Jesus and Joshua

It gives Good Friday an extra-surreal twist if you spend the preceding week reading the Book of Joshua.

[…] they took the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua. […] He impaled the body of the king of Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day. Joshua 8:23, 29

Then Joshua put the kings to death and exposed their bodies on five poles, and they were left hanging on the poles until evening. At sunset Joshua gave the order and they took them down from the poles and threw them into the cave where they had been hiding. At the mouth of the cave they placed large rocks, which are there to this day. Joshua 10:26-27

Well, that sounds familiar…

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” Galatians 3:13

(—This quotation, as the footnotes should helpfully point out, being from a passage in Deuteronomy about not allowing the bodies of executed criminals to be left hanging overnight.)

Here’s a strange thing. Joshua, who led the people of Israel when they entered and conquered Canaan…

The walls of Jericho (borrowed from, via Google Images)

…was Jesus’s namesake. But what Joshua did to his enemies, Jesus let his enemies do to him. Joshua’s way was a strongandverycourageous military campaign; Jesus’s way was self-sacrifice, strength in weakness. Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities by submitting to a punishment that was not only the worst and most shameful that the Romans had available, but was also exactly what Joshua had meted out.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

This is amazing, but weird. Or in other words, Jesus is amazing and Joshua is weird. Christians and non-Christians alike find the violence of the book of Joshua (and others) disturbing to say the least…

Richard Dawkins, for example, is almost certainly not a fan.

…and even apart from that, it seems rather odd if God gave approval to one way of doing things solely in order to turn that system on its head.

I wonder why I keep getting to confusing questions in the middle of blog posts, when I don’t have the space or time or ability to tackle them properly, and possibly no-one finds them strange apart from me and maybe Richard Dawkins.

Here are some more (well, two more) weird (in a good way) things about the Book of Joshua.

Strong and very courageous: the presence of Rahab

In the first chapter of Joshua, the Lord gives his commands to Joshua, and Joshua gathers together the army, and everyone tells everyone else to be strong and very courageous, and they all get ready to conquer Canaan.

The second chapter tells the story of one woman in Jericho who was strong and courageous enough to shelter and rescue two Israelite spies, presumably at the risk of her own life.

Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the LORD has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

“Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”

“Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the LORD gives us the land.”

So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. She said to them, “Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way.”

Now the men had said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.”

“Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.”

So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window. Joshua 2:8-21

Because of this passage, the reader of Joshua has to be aware, as the Israelite army approaches Jericho, that there is one brave woman and her family waiting there, hoping for escape, and that this family’s situation—collected together in one house, with a red mark on the outside wall—resembles the situation of the Israelites themselves, on that original night of rescue from Egypt, when they themselves were spared.

But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day. Joshua 6:25

Did the writer behind the book of Joshua want to remind the Israelites of his day where they had come from—what their original identity was? Did he want to prevent them from taking too much pride in military victory?

The Man with the Drawn Sword: Joshua 5:13-15

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

This passage is so cool, so cool that we’re going to read some of it again in the ESV, in which the commander of the army of the Lord is as literal-minded and delightfully blunt as the mathematician who answers the question ‘Is it raining or not?’ with the word ‘Yes’.

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.”

The commander of the army of the Lord was there, but was not on either side of the battle. The place where Joshua was standing was holy ground. What exactly was going on?

Apparently something more complicated than just an invasion of one nation by another.

I’m also wondering whether Joshua did all seven days of marching round Jericho with bare feet…

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