The Republication of the Covenant
Our previous study led us to the wilderness side of the Jordan, with the children of Israel preparing to enter into the land. It is at this point that the book of Deuteronomy fits in. The book of Deuteronomy consists of a series of sermons in which Moses declares the covenant to the children of Israel, just before they are to enter into the Promised Land. The generation that was brought up out of Egypt has perished in the wilderness, leaving a young nation poised to enter and to take possession of the land.
In chapters 1 and 2, Moses recounts the story of Israel since Sinai. He speaks of the breakdown of the covenant at Kadesh Barnea, where the spies brought back an evil report and the people refused to enter into the land. The consequence of this was thirty-eight more years of wandering in the wilderness (2:14). In Deuteronomy 2, we see that Israel was expressly forbidden from meddling with certain peoples or taking their land, as YHWH had granted it to them (vv.4-5, 9, 19). Once again, we can see that YHWH is concerned with nations beyond Israel and that Israel is not the only actor in the sacred drama.
Moses warns the Israelites about idolatry, reminding them that YHWH is a jealous god. The Sinai covenant is reissued in a fuller form in the book of Deuteronomy. The Ten Words of the covenant are repeated in Deuteronomy 5:5-21. Much of the rest of the book of Deuteronomy unpacks the details of the covenant, encapsulated in the Ten Words, in more detail. There is a good case to be made that the order of the material in the book is loosely classified under the headings of the Ten Words. The book of Deuteronomy articulates the spirit of the Ten Words of the covenant, relating the commands to moral themes (John Walton).
The broader implications and applications of the commands are articulated, in a manner that reveals that the covenant is not about legalistic law-keeping, but about a spirit that must suffuse all of Israel’s actions. In such a manner, the scope of the covenant law is revealed to be very expansive. So, for instance, the command to honour one’s parents is shown to have wider application to the way that authority figures in general are treated, the need to obey and to provide for them (Deuteronomy 16:18—18:22). This is the point at which Moses prophesies concerning a Prophet like him who is yet to come (18:15-19). The purpose of the covenant was to form a faithful people, a people who would be perfectly responsive to the Spirit of YHWH. The law, however, failed in this respect.
When Moses’ declaration of the republished covenant had been completed witnesses, blessings and curses, and provision for succession were established. On Mount Ebal the Israelites were to set up an altar of stones, with all of the words of the Law written upon them clearly. This altar would serve as a memorial of the covenant to YHWH and to the people. From Mount Gerizim, all of the blessings of the Law were to be declared over the land and the people by the tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh), and Benjamin. From Mount Ebal, all of the curses of the Law were to be declared by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. The curses particularly related to sins committed in secret. Chapter 28 details the blessings and curses of the covenant.
In the chapters that follow, the covenant is renewed with the next generation, who speak on behalf of generations yet to come. Moses prophesies concerning the future of Israel. When the blessings and the curses have come upon Israel, Israel will be driven out and scattered among all of the nations (30:1). If they return to YHWH at that point with their whole hearts, YHWH will restore them to himself, have compassion upon them, and bring them back to the land. He will circumcise their hearts and those of their descendants to follow him and they will enjoy life in fellowship with him (v.6). He declares that the Law is not hard to keep, nor some Herculean task and quest for an epic hero to pursue and accomplish, but that it is very near to them, in their mouths and hearts, to do it (vv.11-14). Moses sets before them life and death, blessings and curses, and heaven and earth are summoned as witnesses against them (v.19) and calls them to choose life.
Moses then establishes ways in which the covenant order will be passed on. Joshua is appointed as the new leader of the people (31:18). A ceremony to read the entire Law in the presence of the people is instituted for every seventh year, the year of release, at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles (vv.9-13). In this way, the whole body of the people would be reminded of the covenant document, of YHWH’s acts towards them, their standing before him, and of their duties to YHWH. Finally, he gives them a memorial song, like the earlier Song of the Sea. The Israelites were to learn the words of this song and it would serve as a divine witness against them in the future (v.19). The Song begins by speaking of the name and character of YHWH (32:3-4), before outlining the history of the covenant and the rebellion of Israel. The Song then details the judgments of YHWH that follow after rebellion. The Song ends on a positive note, as YHWH promises to avenge the blood of his servants, to provide atonement for his land and people, and that the Gentiles will be blessed with the Israelites at this point (v.43).
The book of Deuteronomy concludes with Moses’ last will and testament, as he prophetically blesses each of the tribes of Israel, much as Jacob had in Genesis 49. In chapter 34, Moses is brought up to the top of Mount Nebo, from which he is shown the expanse of the Promised Land by YHWH, much as YHWH had shown Abram the land promised to his descendants in Genesis 13:14-15, after Lot had separated from him. Moses then died and his body was not to be found, but was buried by YHWH in a valley in the land of Moab (34:6). Moses dies at the age of 120, his life split into three periods of forty years each: forty years of youth in Egypt, forty years as a stranger in Midian, and forty years of Exodus and wilderness wanderings.
Like Jacob, Moses is a new patriarch, the father of the nation, in whom the entire people find their origins. As the great mediator of the covenant, he blesses his successors and gives the covenant over to their administration. Joshua is like Moses’ firstborn son. In Numbers 13:16, we see that it was Moses who first named Joshua: Joshua’s name had formerly been Hoshea. Perhaps, just as Moses was appointed to be as God to Aaron (Exodus 4:16), so he is as YHWH was to the patriarchs Abram and Jacob, giving them new names.
Joshua, who had been Moses’ deacon throughout the Exodus period (cf. Exodus 24:13; 32:17; 33:11) inherits the Spirit of Moses, the firstborn portion, a greater measure than that of the seventy elders of Numbers 11. Joshua, along with Caleb, was the only person who had been an adult witness to all of the events of the Exodus, as all of the rest of those who originally left Egypt had been eighteen or younger at the time or had since perished. Also, as Moses’ assistant, Joshua had seen things that no other person save Moses had seen and been privy to information and events that few others had.
The fact that Joshua’s succession from Moses occurs on the far side of the Jordan and is demonstrated in a water crossing – as we shall soon see – is one that is significant, especially when viewed in the light of later biblical narratives. Elisha succeeds Elijah and Jesus succeeds John the Baptist in the same place and a similar manner. Both receive the Spirit at that place and have a miraculous water crossing (I have commented on this pattern elsewhere).
The beginning of the story of the book of Joshua serves as the counterpart to the earlier story of the Exodus and the events involved should be closely related. The Red Sea crossing and the crossing of the River Jordan are very similar events. We have already remarked on the parallels between the wilderness experience prior to the crossing of the Red Sea and the wilderness experience prior to the crossing of the Jordan. In many respects, they should be understood as two stages of a single movement and unsurprisingly, we find them spoken of in extremely close relation elsewhere in Scripture. Isaiah 63:11-14 speaks of the Red Sea crossing as if as of an event that comprehends the entire wilderness experience: leading Israel through the ‘deep’ is directly related to leading them through the ‘wilderness’. Psalm 114 also holds the two events together in a parallelism, the two crossing bracketing the entire transitional period of the wilderness wanderings. Psalm 74:13-15 is a further example of such a close relationship.
James Nohrnberg writes:
The wilderness period itself is an expanded threshold between two spaces, a threshold that has widened to become itself a space, with two thresholds of its own. These are the thresholds marked by one generation’s going out (out to the wilderness), and another generation’s going in (out of the wilderness into the promised land). The momentum across such a threshold space might constitute a single momentum, as the parallelism of Psalm 106:9 allows: “He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it was dried up: so he led them through the depths, as through the wilderness.” This condenses the buffer space into an abridgment of chaos. Instead, the narrative offers various objections to such an advance, whether these are generated by considerations of military strategy, or by hesitations upon the threshold which are punished by wandering or abiding there. In some way Israel was qualified for the promised land by the wilderness, either penally, or through probation and trial, or by preliminary service to God.
The close relationship between the departure from Egypt and the entry into the land at the beginning of the book of Joshua can further be seen in the way that all of the major themes of the earlier Exodus period are repeated or resolved there.
The Jordan crossing completes the movement begun by the Red Sea crossing. The manna provided after the Red Sea crossing (Exodus 16) ceases when they first eat of the fruits of the land (Joshua 5:12). The memorial stones of Joshua 4 may correspond to the pillar of cloud and fire placed between the Israelites and the Egyptians. In Joshua 5 the Israelites are circumcised and celebrate the Passover, as in Exodus 12. Finally, in 5:13-15, Joshua meets the Commander of the army of YHWH and has to remove the sandals from his feet, corresponding to Moses’s first encounter with the Angel of YHWH in Exodus 3:2-5 or in the later coming of the Angel to judge Egypt. Just as the Angel of YHWH had plagued Egypt with Moses and Aaron in Exodus before the crossing of the Red Sea, so Israel, now formed into the host of YHWH and the bearers of his battle chariot, would plague the Canaanites, after the crossing of the Jordan.
Peter Leithart writes:
[I]t is not surprising that the events of Joshua 1-6 closely parallel Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Since the conquest completes the exodus (cf. Exodus 15:14-18), it is fitting that the entry into the land is larded over with Passover-Exodus allusions. In chapter 3, the Jordan parts and Israel crosses on dry ground; then the Israelite men are circumcised and they celebrate Passover, which is immediately followed by the destruction of the city and the deliverance of Rahab’s house. The exodus followed this pattern: Destruction of Egypt, Passover, Water crossing. Now the entry into the land chiastically reverses the sequence: Water crossing, Passover, Destruction of Jericho. (The two spies who enter a house in a doomed city also reminds us of the two angels visiting Sodom and delivering Lot’s house; Jericho is both Sodom and Egypt, cf. Rev. 11:8. Closer to home, they parallel Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh.)
In this way, the two accounts are bound together as an integral whole, inseparable stages of a single unified movement. We shall now look at some of the exodus themes that occur at the beginning of Joshua in more detail.
Rahab the Harlot
Joshua sends out two men to spy out the land and especially the city of Jericho (Joshua 2:1). The fact that we encounter the story of Rahab at the beginning of the book of Joshua and the conquest of Canaan isn’t accidental. If we have been paying attention to this point, we should notice a number of exodus themes that should be very familiar to us.
The book of Exodus begins, not with the great Exodus, but with the deliverance and exodus of the young Moses. In that story, it is courageous and faithful women who occupy centre stage. The Hebrew midwives deceive Pharaoh and deliver the Hebrew infant boys. Jochebed makes an ark for Moses and hides him among the reeds. Miriam looks from a distance to see what will happen. The daughter of Pharaoh knowingly adopts a baby Hebrew boy, even though her father wishes to destroy them all. In the first stage of his story, the vulnerable Moses is protected by courageous and cunning women who are prepared to deceive the tyrant Pharaoh to guard his life.
Rahab repeats this pattern of behaviour at the start of the Conquest. She uses plants to hide the vulnerable spies, much as Jochebed hides the infant Moses and then constructs an ark of bulrushes, which she places among the reeds. Like the Hebrew midwives, Rahab lies to the king and men of Jericho, a new Eve deceiving the serpent. Like Pharaoh’s daughter, she is a faithful Gentile who protects the people of YHWH, against the commands of her rulers. The spies finally flee, as Moses did from Egypt, ending up at the mountain. They later return and, at their second visitation, bring destruction to the city.
Rahab’s house functions as a place of refuge, much as the house of Lot did in Sodom, or the houses of the Israelites did at the Passover. There are a number of further parallels with the story of Lot and Sodom. Two messengers come to inspect both of the condemned cities of Sodom and Jericho (Genesis 19:1; Joshua 2:1), in preparation for the great judgment that will come after them. Both are threatened by the people of the city and are hidden and protected in a house of refuge. Both Lot and Rahab are told to get all of the people of their households together, so that they may all be saved (Genesis 19:12; Joshua 2:18). In both of the stories there is an instruction given to flee to the mountain (Genesis 19:17; Joshua 2:16). In both of the stories, one person and all those who joined themselves to them are saved, while the city is utterly destroyed.
I have already commented on the Passover themes in the story of Sodom. We find a similar collection of Passover themes in the story of Rahab. The gathering of the household together within a safe house and the stress upon the themes of the door and blood (Joshua 2:19) are both present. Rahab is instructed to place a scarlet cord in the window of her house (v.18), a cord that relates to the rope by which the spies escaped in their ‘exodus’ from the city to the mountain. This scarlet cord relates to the blood on the doorposts of the houses at Passover and is connected with blood and bloodguiltiness (vv.18-19). When the Israelites – YHWH’s angels of death – saw this, they would pass over Rahab’s house and all within it. Leithart observes some further parallels here.
In the story of Rahab we see a Gentile declaring her fear of and faith in YHWH. An oath is sworn to her and she is yet another Gentile who is blessed as she blesses the seed of Abraham. She identifies with the people of YHWH and so is delivered from the judgment to come. This serves to make clear that it was possible for Canaanites to convert and join Israel and thus to be saved from the condemnation that they were under. In this exodus experience, Rahab is conformed to the people that she was to become one of.
The Jordan Crossing
In chapter 3, Israel crosses the Jordan. The children of Israel are prepared for the crossing in a manner reminiscent of the preparation for the Sinai theophany, with a period of sanctification before YHWH does his wonders among them. While the Red Sea crossing involved Moses stretching out his rod and a wind dividing the sea, here Joshua gives the instructions and the people were led through the waters by the Ark of the Covenant. Twelve men representing the tribes are also given a task. The water is cut off upstream and stands in a heap (v.13). A ‘membering’ of Moses’s authority might be occurring here, as the officers and the priests play a key role, rather than all taking place through the solitary agency of the rod-bearing Moses.
The Ark of the Covenant represents YHWH’s throne chariot, borne on the backs of the living creatures, the Kohathites (the Levites charged with carrying the furniture of the tabernacle) and the priests. It is a tabernacle in miniature, covered with the veil and with a further covering of badgers’ skin, like the tabernacle itself (Numbers 4:5-6; cf. Exodus 36:19). The chariots of Pharaoh were unable to pass through the Red Sea, but were drowned in its depths. However, they, as the chariot of YHWH, pass through the Jordan to conquer the land.
Twelve men, one from each of the tribes, are then instructed to take stones from the middle of the Jordan River, which are formed into a memorial at Gilgal (4:20). Just as the Red Sea crossing is memorialized in the Song of the Sea, so the Jordan crossing is memorialized in the establishment of this cairn. A further twelve stones are set up in the midst of the Jordan, where the priests who bore the Ark stood (v.9).
Through this crossing, Joshua was marked out as Moses’s true successor (v.14). Joshua is a leader like Moses, a fact from which his leadership derives much of its legitimacy. YHWH’s magnification of Joshua in the sight of Israel at this point parallels his magnification of Moses in the sight of Israel at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:31).
Circumcision, Passover, and the Angel
Entering into the land, the people are instructed to circumcise themselves again, as they hadn’t been circumcised in the wilderness (Joshua 5:2-9). This recalls the circumcision of Gershom in Exodus 4:24-26, who had not been circumcised in the land of Midian. Circumcision is required at this point because the wrath of YHWH is about to come upon the land and all flesh is about to be cut off (a connection that I have discussed before). Circumcision is a pre-emptive cutting off of the flesh, to save you from the great cutting off of the flesh to come. Abraham had to circumcise his family before the judgment on Sodom; Moses’ son had to be circumcised before the return to Egypt; circumcision was a prerequisite for the Passover deliverance in Egypt.
At Gilgal, on the plains of Jericho, Israel celebrates the Passover for the first time in the land (5:10). After Passover, they finally eat the produce of the land (v.11) and the manna ceases the next day. The cutting off of the old food and principle of life, here the manna, during the feast of Unleavened Bread is significant.
Having crossed over the River Jordan into the land, Joshua encounters a Man, who identifies himself as the Commander of the Army of YHWH (vv.13-15) and is revealed to be the theophanic Angel. This encounter is like Jacob’s wrestling with the Angel after crossing the Jabbok, a tributary of the Jordan. YHWH promised that his Angel would go before them into the land (Exodus 23:23; 32:34). While the Glory-Presence accompanied the children of Israel in their journey, the Angel was the vanguard, who went on ahead and brought YHWH’s fear. Joshua’s encounter with the Angel is also akin to Moses’ encounter with the Angel of YHWH as he returned to Egypt from Midian. The Angel waits at the borders of the land to visit it with destruction.
Joshua’s encounter with the Angel of YHWH assures him that the commander-in-chief of YHWH’s forces is personally present to lead them in the conquest of the land. This isn’t a battle that they are fighting on their own behalf or on their own initiative, but under his command and rule. It is YHWH’s war, not theirs. They are the messengers of death under the leadership of the great Messenger of the Covenant.
The conquest then begins with the complete destruction of Jericho. The city’s walls are destroyed through a sort of liturgy, which underlines the fact that it is YHWH who is the Great Warrior in their midst and that the battle is his. It is as they memorialize the covenant with trumpet blasts leading the Ark of the Covenant that Jericho is destroyed. Rahab and her household experience a Passover, but the rest of the population is put to the sword, dedicated to YHWH like the cities of the plain, its smoke sent up as an ascension to him. A further Passover theme might be present in the warning of the death of the firstborn of the man who seeks to rebuild the city (6:26).
In Deuteronomy and the beginning of Joshua, we find a great transition as a new generation is prepared on the banks of the Jordan. The covenant is republished and the people made aware of its deeper character. The foundation is laid for the future, as the worship cycles of Israel are appointed, covenant witnesses are established, Moses appoints a successor, and the later covenant history of Israel is foretold.
In the story of Rahab, the Jordan crossing, the Passover that follows, the encounter with the Commander of the Army of YHWH, and the destruction of Jericho several Exodus themes reappear and a new series of exodus-like events occur. The way that YHWH will bring Israel into the land of Canaan will be similar to the way that he brought them out of the land of Egypt. Just as he worked wonders in the land of the Egyptians, so he will give them victory over their enemies in Canaan.
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