Now that we’re entering the first of what are called the “Historical” books of the Old Testament, let’s refresh ourselves on some basics of reading narratives.
First, pay attention to the dialogue, which is often used to move the plot forward and reveal characters’ motivations. Second, listen for repeated words, phrases, and themes, which reveal what’s important to the author.
Third, let the narratives do the driving. Listen for echoes of what we’ve already seen and heard, but keep future theological concerns in the background for as long as possible. Avoid the tendency to tease out a “moral” of each story. Try to discern what the author’s concerns were in telling the story, and in telling it as he did, and in excluding other material in favor of what we see.
We don’t have to get far into Joshua to find these principles at play. If you combine Deuteronomy 31 and Joshua 1, “Be strong and courageous” is repeated a half dozen times – each time addressed to Joshua – by Moses, by the LORD, and even by the people. What do you make of this?
Having read Numbers you’ll remember the importance of singling out the warriors from Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. You’ll also recognize the irony of their response when Joshua commissions them:
“And they answered Joshua, ‘All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you, as He was with Moses! Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.”
Chapter 2 presents a singular narrative when spies are sent to Jericho. There they stay in the house of a prostitute, Rahab, who hides them and lies to the king of Jericho about their whereabouts. This is the kind of story that elicits great Sunday School debates, and before you do so, pay attention to both the dialogue and the Biblical context.
First, we’ve seen this kind of truth-bending before, most prominently from the Hebrew midwives at the beginning of Exodus. As with most other narratives we’ve seen, the author doesn’t seem to proclaim any moral judgment on any of these characters. But Rahab herself makes a judgment – that she knows the LORD will give Jericho to Israel, and the spies make a decision about her and her family – that if she does not “tell this business” of theirs, they will “deal kindly and faithfully with her.”
Our verse for this week is Galatians 3:29: And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Joshua chapters 1 and 2. Now let’s read it!
And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.