Book of Joshua is a story filled with conquest, covert operations, and
political intrigue. But as such, the book has a very odd beginning. Joshua does
not begin with warfare or engaging action, but rather in chapter 1 with 3
speeches from 3 different speakers.
These speeches are given on the heels
of the expected—yet still tragic—death of Moses. Moses led the people of Israel
in a way that no other had, and likely no other ever would. It is common among
nations and governments during this time in history, that at the death of such
a great leader, that the people would be plunged into revolution or civil war.
It is at this fragile time that we find the introductory chapter of Joshua.
Moses has passed on, and the younger Joshua has been charged to take up his
mantle. The Lord begins his speech in verse 2, “Moses my servant is dead. Now
then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into
the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.”
God leads off with a stirring speech
directed at his people, specifically Joshua. He tells them that he has already
given them the land. But this is where it gets interesting, because God sets
the task of the Israelites out before them. Their task is not to defeat the
Canaanites, but rather they must meditate on and be obedient to God’s Law. To only
be strong and courageous.
In verses 10-15, Joshua has heard the
word of the Lord and, in turn, faces his own people and gives his own speech.
You may notice if you read the text how elements of God’s speech cascade into
Joshua’s. Joshua readily accepts the land given to the Israelites and calls for
Regarding the final speech in the
chapter, it is ambiguous as to who gives it. While likely the 2 ½ tribes of the
Transjordan are responding to Joshua, I think it is reasonable to read it as
representing a response from all the children of Israel. Here, the Israelites
accept the charge of the Lord and accept the charge of Joshua, and, at the end,
again call for Joshua to be strong and courageous and to be obedient. You’ll
notice that everything in these three speeches is not about the war to come,
but is about maintaining obedience to God’s law.
With that said, if you read verse 17,
you notice that the Israelites said, “Just as we fully obeyed Moses…” Obedience
has never been their strong suit, so coming from the children of Israel, this
is not very reassuring. In fact, looking back on Israel’s recent history, we
find them wandering the in the wilderness for 40 years because they were
unfaithful, grumbling about food and water, building an idol as the Lord
writes the 10 Commandments, giving rise to multiple rebellions, and ending off
the whole desert trek by fornicating and worshiping false gods at Peor.
Obviously, the Israelites aren’t very
good at obedience. So when they say to Joshua and the Lord, “We will follow you
just as we did Moses,” we already have our doubts. But even with those doubts,
we are not prepared for what we find when we turn to chapter 2. There we have
the famous story of the Israelite spies hiding up on the roof of Rahab, the
prostitute’s house. It is interesting to note when reading the story that
Rahab, a foreigner and a prostitute is given a name, while the spies are not,
showing us who this story is really about.
After Rahab has saved the spies’ lives,
she approaches them with a request. Notice her courage and faith here, the
qualities that the children of Israel were told to exhibit. She comes before
the spies and requests mercy. She knows of the power of God and all he has done;
she simply requests his grace on her and her household. She asks the spies to
swear this promise by the name of the Lord. (As an aside, it is interesting
that the spies repeatedly say in this section, “We shall be guiltless if…” as
if to show their lack of faith compared to Rahab’s.)
By this deed of submission to God,
Rahab instantly joins into the conversation of 3 speeches delivered earlier in
chapter 1. She becomes a 4th voice where there was previously only 3. She answers the call of obedience and
requests obedience and mercy form the part of Israel and their God.
The spies agree to her terms, and we
actually don’t see the prostitute again until after Israel has conquered
Jericho at the end of chapter 6. Joshua tells all of the warriors to storm the
city, devoting all of its inhabitant to destruction, except Rahab. Joshua,
instead, directs the spies we saw in chapter 2 to enter the city and retrieve
Rahab and her family. In both of the paragraphs that reference Rahab in this
section, she and her whole household are referenced alongside all of the
precious metals in Jericho that are to be saved and devoted to the Lord’s
treasury. It seems as if the same thing is to be done to Rahab. She is to be
brought into Israel, to be a part of God’s people. Verse 25 tells us, “She has
lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to
spy out Jericho.” Because she was obedient.
Finally look at chapter 7, the story
immediately following that of Rahab. Verse 1 begins, “But the people of Israel
broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi,
son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted
things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of
Israel.” Obviously, the Israelites are unaware of this, because they try to
take the city of Ai after this. When they are brutally beaten, Joshua cries out
to the Lord, asking why he has forsaken his covenant. The Lord says he has done
no such thing, but rather Israel has been disobedient and has stolen from what
is rightfully the Lord’s.
The Lord aids Joshua in locating the
perpetrator, Achan. Notice that the method used to identify Achan, as well as
verse 1 and verse 18 emphasize the full lineage of Achan. According to one scholar, Achan’s pedigree is impeccable. In a way, while Rahab was the ultimate
outsider, a gentile prostitute, Achan is the ultimate insider, a full-blooded
Israelite from the largest tribe Judah. But it is Achan, who upon discovery of
his disobedience of God’s Law, is taken outside the camp to be stoned. In a
way, he is stripped of his identity as an Israelite. And he is killed.
juxtaposition of the story of Rahab and the story of Achan and the irony within
them is almost certainly purposefully done by the author. More time is allotted
to telling these stories than is given to the collapsing of the walls of
Jericho—what many have thought to be the focal point of the Joshua narrative.
The irony is that those we would not expect are actually a part of God’s chosen
people, while those we would expect from their very name are often not a part
of God’s people. Identity in the Lord is based on nothing else but our
submission to the will of the Lord.
Labels: Achan, Bible, Joshua, obedience, Rahab, submission