Week 16 - Read Joshua 1-12
Key Concepts: The key concept in this section is that God will fulfill God’s covenantal promise to give the land to the people of Israel. These 12 chapters tell the entire story of the conquest.
Stories:. The stories include God commanding Joshua to conquer the land that God had promised to the people (1:1-17), Joshua’s speech to the tribes (1:10-18), the story of the spies and Rahab (2), the amazing crossing of the flooded Jordon (3), the creation of the eternal monument remembering the crossing (4), the renewal of the covenant through circumcision at Gilgal (5), the conquest of Jericho (6), the results of disobedience in terms of devoted items (7), the defeat of Ai (8), the cleverness of the Gibeonites (9), the victory over five kings and the southern conquest (10), the northern conquest (11), and a summary of all of the victories (12).
Brief Summary: we will look at several themes that run through these first twelve chapters.
The first critical theme is the role of Joshua. Carefully look for those moments when Joshua becomes the new Moses. These moments include God speaking directly to Joshua, Joshua standing on Holy Ground and Joshua’s holding his javelin above his head until victory is achieved. While all of these events demonstrate that Joshua is a “second Moses” in terms of leading his people we will also discover that he is not a lawgiver. Instead his power comes from being obedient to the Law (or Book) of Moses. The law is now set and everyone, including Joshua must follow it.
The second critical theme is that God is power behind (or in front of) the people during the conquest. Throughout this section we will witness God telling Joshua that it is God who will give the nations into the hands of Israel. We see this most clearly in the Jericho story. All the people have to do is obey God by marching and blowing trumpets in order to gain victory. In some ways this is a cautionary tale for Israel. It is a reminder that none of the blessings they have received (freedom, offspring or the land) has been, or ever will be, brought about by their own power or perfection. The response of Israel is to be absolute faithfulness to God.
The third critical theme is that of the utter destruction of all foreigners in the land. For many of us in the 21st century this is the most difficult part of the story. It is so difficult in fact that many people do not want to read or think about these first twelve chapters. There are several things to keep in mind as we read these accounts. First, we have to remember that these stories are more theological than historical in nature. The theology is that that land was to be given to the people of Israel and could not be shared and that if Israel were to be a people living by Torah (loving God and neighbor) then those who would not live this way must be destroyed. However both archeological evidence, and scripture itself, make it clear that at the time of the conquest there was no wholesale destruction of cities and peoples. Thus the violence about which we read is not necessarily historical fact but reflection on the importance of Israel being a people set apart.
The fourth critical theme is that of remembering. Once again (Exodus 12:26; Deuteronomy 6:2) the people are to remember an event (the crossing of the Jordon) in order to be able to recount it to their children.
1. How are we as people of God supposed to be different from the world around us? How do we do that?
2. Where do you see God working to help you in your life in the same way God helped Israel.
3. How do you communicate the stories of God’s faithfulness to the next generation?
Week 17 - Read Joshua 13-24
Key Concepts: The key concept in this section is that God will take care of all of God’s people and that no one tribe or group will be favored over another.
Stories:. The stories include the allotment of the land east of the Jordan (13), a special gift to Caleb (14), the allotment of land to Judah (15), the allotment of land to the tribes of Joseph (16-17), the allotment to the other tribes (18-19), the appointment of cities of refuge (20), the allotment of cities to the Levites (21), the return home of the tribes whose territory is on the Eastern side of the Jordan (22), Joshua’s final address (23), and the renewal of the covenant at Shechem (24).
Brief Summary: as has been noted by numerous scholars (including Creach in Joshua: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, John Knox Press, 1989) and readers, this portion of Joshua is often overlooked because it appears to be no more than a long list of towns and territories. While that observation is indeed true as you will find when you read it, there are several important theological concepts which will be derived from what transpires in these chapters.
The first concept is that the land which has been conquered is not divided according to the power or prestige of the individual tribes. It is divided according to the casting of lots which is believed to be directed by God. This is made clear in 14:1-2, as well as at the beginning of each section of land division where we read that each tribe was given its “lot.” This concept is critical for creating a society in which all persons are judged to be equal, which is at the heart of the Law. If the lands were divided based on power and privilege it would mean that some tribes were better than others.
The second concept is that the land is given as an inheritance to the tribes, and is not to be bought or sold to individuals as a lasting possession. In other words there is no sense of “private property” in the way in which we view it today.
While individual plots of land could change hands, ultimately it all belonged first to the tribe and then to God. This becomes a reminder to the people that when the year of Jubilee comes, all land must be returned to its original owners and tribes. This concept will become important throughout the rest of the Old Testament.
The Third concept is that there needs to be a place where the individuals can flee when they have shed the blood of another either accidentally or in self-defense. The code of the ancient near east was that regardless of the reason blood was shed, revenge must be undertaken to settle the “blood debt.” Such vengeance would not be justice and so in the Torah it is made clear that cities of refuge be established. We witness Joshua carrying out this command.
The fourth concept has to do with care for the religious leaders, meaning the Levites. As the land was divided there was no territory given to the Levites. In order to care for them however, Joshua sets aside a number of cities in which they could live and prosper. It should be noted that the Levitical cities are also the cities of refuge…thus the Levites probably insured the protection of those seeking refuge.
The final theme is that of Torah faithfulness. The people are warned that they must continually choose to be obedient to God through obedience to the law. Joshua understands that there will be great temptation to forget the covenant…so the people must continually renew their commitment to God.
1. What do you think of the idea that the land was divided by casting lots?
2. How does Israel’s view of ownership of property help you rethink your view of the concept of private property?
3. How do you make regular recommitments of your faithfulness to God?