The Book of Joshua
There is a tradition that says that Moses’ face was like the sun and Joshua’s like the moon. This is not a criticism of Joshua, son of Nun; neither he nor anyone else could approach Moses’ level of prophecy. Rather it is a compliment to Moses’ primary disciple and divinely designated successor that he was a faithful reflection of his master’s teaching.
It was Joshua’s mission to plant the seeds of the Law in the land of Israel, and to mould the entirely new existence in which the people found themselves. In the wilderness, they had been nested in a cocoon of miracles. Their food, water and protection from attack was provided by God. Now, upon entering the land, they would have to plough and plant, dig wells and irrigate fields, in addition to fighting wars of conquest and defence. If they maintained allegiance to God and his law, he would give them victory and prosperity; if not, their future would be in peril.
Joshua had to inculcate the people with this fundamental truth. He had to gain their confidence and loyalty. He had to lead them in battle and imbue them with the conviction that Jewish warriors may not neglect their religious and moral responsibilities. He had to fulfil the commandment that the Canaanites who refused to make peace could not be allowed to survive, difficult though this was for a nation that was weaned on mercy.
He had to divide the land among the tribes and establish the eternal borders of the land and its individual provinces. He had to assure that there would be national unity amid tribal diversity, especially in the case of the two and a half tribes that had chosen to remain on the east bank of the River Jordan. He succeeded to an astounding degree.
Interspersed with the successes were hints of failure of national will, which mushroomed into the tragedies that marred the succeeding centuries. Despite Joshua’s urgings that the tribes strengthen their resolve and complete the conquest of the land, most of them allowed pockets of Canaanites to remain in the country. They had been warned that this would lead to a seepage of idolatry into Israel, but they held back from further warfare; bloodshed was not in their spiritual genes. The results of their weakness emerged later, primarily in the Book of Judges, and that distressing history would prove how necessary it was for them to remove every trace of Canaanite influence.
The Book of Joshua closes with the moving valedictory of Joshua, the ‘moon’, who proved to his last breath that he was a warrior, a politician, and a true servant of God who radiated the wisdom and holiness of Moses.