The Land Is Not Silent

I’ve just published a post over on the Political Theology blog, on the subject of Joshua 24:1-18:

Water crossings play an especially important part in Joshua’s theological geography. The River Euphrates is referenced four times, the Jordan is mentioned twice, and two verses are devoted to recounting the crossing of the Red Sea (verses 6-7). The prominence of these rivers and bodies of water in Joshua’s account is noteworthy. Throughout Scripture the crossings of such water bodies represent transitions from one realm to another and from one existence or identity to another: the river is liminal, a place through which passage can be made from something old into something new.

The river or sea was a boundary and threshold. It was also an enduring testament to a historical passage into Israel’s current identity that had occurred. Israel’s entrance into Canaan through a series of water crossings was something of which they were always to be reminded as they regarded the bodies of water bordering and running through their land.

YHWH’s presence and dealing with Israel at the water crossings underlines this fact. He called them from the other side of the River Euphrates. He wrestled with their father Jacob and gave the people their name—Israel—at the Jabbok. He delivered them through the Red Sea. He brought them into the land through the Jordan. Through these water crossings, or washings, Israel was set apart to YHWH, a royal priesthood and a holy nation.

Read the whole piece here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Guest Post, Joshua, OT, Politics, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Land Is Not Silent

  1. David Reimer says:

    Hi Alastair – I bookmarked this post when you published it, as I was doing some Joshua work and knew I would want to come back to it. I’ve been looking more closely at Joshua 24 lately, and so the time has come! I appreciate your reading, and find the trajectory into contemporary theological political ethics (ethical political theology? or both, in an O’Donovanian way) both perceptive and helpful.

    There is one paragraph, however, that I’d like to nudge you on. I doubt if this affects your overall reading but, if you have the time and inclination, I’d be interested to know your reaction. Here’s the paragraph:

    Telling their history in such a manner, Joshua presents Israel’s situatedness in the land of Canaan to be a consequence of their journey into the knowledge of YHWH and dependent upon their continued faithfulness to him. On the far sides of the River Euphrates and the Red Sea, idolatry still beckons. If they are unfaithful the Canaanite nations could still rise up and choke the seed of Israel YHWH planted in the land. Neighboring and ancestrally related nations of Edom and Moab, who do not enjoy Israel’s covenant relationship with YHWH, alert Israel to the contingency of their privileged status.

    (I’ve put “blockquote” tags around that, so I’ll trust your CSS to distinguish it appropriately.)

    Three observations:

    (1) “Telling their history in such a manner, Joshua presents…” As 24:2 makes clear, Joshua speaks in a “prophetic” mode here: “Thus says the LORD…”, and what follows until v. 13 is in the first person (except for v. 7a, as it happens). This gives a different character, it seems to me, to vv. 2-13 than if they were “merely” a speech of Joshua’s. Does it make a difference to register that, as presented, these are in fact the words of the LORD (or, as one commentator puts it, God’s “autobiographical” account)?

    (2) “…to be a consequence of their journey into the knowledge of YHWH… But this isn’t how vv. 2-13 present it, nor does Joshua 23, which stands in a particular relationship with ch. 24. Rather, their “situatedness in the land of Canaan” is a consequence of the gift/grace of YHWH, not of their journey of a theological or geographical (or any other) kind. One can, of course, see that in chs. 2-12 of Joshua in particular. But, it seems to me, it is expressly not a part of chs. 23 and 24. Rather, the voice of the LORD (my #1) is attending to the acts of the LORD (this #2).

    (3) “If they are unfaithful the Canaanite nations could still rise up and choke the seed of Israel…” And for a third time, there is a more firmly “theocentric” aspect to Joshua 24, which does not present the Canaanites as the agents of destruction, but rather YHWH himself: that’s Joshua 24:20 –

    If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and [he will] do you harm and [he will] consume you, after having done you good. [esv]

    (Adding the “he will”s to reinforce the Hebrew inflection.)

    If there’s anything in these three obsverations, I don’t think together they alter the trajectory of your reading, so much as ratcheting up the stakes you so rightly point to at the end. In effect: THIS is what God has done, and THIS is what God can do — and obedience (“mere fidelity”, one might even say) is required for life to go on, an obedience which in light of all that God has should be a joy and a delight. (This also sets up Judges in quite a striking way, of course.)

    Thanks for the stimulus of your post. If you have any thoughts in reply, they would be gratefully received!

  2. David Reimer says:

    P.s. Sorry for the typos in the above! I thought I caught them before submitting: but the one that needs correction is in the penultimate paragraph, for “all that God has should be”, read “all that God has done should be”.

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