Pentecost: We’re All Prophets Now

Moses heard the people crying throughout their clans, each at his tent’s entrance. The Lord was outraged, and Moses was upset. Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? And why haven’t I found favor in your eyes, for you have placed the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you would say to me, ‘Carry them at the breast, as a nurse carries an unweaned child,’ to the fertile land that you promised their ancestors? Where am I to get meat for all these people? They are crying before me and saying, ‘Give us meat, so we can eat.’ I can’t bear this people on my own. They’re too heavy for me. If you’re going to treat me like this, please kill me. If I’ve found favor in your eyes, then don’t let me endure this wretched situation.”

The Lord said to Moses, “Gather before me seventy men from Israel’s elders, whom you know as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the meeting tent, and let them stand there with you. Then I’ll descend and speak with you there. I’ll take some of the spirit that is on you and place it on them. Then they will carry the burden of the people with you so that you won’t bear it alone. To the people you will say, ‘Make yourselves holy for tomorrow; then you will eat meat, for you’ve cried in the Lord’s hearing, “Who will give us meat to eat? It was better for us in Egypt.” The Lord will give you meat, and you will eat. You won’t eat for just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month until it comes out of your nostrils and nauseates you. You’ve rejected the Lord who’s been with you and you have cried before him, saying, “Why did we leave Egypt?” ’”

Moses said, “The people I’m with are six hundred thousand on foot and you’re saying, ‘I will give them meat, and they will eat for a month.’ Can flocks and herds be found and slaughtered for them? Or can all the fish in the sea be found and caught for them?”

The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s power too weak? Now you will see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

So Moses went out and told the people the Lord’s words. He assembled seventy men from the people’s elders and placed them around the tent. The Lord descended in a cloud, spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and placed it on the seventy elders. When the spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but only this once. Two men had remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the second named Medad, and the spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they hadn’t gone out to the tent, so they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua, Nun’s son and Moses’ assistant since his youth, responded, “My master Moses, stop them!”

Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets with the Lord placing his spirit on them!

Numbers 11:10-29

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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.

Foreigners in the Old Testatment: Tracing the Foreigner from Joshua to Esther [Part 1]

Summary of the Foreigner in Joshua, Samuel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Esther

            In the book of Joshua, foreigners are overwhelmingly portrayed as obstacles to the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to Israel as inhabitants of the land of Canaan. In the first eleven chapters, the text presents multiple battles and wars between Joshua and the inhabitants of the land. These people and their cities were to be utterly destroyed. As a result, the inhabitants of the land were afraid of Israel. Joshua provides a good summary of Israel’s attitude towards the foreigner in 11:20: “For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated.” Joshua exhibits this attitude in chapter 10 when he personally executes five foreign kings before Israel.

The tone of Joshua’s message about the foreigner undergoes a change in the last twelve chapters. As it turns out, the inhabitants were not utterly destroyed and many Israelite tribes have foreigners living among them. In Joshua 11:18-20, Joshua warns Israel about intermarrying the “survivors of these nations left here among you” and calls them “a snare and a trap for [Israel], a scourge on your sides, and thorns in your eyes.” Israel is no longer called to utterly destroy the inhabitants of the land; they are now to drive them out. This task proved difficult due to the Canaanite military advancements, which made the Israelites afraid. While Joshua encourages Israel to drive out the foreigners, their presence in the land seems inevitable as the book comes to a close.

Two stories about foreigners do not conform to the pervasive enemy characterization that is presented throughout the book: Rahab and the Gibeonites. Interestingly, the characters in both of these stories fear the Israelites because they have heard of Yahweh’s mighty acts against the Egyptians and the Amelekites. They also believe that Yahweh has given the land of Canaan to the Israelites. However, these characters choose to respond to the Israelites in very different ways. Rahab lies to her own people in order to deal kindly with the Israelites and she is saved. The Gibeonites lie to the Israelites in order to save their own people. While they do become Israel’s laborers, they are also rescued by Israel from enemy attack. In both cases, the foreigners are not presented as enemies.

Like Joshua, the most common characterization of the foreigner in Samuel is that of Israel’s enemy. The Philistines attack Israel throughout the reigns of King Saul and King David. At most times, the Israelites are very afraid of them. At other times, the Philistines are afraid of Israel and of Yahweh’s presence in the ark. Other foreign kings are presented as ruthless and cruel. King Nahash of the Ammonites gouged out the eyes of his enemies and oppressed Israel. Even though Saul defeats him, Samuel later references his brutality as one of the motivating factors for the people’s desire for a king. The Amelekites are also presented as enemies and the Lord even commands Saul to devote them to destruction for their prior opposition towards Israel. Throughout Samuel, Israel’s enemies are referred to as “sinners” and “uncircumcised” and the Lord hands them over to Israel.

However, foreigner kings in Samuel are not just enemies – they are also political allies. King Achish of Gath, a Philistine city, becomes both a friend and ally of David. David goes to king as he flees from Saul and asks for a homestead. The king grants his request and soon after David is serving as the king’s mercenary. King Achish is not David’s only foreign political ally. He also sought the aid of the king of Moab, a former enemy routed by King Saul, to protect his parents from Saul’s wrath. Upon his defeat of the Jebusites in Jerusalem, David receives tribute from the King Hiram of Tyre – establishing an important alliance that would become very beneficial to the building of the temple in Jerusalem under King Solomon.

Samuel also tells the stories of three foreigners who came to David’s aid as he fled from Absalom. The first is Ittai the Gittite, who was placed in charge of one-third of David’s fighting men – which included several foreigners – after refusing to leave David’s side.  Second is Hushai the Archite. David sends him back to Absalom’s court to serve as his adviser and as a spy for David. Hushai’s counsel to Absalom saves David’s life. Finally, as David crosses the Jordan on his flight from Jerusalem, he is met by a group of three foreigners – Barzillai the Gileadite chief among them – that refresh him and his men with ample provisions. On his way back to Jerusalem after Absalom’s death, he meets again with Barzillai who escorts him across the Jordan. Barzillai is presented as a wealthy, powerful, and kind man.

Samuel also presents the foreigner as more righteous than Israel. The stories of Uriah the Hittite and Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the Hivite, are the best examples of righteous foreigners. Both of these characters were treated unjustly at the hands of King David. Uriah, who was unaware of all that David had done and would do, refused David’s pleas for him to sleep with his wife while the ark of the Lord and his fellow soldiers were still at battle. His refusal and subsequent arranged murder led the prophet Nathan to speak out against the king and call him to repentance. Rizpah, who was very much aware of the king’s injustice, cried out and mourned over the bodies of her sons that were left to rot in disgrace. The king is forced to hear her cries and give her sons an honorable burial. The Lord proves Rizpah’s righteousness by ending Israel’s famine after David buries her sons.

The text begins in Ezra by presenting King Cyrus of Persia as a sort of redeemer for Israel. He is obedient to the stirring of the Lord in his spirit and showers Israel with his blessings. He ends the captivity of Israel and seeks to restore the worship of Yahweh at the temple in Jerusalem. King Artaxerxes, a successor to Cyrus, is shown to be forgetful, slightly gullible, and overly concerned with maintaining his power in his letter of response to those who were opposing the temple construction. King Artaxerxes reappears in Nehemiah as gracious and understanding of Nehemiah’s concern for Jerusalem. He grants Nehemiah’s requests for a royal endorsement in order to guarantee safe passage and building supplies. King Darius is portrayed as a restorer of justice for the Israelites as he re-instates temple construction based on the decree of King Cyrus. Like Cyrus, he lends his full support to the construction of the temple and even asks for sacrifices and prayers to be offered at the temple on his behalf. Overall, the foreign kings of Persia enjoy a highly favorable image in the Ezra-Nehemiah text.

The people of the land, including the foreign governors and officials, foreign women, and foreign merchants, are presented as those who oppose reconstruction and cause the newly returned exiles to turn from God. They are first identified as adversaries, even though they seem eager to help with temple reconstruction since they worship Yahweh as well. However, their opposition is solidified when the leaders of Israel want no company with them and reject their offer to help. As a result, the people of the land go to great lengths to prevent the successful completion of the temple. In Nehemiah, two governors of the land – Sanballat and Tobiah – along with Geshem the Arab, quickly emerge as staunch opponents of wall construction. They make several attempts, some extremely hostile, to stop wall construction. However, the text reveals that Tobiah was well respected among many Israelite leaders, including the priest Eliashib, and due to marriages between his daughters and returned exiles. Both Ezra and Nehemiah express a deep sense of disgust over marriages with foreign women and force the Israelites to break off these marriages. Nehemiah also shows anger against foreign merchants selling on the Sabbath. He characterizes these foreign women and merchants as a pollution that must be removed from Israel’s presence.

A final group of foreigners is seen in the genealogy of Ezra and Nehemiah. Six hundred fifty-two people were allowed to return from exile even though they could not prove their Israelite family heritage. Three families of priests were also held in suspicion after their failure to find sufficient proof of their lineage. These priests were excluded, declared unclean, and prohibited from priestly practice until another priest could consult Urim and Thummim.

In Esther, the text presents the prominent foreign characters very negatively, while two supporting characters are seen in a positive light. King Ahasuerus is a main character and is shown to be exploitative, weak, self-centered, aloof, and easily persuaded by others. While he is shown respect throughout the story, the other characters – both foreign and Israelite – successfully manipulate and control his actions. Haman also figures prominently in the story and is presented as the angry enemy of the Jews, who resents them for their strange laws and wants them cruelly annihilated. He is motivated by jealousy and self-importance and is ultimately shown to be foolish and shameful. The foreign Queen Vashti plays a supporting role in the story as she refuses to be paraded for the king’s guests. Her blatant disobedience of authority strikes fear into the kings officials. Although she is punished by the king, her behavior is never viewed negatively by the text. The king’s eunuch Hathach appears to be friendly to Esther and serves obediently as her communicator with Mordecai. Finally, the text seems to imply that the foreign inhabitants of King Ahasuerus’ kingdom were not very happy with the Israelites. The text records that several thousand people hated the Israelites and were killed by them. Eventually, the foreign inhabitants come to fear the Israelites because of the great power held by Mordecai. The text attributes foreigners in Esther with very few redeeming qualities. The primary message of the text communicates a sense of distrust and hatred of foreigners that results in their destruction by the triumphant Israelites.

Does Joshua support religious violence (genocide)?

The three main emphases of Joshua – the possession of the land, obedience to the commands of Moses, annihilation of the peoples of the land – articulate conventional markers  of group identity: possession of territory, proper religious practice, ethnic separation. As the plot moves from beginning to end, each of these markers is affirmed (claims that Israel possessed the entire land, obeyed all the commands of Moses, obliterated all the peoples) and compromised (reports of unoccupied land, disobedience to the commands, remaining peoples), rendering each an unstable element of national identity. As the narrative reaches its conclusion, only the covenant, in which the people choose the God who has chosen them, is left as a defining characteristic. Understood in this way, Joshua does not legitimize religious and ethnic violence, but rather undercuts claims of divine sanctions for such agendas.

by L.D. Hawk from Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, published by InterVarsity Press.