Saturday, October 9, 2010

Joshua 24

Recapping Israel's history (vs. 1-13)--Whether this was the same gathering as in chapter 23 is not stated, but it's the same group of people whom Joshua calls together. Shechem (v. 1) was the initial location of the tabernacle. It was a city in Samaria and known in the Bible by various names (Sichem in Gen. 12:6, Sychem in Acts 7:16, and Sychar in John 4:5). Rehoboam, Solomon's son, was anointed king in Shechem. When the tabernacle was moved from the city is unknown. In verses 24:3, "the Lord God Israel" speaks through Joshua, and quickly and succinctly recaps some major events in Israel's history up to that point. Terah, the father of Abraham, "dwelt on the other side of the River"--the Euphrates--"and…served other gods" (v. 2). Thus, Abraham was raised in a polytheistic environment. He himself is never accused of paganism, idolatry, or polytheism. God brought Abraham into the land of Canaan, and "multiplied his descendants" through Isaac (v. 3). Isaac gave birth to Jacob and Esau, but "Jacob and his children went down to Egypt" (v. 4). Moses and Aaron did what God commanded them to do and "afterward I brought you out" (v. 5). The Lord protected them from the Egyptians who pursued them (vs. 6-7), but they "dwelt in the wilderness a long time" (v. 7), for reasons that are not stated in this summary, but it was because of their unbelief (see the story in Numbers 13). The Lord "destroyed" the Amorites--a general name for the peoples who lived east of the Jordan (v. 8). Balak tried to curse Israel for Moab (Numbers 22-24), but the Lord "delivered you out of his hand" (v. 10). When the Israelites finally crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, they were met by several tribes of people, but "I delivered them into your hand" (v. 11). Some believe the "hornet" (v. 12) to be a figurative reference to terror in general, but the hornet of the Middle East can be a fearsome little creature and in swarms, there is no defense against them. In Joshua's account, if the insect is literally meant, they drove two Amorite kings out of Canaan. The final summation is found in verse 13: "'I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.'" Notice that all of this is attributed to God. He did this for Israel. He used the children of Israel to accomplish all of this, of course, but the point is, they never could have done it without the Lord's help.

Make your decision (vs. 14-15)--Not surprisingly, the next brief section I wish to discuss begins with "therefore." Based upon what Jehovah has done for you, make your choice--Him or "the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River" or local (v. 15). The "put away the gods which your fathers served" (v. 14) strongly implies that idolatry still existed among the people, which was most probable. The conclusion of Joshua in verse 15 is perhaps the most famous statement in the book: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

The people's covenant (vs. 16-25)--The gathering immediately announces that they would serve the Lord because of the things that Joshua recounted at the beginning of this message (vs. 17-18). Joshua chides them some in order to ensure their commitment to Jehovah: you aren't going to serve the Lord and thus He isn't going to forgive your sins (v. 19). But the people reiterate their commitment to Jehovah, and Joshua says to them that they are witnesses against themselves that they would serve the Lord. And the people agree (v. 22). Joshua then commands them again to "put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel" (v. 23). Once more, we get a strong insinuation that idolatry existed in Israel, and the Lord obviously was patient with them about it. He had done all His great wonders for them in spite of the fact that they had apparently remained polytheistic in their worship. We remember the golden calf incident in Exodus 32. Joshua’s strong demand that they commit to the one true God apparently has reference to this continued idolatry among the people. The people repeat, "The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey" (v. 24). We subsequently learn (v. 31 and Judges 2:7) that these people were telling the truth, and so strong was Joshua's influence that the next generation as well was loyal to Jehovah. They made a covenant (Joshua 24:25) and they kept it.

The covenant written down (vs. 26-28)--Joshua "wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God" (v. 26) and set up a stone for a memorial witness. It was something they could see and thus be reminded of their promise to serve the Lord. The people then returned home (v. 28).

The death of Joshua and the bones of Joseph (vs. 29-33)--At some point after these events, and probably not very long afterwards, Joshua died at the age of 110 (v. 29). He was buried in Ephraim, his home tribe (v. 30). Verse 32 speaks of the bones of Joseph. This is one of the great stories of faith in Scripture. In Genesis 50:24, well over 200 years before, Joseph made his people swear, when they entered the land of Canaan, that they would take his bones and bury him there. That great patriarch was absolutely sure that God would keep His word. Joseph was buried in the plot of land that Jacob had bought near Shechem (Genesis 33:19). The book of Joshua concludes with the death of Eleazar the high priest and son of Aaron (v. 33).

Joshua was certainly one of the great men of the Bible, and if we'll devote ourselves to God as He did, then the Lord will use us to accomplish wondrous things, too.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Joshua 23

Joshua's first sermon (vs. 1-16)--The "long time" of verse 1 was about 13 or 14 years after the initial entrance into the land of Canaan. Joshua was near death now, and had lived a righteous, dedicated life to the Lord. The last two chapters of his book record two "sermons" he preached to the people. He mentions in verses 3-5 what the Lord’s involvement in their lives—He had driven the nations of Canaan out of the land, given Israel their inheritance, and would continue to expel the natives peoples and fulfill His promises to His chidren. Keep in mind that there were still pockets of resistance in the land; that the conquest was piecemeal, not all at one time. Since the Lord had done--and will do--so much for Israel, they had responsibilities towards Him. Be "very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses" (v. 6). Against it's very interesting to note, as I did in chapter one, that it takes great courage to be obedient to God's will. Joshua them urges them not to even mention the foreign gods of the land, much lest serve them (v. 7). Hold fast to the Lord; by doing so "no one has been able to stand against you to this day" (v. 9). Their victories would be solid and sure, "for the Lord your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you" (v 10).

However, if they do not take "careful heed" and "love the Lord your God" (v. 11), if they "cling to the remnant of these nations" and intermarry with them (v. 12), then "know for certain" that the Lord will not longer help them drive out the people. Indeed, those native peoples would cause great distress among the children of Israel. All that the Lord will do for them in the future is contingent upon their continued obedience to His will. It is no different with us today.

Joshua then closes this speech with a blessing and a cursing (vs. 14-16). Everything that the Lord had promised them so far had come to pass (v. 15). But just as those good things had happened to them (v. 15), they can rest assured that, "when you have transgressed the covenant," "the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land which He has given you" (v. 16). A clear a warning as could possibly be given.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Joshua 22

Reuben Gad, and half-Manasseh sent home (vs. 1-9)--It will be recalled that these three tribes asked for, and received, their inheritance of land on the eastern side of the Jordan River (Num. 32). There was one proviso to that, viz., that they would help the other tribes conquer and get settled in the land of Canaan, west of the Jordan. That had now been accomplished, and Joshua sends them back to their own land. He commends them for their obedience to the Lord (v. 3), and encourages them to "take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (v. 5). These tribes had become very wealthy (v. 8), and were surely happy to be returning to their families and new homes. The land east of the Jordan was called Bashan (v. 7) and Gilead (v. 9).

The altar built by Reuben, Gad, and half-Manasseh (vs. 10-20)--Before they crossed over the Jordan to their own territories, the three tribes built an altar beside the river--"a great altar to look upon" (v. 10). This was of supreme concern to the tribes remaining west of the water; they concluded that the three eastern tribes were in rebellion against the Lord by building an altar which was intended (so the western tribes believed) as a sacrificial altar. So the western tribes "gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up against them to war" (v. 12). Phinehas, the son of the High Priest Eleazar, and the heads of the eastern tribes were sent to meet with Reuben, Gad, and half-Manasseh (vs. 13-14). These leaders explained their concern, accusing the three eastern tribes of rebellion against the Lord by building the altar (v. 16). Phinehas and the other western leaders reminded the three tribes of two great sins of Israel, the transgression at Peor (Num. 25:-19), where the children of Israel committed idolatry and harlotry with the women of Moab. The Lord struck them with a plague in which 24,000 died. The plague was stopped by the quick action of Phinehas himself, who had been "zealous with My zeal among them" (Num. 25:11). The other sin mentioned was that of Achan (Joshua 7), who knowingly, and sinfully, disobeyed the order not to take of the spoils of the city of Jericho when it was sacked (Joshua 6). The fear of the tribes west of the Jordan was that the Lord "will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel" (v. 18). All of Israel suffered because of the sin of a few at Peor, and one at Jericho. Thus, the western leaders had great concern for their own safety as well. It's very nice to see this kind of zeal for the Lord, though obviously there was some self-interest involved. There was nothing wrong with that. And, as noted, these western tribes were prepared to go to war to prevent that altar from standing.

The altar explained (vs. 21-29)--But Reuben, Gad, and half-Manasseh had a satisfactory explanation. There was no intent, with the altar, to rebel against the Lord. Their fear was that, in future generations, their brethren west of the Jordan, because of the division of land based upon that river, would conclude that "'the LORD has made the Jordan a border between you and us, you children of Reuben and children of Gad. You have no part in the LORD.' So your descendants would make our descendants cease fearing the LORD" (v. 25). So this altar was being built, not for burnt offerings, "but that it may be a witness between you and us and our generations after us" (v. 27), and the eastern tribes would not be hindered in their worship and sacrifices to the Lord. They emphasized that this was in no way an attempt on their part at rebellion: "Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn from following the LORD this day, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for grain offerings, or for sacrifices, besides the altar of the LORD our God which is before His tabernacle" (v. 29).

The explanation accepted (vs. 30-34)--Phinehas and the other leaders of the western tribes were "pleased" with this explanation (v. 20) and replied, "’This day we perceive that the LORD is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the LORD’" (v. 31). (A note here: The NKJV has "LORD" in all caps; this is "Jehovah" in the ASV.) So with this agreeable explanation, the altar was allowed to stand and even given a name, Ea (v. 34, KJV, ASV, which means, "witness," and is so translated in the NKJV), and the western leaders went back home and allowed the eastern tribes to do the same (v. 32).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Joshua 21

The request of the Levites (vs. 1-3)--The tribe of Levi, because it was the priestly tribe, had no lot given to it. The Lord had commanded that certain cities, scattered through Israel, be provided for this tribe. That way priests could be spread throughout the other 11 tribes in order to assist them in service to God. This chapter delineates the various cities given to the Levites, through the descendants of Levi's three sons, Kohath, Gershon, and Merari.

In conjunction with the concept of "city-state," the Levites were given cities with their "common land"--the land surrounding the city. Given the agricultural/pastoral nature of the ancient world, this was necessary. There were some artisans in the towns, but the vast majority of people made their living through agricultural pursuits. And it was largely a subsistence living for most. Thus, when the rains did not come, famine was frequent. Such events are read about all through Scripture and other ancient literature.

The cities given to Kohath (vs. 4-26)--Kohath appears to have been the second son of Levi (Gen. 46:11), but Moses and Aaron descended from him, thus he listed first here. Aaron being from Kohath, the high priesthood will thus come from his family. Thirteen cities were given to Aaron's people from Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. The temple, of course, will eventually be located in Judah, and these three tribes will be the only ones who remain loyal to the house of David after the division of the kingdom (I Kings 12). Simeon, whose lot was totally within the borders of Judah, appears to have been absorbed completely by the latter tribe and disappears from history. Thus, actually only nine tribes rebelled against David, though the number given is always 10, in order to keep the total number of tribes intact. Indeed, since Levi only had cities and no geographical territory, it would be more appropriate to say that only eight tribes were in the Northern Kingdom, though the land of the tribe of Manasseh was divided in two, one part east of the Jordan River and the other part west.

Kohath had 23 cities total, 10 more which were located In Ephraim Dan, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (west--v. 5). Gershon had 13 cities (v. 6), found in Issachar, Asher, Naphtali and the eastern half of Manasseh (v. 6). Merari's 13 cities were divided among Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun. Only Zebulun was west of the Jordan River. All of the cities of Kohath are listed in verses 9-26. Some important ones include Hebron, or Kirjath Arba, the home of Anak, father of the Anakim, the "giants" which scared the 10 weak spies in Numbers 13. Gibeon (see Joshua 9) was in Korath's territory, as was Anathoth, the home of the prophet Jeremiah, and Shechem, the place where Simeon and Levi had killed all the men because one of them had raped their sister Dinah. That interesting, and gory, tale is found in Genesis 34.

The cities of Gershon (vs. 27-33)--Gershon had 13 cities, and they are named in these verses. There are no cities here with much history of interest, at least in the rest of the Bible.

The cities of Merari (vs. 34-42)--Merari was given 12 cities, mostly east of the Jordan. This made for 48 cities total.  The last two verses here, 41 and 42, sum the matter up.

The Lord's promises fulfilled (vs. 43-45)--The Lord gave the land of Canaan to the children of Israel, the land "which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it" (v. 43). For a while, they had peace and none of their enemies could defeat them, for "the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand" (v. 44), the writer rightly attributing the victory to Jehovah. All that He had told them He had done (v. 45). The full extent of the land, promised to Abraham in Genesis 15, will finally be realized under David and Solomon, but some of that territory was not within the borders of ancient Palestine.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Joshua 20

The cities of refuge (vs. 1-9)--This was a pretty important part of the Israelites judicial system simply because tribal revenge (personal vengeance) was extremely common in the ancient world. Most people/tribes did not have sophisticated law systems, and usually reciprocity was the means of justice--if you killed somebody in my family, regardless of the cause, then somebody in my family killed one of yours in return. That usually ended it; there were no Hatfield-McCoy type feuds. To mitigate that kind of injustice, Jehovah provided for cities of refuge "that the slayer who kills a person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there; and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood" (v. 3). Premeditated murder was dealt with capitally, of course, but this law relates to involuntary manslaughter. The "guilty" party fled to one of those cities and stood outside the gate, pleading his case to "the elders of that city" (v. 4). They were to take him in and protect, and "the avenger of blood"--the one seeking vengeance--could not touch him. The city of refuge didn't just accept the word of the killer; there was to be some sort of trial (v. 6), and if he was proven innocent, then he would stay in that city "until the death of the one who is high priest in those days" (v. 6; verse 9 mentions the same thought about a trial “before the congregation”). Then he could return to his own city and home.

There is some punishment involved here, even though the killing was not premeditated. The fact that the killer could lot live in his own home among his own people for a while was a form of retribution; human life was to be regarded as sacred and not to be taken lightly. So even involuntary manslaughter carried some penalty.

There were six cities appointed for refuge, located equally on both sides of the Jordan River, and they were spread pretty well throughout the land—west of the Jordan, there was a city in Naphtali (north), Ephraim (central), and Judah (south). On the eastern side of the Jordan, each of the three tribes, Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh contained a city of refuge (vs. 7-9). As far as I know, there is no historical evidence mentioning the use of the cities of refuge.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Joshua 18 and 19

Surveying the rest of the land (18:1-7)--These two chapters are fairly simple and discuss the division of the rest of the land, i.e., who got what. A map is essential if the reader is interested in following the borders. Again, I strongly suggest that every Bible student at least take a look at a map of Israel to see where the various tribes had their borders. Not all of them are terribly important, but it's still a good idea a have a general vision in mind. In the first seven verses of chapter 18, the children of Israel set up the tabernacle at Shiloh (v. 1). It will eventually be moved to Jerusalem. There were seven tribes who had not yet received their allotment (v. 2). Joshua chides them a bit (v. 3) for delaying in obtaining their parcel, so three men from each tribe are sent out to survey the rest of the country (v. 4). He mentions again in verse 7 that the Levites have no territory of their own.

The land surveyed (18:8-10)--The men sent did as charged, "and wrote the survey in a book in seven parts by cities" (v. 9). They brought the survey back to Joshua who cast lots to determine boundaries. We don't know exactly what the casting of lots consisted of, but it was an effective means for distributing the land.

Benjamin's territory (vs. 11-28)--Some of the tribes in subsequent Israeli history are more important than others. Judah and Ephraim will be the most important, and Benjamin probably ranks third. This tribe will stay with Judah when the kingdom is divided under Rehoboam, and there are other instances where Benjamin is involved in significant matters. It almost got obliterated because of an event that took place as described in the last few chapters of Judges. The territory of Benjamin and its cities are discussed in the remainder of chapter 18. It bordered on both Ephraim and Judah, and important cities such as Jericho and Gibeon were within its territory.

The rest of the land divided (19:1-48)--There is nothing more here than a listing of the land given to the remaining tribes, with one addition at the end of the chapter to be duly noted. Here's the lineup:

The territory of Simeon (vs. 1-9). It's important to note that Simeon's territory was entirely within the borders Judah, and apparently this tribe will be eventually be swallowed up by Judah.

The territory of Zebulon (vs. 10-16). There are no cities listed here that play any significant role in the subsequent history of Israel.

The territory of Issachar (vs. 17-23). Issachar’s territory “went to Jezreel” (v. 18) which is of some importance in later centuries.

The territory of Asher (vs. 24-31). Asher’s region “reached to Mount Carmel”—the location of Elijah’s battle with the 400 prophets of Baal (I Kings 18), and apparently touched the powerful Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon (vs. 28-29).

The territory of Naphtali (vs. 32-39). It bordered Judah and the Jordan River.

The territory of Dan (vs. 40-48). Judges 18 tells us a little more about how Dan came about conquering the territory it eventually possessed.

It’s important to remember that very little of this land had been conquered and settled yet. Joshua gave the people a foothold in the land of Canaan, but the full conquest is far from complete.

The inheritance given to Joshua (vs. 49-51)—To reward him for his wonderful, dedicated service, the people gave Joshua a special plot of land. His home was in the “mountains of Ephraim” (v. 50). A lovely retirement home for a great man.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Joshua 17

Manasseh's western territory (vs. 1-18)--As we have already noted several times, the tribe of Manasseh received a portion of their land on the eastern side of the Jordan. Now their western allotment is detailed. The "Machir" of verse one was surely dead by now, or he would have been over 200 years old. So no doubt his descendants are meant. Gilead and Bashan were mainly the territories occupied by Manasseh on the east of the Jordan River.

The story of Zelophedad's daughters is here recounted again. In Numbers 27, we learned that a man named Zelophedad had only daughters, no sons. They come to Moses requesting land of their own, lest they be left destitute. Moses took the matter before Jehovah who sided with Zelophedad's five daughters and announced that if a man died without having any sons, then the inheritance was to pass to his daughters. If he had no daughters, either, then his brother received his land. If no brothers, then to his uncles (Numbers 27:1-9). However, the daughters of Zelophedad were required to marry within their tribe or they would lose their inheritance (Numbers 36:3). Their circumstance is mentioned here again in Joshua 17:3-6).

Verses 7-11 delineate the land given to Manasseh west of the Jordan. It was a large piece of geography in the center of Palestine. Verse 11 indicates that Manasseh even received some cities within the territory of the tribes of Asher and Issachar (north of Manasseh). En-dor is famous; it is the location where Saul went to consult the witch (I Sam. 28:7). Verse 12 indicates that the warriors of Mannaseh apparently wearied of trying to drive the inhabitants of certain cities out of their region, so they put them to tribute instead. This indicates a lack of faith in God, and perseverance. We must not give up hope and trust in Him.

The "children of Joseph"--both Ephraim and Manasseh (v. 17) want more land (v. 14), "since we are a great people." Joshua tells them to go conquer more land in the mountain region (v. 15). But even that wasn't good enough for them so Joshua indicates they "shall not have only one lot, but the mountain country shall be yours" (vs. 17-18). This seems to be a conversation Joshua had with the two tribes before the land was divided up. Because Manasseh and Ephraim together outnumbered the rest of the tribes, they thought they should have more land, and Joshua agreed. But Ephraim and Manasseh were to "drive out the Canaanites" (v. 18), something, as we saw, they did not do.