Foreigners in the Old Testatment: An Exegesis of Joshua 10:1-15 [Part 3]


Introduction

1 As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction,doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 2 he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors. 3 So Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me and help me, and let us strike Gibeon. For it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” 5 Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it.

6 And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, “Do not relax your hand from your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered against us.” 7 So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. 8 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” 9 So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. 10 And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. 11 And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.

12 At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,

“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,

and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”

13  And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,

until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.

15 So Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.

In this pericope, Joshua is proven to be a faithful and powerful leader of Israel as he honors the peace treaty he had been tricked into signing with the Gibeonites. Yahweh affirms – and even submits to – his great leadership as he defeats the Amorite kings attacking the city of Gibeon.

Historical Context

The suzerain-vassal treaty was an alliance between two political leaders or groups that spanned a significant power differential. At its core, it was an oath made in the presence of state deities who guaranteed the fulfillment of the treaty with the promise of divine punishment for the offending party.[1] It created a master-servant relationship, where the master was obligated to provide protection. One important implication from this relationship was the vassal’s assumption of the suzerain’s enemies as its own.[2]

For nearly all Ancient Near Eastern societies, wars were “waged in an atmosphere of religion, as though the battlefields were temples.”[3] Before battle, kings were known to visit the temple of the deity for prayer to seek oracles and give sacrifices; doing all they could to gain divine assurance of victory.[4] During battle, a special relationship existed between the deity and the king’s weapons, which were seen as gifts from the deity placed in the king’s hands.[5] National gods were fully present during battle and fought for the king in such a way that the king’s actions were seen as “pale reflections” of the deity’s endeavors.[6]

Literary Context

This account of Israel’s battle to defend the city of Gibeon against the attack of Amorite kings is the third and final great victory after those at the cities of Jericho and Ai, which are “paradigmatic for all victories over the peoples of the land.”[7] In the two previous battles, Joshua is presented as an inconsistent leader. He diligently obeys Yahweh at Jericho and achieves great success. Then he charges headlong into Ai without consulting Yahweh and suffers an embarrassing defeat that leaves him in despair. After removing Achan’s sin, Joshua heeds Yahweh’s battle advice and routs the city of Ai. After this great victory, Joshua holds a covenant renewal ceremony to show his renewed faith and commitment to Yahweh.

However, Joshua stumbles again when he fails to consult Yahweh and is tricked into signing a peace treaty with the Gibeonites – a city of Hivites who were marked for destruction. After signing the treaty, the Gibeonites are attacked by Amorite kings and cry out to Joshua, who leads Israel’s army to complete victory with Yahweh’s assistance. After the battle at Gibeon, Joshua is seen developing new leaders with the same encouraging words Yahweh spoke to him. He completes a swift and comprehensive conquest of the land and follows Yahweh’s commands spoken to Moses.

Structure and Movement

This pericope is a narrative account of Israel’s defeat under Joshua of an alliance of five Amorite kings who had attacked Gibeon – Israel’s new vassal city. The plot is moved forward by the communication of five messages: (1) King Adoni-zedek’s hearing of Joshua’s great victories over Jericho and Ai and Gibeon’s peace treaty with Israel, (2) the king’s message to four allied Amorite kings ordering an attack on Gibeon, (3) the Gibeonites’ plea to Joshua for help, (4) Yahweh’s words of affirmation and assurance of victory to Joshua, and (5) Joshua’s poetic speech to Yahweh. The story is introduced by King Adoni-zedek’s fear of Gibeon and its alliance with Israel. The action escalates as the Amorite alliance gathers and attacks Gibeon. The main conflict arrives with the Gibeonites’ desperate cry to Joshua for help and rescue. The narrative climaxes when Joshua responds with boldness and immediacy and sets out to defend Gibeon with Yahweh’s encouragement and promise of victory.  The action is subdued as the Amorites come to their expected end – utter defeat and destruction at the hands of Israel and Yahweh. However, just as the story comes to an end, the narrator surprises the reader with an incredible detail: Yahweh heard Joshua’s request to the sun and moon and obeyed his direction. The reader is left with a sense of awe as Joshua returns to the Israelite camp at Gilgal.

Detailed Analysis

The pericope begins by introducing a crisis of leadership in the king of Jerusalem’s concern over his own city in light of Joshua’s violence against Jericho, Ai, and their kings. The king becomes “greatly frightened” at the idea of a Gibeon-Israel alliance. He acts out immediately to defend his territory by gathering an alliance of four Amorite kings to his south. According to suzerain-vassal conventions, Gibeon had become an enemy of the Amorites because Israel was their enemy. Two other Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, had already been defeated by Israel. The text condenses the actions of the Amorite kings as they gather, go up, and attack Gibeon in order to bring the reader to the real conflict: will Joshua uphold the peace treaty he had been tricked into signing?

The repeated, desperate appeals of Gibeonites’ create suspense. They exaggerate the extent of the attack by claiming that “all the kings of the Amorites” were attacking them. Joshua is now in the spotlight. Following the conquest narrative up to this point, the reader is not sure how Joshua will respond. The text moves immediately to his response, which comes immediately with no prior consultation of Yahweh. Joshua boldly decides to set out from the Israelite base at Gilgal with “all the fighting force with him, all the mighty warriors.” He does not send a mere expeditionary force; he commits the full military might of the nation in defense of the Gibeonites in order to honor the peace treaty between them.

While some of the tension is resolved with Joshua’s response, even more suspense is directed towards Yahweh’s response to Joshua’s unilateral decision. However, the text quickly resolves this tension by citing Yahweh’s approval. With renewed confidence, Joshua marches through the night to mount a surprise attack. The text goes out of its way to describe the extent of defeat and destruction of the Amorite armies by the Israelites. Yahweh is involved at every location of the battle providing support and resorting to a greater magnitude of lethal force than the Israelites.

An apparent insertion to the original narrative is found in verses 12-14. This insertion serves as a startling surprise as it reveals Joshua’s commands spoken to Yahweh, with all Israel listening, to stop the sun in order to prolong the day. Yahweh’s response to Joshua is so unexpected the narrator must repeat it: the sun was stopped – Yahweh had heard Joshua’s voice and had obeyed him.

Synthesis

In the final great battle recorded in Israel’s conquest narrative, Joshua’s leadership faces a final test after achieving equal measures of success and failure at Jericho and Ai. His leadership had once again failed him during his initial experience with the Gibeonites, which resulted in a binding peace treaty with a people Yahweh had marked for destruction. When Gibeon is threatened, Joshua’s bold and immediate response proves that he is a powerful and decisive leader who commands the armies of Israel to victory with Yahweh at his side. In this battle, Yahweh does not simply fight for Israel; the God of Israel hears Joshua’s voice and follows his lead. When even Yahweh follows this man, how could anyone in Israel ever question his leadership? He moves on from this victory as a faithful and successful leader who completes the conquest and leads Israel into the Promised Land.

Reflection on behalf of Undocumented Immigrants

In this passage, Joshua’s identity as a mighty leader in battle and a faithful servant of Yahweh is thoroughly established. The doubts that had arisen from his past leadership blunders were completely erased. He would forever be known as the last faithful patriarch and worthy successor of the mighty prophet Moses. This victory was a life-altering moment for Joshua – even Yahweh recognized this and chose to follow his lead.

With the gravity of this story in mind, it is important to remember the circumstances that led to this event: Joshua was honoring a treaty he had been tricked into signing. It was illegitimate and it allowed the Gibeonites to “illegally” occupy a piece of the land promised to Israel. In choosing to uphold the obligations of the peace treaty, Joshua ignores the devious nature of the circumstances which led to Israel’s relationship with Gibeon and instead chooses to honor, maintain, and protect the relationship they have established.

A note on the nature of this relationship is pertinent. As stated previously, it was common for the vassal in a suzerain-vassal relationship to be considered as a servant to the suzerain. From a contemporary perspective, the Gibeonites’ status as Israel’s laborers may seem abhorrent, but the text does not hold this view. The Gibeonites were being treated as they and the broader society of the time would have expected. Therefore, Joshua’s actions on the Gibeonites behalf should not be viewed as maintaining an oppressive or tyrannical rule over them.

As the church of the United States considers its posture towards those who illegally inhabit its nation, it would be wise to learn from the example of Joshua. The “illegitimate” residents of the US are under attack from a great alliance of powerful interests. Like Joshua, the church must overlook the “illegality” of immigration and consider how it might honor and protect those who are now making their home in its midst. Joshua’s example calls the church to immediate, bold, and decisive action to protect the lives of undocumented immigrants, especially the most weak and vulnerable among them. As the church moves out on this mission with the full force of its witness, it, like Joshua, will be encouraged to find Yahweh at its side – throwing its enemies into a panic and fighting for shared victory.


[1] Michael L. Barre, “Treaties in the ANE,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 6, ed. Freedman (NYC: Doubleday, 1992), 654.

[2] Barre, 655.

[3] Gwilym H. Jones, “The Concept of Holy War,” in The World of Ancient Israel: Sociological, Anthropological and Political Perspectives, ed. Clements (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 299.

[4] Jones, 300.

[5] Jones, 300.

[6] Jones, 300.

[7] L.D. Hawk, “Book of Joshua,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books, ed. Arnold et al. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 563.

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2 comments on “Foreigners in the Old Testatment: An Exegesis of Joshua 10:1-15 [Part 3]

  1. Clem Hollingsworth says:

    Joe, thanks for your comments on this passage, particularly in regard to your observations about Joshua’s inconsistency as a leader and your references to the literary structure of the passage under consideration. I am not convinced as to your application of the passage’s lessons to the church’s responsibility toward the undocumented. I do believe that compassion is required of us, but it would be a stretch to commit this passage to the values you outline.

    • joe d says:

      Clem,

      Thanks for your comment and thanks so much for reading! I’m curious to hear more on your objections. If we agree that the church is called to show compassion to the undocumented living amongst us, then how should the church define the limits of this compassion? In other words, by what criteria are you determining that my application goes too far beyond the call to compassion?

      If you’re interested, I actually wrote a sermon based on this exegesis with a slightly different application for a very different context (my local church vs. my old testament class). I’d be interested to hear your thoughts: https://love2justice.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/the-kingdom-beyond-borders-a-sermon/

      Joe

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