JOSHUA Strangers in Their Midst

Today, I find myself in the midst of Joshua 15, the eye-watering description of the allotment of land to the tribe of Judah, and the description of that’s land boundaries and contents.

1 The allotment for the tribe of the people of Judah according to their clans reached southward to the boundary of Edom, to the wilderness of Zin at the farthest south. 2 And their south boundary ran from the end of the Salt Sea, from the bay that faces southward. 3 It goes out southward of the ascent of Akrabbim, passes along to Zin, and goes up south of Kadesh-barnea, along by Hezron, up to Addar, turns about to Karka, 4 passes along to Azmon, goes out by the Brook of Egypt, and comes to its end at the sea. This shall be your south boundary. … (Joshua 15:1–4 ESV)

We have Caleb driving out the Anakim from his inheritance in and around Hebron, after which Caleb gives his nephew Othniel (who will become Israel’s first Judge) his own daughter Achsah in marriage (Caleb promised his daughter’s hand to the man who captured the town of Kiriath-seper), as well as some springs in the Negev as a blessing. Because she demands, as so many have, that her father “give me a blessing.” (This makes Othniel’s and Achash’s union a first cousin marriage, typical of most marriages throughout human history.)

In the desert, spring water would be an actually blessing — ברך barak, literally making camels kneel to take a drink. She chose well, and wisely, this daughter of Caleb.

“This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Judah according to their clans,” the ESV Bible reads. What follows is a long list of towns and places containing almost all of the south, save for that land given over to Simeon.

I find it interesting that while both Simeon and Levi are disinherited, forbidden from possessing their own land in Israel, because of their brutal vengeance against the Hivites of Schechem in Genesis 34, as tribes they also survive the coming cataclysm of conquest and exile. Levi survives because they are the priestly clan, deprived of any land whatsoever and utterly dependent on greater Israel for its survival. Simeon survives because it ceases to exist as an independent clan completely, eventually absorbed into Judah.

This is an intriguing lesson about survival. Sometimes one has a future, a promise, and posterity, only if one has nothing to preserve. Only if one gets lost entirely, is subsumed completely into something else.

But it is the end of Joshua 15 that intrigues me the most:

63 But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day.

The eternal capital, the City of David, is a mountain fortress full of Canaanites — Canaanites who have yet to be defeated. Who won’t be defeated for some time, not until David finally subdues it, and makes in his city. A city smack in the middle between the unruly tribes of the north and David’s own tribe of Judah.

There are still Canaanites in Israel’s midst, even as the land rests from war, even as it is parceled out to among the conquerors and colonizers. It’s worth considering that many of the sojourners, strangers, and foreigners in Israel’s midst — people Israel is commanded to love and treat as equals (“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:19) are also likely Canaanites.

Strangers. Enemies. Captives. Slaves. Subjects. Neighbors. Equals. Beloved.

Eventually, God will command Israel to learn to live as a defeated, conquered, and exiled people in a land that is not their own. But today, Israel is having to learn to live as a conqueror, and treat those it conquers but fails (or refuses, as we shall see) to drive out or kill, as equals, under the same law, with kindness, justice, and mercy.

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