Names are weighty things, a fact repeatedly evidenced in the biblical narrative. There are several occasions when the names mothers or fathers chose for their children, and the reasons for which the names were chosen, are given extended attention in the text. Much of Genesis 29 and 30, for instance, records the naming of the sons of Jacob and the explanation for the names chosen by Leah and Rachel.
In many such cases, the hearer of the text might be justified in recognizing some prophetic significance in the choice of name. When Moses is given his name on account of his being drawn out of the water in Exodus 2:10, for example, hearers might appreciate that Moses is named for a way he enacts the destiny of the people he will lead in advance of their deliverance: the Israelites too will be drawn from the water.
A name might associate a figure with a defining event, with some circumstance surrounding their birth, with a divine promise or a hope of the parents, with some other person; it might describe the perceived destiny of the figure, or the relation in which the child stands to a parent, or characterize them in various further ways.
The naming—or the renaming—of a person might be considered even more significant when it is God himself who is doing the naming. There are many occasions in Scripture when God himself names a child, or renames an adult, among the most famous being the renaming of Jacob as Israel at the ford of the Jabbok, the renaming of Abram and Sarai as Abraham and Sarai, or God’s giving Isaac his name with the promise of his birth. Divinely stipulated names notably appear in the prophecies of Isaiah and Hosea, where children are given names that tell of God’s promises to his people, or of how he stands in relation to them.
Both Matthew and Luke’s nativity accounts record God’s word—to Joseph in Matthew and Mary in Luke—that the promised Child, miraculously conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, should be called ‘Jesus’ (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31). In the word of the angel to Joseph in Matthew, some further explanation is given for this name: ‘for he will save his people from their sins.’
That ‘Jesus’ would be the name chosen for the Son in his incarnation might seem underwhelming. As a Greek form of the name Joshua, it was not an uncommon name; indeed, it was a name that the Child would have shared with many other boys. Its meaning, ‘the Lord saves’, was certainly uniquely apt for this bearer of the name. However, it is not difficult to imagine other names that would also have been fitting for this Child.
There was, of course, a famous bearer of the name Jesus/Joshua in Israel’s history, the successor of Moses, who had led the conquest of the Promised Land. Interestingly, Joshua was not given that name at his birth, but received it from Moses (Numbers 13:16); Joshua’s birth name appears to have been Hoshea.
While those familiar with the Old Testament might think of various ways in which Jesus could fittingly be associated with his namesake, Joshua, they might also wonder why Joshua was the one singled out for such an association with the divine Messiah. One might think that, of the large cast of Old Testament characters, several might have greater claims to being types of the promised Messiah.
Why not Moses, the great deliverer of the people, who prophesied that a prophet like him would come? Or David, the head of the royal line from which Christ came, whose name was used to speak of the expected Messiah (e.g. Ezekiel 37:24)? Or Solomon, the wise king whose early reign marked the highest flourishing of Israel? Or Isaac, the great child of promise, whose offering on the mountain of Moriah symbolized Christ’s own sacrifice? Or why not Abraham or Jacob, the great fathers of the nation? Joshua, while doubtless a figure of some stature, would seem to be some way down the list of candidates. Indeed, Matthew’s reference to Isaiah 7:14—“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us)—in Matthew 1:23 might leave some wondering why Jesus wasn’t named ‘Immanuel’.
We will get to the question of Jesus’ name and some possible reasons why his association with Joshua might be stronger than commonly assumed. However, we will get there by a less direct route.
I want us to begin by reflecting upon a love story that is hidden in one of the least likely places: in the genealogy of Matthew 1.
In verse 5 of that chapter, we discover that the mother of Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer in the book of Ruth, was Rahab, a remarkable fact that was never recorded for us in the Old Testament. We are also told that her husband was a man named Salmon. Going back to the book of Joshua and reading more carefully, we might be able to piece together a likely account of how this came to be.
In Joshua 2, Joshua sent two spies to the Canaanite city of Jericho. The two men lodged in the house of the prostitute Rahab, who hid them and misdirected the king of Jericho when he searched for them. The spies gave Rahab a sign, a specific scarlet thread, which she was instructed to bind in her window so that, on their return, she and all her family in the house with her might be spared the destruction of the city. When the city was overthrown, Rahab placed the scarlet cord in the window as she was told, and the spies personally brought her and her family out, delivering them from the destruction of the city and its inhabitants. Near the conclusion of the account of the overthrow of Jericho, we are told that ‘she has lived in Israel to this day’ (Joshua 6:25).
Reading the narrative of the Pentateuch in the light of Matthew 1, it becomes apparent that, in marrying Salmon, Rahab married into one of the one of the most important families in the land. Long before the birth of David, his ancestors were the leading clan of Judah. Salmon’s aunt, Elisheba, had married Aaron (Exodus 6:23) and become the matriarch of the priestly line. Salmon’s father was the chief of the tribe of Judah, who led not merely the tribe of Judah, but, by extension, the entire company of Israel in their march (Numbers 1:7; 2:3; 7:12; 10:14). This would have made Salmon the leading tribal prince within Israel, one of the most eligible young men in the entire land.
When the original twelve spies were sent into the land, it was stipulated that every tribe should send a representative and that each of the men should be a chief within his tribe (Numbers 13:1-16). The two faithful spies of the twelve sent, Joshua and Caleb had represented Ephraim and Judah respectively and were already notable young men among the people. A generation later, when Joshua was selecting young men to send as spies to Jericho, it seems likely that he would have selected prominent representatives, perhaps appointing a spy from each of the two tribes that had sent a faithful spy nearly four decades earlier. Although we cannot know for certain, the leading young warrior of the leading military tribe, the prince of Judah, Salmon, would have been a natural choice for such a role.
Let us imagine a possible scenario. Rahab’s bravery, kindness, and remarkable faith would have impressed all the nation of Israel, but perhaps none more than the two spies that she harboured. For her part, she likely marvelled at the courage and faithfulness of the spies who kept their word and personally delivered her and her family from Jericho’s overthrow, perhaps especially the handsome young Judahite who, even when veiling his identity, could not help but manifest the fact that he had aristocratic standing among his people. A courageous woman and man, each saving the other’s life—what an auspicious beginning to a love story!
Surprisingly, Salmon was not the only prominent descendant of Judah who had a prominent part in the events of Jericho. While Salmon was the leading descendant of Judah’s son Perez, Perez’s younger twin, Zerah, had his own leading descendant as an active participant in the battle of Jericho—Achan. While his distant cousin Salmon may have rescued Rahab and her family from Jericho’s overthrow, Achan, against the commandment of God, took treasure from the city, which had been devoted to destruction. For his sin, Achan and all who had a part in his sin were executed: they were stoned and burned, a heap of stones being raised up over Achan as an enduring testimony to his sin. Notably, for taking the devoted items, Achan suffered the same fate as Jericho, the fate from which Rahab and her family were rescued.
The divergent paths of these two hands of Judah’s line begin back in Genesis 38, with a story with unexpected resonances with those of Jericho. A seeming interruption in the story of Joseph, Genesis 38 tells of Judah, separating from his brothers, taking a Canaanite wife and having three sons by her, and taking a wife for his eldest son, Er, called Tamar, presumably another Canaanite woman. When Er died and Judah’s second son, Onan, also died when he refused to perform levirate marriage, humiliating his brother’s widow and scorning his brother, Judah was reluctant to give Tamar to his youngest son, Shelah.
As time passed, Tamar recognized that her father-in-law was not going to give her to his youngest son and took matters into her own hands. Some time after Judah’s Canaanite wife died, Judah went up to shear his sheep and encountered a woman dressed as a prostitute by the roadside: Tamar in disguise. In exchange for tokens of Judah’s identity and standing which she received as a pledge of future payment—Judah’s seal, cord, and stuff—the woman had relations with him and both parties went their way. When Judah sent a man back with payment, the prostitute was nowhere to be found and no one knew of her.
Three months later, it was discovered that Tamar was pregnant, presumably through adulterous relations. Judah commanded that she suffer the most severe punishment, being burned for her unfaithfulness. Yet, as she was being brought out to be put to death, Tamar appealed to Judah, telling him to recognize the tokens—the seal, the cord, and the staff—of the man by whom she was with child. Recognizing his own tokens, Judah realized that he was the more guilty party and that the child was his.
When the time came for her delivery, it became apparent that it was not a child—but children. Tamar had twins. During the delivery, one of the twins put his hand out and the midwife tied a scarlet thread around it, presuming that he would be the first to be born. Yet the child withdrew his hand and his twin came out first. The child who came out first, the ancestor of the Davidic line, was named Perez, and the child with the scarlet thread around his hand was named Zerah. One of these lines would be made great and the other would be cut off. And a critical moment in the divergence of their fates would be the battle of Jericho.
Hearing the story of Genesis 38 again, several elements within it should jump out at us when we read it alongside the story of Joshua 2 and 6. There is a Canaanite woman, Tamar, playing the part of a prostitute. Judah goes to her and gives her tokens, including among them a cord. The Canaanite woman is going to be stoned and burned for her unfaithfulness. Yet, when she produces the tokens given to her by Judah, among them a cord, she is saved. When her children are born, a scarlet thread is used to mark out one of them. In the story of Jericho, the principal descendant of the firstborn twin marries a Canaanite prostitute rescued from burning and the principal descendant of the other is stoned and burned, the fate from which his famous ancestress was delivered.
Holding these stories alongside each other, we should be able to perceive the analogy between Tamar and Rahab, but also the way in which Salmon’s recognition of the genuine faith of a Canaanite prostitute and determination to marry her is a redemptive recapitulation of the far less savoury story of Judah and Tamar. Salmon and his entire family line owed its existence to the salvation of an apparent Canaanite prostitute. In delivering Rahab, the story of Judah’s line came full circle.
The story of Genesis 38, however, is one over which the shadow of death and sin hangs. It occurs in the middle of the Joseph story, immediately after Judah, the chief conspirator, presented false tokens of his brother Joseph’s apparent death to his distraught father, Jacob. The first half of the chapter is one in which several deaths occur and much time passes; the second half of the chapter describes a narrowly averted death. One of Tamar’s twins, Zerah, is ill-fated and his line would largely fail, while the other would rise to greatness. None of the characters come out of the chapter looking good. Judah ends up in a better position at the end of the chapter, yet through no merit of his own and at the cost of any residual honour he might have had. Tamar was greatly wronged and preserved her life, but resorted to unlawful and shameful actions to get what she wanted.
At Jericho, the story of Judah and Tamar is revisited. Rahab, the faithful Canaanite prostitute is possibly delivered from the fate of burning by the chief descendant of Judah by Perez, Salmon. The chief descendant of Judah by Zerah, Achan, is executed by burning for reaching out his hand to take the forbidden items. In the divergent fates of Rahab and Salmon on the one hand and Achan on the other, Tamar and Judah’s situation is both redeemed and their sins arrive at their final appointed judgment.
The story of Rahab and Jericho is a Passover-like event that is also chiastically related to the first Passover. Peter Leithart writes:
[I]t is not surprising that the events of Joshua 1-6 closely parallel Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Since the conquest completes the exodus (cf. Exodus 15:14-18), it is fitting that the entry into the land is larded over with Passover-Exodus allusions. In chapter 3, the Jordan parts and Israel crosses on dry ground; then the Israelite men are circumcised and they celebrate Passover, which is immediately followed by the destruction of the city and the deliverance of Rahab’s house. The exodus followed this pattern: Destruction of Egypt, Passover, Water crossing. Now the entry into the land chiastically reverses the sequence: Water crossing, Passover, Destruction of Jericho.
In displaying the scarlet cord in her window and gathering her family in the safety of the house, so that they were spared in the Lord’s judgment upon the condemned city, Rahab recalled the blood Israel placed on the lintels and doorposts at the Passover.
Exodus frames the deliverance from Egypt as akin to a birth event; after her birth pangs in bondage, Israel gives birth to her child—the firstborn of the Lord (Exodus 4:22)—through the narrow passage of the Red Sea. The Passover can be likened to a child being born (hence the institution of the law of the firstborn in the immediate context of the Passover in Exodus 13), but also to an unfaithful woman being mercifully delivered from the consequences of her infidelity. Ezekiel 16 describes Israel as akin to a young Canaanite woman, languishing in the poorest of conditions, whom the Lord loved and took as his own bride, before she later played the harlot.
The story of the waters in Marah in Exodus 15:23-26, read in light of the test of jealousy in Numbers 5, is also illuminating here. The Lord tests his bride for faithfulness at the bitter waters. A thirsty Israel cannot drink the brackish water of Marah, until a log is thrown into it by Moses and the waters are sweetened. In miraculously healing the bitter waters and promising them that he will not plague them with diseases, the Lord assures his people that, although they may formerly have been unfaithful, he will cleanse and restore them. In turning the bitter waters sweet, the Lord took a ‘Canaanite’ woman with a history of spiritual harlotry (cf. Ezekiel 20:6-9) to himself as his beloved bride.
Rahab, then, helps us to see Israel for what it is. In marrying Rahab, Salmon, the young prince of Judah, acted in a manner that reflects God’s own character. However, although Rahab continued in faithfulness, Exodus 32:19-35 describes a further ‘test of jealousy’ that the Lord brought upon Israel after their idolatry with the golden calf. In a manner evocative, again, of the test of jealousy in Numbers 5, Moses broke the tablets of the Law, ground up the calf, scattered its powder on the water, and made the people drink the waters. The Lord then brought a plague upon his unfaithful people.
In the prophets, the image of Israel as an adulterous harlot is an exceedingly common one (e.g. Jeremiah 3, Ezekiel 16). One of the most moving images of the Old Testament is that of the Lord as the betrayed divine husband of Israel, calling his wife, who is revelling in her prostitution and adultery, to return to him, promising mercifully to restore her. This image is most prominent in the opening chapters of the book of Hosea, within which the prophet himself plays the part of the Lord seeking to restore his adulterous and whorish bride. As Warren Gage has observed, Hosea shares his name with Joshua (cf. Numbers 13:16): in rescuing the harlot, perhaps Hosea recalls his namesake’s deliverance of Rahab at Jericho.
Considering the cluster of themes surrounding the story of the destruction of Jericho, I believe that we are justified in revisiting the association of Jesus with Joshua: might there be more to it than initial judgment suggests?
There are, of course, several broader reasons to associate Jesus with Joshua. Much as Moses was succeeded by Joshua on the far side of the Jordan, before entering the Promised Land, and Elisha succeeded Elijah on the far side of the Jordan, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River and rose to prominence as John willingly decreased. In all these cases, a wilderness or eremite prophet or leader is succeeded by a leader or prophet in the land. Like Joshua and Elisha, Jesus travels throughout the land and performs great deeds of power and deliverance.
In Hebrews 3 and 4, we see that Jesus was both like Joshua and greater than Joshua in bringing his people into the true rest of God. Moses did not bring the people into the land, but Joshua completed Moses’ mission. In the frame of the theology of Hebrews, Jesus is the faithful leader of his people, who brings them into possession of the promised eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15), the true antitype of Joshua.
The book of Revelation is replete with themes and images which harken back to the Exodus and to Joshua and the conquest of the land. In the Passover, the destroying Angel of the Lord had killed the firstborn of Egypt. In the Red Sea Crossing, the Angel of God had fought against the Egyptians, while protecting the Israelites (Exodus 14:19-25). In Exodus 23:20-33, the Lord promised the Israelites that he would send his Angel before them, preparing the way for them and driving out their enemies. In Joshua 5:13-15, much as the Angel of the Lord had appeared to Moses in the burning bush, initiating the Exodus, the Commander of the Army of the Lord appears to Joshua before the battle of Jericho.
In Jude 5, we are informed that ‘Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.’ While some have read this as a reference to Joshua, it was not Joshua who brought the people out of Egypt, nor did Joshua himself destroy the unbelievers. It seems that Jude perceives Jesus’ agency behind the Exodus. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, the Apostle Paul also speaks of Christ’s presence and activity in the Exodus. For instance, he suggests that the people ‘put Christ to the test’ (verse 9). It is likely that this is a reference to the theophanic Angel of the Lord sent before the people. Exodus 23:20-22—
“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.”
The Angel of the Lord speaks to Moses as God in the first person from the burning bush in Exodus 3. When God stands before Moses in Exodus 17, or visibly passes before Moses in Exodus 34, this is presumably the theophanic Angel. While the people were led by Moses and Joshua, behind them both was the divine Angel, who is reasonably identified with the pre-incarnate Christ. The holy war and conquest of the Land were led by Christ himself.
In Daniel 10:5-6, in the context of the climactic vision of the end of the age, Daniel sees a majestic figure:
I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude.
In the context, it seems most likely to me that the figure is Michael (‘who is like God’ or ‘he who is like God’), the heavenly Prince of Israel, who does battle against the angelic powers behind the great empires (cf. Daniel 10:13-14, 20-21; 12:1). Michael is the great champion of Daniel’s people according to Daniel 12:1. Leithart has demurred, believing that the glorious beryl man is the one who is speaking to Daniel concerning Michael in Daniel 10 and that Michael must be the Son’s personal angel (James Jordan believes that Michael is the preincarnate Christ). I think it is more likely a different figure from the beryl man who interacts with Daniel, perhaps Gabriel, the interpreting angel in preceding visions, who had the appearance of a man (Daniel 7:16; 8:15-17; 9:20-23; cf. 10:18-21).
Anyone familiar with the opening vision of the book of Revelation should also instantly recognize a stunning resemblance with the beryl man described in Daniel 10. Revelation 1:12-16—
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
From the similarities between this description and that of Daniel 10, the beryl man would seem to be the preincarnate Christ. If the beryl man is Michael, then a further identification follows. The identification of the Angel of the Lord, the Commander of the Army of the Lord, with the preincarnate Christ has been widely held in the history of the Church, not least by many in the early Church. The fact that the Angel speaks as God in the first person, is spoken of as God, and receives worship (e.g. Joshua 5:14-15), when other angels expressly forbid such worship, claiming that it belongs to God alone (e.g. Revelation 22:8-9), all tells in favour of the identification.
The identification of Michael and the preincarnate Christ has been less widely held, although several important figures in Church history have maintained the position. Comparing Jude 9 and Zechariah 3:2 seems to provide a basis to identify Michael and the Angel of the Lord. That the climax of Daniel’s prophecy of the end of the age comes with the arising of Michael would also give weight to this position, as would the fact that Michael is the archangel, the chief of the angels. Whether or not we hold that Michael is the same figure as the theophanic Angel and the preincarnate Christ, the broader identification of Christ with the Angel of the Lord and the Commander of the Army of the Lord is one with a strong pedigree.
Jesus is the exalted Danielic Son of Man, the Angel of the Lord, the Commander of the Lord’s Host, ready to do battle and secure his rightful inheritance of the kingdoms of the whole world. In the earlier conquest of the land, the figure of Joshua was the human analogue to the heavenly Commander of the Army of the Lord. After Christ’s coming in the flesh, the human leader and the heavenly Commander are one and the same.
In Revelation 12, we have a prophetic description of the resurrection and the ascension of Christ, in which he is compared to a child born of a woman and caught up to God and his throne. In John 16:21-22, Jesus had compared his death to a woman in birth pangs and his resurrection to a birth. Elsewhere, Jesus is described as the firstborn of the dead (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5), the one who, by his resurrection, opens the barren womb of the tomb. In the Old Testament, Zion was likened to a woman struggling to give birth to her child or children, which would represent her redemption (e.g. Isaiah 66:7-11).
The great dragon, Satan himself, sought to devour the child and destroy the woman who had given birth to him. Here we might recall the account of the Exodus and the attempts of Pharaoh to kill the baby boys; Pharaoh was the serpentine monster of the Nile, but behind him was the Satanic dragon. As the child was caught up to heaven, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels, defeated them, and drove them out of heaven, casting Satan down to earth, where he sought to persecute the woman and make war against her offspring (Revelation 12:7-11).
Whether Michael is Jesus himself as the Chief of the angels, or his personal angel, who leads the armies of the Lord in his name, Jesus leads the conquest of the heavens. If Joshua drove out the Canaanites out of the land, the ascended Jesus drove Satan and his angels out of heaven. Jesus is the Holy Warrior par excellence. The events of Revelation 12 follow the blowing of seven trumpets by seven angels. Much as the great city of Jericho was overthrown with the blowing of seven trumpets and a great shout in Joshua 6, symbolically heralding the change of ownership of the Promised Land, the blowing of the seven trumpets and great shout in Revelation herald the fact that ‘the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever’ (Revelation 11:15). The great city of Revelation is overthrown as Jesus causes seven trumpets to be blown, much as his namesake did at the battle of Jericho.
The description of the city itself in Revelation 17 is arresting: it is described as a harlot in the wilderness astride a scarlet beast, seated on many waters. The woman is arrayed in purple, scarlet, and adorned with gold, jewels, and pearls, holding a golden cup polluted with abominations and her sexual immorality. She is drunk with the blood of righteous martyrs, presumably mixed in her cup. At the end of Revelation 12 we already encountered a woman in the wilderness: the heavenly woman who had fled there from the pursuing dragon. It is possible that, if the woman represented Israel, this harlot represents Israel in its extreme unfaithfulness.
The chapters that follow in Revelation describe the overthrow of the harlot city, but not before people are summoned out of her (Revelation 18:4-5)—
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”
In chapter 19, however, the overthrow of the great prostitute is fused with the coming of a glorious wedding—the marriage supper of the Lamb. Verses 11 to 16 describe the coming of a majestic Warrior, clearly the glorious Christ John saw in his vision in chapter 1:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
After Christ drives out Satan and his angels, the Bride will also descend from heaven.
Here Gage has produced some truly incredible insights. The gospel of John and the book of Revelation, he argues, are extensively interrelated thematically, literarily, and theologically, in several ways. For instance, John and Revelation can be read as a diptych, with successive parts of John mapping onto successive parts of Revelation. John and Revelation can also be read as a chiastic unit, with Revelation exhibiting literary parallels with John that move back through the book.
An attentive reader of John’s gospel and Revelation should observe that they share marital themes. Such themes pervade the gospel of John. Jesus performed his first sign at a wedding feast, providing wine for the guests, the duty of the bridegroom. In 3:29, John the Baptist described himself as the friend of the bridegroom: Jesus was the bridegroom coming for his bride, his advent a cause of joy. In chapter 4, Jesus met a woman at a well, much as the patriarchs and Moses met their wives at wells. In John 12:3, as Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with the costly nard ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, the text alludes back to Song of Songs 1:12. In a spiced chamber in a garden, even Jesus’ burial is redolent with themes of Song of Songs 4:12-16. Mary Magdalene’s desperate search for her lost Lord recalls the bride’s anguished quest for the bridegroom in the Song; both find their beloved in the garden. The encounter between Mary and Jesus in the garden might also bring our minds back to the first couple in the first garden.
Marital themes continue in Revelation. John’s description of Jesus in his vision recalls the wasfs of the Song, within which the bride or the bridegroom are described from toe to head. The description of the divine Bridegroom knocking at the door of the church of Laodicea recalls the bridegroom’s knocking at the door in Song 5:2. The book climaxes in a wedding feast, with the glorious Bridegroom and Bride revealed and described to us. The end of the book, as the Spirit and the Bride call for Jesus to come to them, recalls the conclusion of the Song. Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices—‘Come, Lord Jesus!’
Some of the most remarkable relations emerge as we look more closely; several of them are profoundly thematically and theologically illuminating. Gage draws our attention to the description of the harlot: she is ‘seated on many waters’ (Revelation 17:1), she is drinking a deathly drink, she lies about her marital status (18:7), and she causes John to ‘marvel’ (17:6). In 17:10, the harlot is associated with seven kings ‘five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.’ The faithful are summoned out of the city (18:4-5).
In John 4, Jesus meets the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well—many waters. Jesus offers her a life-giving drink. When asked concerning the matter by Jesus, the woman tries to hide her marital status. However, Jesus discloses the truth of the matter (verse 18): ‘you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.’ The woman goes on to speak about a seventh man, the man who is ‘coming’, the Messiah (verse 25). When the disciples return and see Jesus talking with the woman, they ‘marvel’ (verse 27). At the woman’s urging people leave the town of Sychar to come to meet Jesus (verses 28-30). Jesus, like the seventh king that was to come in Revelation 17:10, remains only a little while in the town (John 4:40).
Revisiting the story of John 4, we should appreciate some of the ways in which it is thematically and literarily related to the larger fabric of the book. John is a profoundly structured literary work, and the gospel writer is operating with several interwoven structures simultaneously throughout. For instance, James Bejon has suggested that John has a ‘seven-week chronology’ in his gospel, helping us to make more sense of the random temporal references scattered throughout the book. By such a seven-week chronology, John can evoke themes of Pentecost and Jubilee. There are also seven signs in the first half of the gospel.
Sevens are prominent in chapter 4. Jesus meets the woman at the sixth hour (verse 6), speaks of an hour that is coming (verse 21), and, at the end of the chapter, the ‘seventh hour’ is the hour of deliverance (verse 52). There are six men mentioned (verse 18), and then a seventh, the Messiah, who has yet to come (verse 25). In chapter 2, six waterpots were present at the miracle of the water into wine; in chapter 4, a seventh waterpot appears (verse 28). Like the other signs and conversations of John’s gospel, Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria seems to gesture at and connect to important truths and realities beyond itself. The woman is bound up with and iconic of broader marital themes of the gospel, not least in the setting of the story at a well.
There are too many connections between the woman of Samaria and the great Harlot of Revelation 17 to be an accident. What are we to make of all of this? While verbal and literary connections seem to be there, the perplexing problem is that the woman of Samaria is presented in a positive light, as one who comes to believe in Christ, while the Harlot could not be less favourably characterized.
Gage provides the startling key to the whole: they are the same person. The Bride is formed from the Harlot. The woman of Samaria is the Harlot as she responds to Christ’s invitation and becomes the Bride. The overthrown city of Revelation is the impenitent Harlot, hardened in her sins. In John 4, we find an icon of the people of God: the adulteress become the bride. Gage suggests that a further example of John’s iconic use of such a woman can be found in 8:3-11, where Jesus protects the woman caught in adultery from her accusers and sends her away uncondemned, to sin no more. In a manner that possibly alludes back to the test of jealousy, Jesus releases the woman and expels her accusers. Gage reminds us of the description of the great dragon of Revelation as the ‘accuser’, who is expelled from the divine court (Revelation 12:10). This of course is also his role at the beginning of the book of Job and in Zechariah 3.
In light of this, all the allusions back to Joshua should make sense. Jesus is like Joshua, the courageous commander who drives out the fearsome adversaries and secures the inheritance for his people. However, the story of Joshua is not merely a story of holy warfare: it is a story of the rescue and redemption of a woman, of the adulteress become a spotless bride. The story of Joshua is also the story of Rahab. It is the hidden story of Salmon, the great prince of Judah, who married the Canaanite prostitute, the woman who recalled his ancestress Tamar.
Judah, in condemning Tamar to be burned for her supposed adultery, was shamed as she produced his tokens, revealing that she was bearing Judah’s children. Salmon, Judah’s descendant, was possibly the spy who exchanged a token with Rahab, but that token brought about her redemption. Jesus’ own father was put in a position not utterly unlike that of his ancestor Judah. Joseph suspected Mary of adultery, yet his initial response, in contrast to Judah’s, was that of a righteous man: he was merciful (Matthew 1:19; cf. Genesis 38:26).
Jesus unites the roles of Joshua and Salmon in himself: he overthrows the adversaries and he redeems the adulteress as his spotless bride. Tamar and Rahab, included in his ancestry, are iconic in his redemption. [Y]ou shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Joshua led the people of Israel, but we would not typically say that he saved them. No, here the people are associated with the Canaanite prostitute: it is in Rahab we see our redemption.
Tamar was saved by the presentation of exchanged tokens: the cord, the signet, and the staff, which symbolized Judah’s identity and standing. Rahab was saved by the presentation of an exchanged token: the scarlet cord, bound to her window. Jesus, the son of Judah and Salmon, saves his people by exchanged tokens. The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 each contain promised gifts, marks of privileged identity, intimacy, or authority (2:7, 10, 17, 26-27; 3:5, 12, 21). Those who are faithful will enjoy redemption, exaltation, and communion.
The stories we have discussed are stories of divergent fates: Perez and Zerah, the graciously sweetened healing waters of Marah and the cursed waters after the golden calf, Rahab and Jericho, Salmon and Achan, the Samaritan woman and the great Harlot. Yet the stories are stories of mercifully averted judgment. Tamar, not entirely an innocent, is saved from burning at the last moment. Salmon is saved by Rahab and Rahab is delivered from the condemned city in a Passover-like event. The Samaritan woman is restored as Jesus discloses the secrets of her heart and brings her into his light.
Behind all of this lies the greatest exchange of them all. In Gethsemane and at Calvary, Jesus accepts the bitter cup of God’s curse, the cup that belongs to the adulteress (Luke 22:42; John 18:11). Judah, Jesus’ ancestor, impulsively stripped himself of tokens of his authority and identity and gave them to a supposed harlot, Tamar in disguise, in despair of the future of his house and in guarantee of payment. Salmon, if he was the spy in question, gave Rahab a symbol, echoing the blood of the lamb on the lintels of the houses of the Israelites, that would secure the redemption of her and her family. Jesus, however, takes the harlot’s cup and her dreadful fate, while giving her nothing less than his own blood as the token that will secure her redemption.
In the instruction that Joseph and Mary call their son ‘Jesus’, the child—the Commander of the Army of the Lord in human flesh—was identified as the great Holy Warrior who would achieve the full victory of God. Yet a remarkable theme of redemption through marriage was also being evoked. Christ is the divine bridegroom who has come to redeem the adulteress, to cleanse her of all her sins, and to make her his own. In reflecting upon the hidden love story in Matthew’s genealogy and the divine word to Joseph—a righteous son of Judah, who did not desire the destruction of a suspected adulteress—concerning the naming of his son, an astonishing window into our own redemption can be opened this Christmas.
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