Category Archives: Joshua

Judges 6 & 7

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord . . . . The theme continues. This time it’s the Midianites who oppress them for seven years, and God raises up Gideon to save them. The story is famous, and rightly so. God’s sense of humor shows throughout. It starts with the angel of the Lord coming and sitting under an Oak at Gideon’s families land. He’s just handing out. Then he appears to Gideon and says something totally ridiculous, and you can see why as you read the rest of the story: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” This is just funny. Gideon is anything but a mighty warrior. In fact he’s more of a faithless coward, just the kind of person God would pick to do his work! All God gets is, “But Lord . . .” This is classic:

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

The Bible is nothing if not consistent. It is not by man’s power that God saves, but by his own will and power. Here he picks the least of the least, and that is because he wants there to be no confusion as to who the Savior is. For all of human history mankind has tried to save itself, and God says over and over and over again, that is just not possible. I must save you, he says, or you will not be saved. Thus the name Jesus who will save his people from their sins.

The strength Gideon has is not from himself, but is because God is with him. But seeing the Lord isn’t enough for Gideon to step out and do as he’s commanded. No, he must put God to the test. He wants a sign that this is all real, and God condescends and gives him the signs he wants. Then God commands him to tear down the pagan altar set up for Baal in his town, which he does. But it does it at night because he’s afraid of the people. They wake up in the morning, and their pagan altars are destroyed. Of course they are angry, but Gideon tells them if this Baal you worship is so strong then let him defend himself. All false Gods cannot deliver because they are nothing. But the God of Israel delivers big time!

Yet Gideon hasn’t seen enough. He asks for another sign, the famous wool fleece on the ground. God condescends again. Then the Lord makes it very clear who will provide the victory, chapter 7:

The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’

Notice what a boast of our own strength against God actually is; there is no neutral ground in the universe. He who is not with God, is against him. That’s why Paul says this in Galatians 2:21:

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

So God winnows the army down to 300 men to fight against another army, as it says, “thick as locusts.” In fact it is not just the 300 that defeat the “eastern peoples,” but they surround the camp of their enemies and blow trumpets which throws the camp into confusion and they flee. Then Gideon calls out other clans who route their enemies. God used natural and supernatural means to accomplish his task and bring victory for his people. Either way, it is God who saves.

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Joshua 24

Joshua renews the covenant with the people before he dies in this last chapter of the eponymous book. The religion of the Bible is in its essence historical, and Joshua recounts the history of Israel to this point, and the point of the whole story, God’s power and grace:

13 So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’

We think of the OT as about works, and in a way it is, but the big picture is always about what God does for us, for his people, not what we do for him. It’s an upside down religion because every other religion on the face of the earth is about works, about man earning salvation. As we’ve seen so far in these first six books of the Bible, the Living and true God’s religion is about what he has done for us.

Then the next two famous verses are the proper response to God’s giving:

14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

As Bob Dylan sang, you gotta serve somebody. So chose “this day” whom you will serve. This is not something you can push off. You affirm one or the other every day. The Band Rush sings, making the wrong choice, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” No neutrality in this war.

Joshua dies, and Israel served the Lord throughout his lifetime and the elders that outlived him. But that would not last.

Joshua 22 & 23

Chapter 22 sees the eastern tribes return back to the other side of the Jordan, but not before they build a huge altar on the west bank of the river, and gave the rest of the Israelites a scare that these tribes were going to worship other gods. But they built it as a witness between they on the east and those tribes in the west for future generations to remember the Lord they serve. The tribes of the west thought they were going to have to go to war against their own people and wipe them out. This is very serious business.

Chapter 23 is Joshua’s farewell address to Israel’s leaders. He affirms God’s faithfulness and reiterates the covenant of works, blessings and curses. Their issue in the land is fundamentally religious: who or what will they worship. The human heart cannot remain godless. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so does the human heart; something must fill it, it must worship, it must find meaning and fulfillment in something or someone. Thus it finds this either in the true and living God, or in idols. Here is Joshua’s exhortation to Israel

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.

He further says they must “be very careful to love the Lord your God.” This will not be easy because in fact, the temptation to follow other gods will be all around them:

12 “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, 13 then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.

As we know this is exactly what happens. I think the Holy Spirit has him use the word “love” in addition to obedience because the issue is the affections of the heart. Biblical religion is not about external observances, but about external observances that flow from the affections, or love, of the heart, of the entire nature of our being. In the “Is Jesus in the Old Testament?” booklet it says:

This is what the nineteenth-century Scottish pastor Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection”: the fact that profound change in our behavior always comes through a change in what we love most, not through external coercion.

Exactly! We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind in the Old Testament, but as with Israel we find this impossible because we are slaves to our sin nature, naturally, by birth, as Paul says, dead in our sins. Jesus affirms the great commandments, indeed that all the law and the prophets hang on loving God and our neighbors as ourselves. But there is only one way we can fulfill the law, that is to be born again, to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit who applies to us the obedience, death and resurrection of Christ.

The gratitude that flows from once being alienated from God, literally his enemy, his wrath and just judgment against us, to being adopted as his children, him becoming our loving father who did literally die for us, this is the wellspring of living the Christian life. We as a human race could not have known the powerlessness of external works based religion unless God had shown in the history of redemption that it is impossible, that it is only by his mercy and grace applying the salvation he secured. Israel could not know this, that their experiences in the promised land were part of a much broader narrative to bring ultimate salvation to the world.

Joshua 12-21

These 10 chapters describe, in detail, exactly what land each tribe was to take possession of. So not much exciting happening here. I did notice that not all the clans were able to drive out the Canaanites, but not for lack of trying. And even though previous chapters said they destroyed everything and everyone, clearly they didn’t. It wasn’t so neat and tidy as they author makes it appear.  Eventually this will come back to haunt them.

The final verses tell the moral of the story:

43 So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. 44 The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

This almost seems like the end of the story, and in a way it is, for Israel. All of the Lord’s good promises will had been fulfilled, but this is really an adumbration of the ultimate eternal, or as God says several times in Genesis, everlasting fulfillment of bringing his people into the heavenly promised land. Some Christians, and obviously most Jews likely, believe God’s promises and covenant were about land. But land cannot be everlasting because as we know nothing material can be eternal, can last forever.

As I went back and looked at God’s promises to the Patriarchs, what stands out more than the land is the promises of offspring, like the sand of the seashore, the stars in the heavens, and that through them all the nations of the world will be blessed. The land is obviously representative of something much, much larger, which is God’s eternal kingdom. As many other things in the OT are a type, so is the land. It is a type of the kingdom of God where he will be the ruler of his redeemed people, those he took out of the bondage of the slavery of sin and death. And as he personally did all the work of choosing and saving and leading and protecting his people Israel, so has he done with us, his Church, his bride, purchased by the precious blood of Christ.

Joshua 9 & 11

War, lots of war. God even listens to Joshua’s request to stop the sun to give them more time to route their enemies. In addition to the fulfillment of God’s promises to take the land, God uses Israel to visit his judgment on his enemies:

18 Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time.19 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

This is similar to what God did to Pharaoh by hardening his heart. From the very beginning, back in God’s initial covenant promise to Abraham, it was always about the sin of the people in the land. Even though this seems absurd and unnecessary to people in our day, I think God had to show just how dangerous idolatry and sin is. As we saw throughout the Pentateuch, the peoples in the land practiced the most heinous sin, much of it revolving around idols. None of their idols could save them from the Living God.  God had certainly established in Israel’s eyes that he was the King of Kings.

Something to also keep in mind is that when God gave them the promised land, he made them fight for it, and fight as it says for a long time. God could have wiped all the peoples out with a plague or something, but he didn’t. He made Israel fight for every inch of territory. Maybe it’s a stretch, but it’s not unlike our receiving salvation and having to fight for it, every inch, for a long time. It will not come easy because like Israel we fight the ubiquitous sin around us, indeed in us.

Fortunately the last verse tells us then, after this long time of war, the land had rest from war. We’ll see what happens next.

Joshua 8

The next city to suffer the fate of Jericho is Ai; God’s judgment again meted out by his people. War is a nasty business, but it is what God used as the instrument of his divine wrath.

After this battle, two down who knows how many to go, Joshua renews the covenant by building an altar to the Lord, as it says, “to the God of Israel.” By doing this, Joshua is affirming the Lord as Israel’s God and King, which separates them from all the other peoples of the earth. This was commanded by Moses in Deuteronomy 27:

Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster. Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not use any iron tool on them. Build the altar of the Lord your God with fieldstones and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God. And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up.”

Once the altar is set up all Israel, including women and children, have the law written on the stones in front of them, then Joshua reads it all to them, specifically the blessings and curses. It needs to be impressed on the people exactly what this relationship with their God is all about. It is a covenant of works, they obey, they will be blessed, they rebel, they will be cursed. God is giving them again, to this new generation, a chance to live in harmony with the divine will, in relationship of blessing and goodness.

However, because of the fall they simply cannot pull it off, nor can we obviously. But it is important, as we’re told in the NT as well, like Israel here just in the promised land, to be reminded over and over again just what God has done for us that we may strive to live holy lives and too live in his blessing.

Joshua 7

We come yet again to another story that includes God’s harsh judgment against the disobedient. When we read something like this, we must always go back to such verses as Deut. 32:4:

He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
    and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
    upright and just is he.

We must also keep in mind that God’s just wrath and judgment against sin found its ultimate expression in the cross where God’s wrath and justice were ultimately satisfied in the second person of the Trinity becoming man and taking the punishment for us. Isaiah 53 says it perfectly:

he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

It is impossible for any human being to say that God cannot relate because he did, with his own life.

This situation is likely as harsh as it is because of the importance of this first battle in the promised land. God had very clearly said that everything was to be dedicated to him, either by destruction or by giving it to the Levites for his work. One man decided not to listen, and took some things for himself. It’s interesting that the text gives a bit of a family tree and that he was from the tribe of Judah. There is no going incognito in the Bible, which gives it the historical ring of truth.

Because of this Israel got routed in the next battle, and Joshua has no idea why. But the Lord tells him why, and that this disobedience must be punished or they will continue to be routed by their enemies. So eventually the thief, Achan, confesses, and they find the items in his tent. Then “all Israel” stoned him, and it looks like all his family (it just says “the rest” but it has to be based on what came before), and all his possessions, including animals. Then they burned everything and put a pile of rocks over where his tent had been. Very serious business. Sin, disobedience to God, could not be tolerated. You can bet after this that the people would be very afraid of doing the wrong thing, which was God’s message; it is either God’s way, or death, and not just punishment, but the way of life lived as death, i.e. without his presence.