The Book of Joshua marks a new beginning, to the story of Israel in Canaan. Yet the story continues straight on without a break. Deuteronomy had looked forward to the Israelites occupying Canaan

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The Book of Joshua marks a new beginning, to the story of Israel in Canaan. Yet the story continues straight on without a break. Deuteronomy had looked forward to the Israelites occupying Canaan; Joshua describes how they did so. Further back, Genesis had told of God’s promise that Abraham’s descendants would come to possess this land, and the Book of Joshua relates how God fulfilled that promise. So Joshua also marks an end.

There are two stages to its account of the fulfilment. The first half of the book relates how the Israelites came to occupy the land. The second half relates how they allocated it among their clans.

But the story also incorporates two complications. The first half also lists areas of the country that Israel didn’t conquer. These were the areas where most of the more powerful Canaanites lived. Israel mostly settled in the highland where hardly anyone else live. Israelites hearing this story would be unable to suppress a smile, because the areas Israel failed to occupy were the best parts of the country. Sometimes Joshua speaks simply of them not occupying these areas, which might imply it was their fault. Sometimes it speaks of them being unable to occupy them, which implies that God didn’t enable them to complete their occupation.

The other complication is that there indeed were a number of spectacular moments when the Israelites did not follow God’s instructions: see especially the stories about Akan and about the Gib’onites (Joshua 7 and 9). This aspect of the story also points to the implication that, while they are not entirely to blame for their failure to occupy the whole country, they do carry some of the blame.

So the people see all God’s promises fulfilled, but they don’t; and they live by Yahweh’s instructions, but they don’t. The book thus epitomizes the dynamic of the portrait of the people of God in both Testaments. It encourages us to rejoice in God’s fulfilling his promises but also to face the extent to which he hasn’t, yet to live in confident hope that he will do so. It encourages them to be realistic about our own obedience to God and also to commit ourselves anew to keeping our covenant commitment.

Two other aspects of the book often trouble people. The story of how ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho’ is well-known. Unfortunately, archeological investigations suggest that no one lived in Jericho in Joshua’s time, nor in Ai, whose conquest follows that of Jericho in the book. So the stories of the Israelites’ capture of these towns don’t correspond to what happened in these particular places. Why might God have inspired Israelite storytellers to develop imaginative stories about the taking of these towns (whose ruins would be familiar)? What the stories do is give concrete expression to the fact that God did give the country to Israel in an amazing way, and to the fact that the Israelites were always in danger of disobeying God.

The other aspect of the book that often troubles people is the fact that Joshua can look like a story about the Israelites committing genocide. This fact seems not to have troubled the New Testament writers, who didn’t see the story of Joshua as incompatible with believing in Jesus. Stephen (in Acts 7) and Hebrews 11 are enthusiastic about Israel’s violent occupation of Canaan. They don’t assume that the story provides a warrant for subsequent acts of genocide, and neither does the Old Testament—Israel didn’t regularly go round annihilating people. The occupation of the country by Joshua was a once-off act of judgment by God. The Canaanites were getting what they deserved for practices such as sacrificing children; they were not just innocent victims. Ironically, though, the book itself makes clear that the Israelites actually didn’t commit genocide. The Canaanites continued in the country for centuries.

1.1 Just One River to Cross

1 After the death of Moses, Yahweh’s servant, Yahweh said to Joshua ben Nun, Moses’ minister: 2 ‘Moses my servant is dead. Set off now, cross this Jordan [Yarden], you and this entire people, into the country that I’m giving to them, to the Israelites. 3 Every place on which the sole of your foot treads I give you, as I spoke to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon, as far as the big river (the River Euphrates), all the country of the Hittites, as far as the Great Sea on the west, will be your border. 5 No one will take a stand before you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, I’ll be with you. I won’t let go of you; I won’t abandon you. 6 Be strong, stand firm, because you’re the one who’ll enable this people to take as their domain this country that I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7 Only be strong, stand very firm, so as to keep by acting in accordance with the entire instruction that Moses my servant ordered you. Don’t turn aside from it right or left, in order that you may thrive everywhere you go. 8 This instruction document will not move away from your mouth. You’re to murmur it day and night in order that you may keep by acting in accordance with everything written in it, because then you’ll make your journey successful, then you’ll thrive. 9 I’ve ordered you, “Be strong, stand firm?” haven’t I. Don’t be frightened, don’t be scared, because Yahweh your God will be with you everywhere you go’.

10 So Joshua ordered the people’s overseers: 11 ‘Pass through the middle of the camp and order the people, “Prepare provisions for yourselves, because in three days more you’re going to cross this Jordan, to go in to take possession of the country that Yahweh your God is giving you, to take possession of it”‘.

1:12 Another Spy Mission

12 To the Re’ubenites, to the Gadites, and to the half-clan of Menashsheh, Joshua said: 13 ‘Be mindful of the thing that Moses, Yahweh’s servant, ordered you, “Yahweh your God is letting you settle down and is giving you this region. 14 Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock can stay in the region that Moses gave you across the Jordan, but you’re to cross, organized into companies, before your brothers, all the forceful strong men. You’re to help them 15 till Yahweh enables your brothers to settle down like you and they also take possession of the region that Yahweh your God is giving them. Then you can go back to the region that you’re to take possession of and you can take possession of it, which Moses, Yahweh’s servant, gave you across the Jordan, to the east”’.

16 They answered Joshua: ‘All that you’ve ordered us we’ll do. Everywhere that you send us we’ll go. 17 Just as we listened to Moses, so we’ll listen to you. May Yahweh simply be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Any individual who rebels against your bidding and doesn’t listen to your words regarding everything that you order him, is to be put to death. Simply be strong and stand firm’.

2 From Acacias, Joshua ben Nun sent two men to investigate quietly: ‘Go and look at the country, and at Jericho’. They went, and came to the house of a woman who was a whore named Rahab, and they slept there. 2 It was told to the king of Jericho: ‘Here, some men came here tonight, some of the Israelites, to check out the country’. 3 So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab: ‘Bring out the men who came to you, who’ve come to your house, because they’ve come to check out the entire country’. 4 The woman had taken the two men and hidden them. So she said, ‘Yes, the men came to me. I didn’t know where they were from. 5 The gateway was about to be shut at dark and the men went out. I don’t know where the men went. Hurry, pursue after them, because you can overtake them’.

2:5: Meanwhile, in the Whorehouse

6 Now she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them among the flax stalks that she had on the roof, laid out. 7 The men pursued after them on the Jordan road, down to the fords. And after their pursuers had gone out, they shut the gateway.

8 Before those men went to sleep, she went up to them on the roof. 9 She said to the men, ‘I acknowledge that Yahweh has given you the country, that a dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the people living in the country have melted away before you, 10 because we heard how Yahweh dried up the water of the Reed Sea before you when you got out of Egypt and what you did to the two Amorite kings who were across the Jordan, to Sihon and to Og, whom you ‘devoted’. 11 We heard, and our mind melted. There was no spirit rising up in anyone in the face of you, because Yahweh your God is God in the heavens above and on the earth below.

12 So now, please swear to me by Yahweh, because I’ve acted in commitment with you, that you’ll also act in commitment with my father’s household. Give me a truthful sign 13 that you’ll let my father and my mother live, and my brothers and my sisters, and everyone who belongs to them, and that you’ll save our lives from death’. 14 The men said to her, ‘Our lives in place of you, to the death, if you don’t tell about our business here. When Yahweh gives us the country, we’ll act in commitment and truthfulness with you’.

2:15 The Scarlet Cord

15 She let them down by a rope through the window, because her house was in the fortification, so she was living in the fortification. 16 She said to them, ‘Go to the highland so the pursuers don’t come upon you, and hide there for three days till the pursuers come back, and afterward, you can go on your way’.

17 The men said to her, ‘We’ll be free of this oath to you, which you’ve got us to take: 18 here, when we’re coming into the country, you’re to tie this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you’ve let us down, and you’re to gather to yourself your father, your mother, your brothers, your entire ancestral household, in the house. 19 Anyone who goes out of the doors of your house outside—his blood will be on his head and we’ll be free of guilt. Anyone who’s with you in the house, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 20 But if you tell people about this thing of ours, we will be free from the oath to you which you’ve got us to take’. 21 She said, ‘In accordance with your words, so it will be’. She sent them off and they went, and she tied the scarlet line in her window.

22 So they went, and came into the highland and stayed there for three days until the pursuers came back. The pursuers had searched on the entire road but had not found them. 23 The two men came down again from the highland, crossed over, and came to Joshua ben Nun. They recounted to him all the things that had befallen them, 24 and said to Joshua, ‘Yahweh has given the entire country into our hand. What’s more, all the people living in the country have melted away before us’.

Map for Joshua goes about here

3:1: On Getting Your Feet Wet

3 Joshua started early in the morning and they moved on from Acacias, and came to the Jordan, he and all the Israelites. They stayed the night there before they were to cross over. 2 After three days the overseers passed through the middle of the camp 3 and ordered the people, ‘When you see the pact chest of Yahweh your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you yourselves are to move on from your place and follow it 4 (yet there’s to be a distance between you and it, some 1000 metres by measure – don’t go near it), in order that you may know the way whereby you’re to go, because you haven’t passed this way in previous days’.

5 Joshua said to the people, ‘Make yourselves sacred, because tomorrow Yahweh will do extraordinary things among you’. 6 Joshua said to the priests, ‘Carry the pact chest and pass through before the people’. So they carried the pact chest and went before the people.

7 Yahweh said to Joshua, ‘This day I shall start to make you great in the eyes of all Israel so they may acknowledge that I’m with you as I was with Moses. 8 You yourself are to order the priests carrying the pact chest: “When you come to the edge of the Jordan water, you’re to stand in the Jordan”’.

9 Joshua said to the Israelites, ‘Come up here and listen to the words of Yahweh your God’. 10 Joshua said, ‘By this you will acknowledge that the living God is among you and that he will totally dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivvite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Yebusite. 11 Here is the pact chest of the Lord of all the earth, passing through the Jordan before you. 12 Now get yourselves twelve men from the Israelite clans, one man per clan. 13 When the soles of the feet of the priests carrying the chest of Yahweh, Lord of all the earth, set down in the Jordan water, the Jordan water will break off (the water coming down from higher up) and stand as a single heap’.

3:14 The Jordan Stops

14 So when the people moved on from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests carrying the pact chest were before the people. 15 As the people carrying the chest came as far as the Jordan and the feet of the priests carrying the chest dipped into the edge of the water (the Jordan overflows all its banks the entire time of harvest), 16 the Jordan water coming down from higher up stood; it rose as a single heap a great way off at Adam, a town near Tsaretan. Going down to the Steppe Sea (the Salt Sea), it completely broke off. So the people crossed near Jericho. 17 The priests carrying Yahweh’s pact chest stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, steady, while all Israel were crossing on dry ground until the entire nation had come to an end of crossing the Jordan.

4 When the entire nation had come to an end of crossing the Jordan, Yahweh said to Joshua: 2 ‘Get yourselves twelve men from the people, one man each from a clan, 3 and order them, “Carry yourselves twelve stones from here, from the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood steady. Take them across with you and set them down at the place where you stay the night tonight”‘. 4 So Joshua called twelve men whom he settled on from the Israelites, one man for each clan. 5 Joshua said to them, ‘Cross before the chest of Yahweh your God, into the middle of the Jordan, and lift up for yourselves, each man, a stone onto his shoulder, corresponding to the number of the Israelites’ clans, 6 in order that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in the future, “What are these stones of yours?” 7 you’re to say to them, ‘The Jordan water broke off before Yahweh’s pact chest; when it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan water broke off”. These stones will be a permanent reminder for the Israelites’.

4:8: Looking Forward and Backward

8 The Israelites did so, as Joshua ordered. They carried twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, as Yahweh spoke to Joshua, corresponding to the number of the Israelites’ clans, took them across with them to the place where they were going to stay, and set them down there. 9 Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan at the place where the feet of the priests carrying the pact chest had stood. They have been there until this day.

10 The priests carrying the chest were standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything had come to an end that Yahweh had ordered Joshua to speak to the people, in accordance with everything Moses had ordered Joshua. The people hurried and crossed, 11 and when the entire people had come to an end of crossing, Yahweh’s chest and the priests crossed before the people.

12 The Re’ubenites, the Gadites, and the half-clan of Menashsheh crossed, organized into companies before the Israelites, as Moses had spoken to them. 13 Some 40,000 men equipped for war crossed before Yahweh to the Jericho steppes for battle. 14 On that day Yahweh made Joshua great in the eyes of all Israel. They lived in awe of him as they had lived in awe of Moses, all the days of his life.

15 Yahweh said to Joshua: 16 ‘Order the priests carrying the affirmation chest to go up out of the Jordan’. 17 So Joshua ordered the priests: ‘Go up out of the Jordan’, 18 and when the priests carrying Yahweh’s pact chest went up out of the middle of the Jordan and the soles of the priests’ feet stepped onto the dry ground, the Jordan water turned back to its place and went over all its banks as in previous days.

4:19 What Do These Stones Mean?

19 When the people went up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month, they camped at Gilgal, on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 These twelve stones that they had got from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 He said to the Israelites, ‘When your children ask their parents in the future, “What are these stones?” 22 you’re to let your children know, “On dry land Israel crossed this Jordan”, 23 because Yahweh your God dried up the Jordan water before you until you crossed, as Yahweh your God did to the Reed Sea, which he dried up before us until we crossed, 24 in order that all the peoples of the earth might acknowledge how strong is Yahweh’s hand, in order that you might live in awe of Yahweh your God for all time’.

5 When all the kings of the Amorites who were across the Jordan on its western side and all the kings of the Canaanites who were near the Sea heard that Yahweh had dried up the Jordan water before the Israelites until they had crossed, their mind melted and there was no longer any spirit left in them because of the Israelites.

5:2: Foreskin Hill

2 At that time Yahweh said to Joshua, ‘Make yourself flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again, a second time’. 3 So Joshua made himself flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Foreskin Hill.

4 This is the reason why Joshua circumcised the entire people that got out of Egypt, the males. Every one (the men of battle) had died in the wilderness on the way, when they had got out of Egypt. 5 While the entire people that got out had been circumcised, they had not circumcised the entire people born in the wilderness on the way, when they had got out of Egypt. 6 Because for forty years the Israelites had gone in the wilderness until the entire nation (the men of battle who had got out of Egypt) were gone, the people who had not listened to Yahweh’s voice and to whom Yahweh had sworn not to let them see the land that Yahweh had sworn to their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and syrup. 7 In that he had made their sons arise in their place, they are the people Joshua circumcised because they were foreskinned, because they had not circumcised them on the way.

8 When they had come to an end of circumcising the entire nation, they stayed in their place in the camp until they had recovered. 9 Yahweh said to Joshua, ‘Today I’ve rolled away the reviling of Egypt from upon you’. So they’ve named that place Gilgal [Rolling] until this day.

10 The Israelites camped at Gilgal and made the Pesah on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening, in the Jericho steppes. 11 They ate from the country’s produce the day after Pesah, flat bread and roasted grain that actual day. 12 The maan stopped the day after they ate from the country’s produce. There was no longer any maan for the Israelites. They ate from the yield of the country of Canaan that year.

5:13 Which Side Are You On?

13 When Joshua was at Jericho, he lifted his eyes and saw: there, a man standing opposite him, a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us or for our attackers?’ 14 He said, ‘No, because it’s as Yahweh’s army officer that I’ve now come’. Joshua fell on his face to the ground before him. He bowed low and said to him, ‘What is my lord going to speak to his servant?’ 15 Yahweh’s army officer said to Joshua, ‘Take your boot off your foot, because the place on which you’re standing is sacred’. Joshua did so.

6 Now Jericho was closed, closed tight, before the Israelites. No one was going out and no one was coming in. 2 Yahweh said to Joshua, ‘See, I’ve given Jericho and its king, the forceful strong men, into your hand. 3 You’re to go round the town, all the men of battle circling the town once. You’re to do this for six days, 4 while seven priests carry seven ram’s horns before the chest. On the seventh day you’re to go round the town seven times, while the priests blow on the horns. 5 At the drawing out of a blast on the ram’s horn, when you hear the noise of the horn, the entire company is to give a great shout, the town’s wall will fall flat, and the company are to go up, each individual straight ahead’.

6 So Joshua ben Nun called the priests and said to them, ‘Carry the pact chest, while seven priests carry seven ram’s horns before Yahweh’s chest’. 7 He said to the company, ‘Pass on, go round the town, while the body equipped for a campaign passes on before Yahweh’s chest’.

6:8: Come Blow Your Horn

8 When Joshua had said it to the company, the seven priests carrying the seven ram’s horns passed on before Yahweh and blew on the horns, and Yahweh’s pact chest followed them, 9 while the body equipped for a campaign was going before the priests blowing the horns, and the rearguard was going behind the chest, with a continuing blowing on the horns. 10 Joshua ordered the company, ‘You will not shout, you will not make your voice heard, no word will come out of your mouth, until the time I say to you, “Shout!” and you’ll shout’.

11 So he had Yahweh’s chest go round the town, circling it once, then they came to the camp and stayed the night in the camp. 12 Joshua started early in the morning and the priests carried Yahweh’s chest, 13 while the seven priests carrying seven ram’s horns before Yahweh’s chest were continuing to go and blow on the horns, the body equipped for a campaign was going before them, and the rearguard was going behind Yahweh’s chest, with a continuing blowing on the horns. 14 They went round the town once on the second day and came back to the camp. So they did for six days.

15 On the seventh day they started early, at sunrise, went round the town in accordance with this rule, seven times; only on that day did they go round the town seven times. 16 The seventh time, the priests blew on the horns and Joshua said to the company, ‘Shout, because Yahweh has given you the town. 17 The town is to be an object ‘devoted’ to Yahweh, it and everything that’s in it, except that Rahab the whore will live, she and everyone who is with her in the house, because she hid the envoys that we sent. 18 Only, you keep yourselves from what’s to be devoted so you don’t become a thing that’s to be devoted, and you take anything from what’s to be devoted and make the Israelite camp into a thing that’s to be devoted. You will bring disaster on it. 19 All the silver and gold and the objects of copper and iron are sacred to Yahweh. They’re to come into Yahweh’s treasury’.

6:20: And the Walls Came Tumbling Down

20 So the company shouted and they blew on the horns, and when the company heard the sound of the horn, the company gave a great shout, the wall fell flat, and the company went up into the town, each individual straight ahead. They captured the town 21 and devoted everything that was in the town, man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the mouth of the sword.

22 To the two men who had investigated the country Joshua said, ‘Come into the house of the woman who’s a whore and bring out of there the woman and everyone who belongs to her, as you swore to her’. 23 So the young men who’d done the investigating came in and brought out Rahab, her father and her mother, her brothers, and everyone who belonged to her. They brought out her entire kin-group, and set them down outside the Israelite camp.

24 The town they burned in fire with everything that was in it, except that the silver and the gold and the objects of copper and iron they put in the treasury of Yahweh’s house, 25 and Joshua let Rahab the whore live, with her ancestral household and everyone who belonged to her. She’s lived among Israel until this day, because she hid the envoys whom Joshua sent to investigate Jericho.

26 At that time Joshua swore, ‘Cursed before Yahweh be the man who sets about building this town, Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn may he found it and at the cost of his little one may he put up its doors’.

27 Yahweh was with Joshua and report of him went through the entire country. 7 But the Israelites committed a trespass in connection with things to be devoted. Akan ben Karmi, son of Zabdi son of Zerah of the clan of Judah took some of the things that were to be devoted, and Yahweh’s anger raged against the Israelites.

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