Joshua the Prophet

Joshua Loyal

Bar Mitzvah 6/12/04

The Book of Joshua has been widely argued over the years due to the number of wars and deaths associated with it.  Because of all the battles, people might have overlooked Joshua's very hard and challenging life. This is the reason why I chose to write my Devar on Joshua and his life told by the Torah and Haftorah.  I also will discuss some key points in his life such as: how he enters the Torah, his many battles and their tactics, if he is a prophet or not, Joshua's miracles, and finally his death.

Joshua unexpectedly enters the Torah when Moses selects him to lead a battle. He enters with no background or family line provided.  The Torah only introduces Joshua as the Son of Nun. This literally means Joshua the Son of Nothing.  Moses chooses Joshua for the battle and the Canaan Spy Mission, however it seems strange to me to assign such an important responsibility to someone so new and young, yet Joshua proves himself worthy of the challenge.

The Book of Joshua is a book of battles. The first battle mentioned, is The Battle of Jericho and is significant because it is Joshua's first battle and is an example of where Joshua succeeds and Moses fails. Joshua gains his men's confidence in his leadership by reading Torah to them before every battle.  His men fight better, because they know what they are fighting for and for whom. This may be the reason why the spies that are sent into Jericho, to scout it out, don't report back to Joshua with lies, nor do they complain to Joshua, as they did 38 years earlier to Moses.

Joshua's next battle, in the Book of Prophets, is the Battle Ai.  The Battle of Ai teaches Joshua a hard lesson to not be overconfident, in which he is, and he pays dearly with his men. In the battle of Ai, when Joshua first attacks, he just sends a few men and, because he is over confident, that strategy fails.  The second time, he changes the tactic and sends a small army to retreat. When the Ai army follows the retreaters, the rest of the army captures the city of Ai.

Joshua is fierce in war. In the battle against Jerusalem, Joshua traps 5 kings in a cave, then takes them out, orders his men to put their feet on the kings' necks, hang them and finally, throw them back into the cave.   Joshua's troops are small in number and Eli Wiesel, a Jewish book scholar, feels showing mercy would have been mistaken for weakness.  Joshua had to be ruthless and that may help explain the brutality.

Joshua never starts war for the sake of war.  He hates war and tries to avoid it.  He sends three letters, to the kings of the cities, three options; evacuate the land, stay and accept Jewish rule; or stay and fight.  As in the city of Gibeon, Joshua makes a peace treaty, this demonstrated that he is a great tactician and is able to assess the situation and cope with it, whether to make peace or war. Joshua's name is even listed with West Point's most famous tacticians and field commanders.  I have read that Modern-day Israeli generals say that had it not been for their knowledge of Joshua's tactics, their military operations might have failed.

A question that I am curious about is whether Joshua is a prophet or not.  Joshua is in the Book of Prophets but his book is a historical prophet book. It only tells of the history of the Israelites after Moses dies and the conquering of Canaan. In rough terms, a prophet is a person who talks to God and, Joshua does that. According to Maimonides, a famous Jewish thinker, " The prophet can furnish a vision and the theoretical foundations to support it." Joshua, on the other hand, only did things God instructed him to do, because God willed it. The Super Naturalists theorists claim, " to be a prophet you just need God's will", which Joshua had but, the Naturalists other theorists claim " you also need keen intellect" and, Joshua's military tactics show that he is intelligent. The difference between Moses as a prophet and Joshua is that Moses talked to God, himself, like Joshua, but he understands why God asks him to do things, he even argues with God, not just that it is his will. In my opinion, I think Joshua is a prophet, possibly not as great as Moses, but he did carry out and translate God's will.

Joshua performs many impressive miracles in the Book of Joshua; his most famous is ordering the sun and the moon to stand still so he can win a battle. What is so spectacular is that the sun and the moon listen and obey Joshua's command.  The force of the Jordan River to run backwards, so the Israelites can cross in order to go into Canaan, is another miracle and adds to the reasons why I think Joshua is a prophet.

Joshua fights wars in God's name, but what did God want Joshua to do? I think God wants Joshua to rid the people of Canaan and resettle the Jewish people in the land. But why couldn't God do it for them? Well, I think God wants the Israelites to want, fight and earn the land for themselves.

A characteristic of Joshua's personality that interested me is in the Haftorah, forty-five years later, when Joshua is dividing the concurred land of Canaan.  Caleb, Joshua's friend and co-spy in the Canaan spy mission, asks Joshua for a piece of land, saying, "Give me some land because I didn't lie to Moses about the land". Joshua could have reminded Caleb that he, too, did the same thing, but chose not to, and granted Caleb's request for land. This act of kindness and forgiveness are character traits I am always working towards.

In Joshua's final speech, he does not speak of his war victories and personal achievements. Elie Wiesel, in Five Biblical Portraits, writes that each war makes Joshua feel more and more sad.  Instead, Joshua talks about how the Israelites have a choice whether to keep practicing Torah or not.  And, as Joshua reminds the Jewish people that we must make a choice to practice Torah, I have made my choice, today.  Because, today, I was called up to read from the Torah, for the first time, as a Bar Mitzvah.


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