God had buried Moses and installed his successor, Joshua, as the new second-in-command of the Army of Jehovah. Joshua met the Divine Commander of the Lord’s army just before the battle of Jericho (Josh. 5:13-15). He was to lead this cantankerous nation into decisive conquest of their Promised Land – a huge task! In a moment of exasperated temper, Moses lost his right to lead God’s people into the Promised Land, but his role in Israel’s history was still a monumental act to follow. Joshua was not another Moses. There would never be another Moses. Read his inspired epitaph: “There has not arisen a prophet since ... like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in ... Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants ... and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did” (Dt. 34:10-12). Following A New Leader But Joshua was God’s man for this next chapter in Israel’s history. He was not measured against Moses, but evaluated by his own obedience and faithfulness to his mission. We can learn from his successes, his failures and from God’s ways.
Upon learning of his “early” retirement (Num. 20:10-13; 27:12-23), Moses pled with the Lord to name a qualified successor. Of course, God had already selected that person and Moses had actually trained him during the 40-year desert odyssey.
Now the Lord commissioned Joshua, and promised this: “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life … you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” The commission was fortified three times by the order to “be strong and courageous” because the Lord would always be with him; four times by the urgent caution to carefully keep to all the Word of God; and three times by the promise of prosperity or success (Josh. 1:5-9). These were powerful conditional guarantees.
God also graciously gave the people a compliant spirit. When Joshua instructed them before going into the land, they answered: “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as He was with Moses” (Josh. 1:16-17). Moses had his moments with these “stiff-necked” people (Ex. 32:9; 33:3,5; 34:9), but God gave them a cooperative spirit for this new start.
The Lord further prepared Joshua and the people with advance intelligence from inside the heavily fortified city of Jericho, their first target. Rahab, a prostitute who turned out to be a woman of faith, hid Joshua’s spies and confided: “I know that the Lord has given you the land … the fear of you has fallen upon us … all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you” (Josh. 2:9). Fully convinced of Israel’s success and her city’s doom, this pagan woman threw herself on God’s mercy. He was eager to spare her, and even placed her in the ancestry of His promised Messiah-Savior (Mt. 1:5). Though Joshua could not have known this, we thrill at the way God commanded all history and all destiny. So, the spies returned to Joshua with a very upbeat report.
Crossing The Jordan
The next step was to get Israel’s masses across a flooding Jordan River. Such challenges were merely opportunities for God to show His control over situations. But right order was essential. Priests carrying the ark – the physical representation of Jehovah’s presence – had to go before the people, who were to follow about 1,000 yards behind the ark. Likewise, we are frequently reminded to “wait for the LORD” (Ps. 27:14; Isa. 64:4). God must lead and we only succeed as we follow Him.
Then, as the priests’ feet dipped into the water at river’s edge “the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap … and those flowing down toward the sea … were completely cut off” (Josh. 3:16). This gave them a dry crossing, reminiscent of their Red Sea crossing 40 years earlier, and an assurance that the Almighty God was still with them, still leading them.
Now another pause to memorialize God’s miraculous intervention. Before the river was released to again flow freely, representatives of the twelve tribes were told to take large stones from the river bed where the priests still stood, and set them up as a memorial “forever” on the Jericho bank, so that “when your children ask in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’” they could be told how the Jordan stopped to let the Lord and His people pass (Josh. 4:6-18). It is vital to mark events that remind us of God’s constant almighty deliverance – and to worship.
And one more step: All the males who left Egypt had been circumcised, but those born in the desert weren’t (Josh. 5:4-5). God gave Abraham circumcision as a permanent mark of His covenant with him and his descendants (Gen. 17) to continually remind them of His infallible promise and of their identity as His special people among all nations. Now this covenantal identity had to be renewed, to remind the new generation that they belonged to God. Like them, we so easily forget our true identity!
Following the circumcisions the Lord said, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Josh. 5:9), naming the place Gilgal – “to roll away.” The generation that came out of Egypt rebelled and died in the desert, never seeing the Promised Land. This new generation, born free of Egypt, had to start over in commitment to God and His promise. They were only free from Egypt when they were circumcised. Here at Gilgal, in the Land, the nation renewed their Passover celebration (Josh. 5:10-12), recalling their rescue from slavery when God’s judgment struck down Egypt’s firstborn sons while the Israelites feasted on the Passover Lamb whose shed blood protected them (Ex. 12:21-30). This was Israel’s birth as a unique nation, and a solemn remembrance of their redemption by their Redeemer. Now they were ready. Today Christians are also called to remember Jesus, the One who rescued us from slavery to sin. Only thus are we prepared to win spiritual battles in this world.
One more vital detail to prepare Joshua: Outside Jericho he met a mysterious man with a drawn sword. Like a good captain, Joshua asked, “Are You for us, or for our adversaries?” The response: “I am Commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come” (Josh. 5:13-14). In other words, there could be no victory without God’s commander in the lead. Joshua bowed in worshipful submission. The order he heard was not, “Take your weapons and march,” but, “Take off your sandals … for the place where you are standing is holy” (Josh. 5:15). He recalled similar words to Moses (Ex. 3:5) and fully appreciated in whose presence he now bowed – the very Angel of Jehovah (a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus). The “holy” ground was not a special spot on the map, but a face-to-face meeting with God! His battle was the Lord’s, as is ours. Success is only possible under His leadership and in His strength.
At no time in our confrontation with our enemy can we afford to take one step forward until we have bowed and surrendered ourselves to the authority of our Holy Commander-in-Chief. He is in charge. When we obey, we succeed!
The battle of Jericho is legendary, though not seen by many as serious history because of its implausibility. But the God of history and Ruler of the universe is not bound by plausibility. Tactically, marching around the city does not seem like an effective military strategy. But this is not about military tactics, but about taking orders from God and leaving the outcome to the One who can never be defeated. The strange week-long march around the city walls no doubt seemed absurd to the citizens of Jericho. They might even have been thrown off guard, recovering confidence in their own military skill. On day seven the silent march circled the city seven times before exploding into an ear-splitting blast of trumpets and a deafening battle-roar from Israel’s army – and Jehovah’s fist crumbled those walls into rubble. The Israelites had only to step over the wreckage and take the city.
Learning From Achan
A sad footnote to the Jericho conquest records that Achan fell to temptation and took gold and a valuable garment from the spoils. God’s strict orders were that everything and everyone in Jericho be set for “destruction” (Josh. 6:18-19), except for the silver, gold and bronze which was to go into the Lord’s treasury. As we’ve seen, God’s instructions had to be followed exactly. How sad to see that Achan persisted in denying his guilt and hid from God while Joshua hunted him down (Josh. 7:10-26). As God identified Achan’s tribe, clan, family and finally Achan himself, why did he not stand up, confess and repent? Perhaps there would have been mercy. But he kept silent until he was publicly exposed. Now there was no room for repentance, only for confession and execution of his sentence. Note that Achan’s entire family and all his property were condemned together with him – stoned, burned and buried under a heap of stones.
Learning From Ai
A second sad footnote was that Joshua and the army, in their excitement over the victory, forgot the lesson of waiting on the Lord, and immediately set out to take the small town of Ai without orders. Joshua sent spies (repeating the Jericho tactic), who said that defeating Ai was a piece of cake; 3,000 men of Israel’s 600,000+ army could take it (Num. 26:51). But they were shamefully routed, losing 36 soldiers. There was no mention of Joshua consulting the divine Commander-in-Chief! Resting on an “easy” victory at Jericho, he bought into his men’s overconfidence, and missed critically important cues (Josh. 7:2-5). Over-confidence is self-confidence, and self-confidence is deadly.
Earlier, Jericho’s people “melted” as Israel approached (Josh. 2:9,11,24). Now, “the hearts of the (Israelite) people melted and became as water” (Josh. 7:5). The lessons about waiting on the Lord, about the battle being His and not theirs were forgotten, and what seemed like certain victory became a stunning, heart-melting defeat.
A disillusioned Joshua now said, “Alas, O LORD God, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all … to destroy us?” (Josh. 7:7). God told Joshua to quit sobbing; “Israel has sinned” – a deliberate violation of God’s order (Josh. 7:10-12). Sin – so easily overlooked by those whose nature is too comfortable with it – is an offense that God can’t overlook. The nation was infected and sin had to be dealt with.
Of course there were many sinners in Israel, as all were sinners. But this was a specific violation of a specific order directly related to their conquest of Jericho, and the heavenly Commander-in-Chief could not lead their armies while it remained hidden and unpunished. This is a most significant lesson for Israel, and for us. Even in this “day of grace” God’s holiness and standards are unchanged.
Sin dealt with, the nation was again ready to be led in successful conquest. They overcame Ai as completely as they did Jericho. And Joshua was careful to honor the Lord by building an altar and offering Him burnt offerings and peace offerings, reading out the Law to the people, and continuing as Israel’s successful leader for many years (Josh. 8-12). Joshua was a faithful leader and through him God led His people to conquer a large portion of the land before he died at age 110 (Josh. 24:29).
Joshua’s story invites us to consider two questions:
• What have we learned from Joshua’s Canaan conquest?
• How will it change the way we live?
By Bill Van Ryn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org