February 14, 2008

Joshua 12-15: Not your average retirement

Today's reading is Joshua 12-15 (read it in the KJV or NIV)

Today's passage covers a list of the defeated Canaanite kings; the lands still to be conquered; the division of the lands East of the Jordan (to Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh); the giving of Hebron to Caleb and his conquest of it; and the land allotment for Judah.

For those following along in the text, I recommend that for this essay and the next two, you find a good Bible atlas. That's because Josh. 13-21 is essentially a long list of land allotments. There are many lists of cities, intricate tracings of borders, and not a whole lot else. If you don't have a good map, this can be infuriating. I list a few Bible map websites at the bottom of this essay, but none of them are stellar.

Okay, that bit of administrativa out of the way, on to the text.

At this point, I doubt that any of my readers (unless they've followed along in the text and already read today's passage) are thinking about Caleb, son of Jephunneh. For the benefit of those who want to keep reading instead of finding a Bible-text search engine, Caleb was the only person other than Joshua who survived the wandering in the desert and entered the promised land.

Way back in Numbers 13-14, Caleb and Joshua were among the twelve scouts sent into Canaan to gather information in preparation for the imminent (at the time) war. All the other scouts reported that the cities were large, fortified, and inhabited by giants (children of Anak). They persuaded the Israelites that perhaps this invasion wasn't so great an idea after all. The only two who insisted that the Hebrews could conquer the land, since they had God on their side, were Joshua and Caleb.

It was the scouts' report that caused the Israelites to wander in the desert for forty years. All through it, Joshua served as Moses' right-hand man, and Caleb rose in the ranks among the Israelites, until he is named as one of the leading men of Judah in Num. 34:19.

It only seems fair, then, that when the Israelites finally finish most of their conquest, that Caleb asks for some recognition. He asks for more than recognition, in fact; he asks for a city.

In Josh. 14:10-15 and 15:13-20, Caleb comes into the picture again. He reminds Joshua of God's promise that Caleb would be allowed to possess the land he scouted, specifically Hebron and her subject-cities. Though this promise isn't actually recorded in the Pentateuch, Joshua doesn't quarrel with it. Instead he blesses Caleb and grants him Hebron.

Now, the Israelites' work in Canaan isn't done yet. Josh. 13:2-7 list a surprisingly large amount of land the Israelites have not yet conquered. And, while Hebron is listed in the roster of defeated kings in Josh. 12, it appears this listing might have been premature, because Caleb still needs to conquer it.

And conquer he does. Despite being 85 years old, Caleb says he is still strong and ready to make war. (Josh. 14:11) Caleb conquers the city and ousts the three giants (Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai) who were living there. (Josh. 15:14)

You would think this would be enough for a man well past middle age, but there is still more land to conquer. He brings his army to Debir, one of the nearby cities, and in a somewhat cliché move, offers his daughter's hand in marriage to the person who conquers it for him. In almost no time at all, Caleb's nephew Othniel takes the city, takes the girl, and settles down to what he hopes will be a peaceful life. (Josh. 15:15-17)

His new wife, Achsah, has other plans. Like many of the other women in the text, Achsah has perhaps more forethought than her husband. She realizes that Hebron is in the Negev, a desert without much rain. Instead of settling for what she already has, she asks her father, Caleb, for springs of water, which he grants her. (Josh. 15:18-19)

In fact, this isn't the last we hear of Othniel: he is discussed in the book of Judges (chapter 3), but we'll get to that in due time.

In fact, this little portion of the book of Joshua encompasses many of the characteristics we've seen before: wholehearted devotion to God; faith in God causing a small force to beat a superior enemy; vigour in old age; honouring of promises; importance of family ties; and wily women. And, of course, it has fighting, which is also a quintessential theme of the Bible so far. It might not have the majesty of some of the other passages, but it nonetheless stands out in a long list of city allotments and border demarkations.

As I promised above, here is a list of some of the online maps I've been using as I've been reading through these chapters. None are fantastic, but taken together they're not bad. I also picked up The Macmillan Bible Atlas from the library today, which seems to be decent.
  • Biblemap.org – select the chapter and see the places listed in it. It's a bit glitchy, but still the most comprehensive online Bible map I've found to date.
  • Bible Maps -- a much simpler map, but easier to see the general areas of the tribes and some major cities, including Hebron and Debir
  • Bible-history.com -- another simple map, this one with the borders of the tribes (at least one interpretation thereof) drawn in
  • Biblestudy.org -- a nice colour map with more detail than the two previous ones

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