The book of Joshua is an uncomfortable book for most. In it we find the complete annihilation of entire communities. The modern reader is forced to wrestle with the utter brutality of it all. I feel, as the modern Christian, trapped with only two seemingly polar opposite options: boldly side with the ethnic cleansing (usually through the guise of faith and justice) or play ignorant and hope no one brings it up*. In the midst of this tension, what intrigues me is how the New Testament redeems some of these brutal Old Testament stories. For example, when 3000 are killed at Sinai, 3000 are saved at Pentecost. The Gospel writers seem to be the most prolific redeemers of the Old Testament tragedies. In Jesus, they would write, we find the redemption of Israel, Samson, David, Moses, Adam, and much more. These redemption moments are prolific throughout the Gospels but oft lay unnoticed.
One such example of an unnoticed nugget I finally came across was through our children’s picture bible (seriously, I love this thing). In the book of Joshua, amongst all of the complete and utter slaughter of peoples, there is this story about five kings who, through sheer desperation, attempt to save themselves by joining forces and attacking a local city-state (Gibeon) which had made an alliance with Israel: “Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it” (Joshua 10:5). These five kings united only to be defeated when the Israelites arrive at Gibeon’s request (Joshua 10:6). After their defeat, the kings took refuge in some caves. Joshua surrounded them and eventually brought them out.
The Execution of Gentile Kings
It’s at this moment on that my “Bible Nerd” goes nuts. Here’s the bullet points of the story:
- The kings are killed (Joshua 10:26).
- They are hung on trees (Joshua 10:26).
- Before evening, they are taken off the trees (Joshua 10:27).
- They are buried in caves (Joshua 10:27).
- Large stones are set over the cave’s entrance (Joshua 10:27).
In case you haven’t jumped a head of me, notice the eerie parallels:
- Jesus is killed.
- Jesus is hung on a “tree.”
- Jesus is taken off before evening.
- Jesus is buried in a cave.
- Jesus’ cave has a large stone set over it’s entrance.
By the way, the king in Joshua 10 that initiated the attack on Gibeon was the king of Jerusalem (Joshua 10:1). So, let’s amend that previous list.
- Jesus is the king of Jerusalem.
- Jesus is killed in Jerusalem.
- Jesus is hung on a tree in Jerusalem.
- Jesus is taken off the tree before the evening in Jerusalem.
- Jesus is buried in a cave in Jerusalem.
- Jesus’ cave has a large stone set over it’s entrance in Jerusalem.
If you’re brain isn’t going crazy yet, allow me to go a step further. Above Jesus’ tree is placed a plaque declaring Jesus as king of the Jews (in three different languages). Not enough? Alright. In Joshua 10, the sun is extended. At Jesus’ death the sun is blocked out (Matthew 27:45). More? In Joshua 10:18, Joshua says, “Roll large stones against the mouth of the cave and set men by it to guard them” to prevent anyone from coming out. A large stone was also rolled over Jesus’ tomb and men were set guard over it to prevent anyone from coming in (Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:46). Still more? Immediately before the events that lead to Jesus’ arrest, when the soldiers surround him, Peter draws a sword to protect his Rabbi and Messiah. Jesus’ response?
“Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
The Gospel writers record a narrative not only identifying Jesus as the Jewish king but also as dying the death of a Gentile king from Joshua 10. However, the phrase from Matthew 26, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” seems contradicting considering that Jesus will violently die at the hands of Roman soldiers. Understanding the context of the next verse will unfold His meaning.
Jesus as Elisha
When Jesus said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?,” He was alluding to Elisha in 2 Kings 6:17, when a Gentile king surrounded Dothan with his army to seize Elisha. “Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” After this, God makes the entire army blind and Elisha leads them to Samaria. There the king of Israel asked if he should kill them. Elisha says, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master” (2 Kings 6:22). These two armies, Jew and Gentile, have a great feast. The gentiles then leave never to attack again and, for a moment, there’s peace.
2 Kings 6, however, takes on even more depth when we recall that Elijah, Elisha’s mentor, had a similar event just 5 chapters previous. A gentile king facing death sent a commander with fifty soldiers to retrieve Elijah. Elijah calls down fire not on just one bunch but on two, killing 102. It was only when the third commander pleaded for his life that Elijah relents. The next chapter, Elijah ascended to heaven in the whirlwind and Elisha received a double portion of Elisha’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9, 15). So, when a few chapters later, we read about another Gentile king coming for Elisha, we would expect double the fire and death. Instead, the legion of angels remained passive on the hillside while Elisha escorted his would-be captors to a feast with their enemies. The contrast between these two events in 2 Kings as well as these two characters, offers a perspective in our understanding of John the Baptist as Elijah and Jesus as the Elisha figure to follow.
In Jesus’ death scene, we find two identifications with Gentiles. The first is Jesus as a Gentile king himself from Joshua 10. Jesus, oft portrayed as the Jewish king, dies a Gentile king’s death. It is His death that establishes His kingdom, not ends it. The second, Jesus invites Gentiles to dine with him instead of slaying them. In Jesus, we find the redemption of the Joshua conquest. Jesus’ kingdom is not established by the annihilation of its enemies but by an invitation to a meal. God doesn’t conquer his enemies; he dines with them.
*There are, to be sure, more options than these two. I am merely presenting how I “feel” about the whole Joshua debate. Many a theologian have done some solid work with Joshua.