Gleanings from the Bible: Joshua

Christians have drawn on military metaphors through the ages. Paul exhorts us to put on the “whole armour of God” and writes of the struggle against the “powers of this dark world” in Ephesians. Jesus promised persecution to his followers. Revelation graphically portrays spiritual war. And writers have penned such hymns as, “Onward Christian soldiers.” It would seem that, contrary to some teaching abroad in the world, the Christian life was not meant to be easy!

It is no surprise then, that Christians have often found personal spiritual challenge and encouragement in the words of the book of Joshua.

The Christian, fearfully embarking on a course that he or she knows to be right and ordained by God, has often read four times with renewed hope, “Be strong and very courageous” (1:6, 1:7, 1:9, 1:18) with the affirmation, “for Yahweh your God will be with you wherever you go.”

However, there is a condition to success before God and that is obedience to God’s law including his local, individual instructions to Joshua. Failure to obey incurs disaster and defeat at Ai and deception by the Gibeonites, where the writer notes, “but they did not inquire of Yahweh” (9:14).

The imperative to obey God also forms the challenge to Christian living as it did to those settling into the conquered Promised Land.

Joshua’s stirring words ring across the centuries…

 “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. 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.” 24:14-15

Other Notes

Joshua is an anglicised form of the Hebrew word for “Saviour”. It is also translated into Greek as “Yesus,” from which we get, “Jesus.” So Jesus could have been known as Joshua Ben Joseph. As Galilee had a large number of Greek speakers and Greek being the universal language of its day, perhaps he was also referred to as Yesus? Anyway the point is that it is possible to make spiritual links between Joshua, the successor of Moses and Jesus, both delivering God’s people to the Land of “Rest,” the first physical, the latter spiritual.

Joshua had a “Moses Experience” (5:13-15) which is intended to confirm that the mantle of leadership had indeed passed to him.

Rahab is an example of one who threw in her lot with Israel and found mercy. It is notable that she becomes an ancestor of King David and Jesus Christ.

It was not wholly unusual for the Jordan to dry up, with land slippages blocking the river upstream. The account is couched to parallel the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses, and the timing is what gives it significance as an affirmation by God of his presence with them. The stopping of the Sun is understood literally by some (ie there were extra hours of daylight) and poetically by others (ie the sun remained cool enough for the battle to continue) though the writer certainly portrays the occurrence as well out of the ordinary and an intervention by God.

Gleanings from the Bible: Deuteronomy

I am not going to get into a discussion as to whether Deuteronomy is to be ascribed to Moses (with a postscript added about his death) or to those who returned from Exile over four hundred years before Christ, except to note that there are some noteworthy arguments for both positions.

What is of concern is, in that on the brink of the Promised Land with the second reminder of the law, we have the commands of God to execute judgement on the inhabitants of the land – which from our perspective looks a lot like genocide (Deut 9:1-3)!

Let me make some observations about this ‘invasion’.

  1. It is easy for us, those who live in relatively peaceful circumstances with a well- developed justice system and numerous options for dealing with criminals, to judge earlier societies (and even current ones existing in different circumstances from ours) through the lens of our own experience.
  2. I note that the inhabitants of Canaan worshipped gods in ways which are universally abhorrent, notably including the horrific sacrifice of children! (Deut 12:31)
  3. Despite the evils perpetrated through these religions it is also obvious that they had a seductive influence on the Israelites, demonstrated through the era of the Divided Kingdom (see 1 & 2 Kings). Israel, who was supposed to be a good example of God’s good laws to the surrounding nations, allowed the surrounding nations to entirely corrupt her.
  4. Today we recognise the concept of a “Just War,” one feature being a conflict waged in defence of others. We also recognise (though this has proven less easy to justify in practice) that a pre-emptive strike may save more lives in the long run. The commands in Deuteronomy, to kill the inhabitants of Canaan can only be justified if they are from the Creator God who knows all things and is God of all nations. They are not an excuse for power hungry conquerors. Rather they were specific commands, for a specific purpose, at a specific time!
  5. During the conquest of Canaan it is interesting to see that there was still mercy for individuals who put their trust in the God of Israel.
  6. I note then the way in which God’s commands to Israel are circumscribed (this includes all God’s commandments not just those concerning war):-
    1. Israel was not to fail to keep the commands, nor to add to them! (Deut 4:2)
    2. By keeping God’s commands Israel would demonstrate the greatness of God (Deut 4:6-8).
    3. Israel is warned that judgement also awaits her if she steps out from under God’s rule. (Deut 4:25ff)
    4. God’s desire is to see his people prosper. (Deut 5:29)
    5. God’s love for Israel was not because they were numerous but out of faithfulness to the promises given to their forbears. (Deut 7:7-9)
    6. The reason for the invasion:-Deut 9:4-5 NIV  After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
    7. Deuteronomy 20 gives some specific instructions concerning war and should be understood in the light of the other observations made here.

A Few Other Notable Laws

  • The Cancelling of debts and the exhortation to give generously in order to reduce poverty (Deut 15).
  • The freeing of servants and provision for them (Deut 15)
  • The exhortation to follow justice (Deut 16:18-20)
  • The “eye for an eye” law limiting revenge and acting as a deterrent (Deut 19:16-21)

There are, of course, many more laws because “Deuteronomy” is literally the second (account of the) law. Some of the laws I have mentioned before. They presented a code which was head and shoulders above the laws of the city kingdoms Israel would replace and a limitation on the excesses of behaviour that existed generally. But they also presented a challenge, a choice between life and death. To choose life was to keep God’s law and teach it to one’s children, but death and destruction came through neglecting, not just the law but more importantly, God who had instituted it for their survival and prosperity. The history of Israel reveals the outworking of those choices, as does the history of the world!