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Joshua: Land, Law and Leadership
Video 5 of 6
One of the best ways to illustrate the meaningfulness of this principle is in the Rabbinic expression; Ein mukdam u'me'uchar ba'Torah - that there is no chronological order in the Torah. What are Chazal - what are the Sages teaching us? They want to explain that sometimes Tanach teaches stories out of order, out of chronological order, in order to teach more important thematic points. In my opinion, learning Sefer Yehoshua through the eyes of that principle, there are three great examples; one in Chapters 1 through 3, another at the end of Chapter 8, and then one all the way at the end of the book, in Chapters 23 and 24. By looking at these three examples which may be out of chronological sequence, we will have an opportunity to explore how much we can learn some of the most important themes from Sefer Yehoshua as a result.
We'll begin with the example in Chapters 1 through 3. The book begins with G-d exhorting Yehoshua to be strong and courageous and lead the people, and Yehoshua takes charge right away. If you look at source number 1; Joshua goes to the Elders and tells them, go through the camp and charge the people thus. Get provisions ready for in three days' time you are to cross the Jordan in order to enter and possess the land that the L-rd your G-d is giving you as a possession. The people are very faithful. In Chapter 3 we see; Three days later the officials went through the camp and charged the people as follows. When you see the Ark of the Covenant of the L-rd your G-d being borne by the Levitical priests, you shall move forward, follow it. So on and so forth through the narrative that involves crossing the Jordan.
So far so good. In fact, if Chapters 1 and 3, 4 were written in sequence we would have no issues at all. Of course in between Chapter 1 and 3 we find good old Chapter 2, which is the story of Yehoshua sending two spies to Jericho and their encounter with Rachav, and all that that took place over there with the people coming back with a very favorable report. Curiously however, Rachav in the middle of the story tells them in source number 3; She said to them, make for the hills so that pursuers may not come upon you. Stay there in hiding three days until the pursuers return. Then go your way. They went straight to the hills and stayed there three days until the pursuers turned back. So the pursuers searching all along the road did not find them.
The question is like this. The spies went to Jericho on Day 1, they were there at night, and then they hid for three days and came back, and of course they came back finding Joshua and the nation still on the east bank of the Jordan. But if in fact Joshua told the people that they would be crossing the Jordan in three days, and they did, then when the spies came back there's at least a chance that they would have found them already having crossed, on the west bank of the Jordan.
Now this does not have to be a chronological problem at all. For example, Ralbag suggests that when Rachav says stay in hiding for three days, it means stay there until the third day. So they would then hide for two plus days, return back across the Jordan River to the east bank, find Joshua and the entire nation still there, and they would all cross together the following day. Alternatively, Yehuda Kiel in Da'at Mikra suggests that when Yehoshua says we're going to cross in three days, that means in three more days, which would refer to the fourth day. In which case the spies once again returned across the Jordan River to the east bank, found Joshua and the nation there and then they all crossed the very next day.
But some commentators actually think that this three-day problem is so severe that Chapter 2 actually occurred before Chapter 1. Those commentators include great ones such as Rashi, Radak, Abarbanel. Let's say that latter group of commentaries is correct, what would be the reason why the narrator would put things out of chronological order? What lessons is he trying to teach?
One possibility is that there might be a negative dimension to having Chapter 2 appear after Chapter 1. G-d in Chapter 1 promises Yehoshua everything is going to be great, I'm on your side, you're going to make it. Then what does Yehoshua do right after that? He sends spies. From that point of view, it sounds like Yehoshua doesn't fully trust G-d and in fact trusts more the words of Rachav, the Canaanite prostitute. That's what actually gives him the encouragement that he needs.
If this reading is correct it actually would parallel what happened to the original spies episode, the way Moshe Rabbeinu retells the story at the beginning of Sefer Devarim - the Book of Deuteronomy. If you look at source number 4; Moshe tells the people, I said to you, you have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the L-rd our G-d is giving to us. See the L-rd your G-d has placed the land at your disposal, go up, take possession, as the L-rd your G-d of your fathers promised you. Fear not and be not dismayed. But then all of you came to me and said, let us send men ahead to reconnoiter the land for us, and bring back word on the route we shall follow and the cities we shall come to.
According to Rashi's reading of this passage, the very act of sending spies was already a breach of faith. Moshe Rabbeinu is promising them in G-d's name that they're going to make it over successfully, and they're going to win. But unfortunately, the people did not trust Moshe Rabbeinu and as a result sent spies and this led to the entire disaster that we're well aware of.
It could very well be that the narrator of the Book of Yehoshua is trying to create a certain parallel between these two episodes, where G-d promises Yehoshua, you can do it, and Yehoshua says, you know, I better send spies anyway. So from this vantage point the lack of chronological order may highlight Yehoshua's insecurities and lack of confidence at the beginning of his leadership.
There also are some positive elements that may come across as a result of this a-chronology, if in fact they are out of chronological sequence. One of the important elements of having Chapter 1 follow the Torah is that Yehoshua is Moshe Rabbeinu's successor and the parallels between the two figures are enormous. In Chapter 1 Moshe Rabbeinu's name even appears 11 times in Chapter 1, showing a direct succession. If you would have put Chapter 2 before it, even if it happened chronologically prior to Chapter 1, the Book of Yehoshua would not make the same symmetry between Moshe Rabbeinu and Yehoshua.
Simultaneously, Sefer Yehoshua also is coming from a Tanach point of view as the very first book written after the Torah. So Chapter 1 happens to have all kinds of parallels to the Book of Devarim as well, and so these parallels may be set out deliberately so that you can see not only a parallel and symmetry between Moshe Rabbeinu and Yehoshua the person, but you also have a symmetry between the Torah itself and Sefer Yehoshua. One of the most important themes of Sefer Yehoshua is the succession between Moshe Rabbeinu and Yehoshua, as well as Yehoshua's continuity with the Torah. The fact that the people are now observing the Torah, already has been revealed.
To summarize, if the two chapters, Chapters 1 and 2 are out of chronological order they draw attention to very important themes of the entire book: Yehoshua's fears and insecurities, the leadership succession from Moshe Rabbeinu to Yehoshua, and finally, the continuity between the Torah and Sefer Yehoshua. If the chapters were written in chronological sequence, these thematic points might not be taught as well, and they certainly would be obscured, by the way that they are not if they are out of chronological sequence. So the first example that we have seen, we see just how much Ein Mukdam U'me'uchar Ba'Torah can teach about underlying themes of Sefer Yehoshua.
In our next segment we are going to consider two other examples, one in Chapter 8 and one all the way at the end of Sefer Yehoshua. .
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