Monday, November 6, 2017

Joshua: Chapter 9

Open your mouth
bind yourself with your ongue
in a world of tattered objects

[For full  chapter, click here

This chapter begins to unpack  some of the implications of the movement from miracles to tactics that took place in the previous chapter.  If in the aftermath of Jericho, the children of Israel venerated Joshua, here there is an underlying tension between the "man of Israel" and the leadership. The local inhabitants also no longer tremble before Joshua. Rather than "melting" in fear as they hear of the supernatural victories, they unite in a federation to fight tactics with tactics. 

The Gibonites take a differnt approach, and rather than battleing Israel head-on, use the same subterfuge and cunning that Joshua used against Ai--this time against him. "Why did you beguile us?" Joshua cries. not undertsanding that deception and play has become an essential part of the world in which he plays, the battles that he fights. 

In a world defined by human action rather than the all-encompaing reality of God's presence--"for the Land is Mine"--there are many objects, and shadows, but few clear cut realities. The leaders of Israel do not "ask the mouth of God", but rather look to the witness of objects as they "take of their provisions" (9: 14). We move from the previous chapter's focus on the "hand" of human action, to the "mouth" that defines the human reality--regardless of the facts. 

If in the battle of Jericho, Israel was told to remain silent, here, after the battle of Ai, human speech becomes definitive. Joshua and the tribal leaders are bound by their word, despite the fact that their oath was given on the basis of a lie.  "We cannot do anything to them"--the human hand bound by the human oath.

There is a subtle counterpoint here to the story of Jericho, which also ends with the commitment to keep an oath: the scouts search out Rahab, and save her and her family as promised. Here, the battle of Ai ends with the commitment to spare the Gibonitesis as promised. Yet in Jericho, the promise to Rahab was bound by faithfulness: she had to complete her part of the bargain, and not give the spies away. Here, the promise was given under deception. At the closing of the story of Jericho, Rahab is accepted within the encampment, and she comes to dwell "within Israel."; the Gibonites, by contrast, remain in a strange liminal state, intimate outsiders who remain forever apart, yet serve within God's sanctuary, The bonds created arbitrarily by human language are not the full equivallent of bonds rooted in reality.]

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