As we turn our attention now to the book of Joshua, it is worth taking a step back for a couple of minutes to consider the entire Hebrew Bible. Our English translation Old Testaments begin with Genesis and end with Malachi, and there is a logical order of the books. The first five books are Law, then there is History beginning with Joshua and going through Esther. Then you’ve got Poetry from Job to the Song of Solomon, and then the Prophets, first the major ones, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, and then the minor ones, from Hosea to Malachi.
The Hebrew Bible is also ordered logically, though not by the same logic. There are three main divisions in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and you have seen them referenced by Jesus Himself in the New Testament – the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Law in the Hebrew Bible is the first five books, what we have looked at thus far, Genesis to Deuteronomy, the Pentateuch, the Torah. The Prophets are divided into the Former Prophets and the Latter Prophets. The Former Prophets are most of the books we consider to be history, while the Latter Prophets go from Isaiah through Zephaniah. The Writings are the rest, and they actually end with Chronicles.
As we progress in our study we will look more closely at the significance of all of that, but I bring it up now because Joshua is the beginning of the books considered to be the Prophets, and in particular the Former Prophets. And how does Joshua begin? With a commissioning by God Himself.
Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, 2 “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel. 3 Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory. 5 No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. 8 This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; bfor then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
Much of these words are an echo of Deuteronomy 31 when Moses charged Joshua in the sight of all Israel, so immediately you have in Joshua an appeal to the Torah. And the Torah, in Genesis 1, begins with God speaking. God speaks the world into being. Every aspect of His creation is accompanied by the words, “and God said.” Now YHWH is commanding Joshua, Moses’ replacement, to not let the Torah depart from his mouth. Meditate on it day and night. Keep it and do it all that you may be “prosperous and successful.”
So the Prophets, right from the start, point us back to the Torah, but interestingly enough, the Writings, too, interestingly enough point us back to the Torah. The Writings begin with the Psalms, and of course Psalm 1 begins, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.” Torah begins with God speaking, and the Prophets and the Writings begin by saying, “Pay attention, know, and do God’s words.”
This is certainly the context for Joshua, which is a book now divided into twenty-four chapters which describe the long anticipated crossing over the Jordan River and taking of the Promised Land. Then the land is divided and finally at the end of the book Joshua himself will challenge and charge the people. Throughout the book there is a vast contrast between salvation and judgment, and the glory of the one and only holy God being made known.
Again, as we’ve read, Joshua 1 makes it clear that what was true about God in Genesis through Deuteronomy will continue to be true, even though Moses is dead. Joshua is to be strong and courageous, and not tremble or be dismayed, knowing that YHWH his God is with him wherever he goes. Once again one of the defining characteristics of Israel, and Joshua specifically in this case, is the presence of the LORD among them. The people of Israel recognize this and they recognize the God-given, God-ordained leadership He had given them in Joshua in the second half of chapter one. “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses (the previous leader) in all things, so we will obey you; only may the LORD your God be with you as He was with Moses.” So there is a recognition of Joshua’s authority there, and thus a recognition of God’s prerogative to give authority to whom He chooses, coupled by a prayer for God’s blessing upon the leader He gave them.
God is taking care of everything for His chosen people. We see to that in chapter two when Joshua sends two men into the land to spy, and of course they encounter Rahab the harlot, who far from turning them in, verifies for them the word of the LORD. In Deuteronomy 2 God had told Israel that He would cause nations to dread and fear them. Rahab says that is the case in verse eight. They heard what God did to Egypt. She proclaims the greatness of YHWH to them: “For the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” Her understanding and her life before have been altered and judged by God, and she has been saved through it on account of her faith, by and for God’s glory.
In chapter three God continues to keep His word to Israel. The waters of the Jordan River separate in a manner reminiscent of how He saved the nation out of Egypt. In verse 10 Joshua says, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite.” Israel would need to trust in the LORD by sending the ark of the covenant across ahead of the people. By faith they would do this and the water would turn into dry land before them. And so they did.
In chapter four they commemorated the power of God with twelve memorial stones, one for each tribe of Judah, as a monument to the faithfulness of God to His word and His power with which He was bringing to pass that which He promised in His grace and mercy, for His glory. God had a two-fold purpose in drying up the Jordan River, and those purposes are revealed in verse 24: “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”
And we see in chapter five that this begins to be played out amongst the kings of the Amorites and the kings of the Canaanites. They heard how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had cross and their hearts melted. There was no spirit in them any longer.
And the fact that Israel was to fear the LORD is seen in the following verses in the circumcisions of the sons of Israel. Those born in the wilderness had not been circumcised. And in that there is a warning to Israel about the failure of their fathers, again with an appeal to the word of the LORD. Verse six: They DID NOT LISTEN to the voice of the LORD. Joshua opens with God speaking, and here lies a warning after they have already crossed the Jordan to keep listening to God.
It is easy to fall into a complacent state as a Christian, to reach a point in your life where you kind of take your foot off of the gas pedal. You may not consciously think this to yourself, but you go from a pursuit of holiness to a place where things in your marriage, in your life, in your church become routine to you and you begin going through the motions. It is so easy even for me to fall into this trap and not even realize it for a time. Even in our study and talking about the word and doctrine and the church we can stop listening to the voice of the LORD. There is a good reason why there are so many reminders in Scripture to listen to God. We are so prone to not do it. It’s in those times we stop walking by faith, and instead, start walking by the way we think we are to go.
When we stop listening we aren’t believing, because when we stop listening it is as if we are saying to God that we don’t need Him right now. Israel needed reminder after reminder after reminder, and so do we, to kindle afresh our love for God and our acknowledgement of dependence upon Him. Israel had crossed the river, but they had not yet arrived. We may know the facts of the gospel and be pretty clear on our doctrine, but that is no substitute for a heart for God. Like Moses before them, they needed to always recognize His glory, as do we, and live in the light of that glory. That means listening. And if we fail to listen to God, we make light of His glory.
Israel observed the Passover after the circumcision. The manna ceases after that, marking the end of that era in Israel’s history. But then Joshua had a Moses moment.
Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” 14 He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” 15 The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
This is, in my opinion, another one of those preincarnate appearances of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity. Notice that when Joshua falls on his face and bows he is not corrected. On the contrary, the captain of the LORD’s hosts tells him to remove his sandals. He’s on holy ground, and of course that recalls Exodus 3, and another preincarnate appearance of Jesus at the burning bush. These were encounters not with mere messengers sent from God but with God Himself.
After chapter five we begin to read about the conquest itself, and just so we’re clear – it was brutal. Our politically correct sensibilities know nothing of the total war that Israel was called on by God to take to their enemies. And in today’s political and theological climate the easy thing to do is to read Joshua and even Judges and see God as a megalomaniacal deity who is hateful and likes to kill. And that would be true is we didn’t know God to be who Joshua 1-5 says He is… great, merciful, with those whom He has chosen, powerful, and of course, holy. The fact of the matter is that Israel deserves the kind of punishment the inhabitants of the Promised Land are getting, but they are been saved through God’s mercy, yet He is by no means leaving the guilty unpunished.
The captain tells Joshua in the first part of chapter six exactly how they are going to beat Jericho. It’s a manner so ludicrous by today’s standards, of that day’s standards, that it leaves no doubt to Israel that the victory is all of God. March around the city once for six days. March around it seven times on the seventh day. Blow the trumpets. Shout. The wall will fall down. And, of course, that’s exactly what happened. They destroyed the city of Jericho and everyone and everything in it, save for Rahab and those who were under the protection of the scarlet thread.
Israel was saved through the judgment of the treacherously sinful people of Jericho, and God received the glory. Yet there is no one who does not sins. Israel was not without sin, and it doesn’t take long for the cold, hard reality to manifest itself. Chapter seven, verse 1: “But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban.”
Achan takes things he shouldn’t have taken, so when Israel goes up against the people of Ai they send about three thousand people to take out a few people, but they get beaten down and they flee. And the people’s hearts melt, according to verse five, and become like water.
It should be noted that God doesn’t show unjust favortism to His people. His holy right to chasten those to whom He has shown His grace is not limited by the fact that He has bestowed that grace in the first place. The fact of the matter is Achan and his family were stoned to death for their transgressions, and all Israel was saved through that judgment. All Israel stoned him with stones, then the LORD turned from His anger.
A man, Achan, sinned and received a death penalty, and his whole family died with him for taking the cloak and the silver and the gold. This is only a just punishment if it is a holy God’s word who has been transgressed. YHWH is so great that trusting in what you see, rather than what He has said, is a crime worthy of great punishment. Even Achan, in 7:20, knowing that the punishment would likely be severe, acknowledged his sin and glorified the LORD.
After Achan’s death the people proceeded to rout Ai and hang their king. And at the end of chapter eight we find them doing what Moses commanded them to do just before his death. Joshua wrote a copy of the Law on stones in the sight of all Israel, and then he read it all to Israel, the blessings and the cursings. So Israel was confirming their covenant with the Lord.
In chapter nine Gentiles, the Gibeonites, experience the glory of God in salvation through judgment. They realize they can’t stand against Israel and Israel’s God, and so they trick Israel into making peace. They say they came from a great distance because of the name of YHWH, when in reality they had just heard what He did to Egypt. Israel failed to seek the counsel of the LORD according to verse 14 and Joshua made peace with them. But then Israel found out that they weren’t from far away, they were neighbors. Joshua decides not to kill them, so in that they find salvation, yet that salvation comes through judgment because the Gibeonites are instead made to be servants. So while they were not blameless, like Rahab before them, the Gibeonites realized the glory of God and the condemnation they were going to receive and it drove them to seek mercy.
When the nations find out about this they fear but also set the sights on Gibeon, and so they beg Joshua not to abandon them and God tells him not to fear. He’s going to wipe them all out. And this is the battle in which the sun stood still for a whole day, until the enemy was thoroughly defeated. God displayed His power and His justice and His saving mercy in one fell swoop.
Over the next couple of chapters the nation of Israel continues to conquer the land, and in chapter 13 going through 21 we read about how the land was divided up amongst the twelve tribes. However, there is an ominous note that keeps appearing over the course of these chapters, and it is that Israel does not fully drive out their enemies. Geshurites and Maacathites and Jebusites and Canaanites are still present, and before his death Joshua will warn the nation about the negative influence of these people. Israel will be tempted by them and fall. Nevertheless, we do read in Joshua 21:44 that the LORD gave rest to them on every side, according to all He swore to their fathers.
As Joshua nears the end of his life there is no one successor to be named. So in chapters 23 he summons the elders and leaders and judges and reminded them of what God had done for them. He told them God would continue to fight for them. Then we have another reminder to look to the word of God, the Torah.
“Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you may not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, 7 so that you will not associate with these nations, these which remain among you, or mention the name of their gods, or make anyone swear by them, or serve them, or bow down to them. 8 But you are to cling to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day.”
Cling to the LORD your God. The nation would commit to do this when Joshua gave what amounts to a farewell address to the nation in Shechem, in chapter 24. Some of these words are among the most famous in all of Scripture.
“Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or athe gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” 16 The people answered and said, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; 17 for the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and who did these great signs in our sight and preserved us through all the way in which we went and among all the peoples through whose midst we passed. 18 The LORD drove out from before us all the peoples, even the Amorites who lived in the land. We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God.”
The irony is that in verse 19 Joshua tells them, after they have agreed to serve YHWH, that they will not be able to do it. Moses did the same thing in Deuteronomy. This is kind of a replay of Torah here at the end of Joshua’s life. Israel is serving as a witness against themselves when they inevitably sin.
The good news is that they do serve YHWH as long as Joshua lives and as long as the elders who outlived him live. But the bad news is the ominous note that Joshua has sounded of an impending disobedience. It is, of course, said on the one hand prophetically, as in telling the future, but on the other hand prophetically in that he is declaring the word of the LORD to them that they might not fall away. Tragically, the book of Judges will answer for us what happened with Israel.
Nevertheless, the book of Joshua stands as a grand display of God’s glory in both His saving and His judging. The reader is reminded to remember the words of YHWH and depart from them to the right or to the left. The admonition to be strong and courageous seems particularly appropriate to reiterate in an environment in which our enemy is not primarily the nations coming after us, but sin, the flesh, and the evil powers that seek to destroy the church of Christ.
What we need to be doing is constantly going back to the book. Going back to the word of God. In that God will give us the reminders we need and the strength we need to not fall away. As He reveals Himself to us, as we heed His voice, He will be glorified.
May darkness not reign over us, but may the light of God’s glory stand still over our lives, that sin and doubt and disillusionment might be purged from us, that our real enemies might be vanquished. May God forgive us of all the times we have fallen short of His glory. May God help our unbelief and help us to see and do all things through the lens of His glory displayed in His word. May Jesus Christ be so wonderful to us that we dare not think to abandon Him. Praise God for the book of Joshua, where we see His power, faithfulness, grace, mercy, justice, and
holiness so vividly displayed. May He help us to see Himself on display, and may we respond accordingly.