Joshua 5-8

Good morning! Today’s reading from Joshua 5-8 holds in tension a desire to be fully faithful in following God’s instructions with the human inclination to serve personal interests instead. We see letter-of-the-law obedience put in jeopardy by one person’s greed, then how extinguishing that one’s rebelliousness (along with his family) restores righteous power to the Hebrew invasion. Try to read these stories for their emphasis on faithful follow-through, though we likely also feel outrage for the slaughter of innocents who are in the wrong company.

Joshua 5 and 6 emphasize the new commander’s righteousness and obedience to God. All the men are circumcised and the people observe Passover in chapter 5, which are tangible means of demonstrating obedience to God when they might be tempted to believe in their own self-sufficiency (especially with an end to God’s miraculous provision of manna). Joshua’s encounter with an angel commander mirrors that of Moses with an angel at the burning bush, emphasizing again that Joshua is a rightful heir to Moses.

The song many of us know declares that “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho”, but chapter 6 demonstrates that GOD fought the battle of Jericho. Joshua’s role was obediently following the commands of God for how to conduct the battle. Circling a city for seven days, then seven times on the seventh day (seven being a holy number of completion) was not how warfare was conducted. Doing so emphasizes Hebrew trust in divine deliverance, not in the power of strength or shield. By contrast, those in Jericho who relied on the defenses of the city wall were utterly disappointed when it crumbled beneath them. At Joshua’s instruction, the Hebrews save what is designated as precious for the treasury of God, and resist coveting what God has devoted to destruction (all people and livestock) through holocaust. Only Rahab’s family was saved. Thus did Joshua begin to make a name for himself and for Israel, spreading terror in Canaan.

Yet just at the point of victory, we read in Joshua 7 how one man’s greed threatens the whole endeavor. Achan coveting loot for himself instead of properly dedicating it to God. As a divine consequence, the people of neighboring Ai succeed in battle against a contingent of Hebrews. God declares that the defeat is caused by Hebrew unfaithfulness, and so Joshua examines the people by casting lots, arriving at Achan as the culprit. Achan confesses and discloses proof of his disobedience, so he is stoned to death with his family, their bodies burned and then buried with boulders. This merciless destruction of those who would thwart God’s command resonates with the earlier example made of rebellious Dathan and Abiram in Numbers 16. Victors write the stories, so Achan and his family have become a cautionary tale about what happens to those who put their own interests ahead of God’s command.

With the internal disobedience dealt with, Joshua and the Hebrew army can now defeat the city of Ai in chapter 8. Wartime strategy leads to the deception and defeat of Canaanite warriors. The king of Ai is executed separately in a way that again makes an example of him. Unlike with Jericho, here the Hebrew soldiers get to keep loot and livestock for themselves (though all human beings are again put to the sword). Joshua leads the people in the ceremony of covenant renewal that was described in Deuteronomy 27. Joshua keeps faith with Moses’ instructions, so that all the Israelites would receive and know God’s covenantal law. Joshua leaves unconsidered the question I’m left pondering: How might faithful righteousness open a path for mercy, instead of unforgiving militancy? I look forward to your reactions as well. “Happy” reading!

Read Joshua 5-8.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Joshua 9-11. Thanks for reading!

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