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Life And Time Of Joshua In The Bible

The name Joshua, a contracted form of Jehoshua, which also appears in the form Jeshua ( yeshua‛ , Nehemiah 8:17 ), signifies "Yahweh is deliverance" or "salvation," and is formed on the analogy of many Israelite names, as Jehoiakim (yehōyāḳı̄m ), "Yahweh exalteth," ( yehōḥānān ), "Yahweh is gracious," "God is deliverance," Elizur (ĕlı̄c̣ūr ), "God is a rock," etc. In the narrative of the mission of the spies in Numbers 13, the name is given as Hoshea (hoshea‛ , Numbers 13:8 , Numbers 13:16; compare Deuteronomy 32:44 ), which is changed by Moses to Joshua (Numbers 13:16 ).

History of the Life of Joshua.

The narrative of the life of Joshua, the son of Nun, is naturally divided into two parts, in which he held entirely different positions with regard to the people of Israel, and discharged different duties. In the earlier period he is the servant and minister of Moses, loyal to his leader, and one of his most trusted and valiant captains. After the death of Moses he himself succeeds to the leadership of the Israelite host, and conducts them to a settlement in the Promised Land. The service of the earlier years of his life is a preparation and equipment for the office and responsibility that devolved upon him in the later period.

First Appearance:

The first appearance of Joshua in the history is at Rephidim, on the way from the wilderness of Sin to Horeb. Neither the exact site of Rephidim nor the meaning of the name can be determined; the Israelites, however, apparently came to Rephidim before they approached the rich oasis of Feiran, for at the former place "there was no water for the people to drink" (Exodus 17:1 ). The fact that the host encamped there seems to assume the existence of wells; either, therefore, these were found to be dry, or they failed before the wants of the great host were satisfied. The Amalekites, wandering desert tribes, claimed the ownership of the wells, and, resenting the Israelite intrusion, swooped down upon them to drive them away and to enrich themselves with the spoil of their possessions. Under the command of Joshua, the Israelites won a complete victory in a battle that seems to have been prolonged until sunset; the fortunes of the battle varying with the uplifting or falling of Moses' hands, which were accordingly supported by Aaron and Hur throughout the day (Exodus 17:11). A curse and sentence of extermination pronounced against Amalek were formally written down and communicated to Joshua, apparently that, as the future leader of Israel, he might have it in charge to provide for their fulfillment. 

It is evident also that at this period Joshua was no young and untried warrior. Although no indication of his previous history is given, his name is introduced into the narrative as of a man well known, who is sufficiently in the confidence of Moses to be given the chief command in the first conflict in which the Israelites had been engaged since leaving Egypt. The result justified the choice. And if, during the march, he had held the position of military commander and organizer under Moses, as the narrative seems to imply, to him was due in the first instance the remarkable change, by which within the brief space of a month the undisciplined crowd of serfs who had fled from Egypt became a force sufficiently resolute and compact to repel the onset of the Amalekite hordes.

The Minister of Moses:

In all the arrangements for the erection and service of the tabernacle, Joshua the warrior naturally has no place. He is briefly named (Exodus 24:13 ) as the minister of Moses, accompanying him apparently to the foot of the mount of God, but remaining behind with the elders and Aaron and Hur, when Moses commenced the ascent. A similar brief mention is in Exodus 32:17 , where he has rejoined Moses on the return of the latter from the mount with the two tables of the testimony, and is unaware of the outbreak of the people and their idolatrous worship of the molten calf in the camp; compare Exodus 33:11 , where again he is found in the closest attendance upon his leader and chief. No further reference is made to Joshua during the stay of the Israelites at Sinai, or their subsequent journeyings, until they found themselves at Kadesh-barnea on the southern border of the Promised Land (Numbers 13). His name is once mentioned, however, in an earlier chapter of the same book (Numbers 11:28 ), when the tidings are brought to Moses that two men in the camp of Israel, Eldad and Medad, had been inspired to prophesy. There he is described in harmony with the previous statements of his position, as Moses' minister from his youth. Jealous of his leader's prerogative and honor, he would have the irregular prophesying stopped, but is himself checked by Moses, who rejoices that the, spirit of God should rest thus upon any of the Lord's people. 

One of the Spies:

Of the 12 men, one from each tribe, sent forward by Moses from Kadesh to ascertain the character of the people and land before him, two only, Hoshea the Ephraimite, whose name is significantly changed to Joshua (Numbers 13:8 , Numbers 13:16 ), and Caleb the Judahite, bring back a report encouraging the Israelites to proceed. The account of the mission of the spies is repeated substantially in Dt 1:22-46. There, however, the suggestion that spies should be commissioned to examine and report upon the land comes in the first instance from the people themselves. In the record of Numbers they are chosen and sent by Moses under Divine direction (Numbers 13:1). The two representations are not incompatible, still less contradictory. The former describes in an altogether natural manner the human initiative, probable enough in the circumstances in which the Israelites found themselves; the latter is the Divine control and direction, behind and above the affairs of men. The instructions given to the spies ( Numbers 13:17) evidently contemplated a hasty survey of the entire region of the Negeb or southern borderland of Palestine up to and including the hill country of Judea; the time allowed, 40 days (Numbers 13:25 ), was too brief to accomplish more, hardly long enough for this purpose alone. They were, moreover, not only to ascertain the character of the towns and their inhabitants, the quality and products of the soil, but to bring back with them specimens of the fruits (Numbers 13:20 ). An indication of the season of the year is given in the added clause that "the time was the time of first-ripe grapes." The usual months of the vintage are September and October (compare Leviticus 23:39 ); in the warm and sheltered valleys, however, in the neighborhood of Hebron, grapes may sometimes be gathered in August or even as early as July. The valley from which the fruits, grapes, figs and pomegranates were brought was known as the valley of Eshcol, or the "cluster" (Numbers 13:23 Numbers 32:9; Deuteronomy 1:24 ). 

No hesitating or doubtful account is given by all the spies of the fertility and attractiveness of the country; but in view of the strength of its cities and inhabitants only Joshua and Caleb are confident of the ability of the Israelites to take possession of it. Their reports and exhortations, however, are overborne by the timidity and dissuasion of the others, who so entirely alarm the people that they refuse to essay the conquest of the land, desiring to return into Egypt (Numbers 14:3) and attempt to stone Joshua and Caleb ( Numbers 14:10 ). These two alone, therefore, were exempted from the sentence of exclusion from the Promised Land (Numbers 14:24 , Numbers 14:30 , Numbers 14:38; Numbers 26:65; Numbers 32:12; Deuteronomy 1:25 ff). The remainder of the spies perished at once by a special visitation ( Numbers 14:36 ); and the people were condemned to a 40-year exile in the wilderness, a year for each day that the spies had been in Palestine, until all the men of that generation "from twenty years old and upward" were dead (Numbers 14:29; Numbers 26:64 f; Numbers 32:11). An abortive attempt was made to invade the land in defiance of the prohibition of Yahweh, and ended in failure and disastrous defeat ( Numbers 32:40 Deuteronomy 1:41, compare Deuteronomy 21:1-3 ). 

Upon the events of the next 38 or 40 years in the life of Israel an almost unbroken silence falls. The wanderers in the wilderness have no history. Some few events, however, that are recorded without note of time, the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and the breaking out of the plague because of the people's murmuring, and probably others (Numbers 15:32-36; 16 f), appear to belong to this period. In none of them does Joshua take an active part, nor is his name mentioned in connection with the campaigns against Sihon and Og on the East of the Jordan. When the census of the people is taken in the plains of Moab opposite Jericho, Joshua and Caleb with Moses himself are found to be the only survivors of the host that 40 years previously came out of Egypt (Numbers 26:63 ff). As the time of the death of the great leader and lawgiver drew near, he was commissioned formally to appoint Joshua as his successor and to hand over to him and to Eleazar the priest the duty of finally apportioning the conquered territory among the several tribes ( Numbers 27:18 ; Numbers 32:28; Numbers 34:17; compare Deuteronomy 1:38; Deuteronomy 3:28; Deuteronomy 31:3 , Deuteronomy 31:7 , Deuteronomy 31:23; Deuteronomy 34:9 ). Some of these passages anticipate the direct Divine commission and encouragement recorded in Josh (Joshua 1:1 , Joshua 1:5 ff) and given to him after the death of Moses. 

The Head of the People:

The history of Joshua in his new capacity as supreme head and leader of the people in several instances recapitulates as it were the history of his greater forerunner. It was not Head unnatural that it should be so; and the similarity of recorded events affords no real ground for doubt with regard to the reliability of the tradition concerned. The position in which Israel now found itself on the East of the Jordan was in some respects not unlike that which confronted Moses at Kadesh-barnea or before the crossing of the Red Sea. Joshua, however, was faced with a problem much less difficult, and in the war-tried and disciplined host at his command he possessed an instrument immensely more suitable and powerful for carrying out his purpose.

His First Act - Sending of the Spies.

His first act was to send spies from Shittim to ascertain the character of the country immediately opposite on the West of the Jordan, and especially the position and strength of Jericho, the frontier and fortified city which first stands in the way of an invader from the East who proposes to cross the river by the fords near its mouth (Joshua 2:2 ). In Jericho the spies owed their lives to the quick inventiveness of Rahab (compare Hebrews 11:31 ), who concealed them on the roof of her house from the emissaries of the king; and returning to Joshua, they reported the prospects of an easy victory and conquest (Joshua 2:23 f). 

There were doubtless special reasons which induced Joshua to essay the crossing of the Jordan at the lower fords opposite Jericho. Higher up the river a probably easier crossing-place led directly into Central Palestine, a district in which apparently his advance would not have been obstructed by fortified cities such as confronted him farther south; which therefore would seem to offer the advantages of an open and ready entrance into the heart of the country. His decision was probably influenced by a desire to possess himself of a fortified base at Jericho and in the neighboring cities. The favorable report of the spies also proved that there would be no great difficulty in carrying out this plan.

Crossing of the Jordan.

The actual crossing of the river is narrated in Joshua 3; 4 . The city of Jericho was built in a plain from 12 to 14 miles wide formed by the recession of the hills that border the valley of the Jordan from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, and stood at the mouth of the valley of Achor (Joshua 7:24 , Joshua 7:26; Joshua 15:7 ). The modern village of Erı̄hā is built at a short distance Southeast of the ancient site, and Gilgal lay half-way to the river. At the latter place the fixed camp was established after the taking of Jericho, and Gilgal formed for some considerable time the base of operations, where the women and children remained in safety while the men were absent on their warlike expeditions. There also the tabernacle was erected, as the symbol and center of national life, and there apparently it remained until the time came for the removal to Shiloh (Joshua 18:1 ). 

Within the plain the stream has excavated a tortuous bed to a depth of 200 ft. below the surface, varying from an eighth of a mile to a mile in breadth. In ordinary seasons the waters are confined to a small portion of the channel, which is then crossed opposite Jericho by two fords where the depth does not exceed 2 or 3 ft. When the river is low it may be crossed elsewhere. In times of flood, however, the water rises and fills the entire channel from bank to bank, so that the fords become impracticable. It is expressly stated that it was at such a time of flood that the Israelites approached the river, at the "time of harvest," or in the early spring (Joshua 3:15 ). The priests were directed to carry the ark to the brink of the river, the waters of which, as soon as their feet touched them, would be cut off, and a dry passage afforded. The narrative therefore is not to be understood as though it indicated that a wall of water stood on the right and left of the people as they crossed; the entire breadth of the river bed was exposed by the failure of the waters from above.

An interesting parallel to the drying up of the Jordan before Joshua is recorded by an Arabic historian of the Middle Ages, who writes to explain a natural but extraordinary occurrence, without any thought of the miraculous or any apparent knowledge of the passage of the Israelites. During the years 1266-67 AD, a Mohammedan sultan named Beybars was engaged in building a bridge over the Jordan near Damieh, a place which some have identified with the city Adam (Joshua 3:16 ); but the force of the waters repeatedly carried away and destroyed his work. On one night, however, in December of the latter year, the river ceased entirely to flow. The opportunity was seized, and an army of workmen so strengthened the bridge that it resisted the flood which came down upon it the next day, and stood firm. It was found that at some distance up the river, where the valley was narrow, the banks had been undermined by the running water and had fallen in, thus completely damming back the stream. It seems not improbable that it was by agency of this character that a passage was secured for the Israelites; even as 40 years earlier a "strong east wind" had been employed to drive back the waters of the Red Sea before Moses. 

At the command of Joshua, under Divine direction, the safe crossing of the Jordan was commemorated by the erection at Gilgal of 12 stones (Joshua 4:3-9 , Joshua 4:20 ff), one for each of the tribes of Israel, taken from the bed of the river. In Joshua 4:9 it is stated that 12 stones were set up in the midst of the river. The statement is probably a misunderstanding, and a mere confusion of the tradition. It is not likely that there would be a double commemoration, or an erection of stones in a place where they would never be seen. At Gilgal also the supply of manna ceased, when the natural resources of the country became available ( Joshua 5:12 ). The date of the passage is given as the 10th day of the 1st month (Joshua 4:19 ); and on the 14th day the Passover was kept at Gilgal in the plains of Jericho (Joshua 5:10 ). For the 2nd time, also, at the crisis of the first entrance into the land, Joshua was encouraged for his work by a vision and Divine promise of assistance and direction (Joshua 5:13-15 ). 

Capture of Jericho.

The narrative that follows, of the taking of Jericho, illustrates, as would naturally be expected in the case of a city so situated the effeminate and unwarlike character of its inhabitants. There was apparently little or no fighting, while for a whole week Joshua with priests and people paraded before the walls. A brief reference (Joshua 6:1 ) seems to indicate that the citizens were quickly driven to take refuge behind their fortifications. Twice seven times the city was compassed, with the ark of the covenant borne in solemn procession, and at the 7th circuit on the 7th day, while the people shouted, the wall of the city fell "in its place" (Joshua 6:20 margin), and Jericho was taken by assault. Only Rahab and her household were spared. All the treasure was devoted to the service of the Lord, but the city itself was burnt, and a solemn curse pronounced upon the site and upon the man who should venture to rebuild its walls ( Joshua 6:26 ). The curse was braved, whether deliberately or not, by a citizen of Bethel in the time of King Ahab; and the disasters foretold fell upon him in the loss of his children (1 Kings 16:34 ). Thenceforward Jericho appears to have been continuously inhabited. There was a settlement of the sons of the prophets there in Elisha's day (2 Kings 2:5 , 2 Kings 2:15 ). The natural fertility of the site won for it the name of the city of palm trees (Deuteronomy 34:3; Judges 1:16; Judges 3:13 ). 

From the plains of Jericho two valleys lead up into the central hill country in directions Northwest and Southwest respectively. These form the two entrances or passes, by which the higher land is approached from the East. Along these lines, therefore, the invasion of the land was planned and carried out. The main advance under Joshua himself took place by the northernmost of the valleys, while the immediate southern invasion was entrusted to Caleb and the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the supreme control remaining always in the hands of Joshua (compare Joshua 14:1-15; 15; Jdg 1). This seems on the whole to be the better way of explaining the narratives in general, which in detail present many difficulties. 

Conquest of Ai and Bethel.

At the head of the northern pass stood the city of Luz or Bethel (Genesis 28:19; Joshua 18:13; Judges 1:23 ). Ai lay close at hand, and was encountered by the invaders before reaching Bethel; its exact site, however, is undetermined. The two towns were in close alliance (compare Joshua 8:17 ), and the defeat and destruction of the one was quickly followed by the similar fate that overtook the other. Before Ai, the advance guard of the Israelites, a small party detached on the advice of the spies sent forward by Joshua from Jericho, suffered defeat and were driven back in confusion (Joshua 7:2 ff). The disaster was due to the failure to obey the command to "devote" the whole spoil of Jericho, and to theft by one of the people of treasure which belonged rightfully to Yahweh ( Joshua 7:11 ). When the culprit Achan had been discovered and punished, a renewed attempt upon Ai, made with larger forces and more skillful dispositions, was crowned with success. The city was taken by a stratagem and destroyed by fire, its king being hanged outside the city gate (Joshua 8:28). Unlike Jericho, it seems never to have been restored. Bethel also was captured, through the treachery apparently of one of its own citizens, and its inhabitants were put to the sword ( Judges 1:24)

Reading of the Law on Mt. Ebal.

Of further campaigns undertaken by Joshua for the subjugation of Central Palestine no account has been preserved. It is possible, therefore, that the conquest of this part of the country was accomplished without further fighting. In the list of the cities (Joshua 12:7-24 ) whose kings were vanquished by Joshua, there are no names of towns that can be certainly identified as situated here; the greater part evidently belong to the north or south. The only record remaining is that of the formal erection of an altar on Mt. Ebal in the presence of all the people and the solemn reading of the law in their hearing (Joshua 8:30 ). It is expressly noted that all this was done in accordance with the directions of Moses (compare Deuteronomy 11:29; Deuteronomy 27:2-8 , Deuteronomy 27:11 ff). It would further appear probable that this ceremony really took place at the close of the conquest, when all the land was subdued, and is narrated here by anticipation. 

The Gibeonites.

The immediate effect of the Israelite victories under Joshua was very great. Especially were the Hivite inhabitants of Gibeon struck with fear (Joshua 9:3 ff) lest the same fate should overtake them that had come upon the peoples of Jericho and Ai. With Gibeon, 3 other cities were confederate, namely, Chephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath-jearim, or the "city of groves" ( Joshua 9:17 ). Gibeon, however, was the chief, and acted in the name of the others. It is usually identified with the modern village or township of el -Jı̂b , 7 or 8 miles North by West of Jerusalem; and all four lay clustered around the head of the pass or valley of Aijalon, which led down from the plateau westward to the foothills of the Shephelah, toward the plain and the sea. Gibeon held therefore a position of natural strength and importance, the key to one of the few practicable routes from the west into the highlands of Judea, equally essential to be occupied as a defensive position against the incursions of the dwellers in the plains, and as affording to an army from the east a safe and protected road down from the mountains. 

By a stratagem which threw Joshua and the leaders of Israel off their guard, representing themselves as jaded and wayworn travelers from a distance, the Gibeonites succeeded in making a compact with Israel, which assured their own lives and safety. They affirmed that they had heard of the Israelite victories beyond Jordan, and also of the gift to them by Yahweh of the whole land (Joshua 9:9 f, Joshua 9:24 ). Joshua and the princes were deceived and entered too readily into covenant with them, a covenant and promise that was scrupulously observed when on the 3rd day of traveling the Israelites reached their cities and found them to be close at hand (Joshua 9:16 ff). While, however, their lives were preserved, the men of Gibeon were reduced to the position of menial servants, "hewers of wood and drawers of water"; and the writer adds, it is thus "unto this day" ( Joshua 9:21 , Joshua 9:27 ). See GIBEON . 

The treaty of peace with the Gibeonites and the indignation thereby aroused among the neighboring kings, who naturally regarded the independent action of the men of Gibeon as treachery toward themselves, gave rise to one of the most formidable coalitions and one of the most dramatic incidents of the whole war. The king of Jerusalem, Adoni-zedek ("the Lord of righteousness" or "the Lord is righteousness," Joshua 10:1; compare Melchizedek, "the king of righteousness," Genesis 14:18; in Judges 1:5 ff the name appears as Adoni-bezek, and so Septuagint reads here), with the 4 kings of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon ( Joshua 10:3 ), formed a plan to destroy Gibeon in revenge, and the Gibeonites sent hastily for assistance to Joshua, who had returned with his army to Gilgal. The Israelites made a forced march from Gilgal, came upon the allied kings near Gibeon, and attacked and defeated them with great slaughter. The routed army fled westward "by the way of the ascent to Beth-horon" (Joshua 10:10 ), and in the pass was overtaken by a violent hailstorm, by which more perished than had fallen beneath the swords of the Israelites (Joshua 10:11 ). The 5 kings were shut up in a cave at Makkedah, in which they had taken refuge, whence they were subsequently brought forth and put to death. The actual pursuit, however, was not stayed until the remnant had found temporary security behind the walls of their fortified cities (Joshua 10:16 ff). The victory of Israel was commemorated by Joshua in a song of which some words are preserved ( Joshua 10:12).

Conquest of the South.

With almost severe simplicity it is further recorded how the confederate cities in turn were captured by Joshua and utterly destroyed (Joshua 10:28-39 ). And the account is closed by a summary statement of the conquest of the entire country from Kadesh-barnea in the extreme south as far as Gibeon, after which the people returned to their camp at Gilgal (Joshua 10:40-43 ). 

Northern Conquests.

A hostile coalition of northern rulers had finally to be met and defeated before the occupation and pacification of the land could be said to be complete. Jabin, king of Ha Zôr , the "fort," was at the head of an alliance of northern kings who gathered together to oppose Israel in the neighborhood of the waters of Merom ( Joshua 11:1). Hazôr has been doubtfully identified with the modern Jebel Hadı̂reh , some 5 miles West of the lake. No details of the fighting that ensued are given. The victory, however, of the Israelites was decisive, although chariots and horses were employed against them apparently for the first time on Canaanite soil. The pursuit was maintained as far as Sidon, and Misrephoth-maim, perhaps the "boilings" or "tumults of the waters," the later Zarephath on the coast South of the former city (Joshua 11:8; compare Joshua 13:6 ); and the valley of Mizpeh must have been one of the many wadies leading down to the Phoenician coast land. The cities were taken, and their inhabitants put to the sword; but HaZôr alone appears to have been burnt to the ground (Joshua 11:11 ff). That the royal city recovered itself later is clear from the fact that a king of Ha Zôr was among the oppressors of Israel in the days of the Judges (Jdg 4). For the time being, however, the fruit of these victories was a widespread and much-needed peace. "The land had rest from war" (Joshua 11:23 ). 

Allotment of Territory.

Thus the work of conquest, as far as it was effected under Joshua's command, was now ended; but much yet remained to be done that was left over for future generations. The ideal limits of Israel's possession, as set forth by Yahweh in promise to Moses, from the Shihor or Brook of Egypt (compare 1 Chronicles 13:5 ) to Lebanon and the entering in of Hamath (Nu 34), had not been and indeed never were reached. In view, however, of Joshua's age (Joshua 13:1 ), it was necessary that an allotment of their inheritance West of the Jordan should at once be made to the remaining tribes. Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh had been already provided for by Moses in Eastern Palestine (Josh 13:15-32). Joshua 14 through 21 accordingly contain a detailed account of the arrangements made by the Israelite leader for the settlement of the land and trace the boundaries of the several tribal possessions. The actual division appears to have been made on two separate occasions, and possibly from two distinct centers. Provision was first made for Judah and the children of Joseph; and between the northern border of the former tribe, recorded in detail in Joshua 15:5-11 , and the inheritance of the sons of Joseph, a tract of land for the present left unassigned was later given to the tribes of Benjamin and Dan. An extra portion also was promised by Joshua to the descendants of Joseph on the ground of their numbers and strength (Joshua 17:14)

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Elizur Israelite Jehoiakim Jehoshua Yahweh


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