February 20, 2008

Joshua 19-21: Tying up loose ends

Today's reading is Joshua 19-21 (read it in the KJV or NIV)

Today's passage covers the land allotments for the rest of the tribes and for Joshua; a list of the cities of refuge; and a list of the towns given to the Levites.

By the end of Josh. 21, it seems like all the i's have been dotted and t's crossed. Canaan has been conquered, its people put to death, and its lands allotted to the various Israelite tribes. I'm not just saying this because I noticed it, either, but rather because the text specifically tells us.

Josh. 21:43-45 puts a final coda on all the work that's been done in Canaan to date (though, in the traditional Biblical sense of timing, there remains another three chapters in the book). I quote from the KJV:
43. And the LORD gave unto Israel all the lands which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.
44. And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.
45. There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken until the house of Israel; all came to pass.

Joshua has mostly been a book of tying up loose ends, since Deuteronomy left us with a cliff-hanger. At the end of Deuteronomy, the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan and possess the lands of their forefathers. God had promised them this land for centuries. In fact, the Israelites under Joshua's command -- all of them born during the desert wanderings -- probably had huge expectations placed upon them by their parents, who had escaped Egypt but were forbidden from entering Canaan. No doubt they had been primed for this conquest since birth.

Joshua (the man, not the book) ties up Moses' loose ends in much the same way as the book of Joshua ties up the loose ends left by the book of Deuteronomy. As we may recall from Num. 20, Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land, despite his obedience to God for most of his life. Instead, he died and was buried in Deut. 34, leaving Joshua in command of the populace. The text reminds us that there was never been another prophet like Moses, leaving Joshua with some very large shoes to fill. And, in his own way, he does what he can.

Whereas Moses set up the conquest of Israel, Joshua led the armies in conquest. While Moses established the rules for the cities of refuge, Joshua named which cities they would be. (Josh. 20:7-9) While Moses said that the Levites would receive towns among all the people instead of their own land allotment, Joshua established them. (Josh. 21) In short, Joshua was the one who did Moses' dirty work. Moses promised, Joshua delivered.

Thus, by the end of Joshua 21, everything Moses promised, Joshua put into place. Nothing was left undone except for the eastern tribes to return home and immediately be accused of idolatry, but that's the subject for our next essay.

You all get off easy today, because today's readings conclude some of the most boring chapters I've read so far. Things will pick up starting next time. Promise.

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