Out of the Wilderness and into Canaan

February 28, 2014

The book of Joshua transitions the reader from Israel’s wilderness wandering to their entrance into Canaan, the Promised Land. Upon their crossing the Jordan, and before taking the city of Jericho, they encamped at Gilgal.

Israel's encampment at Gilgal. BibleAtlas.org

Israel’s encampment at Gilgal. BibleAtlas.org

At Gilgal all the men were circumcised who during the 40 years of wilderness wandering had neglected (i.e., their parents had neglected) this special covenant token.

So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelite men at Gibeath-haaraloth.  This is the reason Joshua circumcised them: All the people who came out of Egypt who were males– all the men of war– had died in the wilderness along the way after they had come out of Egypt.  Though all the people who came out were circumcised, none of the people born in the wilderness along the way were circumcised after they had come out of Egypt.  For the Israelites wandered in the wilderness 40 years until all the nation’s men of war who came out of Egypt had died off because they did not obey the LORD. So the LORD vowed never to let them see the land He had sworn to their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.  Joshua raised up their sons in their place; it was these he circumcised. They were still uncircumcised, since they had not been circumcised along the way.  After the entire nation had been circumcised, they stayed where they were in the camp until they recovered.  The LORD then said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the disgrace of Egypt from you.” Therefore, that place has been called Gilgal to this day (Josh. 5:3-9).

The Peninsula of Sinai was Israel’s home for that period referenced in this text.

Area of Wilderness Wandering.  Museum of Bedouin Culture. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Area of Wilderness Wandering. Museum of Bedouin Culture. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The photo of this artwork was taken in the Museum of Bedouin Culture at Kibbutz Lahav in the Israel’s Negev.

Museum of Bedouin Culture at Kibbutz Lahav. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Museum of Bedouin Culture at Kibbutz Lahav. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

It was also at Gilgal that Israel observed the Passover at the appointed time, the 1st month, 14th day. It was at this time that the manna stopped, and Israel began to eat the produce of the land. This was at harvest season. The 40 years of wandering were over; a new era had dawned!

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All the Land of the Hittites

February 26, 2014

Following the death and 30-day period of mourning for Moses (Deut. 34), Yahweh spoke words of encouragement to his successor, Joshua:

After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, who had served Moses: “Moses My servant is dead. Now you and all the people prepare to cross over the Jordan to the land I am giving the Israelites. I have given you every place where the sole of your foot treads, just as I promised Moses.  Your territory will be from the wilderness and Lebanon to the great Euphrates River– all the land of the Hittites— and west to the Mediterranean Sea” (Joshua 1:1-4, CSB).

Holman’s Christian Standard Bible (Study Bible) has the following notation regarding the expression, “land of the Hittites”:

The land of the Hittites seems not to refer to the Hittite Empire of modern Turkey but the Egyptian and later Assyrian usage of this term to describe the region controlled by the Hittites in the western part of modern Syria. These lands and boundaries identify Canaan as it was known both to the Bible (Gn 10:19; Nm 13:17,21-22; 34:3-12) and to Egyptian writers of the second millennium B.C.

In numerous passages the Hittites are mentioned as one of several groups populating the land of Canaan. For example, Joshua told the Israelites, “You will know that the living God is among you and that He will certainly dispossess before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites” (Joshua 1:10; cf. Gen. 15:20; Deut. 7:1, and etc.).

The Ankara (Capitol of modern Turkey) Museum is of international renown for its collection of Hittite artifacts. The relief below shows three Hittite warriors.

Hittite Warriors. Ankara Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Hittite Warriors. Ankara Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The accompanying placard entitled The Warriors  says, “Three figures with curly hair, and dressed in long tunics with wide belts. The figure at the front holds a spear, which is broken at one end, in his left hand and a leafed tree branch in the right. The figure in the middle clenches his left fist and holds up a tool at head level in his right hand. They are followed by a figure that carries a staff in the left hand. All three wear long swords at the waist.”

The Bible is not a book of fiction. When it mentions people, they were real people, living in real places, participating in real events as recorded in Scripture.


The Conquest: Crossing Jordan

February 17, 2014

Joshua 3 records Israel’s crossing Jordan from the eastern side, to set up camp temporarily at Gilgal, and from there to take the city of Jericho. See our map in previous post.

The timing at this point was just prior to Passover (Josh. 5:10), meaning this was the early harvest season.  When Israel was crossing the notation is made, “Now the Jordan overflows its banks throughout the harvest season” (Josh. 3:15, CSB). The text records divine intervention: the priests were carrying the ark, and when their feet touched the Jordan,

. . . the water flowing downstream stood still, rising up in a mass that extended as far as Adam, a city next to Zarethan. The water flowing downstream into the Sea of the Arabah (the Dead Sea) was completely cut off, and the people crossed opposite Jericho. The priests carrying the ark of the LORD’s covenant stood firmly on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel crossed on dry ground until the entire nation had finished crossing the Jordan (Josh. 3:16-17, CSB).

The study note in the Holman Christian Standard Bible states:

At spring flood, after the winter rains and during the barley harvest, the Jordan River could reach a width in excess of 100 feet and a depth of 10 feet. The priests as the leaders of the people were the first to step down into the water. Doing so was a risky activity with the river at flood stage. Carrying the ark could easily have caused them to be swept away by the current unless the promised miracle took place.

Note that the people crossed “opposite Jericho.” Our photo below is at the Jordan at Qasr el-Yahud, opposite and a little south of Jericho. It would be somewhere near here that the crossing of Joshua 3 took place. Our photo looks to the north.

Jordan River at  Qasr el-Yahud. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Jordan River at Qasr el-Yahud. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

In their introduction to the book of Joshua, the HCSB Study Bible has an interesting note about the change in volume of the flow of the Jordan:

The Jordan River was at flood stage when God commanded Joshua to lead the people across. Just as when God opened the Red Sea, He provided a dry path through the Jordan when the priests, bearing the ark of the covenant, touched the edge of the river. . . Up until the 1950’s, more than 3 billion cubic feet flowed through the southern Jordan annually. with construction of a number of dams on the Jordan north of the Sea of Galilee and on rivers that feed the Jordan, that volume of water has been reduced to 300 million cubic feet a year (p.338).

Qasr el-Yahud is a site on the Jordan thought by some to be across from the Bethany referenced in John 1:28, where John the Baptist did some of his baptizing. We had the opportunity to visit here in October.

Baptism in the Jordan River. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Baptism in the Jordan River. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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Jericho, First City of the Conquest of Canaan

February 15, 2014

The book of Joshua has one dominant theme: God was fulfilling His promise to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that He would give unto their descendants the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:6-7). As Joshua begins, Israel had recently conquered the transjordan territories of Sihon and Og, which would become the possession of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh (Num. 21:21-35). Though the eastern territory was given to Israel by God, the land of Canaan proper did not include the transjordan, but rather was the land west of the Jordan River. (See discussion on this by Todd Bolen here

The book of Joshua is named after its prominent character, Joshua, the successor of Moses. Following Moses’ death (Deut. 34) and a 30-day period of mourning (v.8), Joshua sent out two spies across the Jordan. They were told “Go, view the land, especially Jericho” (Josh. 2:1).

Conquest of Canaan. Map by Marc Hinds.

Conquest of Canaan. Map by Marc Hinds.

One can see that from their location in Shittim (Acacia Grove, NKJV, CSB) that the first city that must be taken in the Conquest was Jericho, believed to be the world’s most ancient city. It was a fortress city and guarded entrance into Canaan from the east. Located in the Jordan Valley, it is 670 feet below sea level, and was one the first cities in Israel to be excavated. The record of Jericho’s destruction by Israel is found in Joshua 6.

From the standpoint of military strategy, Israel would first conquer the central territory (Josh. 7-8), then the southern (Josh. 10), and finally the northern territory (Josh. 11).

Jericho. Map by BibleAtlas.org.

Jericho. Map by BibleAtlas.org.

I always enjoy seeing Jericho. This past October Jericho was included on our itinerary for my group, though it was later in the day than what is ideal for photos.

Excavations at Jericho. Photo by Leon Mauldin

Excavations at Jericho. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Recommended reading: see Biblical Archaeology Review, “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence,” by Dr. Bryant G. Wood (16:02, March/April 1990).

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House of David Inscription

February 12, 2014

The current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review has an article entitled, “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible,” by Lawrence Mykytiuk. The first in his list is King David, whose name was found in the Tel Dan Stela, found in Tel Dan in July, 1993. Mykytiuk writes:

According to the Bible, David ruled in the tenth century B.C.E., using the traditional chronology. Until 1993, however, the personal name David had never appeared in the archaeological record, let alone a reference to King David. That led some scholars to doubt his very existence. According to this speculation David was either a shadowy, perhaps mythical, ancestor or a literary creation of later Biblical authors and editors. In 1993, however, the now-famous Tel Dan inscription was found in an excavation led by Avraham Biran. Actually, it was the team’s surveyor, Gila Cook, who noticed the inscription on a basalt stone in secondary use in the lower part of a wall. Written in ninth-century B.C.E. Aramaic, it was part of a victory stele commissioned by a non-Israelite king mentioning his victory over “the king of Israel” and the “House of David.” [See BAR 20:02, Mar-Apr 1994] Whether or not the foreign king’s claim to victory was true, it is clear that a century after he had died, David was still remembered as the founder of a dynasty.

This past October I had the occasion to photograph this important stela, which is housed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

"House of David" Inscription. Discovered 1993. Photo by Leon Mauldin

“House of David” Inscription. Discovered 1993. Photo by Leon Mauldin

Gary Byers suggests that the stela “most likely memorializes the victory of Hazael, king of Aram, over Joram, king of Israel, and Ahaziah, king of Judah, at Ramoth Gilead recorded in 2 Kings 8:28–29” (Bible and Spade 16:4, p. 121).

For more information on the House of David see Ferrell Jenkins’ post illustrating Isaiah 7 here.

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