Yehoshua Seventeen: Zelophehad’s Daughters

So, Joseph’s children each get a portion of the land, which is then further subdivided by their children. Of course, back in the day, children was inherently understood to mean male children, with it being expected that women would be taken care of via their husbands. “But Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Menashe, had no sons, but daughters, and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah (Joshua 17:3).” Zelophehad’s daughters had previously petitioned Moses, asking for their father’s inheritance to come to them. Now, they came to Eleazar the high priest and Joshua, asking for the fulfillment of this promise. This was granted, and the women became inheritors along with the men in the name of their father. Baby steps to be sure, but an important moment when women stood up for themselves.

Menashe and Ephraim divide up their portion of the land. They feel confined because they have so many Canaanites living among them that they’re unable to drive out, but Joshua refuses to give them more. Instead, he encourages them to conquer the rest of their land, driving out the previous inhabitants. “But the mountain shall be yours, for it is a forest, and you shall cut it down; and its outgoings shall be yours, for you shall drive out the Canaanite, though he has iron chariots and though he is strong (Joshua 17:18).” Again, this is hard to hear. No talk of modern values of coexistence and multiculturalism exists at this point. Instead, things are simple and often harsh. It’s not how we approach things today, and it’s easy to look at this as primitive and wrong. But nevertheless, it was the way of the world, and is part of our collective human history.

Yehoshua Sixteen: Joseph

Judah is taken care of, and now we learn about the inheritance given to the tribes of Joseph’s children. “And the lot for the children of Joseph went out from the Jordan at Jericho, to the water of Jericho to the east, to the wilderness that goes up from Jericho on the mountain to Beth-el (Joshua 16:1).” The description is once again very detailed, laying out the exact borders of the tribal territory. Of course, Joseph is different from the other tribes in that both of his sons receive a separate inheritance. “And the children of Joseph, Menashe and Ephraim, took their inheritance (Joshua 16:4).” Each one gets his own portion of the land, which is further subdivided into their own sons and families.

“And they did not drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt among the Ephraimites to this day, and they became servants under tribute (Joshua 16:10). This is the verse that concludes this extremely short chapter. I find it really interesting. Unlike in most of the land, where the people cleared out anyone who was in their way, Ephraim has a minority dwelling among them. Of course, they don’t get equal rights or absorbed into society or anything that we in the twenty-first century would expect, but neither are they expelled. I’m thinking this at least qualifies as a step in the right direction. Reading this book is really hard when coming from the perspective of today. Expulsions, massacres, and a huge amount of intolerance are not what I want my ancestors to be partaking in. Yet, that’s what I’m reading, day after day. How can I reconcile these actions with my modern sensibilities?

Yehoshua Fifteen: Judah

Caleb has been taken care of, and now we hear about the tribal allotment to the rest of Judah. Judah is the largest tribe, and so the amount of land given to it is relatively huge. A lot of detail goes into determining the exact boundaries, but suffice it to say Judah gets most of the southern part of the territory of Israel.

“And to Caleb the son of Jephunneh he gave a part among the children of Judah, according to the commandment of the Lord to Joshua, even the city of Arba the father of the giants, which is Hebron (Joshua 15:13).” Now, I’m sorry, but wasn’t Caleb one of the two spies who said the inhabitants of Israel weren’t fearsome giants? And now it turns out that they are, and he has to fight them? How does this reconcile? My guess is that even if the residents of Hebron were terrifying, Caleb (and Joshua) felt brave enough and strong enough to fight them with God’s help. The other spies probably felt naturally afraid, and hesitated. I feel bad for them now, because if there really was something to fear it seems understandable to not be gung ho about going and conquering the land, and all the people were punished for that hesitation.

Regardless, Caleb drives out the giants. Then, he has a proposition. “And Caleb said, ‘He who smites Kiriath-sepher and takes it; to him will I give Achsah my daughter for a wife (Joshua 15:16).'” For some reason, Caleb, who can destroy giants, can’t conquer this town. So he outsources the task to a younger man. Othniel, his nephew, rises to the challenge, and is given Achsah. Achsah isn’t particularly thrilled with this, and subsequently asks her father for additional land because what he had initially given to her was only desert. He agrees, and one can presume that the couple lives happily ever after. We spend a lot of time hearing about each clan within Judah’s allotment. Quite honestly, it’s boring, with the only thing interesting about it being how so many of the names of these ancient people and dwellings being the names of cities and places in modern Israel today. It’s easy to see now where our origins come from, and how deep our roots in the land have grown.

Yehoshua Fourteen: Caleb

The Israelites had a specific inheritance given to them in the form of the land of Israel. Each tribe had its own designated territory, given to them by lot. Nine and a half tribes inherited land on the western side of the Jordan, with the other two and a half being allotted land on the eastern side of the river. This arrangement makes sense when one remembers the history that brought the people to this point. “For the children of Joseph were two tribes, Menashe and Ephraim, but they gave no part to the Levites, in the land, save cities to dwell in, and the open land about them, for their cattle and for their flocks (Joshua 14:4).”

So, the people are gathered in Gilgal, and representatives from the tribe of Judah come to Joshua. Specifically, Caleb comes to speak to him. “I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord, sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land; and I brought him back word as it was in my heart. And my brothers that went up with me, made the heart of the people melt, but I fulfilled the will of the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land upon which your foot had trodden shall be your inheritance, and your children’s forever, because you have fulfilled the will of the Lord my God (Joshua 14:7-9).'” Caleb is now eighty-five, and he is asking for the fulfillment of the promise that Moses made to him for being the spy, other than Joshua, who tried to instill confidence in the people. Caleb was truthful and brave, and is the only Israelite, other than Joshua, to have survived the whole journey. Joshua agrees to Caleb’s request. Hebron becomes the inheritance of Caleb and his family, outside of the tribal affiliations of the rest of the land. In this act, another story seems to come full circle. Things seem to be starting to wind down, and the people are getting settled in their land.

Yehoshua Thirteen: Inheritance

“Now Joshua was old, advanced in years; and the Lord said to him, ‘You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to be possessed (Joshua 13:1).” This blunt statement comes at an interesting time. It seems that within the last few chapters, Joshua is as young and vital as ever, a military commander actively leading his people to victory. So why does God bring up his age now? It could be to pressure him to get a jump on things, as the work set out before him is not close to done, and clearly has a timer on it. It’s hard to be reminded of the passage of time when one still has a lifetime of things to achieve, so having this as a motivator will hopefully move Joshua forward.

We are given an annotated list of the land that has yet to be captured, and who it will be given to from among the tribes. Each tribe has its own designated area of inheritance, on either the eastern or western sides of the Jordan. This, of course, is with the exception of the Levites. “But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance. The Lord God of Israel was their inheritance, as he spoke to them (Joshua 13:33).” This chapter is not particularly meaty in terms of content, but is overwhelming in the amount of work that it prescribes to Joshua, an aging commander. Clearly, old or not, he’s not going to be able to stop fighting any time soon.

Yehoshua Twelve: List of Kings

This chapter brings back the ubiquitous lists that permeate Tanakh. “And these are the kings of the land, whom the children of Israel smote, and possessed their land on the other side of the Jordan toward the rising of the sun, from the river Arnon to Mount Hermon, and all the plain on the east (Joshua 12:1).” This is basically a list of Israel’s victories at the expense of others. It starts with Sihon, the original battle that developed the reputation of the Israelites. Then came Og, the last of the giants, the other classic battle that is continually referenced by all of those that Joshua and the Israelites have encountered later on. “Moses the servant of the Lord, and the children of Israel smote them; and Moses the servant of the Lord gave it for an inheritance to the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 12:6).”

The list continues. Jericho, Ai, Jerusalem, Hebron, and dozens of others. All together, thirty-one kings that Joshua and his army destroyed in their pursuit of the land of Israel. It’s not a particularly meaty chapter, but it’s a good summary of the events that have lead to this point. It’s one of those chapters that’s hard to read on its own because it’s a little boring, but is necessary to the greater whole.

Yehoshua Eleven: Kol Nidre

Canaanite kings are apparently slow on the uptake. Only one chapter after the last failed confederation against the Israelites, they’re up in arms again. “And they went out, they and all their hosts with them, many people, as the sand that is upon the seashore in multitude, with many horses and chariots. And all these kings met together, they came and camped together at the waters of Merom, to fight with Israel (Joshua 11:4-5).” God reassures Joshua that everything will be okay, and Israeli is almost immediately victorious. The battle results in a total slaughter, with the armies of the Canaanites entirely wiped out. “And Joshua turned back at that time, and took Hazor, and smote its king with the sword, for Hazor was formerly the head of all these kingdoms (Joshua 11:10).” The entire city of Hazor is destroyed. It’s the only city out of all of those that attacked him in this instance that Joshua burns. I imagine this decision was made in order to use Hazor as a statement, a message to all of the surrounding kings and tribes that might try to threaten the Israelites. It shows their might and strength, and warns them away from such plans.

Joshua is becoming very adept at obeying God’s commands, just as Moses was. “And Joshua took all this land: the hills, and all the south country, and all the land of Goshen, and the valley, and the plain, and the mountain of Israel, and its valley (Joshua 10:16).” Only the Gibeonites and the Hivites made peace with Joshua. Everyone else was fully destroyed by the Israelites, according to God’s will. “And Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war (Joshua 11:23).” This final sentence of the chapter strikes me as particularly moving today. Today is Kol Nidre, the eve of Yom Kippur. This holy day on the Jewish calendar has eternal meaning as a day of repentance, but since 1973, it has another meaning as well. It’s the eve of the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. The Yom Kippur War was one of the (many) fights for Israel’s survival, for the right of the Jewish people to keep the land that Joshua conquered in this chapter. The history of these modern conflicts is literally being laid out as I read these words.

The Yom Kippur War was devastating for Israel. One of the symbols of the great loss of the war was Kibbutz Beit Hashita, which lost eleven men, the highest per-capita loss of anywhere in Israel. Beit Hashita also has the distinction of being my fiance’s home, and one of the most beautiful, special places I’ve ever been. In order to mourn the terrible loss of Yom Kippur, an iconic tune set to the words of the Untaneh Tokef, a seminal prayer of Yom Kippur, was created. I’m sharing it here, because going into this holiday, I can’t separate the initial fulfillment of the promise of the land of Israel and the sacrifices that we continue to make for it today. Wishing all who observe an easy and meaningful fast.

Yehoshua Ten: Battles and Battles

The reputation of Joshua and the Israelites is spreading, and the natives are freaking out (to say the least). Adonizedek, the king of Jerusalem, has heard about the destruction of Ai, and Jericho, and the pact that Joshua made with the Gibeonites. Before we go any further, I just want to take note of the name of this king. Adonizedek translates to God (adonai) and righteousness (tzedek). And this man, with this name, was the king of Jerusalem, the future holy city and center of God’s presence in the world. This can’t be a coincidence, so I’m wondering what it means for a non-Israelite king to have such a powerful name. Anyway, Adonizedek is scared of Joshua, and comes up with a plan. “And Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem, sent to Hoham, king of Hebron, and to Piram, king of Jarmuth, and Japhia, king of Lachish, and to Debir, king of Eglon, saying, ‘Come up to me and help me, and we will smite Gibeon, for it has made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel (Joshua 10:3-4).'” The other kings think this sounds like a good idea, so they begin a war against Gibeon.

Being that Joshua has an alliance with Gibeon, he comes to their defense from Gilgal. “And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear them, for I have delivered them into your hand, not a man of them shall stand before you (Joshua 10:8).” This whole showdown seems to have been divinely orchestrated, and it looks like the Canaanite kings are heading for some trouble. There is a massive slaughter, both divine and man-made. “Then Joshua spoke to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, ‘Sun, stand still upon Gibeon, and Moon in the valley of Ajalon (Joshua 10:12).'” The sun and the moon stood still, allowing the day to last as long as was necessary in order to continue the battle until the job was done. With God’s help, Joshua performed a miracle in this moment. The kings, defeated and terrified, run away and are trapped in a cave. After the battle is over, Joshua sends men to retrieve the kings from the cave. “And it was when they brought out those kings to Joshua, that Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said to the chiefs of the men of war that went with him, Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings. And they came near, and put their feet upon their necks (Joshua 10:24).” This is an ultimate sign of dominance over the kings. Afterwards, Joshua kills the kings. More battles continue afterwards. It’s a veritable bloodbath of Canaanite tribes, with no hesitation or remorse on the part of Joshua. The Israelites are continuously victorious, because they are following God’s command.

The chapter concludes simply. “And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp, to Gilgal (Joshua 10:43).”

Yehoshua Nine: False Oaths

The local kings of the area come together and decide to unite against Joshua and the Israelites. However, the Gibeonites decide to take a different path. “And they also acted with wile, and they went, and disguised as ambassadors, and they took worn sacks for their donkeys, and wine bottles, rotten, split, and tied together (Joshua 9:4).” They went to Joshua, who was at Gilgal, and told him that they had come from a faraway land in order to make peace with the people. “And each of the men of Israel said to the Hivites: Perhaps you dwell in my mist, and how can I make a covenant with you (Joshua 9:7)?” Now, there are a number of elements of confusion here. The story started out with the Gibeonites preparing to make the deception, but within a few verses changes to the Hivites. Also, why couldn’t Joshua make a covenant with locals? Why could he only make a treaty with someone who came from far away? Wouldn’t it make sense to be able to contract peace with neighbors?

Regardless, the messengers continue to lie. They say they’ve come from a distant land, and heard rumors about the destruction of the Amorites and the kings, Sihon and Og. “And our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us saying, Take provision in your hand for the journey, and go toward them, and say to them, We are your servants; and now make a covenant with us (Joshua 9:11).” They show their moldy bread and worn clothes as evidence of how far they’ve traveled, and Joshua falls for it. He makes peace with them, and swears a covenant with them. But after three days, the deception is discovered. “And the children of Israel did not smite them, because the princes of the congregation had sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel. And all the congregation complained against the princes (Joshua 9:18).” The people can’t break the covenant that they made, even if it was made falsely. So, they find an alternative solution.

“This we will do to them, and let them live;and there will be no wrath upon us, because of the oath which we swore to them. And the princes said to them, ‘Let them live.’ So they became hewers of wood and drawers of water to all the congregation, as the princes had spoken to them (Joshua 9:20-21).” They are cursed because of the false oath that they forced the Israelites to take, and will now be their subordinates throughout the generations. In this way, Joshua kept his honor, and enforced an understanding that oaths are not to be taken lightly.

Yehoshua Eight: Victory at Ai

After the initial defeat at Ai, it makes sense that Joshua (and presumably his troops) are scared about trying again. However, this time, God assures him that things will be different. “And the Lord said to Joshua, Fear not, and be not dismayed; take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land (Joshua 8:1).” Unlike in Jericho, where the victory was explicitly God’s, this time, the people are rewarded for their efforts. They are allowed to take the spoils of war after the ambush and subsequent victory. This is the exact opposite of the previous battle, which is exactly what the people were just punished for. Maybe this is meant to be a placating gesture, to revamp the morale of the Israelites.

Joshua lays out the battle plan for the people. He’s clearly a very hands on leader, and uses his military skills as well as his prophetic gifts in his leadership. “And Joshua sent them; and they went to the place of ambush, and stayed between Beth-el and Ai, on the west side of Ai; and Joshua lodged that night among the people (Joshua 8:9).” In Joshua’s willingness to be among the people and to count himself as one of them, rather than holding himself apart, I see elements of modern leadership qualities. In the Israeli army, for example, officers gain the respect of their troops by toughing it out with them, going into battle and suffering, rather than waiting on the sidelines. Joshua is in the thick of the action, doing exactly what he asks of his men, and I believe that this probably made them respect and appreciate him more than if he had stayed a ceremonial figurehead.

The ambush occurs at dawn. The Israelites trick the people of Ai by pretending to run away in defeat, but once they’re pursued, they turn around and capture the city before slaughtering the people. It’s a total victory, culminating with the hanging of the king. Again, a harsh victory, almost barbaric by modern standards. But in biblical times, it made total sense that defeating an enemy meant wiping them out. After the battle, Joshua built a new altar to God on Mount Ebal. “And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel (Joshua 8:32).” In this act, at the moment of victory, the people are reminded of their past. Even though this achievement is theirs, they are connected to God in this moment, and are reminded of the inextricable link between the two.