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The Land of Promise

The Book of Joshua

The only one of Moses’s generation possessing anything like his faith and leadership abilities was Joshua. Joshua becomes the next one to carry forward Abraham’s legacy. He hears the same promises given to his spiritual ancestors: “Do not be afraid,” God says to him, “I will be with you wherever you go.”

Under Joshua’s leadership the children of Israel enter the land of Canaan at last and begin to settle there. The transition is not smooth by any means. They struggle with the Canaanites already living there, who are not happy to find the presence of a strange new people.

The book of Joshua poses special moral problems, of which the narrative itself is not entirely unaware. What right did these people have to take the land away from those who already possessed it? And especially to reap personal gain from doing so? In one sense they had little alternative. Realistically, the inhabitants of the land would not have allowed a new people to enter and coexist peacefully. A struggle was inevitable. Nevertheless, it was not right to plunder them. This was not a mission of personal enrichment.

The awareness of a moral dilemma becomes apparent in the story of Achan. When the people attack the city of Jericho, Joshua orders them to take no booty. The people should only want their promised place to live; this is not supposed to be about greed and profiteering. They succeed in the campaign against Jericho but suffer a terrible defeat at the next city, the city of Ai. The reason for the defeat is revealed to Joshua: one man, Achan, took for himself some of the spoils from Jericho, compromising the mission and weakening the nation's moral and spiritual fabric.

After Achan confesses, judgment is passed and the people stone him to death. This was quite remarkable for its time: the compromise of these very basic values, even in war, cannot be permitted. The people have tried to meet a higher if still imperfect standard.

Nevertheless a concession to human nature is made. The people stage a second attack against Ai and this time they are allowed to take the booty for themselves.

This clearly does not solve the book's moral dilemma. In fact, it cannot be solved. But it does force us to understand the Bible in a very untraditional way.

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