Joshua’s Jubilee

Joshua’s Jubilee January 19, 2009

Luke 3-4 follows, like Matthew 3-4, the history of Israel. Jesus is the true Israel, recapitulating Israel’s failed story. But the sequence is somewhat different in the two passages. In Matthew, Jesus receives baptism from John, enters the wilderness to be tempted, begins His ministry in Galilee, before ascending to a mountain to teach on the law.

In Luke, Jesus is baptized, enters the wilderness to endure Satan’s temptations, and then goes to Galilee to announce the year of Jubilee. Famously, there is no “sermon on the mount” in Luke, but a “sermon on the plain,” which occurs a few chapters later – in chapter 6.

In the sequence of Luke’s gospel, the announcement of Jubilee stands in parallel to Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. A number of things may be said about that:

First, if it is correct that Jesus announces the Jubilee as the new Joshua, then Luke is presenting the conquest not as a genocidal invasion but rather as a liberation movement. Joshua foreshadows Jesus because he enters the land to liberate the oppressed masses of Canaanites from their dominating kings. Some respond – Rahab and the Gibeonites – and are brought under the wing of Israel’s King Yahweh. Others resist, and are crushed. But the overall thrust of the invasion is to liberate.

Second, Joshua is a new Moses – clearly so at the beginning of the book, but also throughout the book. Like Moses, he confronts the “Pharaohs” of the land, bringing curses on them, because they refuse to let the oppressed slaves go free. Moses liberates Israel from Egypt so that Joshua can liberate the Canaanites from their kings and gods.

Third, details of the story of Joshua make sense on this interpretation. Trumpets announce the fall of Jericho; but the trumpet also announced the beginning of the Jubilee (Leviticus 25:9). The shout and trumpet at Jericho is a shout of triumph, but it is also the sound of deliverance, for those, like Rahab, who ally with Israel.

Fourth, this fits with other depictions of Jesus-as-Joshua in the Bible. Elisha is a new Joshua, but he devotes himself mainly to miraculous assistance to debtors, widows, the childless and the hungry. Matthew 8-9 is a “conquest” story, but it is about healings.

If this interpretation can be sustained, many of the objections to the conquest melt away. I’m not sure it can be fully sustained, but I’m convinced It’s worth a try.


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