JOSHUA Sojourners

30 At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, 31 just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. 32 And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. 34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them. (Joshua 8:30–35 ESV)

So here’s my question — sojourners? Who are these sojourners who are wandering with Israel?

The word in Hebrew here is גֵּר ger from the verb גּוּר gur which means to tarry as a sojourner but can also mean to attack or to strive or to be afraid. It is related to an Arabic word, جار jaar which means neighbor from the verb جور jawara which has as its original meaning to deviate or to stray or to wrong, persecute, oppress but in other forms (ask me later about semitic verbs and their wondrous and varied forms!) means to live nearby or next to or to seek protection or even to protect.

It’s important to understand just what is meant by a sojourner here. These aren’t visitors, people wandering around taking in the sights. They aren’t tourists. A sojourner is someone who “separated himself form his clan or home, and places himself under the legal protection of another man or group of men.”1 These are people who are not Israel but who look to Israel for protection and have attached themselves to Israel. They are foreigners, refugees, migrants. Another definition of גֵּר in other closely related semitic languages is client in the sense of someone in a subordinate relationship with a patron or a lord, someone who promises loyalty and service in response for protection and maybe some level of provision. (Vassal would be another way to describe this relationship.) These are people who no longer have the protection of their tribes, clans, or kingdoms, and have separated themselves — either voluntarily or because there was no other choice, their survival and existence was at stake — and attached themselves to a people they are not related to.

Think Rahab, the prostitute, who betrayed her people in Jericho and took Israel’s side in the conquest and destruction of her city. In this context, Rahab is a sojourner. Sojourners are non-Israelites who seek Israel’s protection and take Israel’s side in its struggles.

The Torah is emphatic that Israel have only one law for sojourners and Israelite alike. When God tells Israel, “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt,” God is reminding Israel that not only were they strangers in Egypt (non-Egyptians ethnically and religiously), but they also sought and worked for Egypt’s good. Egypt betrayed Israel, and not the other way around.

God is reminding Israel that it has an obligation to those who take Israel’s side, and seek Israel’s protection. They are no different from Israelites, even if they are not related by blood and do not share in the patrimony or the promise.

So who are these sojourners?

According to Louis Ginzburg’s The Legends of the Jews, they have been with Israel since the Exodus:

The cavalcade consisted of six hundred thousand heads of families afoot, each accompanied by five children on horseback, and to these must be added the mixed multitude, exceeding Hebrews vastly in number.2

To which Ginzburg adds the following footnote:

According to Philo, Vita Mosis, 1. 27, he mixed multitude consisted of two distinct classes: one was made up of bastards, the sons of Egyptian woman and Hebrew men; to the second belonged all those who out of love for the God of Israel followed His people. ShR 18. 1 likewise speaks of the pious among the Egyptians who even before the last plague had proclaimed their belief in the true God, and celebrated the Passover together with the Israelites.3

If Ginzburg is to be believed, the sojourners outnumbered the actual Israelites in the Exodus!

So, in this Joshua passage, I suspect most of these sojourners are Canaanites — individuals, families, clans, tribes — that have seen the handwriting on the wall and switched sides, throwing in their lot with Israel in exactly the way Rahab and her family did. Along with some others who joined Israel along the way.

And some … well, we’ll meet them tomorrow.

  1. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, 439–449 ↩︎
  2. Legends of the Jews, Volume II, p. 375 ↩︎
  3. Legends of the Jews, Volume V, p. 439 ↩︎

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