers would know less that obedience leads to blessing had that truth not first appeared in Joshua.
Furthermore, the events recorded in Joshua are referenced in significant ways in the Old and New Testaments. After the Babylonian captivity, the reader is told that Israel had not celebrated the Festival of Booths since the days of Joshua (Neh 8:17). Also, Stephen mentions the tabernacle crossing the Jordan with Joshua (Ac 7:44–45). There is, finally, the contrast between the "rest" that Joshua gave Israel from war and the "rest" believers have in Christ (Heb 4:8).
Background. The biblical book of Joshua opens with Israel on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. The memory of Egyptian bondage is four decades old. The people of Israel are younger: those over 20 after the exodus perished in the wilderness. Moses has just passed away, and the mourning for the great legislator of Israel has drawn to a close as Joshua assumes leadership of the nation. The reader joins Israel as the people prepare to enter the land and take possession as God had promised Abraham four centuries earlier (Gn 13:14–18).
Prior to the death of Moses, the great leader affirmed the request of two and a half of the tribes (Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh [Nm 32:1–5, 20–33]) to settle their wives, families, and livestock in the Transjordan area. Forty thousand of their men, however, would participate in the invasion of Canaan (Jos 4:13). The entire population of Israel may have numbered two million people. Though the people mourned greatly the death of Moses (Dt 34:5–8), eventually they would be in high spirits after their Transjordanian victories over the Amorites, and they were in support of Joshua (1:15–18).
Joshua is assumed to have been about the same age as Caleb, who was 40 years old at the time when they spied the land (Nm 13). He would thus be about 79 at the time of the crossing of the Jordan River. Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim and had distinguished himself as a lieutenant of Moses (Ex 17:9–13). He served as Moses’ servant at the giving of the law (Ex 24:13). Caleb and Joshua were the only spies who had the faith that God would help them take the land of Canaan. Thus they, and perhaps the two sons of Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar (Jos 14:1), were the only ones of that generation to enter Canaan. Following a special commissioning by the Lord, Joshua became a fearless warrior and general, superintending a cyclonic campaign in Canaan. He would die at age 110 (Jos 24:29).
"Canaan" designated the western strip from Sidon in the north to Gaza and Sodom in the south (Gn 10:19). The original meaning of "Canaan," if related to the Hebrew word, was "trader" or "merchant." It was, however always known as the "land of purple," from its manufacturing of purple dyes. The valley cities were more impenetrable for Israelite forces because their armies were equipped with iron chariots (Jdg 1:19).
Canaan was populated by many tribal groups, but predominantly by the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, and Girgashites (Gn 15:19–21; Jos 9:1). Of these, the Canaanites and Jebusites appear to be indigenous groups. The Hittites were from Asia Minor in the north; the Amorites were from the East; and the Hivites were probably from across the Dead Sea in the mountains of Seir (Gn 36:20), and originally from Mesopotamia. Of the Perizzites, nothing is known, and the Girgashites’ exact location in Canaan is unknown.
The religions of Canaan were the basest of fertility cults. El was the chief god; Baal was his preeminent son who was the paramour of Ashtoreth (or Anath). Baal was the god of rain, sun, and vegetation and his consort was the personification of sexual love and fertility. These deities had no discernible moral character and the worship of these entailed some of the most degenerate practices in history. Their worship and lore fostered brutality and the most decadent immorality. The culture was due for extinction (Lv 18:21–30; Dt 12:30–32).
I. Introduction: Preparations for the Conquest of the Land (1:1–5:15)
A. Joshua’s Commission and Commanding (1:1–18)
B. Spies Infiltrate Jericho (2:1–24)
C. Israel Crosses the Jordan (3:1–17)
D. Israelite Men Set Up Memorials (4:1–24)
E. Israel Is Consecrated and Lives in the Land (5:1–12)
F. The Supreme Commander Meets with Joshua (5:13–15)
II. Conquest of the Land in Three Major Theaters of Engagement (6:1–12:24)
A. Jericho and the Central Campaign (6:1–8:35)
Excursus: Canaanite Genocide—Killing the Seemingly Innocent (6:21)
B. The Southern Campaign (9:1–10:43)
C. The Northern Campaign (11:1–15)
D. Victory in Review: Regions and Rest (11:16–23)
E. Victory in Review: Cities and Kings (12:1–24)
III. Distribution of the Land (13:1–21:45)
A. Land Distribution: Command and Transjordan Review (13:1–33)
B. Land Distribution: Land for the Faithful Hero Caleb (14:1–15)
C. Land Distribution: The Tribes West of the Jordan and Joshua (15:1–19:51)
D. Land Distribution: Cities of Refuge and Levitical Cities (20:1–21:45)
IV. Epilogue: Last Farewells (22:1–24:33)
A. Joshua Dismisses the Transjordanian Tribes (22:1–34)
B. Joshua’s First Farewell Address (23:1–16)
C. Joshua’s Final Farewell Address (24:1–28)
D. Appendices: Joshua’s Death, Israel’s Faithfulness, Joseph’s Bones, Eleazar’s Death (24:29–33)
COMMENTARY ON JOSHUA
I. Introduction: Preparations for the Conquest of the Land (1:1–5:15)
A. Joshua’s Commission and Commanding (1:1–18)
1:1–4. The book opens with Joshua standing with Israel on the verge of the Jordan gazing westward. After apportioning the land to the two and a half tribes, Moses the great legislator of Israel has died (Dt 34:4–8). Who would be in charge and by what authority? What were Israel’s ties to the past and directions for the future? The first verse answers these questions, linking to the final episodes of Deuteronomy. The vocabulary indicates the exalted status of Moses as the servant of the Lord, while Joshua was only Moses’ servant. The final epitaph on Joshua’s life will be "servant of YHWH" (Jos 24:29); but the process would have to be vindicated in 24 brief chapters.
The people had been invited to the commissioning of Joshua (Dt 31:7, 23). Now the Lord would commission Joshua directly to cross the Jordan River and take the land (Jos 1:3). This language mirrors the statement made by Moses (Dt 11:24) and is prefigured in God’s invitation to Abram (Gn 13:14–17). The land promise to Abraham is on the verge of fulfillment. The borders, painted in broad brush strokes, will be refined later (chaps. 13–21).
1:5–7. Great promises were given here: no enemy would stand before Joshua for the rest of his life. God promised that the relationship He would share with Joshua was like that with Moses. Finally, Joshua was told: I will not fail you or forsake you, a promise later made to all true believers (Mt 28:20).
Joshua was then commanded to be strong and courageous. The idea of being strong need not mean physically strong—though for warfare, that would not hurt. The root idea is holding firmly to something. It means "to be in firm control of one’s faculties." Far from the absence of fear, courage holds the energy of fear under control and channels it toward positive ends. Joshua would apportion the land. The same guarantee had been extended to twelve administrators (Nm 34:16–29). All these would survive the wars of Canaan.
In the second challenge, Joshua was commanded to obey the Torah of Moses, so that you may have success wherever you go. This is not necessarily a means to material prosperity—though neither is it necessarily precluded. However, in a spiritual context the faithful should expect success.
1:8–9. "This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night …" (HCSB). The HCSB translators have chosen the word "instruction" for the Hebrew word "torah," which is the Hebrew word for the Pentateuch—the five books of Moses. It is a word more related to teaching, instruction, or doctrine than to law. (Torah is much more: it has statute and case law; but it also contains narrative, prophecy, poetry, and exposition.) This instruction is to be recited. A Westerner might think of meditation as something silent in the mind. A growing consensus of Hebrew scholars considers meditation musing out loud. Unlike the repetition of a mantra as in Eastern thought, it is the recitation of propositional revelation. The purpose is so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. Obedience is in view, motivated by the promise of success (cf. Ps 1). The whole section on success is bracketed by imperatives to be strong and courageous (1:6, 9). Joshua was motivated by the land promise, the promise of success, and the promise of God’s presence.
1:10–11. Joshua first commanded the officers to go through the camp and have the people prepare provisions. The word "officers" is related to the Akkadian word meaning "to write." It was used for officers caught between the demands of Pharaoh and the difficulties of the people (Ex 5:6–19). The word appears elsewhere as "administrators." The mention of crossing the Jordan within three days would turn into seven days because of the delayed return of the spies from Jericho. Joshua’s commission on "what" was clear; but "when" may have been delayed.
1:12–15. Joshua reminded the east Jordanian tribes of their obligation to participate in the conquest of Canaan (Nm 32:16–32; Dt 3:18–20). The two and a half tribes reaffirmed what they had said to Moses.
1:16–18. The first statement from these tribe members is clear: They promised to be obedient. However, the sentence: Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you, is ironic! A whole generation had died off in the wilderness because of disobedience. Even this generation could not claim a clean slate (cf. Nm 25:1–9). The second phrase in v. 17—only may the Lord your God be with you as He was with Moses—is not a wish or a prayer. It should be stated more strongly: "(Certainly) the Lord will be with you as He was with Moses." The verb is a future indicative rather than a wish (a modal or jussive verb). Some of these oath takers would perish in the coming conflict. For the believer, a vow to spouse, family, church, or country is often costly. When one obligates himself before God, God is watching to see if the promise is kept—despite the difficulties of life (Ps 15:4).
B. Spies Infiltrate Jericho (2:1–24)
The story of Rahab’s faithfulness assumes the shape of a quest. Note the chiastic arrangement in the following diagram:
A Commission of the Two Spies by Joshua (v. 1a)
B Ingress/Tension: Protection of the Spies (vv. 2–7)
C. Rahab’s Stunning Confession of Faith (vv. 8–14)
B’ Egress/Tension: Protection of Rehab’s Family (vv. 15–21)
A’ Completion of Reconnaissance, Report to Joshua (vv. 22–24)
The symmetry places the central focus on Rahab’s confession.
2:1a. Joshua commissioned two agents secretly (related to a word that means "to be deaf; to keep silent") to gather information for the upcoming campaign into Canaan. Joshua had good reasons for secrecy. First, the spies were less likely to be intercepted. Second, they would report back directly to Joshua before going before the congregation with potentially alarming news. This had happened some 38 years previously (Nm 13:25–33) at Kadesh. What followed their report was widespread disobedience and lack of faith that resulted in the death of an entire generation while they wandered in the wilderness. Joshua, a key player in the earlier mission, now demanded discretion.
2:1b. When the spies arrived in Jericho, they came into the house of … a harlot. The text is clear: the spies engaged in no illicit behavior. The text is equally clear: Rahab was an immoral woman. From the first-century historian Josephus to the present, there have been attempts to make her an innkeeper and her house a hostel; none is compelling. The Hebrew word harlot (zona) means either "an immoral woman" (usually for hire, cf. Gn 38:24), or refers to someone prostituting himself to paganism from faith in Israel’s God ("playing the harlot after other gods"; cf. Lv 20:5; Ezk 6:9). To force another meaning here would be special pleading.
Some sense the need to rescue this member of the "Faith Hall of Fame" (Heb 11). Perhaps it seems odd that such a pronouncement of faith should come from one with such a checkered past. But that is exactly what the believer’s redeeming God does: His ineffable grace makes human wreckage beautiful and serviceable. They went to a house of prostitution because it would have been a good place to gain information.
2:2–4a. Soon discovered, the spies were reported, and so the king sent agents to apprehend them whose plans go awry. Verse 4 begins, But the woman had taken [better, "took," reflecting the qal stem and the urgency and suddenness of Rahab’s action] the two men and hidden them. Rahab acted swiftly to get the spies hidden before discovery by the king’s agents.
2:4b–5. Rahab lied to the king’s emissaries. She claimed that she did not know where the spies were from and that they had already left. She claimed she had no idea where they were going but then admonished the king’s agents to chase after them in the false hope that they might be caught. Despite the ruse, God wished them to go chasing after phantoms of Rahab’s imagination. Frequently we run up against these ethical conundrums in the Bible. It does not seem that the NT lauds Rahab so much for her personal righteousness in word and action as it does for her faith in God’s program and her part in it (cf. Heb 11:31; Jms 2:24).
2:6–7. Most flax came from Egypt. However, perhaps Rahab was industrious enough to go gather some of it growing wild in the area. Perhaps she was able to buy some to dry and have woven into linen later. Nonetheless, it made a good hiding place for expatriate spies. The scene in v. 7 cuts to the fool’s errand of the king’s agents.
2:8–11. Rahab first approached the spies, confirming their hopes: she knew the Lord had given them the country. Second, she confessed that everyone was terrified: hearts melted like wax. Her historical memory was long (Ex 14:27–31) and recent (Nm 21:21–35). Rahab’s word for utterly destroyed is related to the noun "being placed under the ban." In Jericho everything alive was to be killed, everything combustible burned, everything precious devoted to God. Third, Rahab shared her own fears: When we heard it, our hearts melted (Jos 2:11a). And then she offered this stunning credo: for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath (Jos 2:11b). Perhaps this statement is the logical result of her despair, but it is not without some rather remarkable antecedents. The Ten Commandments include, "Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth" (Ex 20:4; cf. Dt 4:39; 5:8). This has the ring of a basic creed that Rahab could have known only by reason or direct revelation.
2:12–13. Next, Rahab negotiated for her family’s life. The word kindly (v. 12) is the Hebrew word chesed. "Kindness" is too weak for this word. When it pertains to God and His favor upon His people, it means "everlasting lovingkindness." When it is used in reference to people, it means "loyalty." In effect she is saying, "Since I have proven my loyalty to you, show your loyalty to me and save my family." Sparing someone condemned to death makes "kindness" an understatement; it is undeserved and ineffable mercy. She asked for a sure sign and seemed satisfied with their word (vv. 13–14).
2:14–21. The spies spoke. They vowed loyalty with three caveats: First, Rahab was not to betray their meeting. Second, she was told to tie a scarlet cord in the window. Third, those to be preserved alive were to be with Rahab when Israel attacked. Repeating the terms, she agreed to them as the spies fled into the darkness.
2:22. There are cliffs some 1,500 yards west of Jericho (Tel es-Sultan). Likely, the two spies stayed in a cave there for the three days it took for the trackers to return to Jericho. Eventually, they forded the Jordan and returned.
2:23–24. The men related to him [Joshua] all that had happened to them. That hair-raising story sealed the leader’s resolve (Jos 2:24). There was no fear, as voiced by the 10 spies at Kadesh 38 years previously. There was no hesitation (cf. Nm 14:8), only bold faith in God. In regard to the people of the land, the men reiterated Rahab’s words "to melt like wax." There were no misgivings, as the story was disseminated among the Israelites. The next day everyone rose early and readied themselves to cross the Jordan—where impending conflict awaited.
Rahab is immortalized in several ways: she appears in genealogies as the grand-matriarch of David and Jesus (Mt 1:5). She is also recalled for her deeds—not necessarily her words—in both Hebrews (11:31) and James (2:25). There is no need to save Rahab from her reputation: God is in the business of saving the most inveterate liars, cheats, thieves, and even prostitutes. No wall can be built between God and His intended child. Neither should readers be astonished at such magnificats as those of Mary (Lk 1:46–55), Hannah (1Sm 2:1–10), or Rahab (Jos 2:9–11). Rahab, an outlander, reminds believers that "the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath."
As one reads the book of Ruth, remember that Rahab was Boaz’s mother. Rahab probably never lived to welcome her daughter-in-law Ruth into the family; but Boaz’s understanding of an outlander’s loyalty (chesed) to Israel’s God was nothing new to him. He learned it from his mother. Neither was the acceptance of such an outlander new. He learned it from Salmon, his father. This enabled him to see past an instinctive nationalism, bringing a "woman of excellence" (Ru 3:11) into his home.
C. Israel Crosses the Jordan (3:1–17)
Israel was about to cross the Jordan; however, several events needed to occur first. These verses proceed in stately cadence, giving a ritualistic feel to the narrative. Other rituals will follow, but now Israel approaches the river.
3:1–2. Israel rose early and camped on the east bank of the river. Perhaps the three days were additional if Joshua was wrong in his original assessment, delayed by the late return of the spies; or it could be that the spies had been sent out prior to the command to the officers (1:10).
3:3–4. The people were to wait until they saw the ark of the covenant and then follow; but they were to keep a respectful distance of about a thousand yards.
3:5. The people were commanded: Consecrate yourselves! "Consecrate" from qadash, means to "be separate." It also signifies a readiness for service. Jeremiah spoke of God’s anger against Jerusalem and said that He had set apart or "consecrated" destroyers against her (Jr 22:7). Babylon’s army cannot be said to be "sanctified" in any real sense. The word means God was "readying" Babylon for disciplinary action against Judah. Here "consecration" means separate from sin, separate from the entanglements of life and separate to the Lord’s mission and ready to go take the land.
The writer provides the motivation for their consecration: because tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you. "Wonders" is the closest word the OT has for "miracle." Israel was being prepared for exodus-like events.
3:6–7. The priests, ordered to pick up the ark, moved ahead of the people. The ceremony-like cadence mirrors their obedience. Speaking to Joshua directly, the Lord told him his reputation would be advanced in Israel’s sight and he would be compared with the Moses. God reaffirmed the promise that He would be with Joshua.
3:8–13. The priests carrying the ark were instructed to stop at river’s edge. Then the people were given further orders and told what to expect: God would be with them and they would be victorious over the Canaanites (v. 10). The waters of the Jordan will be cut off, as the Red Sea had been at the exodus (v. 13). For reasons to be given later, the people were to select tribal representatives.
The lists of nations to be dispossessed vary; however, these are "the usual suspects." See the introduction for peoples and origins. "The Jebusite" is the only people group represented as a city-state. "Jebus," the older name for Jerusalem, was difficult for the Jewish people to subdue until David’s time (2Sm 24). It was also represented in the Amarna Letters, where, for instance, one viceroy, Abdu-Heba, complained to the pharaoh about Egypt’s apparent disinterest in the plight of Jebus and that the other city states are not helping (ANET3, 487–89).
3:14–16. The narrative advances with Israel breaking camp, the priests moving the ark ahead of the people. The verbs change to progressive action to give the reader a real-time experience: the priests [were] carrying the ark … before the people; and as those carrying the ark were approaching the Jordan; and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water … the waters going down from above stood in one heap …" (vv. 14–16, author’s translation and emphasis). Not until the waters stood is finality described by the historical tense. It is as though the author was saying, "Do you see how wonderful our God is? Would you like to know more about Him?"
3:17. The water stood far upstream from the ark, perhaps so that Israel could remain at a respectful distance. Observe the details of the miracle: the waters were cut off at flood stage, long enough for Israel to cross over; the priests stood on, and Israel crossed over on dry ground. This stoppage was not the Jordan alone—all tributaries below Adam and Zarethan had to be stopped as well; the event took place exactly as God had predicted.
In correspondence with the exodus story, the water was separated, dry ground crossed, God was glorified, and God’s servant honored (Ex 14:29–31). Believers understand that if God wishes to deliver them by miracles, He certainly can do so. They should, however, trust Him even with the "river" ahead of them.
D. Israelite Men Set Up Memorials (4:1–24)
Joshua 3 and 4 are best read as a single unit. An emphasis on perspective is helpful: there is a difference between "crossing over" the river (e.g., v. 11) and "coming up out of" the river (e.g., vv. 16–18). That is, in the former, participants are in Transjordan crossing over to the land; whereas in the latter, participants are in the promised land watching movement toward themselves. The last verse of Jos 4 concludes: "that all the peoples of the earth may know and so that you may fear the Lord," ending the Jordan crossing episode; so, 5:1 functions as a "hinge" between two episodes.
4:1–10. The command to select 12 men (3:12) was reissued—this time to collect twelve stones … out of the middle of the Jordan (v. 3) as memorial stones. The men, each representing one of the 12 tribes, brought the stones to the west side of the river; then Joshua set [them] up at Gilgal (v. 20; about 7 miles northwest of the Dead Sea adjacent to Jericho; see v. 8). These were to be a sign (v. 6), so that inquisitive children might be told of the Lord’s miraculous power in bringing Israel across the river on dry ground at flood stage.
Oddly, Joshua also set up his own memorial—in the middle of the river (v. 9)! Large enough boulders might be visible at low water. Although Joshua’s purpose is difficult to know, the purpose of any monument is pedagogical, and perhaps his stone monument was less visible so that it would never eclipse the greatness of Israel’s God. The reader is only left with the parting: They are there to this day, from the date of the final words of the book (24:29–33). Finally, everyone hurriedly did as commanded.
4:11–13. When all the people had finished crossing, the ark of the Lord and the priests crossed before the people. Everything has a ritualistic feel; but the discipline of the nation is also evident. As commanded by Moses, the east Jordan tribes moved across ahead of the rest, having left their families and livestock on the east side. They presented a formidable fighting force in case of initial resistance to Israel’s advance.
4:14. Joshua’s exaltation was then celebrated in several highlights: The Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; his high station was a lifelong appointment, and he was venerated as Moses had been. When the Lord elevates someone, others will notice and barring the need for humiliation, it may be a lifelong station.
4:15–18. The change in perspective from "go across" to come up out of the river" indicates a new section. The Lord commanded Joshua to direct the priests carrying the ark of the testimony to come up from the Jordan; he issued the command, the priests complied, and as soon as their feet touched the dry ground … the waters of the Jordan returned to their place, and went over all its banks as before.
Again paralleling the exodus account, notice the repetition of the words come up from the Jordan. Aspects of the ark are repeated: the ark of the testimony and the ark of the covenant. The ark was a special container containing a jar of manna, Aaron’s budding almond rod, and the plaques of the Ten Commandments—the covenant. It was characterized as the place of testimonial (cf. Ex 25:16).
4:19–23. When the people had come up out of the water on the western bank, an additional parallel with the exodus became apparent. They had crossed the River Jordan during Passover, the tenth day of the first month (= Abib, March–April), just as they had crossed the Red Sea during the Passover. Thus here was the final culmination of the exodus: The people are finally in their homeland. The people then moved west and camped at the extremity of Jericho’s territory, about two miles away. The memorial stones were then either laid in a circle or heaped. Both ideas fit if the event is somehow related to the name Gilgal, as discussed in 5:9. (This would represent an etiology, the naming of a place to commemorate an event.) The didactic purpose of the memorial stones is explained to the people. They are to tell their sons and daughters who would ask about the stones, the Lord your God dried up the waters … before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord … had done to the Red Sea. As the Lord was with Moses and the first generation, He was with Joshua and the second generation, leading them into the promised land.
4:24. At this point the text is summed up with two purpose clauses. First, God delivered the people through the Jordan that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty. The reasons for Israel’s existence had always been to glorify the Lord and to draw others to Him. Second, this was so that they may fear the Lord their God always. Israel was always to love (Dt 6:5) and fear God. It is difficult to love and fear a God who is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29) and into whose hands it is a terrifying thing to fall (Heb 10:31); but He is the same loving heavenly Father that sent His Son to be our Savior, the Father who retrieves the lost sheep and welcomes the prodigal son.
E. Israel Is Consecrated and Lives in the Land (5:1–12)
The key to this chapter is holiness. The nation’s men must receive the sign of the covenant, circumcision; then the nation’s people celebrated the Passover; and finally, the nation’s leader met with the supreme commander of God’s forces. Two important changes occurred: Israel began to live off the land and the manna was no longer provided. This also reflected the exodus events. As noted in the "Parallels" chart, some events are repeated sequentially and some mirror (by chiasm) earlier events.
5:1. Israel’s enemies were paralyzed with fear. Seemingly it would have been a good time to go on the offensive, but three elements were lacking: circumcision (5:1–9), an observance of the Passover (5:10), and the meeting with the Lord’s Captain (5:13–15). The first, circumcision, had to do with Israel’s condition with respect to the covenant. The sign of the covenant was circumcision, a practice that should have been practiced by every Israelite male (cf. Gn 17). It was the entrance rite into the community of Israel.
5:2–3. Joshua was commanded by God to make flint [or obsidian] knives to circumcise again the sons of Israel. This does not mean that each individual was to be circumcised a second time, as the following verses explain. Meanwhile, Joshua complied.
5:4–5. The parents had not practiced circumcision as prescribed (Gn 17:9–14; Lv 12:3). Young men had grown up, raised by the unfaithful generation that refused to circumcise their infant sons on the eighth day. Ironically, the parents of the faithless generation (even the slaves and foreigners) had circumcised them (Ex 12:42–51).
5:6. The text now reflects upon the extermination of the faithless generation: they walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation … perished. The Lord did not allow those who shirked their initial opportunity to enter and take the land. Perhaps the author indicates his presence in the change to the pronoun us. This does not necessitate Joshua’s authorship, but it certainly indicates that the writer acknowledged the blessing of the land that God was now granting them.
5:7–8. The Lord raised up a subsequent generation that believed and was obedient. Since they had not been circumcised, it was imperative that they have this procedure. During their recovery time they would be vulnerable to attack (cf. Gn 34). The reason Israel’s enemies were frozen in fear (v. 1) was that God was protecting His people at this risky time.
5:9. Israel had long borne reproach. It had been more than 400 years since God promised the land to the patriarchs; much of that time was spent in Egypt. Many years of the Egyptian sojourn were in slavery. Upon leaving Egypt, it appeared that Israel was poised to enter the land and begin the conquest; however, they refused the opportunity and spent 38 years wandering in the wilderness after the rebellion at Kadesh. The faithless generation was left behind in the wilderness, having perished there. Now a more obedient and faithful generation was ready to inaugurate the reception of the promise.
The name "Gilgal" is a wordplay on God’s words: Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you. The Hebrew word galal, "to roll," is similar in sound to the word "Gilgal," and may be related to it etymologically. This may be a new reason for the name of the place or a renaming of it. The place was known by Moses and Joshua (Dt 11:30; Jos 4:19, 20). Sometimes places retained the same name but were infused with new meaning, as was Beersheba (Gn 21:31; 26:33). Perhaps Gilgal was already named but gained new significance, as it became associated with God rolling away the reproach of Egypt, a connotation it did not have previously. Henceforth, Gilgal would be a frequent reference point as a base or operations.
5:10. It was necessary to circumcise the nation before Passover (Ex 12:42–51). They had crossed the Jordan on the tenth of the first month (Abib), the day the Passover lamb was to be set aside; the men were circumcised as a symbol of covenant fidelity; then Passover was celebrated on the 14th. Whenever Passover is celebrated, it is a memorial of the birth of the nation of Israel. As with circumcision, the first Passover was a defining event; it was a national event, and every celebration a commemoration.
5:11–12. Two more significant events happened: The Israelites began to forage off the land and the supply of manna ended. There would be no more need for this provision.
F. The Supreme Commander Meets with Joshua (5:13–15)
5:13–14. In this confrontation with a divine being, the captain of the host of the Lord, one wonders if Joshua bared his own blade. Apparently, this visitor was not much alarmed by Joshua. Joshua asked: Are you for us or for our adversaries? The visitor gave no direct answer.
He answered, literally: "No, because I am the Captain of the army of YHWH; now I have come." Joshua then prostrated himself. Joshua recognized his visitor as a divine being. It was not a matter of whose side the visitor was on; it was a matter of whose side Joshua was on. The text reads, literally, "Joshua fell to his face to the ground and he prostrated himself." The word translated bowed down by the NASB is translated in the HCSB by "worship," suggesting that the HCSB translators view this being as a theophany (manifestation of God) or a Christophany (appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ), the more likely possibility here. He was the captain of an army belonging to another: Christ the Lord Himself.
5:15. Joshua’s second question (v. 14) was followed by what was probably to Joshua an unexpected answer: Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy. This language is similar to that of the call of Moses (Ex 3:5): the word "ground" is missing. There would be no need for "holy ground" when Joshua was prostrate in the Holy Land. In a sense, the whole area is holy ground.
By the parallel with the story of the Moses’ commission, Joshua has filled the sandals of Moses. From this point forward, Moses will receive less frequent mention excepting his written legacy, the Torah. Joshua has become the new Moses. He will lead his people in government and military, and he will empower the priesthood to do its work.
For believers, there are times when a leader will apply the authoritative Word of God to a new situation, and others will follow cooperatively. But sometimes a new leader arises with a new direction for the Word to be applied, and the people of God might resist. In both situations, the leaders and the people must be careful to maintain close communion with the Lord in order for Him to accomplish great things. Believers are called to be holy if they would have these times of close communion with the Lord and would recognize His direction through others.
II. Conquest of the Land in Three Major Theaters of Engagement (6:1–12:24)
Israel had entered the promised land with the door closed behind her; the people’s only path was forward. Jericho, at nearly the lowest point on earth, had to be conquered. The conquest of the land after Jericho was both literally and metaphorically all uphill from there.
A. Jericho and the Central Campaign (6:1–8:35)
The first fortification encountered after crossing the Jordan was Jericho. It had to be subdued to gain access to the highlands because it guarded the fords of the Jordan and sat astride a major east-west road.
6:1. The author signals the start of a new episode by repeating a phrase used earlier in reference to a city or its gates being "shut" or secured (cf. 2:5, 7). The city was shut tight, indicative not only of the terror of the inhabitants, but also their vigilance. The camp of Israel was visible in smoke by day and ominous campfire glow by night. Were anyone to wander out, there were 40,000 Israelites from east of the Jordan to confront (cf. Jos 4:12–13).
6:2. God speaks of the conquest as an accomplished fact: I have given Jericho into your hand. Older commentaries refer to this verb as a "prophetic perfect." The action is certainly viewed as if it were completed in the past with its results continuing to the present from God’s standpoint. It was worded this way to give Joshua confidence.
6:3–5. The approach to the "coming assault" is perhaps counterintuitive. It may appear "senseless" (Donald H. Madvig, "Joshua." Vol. 3 of EBC, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992], 278); but God’s program sometimes may appear silly when it is the perfect plan. The Canaanite people were paralyzed in terror (2:9, 11; 5:1), and Jericho was no exception (6:1). It must have been unnerving for the people of this small fortress to see tens of thousands of Israelites parading just out of bow-shot. God’s plan, as always, was brilliant. On the final day they were to rise early, march around the city seven times and at the last blast of the trumpets, the warriors were to shout.
6:6–14. In the progression of the first two days, the front guard (possibly the Israelite warriors from the tribes that settled east of the Jordan, Jos 1:14) was followed by the priests, some carrying the ark, others blowing trumpets. They, in turn, were followed by the rear guard. The guard was not God’s protection from enemies; He needs none! The guards were sanctified soldiers to keep a hedge between chance defilements and the ark, the priests, and God Himself. Again, if this repeated circuit has the feel of a holy convocation, it very likely was intended.
These seven days correspond to those of the Feast of Unleavened Bread following Passover. Although there is no evidence of magical numbers in the Bible, the number "seven" is repeated often in this chapter: four times in v. 4 and 14 times total throughout the chapter. "Seven" may indicate "totality, completion, and perfection" (David M. Howard, Jr., Joshua. Vol. 5 of NAC, ed. E. Ray Clendenen [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2002], 169). When God overthrows this city, He will do it in totality, completely and with unmatched perfection.
6:15–20. The number of events were increased and complicated on the seventh day. The armed men and the priests rose early in the morning in order to complete seven circuits. This sounds like a staggering amount of ground to cover for the Israelite soldiers, but Jericho was only about 350 yards long north to south, and about 180 yards wide east to west. At the final circumnavigation, Joshua commanded them: Shout! For the Lord has given you the city. In v. 20, the trumpets blasted, the warriors shouted and the "wall fell down under it" (author’s rendering, cf. v. 5). The HCSB has "collapse"; it likely indicates that the walls fell outward and down the slope. In Garstang’s archaeological records (excavated from 1930–36), more recently vindicated by Bryant Wood (see bibliography at the end of this chapter), there is evidence for such a collapse. Perhaps vv. 17–19 reflect commands given earlier to leaders and passed down through the ranks.
The city was to be destroyed and burned. All the people and livestock were to be killed. Gold, silver, bronze, and iron, were to be devoted to the Lord and placed in the tabernacle treasury. This destruction had been ordered by God (Dt 7:2; 20:16–18) because He wanted these people eradicated: indigenous pagan survivors would bring compromise and syncretism to Israel. These people were unredeemable, exterminated for their wickedness. God had told Abraham four hundred years earlier that "the sin of the Amorite was not yet complete" (Gn 15:16). Now it was. Besides their horrific religious practices including ritual prostitution and child-sacrifice, these people were involved in wickedness in their day to day lives. If Lv 18 reflects Canaanites practices, they were regularly involved in incest, adultery, child-sacrifice, sodomy, and bestiality (Lv 18:6–23). God calls these practices the most heinous sin. It cannot be demonstrated that these practices contribute anything positive to society. Israel was not to do any of these practices (Lv 18:24–30). They were to kill or to drive the Canaanites into exile (Dt 20:16–18).
Amidst the chaos of battle, God’s grace came to one believer and her family. Rahab was spared along with anyone wise enough to separate from their countrymen and join with Israel. The walls fell down and the city was easily captured. A short battle narrative does not mean there were no casualties. No matter how certain the engagement, there will be the happenstances of war.
6:21. Most of the words here translated "destruction" are from the charam word group. It is an act of obedient worship, a "dedicated destruction" for God’s glory. The warriors tore down every building and killed every living thing.
Excursus: Canaanite Genocide—Killing the Seemingly Innocent (6:21)
It is often said that a God who condoned, much less commissioned, the slaughter of "innocents" during the Canaan conquest is unworthy of worship. If such a thing is commanded by God, then a certain exercise in theodicy (discussion of God’s justice) necessarily follows. Before such a discussion, consider a few brief propositions: (1) It is impossible to know the fate of the "innocents." God is both good and just; but the destiny of a person is between that person and his or her God. (2) Jesus was far more interested in one’s eternal destiny than in the person’s earthly existence and departure. In the context of living the life of a virtuous disciple, He says: "Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Mt 10:28). (3) The worst possible scenario for a war survivor may not be death—we simply cannot know what the sorts of horrors are to which any particular "innocent" war survivor might have been exposed. Every now and again, glimpsing the atrocities into which the little ones suffer at the hands of their fellow human beings makes it possible to conclude that there are times when the dead are more to be congratulated than the living (Ec 4:2; Rv 14:13).
Apart from these ideas, there are several reasons for God’s command to destroy the Canaanites. First, the sin of the Amorite was now complete (cf. Gn 15:16). The point of God’s words to Abram was that He was going to give the Canaanites over to the lusts of their hearts and to impurity (Rm 1:24–32). He let them go as far from Him as they desired. As a result, now, like Sodom and Gomorrah, they were ripe for destruction.
Second, the interpreter must interface with the "curse on Canaan" from earlier in Genesis (Gn 9:24–27). The behavior of the Canaanites had finally spiraled so far out of control that the best outcome for the Canaanites was annihilation. Even this was not without precedent: Cain was cursed for killing his own brother (Gn 4:11), with the result that the whole family line would die out in the flood (Gn 6). This still does not address the question of the children. Why was there nothing redeemable about them?
Third, the taking of slaves, much less prisoners, would have been impossible in the constant movements involved in a war of this scope. Children prisoner/slaves would have been an added encumbrance and would have likely have been the victims of further atrocities.
Fourth, the command and its fulfillment are couched in history. This was a one-time affair to be fulfilled only in the conquest. No philosophy, theology or modus operandi should be deduced from this.
Still, the unique nature of this command is not going to make anyone feel better. So why there, why then? A fifth reason to destroy Jericho and other Canaanites may be that God felt that it was necessary to start the new nation upon its land with an absolutely clean slate; the only way to do that was to kill every living thing in Jericho and elsewhere.
Sixth, there is the sacerdotal argument: complete destruction, herem, was required for the conditions of such a holy God. If the sin of the Amorite is complete, then the affront to the holiness of a perfect God is also complete.
Sixth, in "Yahweh War" as Eugene Merrill has called this (Eugene H. Merrill, "The Case for Moderate Discontinuity" in Stanley N. Gundry, ed., Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003], 63–94), there is (as with Pharaoh) a hardness of heart that is irremediable (cf. Jos 11:20). Considering that a civilization’s decline and renaissance are rare, there is no reason to suspect that, in the case of such a degenerate society as that of Canaan, any subsequent generation would be an improvement, humanly speaking. It is not just a cultural spiral—it runs deep within a people’s sinful nature, and only God has the right to make the determination as to who is ripe for such a harvest.
Seventh, it seems that in most cases of "Yahweh War" and at least in Israel’s conquests, God opened some unusual odd channels of grace before, during, and after hearts were finally hardened. Only consider Rahab and her family and the Gibeonites. Also, what of those who survived the wars of Canaan by merely outlasting them and then also survived long enough to be absorbed into Israel? Grace is indeed evident, even for the Canaanites.
Israel needed to be redeemed from her servitude in Egypt, needed a place to go, and was commissioned by God to eradicate the Canaanites and take their land. More importantly, this gives no license for any concept of a "holy war" in any age other than the age of the conquest.
6:22–23. Joshua commissioned the two spies (chap. 2) to protect Rahab and her family, who were then settled outside the regular encampment. This served as a period of spiritual quarantine (cf. Nm 12:10, 14–16). Rahab would soon be absorbed into the tribe of Judah.
6:24. The final disgrace of this Canaanite city is conflagration. Her precious metals were purified in the fire, collected and placed in the treasury of the tabernacle (most of them; cf. Jos 7:20–21).
6:25. The reason for Rahab’s deliverance was because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. In the NT, her heroic action is regarded as a reflection of her faith (Jms 2:25; Heb 11:31). Living in Israel to this day represents the day of the composition of the text, sometime in the generation after Joshua (Jos 24:31). Rahab is immortalized as a trophy of God’s ineffable grace and mercy. A woman of faith, she proved herself faithful to the servants of Israel’s God. She would live on in history: her son Boaz would marry the Moabitess Ruth, who would become the great grandmother of David, and thus two of the distant grandmothers of Jesus (Ru 4:20–22; Mt 1:4–17).
6:26. Joshua then made Israel take an oath to curse anyone who dared rebuild the city. Any would-be rebuilder would do so at the cost of his sons. Centuries later when this actually happened (see 1 Kg 16:34), the writer of 1 Kings knew that this was "according to the word of the Lord, which He spoke through Joshua the son of Nun."
6:27. As the smoke of Jericho rose, the text says that the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land. This answers Joshua’s question ("Are you for us or for our adversaries?") to the Lord’s captain, the angelic being who appeared to him previously (5:13). At that moment the captain sensed no compulsion to dignify the question with an answer. But at the end of the siege of Jericho, the author does. One consequence of a successful action is that, in winning big in a limited engagement, it is easier to go with confidence to the next battle. The nations were immobilized in dread of Israel. Now the reason is known: Canaan’s terror is at the prospect of total annihilation at the hands of Joshua and the God of Israel. So his personal fame now extended beyond the ethnic lines of Israel as its people began to carve out a homeland.
Chapters 6–8 were to be read as a single episode; chap. 7 is the chapter of "trouble." Much of modern criminal justice is based upon the principle that "a crime against one of us is a crime against all of us." The story of Achan’s crime, apprehension, trial, and punishment corresponds to that principle. "The whole nation could be devoted to destruction through the actions of a single person … the sin of an individual has consequences for the family and the community" (Madvig, "Joshua," 281). When someone does something wrong, anyone in community with them will experience collateral damage.
7:1. Even though the deed was done by one man, Achan, the crime is viewed as unfaithfulness of the sons of Israel. This may be troubling to a modern individualist. Yet the danger here was that hidden and unresolved sin would, like leaven, spread to all Israel. As a result, Achan’s sin needed to be addressed collectively and seriously.
7:2. There is a subtle distinction in the depiction of the reconnaissance of Ai here: the wording used for spying out the region more resembles that of the catastrophic failure a generation ago (Nm 13:2) than it does that of the successful espionage of Jericho (Jos 2:1). Literarily, the reading in Numbers foreshadows the calamity that is about to happen to Israel.
7:3–4. One of the consequences of Achan’s sin was that Israel was presumptuous about the military success at Jericho. Do not make all the people toil up there, for they are few, the spies counseled Joshua. Yet without God, they could not win.
7:5. Casualties are first numbered at Ai, although possibly human losses occurred during the Jericho victory that were not recorded. The number thirty-six was not large but it signifies far more: Israel had, in one brief engagement, lost all its momentum. They no longer appeared invincible. The terror the surrounding peoples felt would melt away as their courage had melted before (cf. 2:11, 24). Conversely, Israel’s hearts melted away and became as water.
7:6–9. Joshua’s reaction, along with that of the elders, may seem melodramatic. However, mourning is more expressive in some cultures. The similarities with some of the difficulties Moses and Aaron faced are apparent. Questions about crossing the river and leaving the Transjordan mirror those of crossing the Red Sea and leaving Egypt. Joshua feared destruction and appealed to God based on His reputation as Moses often had (e.g., Ex 32:11–13; Nm 14:15–16).
7:10–12. God answered Joshua abruptly. In short, the only reasons Israel could lose a battle were presumption and sin. God commanded Joshua to action based on the fact that Israel had sinned. Verse 1 states that something very bad has been done. Now the narrator gradually reveals how God will unveil not only the crime, but also the culprit to Joshua. When items dedicated to God are taken, He views that as theft, and the wrong must be rectified. Israel, beaten back in a limited engagement, has traded places with the herem, that which had been devoted to destruction, and has now become devoted to destruction. God told them He would no longer be with them unless they destroy the things under the ban.
7:13–15. Joshua was told to consecrate the people. God was about to pass judgment on the offender, and the people had to be ready for His visitation. Their preparation involved being clean, changing clothes, and abstaining from sexual expression. On numerous occasions a culprit would be found out through God’s providence over the casting of lots (cf. 1Sm 10:20–21; 14:29, 39–42). The culprit and his family would be killed by stoning first (cf. 7:25); then their bodies burned. Fire purified everything. The word translated disgraceful thing is more often translated "stupidity," or by extension "willful sin" (HALOT, 664). In short, Achan knew it was wrong and stupidly, defiantly, did it anyway.
7:16–18. Joshua arose early in the morning (3:1; 6:12; 7:18), indicating his preparation to meet God and cooperate with Him in the judgment process. Apparently using lots (see v. 14), Joshua, with God’s help, narrowed the search for the offender to the specific tribe (Judah), then the specific clan (Zerah), then the extended family (the family of Zabdi), and finally settling on the head of a household, Achan. Likely, God lead Joshua through this process in order to make a public display of His displeasure over Achan’s crime.
7:19. Joshua commanded Achan to give glory to God by confessing what he had done. Achan waited to confess, as the concentric rings inexorably tightened. There may be a "law of first offense" wherein the first crime of a type or a period is punished severely indicating exactly what God thinks of it (possibly Adam and Eve; the flood generation; the exodus generation; Achan stealing from God; King Saul; and Ananias and Sapphira with whom Achan is often compared). If God punished everyone who sinned in this way, there would be fewer people and those left would obey, not out of devotion, but out of fear of reprisal.
7:20–21. Achan admitted his guilt; but when he described his action, he spoke using words used to describe Eve’s infraction: "I saw … I coveted … I took …" (cf. Gn 3:6). An observant biblical reader should recall the original offense in the Eden narrative and recognize the similarities in the crimes. The volume and value of what Achan had taken was high. This is important considering the severity and scope of punishment.
7:22–23. Messengers found everything as Achan had described and they poured them out before the Lord. The words "poured out" are used of "pouring out" a drink offering before the Lord. This has the feel of ritualistic purification.
7:24–26. There are several uses of the term trouble before the naming of the place is formalized. Joshua and the people of Israel brought Achan and all that belonged to him to the "valley of trouble." They probably killed him and his family by stoning, then burned them and raised a heap of stones as a monument to this trespass against God’s holiness. Then the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger and the place was named "the Valley of Trouble."
Why were Achan’s sons and daughters killed? Scripture says: "Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin" (Dt 24:16 ESV). Perhaps these adult children were complicit in Achan’s crimes. With regard to the words "all that belongs to him" (v. 15), perhaps Joshua interpreted them to mean livestock and inanimate possessions as well as family. God had not, however, specified anyone other than the culprit. In the first six chapters Joshua was listening carefully to God. But in chap. 7, he was not seeking the Lord’s counsel until forward momentum had been lost. God rebuked him (7:10–15) and sent him to apprehend the culprit. Joshua did not ask the specifics of the sentencing. The traditional solution is that the children were accessories to the crime and that Joshua complied with the Lord’s directive completely (7:12–15, 24–26). As a result of this punishment, God’s anger was assuaged in the specifics; but He will "feel" more distant throughout most of the remainder of the book.
Another ethical problem affects individualists. Often they are told, "Nobody else was hurt" when a sin is committed. Sin, in modern Western thinking, is supposedly a matter affecting an individual’s conscience and life. In the case of Achan, God was displeased and did not help Israel in what should have been an easy victory. "Israel" was blamed for the infraction. "Israel" lost the battle. Thirty-six warriors lost their lives. The nation lost its momentum and became demoralized. Valuable time was expended in finding the perpetrator. The punishment was capital, affecting Achan, his sons, daughters, and livestock. The nation had to restart a campaign that should have been well under way. Every damaged relationship and every questionable acquisition have negative consequences. Sin, crime, and immorality all negatively affect the family, community, and nation.
As the narrator comes to chap. 8, everything from the taking of Jericho (chap. 2) through the initial defeat and subsequent conquest of Ai were to be read as a single episode. The covenant renewal section in 8:30–35 then presents a major break in the narrative.
8:1. The Lord had promised Joshua His presence in the upcoming engagement with Ai. The previous loss to Ai woke Israel up so that this time she would not be so presumptuous (7:3–4), there would be so many warriors engaged that allied cities would be less likely to leave the safety of their fortresses, and Ai could be lulled into Israel’s trap.
8:2. Ai and its king would be like Jericho and its king. Israel could now enjoy the spoils of war for themselves. If only Achan had waited! God told Joshua: Set an ambush for the city behind it. God commanded His general to use a battle plan including deception. The main force was to do a feint maneuver to draw people away into the field.
8:3–8. The ambush involved three fighting forces for Israel, all strategically placed. The majority of Joshua’s military force was called all the people of war (vv. 3 and 11). From this group Joshua chose 30,000 … valiant warriors (also v. 3). Later Joshua selected from all the people of war about 5,000 soldiers (vv. 11–12). Precisely where the 30,000 (v. 3) and 5,000 (v. 12) Israelite warriors from among the larger group were placed is difficult to determine. Ai was oriented toward a road to the north. Thus the word behind (v. 2) may not refer to the west but rather to the south (meachareyha, 8:2, usually means "after" or "behind," but here probably refers to the south), the side opposite of the city’s "front door" by that road to the north.
The Lord’s initial commands for ambush were broadly fulfilled. The 30,000 valiant warriors were sent up the hill from Gilgal to spend the night in a secret location close behind the city (south or southwest). The main force ("all the people of war") was to approach from the east. There would be a feint to draw the army of Ai away. Joshua then anticipated their reactions. The soldiers of Ai will say, They are fleeing before us as at the first. As they were drawn away from the city (8:16–17), the 30,000 Israelite warriors in hiding were to take the city, put it to the torch, and then form the hammer to crush Ai as Israel, the anvil, turned to face them.
Thirty thousand warriors are a lot to hide; perhaps they spread out to the southwest, forming part of the buffer between Ai and Bethel, located about two miles northwest of Ai. Waiting in ambush were the 5,000 stationed between Ai and Bethel to the "west" (miyyam 8:12). Their job was to keep Bethel from having an influence on the battle. "All the people of war" (the bulk of the Israelite forces) were in the valley across the road to the "north" (8:13). But those Ai soldiers had no idea how large Israel’s army to the east and north actually was, having fought only 3,000 men during the first attack on Ai (see 7:4).
8:9–17. The battle joined, Israel adopted the posture of defeat and fled toward the east. The people from Ai chased them, unaware of events behind them. A portion of the 30,000 Jewish soldiers waiting in ambush struck and burned the city, while the 5,000 soldiers to the west neutralized Bethel. Bethel came out (8:17) to fight, but would not be a factor. (In the king/city list of Jos 12, Bethel is not mentioned with Ai [v. 9], but at end of the southern campaign [v. 16].)
8:18–23. The Master of strategy and timing told Joshua, Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand. God’s words are similar to those at the Red Sea crossing, when Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and Pharaoh’s army was destroyed (Ex 14:26–27). Joshua used this prearranged gesture to turn around the largest group of his soldiers, "all the people of war." All Israel ceased their flight to the east, turned back to the west, and caught the soldiers of Ai between them and some of the 30,000 now pursuing from the west. The hammer of some of the 30,000 valiant warriors and the anvil of Israel’s largest group (all the people of war) began to crush the army of Ai. The city became an inferno (8:19), the people of Ai were killed, the plunder and the king taken.
8:24–29. When everyone in the field had been killed, the women (8:5) and most likely the children were killed. This is the only conquest battle where a tally is given for the enemy. A few days before, 36 from Israel had been killed (7:5); this day some 12,000 adults from Ai were killed. The king was impaled upon a pike (cf. ANET3, 288), and then entombed in a heap of rocks visible "to this day" (cf. 7:25–26). Ai was allowed to burn and would remain a ruin to the time of the writing of the book of Joshua. So the evil king and his town mirror the treasonous Achan and his family, executed by the judgment of God and immortalized in a pile of rocks.
8:30–35. This "floating pericope" is found in three positions: A DSS fragment has it between 5:1 and 5:2; in LXX it is found after notice of the formation of the Canaanite coalition at 9:2; and it appears here at 8:30ff. However, there is no reason to follow anything other than the universal Hebrew reading, which places it at the end of chap. 8. There is no action against the people of Shechem. Shechem is not mentioned as one of 31 cities and kings in chap. 12. Perhaps they were overthrown without comment, or they may have made peace with Israel. There was an ancient history between them: Abraham passed through on his way into the land (Gn 12:6; 34). And there was the negative event of the sons of Jacob deceiving the Shechemites (Gn 34; cf. 48:22). The text does indicate the presence of strangers, perhaps Shechemites (8:33, 35).
With so many armed people, Israel traveled unmolested. The people built an altar upon Mt. Ebal of uncut stones (Ex 20:25; Dt 27:5–6). The whole-burnt offerings were for atonement, the peace offerings a fellowship offering shared by the laity. This may be compared to the time during the monarchy when the ark of the covenant was in Jerusalem and yet Solomon met God at Gibeon because the faith had not yet been entirely centralized (defacto) in Jerusalem (1Kg 3:4).
Everything was done just as commanded (8:31, 33, 35; cf. Dt 27:11–14). Joshua wrote a copy of the law, much as the future king would be required to do (Dt 17:18–20). He did this not because he viewed himself as their king but because he was functioning as their spiritual leader. Half of the people stood either in front of or on top of Mt. Ebal and the rest correspondingly at Mt. Gerizim. Shechem is about 27 miles north of Jerusalem. Mt. Ebal is less than two miles to the north of Shechem’s ancient city center, whereas Mt. Gerizim is less than a mile to the southwest. They probably chanted antiphonally the blessings and the curses of the covenant. Most importantly, Joshua read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law.
Israel was a mixed multitude, consisting of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and resident aliens (8:33, 35). Rahab and her family were present, absorbed as true Israelites. Achan and his family were absent, executed as rebels against God’s monarchy, in a sense no better than the Canaanites. Anyone who confessed Israel’s God, as Rahab had, stranger or native, was welcome.
B. The Southern Campaign (9:1–10:43)
Earlier, hearing about Israel’s strength created paralysis among the surrounding nations (2:9–11; 5:1). Here Israel’s opponents are provoked to action. The difference was the failure at the initial encounter with Ai. Israel no longer appeared invincible. They attempted to form one coalition and formed two, divided in half to Israel’s advantage (cf. Jos 9:1; 10:1 and 11:1–3). The list of nations parallels that of the commission (Dt 20:17). Verse 3 indicates strong disjunction: "Now the inhabitants of Gibeon …" (author’s translation and emphasis). The text almost self-consciously resumes the overarching scenario of the southern coalition fighting against Israel (10:1–2), with statements about their fear, Israel’s victories, and four Hivite cities added as allies.
Disappointment may have lingered among the people over the theft of Achan and the failure at Ai; however, God made it turn out better than expected (cf. Rm 8:28). Unless God intended to destroy each city as He had Jericho, siege warfare would have slowed the conquest and decimated Israel’s resources. So the Canaanites were provoked into offensive action, enabling Israel to beat them in the field, destroy their armies, and capture virtually undefended cities. This is also the reason archaeology has yielded little evidence of burned cities from the time of the conquest. (Hazor, about eight miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee, is a notable exception, showing evidence of being burned at the time of the conquest.)
9:1–2. The attempt at an alliance would produce only a divided one (10:1–2; 11:1–3). This order of presentation for the nations is the same as that of Dt 20:17, and hence the careful reader would have recalled this certainly at the level of foreshadowing if not of prophecy fulfilled.
9:3–5. The Gibeonites needed to act deceptively or face extermination. Perhaps they had had spies at Mt. Ebal when the law was read and realized that they were next. The Gibeonites prepared for the ruse with undesirable provisions and worn-out clothing.
9:6–7. The Gibeonites knew the treaty regulations for those living far away (Dt 20:10–15). Their call for a covenant aroused suspicions: Perhaps you are living within our land; how then shall we make a covenant with you? Building tension, the author intimates the people of Gibeon were Hivites: they should have been annihilated.
9:8. The Gibeonites sidestepped the question by merely stating: We are your servants (cf. v. 11). Joshua asked again to ascertain their ethnicity and origin.
9:9–10. The Gibeonites repeated their tale and then magnified the reputation of the Lord. The story was crafted so as to recall events distant enough in time not to betray their proximity: the exodus and the Transjordanian wars, but not the miraculous crossing, the fall of Jericho or the rout of Ai, because that would betray their location. Their statements parallel Rahab’s (2:9–11), but their knowledge of God’s power does not parallel Rahab’s genuine faith.
9:11. Perhaps the Hivites were not under the rule of a monarch but under elder rule, indicating a correspondence with Israelite culture. There are two statements on servanthood and treaty (cf. vv. 6, 8).
9:12–13. The Gibeonites continued by talking about their provisions and clothing as having been in good condition upon departure. Their story’s tensions approached the breaking point. The word crumbled is the word "spotted" for goats and sheep (Gn 30:39). "Moldy" may be a better translation.
9:14–15. The Israelites examined their food to ascertain its age; however, Israel did not ask for the counsel of the Lord. This was where they had gone wrong at Ai. Now Joshua and the leaders made a treaty with the Gibeonites without truly knowing their origin. These people would be integrated into Israelite society, but it was a violation of an order from God (Dt 20:17).
9:16–17. In three days, the Israelites discovered the Gibeonites were neighbors. Perhaps another reconnaissance mission revealed the truth. The Gibeonites were allied with four other cities, mostly to the west of them.
9:18–19. The people of Israel were irritated with their leadership. The people were ready to destroy the Hivites, but the leadership would not allow a breach of treaty. As with the spies and Rahab, an oath in the Lord’s name sometimes seemed stronger to the leadership than Moses’ edict to "utterly destroy" the enemy. On the part of the Gibeonites, one wonders if the lie should have nullified the oath.
9:20–23. The covenant probably looked more like an alliance of equals to the people. So the leadership decided that the Gibeonites were to serve the community, specifically the tabernacle. Joshua’s curse does seem to carry some weight. Later King Saul would attempt an ethnic purge (2Sm 21:1–9).
9:24–27. The Gibeonites made the decision that, whatever the outcome, the end of avoiding extermination justified the means of deception. So they deferred to Joshua. Because good and right was turned upside down by the oath, they were shielded from annihilation. The people must have still been angry because Joshua had to deliver the Gibeonites from them.
A people group was preserved alive; those with a Judeo-Christian heritage would likely side with the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites became the closest non-Israelites to the tabernacle. They cut wood for sacrifices and drew water for ritual washings. No other outlander had such a proximate view of the nature of atonement. They lived under the threat of violence (cf. 2Sm 21), but would not cease to be under God’s watch-care (cf. Neh 3:7; 7:25). One can point to God’s superintending grace in such a case: it seems that even though Joshua was careless, neither he nor the people were directly punished for this failure to consult the Lord; however, it shows God’s grace to the Gibeonites in that, unlike the rest of the Amorites, we might infer that their sin was not yet complete.
The Canaanites formed a coalition against the Gibeonites for having made a treaty with Israel. Mere "hearing" about Israel’s strength and the paralysis related to it now shifts into action because the nations were no longer stymied by fear, and this made Israel’s work easier. The various kingdoms, emboldened by the defeat at Ai, came out to meet Israel in battle. Joshua 10 contains some of that initial offensive action against Israel, including the siege of Gibeon by the Canaanite coalition, Joshua’s mission to rescue Gibeon, the unusual meteorological and astronomical phenomena, and the southern campaign.
10:1–5. Reports of the fate of Jericho’s and Ai’s kings circulated throughout the region, but the paralysis these victories once caused now goaded the enemies into offensive action. Gibeon was a fortress city somewhat like Gezer (see map "The Central and Southern Campaigns") and its warriors men of note. The king of Jerusalem summoned the kings and armies of Hebron (about 20 miles south of Jerusalem), Jarmuth (about 15 miles west-southwest of Jerusalem), Lachish (about 28 miles southwest of Jerusalem), and Eglon (about 28 miles south-southwest of Jerusalem). He requested their help to regain the central plateau from the Israelite-Hivite alliance. Thus the five kings of the Amorites joined in besieging Gibeon.
The Central and Southern Campaigns
Adapted from The New Moody Atlas of the Bible. Copyright © 2009 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago.
10:6–9. The Gibeonites sent messengers to Joshua at Gilgal (in the vicinity of Jericho) announcing their plight: All the kings of the Amorites that live in the hill country have assembled against us. The Israel army quickly mobilized, perhaps already poised to intercept another force (cf. 9:1–2). Joshua conducted a forced night march (v. 9; cf. 8:3). The valiant warriors in this passage were not just an elite force, but the entire army. Trained for war, they were all deployed in the forthcoming action. God promised His presence and overwhelming victory (cf. 1:5; 3:7; 6:2; 8:1).
10:10. Israel’s army was in pursuit and the Lord confounded them, giving God the credit for the victory. Already the battlefield was littered with slain Canaanites, but now God continued their demise.
10:11. Terror is a great motivator, and when the Canaanite army fled west they were going downhill. The space between became a killing zone as the Lord threw large stones from heaven on them. The Scripture specifies these were hailstones, indicating a meteorological event rather than a meteorite shower. Joshua’s shock-attack was horrible, but more … died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword.
10:12–14. The challenge of these verses has to do with their startling nature and several certainties: The Amorites were defeated; Joshua spoke to the Lord; the daylight was extended as the sun … did not hasten to go down and the moon stopped; the nation was avenged; the book of Jashar was mentioned; there was no day like this; and God listened and fought for Israel.
Critical scholarship employs a mythological and figurative (non-literal) approach to the events depicted in the text. If the text can be laid out in poetic format, then it is either mythological writing or the high imagery renders the words hyperbole. But art can still reflect reality, so no problem is really solved. Another approach presupposes phenomenal language. That is, circumstances only seem to be the way they appear: reality must be sought elsewhere. For instance, the army of Israel was able to inflict so much damage that it seemed as if the sun stood still in the sky, that it seemed like an incessant day during which they accomplished more than would seem possible on a typical day. A third approach sees a meteorological event creating conditions causing light to be refracted longer at dusk. Perhaps some astronomical event caused this. A fourth explanation evaluates the positioning of the sun and moon that day: a full moon illuminating Joshua’s march of eight to ten hours (10:9) could make the shock attack and aftermath seem like a double day.
The words, however, should be allowed to mean what they say. According to the simplest reading of the text, there is a reference to the slowing of the earth’s rotation. Phenomenal language need not be "pre-scientific": even today meteorologists refer to the time of a "sunrise" and "sunset," even though technically the sun never actually rises or sets. This had to happen at a time when both sun and moon were visible, at least initially. The earth’s rotation need not have come to a complete stop—although it could have. Had it just slowed, the sun would have appeared to not hasten to go down for about a whole day. Critics question the effects of an orbiting moon and a stationary earth on the earthly tides. Nevertheless, a God big enough to create our universe—being both God of the cause and the effect—could keep such forces from being cataclysmic; the Lord can diminish and control the tidal action.
10:15. Verses 15 and 43 are identical. This is not dittography (accidental repetition by a scribe) but an inclusio (a literary bracketing of the historical account). The purpose of this bracketing of material was to add information about events that took place around that time. It suggests the army advanced successively on the defenses at Makkedah, Libna, Lashish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, and Negev after the execution of the five kings, achieving with God’s help several days of victory before returning to Gilgal.
10:16–18. The report of the five defeated kings taking refuge in a cave inspired Joshua to order them temporarily sealed and guarded. The record of this event draws a connection with the "piles of rocks" placed over the fallen opponents of God and Israel (cf. 7:26; 8:29; 10:27).
10:19–21. The soldiers of Israel were commanded to pursue their enemies. The enemies were not allowed to reenter their fortifications because it would have necessitated lengthy sieges, costly for the offensive strategy of Joshua’s army. A fortress might be defended against ten-to-one odds, reducing the effectiveness of Joshua’s fighting force considerably with much of the conquest yet to go. Perhaps there was a forward base of operations at Makkedah (possibly a site 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem), or the laying of the first siege. Although the armies were rendered inert, a few stragglers had made it back to their fortifications. No one uttered a word against any of the sons of Israel (v. 21) is literally "no man sharpened his tongue at the sons of Israel." Sheer terror and dejection held their words in check.
10:22–27. The five kings were brought out. The cadence of v. 23 is as a death sentence: place names were mentioned, signifying armies commanded and aggression against Israel. In ancient Near Eastern fashion, the field commanders were told to put their feet on the necks of the living kings. The commanders were then told, be strong and courageous. In words God had spoken to Joshua, the commanders were promised success over their enemies (10:8). Joshua struck them and put them to death. Joshua may have done this himself, or perhaps ordered it done before the field commanders. The ancients were not Victorian gentlemen; these were Middle Eastern warlords and to Westerners acted barbarically. Possibly he struck them with a mortal blow and then impaled them on pikes for the army to watch them die. It sounds hideous; but it would have its effect on any foreigner looking on. It would also encourage Joshua’s army and its commanders. The kings were brought down at sunset (cf. Dt 21:22–23), cast into their former hideout, and sealed by large stones visible until the time of writing (cf. 7:26; 8:29).
10:28. The story is bracketed by the successful siege of Makkedah. The people were exterminated and its king treated as Jericho’s king (cf. 8:29; 10:1). The southern campaign was in motion.
10:29–39. After this success, the nation of Israel captured seven cities in southern Canaan (see Howard, Joshua, 257; and Richard S. Hess, Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary. TOTC, ed. D. J. Wisémen [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996], 203), and the parallels are clear in the following chart.
The symmetry demonstrates enough variation that it cannot be a formulaic caricature; but it also demonstrates that the author intended to present the events systematically.
Jerusalem was not taken at this time (cf. 2Sm 5:8–10). Gezer was not taken at this time (cf. 1Kg 9:16). Even though Hebron’s and Eglon’s kings had already been killed at the cave near Makkedah, succession is often rapid after a monarch’s death; the text describes their appointed successors who suffered the same outcome when Joshua’s army besieged their towns. The second half of this chapter presents Israel’s military movements as a rapid set of victories, but it is impossible to determine the length of the campaign.
The seven southern cities were taken in an arc to the west (see map "The Central and Southern Campaigns"), then south along the low hills known as the shephelah, and then back inland to the east. According to chap. 12, there were additional cities taken in the Negev, the arid region in Israel’s near south.
10:40–42. The scope of the southern conquest included the highlands (hill country), the southlands (Negev), the foothills (shephelah, lowland) and the ascents (slopes). Joshua left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, as commanded. The data about Gezer precludes the possibility of the annihilation of every living being there (Jos 16:10). This apparent contradiction is resolved by examining the commands for war in Dt 20:10–18. There it states that more distant nations (like Gezer) were to be offered terms of peace. Those that refused were to have the leadership destroyed and people subjugated, just as happened with Gezer. Joshua defeated Gezer’s king and army because they joined the battle to aid Lachish (Jos 10:33), but he only subjugated the actual city (Jos 16:10).
Thus, Israel’s obedience was complete. From Kadesh-barnea and Gaza in the south, to Gibeon in the central plateau, all was secured. Theologically, with God victory was assured when fought according to His rules. The words, the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel, mirror those of Jos 10:14, 42).
10:43. With the southern campaign ended, Israel returned to Gilgal. Although the time lapse between the two campaigns cannot be known, the northern coalition against Israel was likely forming while the southern campaign was in progress.
C. The Northern Campaign (11:1–15)
When the central and southern regions were subdued and the army of Israel was at Gilgal, the northern coalition rose against Israel. Only two kings were mentioned by name: Jabin and Jobab. Jabin summoned four cities and an immense region to battle. The size of Jabin’s legions cannot be known. Josephus wrote, "the number of the whole army was three hundred thousand armed footmen, and ten thousand horsemen, and twenty thousand chariots" (Ant.: 5, 1, 18). Josephus read fear among the Jewish people between the lines and sensed that "God upbraided them" for their lack of faith. There is irrational dread and there is realistic apprehensiveness; God would tell them, lit., "cease fearing them." (v. 6).
11:1–5. When Jabin the king … heard, he knew that Israel had silenced the southern coalition. The people summoned were from a huge region: from Mt. Hermon in the far north to the Mediterranean, Transjordan, Edom (southeast of the Dead Sea), and remains of the southern coalition (e.g., Jebusites from the region associated with Jerusalem). They were summoned to the waters of Merom, to fight against Israel. This encampment was likely several miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee, near the Horns of Hittin (Hess, Joshua, 211), where chariots could maneuver.
11:6. In times of dread, the Lord spoke with His leader, who then encouraged the people. The words tomorrow at this time probably astonished Joshua. Slaughtering and putting to flight myriads of well-equipped warriors would certainly be extreme providence.
The hamstringing of horses seems cruel, but there were important reasons for doing this. In Dt 17:16, the leadership is commanded not to multiply horses, symbolic of affluence and power. Also, a hamstrung horse would be no longer militarily useful. (Unable to run, its only remaining use might be for food for sojourners.) Israel’s land was defensible by infantry, but cavalry was considered an offensive force.
11:7–9. God’s promise of victory was followed by rapid deployment (cf. 8:1–2; 10:7–9). While the Canaanites were planning tactics, Israel was upon them! The quick deployment and brilliant maneuvering by Israel contributed, but the Lord’s work was in focus: The Lord delivered them into the hand of Israel. The slaughter at the camp caused the enemies to flee. Israel chased the enemy as far as Sidon to the far northwest Mediterranean coast and Mt. Hermon to the northeast. Joshua obeyed in hamstringing the horses and burning the chariots.
11:10–11. The phrase at that time serves to differentiate actions rather than to mark time. They turned back from pursuit and focused on the center of the coalition, Hazor (about eight miles north of the Sea of Galilee), which they conquered, killing everyone, taking what plunder was left and burning everything else. Hazor was, with Jericho and Ai, the third foul zone purified by fire.
11:12–15. The other city fortifications were breached, the kings captured and killed. Any ability for resistance was destroyed. The burning of Hazor is reemphasized and the plundering of the towns noted.
But they struck every man with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them. They left no one who breathed (v. 14). Such statements are grave: Where Joshua’s armies went, there was complete destruction; where they neglected to go, people survived. Waging "total war" was because the sin of the Amorite was irremediable (cf. Gn 15:16). God’s only solution, as in Sodom and Gomorrah, was to rid the world of these people (see v. 20). Joshua did everything that Moses had commanded in general and everything that the Lord commanded in particular.
D. Victory in Review: Regions and Rest (11:16–23)
11:16–18. Thus Joshua took all that land. This synopsis includes lands taken in all campaigns. The first hill country is most likely the Galilean highlands. The Negev is the Judean desert in the south with Beersheba as central. The land of Goshen is in the southwest. The plains included the coastal plain (the lowland) as well as the Esdraelon plain (encompassing a flat fertile region generally about 20 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee). The second hill country is the central highlands of Judea, Ephraim, and Manasseh. The hill country and its lowland (shephelah) is the low hills to the west of Jerusalem and Hebron. In v. 17, the regions that are listed encompass Edom (southwest of the Dead Sea), Lebanon (in the far north), and Syria (in the far northeast). In all these locations Joshua conquered towns and killed leaders. What is presented in the narrative seems to have transpired in a short amount of time. But narrative features and temporal distance should not be confused. Although the accounts are brief, Joshua waged war a long time with all these kings (v. 18). Based upon statements by Caleb (14:7–11), the conquest took seven years.
11:19–20. Only Gibeon (the cities of Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim were part of the Gibeon alliance) made peace (see Jos 9). These Hivites, although temple-slaves, were left alive by God’s grace, as Rahab and her family had been. The other peoples who lived around them, however, were to die, including women and children.
Theology and theological history are in view: For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, to meet Israel in battle in order that he might utterly destroy them, that they might receive no mercy (v. 20). This may be compared with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 4:21; see the comments there and in Rm 9:17–18). The author of Joshua ascribes the downfall of the various kingdoms during the conquest to God’s sovereignty, the intentions of the leaders of those realms being under His divine supervision. Apart from a work of grace, neither Pharaoh nor the Canaanites could operate contrary to their nature. And so when God hardened the Canaanites to meet Israel in battle, their choices were ordained by God, who intended to destroy these people—and He had known it would come about for over 400 years (Gn 15:16). There was no benevolent grace extended to them, other than to Rahab and her family and the Gibeonites. For a season God allowed them to engage in their desires, and then He had the Canaanites destroyed according to the judgment of God because of their unparalleled debauchery (cf. Rm 1:18–28); even in the NT era, people’s destinies are sealed before death (1Pt 2:8; see the comments on Rm 9:13–23). As alarming as this sounds, it appears to be the plain meaning of Jos 11:20. Time was up. They forfeited their lives. Condemnation was inevitable, all in keeping with God’s sovereign plans.
11:21–22. The second occurrence of the phrase at that time (see 11:10 for the first) changes the scene to the extermination of the Anakim. These two verses form a necessary conclusion to the conquest. The Anakim had been the reason for the evaporation of Israel’s courage at Kadesh (Nm 13:32–33; cf. Dt 1:28; 9:2). Moses describes the giant Anakim and the Rephaim together as "numerous and tall" (Dt 2:10–11, 20–21) and reveals that Og, the king of Bashan, part of the last remnant of the Rephaim, slept in a bed measuring 131/2 feet long by 6 feet wide (Dt 3:11).
The spies said that they had seen "the Nephilim" (cf. Gn 6:4). The parenthetical statement "The sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim" (Nm 13:33) could be either the author’s comment or part of the quote from the men who spied out the land. The NASB has it as a parenthesis, but leaves it within the quotation marks. The report by the spies about the Nephilim was inaccurate in several ways. First, the spies were exaggerating. Second, the Nephilim were wiped out in the flood. Third, Moses gave no credence to their opinion (cf. Dt 1:28; 9:2). Although the Anakim were clearly large and threatening, these giants had been killed or run out of the highlands of what would become Judah. The only place where these people still existed at the time of writing was in what would become the Philistine coastal plain (cf. 1Sm 17; 2Sm 21:16–22; 1Ch 20:4–8).
11:23. Joshua took the whole land. Israel was now the possessor of the land. Everyone else henceforth was considered a foreigner. Joshua’s obedience to the Lord was complete. The first half of the verse looks back upon the conquest of Canaan, whereas the next looks forward to the events of chap. 13 and following. Finally, the land had rest from war. From now on, battles will be regional and tribal. The land was now at peace, and the division of the land could begin. Rest from war is fleeting, life being often thus unsettled. And even within the book of Joshua, the rest was not comprehensive (see 17:12–13). The NT mentions this: "For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that" (Heb 4:8). There is land resting from war and there is the believer resting in the Lord. Augustine’s statement is germane: "Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee" (Confessions 1:1).
E. Victory in Review: Cities and Kings (12:1–24)
The pedagogical value to repetition of the basic themes is that the more they are repeated, the more they will be remembered. The cadence in chap. 12 has the feel of a formal, holy convocation, a stately march through the fraternal graveyard of deceased kings sharing alike in a failed attempt to thwart God’s purposes.
Of the three sections, the first and third (vv. 1–6 and 9–24) share a similar length but differ in content and genre (narrative vs. list). Verses 1–6 are a reprise of the conquest east of the Jordan River; vv. 7 and 8 a synopsis of the regions and peoples conquered, and vv. 9–24 the list of the cities defeated and kings killed. The differences between vv. 1 and 7 include directions and the insertion of Joshua’s name.
12:1–6. This section recalls the events of the conquest of the Transjordan (Nm 21:21–35) and land distribution (Nm 32:1–42). Sihon and Og ruled over large regions, but the 31 kings who ruled west of the Jordan River were mostly city-state warlords, ruling over their immediate surroundings. The land conquered while Moses was alive included land from modern southwest Syria to modern central Jordan.
12:7–8. These verses outline the regions and peoples conquered: on the east side the border followed an arc from the base of Mt. Hermon in the far north, south to the territory of Edom (southeast of the Dead Sea). The western lands included the central highlands, the low hills (shephelah), the plains (coastal and Esdraelon), the Arabah valley, and the south (negev). For these locations, see the comments on 11:16–18. The groups conquered compare to those of the original commission by Moses (Dt 20:17) and the original coalition (9:1).
12:9–24. The Hebrew text is laid out as lists with the name of the king’s town at the right and the adjective "one" to the left. At v. 24, on the right it reads literally, "Group of kings was thirty and one" (author’s trans.).
The list reflects the general progress of the conquest in chaps. 6–11. Perhaps Bethel was not initially conquered in chap. 8, but was subdued later (cf. 12:9 and 12:16). According to 8:17, the army of Bethel participated in the battle of Ai, but the account indicates nothing in regard to army or king (cf. Jdg 1:22–26). Although Jerusalem and Gezer would not be conquered for centuries (2Sm 5:6–9; 1Kg 9:16), their armies were defeated in the field and their kings killed. Hormah and Arad (v. 14) are mentioned at this point (cf. Nm 21:1–3). Though they had been destroyed under Moses, they apparently were subdued again under Joshua. Perhaps people filtered into the ruins and rebuilt the city between the days of Moses and Joshua.
In the section indicating "land yet to be taken" (17:12; cf. Jdg 1:27), the Israelites defeated armies in the field and killed the kings, but could not breach the great fortresses. So when Israel was strong, the Canaanites were subjugated; when the Canaanites were strong, Israel was oppressed (Jdg 1:27–36). This oppression was based upon spiritual defection and idolatry (see commentary on Judges in this volume, for the theology of the "cycles" of defection and repentance).
The land had "rest from war" (11:23), the kings and their armies being pacified beyond resistance. The third major phase, the land distribution, began with a notice that the conquest has taken its toll: now Joshua was old and advanced in years (13:1; cf. 23:1–2). God fought for Israel; but occasional misfortunes would cause wounds that would disable, and deaths that would add to the widows and orphans among the Israelites. Necessary familial readjustments followed with the absorption of children into extended families. But having "rest from war" also meant that the survivors could now receive land.
III. Distribution of the Land (13:1–21:45)
A. Land Distribution: Command and Transjordan Review (13:1–33)
Joshua had been told that he would both lead Israel in victories and distribute the land (1:6). What follows leaves the impression that the book of Joshua is a book of the Levites, by the Levites, and for the Levites (with apologies to Abraham Lincoln). It often appears that the prime real estate was given to the Levites. In addition, the land closest to protection (the city walls) was also given to the Levites. In several cases cities hard won by Israel become "cities of refuge" (cf. Jos 20), or Levitical cities (cf. Jos 21).
Chapter 13 includes a catalog of the land remaining to be taken (13:1–7), the Transjordanian holdings (13:9–13), and the places given to Reuben (13:16–23), to Gad (13:24–28), and to East Manasseh (see discussion under 13:29–31). The author comments on the finalizing of the allotment to the Transjordanian tribes (13:32) and states the "inheritance" of the Levites (13:33). For the specifics of regions and cities, see the map "The Tribal Distribution of the Land" in the commentary on Numbers, p. 259.
While the record of the lands, cities, and boundaries parceled out to the various tribes is tedious to the modern reader, it is important to remember that God intended Israel’s economy to be strictly agrarian. The Lord’s blessing meant a fruitful land (Lv 26:4; Dt 11:14). His plan was to put them in the land and have them depend on Him to provide through blessing the land (Lv 26:3–4; Dt 7:13; 8:11–18; 28:1–8). For that reason, the land was not to be sold to others outside one’s clan and tribe (Lv 25:25), and land that did pass into an outsider’s possession was to be returned to the original owners during the Year of Jubilee (Lv 25:10–13, 23). Their dependence upon God, and God’s provision for them, would become a beacon to the rest of the world of His goodness and power (Dt 15:6; 28:10). This theme also reflects the expression of God’s judgment when He chooses to remove them from the land when they forsake Him (Dt 28:63; 29:25–28; 30:17–18). The precision and detail with which each tribe was allotted land reflects His design to tie their well-being to the land and thus to Himself. So the land is important.
13:1–7. Joshua’s advanced age is mentioned (cf. 23:1–2). He is likely Caleb’s age (14:7–10), so about 85 years old. The southwest coastal plain, later Philistia, was not firmly in Israel’s grasp. The conquest was around 1400 BC. The sea peoples who settled on Israel’s southwestern coast arrived en masse probably from the Aegean region about 1375 BC. Proto-Philistines are evident from texts such as Gn 26:1 (cf. 20:1–2), but were culturally Canaanite. Phoenicia (the region from Mt. Carmel north, including Sidon and Tyre) was also not taken; but the land Israel held was apportioned by Joshua (Jos 13:7).
13:8–13. The bequest to the Transjordanian tribes reaffirmed the words of Moses (13:8). This land later became a point of contention with Ammon (cf. Jdg 11). In v. 12, the Geshurites and Maacathites were conquered, but not displaced. David’s son, Absalom, was the troubled son of a Geshurite princess (2Sm 15–18).
13:14. The Levites were given no larger territory because the offerings by fire to the Lord, the God of Israel, are their inheritance. It is possible that this means that because they would often have dual residence between a Levitical city and the worship center, there would be less need to raise crops and livestock because of the participation in the meals of the offerings.
13:15–23. The southernmost of the Transjordanian tribes was Reuben, whose cities ran from the Arnon Valley (about half-way down the eastern side of the Dead Sea) as far north as Rabbah (near modern day Amman, about 25 miles northeast of the Dead Sea). There was a ravine about 30 miles north of the Dead Sea between them and Gad to their north that served as a boundary.
13:24–28. To the north, Gad’s territory was a triangle from the ravine that flows into the Jordan mentioned above, including the River Jabbok, extending to the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee, as far east as Rabbah.
13:29–32. Northernmost, the sons of Machir the son of Manasseh—and one of the two major clans of Manasseh—claimed East Manasseh’s lands (13:31). This was among the largest allotments. Their borders ran southeast from the south end of the Sea of Galilee as far as Ramoth Gilead (about 30 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee), arcing northeast across the desert to Mt. Hermon (about 25 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee), then south along the upper Jordan (north of the Sea of Galilee) and the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee being the western border.
13:33. The chapter concludes with another statement on the heritage of the Levites: The Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance. The Levites were set aside for the Lord’s service. They were religious officials (cf. v. 14), but were also responsible for pastoral, educational, legal, and medical functions.
These three tribes were the first to be taken into captivity when the Assyrian king set his sights on the south (1Ch 5:26). The Transjordanian steppe was good pastureland, but as a wide-open steppe it lacked a defensible high ground. The Transjordanian Levites may have migrated to Judah after the fall of Samaria in 722 BC (2Ch. 30:10–11).
B. Land Distribution: Land for the Faithful Hero Caleb (14:1–15)
Chapter 14 divides into two sections: land to be distributed (vv. 1–4), and Caleb’s request and conquest of Hebron (vv. 6–14a). Each section is followed by a comment (14:5, 14b) indicating faithfulness. There is a concluding comment on Hebron (14:15). This appears to be something of a hinge chapter; that is, it balances the conquest narratives with the land-grant narratives. Part of the author’s strategy appears to be to show the primacy of Judah in the taking of the land. In view of Hebron later becoming a Levitical city, it also shows the primacy of Levi and the priesthood.
14:1. Bracketing the land grant narrative is the notice that Eleazar and Joshua were the chief officials (14:1; 19:51). The heads of the households of the tribes were involved. They are most likely the same men as in Numbers (Nm 34:17–29). God wanted these twelve men to survive the war.
14:2. The territories were assigned by the lot of their inheritance. The "lot" was prescribed by God (Nm 26:55). The "casting of lots" was the only sanctioned means of divination; it was to be performed before the high priest. It may be related to the Urim and Thummim controlled by the priest. Judah was drawn first, his territory rivaled only by East Manasseh. The last biblical example of casting lots for decision-making appears in Ac 1:26. Apparently, after the giving of the Holy Spirit (Ac 2:1–13), this sort of guidance from God was no longer used.
14:3–5. These verses review the Transjordanian tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim and the Levites. The eastern tribes had received their lands but the Levites received no major lands. Following Jacob’s "blessing" (Gn 49:5–7), Simeon would be swallowed up by Judah and virtually disappear. Levi would be dispersed throughout Israel. Joseph’s first two sons doubled his share. This introduction to the land grant closes with the notice of Israel’s faithfulness in apportioning the land.
14:6–7. Caleb will make a request after reminding Joshua of Moses’ words and Caleb’s faith. There is irony, poetic justice, and closure in the request (cf. v. 12) and subsequent commission of the octogenarian Caleb to lead a raid against the Anakim, so terrifying to the previous generation (Nm 13–14). This raid must be included in what finally drove the Anakim onto the Philistine coastal plain (Jos 11:21–22). Caleb was a Kenizzite. He may have been descended from the Kenizzites (cf. Gn 15:19), and so considered part of Judah by the time of Moses (Nm 13:6). Perhaps he was an outlander who joined Israel, absorbed into the tribe with which he most closely aligned. Another solution is etymological: the Gentile designation, "Kenizzite," may be derived from the name "Kenaz," thus becoming a clan designation: Caleb’s brother Othniel is called "the son of Kenaz" (Jos. 15:17; cf. Jdg 1:13). In either case, outlanders were commended for valor as they joined with Israel.
In the word … the Lord spoke to Moses, notice the use of pronouns for emphasis. The Hebrew finite verb contains the person and number of the subject (the performer) of the verb, so that separate nouns or pronouns are not needed to convey the subject who enacts the verb. But when a separate pronoun is added, it makes the subject emphatic and may be translated with a reflexive pronoun: "You yourself know the word that YHWH spoke … concerning you [Joshua] and me [Caleb] at Kadesh-barnea" (author’s trans. and emphasis). God had said, "Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun" (Nm 14:30).
In v. 7 Caleb recounted events from Nm 13–14. He said that he was 40 years of age when he left Kadesh to spy the promised land. He brought back to Moses as it was in my heart, lit., "what was in my heart." That included both fortifications and giants, but also included faith that God would give them land.
14:8. Ten spies of the older generation made the heart of the people melt with fear, Caleb recalled (cf. Jos 2:9, 11, 24; 5:1). Again using an emphatic pronoun, Caleb said, "but I [myself] followed the Lord my God fully."
14:9. There is no reference to Moses making a vow to Caleb in Dt 1:36. Moses simply relayed to Caleb what God had forecast for him. Perhaps Caleb knew something the readers did not know. But whether God simply makes a promise (as in Dt 1:36) or even makes a vow, He speaks on no greater authority than His own (Heb 6:13) and He can be counted on to keep His word.
14:10. Using emphatic language Caleb expressed his astonishment: Now behold, the Lord has let me live, just as He spoke, these forty-five years. Then he said, And now behold, I am eighty-five years old today. Caleb’s elation at having survived so as to see the fulfillment of God’s promises is evident. Moreover, his faith is demonstrated by his silence throughout the 40 plus years of the wilderness experience and the conquest period. From this, the seven-year duration of the conquest may be inferred.
14:11. Caleb said he was physically as powerful as he had been 45 years previously at Kadesh. Caleb’s strength … for war indicates military activity. The phrase going out and coming in denotes returning unscathed after conflict.
14:12. Now Caleb made his request: Give me this hill country. He did so knowing the risks: for you [yourself] heard on that day that Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. His plea was without arrogance; but with faith that perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I will drive them out.
14:13. Joshua’s blessing naturally followed. The important Hebrew concept of conferring and receiving a blessing was used when the people of Israel were standing upon Mt. Ebal and Joshua blessed them (Jos 8:33). This blessing included the material blessings of an important place: Hebron, a city important to David’s reign (cf. 2Sm 2).
14:14–15. Places named according to the events surrounding them are often signaled by the phrase until this day. The phrase flags Hebron as the possession of Caleb and his descendants because he followed the Lord God of Israel fully. The city’s name had been Kiriath-arba. Arba was the greatest of the Anakim. Considered giants (cf. Dt 1:28; 9:2), this is probably a reference to size and ferocity. Nevertheless, the overall theme is that victory follows faithfulness.
The promise of God had been issued to Caleb 45 years previously, a long time to watch friends and family pass away. Occasionally physical and mental abilities go beyond the normal. It is not impossible that an octogenarian stormed a fortress—unusual, but not impossible, and the reader would do well to remember that Caleb did not act single-handedly. What is astonishing is that a man would silently carry the torch of faith, opposed and alone, for 45 years, and then live to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. Believers should likewise "follow fully after the Lord" no matter the weight of opposition, discouragement, or span of time. Caleb is also a model for those who retire with good health and financial resources today. In his old age he remained ambitious and active for the Lord, as should we. This is preferable to sitting by a pool sipping sodas in the sun. There are still strongholds to be taken for the Lord.
C. Land Distribution: The Tribes West of the Jordan and Joshua (15:1–19:51)
In peacetime (cf. Jos 14:15), the land was apportioned to the remaining tribes. The "lot" fell first to Judah, both by expediency and prophecy: from the census Judah remained the largest (Nm 26). Judah’s priority was predicted: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah" (Gn 49:10). Prime central land was theirs, nearly the largest land grant, necessary because of another prophecy: "I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel" (Gn 49:5–7). Simeon, absorbed into Judah, would eventually lose its visibility. For locations of these cities, see map "The Tribal Distribution of the Land" on p. 259.
15:1–12. Two of Judah’s boundaries are easier to trace than the others: The eastern border was the Dead Sea (lit., "the Sea of Salt"), the western border the Mediterranean (lit., the Great Sea), from the brook of Egypt (Wadi el-‘Arish), south of modern day Gaza to Jabneel (near the Mediterranean coast about 35 miles northeast of Jerusalem). From there it followed a watercourse northwest, which began east of Ekron. From the Mediterranean, the northern boundary went into the hill country and passed south of Jerusalem, perhaps winding down the Wadi Kelt, passing south of Jericho to the Dead Sea. The southern boundary arced from the southern tip of the Dead Sea to the west of the Arabah (Rift Valley), and followed the watercourse of the brook of Egypt to the sea. How far south the "arc" extended is unknown. In the monarchy, landholdings included the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba (Ezion Geber).
15:13–19. This is the second of the conquest narratives inserted in the land-grant texts. In chap. 14 Caleb’s forces have conquered Hebron; now a detail is added. Caleb readied an assault on Kiriath-sepher, later named Debir (about 30 miles northeast of the Dead Sea). He announced, the one who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it would receive Caleb’s daughter Achsah as a wife. Othniel, Caleb’s younger brother captured the town and married Achsah. Achsah requested a special blessing. Arable land requires water, so Achsah wisely asked for the upper and lower springs.
Caleb was 85 years old and yet had a daughter of marriageable age. Perhaps he remarried and had this daughter. Women are mentioned less frequently in the OT, but when they are, it is correct to pay special attention. Achsah is immortalized as a woman of wisdom and courage in vv. 16–19 and Jdg 1:12–15, as she persuades her husband to ask for a field and receives her father’s blessing, as he adds the upper springs and the lower springs. Debir became a Levitical city, Hebron a city of refuge. Hebron would be where David returned from exile and was first crowned king (2Sm 2:1–4).
15:20. In Jos 15:20–62, the descriptions of towns distributed to the tribe of Judah move counterclockwise and divide into five "districts" following Hebrew terms or units. The LXX adds a sixth, giving the proper count of towns and introducing Bethlehem. But the absence of Bethlehem from this list in the Hebrew version is what it means in Mc 5:2: "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be [listed] among the clans of Judah.…"
15:21–32. District one was in the south (negev). It included Ziph, later betraying David (1Sm 23:19); Beersheba, land of the patriarchs (Gn 21:32–33; 26:23–33); and Ziklag, apportioned also to Simeon (Jos 19:5); never successfully occupied, Philistine Achish gave Ziklag to David and Judah (1Sm 27:6).
15:33–44. District two was in the western foothills (shephelah). It included Eshtaol and Zorah, later belonging to Benjamin and featured in the Samson story, and ceded back to Judah (Jdg 13:2; 18:1–31); Adullam, where David hid fleeing Saul (1Sm 22:1); Azekah and Socoh, where David defeated Goliath (1Sm 17); Lachish, featured in Jeremiah (Jr 34:7), and in the history of the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests (ANET3, 288, 321–322, 488–490); and Keilah, where David relieved a Philistine siege (1Sm 23).
15:45–47. District three was associated with Philistia (philistim). The Philistines occupied mostly Judah’s land. Three towns near the Mediterranean coast bordered Philistia: Ekron to the northeast, Ashdod to the northwest, and Gaza to the southwest. (All three are shown on the accompanying map "Tribal Distribution of the Land," p. 259. They will reappear in the Samson cycle (Jdg 13–16), and the ark narrative (1 Sm 4–6).
15:48–60. District four was in the hill country of Judah. This district included several notable cities: Debir, re-conquered by Othniel, became a Levitical city. Hebron, re-conquered by Caleb, was to become a city of refuge. It would become the first royal seat of the house of David (2Sm 2) and the place from which Absalom would launch his insurrection (2Sm 15:7–12). Maon and Carmel feature in the triangle among David, Nabal, and Abigail (1Sm 25). When David fled Saul, he took another wife by the name of Ahinoam from Jezreel (1Sm 25:43). In addition, Kiriath-baal, renamed Kiriath-jearim, was a landmark in the story of the Danite migration (Jdg 18:12); it was also a place where the ark of the covenant returned home after its circuit of death among the Philistines (1Sm 6:21–7:2; cf. 2Sm 6:1).
The LXX offers a sixth district including Bethlehem, the hometown of David and his nephews, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel; it would become the birthplace of the Messiah (Mc 5:2).
15:61–62. District five was the desert. The town of Engedi, located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, would be a refuge for David after leaving Keilah (1Sm 23:29; 24:1). In the end times the waters will be desalinated: there will be good fishing there (Ezk 47:10).
15:63. This is the first "conquest lacuna," or seeming gap in the conquest account. Even though Jerusalem was allotted to Benjamin (Jos 18:21–27), Joshua writes: as for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the sons of Judah could not drive them out. Perhaps Judah’s boundary included the southern part of Jerusalem. Compare the depiction in Judges: "Then the sons of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire" (Jdg 1:8). Joshua 15:63 may refer to the initial campaign (Jos 10). However, the truth of ownership is also shown: "But the sons of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day" (Jdg 1:21; note the parallel with Jos 15:63). Both statements were true: neither Benjamin nor Judah could dispossess the Jebusites: they lived in their midst to the day of writing. Technically, the land would be in Benjamin; but the royal seat of David would be there as well.
David’s unfortunate census would reveal the ongoing presence of the Jebusites, as the sacrifice was performed on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2Sm 24:18–25). The entire area cost 600 gold shekels (1Ch 21:25), perhaps 150 ounces of gold. Araunah’s property became the site of Israel’s temples, and is venerated by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. In early medieval times, the Mosque of Omar (the Dome of the Rock) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque were built in the vicinity of the temple.
Chapter 16 gives the impression that something has been lost. The southern boundary matches the northern border of Benjamin and Dan. The northern border is confusing, the corresponding city list missing. The source of this ambiguity is not immediately clear. It is unlikely, though, that this is a manuscript corruption. Maybe there was an understanding among the tribes involved, and precision was not the intent of the author or requirement of the parties. Nevertheless, Ephraim and West Manasseh received one huge allotment in the central highlands (see map "The Tribal Distribution of the Land"). It appears that the lands of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin joined just north of the Dead Sea.
16:1. The boundary for the sons of Joseph started at the waters of Jericho. Possibly Jericho became the property of both Benjamin and Ephraim. More likely, Ephraim’s line skirted the city on the north. It then ascended toward Bethel.
16:2. The text makes a distinction between Bethel and Luz, but elsewhere they refer to the exact same place (e.g., Gn 28:19; cf. Jos 18:13). Perhaps one district retained the older name. Ataroth is not the same city as that of the same name mentioned in 16:7. It will, however, be mentioned as part of Benjamin’s boundary or allotment (16:5; 18:13). The Archites were not entirely dislodged. Hushai the Archite was David’s friend, showing courage and wisdom in undercutting Ahithophel’s counsel during Absalom’s insurrection (2Sm 15:31–37; 17:5–16).
16:3–4. As the boundary descended to Lower Beth Horon, it passed through the country of the otherwise unknown Japhletites. The boundary went toward the Mediterranean, passing Gezer (see v. 10). Chapter 17 fills in details about Manasseh; henceforth, chap. 16 is about Ephraim.
16:5–7. Beginning east of Upper Beth Horon, at Ataroth-Addar, the border of Ephraim swept past Michmethath (cf. 17:7). Janoah reappears in 2Kg 15:29 in a list of cities captured by Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser. The boundary then went past Jericho to the Jordan.
16:8–9. On the west, the boundary left Tappuah and followed the Kanah ravine to the Mediterranean. Some cities are mentioned but there is no listing as in other allotments.
16:10. Verse 10 contains another omission of information regarding the conquest related to the town of Gezer. The subdued people of Gezer (10:33) either returned and rebuilt the damaged fortress, or were never dislodged. They would be overthrown by Pharaoh and the territory given as a dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife (1Kg 9:16). Until then, the Canaanites live in the midst of Ephraim to this day, and they became forced laborers.
The Israelites were to eradicate the Canaanites (Dt 20:16–18). Their failure may have been from battle fatigue (Jos 11:23; 14:15) or flagging faith. Yet, "when Israel became strong … they put the Canaanites to forced labor" (Jdg 1:28; cf. v. 35). Had Israel completely killed or exiled the indigenous population, her history might have been quite different. Israel would have been less tempted to adopt pagan customs.
Chapter 17 has five sections: (1) the allotment given to West Manasseh (17:1–2); (2) a reminder of the legacy of Zelophehad’s daughters in Transjordan (17:3–6); (3) a boundary description (17:7–11); (4) Manasseh’s inability to remove the Canaanites of the Jezreel Valley (17:12–13); and (5) a complaint by the Joseph tribes about the difficulty in subduing the land (17:14–18).
17:1–2. Manasseh’s reason for taking land east of the Jordan was that the tribe owned much livestock (Nm 32:1–2, 33–42); however, v. 1 adds the detail that it was because of their prowess in war. There are six clan names given. Hepher, the father of Zelophehad and grandfather of some famous women of Scripture appears in the next section.
17:3–6. In these verses Hepher’s granddaughters receive the spotlight. They made a land request based on two truths: their father had no sons and they had not participated in rebellion (Nm 27). They were granted land. The second issue was: if the girls married into another tribe the land would be withdrawn from Manasseh. So the girls—always named in the same order—were told to marry within their extended family (Nm 36). Hepher’s lineage went through Zelophehad to his five daughters, multiplying his inheritance fivefold. In this way these five daughters maintained the name and heritage of their father and established inheritance rights for women in Israel. Their actions demonstrated both ingenuity and courage.
17:7–11. West Manasseh’s east boundary was the Jordan River nearly from the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee. Their western border was the Mediterranean Sea. The northern border touched the territories of Issachar, Zebulun and Asher. On the north, Manasseh included Beth-shean and cities at the base of the Carmel Ridge: Ibleam, Taanach, Megiddo and Jokneam. The southern border included Shechem and then proceeded west-southwest joining the Yarkon River below Aphek, ending at the Mediterranean north of Joppa (see map "The Tribal Distribution of the Land", p. 259).
The inhabitants of Dor are third in the list, and some think "Napheth" is another name for Dor. Napheth could refer to "the heights" or "the heights of Dor" with only a slight change in vocalization (cf. Jos 11:2; 12:23; 1Kg 4:11).
17:12–13. The hardened cities (v. 11) were indomitable. Beth-shean, Ibleam, Taanach, and Megiddo all had land defensible by chariotry. When Israel was strong, the Canaanites were subject to them (cf. Jdg 1:21, 27–36). If conquered, Taanach would become a Levitical city.
17:14–18. This fourth land grant narrative (cf. 14:6–15; 15:18–19; 17:3–6; 17:14–18; 21:1–3) contrasts with Caleb’s humility and courage. The Joseph tribes complained about how small their land was and how difficult it was to control. Noting God’s blessing upon their population, the Joseph tribes complained of only getting one lot (cf. 17:1; cf. 16:1). Joshua’s response showed dignity and diplomacy. He told them to clear the highland forest: Perizzite and Rephaim lands. The Rephaim were reputed to be giants (cf. Dt 3:11). Unlike in Caleb’s war with the Anakim, the sons of Joseph were intimidated by the Rephaim.
Unsatisfied, the representatives of Joseph complained that the highlands were insufficient and that they were unable to approach the valleys because of the Canaanites’ chariots (cf. Jdg 4–5; Heb 11:32). Encouraging them, Joshua noted that their numbers and strength were great, and so they should have another lot. They would also do as commanded (v. 15): clear the forest and live there. They were to drive out the Canaanites despite their chariots. These chariots probably had wooden framework and iron fittings, hardening them for battle.
Contrasted to Caleb, Achsah, and Zelophehad’s daughters, the case of the Joseph tribes is unsatisfying. The former were people of integrity, ingenuity, and courage, while this case depicts people that cannot solve problems and lacked faith. The previous three are immortalized by name; in this case, however, there is only a general complaint made by those who remain unnamed and uncertain resolution.
Joshua 18 is the record of the land distribution to the first of the remaining seven tribes. In boundary drawing, it is among the most spartan; in named cities, it is the most detailed (see map "The Tribal Distribution of the Land"). There are few textual and geographical problems, with everything in Hebrew lining up with the LXX, and every location but Kiriath-jearim aligns with other lists (Jos 9:17; 15:9, 60).
Benjamin was the son of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. She died in childbirth (Gn 35:18). The tribe of Benjamin, the first lot of the seven, was located safely between Judah, from which tribe would come the future king and Messiah, and Ephraim, the bearer of the birthright blessing (after it passed from Reuben to Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh; 1Ch 5:1–2; cf. Gn 48:17–19). Benjamin’s geography included Jerusalem, and its legacy would include Saul, the first king of Israel. Many of these 26 towns are recognized from biblical history. The chapter divides into three sections: vv. 1–10 include a rebuke and reconnaissance; vv. 11–20, Benjamin’s boundaries; and vv. 21–28, city lists.
18:1–3. Israel and the tabernacle moved from Gilgal to Shiloh in the geographical center of the nation. This became the religious and administrative center of Israel for several centuries. It would remain there until the Philistine invasion (1Sm 4:2–11). Joshua began with a rhetorical question addressed to the nation: How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land …? The question feels like a rebuke, as though they were willing to continue a nomadic existence. The promise to the patriarchs that the Holy Land would be theirs should have been sufficient motivation for these seven remaining tribes to begin to act.
18:4–10. After the rebuke, Joshua commissioned three men from each tribe for a land survey. In his instructions for this vital reconnaissance of the land, Joshua emphasized certain key words: "arise" (v. 4), "go/walk" (vv. 4, 8 [4x], 9, "write/describe" (vv. 4, 6, 8 [2x], 9) and "return/came [back]" (vv. 4, 8, 9). The repetition accentuates the urgency of the task.
Judah had already taken possession of its land to the south; Ephraim its land to the north. The third aspect of the Levitical inheritance is presented (cf. 13:14, 33); now the reader is granted the larger perspective of the priesthood of the Lord (18:7). Not merely the slaughtering of animals, the priesthood involved deeper responsibilities, namely the religious functions, diagnosis of diseases, education, counseling, and criminal justice.
18:11–20. The boundary lines followed those of Ephraim on the north (16:1–4, 5) and Judah on the south (15:5–11).
The northwest and southwest points of the territory form the boundary between Benjamin and Dan. On the north was Beth Horon, on the south was Kiriath-jearim (18:14). Kiriath-jearim was one of three Hivite cities allied with Gibeon (cf. 9:17). It appears as a possession of Judah (cf. 15:9, 60). For 20 years it would become the place of residence for the ark on its return from Philistia (1Sm 7:1–2; 1Ch 13:6; cf. 2Ch 1:4). Kiriath-jearim, a town of Benjamin, became a city of the sons of Judah (v. 14). The Jebusites (cf. chap. 15) were a problem that neither Benjamin nor Judah could solve until the time of David almost 400 years later (2Sm 5:6–9; cf. 2Sm 24:16, 18–25). The boundary line skirted the problem in that it went down to the valley of Hinnom, to the slope of the Jebusite southward, and went down to En-rogel (v. 16).
18:21–28. Many of these cities are immortalized in biblical history, with only 10 of them passing into obscurity. Jericho would be rebuilt and, in fulfillment of the imprecation of Joshua (Jos 6:26), two of the builder’s sons would perish in the undertaking (6:26; 1Kg 16:34). Bethel, mentioned in the history of the patriarchs (Gn 28:10–22; 35:1–15), was an embarrassment for Joshua and Israel. The Avvim were a wide ranging group, rather than a town (v. 23; cf. Dt 2:23; Jos 13:3; 2Kg 17:31). The important Philistine town of Geba (1Sm 13:3, 16) would be liberated by Jonathan (1Sm 14:5–15). Gibeon, a problem because of the treaty (Jos 9:3–21), would be a problem even for David (2Sm 21:1–9). Chephirah was one of the four towns in the Gibeonite league (Jos 9:17). Ramah would become the hometown of Samuel (1Sm 1:1, 19; 2:11; 7:17; 8:4). Jerusalem, of course, would become the most central city to all biblical literature.
Benjamin was now safe between Judah and Ephraim, surrounding Jerusalem, with natural boundaries to the east. Benjamin, with Judah, would comprise the southern kingdom after the split (cf. 1Kg 12). They survived the eighth century BC Assyrian expedition. Benjamin occupies a significant role in Israel. Although the king would come from Judah and the priests from the tribe of Levi, Benjamin had Jerusalem.
Six lots remained to be cast, as described in Jos 19. But the situation would go from certain to tenable to complete failure. Dan, unable to maintain possession in west central Israel, would move to the far north. Asher would do little better. Many locations unknown and some of the major sites would be kept by the Phoenicians (e.g., Tyre and Sidon), and others would be ceded to Tyre, Phoenicia in a bargain between Solomon and Hiram (1Kg 9:11–13).
19:1–9. In fulfillment of prophecy (Gn 49:5–7), Simeon was to have spots of land within the larger territory of Judah. The stated reason was that the share of the sons of Judah was too large for them (v. 9). Simeon helped in Judah’s efforts to control the land (Jdg 1:3). Most of these cities were named in Judah’s list, but only a few would be remembered. Beersheba was known from the patriarchal period (e.g., Gn 46:1); but the slogan, "from Dan to Beersheba" (e.g., Jdg 20:1; 1Sm 3:20; 1Kg 12:29–30) would signify the whole nation. Beersheba was a southern garrison against marauding Edomites and Amalekites. Hormah was defeated before Israel entered the land (Nm 21:3). Ziklag, later under control of Philistine King Achish, was granted to David and thereafter ceded to Judah (1Sm 27:6).
When the kingdom split under the heavy hand of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son (see 1Kg 12), ten tribes in the north seceded from the two (Judah and Benjamin) in the south. Benjamin stayed with Judah because Jerusalem was in the south; perhaps many of the Levites left the north and east and came to Judah. Simeon either went north (2Ch 15:9; 34:6) or was absorbed into Judah. The geography of the tribes is one factor in how biblical history played out in later periods.
19:10–16. The third allotment fell to Zebulun, occupying a place with Manasseh on the south, Asher on the west, Issachar on the east, and Naphtali on the north. The last two joined boundaries with Zebulun upon Aznoth-tabor (19:34). These cities determined Zebulun’s location in the Jezreel and the Bet Netofa valleys. History remembered Shimron, part of the northern Canaanite coalition (11:1), and Bethlehem in Zebulun where Ibzan was from (Jdg 12:8–10). Zebulun sided with the northern rebellion against Rehoboam and was little remembered afterward.
19:17–23. The next lot fell to Issachar, providing a town list extensive enough to delineate borders. It occupied land in the Beth-shean plain and eastern Lower Galilee, touching the outlet of the Sea of Galilee. The towns are listed by location: the first four in the Jezreel Valley, the next five in "the basalt heights," and the last four at the cliff edges.
Shunem was the place where Elisha would have a benefactress (2Kg 4:8–37); Kishion and En-gannim appear as Levitical cities (Jos 21:28–29), Mt. Tabor would be immortalized as the beginning point in Barak’s victory (Jdg 4); and Beth-shean’s walls would be where the Philistines hung the bodies of Saul and his sons (1Sm 31). Issachar sided with the north when it broke away (1Kg 12), passing from significance.
19:24–31. The fifth lot fell to the tribe of … Asher, the Carmel Ridge being its southern boundary. Its eastern boundary was Naphtali and Zebulun. Most of the western boundary was the Mediterranean Sea. Its northern boundary perhaps was the Litani River. It occupied the place where the Kishon flowed into the Mediterranean, and the western slopes of the Galilean highlands.
Phoenician domination has caused most of the Levitical cities to remain unknown. The conquest of Tyre and Sidon would be difficult. Asher was never able to remove the Canaanites from Acco, Sidon and five others including the Levitical city, Rehob (cf. Jdg 1:31–32). Their land holdings increasingly diminished. Though not taken in battle, the "worthless" land of Cabul would be ceded to the Phoenicians by Solomon (1Kg 9:10–14). Asher was to diminish in significance after the united monarchy, having sided with Jeroboam; however, even in NT times there was a testimonial to its continued existence in a prophetess by the name of Anna (Lk 2:36–38).
19:32–39. The sixth lot fell to … Naphtali whose land hosted much of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. This had been prophesied: "the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali … the way of the sea, … Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light" (Is 9:1–2). Perhaps the advent of Messiah was the "beautiful words" Jacob once ascribed to Naphtali (Gn 49:21).
Naphtali’s lands included the eastern slopes of the Galilean highlands with Asher and Zebulun on the west and Issachar on the south. Naphtali’s eastern border ran from the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee to the headwaters of the Jordan, including Dan southwest of Mt. Hermon and perhaps Ijon farther to the north. The northern boundary may also have been the Litani River.
Naphtali’s cities alone are called the fortified cities: Chinnereth was on the Magdalan plain; Hazor, burned by Joshua (Jos 11:11), would later head a coalition defeated by Barak’s small force (Jdg 4). Barak’s hometown was Kedesh, the northernmost of the cities of refuge. Nearly half these cities never reappear in Scripture.
19:40–48. The least desirable location fell to Dan. Sandwiched between Ephraim on the north and Judah on the south, it touched the Mediterranean on the west and Benjamin on the east between Kiriath-jearim and Beth-horon.
Zorah and Eshtaol reappear in the Samson story (Jdg 13:1, 25; 16:31), both towns mentioned as the starting point for the reconnaissance of the Danites when they go to obtain new land in the far north (Jdg 18:2, 8, 11). Dan’s allotment had been the property of the Amorites (Jdg 1:34). Timnah was the home of the Philistine girl Samson wanted for a wife (Jdg 14:1). Although Ekron was supposed to belong to Dan, it became part of the Philistine pentapolis (cf. 2Sm 5:17–25). Me-jarkon may refer to the springs beginning at Apheq flowing to the Mediterranean. This land was absorbed by Judah before the Assyrian incursions. Dan’s inability to hold the land motivated them to conquer Leshem or Laish in the north by Mt. Hermon, to which they moved their people, renaming it Dan (Jdg 18).
19:49–50. The land grant started with Caleb in chap. 14 and now ended with Joshua. The two faithful warriors were promised victory and land (cf. Nm 14:30). Joshua took his place last. Neither does he take the best: Timnath-serah (cf. Jdg 2:9), about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem, was hilly and rocky. Having been an administrator, a general, and Moses’ servant, he would end his days as a builder.
19:51. The concluding statement is from the doorway of the tent of meeting at Shiloh, where the ark would rest for centuries. The job was nearly complete. Two details remained: a home for the Levites and place for the cities of refuge.
The nomadic lifestyle was giving way to an agrarian-based society. The people of Israel were to become farmers, beginning the settled life God had planned for them. Several details punctuate this idyllic conclusion and some warnings cast shadows over these great victories.
D. Land Distribution: Cities of Refuge and Levitical Cities (20:1–21:45)
In chap. 20, there is a reminder of the Torah and the Transjordanian cities, and an introduction to the three cities west of the Jordan. Both Jos 20 and 21 feel Levitical. The veneer over the reallocation of these prime cities is that of legal exigencies—the cities of refuge. Chapter 20 shows the advantage: these cities would form district courts.
The Ten Commandments appear in Ex 20 (cf. Dt 5), and the city of refuge regulations soon after (see Ex 21:12–13 and the comments there). There would be at least six cities of refuge (Nm 35:9–15), guaranteeing protection of the individual until justice could be served. Moses named the three cities east of the Jordan (Dt 4:41–43). This chapter fills in the blanks for the others.
20:1–6. The people were told to select the cities west of the Jordan, reaffirming Moses’ statements. There was no directive for specific cities in the west: the only limitation was expediency. The city had to be within reasonable proximity to the district it was to serve. The rule was, in contrast to murder, one who had committed manslaughter (for instance, accidental death in which he struck his neighbor without premeditation [v. 5]) would quickly flee to one of these cities. There, at the city gate, the refugee would state his case in the hearing of the elders, after which they would decide whether to protect him or release him to the avenger (cf. Dt 19:11–12). This may be jolting to the modern reader. In the ancient Near East, the death of an individual was avenged either by the government or by the individual, and the system of refuge cities regulated abuses (e.g., an escalating vendetta). If the refugee’s case was legitimate, he was granted asylum.
The word beforehand (v. 5) is the Hebrew colloquialism that means literally "yesterday" or "the day before." The NASB’s translation, did not hate him beforehand, is rendered in the NIV as "without malice aforethought." This is certainly the sense, although it is modern legal language. From ancient times murder and manslaughter have been treated differently.
The delay until the death of the … high priest, perhaps established a cooling off period for the blood avenger who pursued the slayer to a city of refuge, and a kind of statute of limitations, restricting movement of the slayer. He stayed there until he stood before the congregation for judgment; his confinement was complete at the high priest’s death.
20:7–8. The three cities designated to be cities of refuge west of the Jordan included Kedesh of Naphtali in upper Galilee, centrally located Shechem in Ephraim, and Hebron in central Judah (see accompanying map "The Levitical Cities and Cities of Refuge"). The cities of refuge east of the Jordan were then reiterated. The land grant to the two and a half tribes east of the Jordan was larger, so each received one city. They were Bezer in Reuben, Ramoth in the region of Gilead in the land provided for the tribe of Gad, and Golan in the territory of Bashan belonging to the tribe of Manasseh east of the Jordan. The location of Bezer is disputed.
The Levitical Cities and Cities of Refuge
Adapted from The New Moody Atlas of the Bible. Copyright © 2009 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago.
20:9. In these designated cities the law would (1) govern unpremeditated death; (2) protect a witness; (3) mitigate unbridled revenge; and (4) guarantee a legitimate trial. The law also addressed the protection and fair trial of foreigners. The word sojourner means "resident alien" or "landed expatriate." God took special interest in these resident foreigners. He often motivated Israel’s leniency with the words, "remember that you were once aliens …" (cf. Dt 5:12–15).
The radius to these cities in some cases approached 35–40 miles (e.g., Beersheba to Hebron), a considerable distance. On the other hand, people were running for their lives, making the distance less daunting. These "courts" were equitably distributed for facilitation of justice. The silence regarding these places in later biblical narrative may signify that the system worked well and needed no historical examples, or that the system completely collapsed under the weight of societal disintegration. Nevertheless, it was an illustration of fair and speedy justice and jurisdiction.
God had fought, Israel had conquered, the land had been distributed. Now homes for God’s closest servants, the Levites, would be granted (see map "The Levitical Cities and Cities of Refuge"). Some of these cities are not named again in Scripture. The Levites largely controlled historical writing, so their cities will have a longer memory. The distribution of the 42 additional cities in Jos 21 indicates that Israel was never far from the Levites who were responsible for their education, medicine, and law.
21:1–3. This is the final land request narrative, the others being Caleb (14:6–15), Achsah (15:13–19), Zelophehad’s daughters (17:3–6), and Joseph’s tribes (17:14–18). Now the Levites approached Eleazar the priest, and Joshua at Shiloh, home to the tabernacle for the next three centuries, to request cities based upon God’s directive (Nm 35:1–8). The towns were given to the Levites by the rest of the tribes whether out of duty or devotion to God. The Levites may have been too few to occupy some cities, perhaps living alongside a member of the sponsoring tribe.
21:4–8. The first lot fell to the priestly division of Kohath. God wanted the priests close to the tabernacle. They received 13 cities from Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin; every city given by Simeon had originally been claimed by Judah (cf. 15:21–62; 19:1–9). The remaining Kohathites received 10 cities from Ephraim, West Manasseh, and Dan. The Gershonites received 13 cities to the north in Asher, Naphtali, and East Manasseh. The Merarites received 12 cities from Reuben and Gad in Transjordan and from Zebulun in the Esdraelon Plain.
21:9–19. Judah and Simeon gave nine cities including Hebron, a city of refuge. Caleb’s clan lived in the area surrounding Hebron. Benjamin gave four towns: Gibeon, an inexpensive gift, was the home of foreigners. Anathoth was the home of Abiathar, who chose the wrong side in the succession (see 1Kg 1–2 for the details), and was forcibly retired from the high priesthood. Anathoth was also the home of Jeremiah the prophet (Jr 1:1).
21:20–26. The second allotment of ten cities was to the clan of Kohath in the Samarian Highlands. From Ephraim came Shechem, recalling the patriarchs (Gn 12:6; 34), and the covenant renewal ceremony (Jos 8:30–35). It is also the place where the kingdom fractured (1Kg 12:1). Ephraim gave Gezer, uncontrolled until Pharaoh conquered it and gave it to Solomon (1Kg 9:15–17). The Levites lived there with the Canaanites, or moved there in Solomon’s time, or never lived there at all—the available data do not offer a clear answer. From Dan, the Levites took four cities; from Manasseh west of the Jordan, the Levites gained two more.
21:27–33. The clan of Gershon gained 13 towns: Golan, the city of refuge from Transjordan Manasseh; four cities from Issachar; and four cities from Asher. From Naphtali they gained the city of refuge, Kedesh, the hometown of Barak (Jdg 4).
21:34–40. The clan of Merari gained 12 towns: four towns from Zebulun, Bezer, the city of refuge (20:8), and three others from Reuben; from Gad, they received the city of refuge, Ramoth-gilead, the scene of a few of Israel’s battles (1Kg 22; cf. 2Kg 9), along with Mahanaim (cf. Gn 32), and two more.
21:41–42. This concluded the grant of 48 Levitical cities, including six cities of refuge. Measured in two ways (Nm 35:4–5), for walled cities, their land was to extend 1,000 cubits (500 yards) out; for unwalled towns, their land extended 2,000 cubits (1,000 yards) from the center. This would provide land, close to the protection of the city walls or group defense, upon which the Levites could raise crops and livestock.
21:43–45. The inaugural efforts in the fulfillment of the land promise are now complete. The Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers (cf. 11:23; 14:15). Militarily, no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand (cf. 13:1–5). Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass. Yes, the Philistines soon would invade the Judean lowlands; but there would be peace as long as Israel served the Lord. This now opened future possibilities for national Israel, which will ultimately be fulfilled only at the advent of the millennial kingdom of Messiah.
IV. Epilogue: Last Farewells (22:1–24:33)
Chapter 22 contains the dismissal of the warriors whose tribes settled east of the Jordan River. Chapter 23 relates Joshua’s first farewell address. Chapter 24 recounts his second and more well-known farewell address, and is followed by notices of the deaths of Joshua and Eleazar.
A. Joshua Dismisses the Transjordanian Tribes (22:1–34)
The soldiers from the tribes that settled east of the Jordan had not all been away from their families for seven years, but many had. Some were promoted to leadership roles or retired, or sent home wounded. Those boys became men, joining the army in the field. There was constant movement as supply lines were used and strengthened. An army of this magnitude could not live entirely from scavenging. No further engagements were planned; so the easterners could return home across the Jordan River.
22:1–8. Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh (i.e., East Manasseh)—the men from the tribes that settled east of the Jordan—and announced that their vow to fight with their brothers was fulfilled. He commended them and then reminded them, Be very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you. Some elements of v. 5 recall the Shema’ (Dt 5:4–6), but almost all of Joshua’s injunction comes from Dt 10:12–13. He ordered them to keep the commandments and the law, love the Lord their God, walk in all His ways, obey His commands, and to hold fast to Him and serve Him with all their heart and … soul.
Joshua then blessed them and sent them away. The two and a half tribes were returning with much more material wealth: livestock, metal, and clothing (vv. 7–8, cf. Nm 32:1). They were to share with those at home.
22:9. The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned home and departed from the sons of Israel at Shiloh. Locations and directions are meaningful. There are geographical, personal, and directional oppositions. There is the opposition of the three eastern tribes with Israel, Shiloh/Canaan with Gilead/their own land, Joshua with Moses, and whether to stay in Canaan.
Distances not only separate people geographically, they can also separate people socially. They will not see each other regularly, and in the interval, misunderstandings can occur. When the warriors of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh left Shiloh and returned to their families across the Jordan, the barrier could become more than a river; misperceptions could ensue. And that is exactly what happened. The rest of the chapter recounts the fears and misunderstanding of the tribes in the west toward those in the east after the returning soldiers of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh completed a small but unusual building project.
22:10–20. The Transjordanians departed, but before crossing the Jordan, they built a stone structure. Literally, they "built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar great in appearance" (v. 10) on the west bank of the lower Jordan. Depending upon the location of the fords, they traveled from central Ephraim, northeast through West Manasseh. The altar would have been on West Manasseh’s land opposite Gad’s territory. To someone not understanding the motivation, it would look like theocratic treason because of the perceived syncretism and what would look like the decentralization of Israel’s worship and sacrificial system.
A report went quickly to Shiloh (v. 11), apparently innocently, without intention to slander the east Jordan tribes. But the ten tribes west of the Jordan were alarmed. There followed complete mobilization of the Israelite army for war against the members of the tribes of Reuben … Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (vv. 12–13). First, ten chiefs, one from each tribe, were selected to accompany Phinehas on a fact-finding mission. Phinehas was likely selected because of his demonstrated zeal in matters of theological purity (see vv. 17, 20), and in dealing with apostasy (Nm 25:6–8).
The indictment included East Manasseh (22:11), but one of the 10 delegates represented West Manasseh. Perhaps Phinehas represented the Levites. Their trip was all the way to Gilead, a journey of perhaps 55 miles (v. 15).
The perceived treachery of the two and one-half tribes was breaking national unity by the appearance of covenant infidelity (v. 16). If they offered sacrifice to other gods at this altar, it amounted to theological adultery or apostasy. If they offered sacrifice to the Lord in a location other than Shiloh without the priests, it amounted to theological compromise or divisiveness.
The unknown speaker of v. 16 mentioned the incident of Baal Peor, recalling Phinehas (cf. Nm 25:1–18). The national memory ran deep: which we have not cleansed ourselves to this day, although a plague came on the congregation of the Lord. Either Israel was still tempted by that form of Baalism or still reeling from losses in the plague. The emissaries thought that God might judge all Israel for the supposed sin of the tribes east of the Jordan.
To modern Western readers, the idea of a pure versus an unclean land seems odd (v. 19). Perhaps this is ethnocentric language, only land west of the Jordan being deemed pure by the majority of Israel. More likely it is a matter of perspective. It is as though the Israelites who lived west of the Jordan River were saying, "If, to your way of thinking, the land east of the Jordan is ceremonially unclean, move your families and livestock west."
The indictment expressed by the western tribes shifted from rebellion against God to rebellion against the community (v. 20). They referred to the Achan episode in which he took items devoted to the Lord (Jos 7), something that had been expressly forbidden. Their point is that Achan did not perish alone in his iniquity. Several warriors died in the first battle with Ai, and Achan’s family and livestock were killed with him after the battle. If the tribes east of the Jordan built an altar that was an act of sin, then perhaps all Israel would suffer the consequences.
22:21–23. The indicted tribes from the east of the Jordan denied the charges. After their exclamation to "The Mighty One, God, the Lord, the Mighty One, God, the Lord! (v. 21), they called for an imprecation on themselves—requesting that the Israelites not spare them if proven guilty, or that God Himself hold them accountable should the Israelites decide the issue not worth pursuing (22:23). They claimed that they neither turned away from the Lord, nor had they even used the altar at all.
22:24–25. The building of an altar looked suspicious. Somebody could use it wrongly, either apostate Israelites or pagan Canaanites. But the Israelites from east of the Jordan claimed to have done this from theocratic concerns. They feared being considered outcasts from the covenant community (v. 24). They noted the barrier of the Jordan River between them (v. 25). The aspect they singled out was gradual exclusion from the community of the western tribes; they feared the physical and social separation would cause the eastern tribes to cease fearing the Lord, "that your sons [those west of the river] may make our sons stop fearing the Lord."
22:26–29. Using the word copy (v. 28, or "model," "reproduction of"), the spokesman for the eastern tribes explained the altar was intended only as a memorial of the one true altar in the tabernacle, housed in Shiloh at this time. Rather than being for burnt offering or for sacrifice … it is a witness between us and you, and a reminder to their sons and future generations to sacrifice only to the true God and only at His tabernacle (vv. 27, 29).
22:30–31. Phinehas and the leaders were satisfied with the integrity of the members of the eastern tribes. As the spokesman, Phinehas withdrew the charges.
22:32–33. The delegation returned to the west with good news. Israel, satisfied with the intent of the Transjordanians, demobilized their army.
22:34. The tribesmen from east of the Jordan, breathing a sigh of relief, named the altar Witness. The naming may extend to the clause witness between us that the Lord is God. This fits the story well but requires an anomaly in translation. The story concluded safely. Confrontation occurred, yet integrity was discovered and civil war was averted.
Practical lessons from Jos 22 include the need to care enough to confront a brother or sister who appears to be straying into sin, gathering as many facts as possible before confronting, reporting those facts accurately, acknowledging misunderstanding when it exists, and celebrating when one suspected of wrongdoing is exonerated.
The Canaanites not yet removed from the land might have hoped for civil war among the various tribes of Israel. They might then conquer a weakened Israel and reclaim the land. Similarly, when Christians are not diplomatic toward other believers with whom they have sharp differences, then faultfinders in our society love it and use it to smear the church and its Savior.
B. Joshua’s First Farewell Address (23:1–16)
Chapter 22 records the last major crisis in the conquest narrative. With that, the transition to chap. 23 seems abrupt. But peace has come, and Joshua expressed the passage of time as follows: "Now it came about after many days, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies on every side.…"
Joshua would begin by reaffirming his seniority (v. 2; cf. 13:1). From chap. 13 to the present some 25 years have passed. If Caleb and Joshua are approximately the same age (about 85 years old) during the land distribution (see 14:10), and if Joshua died at the age of 110 (24:29), and this is one of the last events in Joshua’s life, then the narrative refers to events that transpire 25 years after the land distribution. So peace and quiet have covered the new land for more than two decades—time for the next generation to become adults.
In his first farewell speech, Joshua would expand upon a theme from the previous chapter (21:5). He spoke of fearing and loving the Lord and keeping and obeying the law. He was positive, claiming the widespread fulfillment of God’s promises, but he was also realistic, observing that there was still much of the land to be taken. If not for some of the memorable words in chaps. 1 and 24, this would be the best address of the book. It draws together threads from early in the book, as Joshua tells Israel to "be very firm" (cf. Jos 1:6; 10:25), and ends with fair warning. Disobedience on the part of Israel, and covenantal defection, will result in judgment.
23:1–2. Knowing his time of departure was near, Joshua called together all Israel, … their elders and their heads and their judges and their officers.
23:3–5. The picture is both positive and realistic. In v. 3, Joshua noted that God had fought for them, fulfilling the promises. Nevertheless, some of the land was only marginally subdued. Joshua apportioned it so the tribes could finally get mastery of it. The enemies were largely defeated; most of their men were killed, yet the survivors would in a generation produce other armies. In v. 5, Joshua spoke optimistically, indicating that God would continue to force these aliens back.
23:6–7. Joshua admonished them to be very strong (v. 6 HCSB), echoing his words of the southern campaign decades earlier (10:25). He wanted Israel to be resolutely devoted to the law, part of which involved not becoming spiritually or socially entangled with the remaining Canaanites. It might be thought that intermarriage would make the Canaanites become Israelites. However, parents communicate culture and religion, and they would turn their children to pagan practices (cf. Ex 34:12–16; Dt 20:16).
23:8–11. Instead of assimilating Canaanites into their communities, or themselves into Canaanite life, Israel was to remain faithful to the Lord and believe that the Lord would continue the process begun several decades before (v. 9). Joshua reminded them of the overwhelming odds they had already faced: One of you routed a thousand, because the Lord your God was fighting for you, as He promised (v. 10 HCSB; cf. 1Sm 4–6). Joshua admonished Israel: "Be very diligent to love the Lord your God for your own well-being" (v. 11 HCSB; cf. Dt 6:5). The true path to spiritual victory and the joy it brings is through dependence upon, and obedience to, the Lord who loves His people.
23:12–13. Joshua gave fair warning. If Israel defected from the covenant and intermarried with the remaining pagans, forward motion in securing the land would cease and God would stop fighting for Israel (v. 13). Lack of vigilance on the part of Israel would mean that they [the Canaanites and others] will be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until the "thorns" take over the land and Israel succumbs.
23:14. Joshua punctuated his speech with another notice of his mortality, grabbing their attention as at the reading of a will. He reminded Israel of God’s faithfulness. The promises were from God, they were good, and they did not fail. Every word from God was ultimately to be fulfilled. Not one promise would fall void.
23:15–16. If God fulfilled the good promises, He would certainly fulfill the negative ones in the event of Israel’s covenantal defection. God’s anger would blaze in the event of a broken covenant and Israel would be removed from the good land quickly. When you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God …, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land. The land was given by God and it was His to take away. Gentile Christians have no specific land promises. Christians will inherit the world, within which redeemed Israel will inherit the land, from the Nile River of Egypt to the Euphrates. However, Israel has no guarantee that she will remain in the land should she prove faithless; in fact Moses prophesied that God would judge them for their unfaithfulness by removing them from the land (see Dt 28:63; 29:25–28; 30:17–18). The privilege of possessing and enjoying the good land was contingent not upon God’s whimsy, but upon Israel’s dependence on Him and obedience to the covenant (being very firm, v. 6).
Joshua’s admonitions to the tribes east of the Jordan (22:5) and to Israel (chap. 23) indicate contact points for today. Whether in the theocracy of old or in faith communities today, individuals and communities of faith should always recall what God has done (vv. 3, 9–10) and trust God when suffering and conflict arises because of life in this fallen world. The people of God, whether in Joshua’s day or today, must guard against allowing those outside the community of faith to influence them in their spiritual lives and values (v. 7). Believers must be wary to "love the Lord [their] God with all [their] heart, with all [their] soul and with all [their] mind" (Dt 6:5). In so doing, the object of their affections becomes the source of all their blessings and benefits (Jos 13:11).
Conversely, when believers turn cold in respect to the Lord (v. 12), they can expect spiritual progress in their lives to be severely hampered (v. 13). God has kept His promises and will continue to do so (v. 14). And as God’s beneficent promises have been fulfilled, so will His punitive ones (v. 15). Even those who have truly trusted Christ for salvation may experience severe chastisement from God if they insist on living in ways that put themselves at cross purposes with God’s revealed will found in Scripture. The nation of Israel under Joshua could not afford to be presumptuous about their relationship with God, and neither should contemporary believers.
C. Joshua’s Final Farewell Address (24:1–28)
Recalling Hebrew history, the location at Shechem provides an appropriate setting to conclude the narrative. When Abram arrived in Canaan, the first location noted was Shechem, where God promised him the land (Gn 12:5–9). Shechem was the reentry point for Jacob when, returning from Mesopotamia, he celebrated by building a commemorative altar to the Lord (Gn 33:18–20). He returned with a large family that would become the 12 tribes. As Jacob was leaving there, he appealed to his family and servants to get rid of their idols (Gn 35:2–4). Shechem also was the location of the covenant renewal ceremony (Jos 8:30–35).
In his final address, Joshua expressed himself using repetitions and triads. Three times various approaches to paganism would be mentioned (24:2, 14, 15). Twice Joshua ordered them to put away their gods (24:14, 23; cf. Gn 35:2–4). Twice the people affirmed that they would serve the Lord (Jos 24:16–18, 21–24). The word "witnesses" is repeated as part of the oath formula (Jos 24:22), as is Joshua’s statement about the memorial stone as a "witness" against them in the event of covenant breach (v. 27). The structure and contents of chap. 24 have the form of an ancient treaty. However, as David Howard, Jr., writes, "Joshua 24 does not claim to be the text of a treaty or covenant but rather a report of a covenant-renewal ceremony" (Joshua, 428). The format of the chapter can be outlined as follows:
I. Preamble (vv. 1–2)
II. Historical Prologue (vv. 2–13)
III. Stipulations (vv. 14–15, 16–25)
IV. Preservation and Legacy (v. 26)
A. Archiving in Tabernacle/Temple
B. Provision for Public Reading
V. Witnesses (vv. 22, 27)
VI. Benefits/Consequences (implied vv. 19–20)
24:1. As in chap. 23, this assembly in Shechem included all of Israel along with the same four groups of officers: the elders of Israel and … their heads and their judges and their officers (cf. 23:2). Even though the aged Joshua convened the meeting, they were all gathered before God.
24:2–13. Joshua reminded Israel of Abraham’s history (Gn 11:26–12:3). Their geographical location had moved from Mesopotamia to the promised land, along with allegiance from the worship of idols to the Lord alone. Joshua then rehearsed the patriarchal period ending with the Egyptian sojourn (vv. 3–4). Collapsing four hundred years into the word then (v. 5), Joshua condensed many of the events of the exodus into two verses: Egypt suffered plagues; Israel departed and was pinned against the shore of the Red Sea. Virtually none of those present participated with Joshua in those events. Joshua reminded Israel that when their ancestors cried out to God, they passed through the Red Sea whereas the pursuing Egyptians were drowned. Joshua emphasized the darkness separating the two nations keeping Israel safe in flight from the Egyptians (cf. Jos 3:15–17; 4:18, 23).
And you lived in the wilderness for a long time (v. 7). The people listening to Joshua knew well that their parents and grandparents had been left in graves along the way. They circumnavigated Edom, Ammon, and Moab and risked open hostilities with the Amorites east of the Jordan River. The theological point is that God was the author of their victories (v. 8). Then Joshua recounted the conspiracy between the king of Moab, Balak; and the soothsayer, Balaam. In antiquity, an imprecation (curse) was considered effectual. It cannot work, however, against that which God has determined to bless. Modernity tends to view curses as powerless, but there is at least a psychological effect in a curse. God said that He would not listen to Balaam. Instead, he "repeatedly blessed" Israel, and God delivered them (v. 10). Some think that this is emphatic rather than repetitive, but Balaam’s repeated blessings of Israel (Nm 23–24) and the grammar require the repetition. The intention is to show that repeated efforts of cursing what God has blessed are futile.
After the memorial of the crossing of the Jordan (4:5–9, 20–24), Joshua told Israel that they had staked their claim on foreign territory. The mention of the seven nations in v. 11 recalls Jos 3:10. God sent the hornet before them. The word hornet is singular and not plural, but it may be a collective noun that could refer either to one nasty hornet or a whole hive of them (cf. Ex 23:28; Dt 7:20).
The theological point is: It was not by your sword or your bow. Whether by landslides, earthquakes, astronomical phenomena, or crazed hornets, God had orchestrated everything and Israel’s victories were to His credit. Lands and cities were theirs though, from a purely human perspective, such success should have been impossible for a nomadic people without fortresses or formal military training. Moses had prophesied this success at God’s hand (Dt 6:10–12).
24:14–15. Joshua used the historical review as a motivation for a series of commands. God’s character and actions since the time of Abraham caused Joshua to (1) direct Israel to fear the Lord and worship Him loyally. They were to (2) rid themselves of the gods of Egypt and Mesopotamia. They were to (3) choose between the useless pagan gods or the Lord who had proved powerful and faithful. Joshua ended by utilizing himself as an example with the well-known words: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua has indicated by history, command, and example which way the people should go.
24:16–18. The people said they would remain faithful. They rehearsed their own abbreviated history, in which they focused on the slavery of Egypt and the miracles and providence in travel (v. 17). They affirmed that it was the Lord who had provided them with the promised land and reiterated that they would continue to worship the Lord.
24:19–20. Joshua responded that God was too high for them to serve. He is holy and jealous and may at times appear to be unforgiving. The tone is a bit morbid. The Hebrew construction is most naturally, "Because you will abandon the Lord and you will worship foreign gods [to the end that] He will turn against you, He will harm you and He will completely destroy you, after [despite the fact that] He has been good to you." Moses had uttered similar warnings (Dt 28:15–68). Perhaps Joshua sensed insincerity in their reply and so used stronger language. History would prove his warnings valid. However, this and the subsequent generation would remain basically faithful (24:31).
24:21–24. The people reiterated their faithfulness to the Lord, and so Joshua called them to testify against themselves. He told them that they were witnesses to these facts, and they reaffirmed that they would be witnesses (v. 22). Joshua suspected that Israel had kept idols throughout history, and so he bracketed his discussion from v. 14 with the command to put away their foreign gods (v. 23). The word incline entails a complete reorientation from the hedonistic materialism of paganism to the pursuit of holiness inherent in Yahwism (v. 24). So the people reaffirmed that they would serve the Lord our God and … obey His voice.
24:25–28. In some of his last known acts, Joshua formalized the covenant with that generation of Israelites. These events were recorded (v. 26), perhaps as an appendix to the Torah.
Joshua set up a memorial stone next to the sanctuary, which was likely a temporary sacred space set up for the present festivities. The tree in Shechem is reminiscent of the tree where Jacob’s family buried their idols (Gn 35:4). Joshua then called them to account, saying that this sacred memorial pillar was a witness and had heard and would hold them accountable to God (Jos 24:27).
Joshua’s final known act was to send the people home. They had sworn to be true to God. There was no designated successor to Joshua. Leadership would be in the hands of the priesthood now. Phinehas was to be the next generation’s leader, along with a Levitical team to adjudicate cases, diagnose disease, and provide instruction in the Torah.
D. Appendices: Joshua’s Death, Israel’s Faithfulness, Joseph’s Bones, Eleazar’s Death (24:29–33)
The final time marker, "after these things," introduces three events marked by geographical notations recalling key events from Genesis and Exodus. They have to do with several parallels between Shechem in Genesis and in the book of Joshua, one important parallel between the patriarch Joseph and Joshua, and Eleazar. Verses 29–33 indicate the fulfillment of many promises God made in the book of Genesis. The promise that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would possess the land was inaugurated and at least partially fulfilled. The points of contact between Genesis and the book of Joshua, whether the importance of Shechem in both books, Joseph and Joshua both living to be 110 years old, or Joseph’s remains, all serve to remind the reader that God is faithful to His promises.
24:29–32. This section serves as an obituary of Joshua as well as offering parallels to one of the great patriarchs, Joseph. Joshua passed away, finally being called the servant of the Lord as Moses had been.
The first parallel between Joshua and Joseph is that Joshua is said to have died at the age of 110 years; Joseph died at the same age (Gn 50:22, 26). In Egypt, where each man spent part of his life, 110 was considered the perfect age. Vizier Ptah-Hotep (2450 BC), an adviser to a fifth dynasty pharaoh, wrote some advice to instruct his son. In it he said: "What I have done on earth is not inconsiderable. I attained one hundred and ten years of life … through doing right for the king up to the point of veneration" (ANET, 414).
Joshua was buried in the hill country of Ephraim, in his adopted town of Timnath-serah (Jos 19:50; cf. Jdg 2:9). Joshua’s legacy included influence that went well beyond his own lifetime, much like the enduring influence of Joseph.
Joseph’s burial land would be in the same Holy Land area as Joshua’s. Joseph had told his surviving relatives that God would one day return the people and his remains to the land of Canaan (Gn 50:24). The patriarchs had been buried in Canaan and so, by faith, Joseph made his sons swear they would eventually bring remains to Canaan (Gn 50:25). At the exodus, Moses took Joseph’s bones (Ex 13:19), transporting them for over forty years! Nevertheless, they finally came to rest less than 20 miles from Joshua’s resting place, at Shechem (where Jacob had purchased land hundreds of years before [Gn 33:18–19]). Though born in Paddan-aram, Joseph’s journey was now complete.
And so, we have come full circle: the promises made to Abraham in the land, the Egyptian sojourn, the exodus and wilderness wandering, and now the conquest and inhabiting the land—so with the cycle of Joseph being taken to Egypt and his bones being brought back, Israel descended to Egypt as an extended family and has now returned as a nation to dwell peacefully in her homeland.
24:33. Phinehas had long been groomed for the office of high priest; but now his father, Eleazar, Aaron’s son, has died (Jos 24:33). The location of this Gibeah (the words in Hb. are lit. gib’ath pinechas and could be rendered "the hill or mountain of Phinehas") is uncertain. Gibeah is considered to be part of Benjamin rather than Ephraim, although the borders were somewhat fluid. Perhaps it is best to consider this an unknown site in Ephraim.
As noted, vv. 29–33 indicate that God closed the loop on His promise to the patriarchs that the people of Israel would possess the land. The details of this brief section, and indeed, the entire book of Joshua, all serve to remind that God is faithful to His promises. But it is incumbent upon each generation, including our own, to "choose … today whom you will serve" … and to agree with Joshua of old: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Jos 24:15).
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