Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bible Commentary - Joshua 18

In this chapter, Joshua orders the people to scout out the land and then assign the last seven tribal inheritances by lot.

Before I mention anything significant, I wanted to mention a minor but interesting note about two cities: Megiddo and Ben-Hinnom.  Megiddo is a city that has been mentioned once already in Joshua, and it also has a very interesting history.  For instance, Megiddo was the site of a battle fought in the 15th century BCE that is regarded as one of the earliest recorded battles in history.  Ironic, then, that Megiddo is also the source of the word Armageddon, which, according to some, will be the site of the last battle in history.  Either way, Armageddon is a word that appears in the book of Revelation to some purpose or other.

Ben-Hinnom, a city that is mentioned in this chapter as lying within the territory of Benjamin, is the source of another word that appears in the NT, Gehenna.  Gehenna, in the NT, is used by Jesus in a variety of places as a reference to some sort of hell.  Here, Ben-Hinnom is a purely neutral location.  However, in later times it is a place for child sacrifice dedicated to the pagan god Molech and in the Mishnah it becomes a semi-mythical place of torment for the wicked.

Neither of these references are particularly relevant to Joshua (which is why I didn't make them until now), but I think they make for a good color commentary.

Next, this chapter says that the scouts wrote down their description of the land in a book.  While it's probable that the Pentateuch is derived from oral traditions, it's also clear that the Israelites did have writing and books in the time of the Pentateuch and Joshua.

We can also see that Joshua is again sending out spies from every tribe (this time sending three from each tribe instead of one like in Num 13).  In Joshua 2, Joshua sent out two spies to explore the land around Jericho in preparation for an invasion.  In this chapter, the invasion is already over (for the most part) and they are scouting in order to divide the land.  Therefore his interest shifts back from military necessity to fairness and balance between the tribes.  The lots will randomize which inheritance each tribe gets, but it helps prevent the appearance of impropriety to send representatives from every tribe.

I don't have much to say about Benjamin's tribal inheritance.  It's a thin strip of land between Judah and Ephraim, bordering the Jordan river on the east side and going west until it reaches the "wilderness of Beth-Aven", wherever that is.  The precise borders, even the imprecise borders, hardly make any difference to the stories in the OT.  By the time of the NT, Benjamin and all of the northern tribes will have either merged into Judah or been wiped out entirely.  But I will talk more about that later.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that these borders would have been very important to the tribes at the time, because it's where they lived.  But to us, any one place in Israel is about the same as any other place, with only a few exceptions, which I will point out as I see them.

Lastly, we see the Israelites set up the tent of meeting in Shiloh (v. 1), which is located in Ephraim.  This becomes an important religious center in Israel until at least the time of Samuel.

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