Oh, I gotta tell you, I've actually been looking forward to this one a great deal. The SAB marks Joshua 5 in two places with the "Absurd" icon, and indeed, this chapter is full of weirdness. This is as excellent a place as any to put forward my personal theory on God's modus operandi when it comes to the Jewish people: God wants the Jews to be "weird" so that other nations will notice them, and thus notice God.
As I said before, there was already a certain amount of fame that preceded the Israelites into Canaan. The people of the land heard about the plagues on Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and a handful of battles that had been fought while they were wandering in the desert. Imagine an inhabitant of Canaan hearing about all this.
So those Israelites? The ones who came up out of Egypt few years back? They're headed this way! What's more, the trick they did with the Red Sea? They did it again with the Jordan River! The river just stopped, and they walked across on dry land! And then get this: they set up camp and all the men gathered together and cut the tips of their penises off! I'm telling you, those guys serve a God who is powerful, and apparently friggin' batshit insane!
Seriously, these guys are being watched, I have no doubt, by people from all over the region who want to see what craziness they will do next. These are a people who, along with their God, mean some serious business, and everybody knows it.
This is an important prelude to the whole issue of Holy war, which we are about to start into, and get up to our necks in throughout this book. This bizarre behavior, this series of miraculous events, it's all a way to send a message to the people of Canaan. It's a message that unfortunately very few of them understood, like Rahab did. Time's up for you people, and you now have to choose from three options: repent, evacuate, or die. While it is not my intention at this time to yet delve into the morality of the book as a whole, I think one thing that should be noted is that those nations which came to be destroyed were all forewarned, and as we later see in the case of Nineveh, God spares those who repent.
With all the miraculous happenings that center around the Israelites, however, one might wonder at the sort of "anti-miracle" that occurred to them. Indeed, it took them 40 years to complete a journey that conceivably could have been done in ten days. Now there are various aspects to consider like the fact that with such a large group of people, travel is difficult; everyone is forced to go the speed of the slowest member of the group. Furthermore, one must remember that they had to make a pit stop to pick up the Law, which must have taken some time to write down. That's hardly enough to slow them by a year, much less forty.
I don't like to say things that will come across as insulting to Steve Wells, who strikes me as a very intelligent and dedicated individual for all the work he's done with the SAB, which as I have said, is really quite an impressive body of work that I actually admire. It's no secret that there are a lot of Christians who haven't put half the time into studying the Bible that he has. Still, there are occasional points in the SAB where I wonder what Wells is thinking. Why do the Israelites wander in the desert for forty years? Because God made them do it as a punishment. It's a pivotal moment in the story of the Exodus that you could hardly miss, (and Wells doesn't miss it, but puts the same note on that passage) and it seems it would be difficult to miss the meaning, either. It's neither absurd nor technically flawed that this should have happened; if any of the SAB's icons really should go there, it might be "Cruelty", but there are certainly worse punishments than having to walk around aimlessly for several years.
Another "anti-miracle" that happens in this chapter is that right after the crossing and circumcising, they celebrate the first Passover in Canaan, at which point God ceases to bring them manna, telling them that they have now moved in, and they will eat off of the land as inhabitants.