Joshua 5:9-12

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                                                                                       Joshua 5:9-12
Background to the Book of Joshua
Historical Situation:

The history within the texts tells about the journey of the people of Israel as they pass from the wilderness and begin to infiltrate the land of Canaan. Joshua has become the leader who was designated as such before Moses died and has been commissioned by God in Joshua 1. He is to lead the people across the Jordon and begin the invasion and appropriation of the land as has been promised by God. It is difficult in our time to read this book without some abhorrence about what is deemed to be done under God's guidance and blessing. It is well to remember this story reflects what has been the norm in history for centuries and it is only in recent time that we are realising that the invasion of land and killing of its inhabitants is no longer acceptable.

After several battles in the West, North and South, Joshua distributes the land among the tribes (Joshua 14-19). Some towns are designated as towns for refuge and special towns with pasture are given to the Levites. The final chapters of the book are similar to those in Deuteronomy in which Joshua has farewell speeches with further warnings about possible loss of land, a renewal of the covenant followed by his death and burial.

We talk about history within the text because when we examine the names of the places in the Book we find that many of them would not have been there in the time before the monarchy according to archaeological evidence. This suggests a gradual composition which took place over time and began with oral tradition before any commitment to writing. Many of the features reflect a time within the Davidic monarchy (Coote: 556-7).

Literary Comments:

The book contains many different genres: set speeches, folk tales, aetiological saga, lists and excerpts from ancient sources (Coote: 556). This suggests that it has had a long oral tradition before its final composition as a written document. The book separates into two main parts plus a transcript (1-12, 13-21, 22-24): the conquest on the west side of the Jordon (the East side had been conquered under Moses), the distribution of the land to the twelve tribes and the last days of Joshua (Curtis:12).

Certain features demonstrate a design by the final author; for example, the first and last chapters are hortatory (teaching) in tone. The burials of Joshua, Joseph and Eleazer all come in the conclusion and serve to underlie a major purpose of the book which is the fulfilment of the promise. There are connections between the promise of 1:3,6 and the summary in 11:16ff (Woudstra:15). A number of other examples are listed by Woudstra.

Although the story reads as though the whole of Canaan was defeated we find a concentration of material on Gilgal, Jericho and Ai which is related to the territory of Benjamin. So it could be, that we what we have in Joshua are mainly traditions from the tribe of Benjamin. We tend to ignore the lists which follow in chapters 13-21 because they are boring to read. However, they perform a very important theological point as mentioned below in the Purpose of the Book. The lists appear to be a mixture of boundary lists, city lists and some notes on Canaanites who remained in the land.

Joshua 23 and 24 are two versions of the same event. Many scholars suggest Joshua 23 and 24 are later Deuteronomistic additions with no certainty about dating (Curtis: 28). Joshua 24 has an interest in Schechem and may represent a group or author who wanted to add their focus to the story of Joshua.

PURPOSE of the Book:

A major purpose is to confirm that the promises made to Abram about land and many descendants has indeed come true (Genesis 12:1-3). The Book of Joshua is the practical outcome, the reality that this is the land promised to their ancestors. The book demonstrates that obedience to God's commands brings victory and if the people are unfaithful to God it brings punishment. Indeed, Joshua is the ideal model of obedience because he acts only after receiving instructions from Yahweh, unlike David who acts after his initial anointing quite independently at times.

This book gives authority for the designation of lands to the various tribes. If there are claims outside of the these boundaries in later times this book provides the basis for or against any claimants. It establishes the Levites and priests in their designated areas. In response to the fulfilment of God's promises the people are expected to remain faithful and obedient to God. Later in the books of the Deuteronomic History (Deuteronomy - 11 Kings) the writer will demonstrate that it is because the people and kings have failed to be obedient is spite of all that God gave them that they have ended up in exile (587 BCE). One can see how important the book is within the structure of the Deuteronomic History.

A brief note on the Deuteronomic History:

Martin Noth's publication of his book (1943) in which he proposed that the body of material from Deuteronomy to the end of Second Kings was called the Deuteronomic History has been accepted, in some form, by most people. He suggested that early in exile an author/group created this history using many different sources and traditions to compose this body of work in order to explain to the people in exile why that were there. It begins with the laws given to Moses (Deuteronomy) and demonstrates in the stories following the Book of Deuteronomy how the people, priests and especially kings disobeyed the law with the consequence that they lost the land and ended up in Babylon. They gained the land (Joshua & Judges) because it was given by Yahweh and lost it because they went after other gods and were generally disobedient in their religious and ethical practices.

Context of Joshua 5:9-12

After Joshua receives his commission and begins his command in chapter 1 there is a section which encloses the reading set for Lent 4. Joshua 2:1-6:27 describes the events surrounding the defeat of Jericho and the Passover (Joshua 5:9-12) is celebrated in camp at Gilgal before they take the city itself. When the spies are sent out in Joshua 2 to reconnoitre they are helped by the foreigner and whore, Rahab, who saves them from capture. They return and report about the state of the people and of the help given to them. Chapters 3 & 4 describe the passage through the Jordon (I thought from this description it was a large flowing river, but it was tiny when I saw it) and the role of the Ark in leading the people. The event is described in similar fashion to the crossing of the Red Sea in which the river is halted and the people pass across on dry land. This is one of several instances which are parallel to the events of Moses. We are left in no doubt that Joshua is the true successor of Moses and chosen of Yahweh.

After crossing the Jordan a memorial of 12 stones taken from the river bed were set up to act as a reminder of the crossing from East Jordan into the West. It is interesting to note that in Joshua 4:19 it talks about setting up camp on the east border which assumes the person writing is further west and the the river bank is to his east. This miracle already warns the Amorites and Canaanites that these people are going to cause them trouble (Joshua 5:1-2).

The need for the ritual of circumcision described in vv. 2-8 is explained by the fact that all the original generation which came out of Egypt, who had been circumcised, were dead now and the new generation needed to be circumcised. No explanation is given why this generation had not been circumcised as children. In the rest period after this we are told the Passover is celebrated on the 14th day. Following this Joshua meets the Lord's commander of the army and is told to take off his shoes because he is on holy ground. Another incident which parallels the experience of Moses. Chapter 6 is the famous one in which the army and priests have marched around, the Ark is carried and the trumpets are sounded. On the seventh day after a great shout the walls of Jericho fall down. Joshua remembers to fulfil the promise of the spies to keep Rahab and her family safe. Rahab is one of four women from the Old Testament mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

Insights/Message of Joshua 5:9-12

Literary Insights:

Joshua 4:19-5:12 concerns itself with events that occur here at Gilgal. It is especially interested in recording the rituals which took place at Gilgal and how they signal the end of the wilderness people and the beginning of the new settled community. Gilgal becomes an important shrine in the later history and the symbolism of the twelve stones represent the twelve tribes of Israel which have crossed over the river Jordan.

There is some suggestion that a priestly writer may have inserted the story about circumcision (Joshua 5:2-8) before the ritual of Passover because it was a prerequisite for participation in the Passover and he wanted to make sure that everyone was circumcised (Exodus 12:43-49. Coote:607). It has been the case that baptism is the requirement for those who wish to take communion in most Christian Churches.

Verse 9 really belongs with the story of circumcision and I am unsure why it was chosen for the lectionary reading. The mention of the unleavened bread reminds us of the connection made in Exod 12:21-27 & 23:15 with the rite of Unleavened Bread. Because the Israelites are able to live off the land they no longer need the manna. Passover takes place in March-April in the first full moon of the year.

I want to raise the issue of the last four Old Testament readings for Lent. I cannot see any direct connections between the Old and New Testament readings so I asked my self why had they been chosen? They come from four different books and periods and at first glance have little in common. Lent 1, 2 and 4 are associated with distinct rituals in the Old Testament: thanksgiving for first fruits, a very early covenant promise ritual and Passover/Unleavened Bread. Lent 3 is the call to come to the Lord with a promise of the everlasting covenant to a new situation. Perhaps each of the readings is to do with new possibilities and situations. So the next question is how do these fit in with the Lenten period?

One response from John Steele of Brisbane suggested that in Luke 15 and Joshua 5 feasts were set up to celebrate the return of (i) the prodigal son from his time of wilderness, and (ii) the Israelites from their time in the wilderness. In the Anglican Church Lent 4 is know as Refreshment Sunday when the Lenten journey with its fasting is relieved by the distribution of simnel cake.

Message / Theology

The rituals and symbolism all represent transition from one state of wilderness wandering to the beginning of a settled people with their designated tribal boundaries.

The ritual of circumcision is for the new generation as the old generation which were circumcised has died and the Lord has declared a new beginning with the past forgiven (Joshua 5:9). Even the Passover has the comment attached which declares they no longer need the supply of manna which had fed them in the wilderness. The past has been recognised and the new is about to happen with the defeat of Jericho. Passover marks a break from Egypt and the Feast of Unleavened Bread marks the thanksgiving of the barley harvest as a settled people.

We could ask and think about the rituals we have to remember the past, but also help us to move forward into a new state or part of the journey: confirmation, funerals, marriage and ordination are a few. The church has developed more rituals in recent years to help people who have been divorced, suffering life threatening illnesses, peace vigils and may others. Many people are able to connect with visual rather than simply words of liturgy and the church has been a great help in this way.

Resources/Worship for Joshua 5:9-12


If it fits with the rest of the service it could be an opportunity to talk about ritual in the church and people's lives. You could share how important it was for the Israelites to have rituals which were important celebratory occasions.

If the Joshua reading is to make any sense to people it needs to be put in context and share with the people role of the Passover in the way it represents the release from slavery and the feast of Unleavened Bread is the celebration and acknowledgement that they can live of the fruits of the land and are no longer dependent on manna to survive.



The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Joshua (A.H.W.Curtis)

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Boling R.G. Joshua. AB. Garden City, NY,: Doubleday, 1982.
Butler, Trent. Joshua, WBC. Waco: Word Books, 1983.
Coote, Robert B. The Book of Joshua. NIB 11. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.Creach, Jerome. Joshua. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2003.

Curtis, Adrian H.W. Joshua. OTG. Sheffield: Sheffield ACademic Press, 1994.
Gray, John. Joshua, Judges and Ruth. NCB. London: Nelson, 1967.

Pressner, Carolyn. Joshua, Judges & Ruth. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002.
Soggin, J.A. Joshua. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1972.
Woudstra, M.W. The Book of Joshua. NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: These links were updated 30/12/11