These chapters sum up the Conquest, by naming the kings who were defeated, and therefore the villages and territories taken too. This was not just a military matter. The kings were representatives of the gods that they and their subjects served, and to some extent in ancient Near Eastern religions, were gods themselves, or were conflated with them. So Chapter 12 actually recounts the victory of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob over the gods of Sihon, Og, and of the city-states of Jericho, Ai, etc. In the next ten chapters we read of the lands remaining to be taken, and of the allotment of land to the various tribes. For a map of these allotments, check out http://www.mideastweb.org/palearly.htm. Of special importance is the fact that Israel was to be a loose confederation of tribes, ruled as directly as possible by YHWH God, rather than a centralized monarchy, with both worship and wealth flowing to the imperial/military head. This division also permitted and aided the redistribution of land to the original tenants (not owners!) every Jubilee year. Scattered strategically among these tribes, accessible to all, were the six cities of refuge (chapter 20), for any who may have innocently and inadvertantly shed human blood. The land being sacred, and human blood too, the pollution of the land by human blood, shed in murder, was not to be augmented by the shedding of blood in mistaken vengeance. Also scattered equally and strategically were towns for the priests and Levites, whose inheritance is God Himself, and whose role is to be living reminders and proponents of Israel’s covenant. Their priestly role among the people, with God as their supreme inheritance, now belongs to the church, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, so that you might proclaim his praises (I Peter 2:8-9).” Yet the geographical spread of Israel’s tribes, over a territory that feels small today by car or plane, left the tribes east of the Jordan feeling isolated enough from Israel’s worship, that they erected a monument, an altar of witness on their side of the river (Ch. 22). Mistaking it for an act of idolatry, separation and rebellion, the priest, Phineas, whom we first met in Numbers 25: 6-18 as a zealous guardian of Israel’s loyalty to YHWH God, leads a delegation to investigate the matter, to everyone’s satisfaction.
PSALM 19 is a wisdom psalm speaking of two types of revelation: Creation (vv. 1-6) and the Word, or Law (vv. 7-11) of God. As a sign of Israel’s awareness of and interaction with the religions of her neighbors east and west, some of the psalm’s language and imagery about the sun sounds like ancient Egyptian religious language about the sun god, Re, navigating his barque from east to west, or that of ancient Greece, which spoke of the sun god, Helios, driving his chariot across the sky each day. But the differences say more than the similarities. The sun in Psalm 19 is not a god, but the handiwork of God. Nor are the stars or other features of the firmament gods. Together they only speak about God, and reflect something of God’s majesty. Yet what they say, as widespread as their testimony is, is not enough. Much, much more is revealed in the Law of the Lord, or God’s Word. And unlike the testimony of creation, this Word moves us to reflect on our relationships, our character and our conduct, things about which nature only tells one so much. Just as nothing is hidden from the heat of the sun (v. 6) so is nothing hidden from the gaze of God, not even “the meditations of my heart (v. 14).”
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