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Joshua: Land, Law and Leadership
Video 6 of 6
At the very end of Chapter 8 we find the following covenant that took place with Yehoshua setting up the stones and having parts of the Torah written on in it as per the Torah commandment. Source number 5. At that time Joshua built an altar to the L-rd, the G-d of Israel on Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the L-rd had commanded the Israelites as is written in the book of the teaching of Moshe. This is exactly what the Torah commands in source number 6, where G-d tells Moshe Rabbeinu as soon as you have you crossed the Jordan into the land that the L-rd your G-d is giving you, you shall set up large stones. Coat them with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this teaching. Upon crossing the Jordan you shall set up these stones about which I charge you this day on Mount Ebal, and coat them with plaster.
So Yehoshua once again is fulfilling G-d's commandment. So when exactly did Yehoshua do this ceremony?
Abarbanel, Malbim and several others argue, well it happened at the end of Chapter 8, after the conquest of Jericho and after the conquest of Ai, this territory was now available and so this is exactly when it happened.
Rashi, following several Medrashic lines, however, notes that in source number 6 the Hebrew is; Ve'haya bayom asher ta'avru et hayarden. Which could be translated as when you have crossed or as soon as you have crossed, but it could literally mean, on the day that you have crossed the Jordan. Rashi assumes this must be, that that's what happened, and therefore the day that they crossed the Jordan is at the end of Chapter 4, prior to the battles against Jericho and Ai. Therefore they argue that the ceremony is out of chronological sequence.
Alternatively, Rabbi Yishmael in the Jerusalem Talmud suggests that actually this took place later, it was after the entire conquest and distribution of the land and then Yehoshua set up this ceremony. Regardless of who is more likely in terms of when did it happen, let's once again focus on the view that this chapter is out of chronological sequence. Why would it then be here?
One lesson that it teaches right off the bat is that observance of the Torah should be at the forefront of the conquest. Right after the Israelites sinned in the case of Achan at Ai, followed by their return to defeat Ai after the sin was eliminated, drives home the point that the way that Israelites can merit having the land of Israel is through success and observance of G-d's Torah. Sefer Yehoshua teaches this very lesson by including this story here, even if it took place at another point.
A contemporary scholar named L. Daniel Hawk in his commentary called Berit Olam on the Book of Joshua, suggests a further meaning in the sequence of Chapters 6, 7 and 8. Chapter 6 shows that Rachav, the Canaanite prostitute because she was faithful to the people of Israel, was treated as an Israelite. Achan, despite his very prestigious pedigree, by being descendant of the tribe of Judah, since he sinned, he was treated like a Canaanite. This teaches that the entire war against Canaan is an ethical, rather than an ethnic battle. It's not that Canaanites are bad and Israelites are good, but rather people who act as Canaanites are bad, and people who act as Israelites are good.
Chapter 8 then has the ceremony at Gerizim and Ebal, to teach exactly this point. If you look down to verse 33 in source 5; All Israel, stranger and citizen alike, whether elders, officials and magistrates, stood on either side of the Ark. Likewise, in verse 35; There was not a word of all that Moshe had commanded that Joshua failed to read in the presence of the entire assembly of Israel, including the women and children and the strangers who accompanied them.
Twice in this short passage we see that there were strangers - meaning people who were not ethnic Israelites but who had chosen to accept the Israelite vision. So this is an element teaching that people who act as Israelites belong and people who act as Canaanites, immorally, they are the problem. So Rachav was able to cross the line, Achan crossed the line the other way, and we see that there were groups of strangers who were able to be part of the people. So that teaches a very important element about what the conquest of Canaan was really all about; it was all about morality.
So far we've pointed out that the placement in Sefer Yehoshua of the ceremony at Har Ebal teaches us that the observance and acceptance of G-d's Torah should be at the forefront of the conquest. Even strangers, so long as they accepted the Torah, were included in this covenant. These themes come out when we understand what the covenant at Har Ebal was all about. There is a very strong link between this passage and the original Sinai revelation. Here the people are bringing burnt and wellbeing offerings - Olot and Shlamim - just as they did at Sinai. There are commandments that are engraved on stones, and there's the voice of the Torah coming from the tops of the mountain. Even though these ceremonies are clearly parallel, the obvious difference is that at Sinai it was G-d's voice and G-d engraved the Luchot, the Tablets, whereas here it's people who are engraving those stones and people who are teaching Torah from the mountain tops.
This once again highlights the theme that the people in the time of Yehoshua are re-accepting a Torah that already exists, and they also are far more active in the acceptance of the Torah than the previous generation.
We now turn to one last example and that is the covenant that Yehoshua has in Chapter 23 followed by 24. It seems from Chapter 23 when Yehoshua exhorts the people to be faithful that that should be enough. He says it at the end of his life - there are parallels between sources 8 and 9. Source 8 is where G-d encourages Yehoshua at the very beginning of the book; But you must be very strong and resolute, to observe faithfully all the teaching that my servant Moses had enjoined upon you. Do not deviate it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. At the end of his life Yehoshua now takes all the people together and he says almost the same thing to them; But be most resolute to observe faithfully all that is written in the book of the teaching of Moses, without ever deviating from it to the right or to the left. The book has come a complete circle, Yehoshua has brought a faithful nation into the land, they have conquered and distributed it and now the old Yehoshua bids farewell to his people, reminding them how important it is to be faithful to the Torah.
Everything sounds great, until you get to Chapter 24, and then Yehoshua hauls the entire nation over to Shechem and has another covenant. Where he says, you know, your ancestors were idolaters, but then Avraham Avinu served G-d and now we all have a choice. You can either serve G-d or serve idols. As for me, I will serve G-d. All the people say, we will serve G-d also. But why in the world does Yehoshua have to exhort the people twice at the end of his life, to be faithful to the Torah - Chapter 23 and then again Chapter 24?
Radak and Abarbanel are both bothered by this question. Radak suggests that Yehoshua brought the people to Shechem because keeping the Torah is paramount, and as a result, the covenant deserves repetition at the end of his life. He brought them to Shechem because it has such great patriarchal significance. Alternatively, Abarbanel says that Yehoshua brought the nation over to Shechem only after Chapter 23. Chapter 23 Yehoshua said, okay everybody be faithful to the Torah, and they were silent. Then Yehoshua said, hm, maybe they're not going to listen after all, we need a better response than that. So he brought them over to Shechem where he made them respond and they responded thankfully in the affirmative.
Both of these answers are as good as we can do running on the assumption that Chapters 23 and 24 both occurred at the end of Yehoshua's life. But perhaps there is one other possibility going back to the view of Rabbi Yishmael in the Jerusalem Talmud suggests. Perhaps Chapter 8, the covenant at Gerizim and Ebal, and this covenant in Chapter 24, all occurred much earlier in Yehoshua's career. After the conquest and after the distribution, but not at the end of his life, like Chapter 23. This would have great logistical merit; instead of saying that the people were at Gilgal and then Yehoshua brought them to Shechem in Chapter 8 and then brought them back to Gilgal and then to Shiloh and eventually to Har Ephraim, and then back to Shechem. This way they were in Shechem once, and then they all went home and then at the end of his life Yehoshua brought them out.
If in fact Chapter 8 and Chapter 24 happened at the same time, right after the conquest and distribution of the land, this would explain all kinds of things. Most importantly, it would explain the redundancy of the covenants in Chapters 23 and 24. According to this reading, Chapter 24 happened at the same time as the covenant at Gerizim and Ebal in Chapter 8, and Chapter 23 happened years later. We also see that in Chapters 8 and 24, Yehoshua gives choices to the nation to be faithful to G-d, they erect a stone altar and they write a copy of the Torah, or at least parts of the Torah. This solves the logistical issue that we just mentioned, that Yehoshua would not have to schlep the nation all over the place.
But now we need to explain why would the author of Sefer Yehoshua place Chapter 24 at the very end of the book, instead of in its rightful, chronological location? The answer seems to be this freewill covenant - which is just incredible. Yehoshua actually asks the people, do you want to serve G-d or do you want to serve idols? The people thankfully choose G-d. Rashi explains just how potent this is, in source number 11. Joshua foresaw that they would rebel in the days of Ezekiel and say, we will be like the nations. Therefore he made it more difficult now. In this vein he answered them in the days of Ezekiel, and what you have in mind shall never come to pass, as I live declares the L-rd G-d, I will reign over you with a strong hand. You already accepted the covenant upon yourselves in the days of Yehoshua, and you may not say, we accepted the covenant in the days of Moshe only so that we could enter the land.
Rashi is saying something remarkable. In the time of Yechezkel - Ezekiel, at the time of the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple many centuries after Yehoshua, the people of Israel thought that they should assimilate and become Babylonians. That the covenant between G-d and Israel was over as a result of the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Israelites from the Land of Israel. They came to Yechezkel and they said, the covenant is no longer binding. Yechezkel says, it most certainly is.
Rashi doesn't say, it's binding because our ancestors accepted the Torah at Sinai, because the Israelites had to say yes. There was thunder and lightning, it was a terrifying moment, plus they were in the wilderness. If they would have said no, G-d could have said, all right, don't accept the Torah, see if I care, you stay right here. But now in Chapter 24 of Sefer Yehoshua, they're in the land, they've conquered it, they've distributed it, they no longer have that excuse. They're now accepting the Torah freely. From that point of view the mutuality of the covenant between G-d and Israel takes full effect and Yechezkel will be able to appeal specifically to Chapter 24 of Sefer Yehoshua. Saying, now the covenant is ratified, it is definitely accepted by people who had the freedom to say no, and chose to say yes.
From that point of view, Chapter 24 is placed in the climactic frame, the very end of Sefer Yehoshua, to teach that the most important thing that happens in Sefer Yehoshua is that the people freely accept the Torah in their own land. No longer are they in the wilderness completely dependent on G-d's Manna from heaven and a miraculous well and just being marooned somewhere between Egypt and Israel. They have to make the choice, the free choice, to continue to accept the Torah, and they did.
Just to review. We have seen that Yehoshua is Moshe Rabbeinu's successor in following the Torah, in transmitting Moshe Rabbeinu's teachings and pretty much in acting in just about every possible way like his mentor and master. He was able to achieve things that even Moshe Rabbeinu could not, perhaps as a result of his shortcomings as opposed to Moshe Rabbeinu - namely his fears - which enabled the people to see him as a credible leader from a certain point of view. But we've also seen additional themes, particularly the succession of Sefer Yehoshua coming after the Torah as the first Biblical book, and also, most importantly, Yehoshua is taking an active role with the people in accepting the Torah - in terms of their covenant at Gerizim and Ebal, the freewill acceptance at the end of the Sefer Yehoshua. All leading to the same point, which is that Sefer Yehoshua has these brilliant themes that through a careful analysis of the text in order, but also paying attention to the breaks in chronological sequence, we're able to use this methodology to uncover some of the great points that Sefer Yehoshua is trying to teach.
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