Warrior Prophets Chapter 31
Assembly and Prophecy
“Do you feel it, Pinhas?” Joshua asked the High Priest. They stood together at the top of the rock-strewn mountain, outside the city of Shechem in the valley below. The hills of the Tribe of Ephraim, Joshua’s tribe, rose dramatically around them. They were on the border of the desert. Some of the mountains were green and verdant and others sparse and bare. The morning sun rose steadily. The night’s dew still glistened on the short grass interspersed between large boulders where Joshua and Pinhas stood.
“I feel the apathy,” Pinhas replied.
“It is worse than that. It is the contentment. They are satiated and they no longer rely on God. Each man has his own field, with peace all around. I fear my Master’s other prophecies will come true.”
Joshua had aged considerably. He was nearly one hundred and ten years old. The once vibrant, powerful warrior, the commanding general, the leader of the tribes of Israel was now little more than a withered white frame of skin and bones.
“So soon?” Pinhas, with a fully white beard, asked with some surprise. “Moses made his prophecies sound like they were for a distant future. Surely we are not there yet.”
“There were many layers to my Master’s prophecies. Is not the word of God eternal? There are cycle. And cycles within cycles. Mysteries and secrets that only future generations will understand and uncover. The next cycle will start soon – at most another generation. We must do what we can.”
“That is why you’ve called them again?” Pinhas asked, pointing at the masses of people climbing up the mountain.
“Yes. The last convocation was not satisfactory. The judges and princes gathered, but with no conviction, and they left with no enthusiasm, no commitment. I must press harder. My time is coming near and I will not have another opportunity. And there are two I must instruct further and strengthen.”
“Boaz and Ehud?” Pinhas asked.
“Yes, they are critical for the next cycle. If they fail, the future may be harsher and more precarious than needs be.”
“I don’t understand,” Pinhas admitted.
“Neither do I,” Joshua laughed. “God directs me and gives me certain images and directions. I get glimpses of the tapestry of our future and our past, and both Boaz and Ehud have pivotal roles. It is their free choice that shall determine the course of the major threads. God’s plan remains intact, yet the hue, the pattern, the entire fabric of our history will be shaped by their actions.”
“That is why you choose this place, Shechem?” Pinhas asked.
“Yes. Our forefather Jacob needed to strengthen the tribes and the first generation. He needed to purge them of the idolatrous compulsion. He succeeded right here on this mountaintop, beside this tree.” Joshua pointed to the ancient terebinth tree near him. “If we dig deep enough, we may even find the old idols and jewelry Jacob buried here. I pray that we can draw from Jacob’s success and the energy of this place.”
Two men approached Joshua and Pinhas, ahead of the crowd. One was a tall redhead, with hints of grey; the other was a squat young muscular brown-haired man.
“We are here, Joshua, Pinhas,” Boaz, the redhead, announced as he and Ehud bowed to the leader of Israel and to the High Priest.
“Welcome, Boaz son of Saalmon of Judah, Ehud son of Gera of Benjamin. You are worthy representatives of your tribes.”
“We are but minor judges in our tribes,” Boaz responded. “There are more senior judges and princes amongst us. We merely answered your summons to arrive early at the mountaintop.”
“Well answered,” Joshua said. “I wish for the two of you to see what I see. To see the assembled princes and elders and judges of the tribes of Israel. I feel that this is a sight that shall not occur again for many generations. I want you to remember it and draw strength from it. But do not stand right next to me. That would be improper. Perhaps stand next to the terebinth here and observe. Remain after the assembly leaves, as I wish to speak to each of your further.”
“I don’t understand.” Ehud cleared his throat. “Why will there be no more assemblies? Who will lead after you?”
“Sharp as always, Ehud.” Joshua smiled. “How is your blacksmithing work progressing?”
“Well, I am busy with pots and pans, rakes and hoes and a constant stream of domestic and agricultural tools. I still can’t compete with the Philistine blacksmiths but I’m getting better. Would you like to order something?”
“No, no, Ehud. Thank you. But I will answer your question. There is no one to appoint to succeed me and the tribes would not accept anyone other than from their own tribes. Boaz, would your proud tribe of Judah accept someone from Ehud’s Benjamin? Ehud, would your tribe allow someone from Menashe or even your neighbor Ephraim to rule over you? It is not like the days in the desert or even of the conquest. Each man, each family, each tribe is comfortable on its own land. Too comfortable. They will not follow or heed anyone else. They barely heed me or Pinhas. That is, until trouble returns. Then they will need strong leaders.”
“When do you expect trouble?” Ehud asked.
“Not in my day,” Joshua chuckled dryly. “But that’s enough for now. The assembly is congregating and I would not have them wait. Go stand by the tree.”
Joshua moved slowly to the apex of the mountain, supported by a large wooden staff. Pinhas stayed behind, but still in sight of the massing crowd. Boaz and Ehud walked quickly to the shade of the large terebinth.
Joshua gazed upon the congregated representatives. Twelve princes faced him and bowed low when he approached. The seventy elders stood behind the princes in their somber woolen robes. Behind them, further down the slope of the mountain, stood the judges and officers from every city and village of the twelve tribes of Israel, hundreds strong. Joshua recognized the older ones. The ones who had entered Canaan with him from the desert. The ones who had fought side by side with him to conquer the land God had promised.
Joshua felt the spirit of God permeate him. He stood tall and spoke powerfully:
“Children of Israel!” Joshua’s voice reverberated off the surrounding mountains, filling the valley with his voice. “Thus said the Lord, the God of Israel: Your fathers dwelt in antiquity beyond the River. Terah was the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor; and they served other gods. I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac. I gave unto Isaac, Jacob and Esau; and I gave unto Esau Mount Seir, to possess it; and Jacob and his children went down into Egypt. I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, and afterward I brought you out. I brought your fathers out of Egypt; and you came unto the sea; and the Egyptians pursued after your fathers with chariots and with horsemen unto the Red Sea. And when they cried out unto the God, He put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them, and covered them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt; and you dwelt in the wilderness many days.”
Ehud whispered to Boaz. “What’s with the history lesson?”
“Hush,” Boaz answered. “We need reminding. We don’t think of what God has done for us often enough.”
“I brought you into the land of the Amorites,” Joshua continued, “that dwelt beyond the Jordan; and they fought with you; and I gave them into your hand, and you possessed their land; and I destroyed them from before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel; and he sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. But I would not hearken unto Balaam; therefore he even blessed you; so I delivered you out of his hand. And you went over the Jordan, and came unto Jericho; and the men of Jericho fought against you, the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Girgashite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite; and I delivered them into your hand. I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; not with thy sword, nor with thy bow. And I gave you a land whereon you had not labored, and cities which you built not, and you dwell therein; of vineyards and olive groves which you have not planted do you eat.”
“We know all of this,” Ehud said impatiently. “What’s the point?”
“Listen, Ehud. Listen.”
“Now therefore fear the Lord.” Joshua raised his arms heavenward. “And serve Him in sincerity and in truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt; and serve you the Lord.” Joshua clenched his fist angrily. “And if it seems evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua stopped suddenly and looked impassively at the twelve princes in front of him. The entire assembly broke into surprised and angry murmurs.
“Did he say what I just thought he did? I can’t believe it. He’s giving us a choice to serve the other gods?” Ehud whispered.
“It must be a test,” Boaz answered. “He wants to strengthen the peoples’ resolve.”
“He’s going to have a riot on his hands.”
“Let’s see what the princes do.”
The judges and the elders seemed insulted and furious at Joshua’s offer.
“What does he mean?” an elder from Naftali asked. “Our people have free choice to worship other gods? This is the disciple of Moses? He would encourage us to leave our worship of God? Blasphemy!”
“Joshua does not mean it,” the Prince of Zevulun answered, turning to the masses behind him. “He senses our people’s weakness, our lack of resolve. He prods us to see how deep our apathy is. We must answer him.”
“We are dedicated to God and to the instruction of Moses,” the Prince of Yissachar stated.
“Then we must say so,” the Prince of Zevulun said to the crowd. “We all must say so. Unequivocally. It is nice that Joshua gives inspiring speeches, but it is not enough. He must hear from us. All of us!”
And the people shouted back to Joshua, as if in one voice:
“Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods; for the Lord our God, it is He that brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and that did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in the way we went, and among all the peoples through the midst of whom we passed.”
Ehud whispered to Boaz. “This is amazing!”
“Yes. Joshua has accomplished his purpose. They are showing some verve after all.”
The assembly continued shouting: “And the Lord drove out from before us all the peoples, even the Amorites that dwelt in the land; therefore we also will serve the Lord; for He is our God.”
The people of Israel stopped speaking. Complete silence enveloped the mountain. All waited for Joshua’s reaction. Joshua looked upon the assembly, an imperceptible smirk on his face. He closed his eyes, looked heavenward, nodded and opened his eyes to address the children of Israel.
“You cannot serve the Lord; for He is a holy God; He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If you forsake the Lord, even after all the good that He has done for you, and serve strange gods, then He will turn and do you evil, and consume you.”
“Is he out of his mind?” Ehud could barely contain himself. “What does he want from them? A pact in blood? Their firstborns? I’m impressed they haven’t stoned him yet.”
“No. Joshua is not satisfied yet,” Boaz explained. “He is driving the point home. He is renewing Israel’s allegiance to God. He hopes their commitment will endure. This is his way.”
The Princes conducted a heated discussion with the Elders and the Judges. They would make another unified statement. Louder and more passionately than before, they cried out in unison:
“Nay! We will serve the Lord!”
Joshua finally smiled and declared:
“You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve Him.”
Without prompt or discussion, the entire assembly, hundreds strong, raised their fists to the sky and screamed:
“We are witnesses!”
“Now therefore put away the strange gods which are among you,” Joshua pointed at the assembly, “and turn your heart unto the Lord, the God of Israel.”
“The Lord our God will we serve,” they answered, “and unto His voice will we hearken.”
Joshua nodded. He stretched his hand towards Pinhas standing near him. Pinhas presented an old scroll to Joshua, and held up a writing tablet for him to place it on.
“I am now writing these words, this new covenant, between you and God,” Joshua said as he wrote on the scroll. He handed the scroll back to Pinhas and looked around the mountaintop. He spotted the largest boulder he could find, a large gray stone, the height of a man and as wide as two men standing together. Joshua approached the stone with his staff and slashed at it with the tip of his staff. A red gash appeared through the middle of the stone sending off hot sparks. The crowd stepped back and murmured in amazement. Joshua then placed his staff on the ground, bent his knees and dug his hands under the massive stone. The frail-looking old man lifted the stone and walked it across the mountaintop to the large terebinth. The congregation was silent in awe. Joshua dropped the stone next to the large tree. It landed with a loud thud and sunk a few finger-breadths into the grassy ground.
Under the shade of the tree, the children of Israel could make out a faint glow surrounding their leader.
“Behold!” Joshua called out, standing tall and firm, with no sigh of exertion on his face. “This stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke unto us; it shall therefore be a witness against you, lest you deny your God! Now go. Every man to his home and his inheritance. But remember this day. Remember the pact we have reforged with God. Remember it and tell it to your children. God bless you and watch over you!”
The assembled stood, smiling at Joshua, clapped each other on the back and in general seemed pleased with themselves, as if successfully passing a test. They slowly disassembled, each group heading to their own tribal lands. Some of the princes and elders stayed behind, waiting to speak with Joshua.
“Wow!” Ehud breathed. “Was that what it was like at Mount Sinai?”
“I’m not that old,” Boaz said. “Though this was certainly awe-inspiring.”
“Let’s see what else Joshua wanted to tell us.”
The two walked briskly back to Joshua and Pinhas, ahead of the princes. Joshua motioned for Boaz and Ehud to approach and for the princes to wait and keep their distance.
“Ah, the next leaders,” Joshua said to Boaz and Ehud. “What did you think of our assembly?”
“Inspiring,” Boaz answered.
“Amazing!” Ehud replied. “We should do it more often.”
“I wish,” Joshua smiled. “But such monumental occasions would then lose there efficacy. I wonder when the next one may occur.” Joshua looked far away, pensively. “Never mind. Back to the business at hand. I will give you some advice for the future.”
Joshua closed his eyes, his face concentrating intently, his head bobbing up and down as if following some invisible current. He opened his eyes and looked at Boaz.
“My dear young warrior. You have seen more battle and death than most. Your skills and Caleb’s training served you and us well. You will have a more domestic life now, but there is one more task you will need to do, one courageous act that will set the stage for a unified Israel.”
“What act? What unity? Are we not unified now?”
“All I can tell you is that your act will be one of kindness. An unexpected kindness that will be placed at your feet and that will take great strength and resolve. It will go against what everyone around you will say. As for unity, we are unified now just in name, and with my passing, even that unity will disintegrate for generations to come. Only a special personality, in future days of tribulation, will have the power, the charisma, the will, to unify all of Israel. He shall come from your seed, Boaz.”
Boaz stood, mouth ajar, uncomprehending.
“Onto you, Ehud son of Gera. Your fighting career has not ended. One day you shall lead your tribe. The sons of Benjamin shall follow you into battle. You will need all your prodigious cunning and skill to overcome your enemy. Most of all, you will require faith. Faith in God and the instruction of Moses. Faith in His enduring love for the children of Israel, even when we sin. He will bring oppressors onto Israel whenever we stray from His path. It is as my Master Moses has foretold. You will see the cycle. The cycle of oppression, of God’s salvation through a chosen one and then tranquility until we stray again. After your battle, yours will be the period of the greatest tranquility. Make sure, in your old age, to tell the next leader of this cycle. You will know who it is just as I know it is you. Give him strength, that he not forget God, when all around have.”
Ehud blinked rapidly trying to absorb Joshua’s prophecy.
“Who is my enemy? How can I prepare?”
“I cannot reveal more,” Joshua smiled suddenly as if understanding some divine joke. “I will hint at his identity, but it will confound both of you for the rest of your lives. Your enemy, Ehud, is Boaz’s future father-in-law. Your killing and defeating him will enable the monarchy of Israel to rise.”
Ehud and Boaz looked at Joshua in utter confusion.
“Now don’t go around killing every prospective father-in-law,” Joshua added. “And don’t you worry, Boaz. Vered and you shall have a long and happy life together. But I have said enough. Perhaps too much. To answer your second question, Ehud. There is no preparation. The evil shall rise slowly and unchecked. The apathy shall grow. The compulsion to worship other gods will rise again, slowly but surely. The only preparation is to remain strong, dedicated, faithful. Keep the spirit and the belief alive in others, though at times you may feel as if you are the only one. Never give up hope! Deep inside every Israelite is an unshakeable faith in God, as you’ve seen today. Time and foreign influences will cover it in layers of idol-worship and materialism, but one call to arms, one strike against an oppressor, will cut through all those layers and reveal the true sons of Israel inside. Now go, both of you. I have things to discuss with Pinhas and the princes before I depart this world and you are both needed in your homes.”
Joshua hugged Boaz and Ehud tightly, then released them, holding back tears.
“Farewell, Boaz, Ehud. Be strong and of good courage!”
* * * * * *
Joshua’s speech is taken almost verbatim from Joshua Chapter 24. (Translation based on JPS 1917 version courtesy of Mechon Mamre site).
The commentator, Don Isaac Abarbenel, is the one who suggests that Joshua chose the city of Shechem for the assembly to parallel and draw strength from the Patriarch Jacob’s assembly and command to his sons and household to get rid of their idols in the same place.
I was hesitant to add the part with the stone at the end. The text is confusing and the commentators are in wide disagreement as to what it means. It’s not clear exactly where he did it, what was on it, what happened to the scroll, what the scroll was and a host of other questions.
Joshua’s prophecies to Boaz and Ehud are based on the text of the Story of Ruth and from the Book of Judges that I hope to get to in upcoming stories.
“Be strong and of good courage,” was the blessing of Moses to Joshua, his successor.