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!”