READYING FOR CONQUEST
Joshua 1–5“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the Law My servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” (Josh. 1:7).
Sensing God’s presence gave Joshua and the Israelites the courage they needed to move ahead. That same sense of “God with us” is the key to our spiritual victories today.
When Israel invaded Canaan around 1400B.C, the land was populated by a number of different peoples, organized in relatively small city-states. Yet many of the cities were protected by massive walls. The people were used to war, and some states maintained war chariots, the tanks of the ancient world. Though the city-states were independent, and had often warred with each other, cities in the north and south united to resist their common enemy, the Israelites.
God encouraged Joshua, Moses’ successor (1:1–9). Joshua mobilized Israel to prepare militarily (v. 10–2:10) and spiritually (3:1–5:15) for the invasion of Canaan.
Understanding the Text
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you” Josh. 1:5. Joshua had been the aide of Moses from the beginning. He led Israel’s army from the first (cf. Ex. 17:9–13), a fact that has led some to suppose that Joshua had served as an officer in the Egyptian army. This is possible, as Egyptian texts listing soldiers with Semitic names have been recovered by archeologists. More important, Joshua was one of the original spies sent into Canaan some 40 years before. At that time only he and Caleb urged Israel to invade, sure that God could guarantee victory despite the military superiority of the Canaanites. Thus Joshua’s credentials, both as a military and spiritual leader, were well established. Perhaps, however, the greatest advantage Joshua had was to have served under Moses. He observed both that humble man’s commitment to the Lord, and God’s commitment to Moses. When God promised, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you,” those words must have brought great assurance. Each of us needs a relationship with someone who can serve as a model. We each need to see in others both faithfulness to God, and God’s faithfulness to them. “Be strong and courageous” Josh. 1:1–9. Note particularly God’s repeated words of exhortation and encouragement.
|Be strong, courageous||I will be with you|
|Be careful to obey||I will give to you|
|Meditate on the||I will never leave|
|Book of the Law||I will never forsake|
|Be careful to do it||You will prosper, and succeed|
|Do not be terrified||God will be with you|
|Do not be discouraged||wherever you go|
In just these few verses, Scripture sums up the way to victory in any situation we may face. “Get your supplies ready” Josh. 1:10–18. Joshua took immediate steps to prepare Israel militarily. His first step was to have the people check their supplies and organize for a river crossing. The people prepared too—by agreeing to obey Joshua as their commander. The next step that Joshua took was to send spies to check out Jericho. “Everyone’s courage failed” Josh. 2:1–24. Jericho was a walled city that controlled passes leading up into Canaan’s central highlands. Two spies who slipped into the city were sheltered by Rahab, a prostitute who very likely, as was quite common in those days, operated an inn. Rahab hid the spies and asked them to spare her life when Israel took the city. The New Testament looks back on Rahab’s act and commends her for this act of faith. James says, “Was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?” (2:25) The incident shows us that in Old Testament times as well as today people of any nationality who trusted God could find salvation. It also reminds us that our past does not stand in the way of a personal relationship with God. It was not the good life Rahab had lived that saved her, but her active faith in Israel’s God. “The Lord will do amazing things among you” Josh. 3:1–17. The first element in Israel’s spiritual preparation for the Conquest was clear evidence of God’s continuing presence. This evidence was provided when the river waters ceased flowing as soon as the priests who carried the ark of the covenant set foot in the river. Joshua displayed faith in announcing ahead of time that this would happen. When it happened as he said, Israel’s confidence in both God and Joshua deepened. God often gives us some special sign of His presence when we set about a difficult task. It’s not wrong to ask God to encourage us with an answer to prayer, or some other sign of His presence. “These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” Josh. 4:1–24. The Hebrew word for “memorial” is zikkaron. This is a technical theological term for a thing, place, or repeated event intended to serve as a vivid reminder of some act of God on behalf of His people. For instance, the Passover festival was a zikkaron. Those who shared the Passover meal relived the experience of the Exodus generation. Each family sharing that meal realized that God had delivered them, not just their ancestors. The heap that Joshua formed from the 12 stones taken from the Jordan River was to be a symbol to future generations. When “in the future” children ask, “What do these stones mean?” parents were to tell the story of how God caused the river to stop flowing. Touching and feeling these stones would help make history—and God—real to future generations. Note Joshua’s words of dedication when the heap of stones was set up at Gilgal. God had dried up the river as He earlier dried up the Red Sea, “so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God” (v. 24). 15: Joshua commanded one man from each tribe to bring a large stone from the Jordan riverbed to Israel’s campsite. The 12 stones were then heaped in a pile. That heap of stones served as a zikkaron, a permanent reminder to Israel that God parted the waters of the Jordan so His people could enter the land. “These were the ones Joshua circumcised” Josh. 5:1–9. Male circumcision is cutting off the flap of skin that covers the penis. During the years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites failed to circumcise their children, as they failed to obey other commands of the Lord. Now, before setting out on the Conquest, God told Joshua to have the Israelites perform this rite. Modern medicine has shown circumcision to have a number of health benefits. But in Israel it served a religious rather than public-health purpose. Circumcision was given the descendants of Abraham as a sign of their participation in the covenant of promise that had been given to him. Among the promises given Abraham was a commitment to free Abraham’s descendants from slavery and to give them “this land . . . the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites” (Gen. 15:7–21). Circumcision, at this critical juncture in history, was an act of faith claiming God’s ancient promises. While the Book of Joshua stresses obedience, that obedience was rendered by those who had a faith relationship with God. Circumcision speaks of faith, not Law. Only the person with faith in God has any claim to His aid. “The Israelites celebrated the Passover” Josh. 5:10. This was the final act of spiritual preparation: remembering God’s provision. When we put the sequence together we find a prescription for spiritual readiness: Sense God’s presence. Set up reminders. Reaffirm faith. And celebrate what God has already done. “The manna stopped” Josh. 5:10–12. From now on Israel would live by faith, not sight. The manna now ceased. No fiery pillar would lead. Daily, visible evidence of God’s presence would be absent for the first time in the memory of many of the Israelites. Yet the people under Joshua would trust and obey God. Seen or unseen, God is with His people. We can trust Him to lead us to victory.
When Knowing Isn’t Enough(Josh. 2)
Rahab’s confession was stunning. “The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” This pagan woman, a prostitute, had heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea. She’d heard of Israel’s victory over kings east of the Jordan. And she had drawn a simple conclusion. “The Lord your God is God.” What’s even more striking is Rahab’s report, “When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed.” All the people of Jericho had the same information. And all of them drew Rahab’s conclusion. “The Lord your God is God.” The difference is that the people of Jericho decided to hold out anyway, while Rahab determined to commit herself to the God of the enemy. I suspect that many today who are not believers share the conviction of the people of Jericho. They too know that “the Lord your God is God.” But somehow they remain enemies. They erect walls, not of stone, but of good works, of excuses, of ridicule, of belief in evolution, or even of religion, and desperately try to hide behind them. They know. But knowledge alone cannot save. Rahab teaches us the difference between knowing God as an intellectual act and knowing God personally. What Rahab did was to act on her knowledge that “God is.” Rahab was willing to commit herself completely to God, sure that otherwise she had no hope. How good to have made Rahab’s choice. How good to have made our knowledge of God a stepping-stone to a decision to trust ourselves to Him. How good to know that we too are now safe.
How might the story of Rahab help a friend or relative who knows, but hasn’t yet chosen to trust God?