Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Along the Way
Joshua's tale
Home | Homilies | Stories | Thoughts along the way... | ATW News | A User's Guide...

A tale of world shaking events, the building of a nation, and supernatural powers all from the perspective of the second in command.

I am Joshua Ben Nun, an Aipiru of the tribe of Ephraim. I am tired. My children are among the elders of Israel and my childrens children are already graybeards. It seems as if God is holding the angel of death back from claiming me, yet I can not fathom why. It is unnatural to live so long!

It seems strange that I worry about death being kept from me. So many years of my life were spent on deaths door. I assumed as a youth that my life would be short and my end violent.

My first memory as a child was of chains and the whip. I was born into slavery. My people were the forced laborers who built the glorious Egyptian cities and the terrible pyramid tombs. My mother died in childbirth. The strain of gleaning the fields for straw with which to make bricks for our masters was too much for her. She ended up going into labor prematurely and hemorrhaging. In the end both my mother and my baby brother died.

My father was a stone cutter and respected by the Egyptians for his excellent work. The mans skills earned him somewhat better treatment than the other Aipiru slaves, though the degree of difference was relative. Perhaps we felt the whip on our backs less often than the others. Stonecutters had a skill the Pharaoh needed. He didnt take it kindly if our taskmasters hurt his limited supply of skilled artisans.

I learned my fathers skills, as did my older brothers. Father insisted. According to him, it was our only hope.

As much as I loved my father, I refused to believe that better treatment by our slave masters was our only hope. I knew the history of our people. I knew that the Aipiru had been a free people living in the land of Canaan, as were many of our distant cousins who still lived in Canaan. The story of Joseph was my favorite childhood tale. I knew how our ancestor had been the Pharaohs vice-regent and had saved Egypt from starvation and chaos. The Aipiru had been welcomed into Egypt and given the finest land in gratitude for the service Joseph had rendered to the Pharaoh. The Aipiru had been among the most skilled of the Pharaohs servants and most respected of Egyptian citizens for many generations.

Then the tide of feeling began to turn against the Aipiru. A new dynasty of Pharaohs came to power, which did not remember the name of Joseph with gratitude. These Egyptian leaders did not like outsiders, even if they had lived in Egypt for generations. They announced, "Egypt for the Egyptians! If the Aipiru want to stay, let them contribute to the empire through the sweat of their brows!" By the time of my great grandfather, the Aipiru had been reduced to little more than slaves.

Slavery is below the dignity of any people. We are children of God, not cattle or property. I believed with all my heart that the Aipiru must not look for a better deal with our Egyptian slave masters but must take back our freedom from the Egyptians. As a youth I joined one of the rebel gangs that sabotaged Egyptian defenses and provided rough justice for those task masters who were too zealous in their treatment of the Aipiru. I was a good fighter and became leader of a small "army" of Aipiru toughs before I was 18 years old. At one point I was captured and in serious trouble, when friends helped me escape.

I made my way out of Egypt. After a difficult journey, I reached Shechem, a small town in the central highlands of Canaan. It was here that he met the Aipiru of Canaan. These were people with a language and customs not terribly different from my people suffering in Egypt. They were poor by and large, people who preferred the countryside to cities. They made their living as herders and craftsmen. They were good fighters. They had to be, as the armies from the Canaanite cities routinely attempted to rid the countryside of Aipiru.

I stayed in Shechem for the next ten years. I lived among the Aipiru of this community, helped them fight their battles. I married and began my own family with a young woman of the community. I even gained a reputation as something of a warrior and strategist among the Aipiru.

I loved the freedom and dignity that I enjoyed among the Aipiru of Canaan. They might have to struggle against nature and the fear of their neighbors but they did it as free men and women!

It was always painful for me to hear news of the sufferings of the Aipiru who were still under the yoke of slavery in Egypt. Not only did I weep for the sufferings of my people but also I burnt with shame that I enjoyed the relative peace and comfort of Shechem while the others suffered. Since I wasnt sure what good I could do by going back, I stayed in Shechem and tended to my responsibilities there.

Very strange stories began to circulate among the Aipiru. Eventually these stories made their way to me. The stories were so strange as to almost be unbelievable! Apparently the younger prince of Egypt was not truly Egyptian. He was Aipiru!!

According to the stories the Pharaohs sister had fished the young prince out of the Nile during one of the periods of more violent Aipiru persecution. She was so taken with the baby that she raised him has her son. The crown prince and this Aipiru baby were raised as brothers. Everyone thought that the younger boy, Moses, was truly the Pharaohs nephew.

Certainly, Moses was the brighter and more gifted of the two young men. The pharaoh saw this early and directed his sons training in the skills of war and his nephews education in the skills of law and diplomacy. Ramses would be the pharaoh after him and commander of the Egyptian armies. However, Moses would be the pharaohs chief adviser and the brilliant power behind the throne. He was certain that between the two boys, Egypt would enjoy a golden era of power and enlightened governance.

Just about the time that the Pharaohs vision was being realized and the two young princes were gaining a reputation throughout the Mediterranean as rising stars, the world was turned upside down for Moses. Somehow he learned that he was an Aipiru slave by birth and a prince of Egypt only by a miracle of providence! He was devastated!

The royal family loved him. The news of his origins changed nothing for them. Indeed, the older members of the family had known the situation from the beginning. Yet, this did little to settle the confusion with which the young prince struggled.

Moses looked upon the Aipiru for years with the same callous indifference, as did most Egyptians. Their pain was of no concern. Their enslavement a matter of enlightened government policy necessary to undertake the great Egyptian construction projects. Indeed, he had argued for the necessity of this policy and freely made use of slave labor. Now... he could not live with the knowledge of his actions and the pain they had caused his people! In his distress he left the palace and went to live among the Aipiru, among the members of his blood family. He would learn first hand what it meant to be Aipiru in Egypt. He would learn what it meant to be a slave.

One day he witnessed an Egyptian taskmaster beat an Aipiru to death for some slight infraction. His sense of justice was inflamed and he charged the taskmaster. A prince of Egypt is trained in military skills from his earliest years. So, it was not just a wild slave that attacked the taskmaster but an enraged and highly skilled Egyptian warrior! The taskmaster was dead before he realized that he was under attack. The Aipiru who witnessed the event were not particularly thankful for Moses intervention. They were afraid of the revenge that would be exacted by the Pharaohs guards.

Moses was even more confused that before, for now he had killed a man. Was he Egyptian? Was he Aipiru? Was he the Pharaohs nephew? Was he a slave? He could no longer live with himself. He had to get away and think! He headed for the desert of the Sinai.

That is where the rumors ended. For several years nothing was heard of Moses. Most people assumed that the Aipiru prince had died in the desert. These rumors had been in circulation not long after Joshua had found his way to Shechem. Now there were new rumors. Moses was still alive! He was living among the Midianites to the east of Canaan. Like myself, he had taken a wife and found a new way of living that suited him. Stranger yet, the rumors said that Moses was preparing to return to Egypt and to fight for the Aipiru. They would be free!

The flame of hope flickered in my heart for the first time in years. Freedom! If anyone could pull that off, it was the man trained to be the brains behind the throne of Egypt. I decided that I would join Moses in Midian and return to Egypt with the prince. I could sit by no longer while Aipiru were still slaves in Egypt.

 

Moses surprised me. I had always imagined the prince as being my contemporary. Yet, Moses was at least ten years older than I was. I was in my late twenties at the time, so Moses had to be in his late thirties or early forties. He was certainly an imposing figure, even in Midianite shepherds robes. It must have something to do with thirty years of preparation to exercise the power of an empire. Given the mans powerful bearing, I expected Moses to be arrogant or condescending. What I found was a humble, friendly, and confident leader. I was even more surprised to see how much Aipiru belief and custom Moses had absorbed during his stay in Midian.

Moses would return to Egypt and face the Pharaoh. The only people to accompany him would be Aaron, his Aipiru brother, and myself. We would return quietly and meet with the Aipiru elders. Then, when the time was right, Moses would confront the Pharaoh.

I thought the plan was foolhardy. Two or three Aipiru were not going to overcome the power and authority of the Egyptian pharaoh! I spoke with Moses and advised that we return to Canaan to organize an army of Aipiru who could return with us to Egypt. An army of Canaanite Aipiru would embolden the Aipiru slaves. There would be an uprising and we would have our freedom. Moses smiled and complemented me on this strategy. Coming from Moses, I was pleased. However, Moses explained that we would not be able to use that strategy just yet. Moses explained why.

"Months ago I noticed a strange light on the mountain near my home and climbed up to find its source. What I discovered was a bush that glowed, almost as if it were on fire. I had never seen such a sight before. Even the Pharaohs best court magicians could not accomplish anything this eerie. I felt a sense of awe in the presence of the light. The air tingled and it was unnaturally quiet.

"Then a voice began to echo in my mind. I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Take off your shoes, for you are on sacred ground.

"I fell to my knees and hid my face from the sight of the burning bush. I knew the stories of our Aipiru ancestors. I knew the promises that had been made to them by their God--El Shaddai, the Mighty and all-powerful.

"He now spoke to me and I was afraid. I was a murderer and a coward; killing the Egyptian and leaving the Aipiru in slavery while I enjoyed life in Midian.

"Yet, the Lord paid no attention to these failings. He simply told me that he had heard the cries of his people and he would intervene. He told me that I had a role to play in this great work. He told me to go to the Pharaoh and to give him this message, Let my people go! So you see, we already have our marching orders."

I knew the stories. I considered myself a good Aipiru, knowing the traditions of my people. Yet, Moses story frightened me.

I could understand the yearning of men and women for freedom. I could understand the need for battle. I even could understand if Moses had counseled the use of diplomacy and negotiation as an alternative to my battle plan. What I could not understand was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!

If such a God existed, he had abandoned the Aipiru long ago. Centuries had passed and rivers of Aipiru blood had been spilled. What kind of God would have promised to make Abrahams descendants as numerous as the sands and a great nation one minute and then abandon them to slavery the next?

Yet, Moses was telling me to abandon reason and to walk with him on a path I considered foolish, a path that required I trust his God! I struggled with my feeling but I had committed myself to Moses and I would honor that commitment. The talk of God aside, Moses was still the best hope for the Aipiru, if we were to be freed from the yoke of slavery. It was just that the God-talk made me very uncomfortable.

Aaron went ahead into Egypt, where he met with the elders of the people and arranged for a meeting between them and Moses. Shortly after his arrival, he met with the elders and told them of his experience upon the mountain. Moses explained why he was in Egypt and what God required of him.

The reaction was mixed. Some thought that Moses was insane. Others admired the desire to see his people free but felt that his plan was no plan. Others were concerned that he would just stir up the Pharaohs anger and make life even more difficult for the Aipiru. In the end Moses obtained grudging support for his mission. Any lesser man than Moses would have been refused without a second thought. However, the elders felt, as I did, that if anyone had a chance of freeing the Aipiru from slavery, it was Moses.

For all his strange behavior, Moses was still considered a prince of Egypt. When he appeared at the entrance of the palace demanding entry and an audience with the Pharaoh, the porter hesitated only a moment. Moses was invited in. While the Pharaoh prepared to meet with him, Moss was offered all the comforts and food of the royal household.

The Pharaoh was now Ramses II. His father died several years before leaving the crown to Ramses. This had been the old Pharaohs plan for many years, except that he had always dreamed that Moses would be Ramses companion and vice-regent. The old Pharaoh was deeply concerned before he died. He feared that Ramses would have a difficult time of it, without the prudence and reason of his cousin. Surprisingly, Ramses had done a credible job so far as pharaoh. The only real fault that Moses could perceive was an impulsiveness that caused Ramses to be reckless at times. Moses also remembered that his cousin could be bull-headed, since it difficult for him to admit and quickly remedy his errors. It was a tendency that Moses realized he shared as well. Perhaps it was a characteristic of those raised to wield absolute power.

Moses and Ramses had grown up thinking of each other as cousins--no, more as brothers. They were only a year apart in age. Once Moses was old enough to walk on his own, the two boys were inseparable. They were best friends throughout their childhood; sharing adventures and schooling, as well as the affection of their parents and the entire Egyptian court.

As teenagers Ramses would show signs of resentment toward Moses, perhaps as a result of his fathers plans for their future. He felt that his father viewed him as stupid compared to Moses. It caused more than one argument between the two boys but in the end Moses was able to smooth over Ramses feelings and soothe his brothers bruised ego.

Thus, while Ramses sorely missed Moses after he fled into the desert, he saw it as an opportunity to prove to his father that he was just as capable as Moses in handling affairs of state. He was pleased with his success in the few years since he came to the throne. He was also pleased with this opportunity to show Moses that he had done a good job.

The first thing Ramses did when Moses was ushered into the audience chamber was to step down from the dais and go to embrace his long absent brother. Tears were in the eyes of both men as they held each other and murmured how good it was to see each other after so many years. Ramses was pleased to see that Moses appeared happy and at peace with his Aipiru heritage. Moses was pleased with the confidence and dignity that his brother had acquired during the years of his absence.

The greetings completed, Ramses warmly expressed his hope that Moses was ready to return to the Egyptian court and to assume some of the duties for which he had been trained from his youth.

Moses expressed his appreciation for the offer and reaffirmed his continuing love and admiration for his childhood companion. He then went on to relate his experience on the mountain as a way of explaining why he couldnt accept the offer. This story also served as an introductionto the purpose of the visit.

"So, Yahweh directed me to meet with you and give you this message. Let my people go, so that they may keep a feast in the wilderness in honor of me."

Ramses was disappointed. He had offered Moses the opportunity to sit at his right side and to rule the Empire with him. He had swallowed his pride and expressed his willingness for Moses to assume the role that had been the plan of the old Pharaoh from the beginning. Instead of accepting this honor...instead of rejoining his brother, he chose to act as an advocate for the Aipiru! Moses was rejecting the gift of royal status and power that had been given him by the old Pharaoh and in its place was embracing the rags of poverty and slavery. Ramses was not only disappointed, he was hurt by the rejection.

"Who is this Yahweh of which you speak, brother? I am Egyptian. Among the gods, I know Ra, Seti, Ossiris and the others represented among the statuary in this great hall. Please, which of these statues represents Yahweh? Tell me so that I may know of whom you speak?"

"Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God of the Aipiru."

"I know nothing of Yahweh, this Aipiru deity. I will not let the Aipiru go!"

Moses responded with urgency in his voice, "I have explained how I was commissioned to deliver this message to you. I fear that if the Aipiru are not allowed to go out into the desert and offer worship there will be plague or war that will come upon us as a punishment."

"You of all people, Moses, should know the importance of Aipiru labor to the economy of Egypt. They are also the backbone of the great construction projects. You speak of holding a three-day feast in the desert. You will shut down the land of Egypt for those three days, as well as for the days before and after which are required for travel and preparation for the feast. The loss is significant. Think of what you are asking! Are we to close down the nation so Aipiru slaves can party for three days? If you do not want to share in the throne of Egypt, then return to Midian, my dear brother, and tend your sheep. Whatever you do, please do not bother me again with such absurd requests. I will not let the Aipiru go!"

After Moses left Ramses nursed his bruised feelings. He had longed for the day when Moses would return. He looked forward to the adventures that the two of them might share. When he heard that Moses was once again in Egypt, he anticipated his brothers visit by commissioning a crown and medallion signifying that Moses was vice-regent. As soon as he heard that Moses was in the palace her ordered that a feast be held that evening as which he would appoint Moses vice-regent of all Egypt. Did his brother prefer some desert god and a bunch of forsaken slaves to him? Ramses called for the chief overseer.

"You provide the Aipiru with straw so they can make bricks. From now on do not provide straw but let them glean it for themselves. Be sure however that the quota of bricks is unchanged. Perhaps if they are kept busy they will not have time to listen to my brother and the strange ideas he concocted in the desert. They may even resent him for the added burden."

The Pharaohs plan seemed to have worked. The elders of the Aipiru met with Moses a few days latter and complained bitterly at the added burden that had been placed upon them because of Moses demands. Moses could say nothing in response. He felt their pain and frustration. He knew that the added burden was the direct result of his comments to Ramses.

Moses turned to God in prayer, pouring out his heart. He complained to the Lord that in following his commands Moses had only made the situation worse for the Aipiru. When was God going to deliver the Aipiru from bondage? In response, Moses heard the voice of God and was told that Pharaoh would be forced to let the Aipiru go. God reminded Moses of the covenant that he had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He told Moses that he was now part of that ancient covenant that was being unfolded before his eyes. Finally he instructed Moses in what he was to do. It would not be easy but the Aipiru would be free!

I was disappointed in Moses. For all the hope and excitement he had stirred up in the Aipiru as a result of his stories about Yahweh, the situation had only gotten worse. If Yahweh was going to free the Aipiru, he had best do it soon! If the Egyptians didnt kill Moses, the Aipiru were in a mood to do it themselves. I considered returning to my family in Shechem, as I felt Moses plans were going nowhere. However, I made a commitment to Moses and would stand by my friend.

Just when the situation seemed hopeless, things changed. Yahweh got involved, finally! Moses had another audience with Ramses. In the end, it was no more productive than the first meeting. However, at the meeting Moses finally demonstrated that Yahweh was willing to use his divine power to see that his people have their religious feast. At this meeting Moses staff was transformed into a serpent! Joshua was astonished! Apparently the Pharaohs priests were able to do the same. Perhaps, Moses snake was no more than a magicians trick but then again, perhaps it was the real thing! Maybe the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was really talking with Moses and had taken an interest in the Aipiru? Perhaps, the Aipiru would really be delivered from bondage?

A few days later Moses got up early and went down to the river at a spot where he and Ramses used to play as children. As he approached the river, he noticed that Ramses was already there. The Pharaoh turned and smiled as he saw his brother approach. "An excellent magicians trick, my brother. Perhaps you would be willing to serve as my court magician, if you so dislike the thought of being viceroy?"

"If things had been different, brother, nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to assist you in any way you might desire. However, you are Pharaoh and I have been called by Yahweh to deliver his people. The Lord says, "Let my people go to offer me worship in the wilderness!"

The smile disappeared from Ramses face. "Are you going to do more magicians tricks to intimidate me? Should my magicians run and get their staffs so we can all play this game? You irritate me, brother!"

Moses gave his staff to Aaron, who moved closer to the bank of the river. "No magic tricks, Ramses. The land of Egypt is red with the blood of centuries of Aipiru slaves. If you will not accept the command of Yahweh, then the people of Egypt will be awash in the Aipiru blood they have shed. Again, will you let the Aipiru go to offer worship in the wilderness?"

"No, never!" Ramses responded, with more than a little anger in his voice.

Moses nodded to Aaron, who raised the staff Moses had given him high above his head. He brought the staff down swiftly, as a taskmaster whipping the back of a slave. As the staff struck the water, it seemed to sever the water as if it was flesh. Blood flowed from the spot Aaron struck. The flow of blood became a torrent and spread throughout the river, turning the Nile scarlet. Within hours even cistern water was fouled. The fish were dead, as they could not survive in a river of blood. The smell of blood and rotting fish was foul. There was no drinking water, no water for washing, only blood. This continued for seven days before the river cleared.

I, and the rest of the Aipiru, watched with ever-increasing awe as the events of the next few months unfolded. Moses would present Yahwehs command and Ramses would refuse. Each time a terrible plague would be inflicted upon the Egyptians. First it was an infestation of frogs. Then came the mosquitoes and the gadflies. Egyptian livestock died and the people were infected with boils. At first Ramses had his court magicians attempt to counter Moses miracles. That strategy was a failure and an embarrassment, especially when the magicians own efforts resulted in them being covered in boils. There was hail, locusts, and three days of darkness. Once Ramses relented and gave permission for the Aipiru to go into the wilderness for worship. Then, but before Moses was out the door, he changed his mind. Finally, after three days of darkness the Pharaoh called for Moses and told him to take the Aipiru and go into the desert for their feast. However, he instructed Moses that the Aipiru must leave their livestock in Egypt. This way Ramses insured that the trip to the desert was for worship and not an attempt to flee Egypt. Moses said that they had to bring their flocks. The purpose of the feast was to offer worship. That meant animal sacrifice. How were they to do this if they did not have their livestock with them?

Ramses was infuriated by Moses response. He relented and gave permission for the Aipiru to do exactly what Moses had requested. His condition that the livestock stay behind was reasonable. If the Aipiru were going to worship they did not need to bring large herds of sheep, goats, and cattle with them into the desert. A few animals for sacrifice were fine but it was not unreasonable to demand that the herds remain behind. It seemed to him that the feast was just a ploy to get the Aipiru away from their taskmasters so that they could escape. He lost his patience with Moses. From that moment on Moses was no more than an Aipiru slave! "Get out of my sight! Take care, Aipiru! Never appear before me again. On that day you shall die!"

Moses was despondent. Not only was his relationship with Ramses irretrievably broken but he was no longer able to present Yahwehs instruction to the Pharaoh. How would he accomplish the task to which he had been called by Yahweh?

He threw himself into prayer and was instructed by the voice of Yahweh. There would be one more plague visited upon Egypt, after which Pharaoh would beg Moses to lead the Aipiru out of Egypt. They will not be required to leave their livestock but will take all their possessions and even be given wealth by the Egyptians to speed them on their journey. "Towards midnight I shall pass through Egypt. The first born of each household will I take. Tell the Aipiru to take the blood of a lamb and mark their dwellings with the blood, that I may see the blood and pass by leaving their first born unharmed. They are to cook the lamb and eat it quickly with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. For they must be ready to leave at a moments notice."

I had not been idle during the contest with Ramses. Much of my time was devoted to organizing the young men. We needed a guard to keep order during the exodus and to protect the Aipiru. I feared that Pharaoh might let us go only to change his mind when we were vulnerable.

The night of Passover was hectic for me and my men, as we were responsible to ensure that each Aipiru home was marked with lambs blood. I made it back to the house where Moses and my family were staying with only moments to spare.

It is needless to recount the detail. It is enough to say that the next morning the Egyptians were devastated by the events of the previous night. From the lowest Egyptian slave to Ramses himself, every family of Egypt was in mourning. Without fanfare Ramses called for his brother and told him to get out of Egypt with his Aipiru slaves.

We were prepared. We had been organizing the Exodus for some time and could have the people moving quickly, once the word was given. This was no easy task. Our most conservative estimate placed the number of Aipiru at no less than a half a million people, most likely more. Within 24 hours of Ramses go-ahead, we had gathered and were in motion. The people traveled lightly but not that lightly. Many a donkey was burdened to the point of collapse with a familys possessions. The livestock of the Aipiru were gathered together and brought along as a vast herd that accompanied the procession. Moses, his family, and the elders of the tribes were in the lead. The body of people followed, with my men and I doing our best to keep this ragtag procession moving and orderly. While we were exhausted with the work involved, each of us was tingling with excitement. This was a momentous occasion. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob promised us freedom. Now, a few months later, we were leaving our slave masters. It was not just a group of a few harried stragglers escaping from oppression. It was an entire nation walking out of bondage as free men and women!

The first problem we faced was in just which direction should Moses lead the people. The quickest approach to Canaan was along the coast and up into Philistia. However, the Philistines would not be overjoyed with an "army" of over a half million people walking through their neighborhood. Moses prayed about it for several days and then suggested that we travel a more round about route. We would head East through the wilderness to the Sea of Reeds and then across to the Sinai Peninsula. We could plan our entry into Canaan from there in relative safety.

Moses and I were also concerned about the effectiveness of the Aipiru as a fighting force. While we comprised a large numbers of people, we were little more than a ragtag mob. We needed to be disciplined, trained, and formed as a military force before we confronted anyone in battle. A period of time in the Sinai Peninsula would allow for this necessary step.

So, we moved out of Egypt heading east toward the Sea of Reeds and the Sinai. We established a base camp after three days of steady travel. We needed to organize everything a bit better. Then over the next week we tried to move everyone further east, toward the Sea of Reeds. The moon was unusually bright while we were in the Sinai, so we were able to travel in the evenings much more than we had anticipated. The Sinai is no place to be marching during the heat of the day.

I later learned that after we left the Pharaoh and his advisors grew worried. First of all, they realized that the better part of their forced labor population was gone in one moment of royal compassion--or despair. Second, they were concerned that we went east into the Sinai instead of Northeast into Philistia. A half a million people are a formidable fighting force. The simple numbers are enough of a threat, even if many of the people lack serious fighting skills.

When we established our initial base camp, the Egyptian royal court went on full alert. Dozens of scenarios were bounced around but in the end it was decided that the best approach would be to send out a sufficiently large fighting force to attack us and whittle us down to less of a threat. If they acted quickly we would still be disorganized. It would be too soon for allies to join us and provide a military edge to our large numbers.

By that time we were at the Sea of Reeds and trying to figure the best way across. The Sea of Reeds is a large wetland area feeding into the northern end of the Red Sea. I suggested heading northward until the wetlands ended. Moses considered my suggestion and prayed about it. However, it was not long before he suggested that we move south to the area where the swampy Reed Sea gives way to the Red Sea. Moses was the boss, so that was the way we headed.

Not long after we were on the move again, I received a report that about 15,000 Egyptian soldiers were headed in our direction. They would not overcome us. I could mass five times as many men to protect us but it would be costly. The vast majority of my men would be seeing combat for the first time and with few martial skills. The Egyptian soldiers were highly skilled professionals. The were putting too few men into the field to defeat us, probably because of the short notice involved. However, they would cost us dearly in lives lost. To make matters worse when the Egyptians were about a days travel from us their dust cloud was visible to the Aipiru. What little order we had been able to maintain was almost lost as our people hovered on the edge of panic. Moses spoke up and worked his "magic" on the people. They had absolute trust in him and considered him a miracle worker. So if he told them not to worry, everything must be fine! Moses held up his staff over the sea and prayed. Just then a stiff east wind came up and continued blowing all night.

We were up early the next morning, as it would be a busy day. I was more than a little surprised when I looked at the sea and discovered that a shallow beach had appeared over night. Apparently the swamp gave way to a ledge of relatively shallow sand before dropping off into the Red Sea. Through some combination of low tides and a strong east wind the Lord provided us with a relatively dry pathway across the sea.

We got the people moving with dawns first light and by late in the afternoon we had the last of the Aipiru across. This was none too soon, as the Egyptian Army showed up about that time. I placed my men at the eastern end of the land bridge. It was the only spot that gave us a tactical advantage, should we need to fight the Egyptians. The Egyptians began to follow us using Moses land bridge. By the time the better part of the Egyptian army was in the process of crossing, the last of our people reached the shore.

Just then the strangest thing happened! The tide turned and the wind stopped. Within moments the land bridge disappeared and the Egyptian army was either under water or up to its ear lobes in swamp.

The people were singing for joy! God rescued them and protected them from what they saw as the last serious threat to their freedom. If only things were that easy! That was the last we saw of Pharaoh or his soldiers. The easy part of the exodus was accomplished. We were just beginning to realize that the more difficult challenge had only begun.

 

One evening after a long discussion with Moses over some task that lay before us the next day, he surprised me with a comment I didnt expect. "Be careful what you ask for, Joshua. Your prayer just may be answered!" I didnt respond. I just sat there with a blank expression on my face trying to figure out what to say.

"Its OK, Joshua. I was only laughing at myself. While I was living as a shepherd in Midian I was quite angry with God for leaving our people slaves. I used to pray daily for God to intervene and free our people. I was thinking only of my own misery and shame at that point. God answered my prayer. My life certainly has gotten complicated as a result!"

The people were frightened. Their world had been turned upside down. There was no certainty in their lives any longer. They knew the rules of the game in Egypt. If they lived by those rules, they could expect food every day, a job, and some kind of future--even if it was one of slavery. Having fled from Egypt they lost all control over their lives. They survived only by faith in God and trust in Moses. Of course, they complained constantly. Every step of the way God intervened in powerful ways to care for them but this frightened them all the more. They had to be dependent upon God and they didnt like it. They didnt know the rules. No rulesno way to control the situation!

No sooner had we moved the main body of Aipiru inland from the Red Sea, than they began to complain about the food and water. There were several oases that I hoped would work as watering stops. They were either too small or too bitter. Moses prayed about ithe prayed about all his leadership decisionsand then suggested that we filter the water to meet emergency needs. We would then move on to a place he knew called Elim, where we could satisfy our need for water.

The food situation was almost as bad. Supplies brought from Egypt were running low and people began to grumble. Even the elders were concerned. Some suggested we head northwest to Canaan immediately. Others even suggested that we return to Egypt. The chains were heavy but the stewpots were usually full!

Again Moses went to God in prayer. The next day the strangest thing happened. In the morning the ground was covered by a bread-like substance which tasted very good. We called it manna. Later in the day a flock of quail ran through the camp. Few of the birds made it past the stewpots. This continued daily. There was always enough for that days needs.

The first few months outside of Egypt were draining for Moses. Responsibility weighed heavily on him. It wasnt just seeing to the needs of so many people. He was trained as an administrator from his youth. He liked things to be organized and well planned. He wanted goals to be met and well thought through strategies to achieve the goals. God had given him a very specific task in freeing the Aipiru. God laid out the strategy every step of the way. Now that we were free, Moses was anxious over the lack of a clear plan on what to do next. Certainly God was working miracles daily to see that the Aipiru had the basic necessities but God was silent on what Moses should do now. Just as God was teaching the Aipiru to depend upon him with a modicum of faith, so also was God teaching Moses the same lesson. Moses tried to be a good pupil. However, between Gods teaching methods and the complaints of the Aipiru, the poor man was being worn to a frazzle. Frankly, he just wanted to spend time with his wife and children and return to the simple life of being a shepherd.

Jethro, Moses father-in-law, showed up before long with Moses wife and children. He heard the news about the exodus from Egypt and figured it was time to go and check on his son-in-law. Moses was overjoyed to see his family and Jethro. After an evening of sharing the news of their adventures, Moses spent a couple days taking much needed rest and enjoying some uninterrupted time with his wife and children.

Jethro kept busy taking a good look at the camp. He was not impressed. After supper that evening Jethro took his son-in-law aside and scolded him.

"What happened to Moses, Prince of Egypt? You know that the first principle of good leadership is delegating authority! Why have you not delegated the authority necessary to lead these people? You spend too much time trying to settle disputes over who owns a particular donkey. Your responsibility is to lead the whole people. How are you able to deal with the important issues adequately, if so much of your time is spent on little things? Gather the elders and appoint from among them, or those who they recommend, people who can serve as magistrates, warriors, administrators, and so on. The Aipiru are not Egyptians but the basic principles of government you learned as a young man will work among these people just as well."

Moses did as his father-in-law suggested and found that a great burden had indeed been taken from him. Not only did he have time for his family but also he was able to concentrate on prayer and give his chief advisors the time with him that they needed.

The mountain of God rose out of the desert like a lone sentinel, an angel guarding the entrance to Eden. A strange feeling ran through the Aipiru as they watched this mountain grow larger and more imposing. It was as if this mountain would mark some turning point in their adventure. It would be both an end and a beginning.

It was from this mountain that Moses set forth on the mission that God had given him. The fact that he was returning one year later with the children of Israel freed from bondage placed him in awe of the power of Yahweh. He wanted to report his success to Yahweh, as if God was not already aware of the events! He wanted to kneel on sacred ground and feel the power of Gods presence, as he did that day before the glowing bush.

More importantly, he wanted to know what to do next. This was Gods work, not his. Among his advisors, ideas were being floated. I certainly had a few and made them known in no uncertain terms. However, Moses did not want to act until he was certain that the course of action was Gods. Returning to the mountain of God would let Moses ground any plans for the children of Israel in the Lords will and purpose. It would be a time of rest and renewal for the Aipiru as well. The journey out of Egypt had been rushed and hazardous. The people had been traveling for three months. They were tired, ill, and hungry. A time of rest in Midian would be healing for them, as it had been for Moses.

Once the camp was pitched facing the mountain and the Aipiru were settling in for a much needed rest, Moses headed up the mountain in search of Yahweh. He reached the site of the burning bush after an hours climb and was disappointed. All he found was an old scrub bush. There were no signs of fire near it and it did not emit even the faintest glow. Moses was never one to give up easily, so he continued his climb toward the summit. Three hours later he was nearing the summit when he heard a voice call out to him.

"Moses, over here." The sound came from a cave several feet away from the path he had been climbing. Inside the mouth of the cave sat a young man. He was tall and dark, in the manner of the desert people. His hair was long and his beard full but well groomed. "Get out of the sun before you make yourself sick!"

The voice sounded familiar but Moses could not place the face. He took the strangers remarks in good humor, as was the custom of Midianites, and joined him in the mouth of the cave. The cool shade was most welcome after hours of climbing in the desert sun. The stranger offered Moses water to drink from his waterskin. It was sweet, cool and refreshing. It was much needed and appreciated. Refreshed Moses sat back and relaxed.

"So, my friend, it looks like you brought your family to the mountains for a vacation. A good size family, if I may say so!" The stranger smiled, as he nodded toward the throng below. As he listened, Moses felt that he knew that voice. The problem was that he could not place it...exactly. "Aside from a vacation, tell me why you have come to this mountain."

It was Moses turn to talk now. He spent the next few hours describing everything that happened during the past year and how it lead to their arrival at the holy mountain. He particularly dwelt on the powerful signs and wonders that Yahweh had worked for them. Indeed, he acknowledged that the one who brought them to the foot of Mt. Sinai was not Moses but the Lord. Finally, Moses explained his own need for time with his Lord. He explained that he needed guidance on what was to happen next, now that the Aipiru were no longer slaves.

"You are knowledgeable in the ways of statecraft. What would you do with these people?" The stranger asked Moses.

"Yahweh promised them the land of Canaan. The problem is that the Canaanites already live there. There are Aipiru in Canaan but they are a relatively small minority and have more than their share of problems with the Canaanites as it is. The Cananites will not excuse themselves and leave when we show up to claim what is ours by divine promise. If the Aipiru are to have Canaan as their homeland, they will have to be ready to take it from the Cananites and defend it from them and anyone else who takes a liking to the place."

The stranger smiled ruefully and agreed, "Your assessment is quite reasonable. Are your people ready to claim what is theirs?"

Moses shook his head, thought for a moment, and then explained. "No, they are run away slaves. They have neither the strength of will nor the fighting skills to do what is necessary. I must train them and harden them."

"I see the pharaohs brother in you Moses. Your assessment is realistic. The Aipiru would be slaughtered if they attempted a campaign against Canaan now. It is much too early."

Moses looked at the stranger quizzically for a moment. The young man spoke with an authority and familiarity reserved for an elders comments to a favorite nephew. Yet, the speaker appeared to be years younger than Moses. Moses could contain himself no longer.

"Who are you?"

"I am friend to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am a friendly stranger to many whose lives I touch. I have marched with you throughout your mission to Egypt. I was with you in the burning bush. I have many names. Is it not enough just that I am?"

Halfway through the strangers self-introduction Moses was quite aware whom he sat with and began to scramble into a kneeling position more appropriate to being in the presence of God. The strangers hand went out to Moses, signaling that he was quite welcome to stay seated.

"So, my good friend. What shall we do with your people? What is it that they need, if they are to claim their destiny? Please, Moses, share your thoughts with me."

Feeling a bit uncomfortable explaining statecraft to God, Moses continued.

"Slaves are property. They have no sense of identity beyond that of chattel, especially if they come from a legacy of slavery that goes back generations. They must learn to act and think as free people. They must have a heritage that gives them pride and a vision of their destiny. They must be able to work together and accept discipline. They must accept responsibility for their actions and their lives."

"Again, you speak well my friend. How shall we accomplish this?"

Moses did not answer right away, as he did not know how the goal would be accomplished. After a few moments, he asked a question.

"I know you are friend to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I know you have a particular interest in the Aipiru, the children of Abraham. However, I do not know why. Why is it Lord, that you care for these people?"

The stranger smiled broadly, pleased that Moses had asked what the stranger apparently considered to be a key question.

"Do you remember the story of Eden and how sin came into the world?" With this question the stranger began to recount the events that he had witnessed from the time the human spirit was first breathed into Adam and Eve until that very moment...and beyond. He described a vision to Moses of a world vastly different from the one familiar to this Egyptian prince and Midianite shepherd. He spoke of peoples and nations from lands yet to be discovered. Throughout all of this he fashioned in Moses mind a clear understanding that the Aipiru were to play a special role in the unfolding of human history. They would be Gods people. From the Aipiru would come a redeemer, a messiah. The chains of spiritual slavery would be cut. Gods original and glorious intention for humanity would be fulfilled. This would be done through the Aipiru. The messiah would arise from among them."

"The scope of the vision laid out before him awed Moses. He realized that the exodus was only one small part of a much larger plan that would eventually encompass all humanity. He sat in silence for many minutes trying to comprehend the vision and his role in it. Finally, he spoke."

"Lord, the Aipiru must be a people. As yet, we are only a collection of runaway slaves. The people need laws. They need a sense of unity and identity. They need tested and trusted leadership. They need to know you and come to faith in you. At present, you are only a memory from their youth. You may be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but you must also become their God."

"Well spoken, Moses. What do you want of me?"

"We must spend time with you, alone in the desert. We must come to know you. Lord, be with us! We must come to know your power in our lives. We must rely on you both in times of trouble and comfort, times of sorrow, and even times that are as arid and empty as this desert. Lord, be with us! We must know your will for us and come to do it out of love, as a child responds to the loving commands of a parent. You must form and shape us into your people that we may be useful for the fulfillment of your divine purpose. Be with us, Lord!"

The stranger looked into Moses eyes with such love that what began as a list of requirements to build a new nation from escaped slaves quickly became a litany of petition and worship.

"As you say, Moses, so shall it be. Tell the sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah that you have spoken with me. Tell them that they have seen what I did with the Egyptians, how I carried them on eagles wings and brought them to myself. Tell them that if they obey my word and hold fast to the covenant that I shall make with them, they among all the nations of the world will be my very own. I will count them a kingdom of priests, a consecrated nation. Ask them if they accept these terms, if they will join with me in a covenant that shall last to the end of time. Go, speak with them and return tomorrow with their reply."

So, Moses did as he was instructed. He gathered the elders of the tribes and told them what he had been instructed by Yahweh. The elders went back to their tribes and spoke to the people about the choice Yahweh had given them. It didnt take long for Moses to get the answer. All of the people had responded as one, "All that Yahweh has said, we will do." Early the next day Moses went back up the mountain with the response of the Aipiru.

Three days after Moses returned the children of Israel were gathered at the foot of the mountain, all bathed and wearing their best clothing. They were waiting for a call to order, when the earth began to rumble. A cloud formed around the mountain peak. From inside the cloud a brilliant light shown, as if the entire mountaintop was on fire. There were peals of thunder and the sky was pierced with wave after wave of lightning. The people were on the verge of panic, when a loud trumpet blast was heard. The sound grew louder. Then Moses went up the mountainside a bit, turned, and informed the people that Yahweh was among them. The God of their fathers rested upon the mountain.

Earlier in the week they agreed to be the Lords own people and to accept Yahweh as their God. The agreement would be ratified that very day. The voice of the Lord spoke to Moses with great power. The people were terribly afraid, as the Lords voice had such power that the words rumbled through the desert like thunder. This continued for a very long time. Then Moses turned to the people.

He explained that if they were to enter into a covenant with the Lord, they must know what is expected of them. The Aipiru were free to accept this responsibility or reject it. Moses presented to the people the words that the Lord had spoken in the thunder. "I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no gods except me..."

And so Yahwehs commandments were presented to the people. They began with a listing of basic principles but went on at length to describe a way of life that befitted a nation living in faith and acting from justice. As I listened that day a shiver of excitement swept over me. I saw a vision of the people and nation that we were meant to be, truly a light to the world! When the laws of God were presented to the people, Moses asked them if they would accept these terms as part of the covenant. With one voice they shouted back, "We do!"

The glory of the Lord remained on the mountaintop throughout the days that followed. Moses dismissed the crowds and went to his own shelter where he spent the rest of the day writing down the laws and ordinances of the Lord in order that none be forgotten and lost. The next day Moses led the people in worship. Oxen were offered as a blood sacrifice and the words of the covenant were read to the people, so that they could again consider if they truly wanted to commit themselves to the demands of a covenant with Yahweh. Again, they cried out, "We will observe all that Yahweh commands. We will obey. So, Moses took the blood of the sacrificed oxen and sprinkled it upon the people. The blood was a sign of their entry into an eternal covenant with Yahweh.

Afterward, I accompanied Moses, Aaron and the elders of Israel part way up the mountain, where we ate of the meat that had been sacrificed to Yahweh. The Lords presence was powerful as we ate in silence, each lost in prayer and awe. Then the Lord spoke to Moses. A short time later Moses passed the instructions on to the rest of us.

"Aaron, you and the elders return to the people. Wait at the foot of the mountain. I must receive instruction from the Lord. You have the authority to settle any divisions or complaints that may come up among the people. Joshua, you are to come with me."

To say that I was shocked and frightened is an understatement of the greatest magnitude. I was a warrior and a leader of men. I could face battle unshaken, as no human frightened me. However, Moses was telling me to accompany him into the presence of Yahweh! I am a sinner and not worthy to enter the presence of the divine. Yet, God had willed it so!?

The others left the mountain a short time later. Moses and I spent the next few days in prayer and fasting. The Lords presence was with us throughout this period. Moses instructed me in all that he had learned from Yahweh. There were also lessons from a prince of Egypt in leading a nation and creating a people. It was clear that Moses had begun my preparation for ministry, I was destined to assist Moses.

After seven days the Lord told Moses to join him in the cloud at the top of the mountain. I was to await Moses return where I was. Then Moses continued up the mountain and disappeared into the cloud.

Aaron was a better public speaker than Moses but he was not a leader by any means. Moses was their leader. It was this prince of Egypt that they turned to for a savior. Now he was gone. He had been on the mountain for over a month. He entered into the cloud that marked the presence of God. Surely no one could look upon the face of God and live! Moses must be dead! And Joshua, what became of him? It was to Joshua that the people turned for leadership in the absence of Moses. Where was he now? Upon the mountain with Moses! Probably dead as well!

Fear began to spread among the people and Aaron could not deal with it. He feared for his brother. He feared for himself as well. He did not have the strength of will to lead the Aipiru. Before long they would become a mob.

The pagans trivialize their gods. In times of war, famine and disease the pagans blame the god and attempt to mollify their apparent anger. They presume that a sacrifice or two will keep the divine powers happy and remove the punishment. The rest of the time the gods are no more meaningful to the people than a good luck charm. The pagan gods had the good sense to leave people alone most of the time!

Yahweh was different. This was a God who was not satisfied with the sacrifice of a few barnyard animals followed by a potluck dinner. Yahweh wanted the hearts of the people. Yahweh demanded the people live righteous lives. A month without Moses or Joshua gave the people time to think about the covenant. Having thought about it, many of the people wondered if they made a wise choice. They would have to change! The thought frightened them even more than the rumbling that came from Yahwehs cloud, which seemed to have taken up permanent residence on Mt. Sinai.

Surprisingly, there was a good deal of gold among the Aipiru. As slaves, few Aipiru had possessions of any value. However, after the death of the firstborn of every household, the Egyptians wanted the Aipiru to go as quickly as possible. Many Egyptians gave their former slaves gold ornaments and jewels to speed them on their way. Given the large number of people involved, the loot was considerable. The Egyptian army was sent after the Aipiru not only to retrieve the escaping slaves but also to return Egyptian valuables.

A group of elders went to Aaron with a proposition. "The people grow restless without Moses. He has been the voice of Yahweh to us. His presence among us is as the presence of Yahweh. He speaks and we obey. Without Moses to show us the way, to comfort us with his presence, how are our people to survive. If Moses is the sign of Gods presence among us and he is no longer among us, perhaps we can fashion an image that can go before our people and represent Yahweh to us."

Aaron appreciated the concern of the elders but was not comfortable with the proposal.

"Did not Yahweh just tell us not to fashion images. Did not Yahweh just tell us not to bow down and serve such images?"

"Yes, Aaron, that is true. But, was not Yahweh referring to images of false gods. Our image would be of Yahweh! If we were to bow down or to offer sacrifice before this image, it would be to Yahweh that we were truly offering our worship!"

"You say that you want this image to march before us in place of the absent Moses. How will we know Yahwehs will for us? Moses listens to God and tells us what he has been instructed. How can an image hear the word of God or speak that word to us?"

"Of course the image is deaf and without speech. However, if Yahweh sees how we honor him by this image, could Yahweh not speak in our hearts? Perhaps the elders of Israel could gather and share the fruit of their prayer. Could not Yahweh speak to us and lead us in this manner?"

The elders were most convincing and Aaron wanted to be convinced. He knew that something must be done soon or it would be too late. So, forgetting that Yahweh did not provide any exceptions in his command not to fashion, bow before and serve images and idols, Aaron told the elders to collect gold from among the Aipiru. He would fashion it into an image, a memorial of the covenant made only weeks before. So, Aaron took the gold and fashioned it into a calf. The calf was to represent the animals slain in sacrifice, whose blood confirmed the covenant with Yahweh.

The next day the people offered sacrifice before it. They bowed down to the image. They danced and grew wild, for now Yahweh could be controlled, as were the other gods. His demands and covenant could be perverted. There was no need to be concerned with a gold image that they carried on their backs! Their god was once again their own desires and appetites. The only will they need submit to was their own!

Time seemed to loose all meaning for Moses as he stayed within the presence of the Lord. He had been instructed in many things by Yahweh and was given two stone tablets upon which were written the essence of the law. Moses assumed that the instruction would continue, when Yahweh broke off the lessons and instructed Moses to return to the people.

"They have turned away so soon! They have made an image and are offering it worship! Shall I destroy these children of Israel and raise up another to be my people from among your descendants, Moses?"

Moses was almost ready to panic and begged for the lives of the Aipiru . He reminded Yahweh that the Egyptians would laugh at a god who brought his people into the desert to die. He asked Yahweh to remember his love for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He reminded the Lord of the promises that had been made. In the end, Yahweh relented.

Moses came down from the mountaintop.

I camped at the site of the burning bush and the meal we had shared with the elders. I was unaware of what was going on below, for the Aipiru were not readily visible from my camp. However, I heard loud noises from the camp below and feared that they had been attacked and a battle was underway. As Moses descended, he glowed with energy. The power of the Lord was upon him. He nodded to me as he reached my camp. I fell in behind him and we continued down to the people. Along the way I mentioned my fears about a battle. Moses answered that the noise sounded more like chanting or song than the cries of warriors.

There was a ledge just above the foot of the mountain from which Moses spoke to the people on the day of the covenant. Below that ledge the elders set up the golden calf and an altar before it for offering sacrifice. In the middle of their wanton self-worship, Moses appeared on the ledge. It was an awesome and frightening sight. Moses glowed with an unearthly aura of light from his time with Yahweh. Anger contorted his face. Moses took the stone tablets and hurled them at the calf, knocking it over and shattering the tablets. Moses then instructed me to destroy the calf, grind it to dust, and force all those who were worshipping before the calf to consume the dust.

I swept through the camp the next day with the Levites who were loyal to the covenant. Moses ordered me to kill those who had lapsed from the covenant so quickly and worshipped the golden calf. There was a price to pay for sin.

The next few weeks were busy. Moses returned to the mountain briefly, leaving me in charge of the Aipiru camp. While he was gone, we worked on a golden ark. It would be used to carry the stone tablets that he was to receive from Yahweh and the book of the law that Moses had transcribed the first day the Lord was among us. We also constructed a place of worship, a tabernacle to house the Ark of the Covenant. This was a temporary structure, a tent that could be carried from place to place. If the people needed something to remind them of the presence of the Lord, this box with the tablets of the covenant within it would have to do. A few weeks later we were ready. The cloud at the top of Mt. Sinai was gone the morning we were to leave. In the days that followed a strange cloud seemed to hover above the Ark of the Covenant, at night it seemed as if a light glowed above the ark. Moses explained that Yahweh sent his angel with us to guide and protect us. The angels presence was apparent in the light and strange cloud. The angel would lead us to the Promised Land.

It is not easy to move a nation through the desert, yet we made good time on our journey. Before long I could see familiar landmarks. I knew that we were approaching Canaan. We set camp a good distance from the Jordan River. Moses had Caleb, one of my commanders, lead a scouting force into Canaan to reconnoiter the place. When they returned their report was not encouraging. The Canaanites were well fortified and had many fighting men who were well nourished.

The people took the reports to heart however and the elders were soon running to Moses voicing the fears of the people. Caleb warned the elders not to take the reports too seriously. The Canaanites were serious fighters but they were not invincible. The reports in circulation were greatly exaggerated from what the scouts actually saw. Indeed, the second hand reports sounded quite unlike the Canaan that I had known and called home only a short time before. I supported Caleb, as I knew first hand the capabilities of the Canaanites. Moses assured the elders of his faith in our martial and strategic skills, urging them to convince the people that we should prepare to move into the land that had been promised to us by Yahweh. The Lord promised that our enemies would be confounded if only we have faith.

Not long after, Caleb and I took about a party of fighting men into Canaan to test the defenses of the Amalekites. They were the first group we had to face upon entering the Promised Land. We knew their tactics and their general level of skill. Caleb and I felt that we could take them in a fair fight. The men were still shaken by the exaggerated reports of the scouts and were pathetic in battle. It was as if they had given up before they set foot on the battlefield. Needless to say, our expedition was a failure. We were chased for miles and ridiculed by the Amalekites warriors. It was embarrassing. The only good point was that our casualties were moderate. In poetic justice, the cowardly scouts who spread the exaggerated stories about the Canaanites were among the casualties.

It was clear that the Aipiru were not ready to enter Canaan, even if the angel of the Lord went before them. They lacked faith in Yahweh, in their leadership, even in themselves. They still had the minds and hearts of slaves. So, we returned to the desert where we spent many years. It was clear that Yahweh would not let this generation enter the Promised Land. A new generation of Aipiru raised in the harsh desert and tempered by the sting of battle would be necessary before the children of Israel could return home. We had to wait until the new generation became strong enough in body, mind and spirit to do what had to be done. I was a graybeard before that time arrived. Both Miriam and Aaron died and were buried in the desert. I began to think that I would join them before this journey ended.

Our travels again brought us within a few days march of Canaan. This was not the first time. We had come close to our goal many times in the past, each time to turn back toward the desert. Several days after we arrived Moses asked me to accompany him up a mountain not far from the camp. While I had grown gray of beard, Moses beard was white and his strength was declining. Before he could take almost any terrain in stride but now he needed assistance.

After reaching the crest of a hill that stood not far from the camp, we could see the Jordan River. Beyond it lay Canaan. It was a beautiful sight.

"Joshua, we will not head back into the desert this time. Yahweh has made it clear that we are ready to receive what has been promised to us. Gather the people in two days time. We will spend the day in prayer and I will speak to them of the covenant once more. Afterward, you and I will come here to pray and look upon Gods gift to his people."

That is what happened. A few days later, Moses spoke to the people of the covenant. Then he and I returned to the same spot, so that we could look upon Canaan. Moses was tired. We sat facing Canaan, our backs against a rock wall, and we talked. He told me of his struggles as a youth in coming to terms with his identity. He confessed the doubts that he had during the years in the desert. He told me that soon I would be responsible for the children of Israel. When I assumed leadership I must be firm with the people and always place my trust in Yahweh. We spoke for many hours. Then it was apparent that Moses needed to rest, so we both shut our eyes. I must have drifted off fairly soon, for the next thing I remember a few drops of rain hit my face and startled me from my sleep. I looked over to Moses and his eyes were still closed. I shook him slightly, as we needed to find cover. He didnt move. I felt my stomach tighten. This was not good. Before long I realized that Moses had gone to be with Yahweh and only his mortal flesh remained.

 

Moses was buried near where he passed from this world and a few days later we began our trek across the Jordan River. I will not go into all of the detail of the years that followed. Let it be enough to say that often we were blessed by miracles so powerful as to shake the foundations of the earth--literally, in the case of Jericho. Though, most often Yahweh left a good deal of the work to us.

Having inherited Moses mantle as leader of the Aipiru, I felt the burden of that office. I was faced with leading an extended military campaign to establish a firm foothold in Canaan. Even more burdensome were the concerns I had about maintaining a sense of identity among the people.

Years of struggle in the desert had bonded the Aipiru of Exodus into a coherent community and military organization. The move into Canaan brought us into a very different setting. There was pressure to disperse and settle in Canaan. People wanted to enjoy the fruit of their struggles. They wanted to settle down. There was also pressure from the established Aipiru community in Canaan. The large body of Aipiru moving into Canaan frightened them. They feared being displaced along with the Canaanites or being persecuted by the Canaanites for their association with the Exodus Aipiru .

Yahweh helped me with the problems of leadership, as he had Moses before me. In prayer one evening Yahweh made the answer obvious. I must do as Moses had done with us at the beginning of the Exodus journey. All of this generation must have the sign of the covenant in their flesh. This generation must be circumcised. It would remind them of the covenant and renew their commitment to Yahweh. Not only the children if Israel but the other Aipiru of Canaan must be circumcised if they are to come under the protection of the covenant.

After the ritual of circumcision at Gilgal we rested for a few weeks and then celebrated the Passover. Throughout the years of our journeying in the desert the Lord provided manna for us to eat, that we might not starve. It was at that Passover that we first tasted of the fruit of the Promised Land. At that time the manna stopped and was seen no more.

There were many battles and campaigns as we expanded our foothold in Canaan. The most dramatic was at Jericho, for it was a battle that was fought by the angels of the Lord. We were little more than spectators. We fought the Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. We settled in the lands that we conquered or where we negotiated treaties with the local residents. Yet, even as I write, we are still far from having taken control of all of the land that Yahweh had promised to Abraham. However, our fighting men have done well and I am sure that eventually we will prevail.

The practice of circumcision has been important to the Aipiru, reminding us of our covenant with Yahweh. Since Gilgal all of the male children are circumcised within eight days of their birth, that they may bear the mark of the covenant and be numbered among the Lords people. Yet, many of the Aipiru of Canaan have resisted the mark of the covenant and remain on the fence, neither with us nor against us. They are a burden.

The real danger we face is that of assimilation. Canaan is a land of farms and herds. Their gods are seen to regulate fertility, rain, and all the matters that are important to farmers. The Aipiru are becoming farmers and herders as they settle into Canaan. Their memories are short. Yahweh may have fed them with manna for more than a generation of wandering in the desert or parted the sea for them to cross, yet they worry whether Yahweh can provide them the rain to water their crops! The Canaanites confuse the Aipiru with their many idols, temple prostitution, and blood sacrifice! If we are to prevail we must remain firm in the covenant!

A new generation will lead the people as they make Canaan their own. It is time for me to depart. Recently, I realized that before I can join Moses I had one remaining task. So, I called a meeting here at Shechem. I told them once more to remember their story. That Yahweh brought them out of Egypt when they were slaves. That they entered a covenant with Yahweh that was binding and eternal. They would be Yahwehs people and Yahweh would be their God. It was the Lord who led them and formed them into a people. It was the Lord who fed them in the desert and gave them water to drink. It was the Lord who brought them into the Promised Land and gave their arms strength in battle. Yahweh had given them vineyards and olive groves for which they never toiled. Yahweh had given them cities that they never built. I told them to choose. They can serve Yahweh or they can choose other gods. If they choose other gods then they are no longer part of the covenant. I told them that they must choose. However, as for my family, and me, we choose Yahweh! They spoke as one and committed themselves to Yahweh, both the children of Israel and the Aipiru of Canaan. I had the Law of Moses read to the assembled people, so that they remembered and agreed to all that was being accepted. We then dedicated a stone monument as a witness to our renewal of the covenant with Yahweh. It was good. The people then went off to the various parts of Canaan assigned to their tribes.

The struggle will continue. Yet, the covenant will sustain us.

My work is done. I have completed the mission given to Moses so many years ago. I am at peace.

Also read A Course in Christian Spirituality by Deacon Shewman that is available through this link.

(c) 1997-2008. Richard Shewman. All stories, articles, reflections and other written material contained in this website are the creative fruit and property of Richard Shewman. All rights are reserved. The written material contained in this website may not be reproduced or published in any form, except for the individual and personal use of the reader, without the express consent of the author.