The Book of Joshua139
There is a picture in my parents’ family collection that will always stand out in my mind. It was taken during a family vacation that included a few days in Glacier National Park. We had borrowed a tent and other outdoor equipment from a relative and were about to experience our first camping adventure. We found a hollow spot where the ground was smooth and free from large rocks, and so it was here that we pitched our tent. At the time, we knew nothing of mountain storms or of pitching tents on high ground. We had no idea from what direction the winds and rains might come, but we learned all about this before the night was over!
Our family picture was taken late in the afternoon, posing cheerfully in front of our tent. The sky was blue and virtually cloudless. It looked like the perfect family vacation. It was after we were all inside the tent for the evening, curled up in our sleeping bags, that the unexpected occurred. A summer storm suddenly engulfed us. There were torrential rains, accompanied by thunder and lightning. The rains blew in the door of our tent, which faced the storm. The waters collected in the hollow, where we had pitched our tent. Soon, there were at least of couple of inches of rainwater inside the tent. Our sleeping bags were soaking wet, and my younger brother was singing “Jesus Loves Me” as loudly as possible. We hurriedly wadded up our tent, sleeping bags and all, stuffed them into the truck of our car, and drove to a motel where we could dry out.
Some things that start very well end up in a very different manner. This part of our family vacation reminds me of the relationship of the Book of Joshua to the following book, the Book of Judges. Joshua is the “high water mark” of success in Israel’s history. Things could hardly have been better. How could anyone help but be optimistic regarding the future? But when we come to the very next book, the Book of Judges, things are at an all-time low. Here, it could hardly get worse.
How could this be? How could Israel so quickly plummet from its successes in the days of Joshua to its failures in the days of the judges? Some of this must wait until our next lesson, but we should approach the Book of Joshua with our eyes wide open, knowing what the future holds. Let us savor the “good times” of Joshua, but let us also be prepared for the bad times that are soon to come.
The structure of the Book of Joshua is quite transparent:
Occupying the Land and Overcoming the Canaanites
Dividing the Land
Concluding Events and Joshua’s Words of Exhortation and Warning
In this study, we shall give our attention to the first and final sections of the book. The first section is filled with exciting events describing the crossing of the Jordan and the taking of the land. The final section is very similar to the final words of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy. Joshua urges the people to embrace God’s covenant as their own, and then warns that they will never be able to keep their promise.
The first chapter of Joshua is filled with words of instruction and encouragement. God directs Joshua to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River and to possess the land. As He does so, God gives these promises:
3 “I am handing over to you every place you set foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the wilderness in the south to Lebanon in the north. It will extend all the way to the great River Euphrates in the east (including all of Syria) and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone. 6 Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them. 7 Make sure you are very strong and brave! Carefully obey all the law my servant Moses charged you to keep! Do not swerve from it to the right or the left, so you may be successful in all you do. 8 This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful. 9 I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do” (Joshua 1:3-9, emphasis mine).140
Along with God’s assurances, there were exhortations and commands. Joshua was to be strong and brave (1:6, 7); he was not to be afraid (1:9). He was to lead the people across the Jordan River and possess the land God had promised to their ancestors (1:6). He was to give heed to the Law God had given through Moses. He was to memorize it and to heed it carefully, not violating any of its commands (1:7-8).
Joshua then gave instructions to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh – those tribes that had chosen to dwell on the eastern side of the Jordan – reminding them that they must help their brethren possess the land on the western side of the Jordan before they could join their families on their own land east of the Jordan. The response of these Israelites to the words of Joshua is amazing:
16 They told Joshua, “We will do everything you say. We will go wherever you send us. 17 Just as we obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. But may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Any man who rebels against what you say and does not obey all your commands will be executed. But be strong and brave!” (Joshua 1:16-18)
Moses had commanded their fathers to occupy the land of Canaan, and they had refused, threatening to kill him and appoint a new leader who would take them back to Egypt (Numbers 14:1-4, 10). In contrast, this generation promises to follow Joshua, and even encourages him to be strong and brave! They threaten to execute anyone who would dare to oppose Joshua.
This time Joshua sends out only two spies (2:1), which is surely linked to the failure of the first generation at Kadesh when only 2 of the 12 spies had a “good report.” Joshua’s actions made it clear what kind of report he expected from these two spies. God intervened in such a way that it was certain to be a “good report.” The two spies made their way to Jericho, on the western side of the Jordan. The only place to stay in the city was the home of Rahab, the prostitute. (Who would be suspicious of strangers staying at her house?)
The spies found a woman of faith in Rahab. The king of Jericho had learned of the arrival of the two spies, and he knew they had gone to Rahab’s house. The king demanded that Rahab turn the two men over to him. Rahab chose to protect these two men, rather than to turn them over to the king. She knew that the Israelites were going to prevail over Jericho and the Canaanites:
9 She said to the men, “I know the Lord is handing this land over to you. We are absolutely terrified of you, and all who live in the land are cringing before you. 10 For we heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt and how you annihilated the two Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, on the other side of the Jordan. 11 When we heard the news we lost our strength and no one could even breathe for fear of you. For the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below!” (Joshua 2:9-11)
Rahab bargained with the spies to spare her and her family, if she would protect them. They agreed, and the spies escaped from the city, lowered down the wall by a rope from Rahab’s window (2:15). The spies fled to the hills and then made their way back to the Israelites’ camp. They came to Joshua bearing good news:
Rahab’s report was not only the means of her own deliverance; it also played a significant role in giving the Israelites the courage to attack Jericho.
This was to be a great day in Israel’s history, a day when God would honor Joshua, demonstrating to the Israelites that His hand was upon their new leader, just as it was on Moses:
The Lord told Joshua, “This very day I will begin to honor you before all Israel so they will know that I am with you just as I was with Moses” (Joshua 3:7, emphasis mine).
As they were preparing to cross the Jordan as Joshua spoke these words to the people:
9 Joshua told the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God!” 10 Joshua continued, “This is how you will know the living God is among you and that he will truly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites. 11 Look! The ark of the covenant of the Ruler of the whole earth is ready to enter the Jordan ahead of you… . 13 When the feet of the priests carrying the ark of the LORD, the Ruler of the whole earth, touch the water of the Jordan, the water coming downstream toward you will stop flowing and pile up” (Joshua 3:9-11, 13).
When the priests stepped into the waters of the Jordan, the water stopped flowing, piling up some distance upstream. It was surely intended to trigger the minds of the people to recall the earlier miracle when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, on dry ground. The priests carrying the ark stood in the middle of the Jordan, as the people passed by.
God commanded Joshua to build a memorial, a reminder to this and future generations of what a great thing God had done for His people. Twelve men (one from each tribe) were to go to the riverbed and remove a stone. These stones were to be carried to their campsite on the western side of the Jordan, and there these stones were to be piled as a memorial. It would seem that a second memorial was made in the middle of the Jordan River. Twelve stones from dry land were carried to the place where the ark of the covenant was still stationed, in the middle of the river (4:9). The author informs his readers that this pile of stones was still standing (underwater) at the time of his writing (4:9).
That day a mighty miracle was performed, one that was intended to encourage the Israelites that God was going before them to enable them to defeat the Canaanites and possess the land (see 3:9-13). It was also God’s means of honoring Joshua, so that the people would respect and follow him, as they had Moses:
That day the Lord brought honor to Joshua before all Israel. They respected him his whole lifetime, just as they had respected Moses (Joshua 4:14).
It was also God’s way of encouraging the Israelites to obey Him and of terrorizing the Canaanites who would oppose His people:
4:24 He has done this so all the nations of the earth might recognize the Lord’s power and so you might always obey the Lord your God.” 1 When all the Amorite kings on the west side of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the seacoast heard how the Lord had dried up the water of the Jordan before the Israelites while they crossed, they lost their strength and could not even breathe for fear of the Israelites (Joshua 4:24-5:1).
Once they were on the other side of the Jordan, God commanded the Israelites to be circumcised. While the first generation to leave Egypt had been circumcised, they had not circumcised their children (5:5-7). This was the way that this new generation would publicly embrace the covenant God had made with their forefathers and was now making with them. This verse is very informative and should not be overlooked:
When all the men had been circumcised, they stayed there in the camp until they had healed (Joshua 5:8).
It reminds us of an earlier incident, recorded in the Book of Genesis:
24 All the men who assembled at the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem. Every male who assembled at the city gate was circumcised. 25 In three days, when they were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and went to the unsuspecting city and slaughtered every male. 26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and left. 27 Jacob’s sons killed them and looted the city because their sister had been violated. 28 They took their flocks, herds, and donkeys, as well as everything in the city and in the surrounding fields. 29 They captured as plunder all their wealth, all their little ones, and their wives, including everything in the houses (Genesis 34:24-29, emphasis mine).
When Shechem forced himself on Dinah, the sister of Simeon and Levi, these angry brothers deceitfully entered into a treaty with the men of Shechem, on the condition that all the Shechemite men submit to the rite of circumcision. In that three-day healing period, when the Shechemites were greatly in pain and in a weakened condition, the sons of Jacob slaughtered the men and took their wives, children, and cattle as spoils of war.
This informs us that, when the Israelites submitted to circumcision immediately after crossing the Jordan, this was not only an act of obedience but also an act of faith. Crossing the Jordan would be interpreted by the inhabitants of Canaan as an act of aggression, an act of war. The people of Jericho (not to mention others) would have every reason to make a preemptive strike against the Israelites, before they came any closer. The possibility of an enemy attack after crossing the Jordan was very real, and thus to submit to circumcision was to become vulnerable to attack for several days. Had the Canaanites attacked Israel at this time, they would have been at their weakest point as a nation. In spite of the risks and the pain involved, the Israelites obeyed the command of God.142
Following their circumcision, the Israelites observed Passover on the plains of Jericho (5:10). More than this, they ate unleavened bread for the first time (5:11). The menu changed from this point in time onward. Never again would this generation eat manna (5:12). What a delight that first meal must have been.
A very strange thing now happens. As Joshua approaches Jericho, a man appears before him, holding up his drawn sword. Joshua drew near and asked this fellow if he was for Israel or against them. It was a reasonable question, but no doubt Joshua felt safe asking it. After all, this was but one man, and behind him was a very impressive army. Nevertheless, Joshua was not prepared for the answer this fellow gave him:
14 He answered, “Truly I am the commander of the Lord’s army. Now I have arrived!” Joshua bowed down with his face to the ground and asked, “What does my master want to say to his servant?” 15 The commander of the Lord’s army answered Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, because the place where you stand is holy.” Joshua did so (Joshua 5:14-15, emphasis mine).
Many people feel this is a manifestation of the pre-incarnate Christ, and I am very much inclined to agree. No wonder Joshua was quick to remove his sandals and to fall on his face before this “Commander-in-chief.” Once again, we are reminded of an earlier incident in the Pentateuch:
3 So Moses thought, “I will turn aside to see this amazing sight, why the bush does not burn up.” 4 And when the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him from within the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” 5 And God said, “Do not come near here. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He also said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God (Exodus 3:3-6, emphasis mine).
And so Joshua has his own version of the “burning bush;” he has a direct encounter with God. He receives his battle instructions from none other than the “Commander-in-chief” of Israel’s armed forces. The plan that He reveals is one that no military leader would have ever imagined, as we shall soon see.
I love this story. The chapter begins with a description of a real military problem:
Now Jericho was shut tightly because of the Israelites. No one was allowed to leave or enter (Joshua 6:1).
How would the Israelites deal with the fact that Jericho was a fortified city, with great walls and impenetrable gates? Alarmed by the presence of the Israelite army, these gates were securely shut; no one entered or left the city. If the Israelites sought to scale the walls, many lives would be lost. If they attempted to ram the city gates, the same thing would happen. How could they possibly overcome these massive walls?
God had the perfect solution, one that no one would have considered, because it was a miracle. The divine messenger never actually told Joshua how the Israelites would enter the city or how the people of Jericho would be defeated. That was because the Israelites were required to act in faith:
By faith the walls of Jericho fell after the people marched around them for seven days (Hebrews 11:30).
The Commander-in-chief told Joshua that the Israelites were to march around the city once each day for six days. Armed men were to go first, blowing horns. The priests were to follow, carrying the ark of the covenant and blowing horns. Then the rest of the troops followed behind, blowing their horns. The people, however, were to remain quiet. What an amazing sight this would have been! You can imagine that the people of Jericho lined the top of the city walls, looking with a mixture of fear and amazement at the Israelites marching around their city. The horns were blowing, but the people remained silent. Finally, on the seventh day,143 the Israelites marched around the city seven times, and when the horns were blown, the people gave out a great battle cry, unaware (in my opinion) of what would happen next.
To the amazement of all (those marching outside the city, and those standing on the walls looking out) the walls of the city collapsed. It is my opinion that many (if not most) of the armed soldiers of Jericho were either standing on top of the wall or close to it, ready to fend off the Israelites if they stormed the city. When the walls collapsed, this must have killed a great many of the soldiers of Jericho. And those who survived must have been completely unnerved. Their defense system had been completely destroyed. That in which they found such confidence and security was the instrument of their own destruction. Israel’s impenetrable barrier (the city walls and gates) had crumbled before them. All the Israelites had to do was to “finish the job,” and that they did. They completely annihilated the people and the city, leaving no survivors.
There was yet another miracle, at least as I read the account. God destroyed the city by causing the walls to fall down, and yet He spared Rahab and her family whose home was in (or on) a part of the wall. Surely this one section of the wall did not collapse, as did the rest. And so the two spies were sent into Rahab’s house to bring she and her family out safely, under Israel’s protection. Because Rahab gave sanctuary to the two spies, God gave Rahab and her family sanctuary in Israel. Better than this, Rahab’s name was recorded in the book of life, and she is found in the hall of faith (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25).
There was one problem with the victory of Israel over the people of Jericho, and the writer spells it out in verse 1:
But the Israelites disobeyed the command about the city’s riches. Achan son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, stole some of the riches. The Lord was furious with the Israelites (Joshua 7:1).
Achan had disobeyed the instructions Moses had given earlier:
22 He, the God who leads you, will expel the nations little by little. You must not overcome them all at once lest the wild animals overrun you. 23 The Lord your God will give them over to you; he will trouble them with great difficulty until they are destroyed. 24 He will hand over their kings to you and you will erase their very names from memory. Nobody will be able to stand before you until you annihilate them. 25 You must burn the images of their gods, but do not covet the silver and gold that covers them so much that you take it for yourself and thus become ensnared by it; for it is abhorrent to the Lord your God. 26 You must not bring any detestable thing into your house and thereby become an object of divine annihilation like it is. You must absolutely abhor and detest it, for it is an object of divine annihilation (Deuteronomy 7:22-26, emphasis mine).
More than this, Achan disobeyed Joshua’s very specific instructions, given just before the Israelites captured Jericho:
17 The city and all that is in it must be set apart for the Lord, except for Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house, because she hid the spies we sent. 18 But be careful when you are setting apart the riches for the Lord. If you take any of it, you will make the Israelite camp subject to annihilation and cause a disaster. 19 All the silver and gold, as well as bronze and iron items, belong to the Lord. They must go into the Lord’s treasury” (Joshua 6:17-19, emphasis mine).
Achan’s sin brought great calamity, not just upon himself and his family, but also upon the whole Israelite nation. This would soon be apparent. The next city that the Israelites must deal with is the city of Ai. When spies were sent to assess the military strength of the city, they seem almost over-confident:
They returned and reported to Joshua, “Don’t send the whole army. About two or three thousand men are adequate to defeat Ai. Don’t tire out the whole army, for Ai is small” (Joshua 7:3).
It may have been that two or three thousand men could have taken the city, particularly with God’s help. But it was not to be, not this time. When the Israelites engaged the people of Ai in battle, their adversaries gained the upper hand and sent the Israelite forces running for their lives. Thirty-six men were lost in this battle. Joshua and all Israel were horrified and perplexed at their defeat. What could possibly have gone wrong? God told Joshua:
10 The Lord responded to Joshua, “Get up! Why are you lying there face down? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenantal commandment! They have taken some of the riches; they have stolen them and deceitfully put them among their own possessions. 12 The Israelites are unable to stand before their enemies; they retreat because they have become subject to annihilation. I will no longer be with you, unless you destroy what has contaminated you” (Joshua 7:10-12).
Joshua then put the Israelites through a process of elimination, until it was revealed that Achan was the guilty party. Joshua urged Achan to come clean with his sin, and he did:
20 Achan told Joshua, “It is true. I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel in this way: 21 I saw among the loot a nice robe from Babylon, two hundred silver pieces, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels. I wanted them, so I took them. They are hidden in the ground right in the middle of my tent with the silver underneath” (Joshua 7:20-21).
You have to give Achan credit for openly admitting his sin, without making any excuses. But his sin was serious; it had cost Israel a defeat at the hand of their enemies, and it had cost 36 men their lives. And so, at God’s direction, Achan and his family were stoned to death and their bodies burned. The anger of the LORD was appeased.
God encouraged Joshua not to fear and to be of good courage. He instructed him to take the whole army and attack the city of Ai. The battle plan would take advantage of Israel’s earlier defeat at the hand of the warriors at Ai. Thirty thousand of Joshua’s men hid in ambush behind the city of Ai. Joshua and his troops then attacked the city from the front. Joshua and his army feigned defeat and begin to retreat. Many of the troops of Ai then took out after Joshua and his army. When those who remained on guard inside Ai saw what was happening, they wanted to get in on the “kill,” so they left the city in hasty pursuit of Joshua and his men. Those lying in ambush then slipped into the city and burned it to the ground. When the people of Ai looked back and saw their city in flames, they knew they had nowhere to go. They were now trapped between those who had hidden in ambush behind them and those who feigned defeat before them.
The LORD then instructed Joshua to hold out his sword toward Ai, because He was giving him the city (8:18). He held out his sword until the victory was complete (8:26). Once again, we are reminded of an earlier incident in the Pentateuch involving Moses and Joshua:
8 Amalek came and attacked Israel in Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua fought against Amalek just as Moses had instructed him; and Moses and Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 And whenever Moses would raise his hands, then Israel prevailed; but whenever he would rest his hands, then Amalek prevailed. 12 When the hands of Moses became heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side and one on the other, and so his hands were steady until the sun went down. 13 So Joshua destroyed Amalek and his army with the edge of the sword. 14 And the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in the book, and rehearse it in Joshua’s hearing; for I will surely wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens. 15 And Moses built an altar; and he called it “The Lord is my Banner,” 16 for he said, “For a hand was lifted up to the throne of the Lord—that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:8-16, emphasis mine).
Just as Moses had instructed (Deuteronomy 27), Joshua built an altar to the LORD on Mount Ebal. Here they offered sacrifices and inscribed the Law on stone. Half of the Israelites stood in front of Mount Gerizim and the other half in front of Mount Ebal. Joshua read aloud all the blessings and the cursings of the Law as the people listened.
In chapter 9, we read of one of the failures of Joshua and the leaders of Israel. It was not intentional, but it was the result of their carelessly entering into a treaty with the people of Gibeon. Word of Israel’s victories over Jericho and Ai had reached the ears of the kings who lived west of the Jordan, who formed an alliance to fight the Israelites. The residents of Gibeon took a different approach. They, like Rahab, were convinced that the Israelites would prevail, and so they set out on a plan of deception.144
The Gibeonites must have cleaned out every Salvation Army and Goodwill store in the area, finding old worn-out garments and sandals. They also acquired old, dried-out bread. These things were used to convince the Israelites that the Gibeonites had come a long distance, from a far away place. It would seem that these people had some knowledge of the law, or at least of Israel’s dealings with the various nations. The guiding principles for the Israelites’ foreign policy are found in Deuteronomy:
10 When you approach a city to wage war against it, offer it terms of peace. 11 If it accepts them and submits to you, all the people found in it will become compulsory servants to you. 12 But if they do not accept terms of peace but make war with you, then you are to lay siege against their city. 13 The Lord your God will deliver it over to you and you must kill every single male by the sword. 14 However, the women, little children, cattle, and anything else in the city—all its plunder—you may take as your booty. You may appropriate the spoils of your enemies that the Lord your God has given you. 15 This is how you are to deal with all those cities very distant from you, those that do not belong to nearby nations. 16 As for the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God is going to give you as an inheritance, you must not allow a single living thing to survive. 17 Instead you must put them under the divine curse—the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite, —just as the Lord your God has commanded you, 18 so that they cannot teach you to do the detestable things they do to their gods and you thereby sin against the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 20:10-18).
Counting on the fact that the Israelites would live by God’s laws, the Gibeonites passed themselves off as those “very distant” from Israel, rather than as those living in the land God had given to Israel. Without carefully inquiring into this matter (certainly without inquiring about God’s will), the leaders of Israel took the Gibeonites at their word and made a treaty with them, as though they were a distant nation. Only after the covenant was made did the Israelites learn that they had been deceived. Because they had given their oath, they would not go back on their word. The Gibeonites were subjected to hard labor, however.
The Gibeonite saga is not over. The alliance of Amorite kings mentioned first in Joshua 9:1-2 is now dealt with in greater detail in chapter 10. These kings were greatly distressed to learn that the Gibeonites had entered into a treaty with the Israelites because Gibeon was a great city, and these were powerful warriors (10:2). Instead of having Gibeon as an ally, these people were now their enemies. The alliance of kings felt they must attack Gibeon and neutralize them. When the Gibeonites realized that they were being attacked, they sent word to their allies, the Israelites, who were now obliged to come to their aid.
Joshua assembled his whole army and set out for Gibeon. God encouraged Joshua and the Israelites not to be afraid, assuring them that He was going to give them the victory over their enemies (10:8). An
all-night march (an uphill climb of nearly 25 miles, and from sea level to about 4,000 feet) brought them to Gibeon early in the morning, catching the kings by surprise. The Lord gave Israel a great victory at Gibeon. As the Amorite warriors fled, God rained down hailstones upon them, killing more than those slain by the sword (10:11). The battle was going well, but continued victory was threatened by coming darkness. And so Joshua made a most unusual request, and his prayer was answered:
12 The day the Lord delivered the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua prayed to Lord before Israel:
“O sun, stand still over Gibeon!
O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon!”
13 The sun stood still and the moon stood motionless while the nation took vengeance on its enemies. The event is recorded in the Scroll of the Upright One. The sun stood motionless in the middle of the sky and did not set for about a full day (Joshua 10:12-13).
The LORD fought for Israel that day. Never before or since has there been a day like that one, when the LORD answered such a request from a human being (Joshua 10:14, NLT).
Did God employ the forces of nature to part the Red Sea when Moses led the Israelites? God is no less involved in caring for His people under the leadership of Joshua. God is mighty to save. He employs all of nature to protect His people.
Israel’s great victory over the Amorite kings broke the back of the opposition in central Palestine. Heartened by their success and the assurance of God’s powerful presence among them, the Israelites waged a campaign against the southern part of Palestine (10:28-39). Their victory in the south was stunning:
40 Joshua defeated the whole land, including the hill country, the Negev, the lowlands, the slopes, and all their kings. He left no survivors. He annihilated everything that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel had commanded. 41 Joshua conquered the area between Kadesh Barnea and Gaza and the whole region of Goshen, all the way to Gibeon. 42 Joshua captured in one campaign all these kings and their lands, for the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. 43 Then Joshua and all Israel returned to the camp at Gilgal (Joshua 10:40-43).
All that was left for Joshua and the combined army of the Israelites was to defeat the kings to the north. From that point on, defeating the Canaanites would be the task of each individual tribe. (This is a task that they will fail to accomplish, as we see in the Book of Judges.) An alliance of northern kings was established, but it did not spare them from defeat at the hand of Joshua and the Israelites. Joshua’s victory is summed up in a way that links his obedience to God’s commands with his victory over Israel’s enemies:
15 Moses the Lord’s servant passed on the Lord’s commands to Joshua, and Joshua did as he was told. He did not ignore any of the commands the Lord had given Moses.
16 Joshua conquered the whole land, including the hill country, all the Negev, all the land of Goshen, the lowlands, the Arabah, the hill country of Israel and its lowlands, 17 from Mount Halak on up to Seir, as far as Baal Gad in the Lebanon Valley below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and executed them. 18 Joshua campaigned against these kings for quite some time. 19 No city made peace with the Israelites (except the Hivites living in Gibeon); they had to conquer all of them, 20 for the Lord determined to make them obstinate so they would attack Israel. He wanted Israel to annihilate them without mercy, as he had instructed Moses.
21 At that time Joshua attacked and eliminated the Anakites from the hill country—from Hebron, Debir, Anab, and all the hill country of Judah and Israel. Joshua annihilated them and their cities. 22 No Anakites were left in Israelite territory, though some remained in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. 23 Joshua conquered the whole land, just as the Lord had promised Moses, and he assigned Israel their tribal portions. Then the land was free of war (Joshua 11:15-23).
Chapters 13-21 of Joshua concern the distribution of the land. The great powers of the Promised Land had been defeated, but much remained to be conquered (13:1-6). This would be the task of the individual tribes and not the duty of the combined forces of Israel. At the command of God, Joshua then divided up the land, with each tribe being responsible to fully possess their inheritance.
In chapter 13, we find a very brief, but significant, anecdote:
The Israelites killed Balaam son of Beor, the omen-reader, along with the others (Joshua 13:22).
Balaam’s payday finally arrived. This brief remark must, in some way, undergird the comment we find in Joshua 22:17, to which we will refer shortly.
Joshua is now very old (13:1; 23:1). The time of his departure is drawing near. Now that the major powers of Canaan have been defeated, it is time to send the Israelite tribes to their inheritance. In chapter 22, Joshua sends the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh back to their wives and children on the eastern side of the Jordan with these words of exhortation and warning:145
1 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh 2 and told them: “You have carried out all the instructions of Moses the Lord’s servant, and you have obeyed all I have told you. 3 You have not abandoned your fellow Israelites this entire time right up to this very day. You have completed the task given you by the Lord your God. 4 Now the Lord your God has made your fellow Israelites secure, just as he promised them. So now you may turn around and go to your homes in your own land which Moses the Lord’s servant assigned to you east of the Jordan. 5 But carefully obey the commands and instructions Moses the Lord’s servant gave you. Love the Lord your God, follow all his instructions, obey his commands, be loyal to him, and serve him with all your heart and being!” (Joshua 22:1-5)
When they returned, these tribes built an altar near the Jordan River (22:10). Word of this reached the ears of their brethren west of the Jordan. It was feared that those beyond the river had already begun to depart from the faith, and those on the western side of the Jordan were determined to deal with it:
12 When the Israelites heard this, the entire Israelite community assembled at Shiloh to launch an attack against them. 13 The Israelites sent Phinehas, son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead to the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 14 He was accompanied by ten leaders, one from each of the Israelite tribes, each one a family leader among the Israelite clans. 15 They went to the land of Gilead to the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and said to them: 16 “The entire community of the Lord says, ‘Why have you disobeyed the God of Israel by turning back today from following the Lord? You built an altar for yourselves and have rebelled today against the Lord. 17 The sin we committed at Peor was bad enough. To this very day we have not purified ourselves; it even brought a plague on the community of the Lord. 18 Now today you dare to turn back from following the Lord! You are rebelling today against the Lord; tomorrow he may break out in anger against the entire community of Israel. 19 But if your own land is impure, cross over to the Lord’s own land, where the Lord himself lives, and settle down among us. But don’t rebel against the Lord or us by building for yourselves an altar aside from the altar of the Lord our God. 20 When Achan son of Zerah disobeyed the command about the city’s riches, the entire Israelite community was judged, though only one man had sinned. He most certainly died for his sin!’” (Joshua 22:12-20, emphasis mine)
We soon learn that the concerns of the western tribes were unfounded, and that this altar was merely a memorial to keep their hearts and minds turned toward their God. The encouraging thing about this incident is that God’s people were fully committed to obeying God, and thus they were willing to fight their fellow-Israelites, if need be, to keep from sinning against God. The words above demonstrate that the Israelites had learned not only from God’s commands, but also from history. They were alert to any signs of disobedience to God’s commands. They remembered the way that Balaam had corrupted them (verse 17), and they remembered the consequences of the sin of Achan (verse 20). They were determined to obey God and to deal with those who rebelled against Him according to the Law. What an encouraging incident this is.
The words of Joshua in the final two chapters of the Book of Joshua are similar to the words of Moses in the closing chapters of Deuteronomy. Like Moses, Joshua was very old (23:1), and the time of his death was near (23:14). Joshua assembled the Israelites to deliver one last message. Joshua reminded the Israelites of all that God had done – things that they had seen with their own eyes (23:3). Like Moses, Joshua urged the Israelites to carefully obey the law of God and not to depart from it in any way (23:6). They must be careful not to associate with the Canaanites, nor to embrace any of their idolatry (23:7-8, 11-13). Joshua reminded the people that not one of God’s promises had been unfulfilled (23:14-15a). They must also remember that every one of God’s promised judgments would come upon them if they failed to obey God’s commands (23:15b-16).
In chapter 24, Joshua reminded the Israelites of their roots, roots that predisposed them toward idolatry. He reminded them that Abraham’s roots were idolatrous:
Joshua told all the people, “Here is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘In the distant past your ancestors lived beyond the Euphrates River, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor. They worshiped other gods (Joshua 24:2).
God judged the Egyptians and their gods at the exodus, and yet it is apparent that at least some of the Israelites embraced the worship of Egypt’s gods:
“Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the river and in Egypt and worship the Lord” (Joshua 24:14, emphasis mine).
Joshua challenges the new generation of Israelites to embrace God’s covenant as their own. They must choose to follow Him:
If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15)
The people responded by assuring Joshua that they fully intended to follow God:
16 The people responded, “Far be it from us to abandon the Lord so we can worship other gods! 17 For the Lord our God took us and our fathers out of slavery in the land of Egypt and performed these awesome miracles before our very eyes. He continually protected us as we traveled and when we passed through nations. 18 The Lord drove out from before us all the nations, including the Amorites who lived in the land. So we too will worship the Lord, for he is our God!” (Joshua 24:16-18)
One would think that Joshua would have been overjoyed at their response, and that he would have praised and encouraged them. Instead, Joshua warned them that they could not possibly keep their promise:
19 Joshua warned the people, “You won’t keep worshiping the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God who will not forgive your rebellion or your sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you; he will bring disaster on you and destroy you, though he once treated you well” (Joshua 24:19-20, emphasis mine).
The Israelites were not willing to accept Joshua’s words. Even though Joshua cautioned them, they insisted that they would remain faithful to God:
21 The people said to Joshua, “No! We really will worship the Lord!” 22 Joshua said to the people, “Do you agree to be witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to worship the Lord?” They replied, “We are witnesses.” 23 Joshua said, “Now put aside the foreign gods that are among you and submit to the Lord God of Israel.” 24 The people said to Joshua, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him” (Joshua 24:21-24).
Joshua drew up an agreement between the people and their God, but his words of warning were clear. Their agreement would serve as a witness against them (24:27). Just as Moses had warned of Israel’s disobedience in the future, so did Joshua. Shortly after this, Joshua died and was buried in the hill country of Ephraim. Joseph’s bones, brought from Egypt by the Israelites, were buried at Shechem at his family burial plot. Aaron’s son, Eleazar, also died and was buried. I believe the author is making it clear that this generation of faithful Israelites was dying off.
There is much significance to the death of the Joshua generation, because things would never be the same again:
Israel worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and as long as the elderly men who outlived him remained alive. These men had experienced firsthand everything the Lord had done for Israel (Joshua 24:31).
The Book of Joshua is a great success story. In stark contrast to the first generation of Israelites, who refused to engage the Canaanites in battle, and who threatened to kill Moses and return to Egypt, this generation boldly attacked the enemy. They went to war “in faith” (Hebrews 11:30). The only defeat this generation suffered on the battlefield was that one small defeat (36 killed) at Ai, due to the sin of Achan.
This was a generation marked by their obedience. They faithfully followed Joshua’s orders, and they obeyed God’s commands (see 4:10; 8:27, 30-31; 11:15; 22:2). They did not rebel against God or against Joshua. They even encouraged Joshua to be bold and courageous (1:16-18). They complained but once, and in this case, their complaint was valid (9:18). They took a situation that appeared to be the beginnings of idolatry very seriously (22:10-34).
God caused even the failures of the Israelites to “work together for good” (Romans 8:28). When Achan sinned, the men of Ai won an initial victory over the Israelites. But it was this failure that set the stage for Israel’s next encounter with them, in a way that ended in great victory for Israel. In the second confrontation between Israel and Ai, the warriors who were with Joshua pretended to retreat in fear, just as they had the first time. Because of their first “victory,” the people of Ai deserted the city to pursue the Israelites, thus allowing the hidden Israelite soldiers to enter the city and burn it to the ground. Thus, Israel’s first defeat set the stage for her second encounter at Ai, which ended in victory.
The foolish decision to make a treaty with the Gibeonites was also used of God for good. Because of this treaty, the five Amorite kings formed an alliance and attacked Gibeon. This required Israel to come to their aid, in accordance with the treaty they had made with the Gibeonites. The resulting battle was a great victory for Israel and broke the back of the Canaanite opposition in central Palestine.
The question we should ask ourselves is this: “How do we explain Israel’s success?” Was it because of the leadership of Joshua? Surely Joshua was a great man and a fine leader, but was he so much better than Moses? I think not. Was it because this generation was better than the first? I don’t think so. “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). I think there is only one explanation: It was necessary for this generation to trust and obey God, so that the promises of God could be fulfilled.
3 I am handing over to you every place you set foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the wilderness in the south to Lebanon in the north. It will extend all the way to the great River Euphrates in the east (including all of Syria) and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone (Joshua 1:3-9, emphasis mine).
43 So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had solemnly promised to their ancestors, and they conquered it and lived in it. 44 The Lord made them secure, in fulfillment of all he had solemnly promised their ancestors. None of their enemies could resist them. 45 Not one of the Lord’s faithful promises to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; every one was realized (Joshua 21:43-45, emphasis mine).
14 “Look, today I am about to die. You know with all your heart and being that not even one of all the faithful promises the Lord your God made to you is left unfulfilled; every one was realized, not one promise is unfulfilled! (Joshua 23:14, emphasis mine)
I am reminded of the words of Moses, recorded for us in the Book of Deuteronomy:
“But to this very day the Lord has not given you an understanding mind, perceptive eyes, or discerning ears!” (Deuteronomy 29:4)
I believe, therefore, that God gave this generation of Israelites hearts to believe and the will to obey, so that He could bless them with this land, as He promised, and in accordance with His covenant. The key to Israel’s success is not to be found with men, but it is to be found in the faithfulness of God. The hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” certainly captures the amazing truth of God’s great faithfulness to this generation of Israelites.
If this generation was so successful, then why does Joshua come across in such a negative manner in the final chapter of Joshua? I believe the answer is consistent with what we have just observed. It is not man’s faithfulness to God that brings about God’s blessings, but it is God’s faithfulness to men that is the cause of all our blessings. Joshua urged a new generation to follow God, and rightly so. But their confidence was in themselves, in their own faithfulness. And it was because of their self-confidence that Joshua sounded a strong word of warning. They would never be able to live up to their promise, and Joshua knew it, as did Moses. The Israelites would forget all that God had done for them, things that their own eyes had seen. They would forsake God and turn to idols. And because of their rebellion, God would bring judgment upon the nation.
There are many lessons for us to learn from this text. First, let us learn never to take credit for our apparent successes in life. If our “successes” truly are successes, then these have come from the hand of God. They are nothing for which we dare to take credit:
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36)
For who concedes you any superiority? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:7)
We need to be very careful that we do not presume that we will remain faithful. The Scriptures are clear in their warnings about overconfidence:
12 So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall. 13 No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: he will not let you be tried too much, but with the trial will also provide a way through it so that you may be able to endure. 14 So then, my dear friends, flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:12-14, emphasis mine).
We should strive to be faithful. But we dare not presume that we will be faithful. It is God alone who is completely faithful, and we must place our trust in His faithfulness, not our own.
God is not only faithful, He is also exceedingly powerful. The Book of Joshua is filled with examples of the power of God. He who is faithful is also the One who is all-powerful. In the Book of Joshua, we see God stopping the flow of the Jordan River, so that His people could cross over into the Promised Land. We see God providentially providing deliverance for the spies through a prostitute – Rahab. We read of God destroying His enemies with a hailstorm, and then causing the sun to stand still. What an awesome God we serve. Is there anything we should fear other than Him?
We are reminded by the Book of Joshua that national failure is always a generation away (and sometimes sooner!). Each generation has to choose whether or not it will serve God (see Deuteronomy 29:9-15; 30:15-20; Joshua 24:15). The Israelites were emphatically told that they must be diligent to teach their children the ways of the Lord (Deuteronomy 4:5-6, 10, 40; 31:12-13; Joshua 4:6, 21-22; 14:9). We, too, must be careful to teach our children the ways of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Each generation must be encouraged to follow God. Each generation must choose whether or not it will do so.
Another matter for thought and discussion is that of deception, or to put the matter more bluntly, lying. In the Book of Joshua (and in the New Testament), we find that Rahab, the prostitute, is listed in the hall of faith (Hebrews 11:31; see James 2:25) and even in the genealogy of our Lord (Matthew 1:5). How do we explain the fact that she lied to her own people about the spies? And then there is the deception of the Gibeonites. It is not surprising to read of a Canaanite lying, but the basis for the lies of each is the truth that God will give Israel the victory. Here is some food for thought. And lest you think that God is soft on lying, remember Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).
The Book of Joshua reminds us of the devastating consequences of “sin in the camp.” The sin of Achan may seem trivial to some, but not to God. In the first place, it was disobedience to very clear and emphatic instructions (see Deuteronomy 7:25-26; Joshua 6:17-19). Sin not only corrupts the sinner, it also corrupts the church of God. There is a corporate consequence of sin, and this is why sin cannot be taken lightly in the church.
1 It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you? 3 For even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present. 4 When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough, since you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 In no way did I mean the immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you (1 Corinthians 5:1-13).
Joshua is surely a prototype of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was he who led the people of God into the Promised Land. It was he who never suffered defeat. It was to him that God promised not one word he spoke would fail (Joshua 23:14). Is it any wonder that the name given to our Lord – Jesus – was but the name “Joshua”:
In Joshua 24:31, we are told,
Israel worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and as long as the elderly men who outlived him remained alive. These men had experienced firsthand everything the Lord had done for Israel.
God’s people were secure so long as Joshua remained alive. Are you and I not eternally secure since our “Joshua” is alive forevermore?
15 And this is even clearer if another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest not by a legal regulation about physical descent but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For here is the testimony about him: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, 19 for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. 20 And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation—for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation, 21 but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever’”— 22 accordingly Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 And the others who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. 25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:15-25, emphasis mine).
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever! (Hebrews 13:8)
Finally, I note that Israel’s finest hour came at the time of their greatest challenges, in the face of incredible opposition and danger. So often we are tempted to think that God’s presence is to be found in times of peace and prosperity. The reality is that we cling most closely to God when life is pressing hard upon us. So it was for that generation. Think of it, Israel had just lost the greatest leader of all time (Moses), and they had suffered the consequence of a whole generation dying off in the wilderness. Forces larger and greater in power threatened them. It was during the hardest of times that Israel experienced the best of times.
I could not help but think of this in relation to our own church. In the past several years, we have lost several key leaders to death. It will not be too many years before the first generation of leaders are all gone. What will become of our church then? We need not fear, for God will provide for us, just as He did for Israel. God had a Joshua waiting in the wings. God’s work went on without a hitch; in fact, it went on better than under the leadership of Moses. Days of challenge may lay ahead of us, my friend, but God is as faithful today as He was in the days of Joshua. And so I conclude by reminding you of the words of our text, “I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the LORD your God, am with you in all you do” (Joshua 1:9).
139 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on February 18, 2001
140 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
143 One can hardly believe that the number seven had no significance here.
144 It is interesting to ponder the basis for the Gibeonites’ actions. First, they had to believe that the Israelites would possess the land, so that they were willing to become slaves to them in order to live. Second, they must have believed that the Israelites were people of integrity. Otherwise, how could they have trusted the Israelites to keep their covenant once they learned they had been deceived?
145 It is interesting to note that Joshua begins with Joshua’s words spoken to the eastern tribes, Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, just as the historical events of the book end with words to these tribes.
146 “Joshua,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, electronic edition.