Joshua 8-24

We have come to the end of our yearlong study of Exodus, the life of Moses and the journey of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the conquest of the Promised Land. This has been an education in faithfulness: the steadfast faithfulness of God to His promises even when the people of Israel proved unfaithful. What amazing comfort for us that God is faithful even when we lose our way, He will stay true to all His promises.

Joshua now tells of the unfaithfulness of Achan and family; compared this story to the faithfulness of Rahab. Remember that Rahab’s faith came from hearing accounts of how God rescued and sustained the Israelites for the last 40 years; she believed God and was saved. While Achan participated in the miracle of crossing the Jordan River and the fall of Jericho, then revealed his unbelief when he stole what belonged to God and hid it in his tent. This is not some momentary slip, but unveils his true belief, his thinking that the LORD would not see or care about His stolen glory or be capable of punishment. Our sins, while they may remain hidden from other people are not hidden from the LORD.

An important lesson in this narrative is the effect of one man’s sin on all of his family and the entire Israelite community. The account begins with a defeat of the Israelite army against a small force from the city of Ai, their first mistake was to run ahead of God with their own battle plans; thirty six men were killed and they fled in fear from the men of Ai. Joshua quickly realizes his mistake and falls on his face before the LORD then God speaks saying that Israel has sinned and violated God’s command. The LORD declares, “I will no longer be with you, unless you destroy what has contaminated you.” Achan’s sin has contaminated the entire camp, God declares spiritual warfare; they must destroy what has contaminated them.

Early the next morning each tribe, clan and family presented themselves before the LORD, the lots were cast, God was in the choosing, and finally Achan from the tribe of Judah was revealed as the culprit. He quickly confesses his violation of God’s direct command and the hidden loot was uncovered in his family tent. Achan and all those in his family who conspired with him were taken to the Valley of Disaster stoned to death, their bodies and stolen items burned and a pile of stones was built over the remains as a commemorative warning against disobeying God’s commands. While our sins may be hidden from other people they are very serious in their consequences for ourselves and all those we bring along with us.

After the sin of Achan had been dealt with God commands the Israelites to march against Ai. Joshua marched out at night with the entire Israelites army; which he divides into three groups. Joshua at the front leads towards Ai, when the men of Ai see them they come out of their fortified city to chase the Israelites away, meanwhile the Israelites enter the city from behind and burn the city. Joshua captures the King of Ai and his army, they are annihilated and the city was plundered, then Joshua destroyed the city making it uninhabitable.

The next encounter of the Joshua was with the men of Gibeon, seeing the success of the Israelite army the Gibeonites set out to trick Joshua into leaving them alone. They presented themselves as being from a far distant city state, which was very poor and willing to be subjects of the Israelites. The leaders of Israel attempted to verify their story but failed to seek the LORD in making their decision. Joshua soon found out about the deceit, he confronted the Gibeonites but did not attack them because they had made a treaty and had sworn an oath in the name of the LORD God of Israel. They allowed the city to live, but required them to be the woodcutters and water carriers for Tabernacle. This kept the Gibeonites separate from the Israelite camp, unable to contaminate the camp with their idol worship and at the same time provided full exposure to the workings of the LORD in His sanctuary. The Gibeonites set out to trick the LORD to secure their independence and prove their superior position, instead became slaves. But God turned the curse of slavery into a blessing; the grace of God not only forgives but can also overrule our mistakes and bring blessings out of our sins and failures.

Upon hearing of the Gibeonite treaty with Israel the five southern Kings of Canaan joined forces to destroy Gibeon and Israel. The king of Gibeon quickly appealed to Joshua for help, Joshua and the entire army marched to Gibeon defense; they marched all night and attacked by surprise. The LORD delivered all the cities and land of the Canaanite kings into Israel hands by raining down hailstones on the Canaanites. Joshua followed up by destroying the five cities one right after the other, God miraculously provided enough time, keeping the sun from setting until the task was complete. Joshua prayed to the LORD, “O sun, stand still over Gibeon! O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon!” And “the sun stood still and the moon stood motionless while the nation took vengeance on its enemies. The sun stood motionless in the middle of the sky and did not set for about a full day. There has not been a day like it before or since”.

This battle was followed by another attack this time by the northern Canaanite kings; they came against Joshua with an overwhelming number of soldiers, horses and chariots. The LORD told Joshua, “Don’t be afraid of them, for about this time tomorrow I will cause all of them to lie dead before Israel”. The total annihilation and conquest seems brutal to us, why couldn’t they make peace with their neighbors? But Joshua reveals that no city made peace with the Israelites except for Gibeon; Israel had to conquer all of them at God’s command.

The remaining chapters of Joshua recount the end of Joshua’s long life; he lived to be 110 years old. They settled in the land, which they distributed by choosing lots by clan, tribe and family and took possession of all of Israel except the coast-lands still controlled by the Phoenicians and Philistines. Joshua gave his faithful partner Caleb the land that he spied out for Moses forty years previously, the hill country promised to him by the LORD.

At the end of his life Joshua calls all Israel to Shechem to remind them to, “Be very strong! Carefully obey all that is written in the law scroll of Moses so you won’t swerve from it to the right or the left, or associate with these nations that remain near you. You must not invoke or make solemn declarations by the names of their gods! You must not worship or bow down to them! But you must be loyal to the LORD your God, as you have been to this very day”. Joshua was keenly aware of the danger of the Israelites’ close association with pagans and the worship pagan deities. The temptation to minimize this offense against the LORD will ensnare them and lead them into sin. Joshua warns, “Hold tight to GOD, your God, just as you’ve done up to now. Watch yourselves carefully! Love the LORD your God!” This is the spot where God promised Abraham that his seed would receive the land of Canaan; it is also where Jacob worshipped the LORD when he returned from exile in Paddan Aram and where Joshua built and altar to the LORD and set up stone pillars, inscribed with the Law. On this spot Joshua reads the entire law as required, it is another renewing of the covenant that Israel made with their God. Joshua reminds them of all that God has done for Israel, everything from Genesis to the conquest was accomplished by the LORD; it was not by their own effort but by God’s mercy.

“Now obey the LORD and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and worship the LORD. 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 Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the LORD!”

Joshua 1-6

The book of Joshua begins a new section in the history of Israel, the “writings by Joshua’s command”; they record the history of the conquest of the Promised Land. Furthermore they proclaim the works of God in the conquest and when Joshua and Israelites are obedient or disobedient to the Covenant and God’s commands. The time period is the Late Bronze Age, about 1400 BC; the narrative reveals how the people of God took possession of the Promised Land and received the blessings given to their ancestors.

“So the Lord gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as He had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them, the Lord handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” Joshua 21:43-45

Moses is dead; Joshua is the leader of the Israelites, but God’s command remains clear: “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. 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 to the left, so that you may be successful in all you do. 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. 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.”

Be strong and courageous is repeated three times, Joshua and the Israelites will need all the bravery and courage they can muster, this is a daunting task. But note the promises that God gives Joshua, God would hand over the land promised to his ancestors, you will prosper be successful in all you do and I the LORD your God am with you in all you do. Faithful Joshua has proven his worth at Moses’ side from Egypt to the border of Canaan, now he will finish Moses’ calling with the LORD as his guide.

Joshua goes through the camp and commands the people to get ready, the will cross the Jordan River in three days. There are several problems, the Jordan River is at flood stage, this crossing will be dangerous and following that they will need to conquer Jericho the most fortified city in all of Canaan. Joshua alerts the people to be prepared to step out in faith, the time has come – what an example of faith and courage!

But first Joshua sends out two spies to scout out the land and the city of Jericho; they sneak into the city for the night and go the Rahab the prostitute’s house. Their arrival is noticed and soldiers from the city search for them, Rahab hides the spies on her roof and sends the search party off in another direction. Then she approaches the spies to obtain their help in keeping her family safe from the coming conquest. Rahab has heard of how the LORD dried up the Red Sea and how the Israelites annihilated the two Amorite Kings. Rahab believes in the LORD and that He gave the land to the Israelites; she reveals that Jericho and Canaan’s courage has failed them just as God promised in Deuteronomy 2:25. Rahab bargains for her life and her family’s, demanding a solemn pledge on the LORD’s name that they will be spared. The spies instruct her to lower a red rope out of her window, gather all your family inside your house then all who are in the house will live. The spies return to the Israelite camp by a long about route and report that “Surely the LORD is handing over all the land to us! All who live in the land are cringing before us!”

Think about this encounter for a moment, the LORD’s plan for the supernatural destruction of Jericho was in place but not yet revealed to Joshua. So Joshua sends out the spies then God reveals his plan; the timing provides for the safety of Rahab and her family and lays the foundation for God’s ultimate plan, the inclusion of a prostitute from Jericho in the lineage of King David and Christ Jesus. All this was done for a sinful woman who believed that the LORD would do what He promised to do – she is faithful because the LORD is faithful.

The day for the crossing arrives, Joshua gives specific instructions, when you see the Ark move, you must leave here and walk behind it, following the Ark wherever it goes. The people are to stay 3,000 feet behind the Ark but be careful to not lose sight. Before the Israelites cross the river, Joshua commands them to dedicate themselves with ritual washing to be ceremonially clean; this indicates that the battle ahead is a spiritual one; they must be prepared to see what God will do!

Joshua instructs the priests to carry the Ark; ‘When you reach the bank of the Jordan River, wade into the water.’” “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.” The priests carry the Ark into the middle of the River and stand there as the nation of Israel crosses over on dry land. When all had crossed Joshua instructs twelve men to carry rocks from the middle of the riverbed to their new camp in Gilgal. At Gilgal they constructed a memorial circle, to remind them of the time the Jordan stopped flowing before the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD. It was just like when the LORD your God dried up the Red Sea after leaving Egypt. As soon as the priests left the riverbed, the waters of the Jordan returned to flood stage.

One can imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites to stand on the riverbank, watching the foaming torrent covering up their path, and then lifting their eyes to look at the opposite side where they had stood that morning. There was no returning now. A new and exciting chapter in their history has begun.

After the miraculous crossing you would think it would be important to strike fast while the Israelites courage from the crossing miracle is still fresh; but this was not God’s plan, He is not in a hurry. There is some unfinished spiritual business to take care of – God calls for a renewal of the Covenant with Abraham. So while they are camped in hostile territory all the young men are circumcised as a reminder of the covenant between God and Israel. Then they observed the Passover Feast in the Promised Land, they ate the produce of the land and the manna stopped appearing that day, they never ate manna again.

When Joshua was near Jericho observing the lay of the land, a man appears in front of him with a drawn sword. Joshua questions him as to his loyalty and he identifies himself as the commander of the LORD’s army. Joshua’s meets his counterpart from Heaven and like Moses previously at the burning bush declares that he is standing on Holy ground. God’s angel reveals the LORD’s battle plan for the destruction of Jericho. Joshua was to march the warriors, the Ark of the Covenant carried by seven priests with seven rams’ horns for six days around the city walls without any engagement of the enemy. Each morning shortly after dawn the strange procession would wind around the city walls in silence, not speaking or taunting the city, and then they would return to their camp in Gilgal for the night. On the seventh day they began the march again, only this time they circled seven times. On the seventh circuit Joshua ordered the priests to blow the ram’s horns and the army to give their battle cry, “for the LORD is handing the city over to you!”

The emphasis from start to finish of this narrative is that the battle is the LORD’s – it is He that leads the army, He gives the battle plans and He causes the walls of Jericho to crumble. God has led with an ongoing and consistent plan from the announcement of the Gospel in Genesis, all people will be blessed by the seed, to Abraham’s promise of a nation and land, it continues with the conquest of the Promised Land and the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and will conclude with the final coming and establishing of God’s kingdom at the end of time. “The Lord’s decisions stand forever; his plans abide throughout the ages”. Psalm 33:11

Everything in Jericho is destroyed; the gold, silver, bronze and iron items are set aside as an offering to the LORD and the city is burned to the ground. Rahab and her family are save, they begin a new life and worship in the Israelite camp. . The responsibility for the destruction of Jericho was God and not the Israelites, everything in the city were devoted to God alone as the first fruit offering in the Promised Land.

There are so many lessons for us in this victorious account; victories like this are possible for us today. First we must obey God’s voice and commands, listen to God’s plan and follow faithfully even when the way seems flooded, prepare yourself for your battles by repentance and worship, step out in faith and allow God to fight your battles, don’t rush ahead of God thinking you know a better way, rest in His plan for redemption always remembering His promises to be with us and to go before us. Follow the Ark!