Joshua, the sixth book of the Bible, is fraught with controversy and debate. It is most well-known for the detailed look at the genocide of the Canaanites at the hand of Israel by the command of God. While this event is monumentously important to understanding both the work of Israel and the character of God, focusing exclusively on those passages makes us miss some of the bigger pictures the book has to offer.
Creation and Exodus
Joshua is the story of conquest, but a conquest modeled on the Exodus and on the Creation accounts. In the beginning, God created by his word and tamed the chaotic waters of the void, giving it form. Then he called Abraham to be a father to his people, and from those people came Israel. Israel, oppressed in Egypt, escaped from slavery by crossing the Red Sea into the wilderness. Joshua shows us the other side, where the exodus was building up and the conquest is coming down in reverse.
Israel comes out of the wilderness and reaches a body of water, the Jordan. Jordan, according to Robert Alter, comes from the Hebrew meaning “come down”. The Jordan comes from the top of a mountain to flow down, watering the whole world. This is reminiscent of the work of Adam who was supposed to water the world by extending the four rivers that flowed out of Eden. This is strengthened by the connection to Deuteronomy 11: the word “land” is used four times, signifying that the land of Canaan was a new resurrection land, because the eighth day is the day of resurrection. The land is watered “from above” in contrast to Egypt who was watered from below, the Nile. Egypt is also flat, whereas Canaan is hilly: the land is structured to water itself. The problem is that the land is inhabited by seven different people groups, a people of anti-creation. These people forbid the land from having rest, so they must be removed.
So, the Exodus starts in reverse. Israel reaches the Jordan and crosses over on dry land with the priests in front. This time, there are no Egyptians travelling with them, but everyone has been circumcised into Israel. It is on the other side of the river that they add foreigners to their camp when Rahab and her family leave Canaan and join the one true God. After they Cross, Rahab is spared by a scarlet cord just like Israel’s first born were saved by the blood on their door posts. After Rahab is spared, the Destroyer Incarnate comes when Israel kills everybody in the land.
Then, creation in reverse. Just as the seven people in the land prevent it from resting, Joshua must institute a new creation to drive them out. The destruction of Jericho takes place in seven days. On the seventh day, usually a Sabbath day, the walls come crumbling down because of the voice of Israel just as the world was created by the voice of God. There are actually four groups of seven in Joshua 6: seven priests, seven ram’s horns, seventh day, and seven times. Four is the number of the whole world, so this is a world wide new creation because the land is a microcosm of the whole of creation. The destruction of Jericho is the opening salvo in the effort to finally give the land rest from its inhabitants, so it is appropriate to find it in the seventh day position.
Then we find ourselves back in the Garden, driving a line between who is in and who is out. Rahab wants to join Israel and become part of the Bride-Daughter of Yahweh just as Eve was to cleave to her husband and submit to him. Aachen becomes a serpentine force who causes Adamic Israel to lose their battle against the serpentine Canaanites. Israel then wages holy war against Aachen, pelting him with stones, burning him with fire, and pelting him with stones. Adamic Israel, with its true bride found and serpents removed, can return to the herem holy war.
Symbolism of Conquest
I also wonder about some of the symbolism that we find in the book of Joshua. The text is very clear that when the nation crosses the Jordan, they cross on dry land and their feet never touch water. If feet stand for dominion as they do in I Corinthians 15 and Isaiah 66, then it shows that the Israelites, through the help of God, would have dominion over the land. Biblically, land is a symbol for Israel and the sea is a symbol for Gentiles, so it shows that they will have dominion over the land as long as the foreign nations are driven away from them.
Israel also laid down twelve stones symbolizing Israel. While Israel crossed the Jordan, they were free from water/Gentiles. But soon, the water would rush back in and cover them. The text notes that the stones are still there, so they must be visible. It might be a sign that God has blessed Israel, and the nation will somehow still stand despite Gentile oppression. The crossing of the Jordan then would be a prophetic opening to the entirety of the so-called Deuteronomistic History, from the Conquest of the Land to the “resurrection” of Jehoichin in 2 Kings 25, a still visible rock of Israel.
This could also be linked to the time that Jesus walks on water. His walking on water might show his dominion over the land/Israel and the sea/Gentiles. In the Synoptics, he walks on water after feeding the 5,000. He feeds them fish and bread, symbols for Gentiles and Israel respectively, so he unites them in their stomachs. Then he walks on water, possibly showing that he has dominion over both because they are both “under his feet”. This story is followed by a healing in “the Garden of the Prince” where disciples are called (Luke 5:1). In John, the story takes place as Jesus talks about being the manna from heaven and how God even calls Gentiles into his kingdom.
Benjamin, Judah, and Jerusalem
Just like the genealogies, people pass the land allotments in Joshua to their peril (and miss some of the prophetic ways Joshua points to the inaugurated Kingdom of God). It was curious in Joshua 18 that the land of Jerusalem was given to the Benjamites before it went to Judah. Obviously, Jerusalem became Judahite land at some point during the monarchy (when David finally captured it from the Jebusites), but I think I’ve always thought it always began in Judah’s hands. I think the key is understanding that as the beginning of Joshua is a reverse of the Creation-Exodus movement, it is also the beginning of another reversal, from a Judahite king to a Benjamite prophet.
When Jerusalem was Benjamin’s land, the Jebusites were still living in the land because Benjamin was not able to rid themselves of the Canaanites completely. When David took over the land and transferred possession to Judah, it was because he was able to remove every Canaanite from the land and put it solely in Israel’s control. The monarchy was firmly established in Jerusalem when the Gentiles were out.
Later, in the Apostolic Age, we see this reversed. Just as Joshua was the back-end of a chiasm with the Creation and Exodus, it is the beginning of another chiasm with the creation of the Church-Kingdom.
David, before being anointed king, is chased into exile by Saul. After he returns from the exile, he becomes king before being chased into exile again by his son, Absalom. Jesus becomes king in the same way that David did: he is exiled away from his people and away from the world when he dies, but he is resurrected and takes the kingdom firmly under his control. Jesus, a Judahite king, firmly establishes the monarchy in Jerusalem (a new Jerusalem, waiting for her groom according to St. John’s Revelation) when he is resurrected from the grave and the Church is built from his side.
Then, the kingdom is in a way handed to Paul to expand. It is easy to note that Acts is a New Testament parallel with Joshua as it records the conquest of the Church. For example, Paul being lowered out of the city wall by a basket reminds us of Rahab hiding the spies and helping them escape from the wall. When Paul, the Benjamite, has control over Jerusalem, he integrates Gentiles back into holy Jerusalem rather than kicking them out. In that, the vision of Isaiah 56-66 is fully realized: just as Rahab, a Gentile, was made part of Israel and Aachen, an Israelite, was disbarred from the community, God will upset our expectations and his new kingdom conquest will shake up our expectations and scandalize us with who’s in. No longer are Jew and Gentile called to be separated from each other, but both will be united under King Jesus to be separated from the rest of the world.