Y'HOSHUA AND THE BATTLES Josh 2-8
CONTEXT:The late seventh century BCE was a dark time for Y’hudah and Y’rushalayim. Nebuchadnezar of Babylon crushed the fierce Assyrian empire that had destroyed the northern kingdom, Israel a century before and he was headed west. The B’nei Yisrael believed that the God Yah, had protected them and, in earlier times, had spoken directly to their leaders. No longer. Now only the prophets get messages from Yah, and, who knew which prophet to trust? One of them, Jeremiah, said that Yah is angry on account of the unfairness and corruption so common at the time. Most of the prophets said all was well.
What to do? Maybe, if the people better understood their history and Torah, they might obey Yah and return to His guidance and protection. What was needed was a comprehensive set of narratives for instruction and edification. During the reign of King Yoshiahu (ca 623 BCE) a document is said to have been discovered, a long lost “Book of Torah.” (See II Kings 22) This was Deuteronomy in which the emphasis is on reward or punishment and on exclusive worship of Yah. Following that book, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings came to be written. Scholars call their authors “Deuteronomic historian” for their consistent use of ideas from Deuteronomy as they recorded their narratives.
THE SPIES WENT WHERE? Joshua 2
The time had come to cross over from the wilderness to the promised Land. That meant fording the Yarden River just north of Yam Hamelach, in the vicinity of Yericho. Y’hoshua bin Nun, the commander, needed to know the lay of the land and what to expect. So he secretly sent from Shitim, two young men, spies, ordering them: “Go see the Land, especially Y’richo.”
That evening they left and arrived at Rachav’s whorehouse to spend the night. Word got to the king of Y’richo: “This just in: men have come here this evening from the B’nei Yisrael to check out the Land.” The king sent an order to Rachav: “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have come to your house, because they have come to check out the Land.” He was appealing to her patriotic duty, but Rachav had either taken a liking to the Israelites or, some say, she had a sense that a time for change had come and the future lay with these invaders. So she took and hid the two men, saying: “Yes, the men came to me but I didn’t know where they were from. The gate was about to be closed at dark and the men went out. I have no idea where they went. If you pursue them quickly you’ll catch them.”
She had, of course, brought them up to the roof and hidden them under stalks of flax that had been arranged there to dry. The pursuers ran out by way of the Yarden, by the fords, and the gate was shut after them. Rachav then went up to the roof before the men had gone to sleep. She said to them: “I know that Yah has given you the Land. Fear has fallen over us, the whole population has melted down on account of you. We heard how Yah dried up the waters of the Yam Suf for you when you left Egypt, and what you did to Sichon and Og, the Amorite kings beyond the Yarden, You annihilated them. We heard and our hearts turned to water. No one had any more spirit to fight you. Surely Yah your God is God in Heaven above and earth below. Now I’ve done you a favor. Swear to me by Yah that you will return the favor to my father’s house. Give me a truth token that you will protect my father and mother, my brothers and sisters and all of theirs. Save their lives.”
The men said to her: “Our lives for yours till death. If you don’t tell this, our thing, then, when Yah gives us the Land, we shall return you true favor.” She then let them down by a rope through the window, her house being built into the city wall. She said to them: “Head for the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you. Hide there for three days till they return and then go on your way. They said to her: “We shall be quit of this oath you have asked of us, unless you tie this length of red rope to the window from which you let us down, and you gather your parents and brothers, the whole family, into your house. Anyone who goes out from the doors of your house, his blood is on his own head and we are quit. Everyone who stays with you in your house, his blood will be on our head should any hand be raised against him. And if you tell this our thing we shall be quit of the oath you have given us.”
She said: “As you have spoken, let it be.” She sent them and they went. And she tied the red rope to the window.
They headed for and reached the mountain where they stayed for three days till the pursuers returned. They had searched the whole road and not found them. Then the men went back down the mountain, crossed the river and came to Y’hoshua bin Nun. They reported to him all that had happened to them, adding: “Indeed, Yah has given into our hand all of the Land. The entire population has dissolved before us.”
“Well done,” said Y’hoshua. “We’re on our way.”
THE SECOND GREATEST MIRACLE Josh 3
CONTEXT: Aron of the Brit is “Ark of the Covenant.” Kohanim are priests.
So Y’hoshua rose the next morning and he and all the B’nai Yisrael left the Shitim and arrived at the Yarden and they camped there till the crossing. After three days the officers went through the camp and gave orders: “When you see the Aron of the Brit of Yah your God being carried by the Levi kohanim, get up and follow it at a distance of approximately two thousand cubits, at least half a mile -- no closer.”
Y’hoshua further instructed the people: “Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow. Yah is about to do wonders in your midst.” To the kohanim he said: “Take up the Aron of the Brit and cross before the people.”
Yah then said to Y’hoshua: “This day I shall begin to magnify you in the eyes of all Yisrael. I want them to know that as I was with Moshe, so shall I be with you. Now command the kohanim, the bearers of the Aron haBrit: When you reach the Yarden water edge, keep going till you are standing right in the Yarden.”
To B’nai Yisrael, Y’hoshua then said: “Come close and hear things about Yah your God. This is the way you will know that a living God is in your midst: see, the Aron haBrit of the Lord of all the land passes before you into the Yarden. And when the soles of the feet of the kohanim, bearers of the Aron Yah, Lord of all the land, when those feet rest in the water of the Yarden, the water will be cut off – the upstream water will stand as behind an invisible dam. And, be assured, He shall clear out the seven nations indigenous to the Land, dispossessing before you the Cana’ani, the Chiti, the Chivi, the P’rizi, the Gir’gashi, the Emori, and the Y’vusi.”
So the people left their tents to cross the Yarden, with the kohanim, and the Aron haBrit at their head. The Yarden was at full flood stage for it was the spring harvest season but when the feet of the kohanim dipped into the water the flow from the north stopped, the water rising as if behind a dam, a long way off (at Adam, the town near Tsartan). The water below flowed down to the wilderness sea, the Yam HaMelach, till it went dry. The people then crossed opposite Y’richo. The kohanim holding the Aron stood there in the dry riverbed for a long time while every last Israelite crossed over even though the people hurried. When the last was over, Y’hoshua gave the order, the kohanim moved and when their feet reached the bank, the river returned to its usual state. The kohanim resumed their place in the lead.
(The B’nei R’uven and B’nei Gad, and the half tribe of M’nasheh, all went fully armed before the rest of the B’nai Yisrael, just as Moshe had specified for them (in the book of Numbers.) A strike force of about forty thousand passed before Yah for battle to the fields of Y’richo.)
STORIES OF STONES Josh 4 - 5
CONTEXT: Stones, river rocks and flint chipped to a sharp edge, feature in another story about that the day when the Israelites crossed the Yarden.
Yah told Y’hoshua: “Select twelve men each representing a tribe and tell them each to lift a stone from the middle of the Yarden where the Kohanim are standing. Take the twelve stones over with you and arrange them in the campsite where you will spend the night.” So Y’hoshua called for one each from Reuven, Shim’on, Levi, Y’hudah, Dan, Naftali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Z’vulun, Yosef, and Binyamin.
He passed on the instructions, adding: “These stones will be a token of this wondrous day. When one day your children ask about them, you shall tell them about the Yarden stopping its flow for the Aron of the Brit of Yah so that the nation could cross on dry land. These stones shall forever remind B’nei Yisrael of our past.”
So the B’nei Yisrael did as Y’hoshua commanded, arranging the stones at the campsite. (Some tell a different version, that Y’hoshua set up twelve stones on the very spot in the middle of the Yarden where the kohanim had stood with the Aron, and that they remain there till this day.)
Next Yah instructed Y’hoshua: “Make flint knives and circumcise the B’nai Yisrael.” Males had been circumcised in Egypt, but all of military age had died in the wilderness. Those born in the wilderness had had no Brit Milah. Joshua made it happen, and the place was called Giv’at HaAralot – “Foreskin Hill.” They had to rest a while till they healed.
Then, so goes the story, Yah made a particularly interesting comment: “Today I have rolled away from you the Egyptian disgrace.” It seems that the Egyptians, who circumcised boys when they grew to adolescence, considered it a disgrace to be uncircumcised. It was as if God was grooming the men so that they could be proud. To preserve the memory of the moment, the Israelites called the place Gilgal, a play on galal, the word for “rolled away.”
This all took place on the tenth of the first month, Nisan. They were camped at Gilgal at the eastern border of Y’richo. The twelve stones from the Yarden stood there as a token that Yah had repeated the miracle of the Yam Suf. They were impressive enough that all the nations of the Land might see them and fear the mighty hand of Yah. They would realize that resistance was futile. Those stones became the Israelites first sanctuary in the Land. That’s where they anointed their first king, Shaul. They continued to worship there for centuries.
On the fourteenth of that month, there on the plain of Yericho, they celebrated the first Pesach holiday with a burnt offering. The next day, they ate matsah made from local grain and on that same day the manna ceased, there being no further need for miracle food.
One more quickie in the bundle of stories: Y’hoshua looked up, one day, to see a man standing in front of him, drawn sword in hand. Y’hoshua went up to him and demanded: “Are you with us or with our enemies?” “Neither,” was the answer. “I am the commander of Yah’s troops, just arrived.” Y’hoshua bowed all the way to the ground. “What does milord say to his servant?” “Take off your shoes,” said the commander, “for the place you are standing is holy.” So Y’hoshua did so just as Moshe had at the burning bush.
JOSH’A FIT DE BATTLE OF JERICHO Josh 6
CONTEXT: Before we can relate this part of the story we have to explain two words. First, “Jubliee Shofar.” It was a ram’s horn that must have had a distinctive sound. It comes up in the story of Mt Sinai and also as the signal for the Jubilee Year, the fiftieth year in an economic cycle.
The second is a very complex word, “cherem,” meaning “sworn off,”“devoted,” “dedicated.” In rabbinic times the word came to mean “excommunicated,” as in the excommunication of Spinoza. In the context of biblical warfare it means all enemy life and property is dedicated to God. Valuables would go to the temple treasury. We do not like the terrible meaning that follows, found in a few stories of olden days: all that lives -- men, women, children, even animals – shall be put to death, annihilated. Cherem was not ordinary military policy, but reserved for certain fights, possibly critical in the eyes of the historian. Ordinary rules of warfare which the taking of prisoners as slaves and dividing up the booty among the fighters and support troops.
Y’richo was totally locked down for fear of B’nai Yisrael. No one could leave or enter. One morning Yah said to Y’hoshua: “Understand that I’ve given you Y’richo, its king, its warriors. Here’s what you have to do: Have your warriors encircle the city and march once around it. Do that for six days, with seven kohanim carrying seven jubilee shofars, blowing them all the way. Let these seven precede the Aron. On the seventh day, seven circuits, with the kohanim blowing the shofars. At the end, let them produce a long blast on those jubilee horns. When the people hear that t’kiah g’dolah let them give a mighty shout and the city wall will come tumbling down.”
So Y’hoshua bin Nun summoned the kohanim: “Take up the Aron of the Brit. Seven of you get in front with jubilee shofars.” He ordered the people: “Line up to circle the city, with a strike force leading the way.”
Y’hoshua gave the signal and the procedure began. First the strike force, then the kohanim blowing the jubilee shofars with the Aron after them. The rest of the people constituted a rearguard, with special instructions not to shout or even to speak a single word till Y‘hoshua gives the order to shout. They marched one circuit around the city and returned to camp for the night.
Y’hoshua got up early the next morning. The kohanim hefted the Aron. The seven shofar kohanim blew their horns as they walked on ahead of the Aron Yah. The strike force led the way with all the rest of the people following the Aron. They circumambulated the city once again and returned to camp. This they did for six days running.
And then the final orders: “The city with all in it is to be cherem for Yah. Only Rachav the whore shall live, she and all who are with her in her house for she hid our spies. Beware of dedicated goods lest you yourselves become dedicated. If you were to take any cherem you would place the whole Israelite camp into cherem, causing a lot of trouble. Everything of silver or gold, vessels of copper or iron, all belong to Yah. Goes into His treasury.”
On the seventh day, they rose at the crack of dawn and completed seven circuits. At the end of the seventh the kohanim gave the t’kiah g’dolah and Y’hoshua called out: “Shout!” The people heard the t’kiyah g’dolah and the command. Everyone gave a mighty shout. And the walls came tumbling down.
They charged into the city and captured it. And they cheremized the whole place by the mouth of the sword: man, woman, young and old, cattle, sheep, donkeys. Y’hoshua ordered the two spies to go directly to the whorehouse and rescue the woman and all of hers, “just as you swore to do.” So the two, who were really only youths themselves, went and brought out Rachav, her father and mother, her brothers, her belongings, her whole family and left them outside of the Israelite camp. The rest burned the city and all that was in it. Only the silver and gold, the vessels of copper and iron they gave over to the treasury of Yah. Rachav and her family dwelled among Israel and continue so to this very day.
Y’hoshua stood by the smoldering ruin and declared: “Cursed before Yah be the man who comes to rebuild this Y’richo. Founding it will cost him the life of his first born. Hanging the gates will cost him his youngest.” It is said that in the days of Achav and Eliyahu, a man named Chiel of Bet El did rebuild Y’richo and Aviram his first born died as he founded it and S’giv, his youngest, died when the gates were hung. (1Kings 16:34)
STEALING FROM GOD Joshua 7
CONTEXT: This story includes the practice of casting lots. Urim and tumim were some sort of lots that were used by the kohanim to divine God’s will.(Lev 8:8; Num 27:21) We have no idea what they looked like but they were a mechanism to indicate a yes or no answer. In this story the lot is not named. Instead the verb lakad which usually means “capture, conquer,” in this situation, means “selected by lot.” Picture some sort of a coin or token that could be tossed to see which side would come up. Our ancestors believed that God determined the result and hence the lot revealed the divine will.
Achan ben Karmi ben Zavdi ben Zerach of the tribe of Judah, took for himself from the enemy property and Yah’s wrath was kindled against the B’nai Yisrael.
Y’hoshua sent troops from Y’richo to the Ai, east of Bet El, to reconnoiter the land. They returned and reported: “Two or three battalions should be able to capture the Ai. Why weary the whole army when the enemy are so few?”
So about three battalions went to battle and ended up fleeing from the defenders of the Ai. The Aians killed about thirty-six and pursued the rest from the gate to the quarries, striking them at the descent. The troops’ hearts turned to water.
Y’hoshua, when he got the news, ripped his clothes and fell on his face before the Aron of Yah, staying there till the evening, he and the elders of Yisrael. They all put dirt on their heads.
And he poured out his heart: “Ah, Lord Yah, why did you cross this people over the Yarden to give us into the hand of the Amori? To destroy us? If only we had left well enough alone and remained in Transjordan. Please, Lord, what can I say? Once Yisrael has turned tail before its enemies they’ll hear, the Canaani and all other dwellers in the Land. They’ll turn on us and cut off our very name from the earth. And then what will You do for Your great name?”
The answer: “Get up! Why are you face to the ground like this? Yisrael has sinned, broken the Brit, the covenant I commanded them. Some have taken from the cherem and put it in their own vessels. They have stolen and broken faith. The B’nai Yisrael will not be able to stand in the face of their enemies: they will turn tail. They have become cherem. I shall no longer be with you if you do not eliminate the cherem from your midst. Rise and sanctify the people. Tell them to get ready to present themselves tomorrow for trial by divine lottery. Put it simply: Yah, God of Yisrael, says there is cherem in you midst, Yisrael. You shall not stand up to your enemies until you have removed the cherem from your midst.”
The next morning Y’hoshua rose early. First he arranged Yisrael by tribes, six on the right and six on the left. He then tossed The first toss eliminated six tribes. The second, another three. One or two more tosses selected one tribe Y’hudah. Among the clans of Y’hudah a similar process selected the Zarchi clan. Now he arranged the Zarchi family heads and selected the house of Zavdi. From the Zavdi men, with God determining the tosses all the way, he selected Achan ben Karmi ben Zavdi ben Zerach of the tribe of Y’hudah.
“Son,” he said, “Honor Yah, God of Yisrael, and confess. Tell me what you have done, holding nothing back.”
And Achan said, “Yes, I am the one. I have sinned against Yah, God of Yisrael. I admit it. I saw among the spoils a fine Shinar mantle, two hundred shekels of silver, and a fifty shekel wedge of gold. I really wanted it and I took it. It’s all buried under my tent.”
Y’hoshua sent officers running to the tent and sure enough, they found the buried treasure. They took it from the tent and brought it before J’hoshua and all the B’nai Yisrael, and before Yah. Y’hoshua took Achan ben Zerach and the silver, the mantle, and the gold wedge, along with his sons and daughters, his ox, his ass, his sheep, his tent and all that he possessed. All Yisrael followed up to a valley.
“What trouble you have brought us,” said Y’hoshua. “Yah will today trouble you.” Then all Yisrael stoned and burned the lot. Yah returned from His anger. A high heap of stones is there till this day and the valley is known as Emek Achor, “valley of trouble.”
TACTICAL TRIUMPH Josh 8
Then Yah said to Y’hoshua: “Don’t afraid or dismayed. Gather the army and go up against the Ai, for I have put in your hand the king, his people, his city and land. Do to them just as you did to Y’richo, but this time the spoils, including the livestock, belong to you. You are to do this one by ambush.”
So Y’hoshua prepared for battle against the Ai. He selected thirty squads of the toughest warriors and dispached them that night. The orders: “You are to lay in ambush beyond the town. Don’t go very far. Be ready. I, with the rest of the army, will advance on the town. When they come out to fight us as they did last time, we’ll flee. They’re bound to come running after us thinking we’re retreating like before. When they’re all out you attack and take the town. Yah give you victory. When you seize the town set it on fire. That’s Yah’s word and my order!”
The next morning Y’hoshua ordered out the army. With him and the elders at their head they marched towards the Ai, pitching camp north of the town. A valley lay between the camp and the Ai. He ordered five squads to hide to the west, between Beit El and the Ai. That night he did maneuvers in the valley figuring that they would be spotted by lookouts from the Ai. Sure enough, that’s what happened. The king ordered out his army first thing in the morning. All of them rushed out the gate to fight Yisrael on the plain. Of course, the king knew nothing of the ambushes that lay in wait. Y’hoshua and his men allowed themselves to be beaten back and fled towards the wilderness. The Ai army shouted out the call for all the rest to join the pursuit. The city was emptied of its defenders. Not a man was left in the Ai or even in Beit El. They had left their city open, in the excitement of pursuing Yisrael.
Then Yah gave the word to Y’hoshua: “Aim your spear towards Ai for the town is yours.” Y’hoshua pointed his spear and that was the signal for the ambush to go into action. They ran and soon took the city and set it afire. Now the Ai army looked back and saw the smoke rising to the sky and realized they were trapped. The pursued turned into the pursuers and the ambush attackers now exited the gate. There was nowhere for the Ai men to flee. Every last one was slaughtered except for the king who was captured to be brought before Y’hoshua. The B’nai Yisrael put the Ai to the sword. The total death toll was twelve thousand. Y’hoshua had kept his spear aimed till the cherem was complete. The livestock and the movable possessions were taken as booty, according to instructions. The Ai became a mound of ruins till this day. The king was impaled on a stake till sundown when his body was buried beneath a heap of stones at the former gate.
© Rabbi David L. Kline http://good-to-be-a-jew.blogspot.com/