Joshua ends his book as Moses ended Deuteronomy with a sermonic exhortation to faithfulness.
Chapter 23 opens with the note that God had given Israel rest from all her enemies. But how can this be? Israel has not removed the Canaanites from the land.
It becomes obvious that Israel lacks the faith to do this. That doesn’t mean Israel is not confident she can. Faith involves more than confidence. It also involves desire. Israel has done about all she is going to do. She has subjected the land – or rather, as Joshua says, God has subjected it, and the inhabitants have decided to accept their conquered status. Peace is the order of the day.
This rest was promised by God in Joshua 1 and occurs several times here at the end of the book (cf. 21:44; 22:4) thus another way of saying God fulfilled His promises (“not one of the Lord’s good promises failed” – 21:45; 23:14).
But Israel has a choice.
She can allow these nations which still live among her to influence her and she can assimilate herself within them, or she can remain aloof. If she assimilates, the very people she was to destroy will become the destruction of Israel. Additionally, even though the Canaanites remain, God himself will see to their eventual removal. All Israel must do is refuse to allow them to influence her and remain faithful to God.
She didn’t of course and five hundred years later, David would write that Israel had not truly entered the intended rest of God (Psalm 95:11). The writer of Hebrews picks up on this notion and tells his readers this rest remains as a promise for the children of God – for us. It is ours if we, unlike Israel’s example, are faithful to God and refuse to be compromised by following the ways of the world.
For the first time in Joshua (chapter 16) we meet the Arkites and the Japhletites. Much later, David will have an advisor (who became his spy in Absalom’s court) who is an Arkite named Hushai. In a desperate moment, when Absalom should have struck at his father, Hushai advised Absalom to wait, giving David time to settle and strengthen his forces. We know nothing more of the Japhletites.
A phrase occurs in this chapter we find twice more in the book: “They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor” (see also 15:63; 17:12). If Israel could force them into slavery, why didn’t she drive them out? More to the point, why didn’t she just kill them?
A subtle point is being made here. Israel didn’t want to drive them out OR kill them, but chose rather to make them slaves and keep them, contrary to the command of God. The result was, of course, that Israel, being the newcomers, were dependent on the slaves and dependency always leads to subjection. It certainly did for Israel. Why didn’t Israel lead them to follow the Lord? She didn’t want to do that either. The resultant coexistence led to Israel’s downfall, just as compromise with the world – under the guise of using the world for noble purposes – leads to our own spiritual demise.
Chapter eleven ends with this note: So Joshua took this entire land. . . .He captured all their kings and struck them down, putting them to death. 18 Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. 19 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
Chapter 12 summarizes the conquest with the list of kings conquered.
The kings on the east of the Jordan were regional kings, and you should note that they were overcome in two battles. The kings on the west side of the Jordan were more town leaders than major kings, but they were the legitimate rulers of their area. It took much longer to conquer them.
Do not miss this very important point: God would not allow these kings to make a treaty of peace with Israel. He never intended His people be polluted by the materialism, sensuality, and idolatry of these nations. Furthermore, though it might have been an option to just leave the land, it does not appear God was going to allow this either. He was determined to wipe out these people who had so desecrated His earth with their ways.
Christians are not called to kill worldly people. We ARE called to reach them with the gospel. We may not, however, make spiritual treaties with them. Their ways are not alternative lifestyles for us, and their beliefs are not equal to ours. We must never behave toward them in anything but a Christ-like manner, but that must never include accepting their ways as viable for our own. We must live lives of peace in the world, but never be “at peace” with it.
Which will it be: Door number one or door number two?
Remember the old television show “Let’s Make A Deal?”
It’s what Joshua offers Israel in chapter 24. But in this case, if Israel chooses poorly she will end up with more than a disappointing gag gift. IN fact, she knows exactly what she will end up with. The alternative to choosing the Lord is emphasized in the recounting of Israel’s history. Those who elect to be on the opposite side of God receive darkness and drowning, defeat and the stings of hornets.
It’s not much of a choice and Israel quickly chooses to be on God’s side.
But it’s not that easy.
Being on the Lord’s side means nothing gets between you and God, and in Israel’s case, something already has. She has brought idols with her, idols from her Abrahamic heritage, religion and religious tradition handed down from generation to generation. There are also idols, religion and religious traditions picked up along the way from Egypt to Canaan. For this reason, Joshua says: “You can’t choose the Lord.”
Every generation needs to learn the lessons:
First, you must choose God. There is, really, no viable option. You may think you have a choice, but you don’t. It is truly a choice between life and death.
Second, choosing to be among God’s people requires not only a single minded devotion to the Lord, but ridding yourself of everything that would compete for that allegiance.
The book of Joshua ends with the people doing just that. But it doesn’t last long and Judges recounts those dark ages of Israel
In reading Joshua 21, you will no doubt need a map again. The one below is taken from http://www.actsseventeen.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/refuge-cities.jpg.
Numbers 35 specified that the Levites, though they received no inheritance in the land of Canaan, were to receive towns in which to live. The Levites were descendants of Jacob’s son, Levi. There were three boys: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
The descendants of Kohath (the “Kohathites’) transported the ark and tabernacle furniture through the wilderness. They received towns from the central hill country, the very heart of Israel and its early center of worship. The Gershonites transported the tabernacle’s textiles and coverings through the wilderness and received Levitical towns in Galilee and Bashan. The Merarites guarded the tabernacle and transported its structural components. They received towns on the east side of the Jordan and in the Zebulun areas. There were forty eight towns in all. This is not only choice real-estate, but important real-estate, and it was to belong to the priestly tribe. It shows us how much the Lord cares for those whose lives are spent in His service.
But the point of the text is given at the end of chapter twenty-one. With the allotment of the Levitical cities and the cities of refuge, all the Lord’s promises had come true. It was certainly true that Israel had not done all that God required, but God fulfilled His promises.
God will always be true. On that we can depend.
The allotment of the land is fairly straight-forward, but if you are not familiar with the geography, the account can leave you more than a little nonplused. The following map may be of some help, taken from http://www.bible-history.com/geography/maps/Map-Canaan-Twelve-Tribes.jpg.
Chapter eighteen contains the first mention in the Bible of Shiloh, but it will not be the last. In fact, this will remain the center of Israelite worship for over four hundred years. If you locate Shiloh on a map, you will see why. It is virtually in the center of the land of promise and would be a convenient place for all Israel to come for worship.
There is great symbolism here. God’s presence in the center of the land reminds us that God is to be at the center of our lives, but not just our individual lives, but also our corporate life as the people of God. Additionally, the gathering of God’s people to worship reminds us that assembly reinforces this notion of the centrality of God to His people. That reminder should cause us to see how important it is to gather with the saints to worship.
With the note that Joshua is very old and advanced in years beginning in chapter thirteen, we enter a new stage in this book. Remember that Joshua was over twenty years old when the Exodus took place. He spent forty years with Moses in the wilderness making him not less than sixty when he assumed the leadership of Israel. You can say: That was then and this is now, but the fact is, God has something for His people to do all the time. Those who spend their lives serving the Lord and seeking His service will always find something to do – and age will never be a deterrent.
If you have a map of the conquest area, you will notice that the cities not yet taken are all on the coast of the promised land. These would be the largest and most fortified cities, not to mention the strongest because they lay in Philistine and Syrian territory. Israel has moved to conquer the Jordan river valley and the highland area, but the coastal plain further west is yet unconquered.
Everyone should understand that the land to the east of the Jordan, occupied by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh was not part of the “promised land.” These two and a half tribes stand as a lasting monument to those who, by their own choice, determine that what they already have is enough. They are satisfied not to have an inheritance in God’s promises.
Repeatedly, the comment is made that the Levites have no inheritance in the land. As priests, they will need a place to live, but land, even the “promised land,” is not their inheritance. They are to content themselves with the gifts of God and His favor. Acquiring “stuff” is not to be a part of their heritage. As priests today, we Christians should remember that God has called us to be priests. When we immerse ourselves in the ways of an acquiring world, we violate our calling and short-circuit our ability to serve the Lord with wholehearted fidelity.
When Israel crossed into the promised land, she entered from the south which, from the perspective of the southern kings, put them all in danger. The alliance of the Gibeonites with Israel gave Israel a strategic advantage. Gibeon was a large, well fortified city with a well trained army. They would now fight for Israel. Additionally, it was in the highlands, which gave Israel the advantage of high ground (along with Ai).
Five southern kings (probably the most powerful) created a coalition of opposition and challenged Israel. But Israel defeated them and the courage they received from that defeat (which Joshua used skillfully) helped them to go on and defeat seven more kings and their cities. And so it was that Israel took the southern part of the promised land.
The question everyone wants answered is: “How could the sun stand still?” The sun doesn’t move.
Though the sun itself doesn’t move, it appears to move across the sky from east to west. With the lengthening of the day, the son would appear to stand still. It all adds to the drama of the story – which it is intended to do. The writer of Joshua notes there has never been a day nor a time, at least up to his own day, when God listened to and answered a prayer like he did that day for Joshua. This is the possibility for God’s people. There is nothing God cannot do for them, if they will but take their requests to God.
What about the destruction of the Canaanites? Joshua “subdued the whole region,” “he left no survivors,” “he totally destroyed all who breathed.” How could God countenance such behavior?
It was, of course, God’s command and becomes an important lesson. The Canaanites were not destroyed just to get their land. They were destroyed because they were evil. God had given them hundreds of years to repent, but they had not, and He knew they would not. He had bided His time long enough. If you think eternal punishment beneath the dignity of a merciful God, you should consider the point made in Joshua chapter ten again. Justice demands punishment for sin, and God will not let it go.
Jericho, being on the shore of the Jordan, placed all Israel in jeopardy. To the west lay the highlands. Strategically, Israel had to move to higher ground or their enemies would have the advantage. Three roads led from Jericho: One along the Jordan north. Another south and to the west to Jerusalem – a major fortified city Israel would not yet feel confident enough to conquer. The third road led west directly into the highlands, directly to higher ground, and that’s the one Joshua chose. He sent spies up that road as far as Ai, and they returned confident of an easy victory.
Of course, that didn’t keep them from taking 3000 soldiers, probably overkill in any event.
But victory was not to be their’s. Jericho was to come under the “herem,” a word meaning “devoted things.” Because it was the first city of conquest in the promised land, everything from that city was to be devoted to God. No booty of any kind was to be taken.
No one should imagine that Achan was just a poor slob overcome by greed. Achan’s prominence in Israel is noted by reference to four generations of his ancestors. “No other figure has been introduced in the book of Joshua with such detail about his family background.” The sin of this noted individual cannot go unpunished, and the punishment is harsh. You don’t steal from God.
I’m struck by two other things: First, that Joshua appears to “fall apart” after the defeat at Ai. Though he has the Spirit of God and the mantle of Moses, his faith as a leader is yet small. Everyone has to grow in faith, and that takes time and experience. Second, there is Israel’s tendency to leave God out. In Numbers, Israel believes she cannot conquer the land, leaving God out of the equation. In Joshua, she believes she can conquer Ai, but once more leaves God out of the equation. Both problems tend to recur repeatedly in the lives of God’s people.
“How do we know it is true?”
God anticipated that in the future, there would be skeptics who wondered if the Exodus story was true. God dealt with the unbelief with two monuments: one at the Jordan’s edge, made of twelve large stones that had been taken from the Jordan river bed, and another at Gilgal, made with twelve similar stones. These were huge rocks, big enough that it would need to be hefted onto a man’s shoulder to enable him to carry them.
From this point on, when people saw the monuments (which remain to the day of the book’s author), they always remembered what they represented: God’s miraculous action against the Jordan river – an action similar to His action against the Red Sea vs. 23).
The phrase “to this day” does not mean “to our present day,” meaning yours and mine, but only to the day of the author of the book. It occurs fifteen times in Joshua, and 83 times in the Old Testament as a whole (though Joshua uses it most of all). It does not offer insight as to when the “day” was the author is talking about, but it does tell us that some time had passed since the events and the author knows the stories of these monuments, as well as the fact that they have been there a while. God does not leave Himself without witness.