TAKING THE PROMISED LAND – Part 1
At this time, Moses and his gang were still on the east side of the Jordan River and the Promised Land was basically from the Jordan River west, all the way to the ocean.1
So the first thing Moses did was send spies into the land to see what it was like. When the spies came back they said it was a great place, flowing with milk and honey, but the people were strong and it would be very difficult to steal their land.
As you might expect, a lot of Moses’ band lost faith (again) and wanted to stone Moses for bringing them out here to die in the desert. Why didn’t they just stay in Egypt where they were happy slaves?
And predictably, God got pissed (again) and wanted to kill them all (again) and raise up a new nation from the descendants of Moses. But Moses argued with God (again) and was able to convince him not to do it (again). We’re well into a pattern here now, do you see it?
But in return for not killing them all God said none of the people who came up out of Egypt would see the Promised Land. None of them. That whole generation would die off in the desert and it would be their children who would inherit the Promised Land. Why the people who didn’t protest had to pay the price is not mentioned.2 Seems to be the way with this God; some screw up and everybody pays. Hence, they were doomed to wander the desert for 40 years.3
Again, as you might imagine, a lot of the people weren’t happy about this so there was a major uprising against Moses. But, lo and behold, the ground opened up and swallowed up the malcontents. That put a quick end to this particular uprising.
You’d think God would be super happy with how Moses had handled these stiff-necked people.4 No such luck.
Eventually the people grumbled against Moses (again) because they had no water. God told Moses to go stand on a rock and command the water to come forth.
Maybe he was frustrated, maybe he’d had a bad day or was tired, maybe he just didn’t understand the instructions but, for whatever reason, Moses didn’t do exactly as he was told. Instead he struck the rock with his staff and the water came out anyway.
All is well, right. Not so. God got pissed at Moses for not following his orders exactly. Apparently this striking the rock was not cool. So what did God do? Even after all Moses had gone through, all the loyalty he’d shown, all the arguing and convincing, God told Moses he didn’t get to go to the Promised Land. All because he hit the rock with his stick. This time Moses couldn’t argue his way out of it. Sorry, bro. Again, God acting like a petty, vindictive, demagogue.
To make it worse, God was also pissed at Aaron .5 He told Moses to take Aaron and his son up to the top of Mt. Hor. Once there, Moses stripped Aaron of his priestly garments and put them on his son, Eleazar. So now Eleazar was the High Priest.
So what happened to Aaron? All the Bible says is Aaron died up there. Did Moses kill him? Did he commit suicide? We’ll never know. All we know is he went up but didn’t come down.
Even though Moses knew he’d never set foot in the Promised Land it didn’t stop him from fighting to get there. From that point forward it was Israel against the world.
Before they could take the Promised Land they had to fight their way to the Jordan River.
First they took out the Canaanites in Hormah6, destroying all their cities. Next they conquered the Amorites, killing everybody and taking their land. Then Og, King of Bashan, again, killing everybody.7
By now everyone in the area was deathly afraid of Israel so they went to this guy named Balaam, a powerful priest and soothsayer. The kings of the land wanted Balaam to curse Moses and his people. But God told Balaam not to do it, so he didn’t.
The only reason I mention this is because, after a bunch of stuff happened, Balaam’s donkey talked to him. That’s right, talked to him.8 So, if you’re a literalist, you already believe in talking snakes and now in talking donkeys.
Anyway, it all turned out well for Moses because Balaam ended up blessing the Israelites who wasted no time in wiping out these particular kings who had tried to set Balaam against them.
But it didn’t take long for the people to go astray once again.9 They started hanging out with the local women and even worshiped their God, Baal.
Moses’ response was typical. He promptly gathered up all the people who’d been worshiping Baal and killed them, 24,000 in all.
So much for the ‘thou shalt not kill’ thing (again).
Once all was right again in Moses’ world, God sent him off to war against Midian. Remembering how those foreign women had led his people astray before, Moses commanded his soldiers to kill all the men, women and male children while keeping for themselves only the virgin girls, of which there were 32,000. Gives you an idea about how much killing was going on.
These Israelites were getting a well deserved reputation as a scorched earth kind of people. Talk about putting the fear of God in you. It looked like Israel’s god was the baddest dude in town.
You’d think God might have given Moses a break on the stick and water thing, but no such luck. God sent Moses up to Mount Nebo to take a look at the Promised Land one last time. That’s all he was gonna get, a look. I guess God just wanted to rub salt in the wound. He could see it, but he couldn’t go in.
So Moses died up there on the mountain and God buried him somewhere, nobody knows where.
There’s an interesting sideline regarding this story that’s worth a note. After we learn of Moses’ death it literally says, “…and no one knows the place of his burial to this day.” Emphasis on “…to this day.” How long after the fact was this written?10
So that was it for Moses.
I’m not here to go through the whole conquest of the Promised Land but there are a few instances that struck me so I’ll just throw in my two cents and you can take what you want.
After Moses was gone, it fell on Joshua, Moses’ right hand man, to lead the charge into the land of Canaan11 and take possession of the ‘Promised Land’.
As you might imagine, the people who already lived there weren’t too thrilled. After all, this was their home and they’d been living there for a long time. That being said, they were scared to death of the Israelites. Everybody knew that these slaves had come out of Egypt after killing and plundering the Egyptians and they’d pretty much killed everybody who got in their way ever since. The sons of Abraham were a very nasty bunch.
So the first thing Joshua did was send spies to check out Jericho, the first city he had his sights on. These spies ended up in the house of a prostitute named Rahab. Why they ended up in the house of a prostitute is notable but I’ll leave you to your own conclusions about that.
Anyway, Rahab knew what they were up to and quickly made a deal. She’d hide them and help them escape if they agreed to spare her and her family when they came to take the city. Deal.
And just in time too, because the king of Jericho had found out about the spies and knew they’d paid a visit to the local whore.
But Rahab was a good liar. “Sure, they’d been there,” she said, “but they did their business and took off not too long ago. If you hurry you can catch them.” 12
Sure enough, the king took the bait and the spies escaped.
The next thing you know, Joshua and his army laid siege to Jericho.
You may have heard of the walls of Jericho falling down after the Israelites had marched around it for seven days. Some figure, if it actually happened, it must have been an earthquake. Literalists believe it was the hand of God, and some dismiss the whole story as a fairy tale.13
Personally, I take it as typical Middle Eastern exaggeration. I think the people of Jericho were so terrified of the Israelites they put up no fight and the walls were scaled as if they weren’t even there.
Regardless, as the story goes they marched around the city for six days and blew their horns on the seventh day and the walls fell down. And once again, the Israelites killed everybody, men, women, children, oxen, sheep, donkeys, everything. Everyone except Rahab the whore and her family.
I guess it was okay to not observe the Sabbath as long as they were murdering an entire population.14
But during the siege a guy named Achan had taken something he shouldn’t have and God, being all knowing, knew about it and was pissed. So what did he do? He ordered Achan, his whole family and everything he had; wives, sons, daughters, donkeys, oxen, sheep and even his tent, be stoned, then burnt and a big pile of stones be raised over them. According to the Bible that stone pile “stands to this day.” 15
This Old Testament God was not a very forgiving guy.
Next Joshua set his sights on the city of Ai. The reason I mention this is because, besides killing everybody in the city, men, women, children, he used a simple battle technique that has been used ever since.
First he got a bunch of his guys to hide out behind the city. Then he took a bunch of other guys and attacked the city from the front. Then he pretended to be losing and took off in retreat. That got the guys in Ai to chase after him. Once all the warriors of Ai were well outside the city, Joshua’s ambushers rose up and took the city and burned it to the ground. Then they had the Ai warriors in a vice and killed them all.
It’s the same technique used by the Spartans, the Roman Republic, William the Conqueror, Genghis Khan and countless others. It’s what the Sioux used to beat Custer. Sun Tzu warned in his ‘Art of War’; “do not pursue an enemy who feigns retreat.” Wise advice, whether in business or on the battlefield, beware if somebody gives up too easily.
In another battle it’s said “And the sun stood still and the moon stopped until the nation (Israel) took vengeance on their enemies.” 16
People have been debating this since time immemorial. Anyone with a brain knows there’s no way the sun stood still, which would really mean the earth ceased to rotate. It’s pretty obvious what would happen if that were literally true but many early scientists were burned at the stake for even mentioning the possibility. God can do whatever he wants, right? If he can work miracles he can easily make the Earth stand still. Who are we to question God?
What they fail to account for is the Near Eastern penchant for exaggeration. It’s like when they say, “Their numbers are so great, like the sand on the seashore.” You come across this type of phraseology regularly in the Bible and none of them were meant to be taken literally. It’s a euphemism, a figure of speech. Paraphrased, it really means, “We killed so many of them and with such ease it was like we had two days worth of killing in one day.”
Also, here’s a funny fact; this verse references The Book of Jasher as a prophecy of this sun standing still event. The problem with that is the Book(s) of Jasher, of which there are several, were not written until after the birth of Jesus. And Jasher isn’t even a name, it’s an adjective meaning ‘the upright one’. You can research this until your head explodes and you still won’t settle the debate.
One last thing about this verse. The part about taking vengeance on their enemies. I just want to point out that Israel was invading their land. The people who lived there had never done anything to them. So technically, Israel was the invading horde attacking people who had done them no harm. Vengeance was not the issue and these people were not their enemy.
So, just to be clear, Israel was the enemy. None-the-less, they killed everybody. Oh, and by the way, at the end of all this there’s another reference to “…until this day.” 17
Then they went to Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, Negeb, Hazor, Shimron, Achshaph and killed everybody there too.
So now that they’d pretty much killed everybody, they took possession of their Promised Land.
But then Joshua died and Israel again lost its way. And just as God had promised, they started losing the land they’d fought so hard for.
For those who’ve heard of the story of Samson and Delilah, this is when it happened 18.
At the time the Philistines ruled over Israel but this Israeli guy named Samson was a continual thorn in their side. As you might have heard, he was super strong. One time he killed 1,000 men with only the jawbone of an ass19 as a weapon. This is undoubtedly one of those Aramaic exaggerations but we won’t quibble.
To make a long story short, he fell in love with a girl named Delilah who tricked him into telling her the source of his strength. After messing with her a bit, he confessed it was his hair. If he ever cut his hair he’d lose his strength. This is beginning to sound like classic mythology but again, let’s take it at its word.
So Delilah cut Sampson’s hair and the Philistines grabbed him, gouged his eyes out and threw him in prison. Then they had a big feast to celebrate their great victory. They brought Sampson up out of prison to make fun of him but Sampson had other ideas. He leaned into the main pillars that held up the building and called on God to help him. Miraculously, his strength returned and he pushed over the pillar. He literally brought the house down, killing over 3,000 people, himself included. Talk about a hero.
I’m not going to get into it any more than I have but this whole portion of the Bible (Book of Judges) is chock full of scandal, killing, lies, deceit and betrayal so if you’re into that kind of stuff, or want to know more about this “Promised Land” thing, you might like it.
1 It might help if you look at a map or, better yet, Google it.
3 A long time, not literally 40 years
4 His words, not mine
5 Apparently still holding a grudge after the golden calf fiasco
6 Canaan bites the dust again.
7 Men, women, children and often the animals
8 Numbers 22:38
9 Did I mention stiff necked people
10 See Documentary Hypothesis
11 Poor Canaan
12 I’m paraphrasing here
13 Sounds to me like another example of Aramaic exaggeration; kind of like when we say, “The enemy melted before us”, they didn’t actually melt, right.
14 Remember, no work (or killing) on the seventh day
15 See Documentary Hypothesis
16 Joshua 10:13
17 Joshua 10:27
18 Judges 13
19 A donkey