Opening The Old Testament
A New Passover in the Wilderness: Reflections on Joshua 5:9-12
And after the circumcision is performed, it is equally crucial for the priests that the people celebrate the feast of Passover, again as a sign that they are connected to YHWH regularly in corporate and ritualized worship. Of course, the Passover is that very remembrance of the great act of YHWH through Moses. And for these editors, what Moses has done, Joshua must also do.
We Are Called to Take Responsibility for Ourselves
But a new twist on the Moses/Joshua parallel is to be found at Joshua 5:11-12. Up until now, just before the great assault against the inhabitants of the land of promise begins (Josh. 6f), the people have subsisted on the miraculous manna of YHWH, that sticky sweet substance that appears in the morning and just as quickly disappears as the day progresses (Ex. 16). Now, at the verge of the land, the Israelites for the first time eat "the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain" (Josh. 5:11). The manna is no more; "it ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year" (Josh. 5:12).
I find this tiny note interesting. The manna of YHWH, the miraculous gift of food in the desert, is no longer available. (It is important and fun to remember that the Hebrew word "manna" means quite literally "what is it"; the stuff was so singular that it defied creating a name for it!) After the manna disappears forever, because the people now can plant and cultivate food for themselves in their own land, Joshua is granted another Moses experience as he is confronted by a strange unnamed man with a drawn sword in his hand, who announces to Joshua that he, the man, is no less than the "commander of the army of YHWH" (Josh. 5:14). This towering figure tells Joshua, echoing YHWH at the burning bush, "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy" (Josh. 5:12). And like Moses before him, Joshua does so.
The editors of the book of Joshua are intent on connecting the experiences of the great Moses with the new leader of the people, Joshua. He is commissioned, granted YHWH's presence, and called by YHWH to obey YHWH in all things. In addition, he experiences the withdrawal of the manna of YHWH and the celebration of Passover with the produce of the land of promise. Joshua and his people are now much more on their own as they journey on their way to the land.
And so it is with us on our journey through Lent. We are called and commissioned by YHWH as YHWH's special people, bid to obey the word that YHWH offers us through Jesus Christ, and to take responsibility for ourselves and for one another in a community of service bound together in the covenant offered so graciously by the God who has called. We are not to wait for the miracles of God to show us what to do; we covenant with one another to create a community that God has called us to be. Well, perhaps those lectionary compilers were not so far afield as first thought! As always, the riches of the Hebrew Bible can shine in our own time, if they are given a fuller and clearer hearing.
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.