Sunday, November 30, 2008
Bible Study: The Book of Joshua!
Our text today is from the Book of Joshua:
Yahweh drove them headlong before Israel, defeating them completely at Gibeon; furthermore, he pursued them toward the descent of Beth-horon and harassed them as far as Azekah, and as far as Makkedah. And as they fled from Israel down the descent of Beth-horon, Yahweh hurled huge hailstones from heaven on them all the way to Azekah, which killed them. More of them died under the hailstones than at the edge of Israel's sword. Then Joshua spoke to Yahweh, the same day that Yahweh delivered the Ammonites to the Israelites. Joshua declaimed:
"Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and moon, you also, over the Vale of Aijalon."
And the sun stood still, and the moon halted,
till the people had vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of the Just? The sun stood still in the middle of the sky and delayed its setting for almost a whole day. There was never a day like that, before or since, when Yahweh obeyed the voice of a man, for Yahweh was fighting for Israel. Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, returned to the camp at Gilgal.
That's from the famous Chapter 10 of Joshua, famous for that bit about the sun refusing to set until the Israelites had had time to take vengeance on their enemies. The kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon have all marched with their armies against the city of Gibeon, which has just made a separate peace with Joshua, conqueror-king of the Israelites. Gibeon sends word to Joshua at Gilgal, begging him to come lift the siege.
Joshua is the most terrifying figure in the Jewish Bible. It's not just that he's grizzled with experience (he'd been a lieutenant of Moses, legendarily one of only two who were always steadfast in their bravery), although that's a part of it. And it's not just that he has the ear of Yahweh, clearly the most terrifying deity in Palestine (clear, that is, to everybody from random Canaanite prostitutes to most - though, obviously, not all - kings). It's that for one of the only times in the Old Testament, Yahweh has found a human who's a, God help us, kindred spirit.
Yahweh is as powerful as the gods of Olympus, but He has none of their counter-balancing sensuality. Nor does He have the grubby mundanity of the Norse deities. And the bizarre grace of those characters in the Mahabharata? Forget about it - that's the last thing Yahweh is. He's created this gigantic sandbox-world, and He's watched it populate with all kinds of people, and He's chosen one group of them to champion against all comers (sometimes - on alternate Tuesdays, those hailstones could easily have been pelting the Israelites). But he's a bit, shall we say, extreme.
In Joshua, he's found his Facebook soulmate. Because Joshua is a homicidal psychopath. When he catches the league of five kings by surprise (an odd thing for him to need to do, since Yahweh already told him he'd win - but then, Yahweh helps those who help themselves. Sometimes.) and puts them to flight (that bit about Yahweh throwing the gigantic hailstones is one of the only times anywhere in the Bible where any kind of specific physical action is attributed to Him)(He's more a remote-control kind of catastrophizer), he doesn't want to subdue them or teach them a lesson or even ransom them.
So they hole up in a cave, the five of them, and when Joshua's done slaughtering their armies (mention is made of only a few straggling survivors), he has them dragged out from their cave, he kills them (there's the strong implication that he does it personally), he hangs their bodies on trees for the afternoon, and then he tosses their remains back into the cave and seals it up with big rocks (we're told those rocks are still there to this day - the Book of Joshua often goes out of its way to assure us that its events can be independently verified - notice that allusion above to The Book of the Just, now lost).
And that's the end of that - or so you'd think! But no! You see, Joshua has one problem with the rest of Palestine: it still has people in it. Not just conspiring kings, and not just their armies, and not just able-bodied (and presumably grumbling) men - it still has anybody living in it. That irritates Joshua, as it would irritate any homicidal psychopath.
Unlike most homicidal psychopaths, however (cases like Joshua and Brigham Young are rare), Joshua had the full and fervent backing of a bloodthirsty god. That's the sort of thing that gets you results.
The rest of Chapter 10 is a record of those results. Joshua led his army into Makkedah and killed every single person living there. Then Joshua led his army to Libnah and killed every single person living there. Then Joshua led his army to Lachish and killed every single person living there. Then Joshua led his army to Gezer and killed every single person living there. Then Joshua led his army to Eglon and killed every single person living there. Then Joshua led his army to Hebron and killed every single person living there. Then Joshua led his army to Debir and killed every single person living there. We get a wide-angle view:
Thus Joshua subdued the whole land: the highlands, the Negeb, the lowlands, the hillsides, and all the kings in them. He left not a man alive and delivered every single soul over to the ban, as Yahweh the God of Israel had commanded. Joshua conquered them from Kedesh-barnea to Gaza, and the whole region from Goshen as far as Gibeon. All these kings and their kingdoms Joshua mastered in one campaign, because Yahweh the God of Israel fought for Israel. And then Joshua, and all Israel with him, returned to the camp at Gilgal.
And plenty tired they were, no doubt. Systematic genocide, as any Nazi could tell you, is thirsty work.