Lesson 18: Joshua 1-6, 23-24
1. The Lord counsels Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, and Joshua prepares the people to do so. (Joshua 1)
2. Joshua sends spies into Jericho, and Rahab hides them, receiving a promise that Israel will preserve her family. (Joshua 2)
3. The ark of the covenant is taken into the Jordan River, where the priests remain still, holding it; the river pulls back, allowing Israel to cross on dry ground. (Joshua 3)
4. The Lord commands Israel to build a monument of twelve stones in the river as a memorial of the miracle. (Joshua 4)
5. The Lord commands the Israelites to circumcise the males born in the wilderness; the Israelites observe the Passover and the manna ceases; the captain of the Lord’s host visits Joshua. (Joshua 5)
6. Israel destroys Jericho miraculously, exempting only Rahab and her household from death. (Joshua 6)
7. After the battles involved in claiming the land for themselves, Joshua gives Israel his last instruction on the blessing or curses that await them in the new land. (Joshua 23)
8. Joshua gives his farewell instructions and dies, as does Eleazar, the son of Aaron; the bones of Joseph are buried in Shechem. (Joshua 24)
Verse 1: Why is Moses referred to as the Lord’s servant, but Joshua as Moses’ minister, official, or aide? Why not call Joshua Moses’ servant or, even better, the Lord’s servant? (Compare Exodus 24:13 and 33:11, as well as Numbers 11:28, but notice that in the latter two, though the King James translation uses the word “servant,” it translates the same word translated “minister” here and in Exodus 24.) According to the Word Biblical Commentary, the word translated “minister” refers to someone like a young page who attends a king. Why do these texts always use language that puts Joshua in an inferior position, even after Moses leaves?
Verses 3-4: What do you make of the fact that Israel never attained the borders described here? 1 Kings 5:1 describes Solomon as ruling this entire land, but he did so through vassal states that owed him tribute rather than directly. The people of Israel did not occupy that land even when Solomon controlled it.
Verses 5-7: What is the connection between the admonition in verse 5—”I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee”—and the command in verse 6: “Be strong and of good courage,” a command repeated in verse 7? What does verse 5 tell us about how Israel understood the coming war?
Verse 8: Why does God tell Joshua to meditate on the law both day and night? Why would the prophet need to study the scriptures? Presumably, he has direct contact with God, making the scriptures unnecessary.
Verse 11: Is it significant that Joshua tells the Israelites to prepare for three days? The number three (like the numbers seven and twelve) is symbolically significant in the scriptures. How do we know when to understand it symbolically and when doing so is going too far?
Verse 12-15: Which of the tribes were given their land inheritance on the east side of the Jordan? If they already had their land inheritance, why did they have to cross over to the other side of the Jordan?
Verses 16-18: What was the response of the Israelites to Joshua (16-18)? What is the significance of the fact that they also tell Joshua to “be strong and of good courage”?
Verse 1: Who is Rahab and where does she live? She is called Rachab in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ; she is the mother of Ruth’s husband Boaz (Matt. 1: 5). Note also that James, the brother of Jesus, uses her as an example of great faith (James 2:25). Why would the Lord choose this woman as one of his notable progenitors?
Verses 23-24: What report did these spies bring back to Joshua?
The crossing of the Jordan is the central event of chapters 3-5. Why was that event so important to the Israelites? Is there anything of similar importance in our own history? What might be similarly important to a family’s or an individual’s history?
Verses 1-4: What was the signal for the camp of Israel to move toward the promise land? What was the distance they were to keep behind the ark? (Note a cubit is approximately one-half a yard.) Why were they to keep so far behind? Why are the children of Israel to follow the ark into the Promised Land?
Verse 5: When Joshua commands Israel, “Sanctify yourselves,” to prepare to cross the Jordan river, what is he commanding them to do? Why are they to do that? When and how should we sanctify ourselves before certain events and activities?
Verse 7: Why was it important that the Lord magnify Joshua in the sight of Israel? How would the miracle of crossing the Jordan river show that “as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee”?
Verses 8-17: What are Joshua’s instructions to the priests who carry the ark? to the Israelites? Of what is the miracle of the ark a sign (verse 10)? Art Bassett has pointed out that we can see in this event a prefiguration of the baptism of Jesus: the second Joshua (Jesus) comes to the same river to be baptized of John (Matt. 3: 13-17). The second Joshua (Jesus) then splits not the river, but the heavens in a metaphorical sense, revealing God’s acceptance of him (Matt. 3:16). Later Jesus also rends the veil of the temple at his death, signifying the opening of an entrance into the presence of God through the atonement that was completed with his death on the cross (Matt. 27:51).
Verse 2: Here we see the reason for the twelve men chosen in the previous chapter (3: 12). Are they symbolic in the crossing? Why is symbolism at an event like this needed?
Verses 5-9: What change in Joshua do we see in these verses?
Verses 10-19: We have the same story repeated twice in these verses, though somewhat differently? What do you make of that repetition? What effect did this crossing of the Jordan have on the children of Israel, in terms of their attitude toward Joshua (verse 14)? Why is that important?
The story of this chapter is somewhat confusing, probably because of differences between ancient editors of the text. The result of the confusion is that it appears that Joshua built two stone memorials, one in the river bed of the Jordan (verse 9) and one on dry ground (verses 20-24). Is this another repetition of the same story, as in verse 10-19, or are we looking at two different stories? How would you decide?
Verse 1: We see here that the heart of the kings of the Canaanites melted and they lost their spirit when they saw the Israelites? Why?
Verses 2-7: The Hebrew word translated “sharp” in the King James version could also be translated “flint.” The Israelites had metal knives. Why did they have to use flint knives for this circumcision? Why was it necessary for the male Israelites to be circumcised now?
Verse 10: How are the crossing of the Jordan river, the circumcision of all Israelite males, and the Passover connected? In other words, why do they all occur at the same time?
Verses 11-12: Why is it noteworthy that Israel could eat the produce of the land (verse 11)? When did the manna stop coming to Israel? Why? Unleavened bread and parched corn seem to have been normal food for travelers.
Verses 13-15: Compare this vision to other prophetic visions, such as that of Moses at the burning bush or that of Balaam. How are they similar? How different?
Verses 2-5: What is the plan of attack for Jericho? Why do you think that this is the plan that was given? What does this plan signify? Why is the ark of covenant part of the procession around Jericho?
Verse 10: What do you think the psychological impact would be of being in the city of Jericho, watching the Israelite army marching around the walls in silence, except for their trumpets, for six days?
Verses 18-21, 24: What is to be saved and what destroyed in the siege of Jericho? What reason might one give for the brutal assault of Jericho?(See the notes below for more information about the meaning of destruction in the ancient Near East.)
Verses 22-23 and 25: What happened to Rahab and her family?
A note on destruction in the Old Testament
Almost anyone who reads the Old Testament is shocked at some of what happens, particularly at the almost total destruction that Israel wreaks on the Canaanites and others against whom it goes to war. “How can this be something that was ordained by God?” we ask. I don’t have a direct answer to that question, but I do have some information that will put these destructions in a context and, perhaps, help us better understand what the meaning of those stories is, even if we still do not completely understand what to make of the events.
The Anchor Bible Dictionary (volume 5, page 549) says:
In Mesopotamia, property that was reserved for a god or king might be placed under a taboo and was then known as asakku. To misappropriate it was to violate the taboo and incur a penalty, which apparently varied, but could be death if the circumstances warranted (Malamat 1966). A priestess who repeatedly steals the asakku is burned (Anbar 1974: 173), and a man who takes booty previously declared asakku is “not to be spared,” but possibly has his death sentence commuted (ARM 5.72).
In the Bible the same institution is called hrm, but the term is used only of taboo property reserved for God. Reservation is achieved by total destruction, as in the case of the apostate city (Deut 13:13–16), and the same applies where the enemy is declared hrm. Consequently, taking enemy property as booty instead of destroying it amounts to misappropriation of hrm, a crime that will incur divine anger (1 Sam 15:1–33).
When Achan takes booty from Jericho, in spite of the city’s having been declared hrm (Josh 6:17), divine anger manifests itself in military defeat for Israel (Josh 7:1–12). In punishment, Achan is to be stoned and burned, along with his family, livestock, and possessions, including specifically the hrm property taken by him and also the tent in which it had been concealed (Josh 7:22–25).
The word hrm, is translated as “accursed” (as in Joshua 6:17), but also as “dedicated thing” (as in Ezekiel 44:29). As we have seen, property is dedicated to God—recognized as his property—by destroying it. Thus, the destruction of the Canaanites may be an example of how ancient Near Eastern cultures recognized the sovereignty of God.
In addition, verses such as Deuteronomy 28:21-23 and Jeremiah 28:53-57 teach that if Israel apostatizes she will be destroyed, both by natural disaster and by conquering enemies. The destruction of Israel’s enemies may be a type of Israel’s destruction, a warning.
The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1:147-148) notes that much of Deuteronomy follows the pattern of the covenant renewal ceremony that seems to have occurred in Shechem each year. (See Joshua 24.) That ceremony has at least these elements:
a narrative of sacred history
the stipulations of the covenant
the promises that fidelity to the covenant will bring
the curses that infidelity to the covenant will bring
Where do you see these elements in chapter 23? Where else do you see them in scripture? Where do you see them in your own religious experience?
Verses 2-16: This is the beginning of Joshua’s farewell address. Compare it to Moses’ final address in Deuteronomy. What instructions does he give to the Israelites regarding those who previously occupied the land?
Verse 3: How does Joshua define Israel in this verse? How might that definition be relevant to us?
Verse 6: Once Israel has conquered the land, what kind of courage is required? If Israel is in control of the land and is the majority in the land, why does obedience require courage?
Verse 7: The phrase “come not among” has sexual connotations? Why might that be? How are those connotations literal? How symbolic? How are “these nations, these that remain among you” a danger to Israel? What is comparable to them in our own religious experience? According to this verse, what makes Israel unique in the world?
Verse 8: Here, too, we find a phrase with sexual connotations: “cleave unto.” Why does the Lord use marriage as a symbol of his relation to Israel? What can we learn by examining the metaphor?
Verses 12-16: What does he promise Israel if they do not follow the Lord’s instruction to them?
Verses 30-35: Note that Joshua performs the ritual at Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim, as instructed by Moses, wherein the blessings of the law and the curses of the law are read in full. What was the point of this ritual?
Verses 1-28: Summary: in his final address, Joshua reiterates the entire history from Abraham to his own time, and then challenges Israel to either follow the gods that Abraham’s father served and those of the Egyptians, or to follow the Lord.
Verse 2: What does “the other side of the flood” mean? Does it refer to Noah’s flood or to the Euphrates river?
Verses 26-27: What monument does Joshua build to record this event and why? Why did Joshua build so many monuments?
Verse 28: What major service did Joshua accomplish for the Israelites?
Verses 29-33: What three famous people are laid to rest in the concluding chapter of Joshua? How is that significant? In other words, why should we care? Why are all of them buried in Ephraimite territory?
Verse 32: What do you recall about the city of Shechem (Genesis 33:18-20 and chapter 34)? Joseph had been there before as a young boy. What had happened when he was there the first time?