Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. (Joshua 6)

Joshua 6 is the first chapter of Joshua to have a lot of notes in the SAB, but the interesting thing about the chapter to me is something that doesn't appear in the notes, at least as of the time I write this. Perhaps this will be another response that will result in additional notes added to the SAB rather that existing notes taken away. We'll see.

First thing, and most obvious to anyone at all familiar with the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho is the manner in which the battle is to be conducted. I won't go into full detail, as one can easily read it and see, as the SAB points out, that it's an absurd matter of the Israelites repeatedly walking in a circle around the city. Yes, it's absurd, but once again, this is intended to be a miraculous battle, so that the victory can be clearly God's, and not the Israelites.

The thing that makes this odd even from a miraculous standpoint, however, is a handful of particular details. First of all, the Levites were to lead the march. What makes this odd is that most of the time, the Levites didn't even go to battle. When Moses takes a census to find out how many soldiers they have as they begin their journey, the Levites get skipped. I'm pretty sure that it's widely accepted that it was part and parcel of the whole concept that the Levites received no land in Canaan because they also were not required to fight for it. Here, not only do they participate, which is odd enough, but they lead the way. As a second point, which may be almost like a sub-point of the former, they lead the way while carrying the Ark of the Covenant, which is also very unusual. The Israelites got in trouble for trying to use the Ark in battle in 1Samuel 4, and lost it for a time. The command to carry the Ark into battle like this was peculiar to this specific battle, was was pretty much peculiar all around.

The third and last point I want to make about this battle is one that I'm surprised so few people seem to notice. From the first time I ever read the book of Joshua, it leaped right out at me. They march around the city once for six days, right? Verse three ends with, "Thus shalt thou do six days." Pretty much everywhere else in the Bible, a phrase like this would be immediately followed by a reminder of the sabbath, but here? "...the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets." Not only is God having them break the sabbath, but He's having them do the most work they've done all week! Now, of course, I don't know for sure that this last day was the sabbath, but the point still stands that certainly at least one of these days was a sabbath day spent marching and carrying the Ark, not your standard sabbath activity.

Oddly enough, I don't have anything to say about these points other than the fact that this battle plan, which was given to Joshua by God, seems very inconsistent with a lot of other scripture, even to the point of violating Mosaic Law, and I don't know why. I'm sure someone out there has an answer to this, but I don't personally. (I suspect the thing about the Levites and the Ark has to do with my point farther up in that it emphasizes God's role in the conquest of Jericho, but sabbath-breaking?)

(A side note of no particular value: When I was reading through this story on the SAB, it apparently was the first time I'd read it in the King James. I thought "rereward" must be a typo. Turns out it's an archaic term that means something like "rear guard", which is the term most modern translations use.)

I am at this point going to skip over the issues of violence, injustice and intolerance in this chapter, and I vow to make my next post the one where I finally address the issue of Holy war as a general topic for the whole book, and pretty much the Bible as a whole, as the topic comes up from time to time throughout the Old Testament. I'm not going to ignore the tough stuff, I just want to make sure I give it its due. There needs to be a whole post dedicated to the issue.

I will address the issue of what is "the accursed thing" mentioned here, although it's a discussion that might belong best in the next chapter. A lot of other translations make it clearer, and in the Hebrew, I think they use a word that is very clear despite being translated differently by the King James elsewhere. This thing that they are not supposed to touch is actually something that had been dedicated to the pagan gods of Jericho. It probably wasn't a specific thing, but just whatever might be found in the temple in that city. Food, livestock, incense, wooden idols, who knows? The only thing they could take would be items made of metal that would have to be melted down and remade into something else. Why was this important? Interestingly enough, it was related to the issue of Holy war. If the Israelites were to utterly destroy the people of Jericho and their culture and customs, then certainly any religious artifacts could not be spared.

After the city is destroyed, Joshua pronounces a curse on it. Now, as this curse comes from Joshua, and I am not sure whether or not he's considered a prophet in the usual sense, I don't know that this curse has any force behind it other than to scare off the people of his own day. There's no record here that God told anybody that the city should not be rebuilt, although He may have and it simply was not recorded. It appears to be simply Joshua saying something on his own. Nonetheless, I did notice that one of the other responders to the chapter has something to say about the matter that might be interesting. Unfortunately, the link doesn't work anymore, so I'm not sure what he's talking about. Maybe I'll follow it up.

Wish me luck for my next post. Or don't. As you wish.

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