Like any great war movie, Joshua sent two spies from Shittam ahead to gather some intel on Jericho and the first place they went was to a prostitute named Rahab’s house. The king of Jericho got a heads up about some spies and for some reason questioned the woman directly. How he knew they might be hiding out with her is a mystery to me. Anyway, she hid the spies and lied to her own king to protect them. Now why would a prostitute lie to her king to protect some random spies she had just met? Perhaps she was a smart lady and knew she needed to be on the winning team?
Her next comment shows me she is a savvy business lady, “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.” The spies guaranteed the woman protection by saying, “Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”
The actions of the prostitute and spies demonstrate one major theme of this book, which is integrity and obedience to God. Both parties were complete strangers yet they trusted each other and worked together. The Israelites also showed obedience when they followed the Ark of Covenant into the Jordan, not questioning their safety, just determined to claim what God promised them. After years of wandering the lands the Israelites will finally be able to settle in a permanent place and cease being nomads.
Again in this book we witness the power of God and his short fuse for disobedience. When will the Israelites learn? Everything was good when God facilitated the Israelites triumph over the city of Jericho, until they got greedy and helped themselves to some trinkets as they explored the fallen city. Without knowledge of this treachery Joshua attempted to takeover the next city Ai, by sending spies ahead like last time. The problem was the spies said only a fragment of the army was needed because they figured God’s hand would assist them like before. Let’s say they got a slap in the face with defeat.
Joshua had a tantrum and tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark and sulked there till evening along with the elders of Israel. The one thing I was confused by is they sprinkled dust on their heads first so I had to search out the answer for this one. An article on Jewishencyclopedia.com states,
“A mourner cast Ashes (or dust) on his head (II Sam. xiii. 9), or sat (Job ii. 8; Jonah iii. 6) or lay (Esth. iv. 3) or rolled himself (Jer. vi. 26; Ezek. xxvii. 30) in Ashes (or dust). The rendering “ashes” for the Hebrew word in question is, however, in some cases doubtful. In a number of passages in which it occurs (in all, indeed, except those relating to the Red Heifer), it might as well or better be translated “dust”; so where a person is said to eat, feed on, sit in, lie, or wallow in the “efer”; or put it on his head; or where it is used to represent finely attenuated matter (Ps. cxlvii. 16). Its use appears to be substantially identical with that of the word “‘afar,” commonly rendered “dust.” The sense of humiliation is expressed by sitting or rolling in the “‘afar” or dust (Isa. xlvii. 1; Micah i. 7, vii. 17; Ps. lxxii. 9); grief and suffering by putting dust on the head (Josh. vii. 6; Job ii. 12). The word symbolizes attenuation and annihilation or extinction (Job xxx. 19; Ps. xviii. 43 ); it is even employed to designate the burnt remains of the Red Heifer (Num. xix. 17).”
Since I’m only up to Joshua at this point most of the references in that passage are above my head, but the gist I am getting is “ashes or dust” mean mourning. I am assuming the elders sprinkled dust on their heads mourning the lost of the Israelites that died during the failed attempt to capture the city of Ai. The same site also went on to explore the symbolic significance of mourning with the following,
“It is not clear what was the precise idea or feeling which it was intended to express by the use of dust (or Ashes) in acts of mourning. The custom in the Old Testament may be ancient, and the result of the convergence of several sorts of procedure. It is a well-known usage in some savage tribes, in mourning for the dead, to smear the body with clay, the purpose being, perhaps, merely to have a visible sign of grief as a mark of respect for the deceased. Possibly, at a later time, the dust of mourning was taken from the grave in token that the living felt himself to be one with the dead”
Joshua finally questioned God and said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies?The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” Joshua is being kind of cheeky like an ungrateful child by saying if you weren’t going to help us, why did you bother bringing us here?
God’s response in Chapter 7 verse 10 was pretty blunt if you ask me, “The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions.That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.” So it was pretty clear what Joshua had to do. He had to flush out the thieves to appease God and then have a serious stoning session with the offenders.
Everyone got back on track and the Israelites managed to capture Ai on the second go thanks to God’s assistance and eventually added the north and south to their collection. They divided the land up for the 12 tribes and by the end of this book like all great men in the bible so far Joshua had aged and passed on. He was 110 years old and his last bit of advice to the Israelites on his deathbed was, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” Seriously folks, how many warnings can the Israelites get before this stuff sinks in to their heads? Now the question is who will be the next great leader? Stay tuned till the Book of Judges.