Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Joshua 23

In this chapter, Joshua announces his retirement to Israel's leaders, including elders, judges, and officials (Matthew Henry says that the address is to all Israel; see; I would suggest this address is to the leadership). He recapitulates the key points:
God, not Israel, has conquered Canaan
The promised land includes everything between the Jordan and Mediterranean
Be strong (or rigid) in obeying everything in the book of Mosaic Law
Do not associate with, especially by intermarriage, the Canaanites
Do not serve any Canaanite gods
If you do associate with the Canaanites, they will destroy you

Most of the chapter is straightforward. However, we do get a small insight into the slow evolution of Israeli civic society from the structure of Exodus. Following Joshua, there is no single great leader. Instead, elders (zaqen), judges (shaphat), officials (shoter), and leaders (ro'sh) control the tribes.

Zaqen seems to have no implication other than persons of great age. Ro'sh ties back to Exodus 18:25, in which Moses at the suggestion of his father-in-law, chooses chiefs. Shaphat is the function of judging described for leaders in Ex. 18:26.

The elders (zaqen) were the cloud of witnesses at Mount Sinai who saw God (Ex. 24:9). Elders are not mentioned in Exodus 18 in the context of leadership. But the only officials (shoter) mentioned in Exodus are Egyptian overseers. The word used in Exodus 18 is sar, a generic word which applies to higher levels as well. Interestingly, Hebrew officials (shoter) are mentioned in Deuteronomy, and appear there to be somewhat inferior to captains of 10.

Another interesting point is that that the existence of an oral law of divine origin (Talmud) is inferred because Joshua orally addresses the leadership of Israel. However, it is persuasively argued that this is incorrect, that the oldest branch of the Talmud, the Mishna, emerged at the time of the Babylonian captivity much later (

Monday, October 25, 2004

Joshua 22

The theme of this chapter is maintaining loyalty to God even when separated from daily contact with the shrine. The tribes from the east of the Jordan return home, being admonished by Joshua remain faithful to all of the commandments of the Lord. But, arriving there, they build a shrine. The tribes from the west conclude that the eastern tribes are planning to secede, accuse them of plotting the "sin of Peor" (sexual immorality, miscegenation, and the worship of Baal; Numbers 25:1-3), and threaten war. The eastern tribes deny any intent to rebel, claim that the altar is a replica not intended for actual sacrifices, and swear loyalty to the Lord. War is averted.

This chapter casts light on contemporary religious attitudes in regard to collective punishment. Do the consequences of sin affect the sinner alone, or can the entire nation be held guilty? The former is the view presented predominantly in the New Testament, while the latter is found primarily in the Old Testament. The line of demarcation is not absolute, of course.

Phinehas, son of high priest Eleazar is sent to head the western delegation that threatens war. Phinehas is the man who ended the plague against the Israelites by murdering an Israelite and Moabite woman in the act of (or at least in preparation for the act of) intercourse (Numbers 25:7).

So Baal worship is connected to sexuality in a variety of forms, including fertility, ritual temple prostitition, and the metaphor of adultery used in the Prophets ( The over-emphasis on sexual morality, as opposed to charity and seeking to do justice that one finds in some Christian congregations probably correlates to an over-emphasis of the Old vs. New Testament.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Joshua 21

So at last the Levites obtain their inheritance, distributed as towns within the land controlled by other tribes. This takes place in Shiloh, supervised by the high priest Eleazar, Joshua, and the tribal elders. At the end of the chapter, we are told that there is peace, although as will become evident in Judges, this does not last long.

The distribution of land is peculiar. The descendants of Aaron alone receive 13 towns, while all of the other descendants of Kohath, the second of Jacob's grandsons through Levi receive 10. This would include progeny of Moses' son Gershon. Descendants of Gershon (or Gershom), the first of Jacob's grandsons through Levi received 13 towns toward the north. Descendants of Merari, one of Jacob's grandsons through Levi received 12 towns. These were not territorially integral (

Aaron's descendants, who became the official priesthood, are situated in the lands of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin, leaving much of Israel without these official priests ( This division laid the groundwork for the later heresy of the northern kingdom.

Hebron the town is taken back from Caleb (Joshua 14:13-14) to be given to the descendants of Aaron, while Caleb retains the environs.

Five cities of refuge are again named: Hebron, Schechem, Golan, Kedesh in Galilee, and Ramoth in Gilead. Bezer is named, but not noted as a city of refuge, raising the question of whether it ceased to serve as such.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Joshua 20

This chapter proposes an innovation that must have been a leading edge development for tribal societies. In cases of accidental death, the killer could seek and obtain refuge in defined cities, staying there until the death of the high priest. By seeking refuge, the interminable blood feuds that still plague the Middle East could be avoided. Of course, escape presumes that the killer manages to elude his pursuers for a day or two. The city of refuge was also required to inquire into the matter through a trial.

There appears to be a contradiction between the number of cities designated for refuge in Deuteronomy 19:2 and the number designated in Numbers 35:14.

As Matthew Henry notes, the cities of refuge were Levite cities, assigned in the following chapter ( They were also hill cities, making them especially easy to defend should pursuers be loth to let slip their prey. To quote Henry, "Kedesh was in Naphtali, the most northern tribe, Hebron in Judah, the most southern, and Shechem in Ephraim, which lay in the middle, about equally distant from the other two. " Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan were the cities of refuge east of the Jordan.

Henry finds a Christian significance in the names, saying "Kedesh signifies holy, and our refuge is the holy Jesus. Shechem, a shoulder, and the government is upon his shoulder. Hebron, fellowship, and believers are called into the fellowship of Christ Jesus our Lord. Bezer, a fortification, for he is a strong-hold to all those that trust in him. Ramoth, high or exalted, for him hath God exalted with his own right hand. Golan, joy or exultation, for in him all the saints are justified, and shall glory."

Monday, October 11, 2004

Joshua 19

This final chapter on the allotment of lands contains the unsettling news that the lot, as obtained from seeking the counsel of God, is sometimes wrong. For example, the allotment of Judah must be revised to now include the tribe of Simeon. Dan is not up to holding the territory it has been assigned.

Matthew Henry claims that not one person of note came from the tribe of Simeon. <> He relates this to the disgrace that Simeon brought on the family through his anger (Gen 49:5-7). Jacob had promised to disperse Levi and Simeon in Israel. Levi's descendants became priests, without any ancestral lands, and Simeon was placed here in Judah, presumably to be absorbed by the larger tribe.

Asher, Naphtali, Zebulon and Issachar will form the tribes in the general region of Galilee <>

Joshua himself ends up in the region that will become Samaria. Notably, the site of his retirement, Timnath Serah (or Timnath Heres) was commanded by the Lord.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Joshua 18

Four things are accomplished in this chapter.
  1. The Tent of Meeting is set up at Shiloh, in the territory of Ephraim, which is Joshua's tribe and just north of Jerusalem.
  2. Lots are thrown for the seven tribes that have not been allotted land.
  3. The boundaries of the tribe of Benjamin are established. It is given Jerusalem, which remains unconquered.
  4. The remaining six tribes are told not to be lazy but to take their allotments. Since many of those areas were occupied by hostile Canaanites, and since these six tribes helped their brother Israelites conquer their portions of Canaan, this seems a bit high-handed.

Jamieson points out that the location of Benjamin was prophesied by Moses in Deut. 33: 12 (

Another interesting point is the identity of the 6 tribes that are forced to fight for their land without the aid of the rest of the Israelites. Three are tribes descended from the handmaidens, Zilpah and Bilhah, and three of Leah's children, Simeon, Issachar, and Zebulun. The ones who got off easy were the children of Rachel, Benjamin and Joseph, Leah's eldest son Reuben and her fourth son Judah, and Zilpah's son Gad. Dan's inheritance is so contested that the tribe is unable to occupy it and ends up moving far to the north.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Joshua 16-17

The theme of the 12 becoming 11 and then 12 again is seen in the disciples of Jesus in the New Testament. Here it plays out in the tribe of Levi being dispersed among the nations as the children of Joseph receive a double inheritance. In Genesis 48: 16-19, Jacob blessed the younger grandchild Ephraim above Manasseh.

Manasseh's land lay north of Judah's, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. Ephraim's was just south of that, but not reaching to the sea. Note that Manasseh also received a portion west of the Jordan and further north (Joshua 1:12-15). (

It is noted that Ephraim failed to dislodge the Canaanites. Later on, we are told, the Ephraimites subjected the Canaanites to corvee labor, but did not wipe them out.

Both the Ephraimites and the tribe of Manasseh complain that their allotments are too small for their populations, but that they aren't strong enough to challenge the chariots of the Canaanites on the plains. Joshua advises them to clear the forests of the hill country.

There are some interesting points here:
  • The firstborn of Manasseh is said to have sired a clan of great soldiers
  • Five daughters claim a right, through Mosaic decree, to receive inheritance
  • The city of Megiddo, where the battle of Armageddon is to be fought, belongs to Manasseh
  • Manasseh possessed cities inside other tribal areas
  • Endor, where Saul consulted a medium, is one of these isolated cities, as is Megiddo