Why does God call Abram out of the millions of humans on the earth at that time? Gen 12 does not answer this question. Likewise we do not know if God had called others before Abram who had declined or ignored the call of God. Perhaps God saw in Abram a spirit of adventure. As Gen 11:27ff notes, Abram had already experienced a migration and demonstrated a willingness to travel to Canaan. On some level, God calls a person who had already possessed some inkling to travel west to Canaan. On the other hand, Abram’s call must be reckoned an act of grace. We have no indication of any prior relationship between Abram and the LORD. In fact, later tradition in Joshua 24:2-3 suggests that Abram was a worshipper of other gods before the LORD led him to Canaan. But it is this man and his family whom God engages in relationship so that God’s plan of salvation may begin to blossom. Whatever the particular reason, God called Abram for the sake of all humanity. Stunningly, Abram serves as the initial answer to the plethora of problems and issues raised in Gen 3-11. This reality raises the importance of Abram’s call for a missional hermeneutic of the Old Testament.
Archive for the ‘Joshua’ Category
If our study of Joshua 6 last week was one of triumph and celebration, Joshua 7 explores the costliness and danger of disobedience.
7:1-15 The Failure of Israel
Israel had just celebrated a dramatic victory over Jericho. God had delivered the entire city over to God’s people. However, Joshua 7 begins with an ominous note. The Israelites have broken faith with the LORD. Specifically, verse one tells us that one man — Achan took some of the “devoted things” from Jericho. In Joshua 6, God had commanded that Jericho and its inhabitants be completely destroyed. There was to be no taking of plunder by individuals. Only silver, gold, iron, and bronze was to be preserved as part of the treasury of the LORD. Achan acted alone, but his action damaged the entire community because his sin caused the LORD to become angry with God’s people. God’s people have a mission to fulfill. As we have seen in the previous lessons, the key to their success is the faithful obedience of the whole community.
Achan’s actions were unknown to Joshua and the Israelites so they carried on with their mission. The city of Ai was the next target. In verses 2-5, Joshua follows the same plan as used against Jericho. Spies are deployed. As before, the spies return to Joshua with a favorable report. In fact, the Israelites have grown in boldness and confidence. The spies recommend to Joshua that only two or three thousand people are needed to attack Ai. Joshua follows their advice but instead of victory the Israelites taste a bitter defeat. When the three thousand Israelites encountered the men of Ai, they fled before them. Moreover, thirty-six Israelites fall dead and the rest flee for their lives. Notice the end of verse five: The hearts of the people melted and turned to water. This is an astonishing detail. The Canaanites have now gained the upper hand. In 2:11 and 5:1, we learned that the Canaanite’s hearts had melted before Israel. Now it is Israel who is cowering. This episode is a reminder of the nature of the conflict in the book of Joshua. God is the ultimate decider of this war. It is not about human ability or military power of the sides. God is on a mission to give the land to God’s people as a means of blessing the nations, but for God’s people to succeed, they must practice faithful obedience. They represent a holy God before the nations so they must be holy in their actions.
Verses 6-9 narrate Joshua’s response. He assumes a position of repentance by tearing his clothes, putting dust upon his head, and falling with his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. The elders of God’s people join him. Joshua prays fervently. He does not understand the reason for their defeat, but recognizes that the solution is found in God alone. Verse 9 brings Joshua’s lament to a climax. He fears that God’s people will be eliminated and that this will reflect badly on God’s honor before the nations.
In verses 10-15, the LORD answers Joshua’s plea. He commands Joshua to get on his feet. Joshua has work to do. Israel’s failure is the direct result of transgressing God’s covenant through disobedience. God had commanded that everyone and everything in Jericho be devoted to the LORD. Yet Israel had retained some items. This breech in the relationship between God and Israel is serious enough that God refuses to be powerfully present with God’s people unless there is immediate repentance in the form of destroying the items that were taken. God commands Joshua to call the people together in order to identify the person guilty of disobedience. The guilty party along with the stolen items would be destroyed.
Joshua 7:16-26 The Purging of the Community
In obedience to the LORD’s command, Joshua brought together God’s people tribe by tribe. In verses 16-18, the process of identification is conducted methodically. Out of the tribes, Judah is selected. Then out of the clans of Judah, the Zerahites are taken. Then each family of the Zerahites makes its way near Joshua. The family of Zabdi is picked. Then as the members of Zabdi’s family process by Joshua, Achan is identified. God surely knew the actions of Achan and could have informed Joshua without resorting to mustering all Israel. But the effect of the identification process was to emphasize the communal dimension of Israel’s life before the LORD. God’s people exist as a community of faith. The actions of one member affect the corporate witness of the whole. Moreover Achan is part of the tribe of Judah. Judah is the Israelites tribe out of which will arise King David a few centuries later. Yet, the sin of Achan does not blemish the tribe so as to negate its future.
In verses 19-21, Joshua confronts Achan, and Achan confesses his sin. Joshua’s words in v. 19 function as an exhortation to Achan to glorify and praise the LORD by coming clean regarding his offense. The phrase translated “make confession to him” in v. 19 literally reads “give praise to him.” By owning up to his transgression, Achan glorifies and praises God by confessing to the community that God’s actions are just and right. Achan admits fully his guilt. He took a mantle, silver, and gold from Jericho and hid them in the ground under his tent. In v. 21, Achan attributes his actions to covetousness. Achan coveted the devoted items. This led him to break the commands of the LORD. The Ten Commandments warn against coveting (Exod 20:17; Deut 5:21). At its core, to covet is to desire something or someone to which you have no intrinsic right or claim. Achan did not resist his impulse because the mantle was “beautiful” and the gold and silver were valuable.
Before acting further, Joshua sends messengers to confirm Achan’s words by retrieving the devoted items from Achan’s tent (vv. 22-23).
In verses 24-26, Achan, his immediate family, all his possessions, and the stolen items are brought before all Israel in the Valley of Achor. Upon arrival, Joshua pronounces judgment upon Achan and all Israel stones Achan and his family. Israel burns them along with all of their possessions and buries their ashes under a large piles of stones. The heap stands as a witness and warning to the community regarding the costliness of disobedience. The actions of Israel against Achan restore the favor of the LORD. This episode in Israel’s life causes the valley to be named “Achor” which in Hebrew means “trouble.” The judgment pronounced on Achan, which extended to his family as well as to his possessions, was heavy. It stands as a testimony to the seriousness of sin, the costliness of its effects on the community as a whole, and the necessity for God’s people to walk in faithful obedience to the LORD’s commands for the sake of God’s mission. Details matter in our walk of faith.
Josh 8:1-29 Israel’s Obedience and Victory at Ai
Joshua 8:1-29 narrate Israel’s victory over the city of Ai. In vv. 1-2, the LORD charges Joshua to go and capture Ai. God exhorts him to turn away from fear because God has granted Joshua and Israel victory. Joshua is commanded to destroy all the people of Ai as he did at Jericho, but unlike Jericho, Israel is able to keep all the possessions and livestock of Ai. God also orders an ambush as the tactic for capturing the city.
In verses 3-8, Joshua gives details of the battle plan to his army. He will send a detachment of warriors under the cover of darkness to hide near Ai. Then Joshua will approach Ai openly with the remaining forces. When the army of Ai comes out of the city to fight Joshua as they had before, Joshua will withdraw his forces to simulate a retreat. As the men of Ai pursue the retreating men of Joshua, those hiding in ambush will seize the now defenseless city and burn it.
In vv. 9-17, the Israelites carry out the ruse to perfection. After spending the night in camp, Joshua stations a group of 5000 warriors behind the city in ambush. Meanwhile, he led the remaining forces in plain sight against the city of Ai. As expected the king of Ai marched out to meet Joshua in battle. He arrogantly assumed that they would enjoy the same success as before (7:2-5). When the forces of Israel and Ai clashed, Joshua and Israel feigned defeat and began to flee away from Ai. The king of Ai then called for all inhabitants of the city to come out in pursuit of Israel. Verse 17 reports that there was not a man left in the town. The trap was now set.
At that moment (v. 18), the LORD commanded Joshua to stretch out his hand to the city and promises that Joshua will be victorious. Joshua immediately stretches out his hand with his sword pointed toward Ai. Don’t miss the importance of this statement. We have seen in our Bible lesson that God pays attention to details. Joshua does precisely as he was commanded. Our text mentions Joshua’s outstretched hand four times in vv. 18, 19, and 26. This emphasizes Joshua’s obedience and reminds us that the victory’s ultimate cause was God.
As soon as Joshua raised his hand, the soldiers waiting in ambush arose, entered the city, and put it to the flame (v. 19). The men of Ai saw the smoke, but it was too late (v. 20). They were now caught between forces in the open and were annihilated (vv. 22-26). Only the king of Ai was captured alive, and he was brought before Joshua (v. 23).
Verses 27-29 record the aftermath of the battle. They portray Israel in faithful obedience to the word of the LORD. First, God’s people collect the livestock and other treasures from Ai for themselves as God had permitted on this occasion (v. 27). Second, Joshua oversees the destruction of the city of Ai (v. 28). It is burned and turned into a heap of rubble. Our text mentions that it remained a site of destruction to the day of the author of Joshua. Last, Joshua hanged the king of Ai. The LORD had commanded the destruction of all of Ai’s inhabitants. The king had been captured alive. Joshua kills him in obedience to God. He is buried under a pile of stones as a reminder of God’s work at Ai.
Joshua 7:1—8:29 offers two contrasting portraits. This narrative exists to remind God’s people of the costliness of disobedience and spoils of obedience. Israel captures Ai by carefully following the instructions of God. Their victory depends not on their own power or resources but on the graciousness of God who works through the obedience of his people. Achan’s sin stands as a testimony of the grave effects of individual sin on the success of God’s mission through his people.
Here are notes on Joshua 5:13-6:27. I’ve tried to include some missional reflections where appropriate. In particular a missional hermeneutic will highlight the role of Rahab in the narrative.
5:13-15 A Chance Encounter
Israel is poised to take possession of the land of Canaan. God has brought God’s people miraculously across the Jordan, and they are camped at Gilgal. In the previous verses, Israel has prepared for the coming battles in unique ways. First, all of the males of the Wilderness generation, those who had been born after the deliverance from Egypt, are circumcised (15:1-9). Second, God’s people celebrated the Passover for the first time in the land of Canaan (15:10-12). Both of these actions are remarkable because they are not the standard practices of invading armies. Instead of rehearsing battle formations or sharpening weapons, God’s people engage in God centered practices. Circumcision is a public testimony of one’s belonging to and allegiance to the LORD. The Passover is a time of communal remembering and celebration of God’s mighty acts in the deliverance of God’s people from Egypt. The implications of these actions are profound. The strength and success of God’s people is dependent wholly on the LORD. These acts of obedience are the very types of preparation necessary for Israel’s success.
5:13-15 narrates another part of Israel’s preparation for taking possession of the land. Joshua receives a final reminder of his role in a remarkable encounter near the city of Jericho. Israel is poised to move against the Canaanite city of Jericho. In 5:13, Joshua finds himself in the vicinity of Jericho. Our text does not give details as to his intentions or plans, but Joshua is likely doing what any military commander would do on the eve of a military campaign–he is scouting the lay of the land. Yet Joshua finds himself suddenly in the presence of a “man.” This figure accosts Joshua with a drawn sword. The man remains unidentified and obviously perplexes Joshua. Despite the evidence given by a drawn sword, Joshua asks, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?”
Verse 14 announces to Joshua and the reader that this is no mere man. It is the angel of the LORD through whom Joshua is physically confronted by the presence of God. The commander of the LORD’s armies answer is remarkable. Whose side is he on? Neither. This is the wrong question. For Joshua, his success is not dependent on whether God is on his side. Rather Joshua needs to make sure that he, Joshua, is aligned with God. This is the proper stance for the leader of God’s people. Joshua immediately recognizes his error and assumes a position of humility by bowing down in worship of the LORD. He asks, “What do you command your servant, my lord?”
Verse 15 records the answer of the “man.” Joshua is to remove his sandals in recognition of the sacredness of the moment and of the place (cf. the response of God to Moses in Exod 3:4-5). God’s people must acknowledge and respect God’s holiness as a first order of business. This lesson is vital for Christian leadership. God emphasizes to Joshua through this encounter that the keys to success for him are maintaining the proper allegiance to God and recognizing the importance of God’s holiness.
6:1-5 Marching Orders
Verse 1 informs us that Jericho has fled behind its wall. The peoples of Canaan are terrified by the approach of God’s people. This terror is divine induced. God’s actions are the cause of this (cf. Josh 2:9-11 and 5:1). But Jericho with its high walls presents a challenge.
Having been prepared spiritually for a move against the city of Jericho, Joshua receives specific tactical instructions from the LORD in verse 2-5. First, God assures Joshua of success. The victory is already won. Second, God gives Joshua some unusual instructions. This will not be the typical siege of a well-fortified city. Instead of attacking the city by building siege works or by attempting to knock through the gate with a battering ram, God’s people are simply to march around the city in silence behind a procession of seven priests with trumpets leading the ark of the covenant (cf. Josh 3:1-11). Instead of a battle plan, Joshua receives a liturgy. God’s people are to march silently around Jericho for six consecutive days. On the seventh day, they will march around Jericho seven times. At that time, the priests will sound a long blast with the ram’s horn and the all of God’s people are to shout. The great wall of Jericho will come crashing down so that the people may charge into the city. Again notice the stress of the instructions. There is no sophisticated battle plan. The victory will be God given and conducted in a means that will bring glory and honor to the LORD rather than to the military prowess of Joshua and Israel.
6:6-14 Six Days of Witness
In obedience to the LORD, Joshua instructs the priests to prepare to lead a processional before the ark of the LORD. He then orders God’s people to march around the city before the ark of the LORD. Our text moves from commandment of God to implementation by God’s people. God’s instructions are followed by faithful obedience. As we saw in Lesson Two, faithful obedience is the key virtue to be embodied by Israel. Verses 8-9 record that Israel faithfully obeyed Joshua’s words. In verse 10, Joshua imparts the instructions about maintaining absolute silence during the march each day.
In verses 11-14, the narrator reports that God’s people continue the pattern commanded by the LORD for six straight days. They march in silence while the seven priests blow the ram’s horns in announcement of the coming of the ark of the LORD. They complete one rotation around the city and return to camp. This must have unnerved the inhabitants of Jericho. They must have wondered what the Israelites were up to. Our text does not report the activities of Jericho, but the warriors posted on its walls must have been hurling insults and launching arrows at the people of God. Yet each day for six straight days the Israelites marched around the city in silence except for the priests blowing of the ram horns before the ark of the LORD.
6:15-27 Victory and Deliverance
Our text takes its decisive turn on the seventh day. The seventh day is the Sabbath (Exod 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15). On the sabbath, Israel was to cease from all work as a testimony to the LORD who rested on the seventh day of Creation (Exod 20:11 cf. Gen 2:1-3) and who delivered Israel from slavery (Deut 5:15). It is fitting that God delivered Jericho to Israel on the Sabbath because the victory belongs to the work of God rather than to the Israelites. All Israel had to do was show up and obey the LORD’s commands.
On the seventh day, God’s people followed God’s commands to perfection. According to God’s instructions, Israel rose early on the seventh day and marched around the city seven times (verse 15). Upon the completion of the seventh circuit, Joshua offers instructions to the Israelites (verses 16-19). They are exhorted to break their silence and shout loudly in unison. The rationale for the shouting is grounded in God’s promise that the city is Israel’s. Thus, we should read the call to shout here as a celebratory shout in anticipation of experiencing the victory of God over Jericho. Moreover, since the victory is God’s, Israel is not to act in the fashion of other marauding armies. Israel is different. Jericho belongs to God. God has won the victory. Instead of looting and pillaging Jericho, Israel is commanded to devote the entire city and its inhabitants to the LORD. It is to be leveled and completely destroyed (cf. Deut 20:10-18). This sounds harsh. For reflection on the violence in the book of Joshua, see Optional Activities (Lesson 1). In verse 17, note that some Canaanites were to spared–Rahab and her family. This is significant. Rahab and her family alone survive the destruction of Jericho because Rahab recognized the power and glory of God (Josh 2:9-11) and aligned herself with God’s purposes by aiding and abetting the spies whom Joshua had sent.
Verses 18-19 provide some rationale for the command to destroy utterly Jericho and its inhabitants. Joshua warns the Israelites keep away from the people and material possessions of Jericho. Both of these exist as a temptation to apostasy for God’s people. Only items of gold, silver, brass, and iron are to be kept and these belong exclusively to the treasury of the LORD. Other nations used victories as an occasion to rape and pillage a defeated people and city. Israel is not acting to enrich itself at the expense of other people, but to take possession of a gift from God. Israel will enjoy God’s blessing as a gift–they don’t have to take matters into their own hands.
Verse 20 reports the results of Israel’s faithful obedience. The walls of Jericho fall flat and Israel is able to storm the city from all sides.
Verses 21-25 record the aftermath of the victory. Israel obeys the commands of God and devotes the city and its inhabitants to destruction. Our text emphasizes two aspects. First, Israel acts in faithful obedience with word of the LORD through Joshua. All is destroyed. Only the items made of silver, gold, bronze and iron are kept. But even these valuables are not seized as personal booty by rampaging Israelites. Rather these are immediately secured for the treasury of the LORD. Second, Rahab and her family are saved. Notice that Rahab is repeatedly referred to as the prostitute (6:17, 22, and 25). The ultimate outsider to God’s people – a Canaanite, female prostitute—comes under the protective care of God. This emphasizes a crucial truth. God’s people are a permeable body. Yes, there are lines drawn between God’s people and the Canaanites, but the line is based on allegiance and not ethnicity. Rahab is able to celebrate the victory of God over Jericho because by her actions she has demonstrated that she is an Israelite. She enjoys the promise made to Abram that “in [him] all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3).
Verses 26-27 conclude the story of God’s victory over Jericho. After its destruction, Joshua pronounces a curse over the city. It is never to be rebuilt. If it is rebuilt the builder will lose his first born. In the days of the King Ahab, this grim possibility became a reality (1 Kings 16:33-34).
God was indeed with Joshua in achieving this great victory. Israel a ragtag collection of the children of escaped slaves from Egypt who had lived in the desert for forty years has just achieved an unprecedented victory over a heavily fortified city simply by marching and then shouting in obedience to the LORD. This achievement under the leadership of Joshua became the talk of the land.
Book of Joshua
Joshua 2 narrates the actions of two spies whom Joshua sends ahead of Israel into the land of Canaan. The spies do their work but they must rely upon the daring hospitality of Rahab to complete a narrow escape. They return to Joshua and Israel with a positive confession of the victory that awaits them.
2:1-11 The Hospitality of Rahab
The Israelites are poised to enter the land of Canaan. God has commissioned Joshua (1:1-9), and all Israel is ready to follow his lead (1:10-18). In preparation, Joshua sends two men across the Jordan from Shittim to spy out the land including the important city of Jericho. Shittim was Israel’s final campsite in the plains of Moab on the eastern side of the Jordan River (Num 33:49).
This narrative is similar to Num 13-14 where Moses had sent out 12 men to explore Canaan forty years before. This earlier expedition had ended disastrously as ten of the twelve spies reported the beauty and fertility of the land but also announced that Canaan was filled with heavily fortified cities and huge warriors. This had caused Israel to lose heart in the desert and rebel against Moses and the LORD’s plan. Israel was reduced to wandering in the desert for forty years until that rebellious generation had passed.
Interestingly, instead of spying on the land, the Israelite men enter the house of a prostitute named Rahab. This action goes without comment by our text. The reference to Shittim may come into play in this regard. It was at Shittim that the Israelites had engaged in sexual immorality and committed acts of religious apostasy with Moabite women (Num 25). Perhaps we are to expect another dismal episode of failure for God’s people. Instead, this story carries a few surprises.
In verses 2-7, our story moves away from any thoughts of sexual impropriety to a story of cat and mouse intrigue. The king of Jericho has been alerted to the presence of spies and discovers that they have visited Rahab. He demands that Rahab surrender the men because they have come “only to search out the whole land” (2:3). The king recognizes the intentions of the spies and he announces this to Rahab. This ought to suggest to Rahab that she is in danger because of the Israelites—they are threats to her future as a Canaanite. Astonishingly, Rahab sides with the Israelites. She responds to the king’s inquiry by hiding the men and denying that she knew their intentions. Furthermore, she deceives the king by stating that the men had left in the evening when the city gate was about to be closed. She continues her gambit by encouraging the king to deploy troops to hunt them down. Meanwhile, the two Israelite spies were hidden safely on the roof of Rahab’s house where she had covered them with stalks of flax that were drying on the roof. Rahab’s deception works and the king’s men pursue the supposedly on the run spies as far as the fords used to cross the Jordan River.
Verses 8-11 demonstrate the rationale for Rahab’s act of courage and good will. Rahab goes to the spies before they go to sleep. Her words are remarkable. In verse nine, she confesses her belief that the LORD has indeed given the land to Israel. Moreover, she states that all of Canaan exists in a state of fear and is cowering at the approach of Israel. It is vital to remember that Israel is not some world super-power approaching Canaan with a massive army equipped with sophisticated tactics and superior weaponry. God’s people have been wandering in the desert for forty years and had previously been enslaved in Egypt for generations. The Canaanites were the ones with fortified cities and strong armies. Yet they are the ones who are afraid. This is a sign to the spies of the work of God. God had promised to send terror and dread ahead of his people (Exod 15:15-16, 23:27).
What is it that has caused this fearful response from the Canaanites? Verses 10-11 focus on God’s actions on behalf of God’s people from the time of the Exodus up to the present moment. The testimony of LORD’s mighty acts of deliverance has reached the ears of the Canaanites. God’s acts of salvation in the past have guaranteed Israel’s success in the present and future. Israel’s story is world changing because it is a confession of how Israel’s God the LORD acted on behalf of an enslaved people and rescued them from the hands of a world renowned superpower—Egypt. This is a subversive and counter-cultural story because it is good news for the vast majority of people on earth. The LORD is a god who doesn’t automatically side with the powerful—He is for the people. Moreover, the LORD brought God’s people out of Egypt by guiding them through the Red Sea on dry ground and defeated two prominent Amorite kings in the Transjordan, Sihon and Og.
These past historical actions demonstrate the power, prestige, and person of the LORD. God’s acts carry a missional function. They are not ends in themselves but a means of testifying to the world the greatness and majesty of Israel’s God. This is a key theme in the early part of the Old Testament. Speaking to a stubborn Pharaoh during the Exodus, God says, “But this is why I have let you live: to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth” (Exod 9:16, italics added cf. Exod 15:14-16). In Exod 18:8-12, Moses tells his father-in-law Jethro of God’s mighty acts of deliverance and Jethro responds, “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods…” (Exod 18:11a). God’s actions brought salvation to Israel, but testimony of the deliverance served as a witness to the surrounding nations.
Notice that Rahab’s response ends with a pivotal conclusion: “The LORD your God is indeed god in heaven above and on earth below” (verse 11). In verses 9-11, Rahab articulates her own personal response to the knowledge that she has gained. All of the Canaanites have apparently heard about what God has done for Israel. This is indicated by the use of “we” and “us” language in Rahab’s statement. But Rahab also includes her own words that affirm God as Creator. Verse 11 indicates that Rahab has acknowledged the authority of the LORD. This is remarkable. An outsider to God’s people makes a confession of faith in the LORD because she has heard a testimony about God. As we continue to study the book of Joshua and are confronted with tales of warfare, we must remember that there was another avenue open to the Canaanites. Instead of opposing God, they could have embraced God’s people as Rahab did.
2:12-21 The Escape and a Promise
After securing the safety of the spies, Rahab pleas for her own life as well as for her extended family (2:12-14). She asks that the spies show a reciprocal kindness and mercy to her in return for her providing security during their visit to Jericho. Rahab’s request affirms the heart of her confession in 2:9-11. She recognizes the power and greatness of the LORD and truly believes that Israel will inherit the land of Canaan. In essence, her plea involves a request for inclusion with God’s people. It is an audacious one.
The spies agree to her request by making an oath with her. They pledge their lives in exchange for hers. If Rahab agrees to remain silent about their whereabouts and activity, then she will be treated kindly when the LORD grants Israel the land. This is not asking much of Rahab because she has demonstrated fully her fidelity toward the LORD and Israel by harboring the spies in the first place and deceiving the king of Jericho. Her life is already on the line for God’s mission.
In verse 16, Rahab provides the Israelites with an escape plan that will allow them to leave Jericho, hide in the wilderness for three days, and return safely to their camp across the Jordan River from Shittim. The distance between Jericho and Shittim would have been about 12 miles. If the men made their way in haste, they could have covered the ground in a day. Her exhortation to hide for three days was more than adequate to insure their safety as the king’s troops would have given up the search by then. The territory around Jericho is dry and the terrain in unlevel. It provided excellent cover for a couple of spies to disappear temporarily from sight.
Verses 17-20 contain final instructions to Rahab before the departure of the spies. They provide Rahab with a crimson cord to tie in the same window through which she lowered them out of the city to safety (2:15). Her home was attached directly to Jericho’s wall so that she actually lived within it. The crimson cord would serve as a signal to the Israelites of Rahab’s location. This sign would save her and her family as long as they remained inside her home. The spies would be released from the oath if Rahab or her family ventured outside. As long as they had the cord in the window and stayed put, the spies pledged their lives for her help. They end their oath with a second warning against Rahab revealing their presence or activities to the authorities (2:20 cf. 2:14).
In verse 21, Rahab agrees to the oath without any revisions. She has received everything that she requested and furthermore she has already explicitly aligned herself with the LORD through her actions. She immediately ties the crimson cord in the window. When Israel captures Jericho, the spies keep their word and rescue Rahab and her family (6:23-25). She becomes part of Israel and she ends up serving as a descendent of Jesus Christ (Matt 1:5). She is counted as a model of faith (Heb 11:31) and faithfulness (James 2:25).
2:22-24 Mission Accomplished
Our narrative concludes with the return of the spies to the Israelites camp. They depart from Jericho and hide in the surrounding hill country for three days until it is safe to cross the Jordan. They bring a favorable report to Joshua that affirms the LORD’s promises in Josh 1:1-9 and stands in marked contrast to the negative report of the previous generation of spies in Num 13-14. Israel is poised to receive the gift of the land from God. Moreover as Rahab’s actions and words suggest, there will be Canaanites (outsiders to God’s people) who will be open to accepting and confessing the LORD as their God.
There is irony in the last verse. God has already promised Joshua that the land will be given to Israel. Yet verse 24 reads as though it were a confession of faith by the returning spies. Rahab has already affirmed Israel’s victory in 2:9. It is worth observing that in this story an outsider to God’s people seems to have a deeper faith and insight into God’s purposes than did the spies.
In Joshua 1, the LORD commissions Joshua to succeed Moses as leader of God’s people (1:1-9), Joshua orders God’s people to prepare to take possession of the land promised by God (1:10-15), and God’s people pledge their loyalty to Joshua’s leadership (1:16-18).
Josh 1:1-9 The LORD’s Commission to Joshua
For detailed notes on Joshua 1:1-6, review the Hearing the Word section for Lesson 1. In Joshua 1:1-6, the LORD commissions Joshua to lead God’s people across the Jordan River so that they may take possession of the land promised long ago to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God makes bold and audacious promises to Joshua of divine presence and success. Joshua and his generation will experience the fulfillment of promises made to Moses. The vastness of the LORD’s generosity is clear in light of the amount of land offered to Joshua. Joshua will be successful in taking the land because the LORD will be actively present with Joshua just as he had been with Moses. All that remains for Joshua to do is to embrace God’s promises and act on them. God exhorts Joshua to be resolute and courageous. God is at work, but Joshua must follow God’s leading.
If 1:1-6 focuses primarily on God’s promises and on Joshua’s commission to lead God’s people, 1:7-9 concentrates on the absolute necessity for Joshua to live out faithfully God’s laws. Joshua’s commission is a call to faithful obedience. Joshua will face challenges and obstacles as Moses’ successor, but the key for his success is the extent to which he embodies the will of God as revealed through the laws given to Moses.
1:7 “Only be strong and courageous” picks up the language of v. 6 (see 1:18). The word “only” adds emphasis. Joshua is to be resolute and daring in his leadership. But notice the focus of our text. Joshua is to be strong and courageous with respect to his adherence and embodiment of the law that God gave to his people through his servant Moses. As reported in 1:1, Moses is dead. But the importance of Moses as Israel’s lawgiver endures. The focus on the law marks a shift for God’s people to a text or book-based. As a leader, Joshua is not free to act as he desires. He stands under the authority of the LORD. The law of Moses serves as the chief vehicle for expressing God’s will for God’s people. The law of Moses refers to the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. When Joshua needs to discern God’s will, he is able to turn immediately to a trustworthy guide—the Scriptures of Moses. Moreover verses 7-8 describe a regimen for Joshua to embrace as he seeks to live out his calling as Moses’ successor. His solitary focus is to be on the Law of Moses. Think about this. God has called Joshua to lead Israel on a military campaign into hostile territory. Yet Joshua’s preparation does not include any military tactics or strategy. Instead, Joshua is to immerse himself in Scripture as a means to being shaped into the leader that God desires for him to be. He is to be shaped and molded by the word of God as given through Moses. His decisions and actions are to flow directly out of his study of the law. Verse 8 focuses on the need for Joshua to be continually mindful of the Scripture. Joshua’s speech is to be saturated with Scripture. Joshua’s mandate is to be a student of the Word of God. God’s command to “meditate on it day and night” echoes Moses’ own instructions for future Israelite Kings (Deut 17:18-20) and the words of the psalmist who tells us that the “happy” person is marked by this practice (Ps 1:2). The word translated “meditate” suggests more than quiet reflection. It may indicate an element of recital. Joshua is not merely called to reflect on Scripture; he is to recite it orally. This adds a multi-sensory element to his study. He reads the text with his eyes but also by speaking the words aloud he receives the Scripture through his ears.
A diligence in studying and obeying the Scripture is a means to an important end: the fulfillment of God’s mission in the world. It is crucial to reflect on this. Joshua is commanded to obey Scripture so that God can achieve his aims of establishing God’s people in the land of Canaan so that they may serve as agents of blessing for the nations (Gen 12:3b). Obeying the Scriptures is not a call to a stale legalism or to a stagnant way of life. The Scriptures are life. They point to the world that God desires. Joshua as the leader of God’s people is to guide God’s people into the land of Canaan (1:6).
The purpose of obedience is communicated through the language of success. Verse 7 reads in part, “do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.” Verse 8 adds, “for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.” What does it mean for Joshua to be successful? Success equals the fulfillment of God’s will. For Joshua this means leading God’s people into the land that God has promised for them. Faithful obedience is the means to the future that God is seeking to create.
Verse 9 marks the end of Joshua’s commission. For the third time since verse 6, God exhorts Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.” Why does God repeat this exhortation three times? A strong resolve and courage are essential elements for a life of faithful obedience. C. S. Lewis wrote this about courage, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.” For Joshua to be successful, he had to be willing to step into his calling and act on God’s Word. Courage is the key that opens the door to the future of God’s dreams. Yet Joshua is not alone. The LORD God promises his active and dynamic presence (cf. 1:5). God will be with Joshua in all of his endeavors. It is the real presence of God that will make it possible for Joshua to succeed. All that is required of Joshua is the courage to obey faithfully.
Joshua 1:10-15 Joshua’s Orders to Israel
In verse 10, Joshua immediately acts on his calling. He is instantly obedient. He calls together the leaders of God’s people and passes on the words that he received from God. He announces that it is time to prepare to cross into the land that God has promised to them as an inheritance. Israel is to prepare provision for the journey. Israel’s entrance into the land is often called a Conquest. In the coming chapters of Joshua, there will be military conflicts, but notice that the stress is on taking possession rather than on warfare. All that is required of Israel is faithful obedience. God will take care of the rest. If Israel moves across the Jordan, the land will be there’s.
In verses 12-15, Joshua turns his attention to the Reuben, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Manasseh was known as a half-tribe along with Ephraim. Manasseh and Ephraim were the sons of Joseph. Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons as his own (Gen 48:1-22) so they attained the status of a half-tribe each. The tribes of Reuben, the Gadites, and Manasseh had already received an inheritance in the Transjordan region (see Num 32 and Deut 3:12-20). The Transjordan was the land east of the Jordan, outside of Canaan proper. These lands were captured from Sihon King of Heshbon (Deut 2:24-37) and Og King of Bashan (Deut 3:1-11). These kings had refused Israel passage and attacked God’s people. The LORD had delivered Israel from their hands. The land was distributed to the Reubenites, Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh on the condition that their warriors accompanied the rest of God’s people into Canaan. They were to remain in Canaan until all of God’s people had gained their inheritance in the land. Joshua reminds these tribes of the words and commandments of Moses.
This continues the theme of Joshua 1 of the necessity of faithful obedience to the Law of Moses and of the gift of the land that the LORD has given.
Joshua 1:16-18 The Response of the Transjordan Tribes
The response of Reuben, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh is found in verses 16-18. They unequivocally assent to all that Joshua has commanded. They agree to do all that Joshua has said and to go wherever he sends them. This is important because it captures a key theme in the book of Joshua: the unity of all Israel in working to forward God’s mission. The totality of the people, even those who will settle in the Transjordan, participate in taking possession of the land of Canaan.
Verse 17a affirms the people’s allegiance to the Mosaic standard. The people promise to obey Joshua just as they obeyed Moses. The people confirm their acceptance of the passing of the mantle of leadership from Moses to Joshua. This is critical. Faithful obedience is the key to Joshua’s and all Israel’s success in entering the land.
Verses 17b-18 contain two contingencies to their obedience and a promise. First, the people give offer two contingencies: only may the LORD your God be with you, as he was with Moses and only be strong and courageous. Notice that both begin with the word only. This suggests that the people have certain expectations of Joshua. They will be obedient, but they expect two things: God’s real presence and Joshua’s resolute courage in exercising leadership. Fortunately, the two elements desired by the people are precisely what God has already envisioned. The LORD has promised his presence in 1:6 and 1:9. There will be a seamless transition from Moses to Joshua—the LORD acted mightily through Moses and he has promised to act identically through Joshua. Moreover, God has exhorted Joshua three times to be resolute and courageous in fulfilling his commission (1:6, 7, and 9). The similarity between the voice of God and the voice of the people serves to confirm Joshua’s own calling.
Last, the people promise a radical life and death commitment to obedience to Joshua. This promise points to the seriousness of their pledge of allegiance to Joshua and his leadership. Talk of capital punishment may sound harsh to our 21st century ears, but it captures the reality on the ground. Following the commandments of the LORD involved making a life and death decision. In Deut 30:15-20, Moses had described the need to understand the life of faithful obedience as a life or death choice. Sadly, in Josh 7 (Lesson 5), we will study the tragedy and costliness of Achan’s act of disobedience.
In the book of Joshua, God fulfills his promise to God’s people of life in the land of Canaan. God originally promised the land to Abram in his initial call (12:1, 7). This promise was reaffirmed to Abram’s descendants Isaac and Jacob and remained a central theme of the Pentateuch (Genesis - Deuteronomy). As we read and study parts of Joshua over the coming weeks, it is vital to set God’s promise of land into the context of God’s overarching plans for humanity. God promises Abram and his descendants the land of Canaan not merely for their own sake but for the sake of all nations. Genesis 12:2-3 reads, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (italics added). In other words, God has raised up Israel as his agents through whom he will bless all peoples.
Israel’s vocation as a means of blessing was reaffirmed at the feet of Mount Sinai. In Exod 19:5-6, God announced, “Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” Precisely because God is king over all Creation he has appointed Israel to serve as a special people among all of the other peoples that inhabit the earth. They are to serve a priestly or missional function of connecting the nations to God by reflecting God’s character (holy nation). How does the promised land of Canaan fit into God’s mission? The land represents a foothold for God’s kingdom as God works to bring blessing and salvation to humanity and all creation following the spread of disobedience and sin as described in Genesis 3-11. God establishes a tiny foothold in the world because it will be in this land and through this people Israel that God will reveal himself most fully in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. But we are getting ahead of ourselves in the biblical story…