Good morning! Today we’ve turned the page from the Torah and are now starting into the second main part of the Hebrew Bible, the Historical Books. Joshua begins a stretch of books that continues (with some qualifications) all the way until the book of Esther. These books describe the progress of Israelite history from the invasion of Canaan, through a period of Judges to the establishment of kings, the golden age of kings David and Solomon, and then civil wars that split the kingdom into northern Israel and southern Judah, both of which eventually succumbed to the conquest of other civilizations. This whole period stretches roughly from 1200-600 BCE (Before the Common Era, synonymous with B.C.). We’ll see a lot of action by “big men of power” in these coming books, so thankfully there are also several “counter narratives” like Ruth and Esther that describe divine salvation through everyday (and female) lives. Remember that all the books in this section—and the whole Bible for that matter—don’t intend to give “just the facts, ma’am”. The history told here comes from the perspective of later Israel, and seeks to identify God’s role in historical elements.
Joshua comes at the hinge which sets off at a different angle from earlier books concerning the Exodus. Joshua has some theology in common with Numbers and Deuteronomy in its concern for proper obedience to God’s commands, yet it actually describes the events which the previous books only pointed toward. Joshua is confirmed as Moses’ heir in chapter 1, and multiple repetitions of the refrain “be strong and courageous” give a sense of what sort of conflict narrative this will be. The Hebrews enter into and take possession of Canaan, invading as conquerors the same land that the Genesis generations left at the time of Jacob’s migration to Egypt with his sons. This is a book of muscular, wily and faithful conquest, assured and confident that the land of Canaan is intended for Jews by the God of Israel.
After the confirmation of Joshua’s status and his opening instructions, chapter 2 describes his first military espionage. Two spies enter into Canaan to see what they can find. They are swiftly detected by Jericho’s king, yet protected by Rahab the righteous prostitute. Rahab’s courage, valor and protection of both the Hebrews and her family is told throughout Israelite history. It suggests a seldom-appreciated theological thread—God’s people survive with the help of many, including those who might appear unsavory. (Who KNOWS how or with whom God will work for salvation?? God can use anyone, anywhere, anytime—whomever is willing to be righteous.) Rahab testifies to the dread of Israel that is in all the inhabitants of Canaan, then asks for protection by the vulnerable spies who are her guests. The interesting detail of her home in the city wall both gives us a glimpse of Canaanite life and provides a means for the Hebrews’ escape.
Joshua 3-4 presents the climactic Hebrew entry into Canaan (anticipated since at least Leviticus) with pageantry and ritual. The ark of the covenant, carried by levitical priests, enters the Jordan River just north of the Dead Sea. The river waters are parted for the Hebrew crossing “on dry ground”, imitating the passage through the Red Sea in Exodus at the other end of the whole wilderness sojourn. Each tribe takes a stone from the riverbed, erecting a memorial to God’s deliverance on the other side. This impulse for a physical commemoration of an event lives on today in our war monuments and roadside memorials. Such tangible reminders are intended to keep the story alive for future generations. In a sense, the physical text of the Bible has served the same purpose with even greater effect—we’ve been retelling the stories of these pages for thousands of years since. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Joshua 5-8. Thanks for reading!
P.S. Here is a helpful, searchable map for the events of Joshua and later Historical Books. The events of today’s reading take place in section F11, where the Jordan River empties into the Salt (Dead) Sea. I suggest bookmarking this page or keeping another map handy so you can refer to it throughout upcoming books.