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.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Joshua 16

The lot of the "children of Joseph" (vs. 1-10)--Joseph, of course, had two children, Ephraim and Manasseh. Manasseh was the oldest, but Ephraim's descendants became the most significant in Israel's history. After the kingdom was divided in the days of Rehoboam (Solomon's son), the northern kingdom of Israel is often referred to as "Ephraim" because of the dominance of that tribe in the affairs of that people. As we have seen, half the tribe of Manasseh asked for, and received, an inheritance east of the Jordan River. The rest of the tribe receives its land here, and the borders are described.

The two lots had a common boundary. The entire territory of the two tribes is described in verses 1-5. It was rather extensive, dominating the central part of the country. Manasseh's border took up most of the Jordan River, although, interestingly, it had no common boundary with its brethren east of the Jordan. West Manasseh then stretched all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Samaria, the eventual capital city of the northern kingdom, Israel, will be located within Manasseh's territory. Ephraim's territory, described in verses 6-10, was roughly 55 miles wide by 30 miles broad, and stretched from the Jordan to the sea. The tribe's territory was judiciously located in very fertile land and on the north-south trade route. This richness partly explains its leadership in the northern kingdom. The last verse of the chapter indicates a disobedient spirit already manifesting itself among this tribe. God had told the Israelites to utterly destroy or drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, but the Ephraimites did not do that. Rather they made slaves of many of the peoples they conquered, and this will eventually become a reason for their downfall (Hosea 7:8).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Joshua 15

The land given to Judah (vs. 1-12)--This chapter deals entirely with the territory of Judah, which will become exceedingly important as the centuries go by. Again, I would encourage the reader to get a good Bible map and look at it; it's almost essential, in understanding the subsequent history of the Israelites, to have at least some idea where the various tribes settled. Judah's southern border was the southern extremity of Israel (v. 1). It bordered on Edom and the Wilderness of Zin (v. 1). It began at the southern tip of the Salt (Dead) Sea (v. 2), and westward went all the way to the "Brook of Egypt" (v. 4). This is not the Nile, but a nameless little stream east of that river that apparently was the dividing line between Egypt and Canaan. The eastern border of Judah ran up the Dead Sea to the mouth of the Jordan River, and then the boundary extended all the way westward to the Great (Mediterranean Sea). The rest of the place names don't mean a lot to us and would require a rather detailed map to identify. But still, the basic boundary of Judah can be established from the text.

Caleb's promise (vs. 13-19)--Caleb took possession the land Joshua gave to him (see Joshua 14). As he said he would attempt to do, he drove out some of the Anakim of that region (v. 14). He took some more land, then perhaps ran into a snag at a town called Kirjath Sepher. So in verse 16, he said, "He who attacks Kirjath Sepher and takes it, to him I will give Achsah my daughter as wife." Othniel, who was Caleb's nephew and destined to become the first of the judges, won the prize (v. 17). There was one more thing Achsah, Caleb's daughter, wanted: "Since you have given me land in the South, give me also springs of water." So he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs" (v. 19). Her request was not unreasonable. It was a dry, arid land, unsuitable for agriculture without water. So it was natural that Othniel and Achsah would want some water on their land.

The cities of Judah (vs. 20-63)--The rest of the chapter is virtually nothing more than a listing of the cities Judah conquered. Verses 21-32 catalog the cities in the south; verses 33-47, those in the "lowlands" (this will include some major Philistine cities); verses 48-60 record the towns in the mountain country, and verses 61 and 62 a few in the wilderness. The chapter closes by noting that the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, could not be driven out. That will have to wait almost 400 years until David finally does it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Joshua 14

Introduction to the division of the land (vs. 1-5)--The first verse "These are the areas which the children of Israel inherited in the land of Canaan..." actually introduces the next several chapters. For the most part, it will be a rather dry, but important, listing of the boundaries of the territory of each of the tribes. There's an occasional interlude in the listing, as in the rest of this chapter. The writer once again mentions that two-and-a-half tribes received their inheritance east of the Jordan, and the Levites received no land (except for 48 cities they were given, scattered in various locales around the land).

Caleb asks for the land promised to him (vs. 6-15)--Caleb was one of the two men (Joshua being the other) of the 12 spies who gave a positive report after Moses sent them in to reconnoiter the land (read the story in Numbers 13). It almost cost the two men their lives (Numbers 14:10). Because he had "wholly followed the Lord my God" (v. 8), Moses had promised Caleb a special inheritance once the land was occupied. In these verses, he comes to Joshua to request (demand?) that a certain parcel of land be given to him (v. 12). Joshua thus granted him Hebron, a major city, and the land around it (that's implied in the giving of Hebron) to Caleb.

There are a couple of interesting historical notes in this section. In verse 15, the writer tells us that "the name of Hebron formerly was Kirjath Arba (Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim)." Caleb informs us (v. 12) that some of the Anakim were still there, and that if "the Lord will be with me...I shall be able to drive them out as the Lord said." The Anakim are an interesting people. They were the descendants of a man named Anak (Num. 13:33). They dwelt in the south of Palestine (hence, Hebron), but also, during the days of Abraham (some 500 years before), they lived south of that region in territories that eventually were known as Edom and Moab (the latter being east of the Jordan River). Some have suggested that they may have come from the same race as the Phoenicians and Egyptians, and they also have been identified with the Nephilim, "giants," of Genesis 6:4. This is purely speculation, however. This idea is derived from Numbers 13:33, which reads "There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight" (this is the report given by the 10 unfaithful spies). More than likely, these 10 men were simply cowards, looking for an excuse not to attack. The Anakim almost surely weren't "giants," though they do appear to have been formidable and very warlike.

The other interesting point is that Caleb recounts a bit of his biography in verses 10 and 11. He was 40 years old when Moses sent him (and the other 11) into Canaan as spies, but as he was speaking to Joshua, he was 85. Well, since the Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness, Caleb would have been 80 when they first entered the land. So we learn here that they had been at war for five years. They had conquered quite a bit of land, but not nearly all of it yet.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Joshua 13

The land left to be conquered (vs. 1-7)--The Lord had told Israel in Deuteronomy 7:22, "And the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you little by little; you will be unable to destroy them at once, lest the beasts of the field become too numerous for you." And so by the time of Joshua's death, there remained quite a bit of territory to be subjugated and occupied. That land is defined in the first seven verses of Joshua 13. Yet, since the Lord did intend to "drive out them from before the children of Israel" (v. 6), He commanded Joshua to go ahead and "divide it by lot to Israel as an inheritance" (v. 6). So each tribe would know the extension of their territory and then move in and conquer it. But the Lord would be with them, if they remained faithful to Him. Which they did not.

The land given to Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh (vs. 8-14)--It has already been noted several times through the course of the first few books of the Bible that these three tribes received their land on the eastern side of the Jordan. Just for the record's sake, their land is once again noted in this section. Verse 14 mentions that the tribe of Levi would get no land inheritance, because "the sacrifices of the LORD God of Israel made by fire are their inheritance, as He said to them." Levi had the greatest privilege of all--to officiate at the worship of the Lord. Jehovah wanted them to concentrate on that, and not be distracted by any kind of agrarian or commercial pursuits.

The territory of Reuben (vs. 15-23)--The previous section was general; now the writer gets specific and explains exactly the boundaries of Reuben's territory. There were many cities and kingdoms that fell into the Reubenites hands. Some of them are listed here. It would be a good idea for the reader to look at a map just to get a general idea of where the various land allotments lay.

Gad's allotment (vs. 24-28)--Now the land given to the tribe of Gad is noted.

The territory of half the tribe of Manasseh (vs. 29-33)--And the chapter ends by describing the territory given to half the tribe of Manasseh. The other half of the tribe would receive its territory west of the Jordan River, of course. Verse 33 concludes the chapter by basically repeating verse 14 about the Levites.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Joshua 12

Conquests east of the Jordan River (vs. 1-6)--The writer now draws the boundaries of the land that the Israelites conquered, or were to conquer. They had already obtained all the land they were going to have east of the Jordon by their defeat of the Amorties and Bashanites (the story is related in Numbers 21). The exact extent of that land is related in these verses. The reader is encouraged to check a Bible map to see exactly where the boundaries were. This territory was given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh (v. 6).

The kings conquered west of the Jordan (vs. 1-24)--The rest of the chapter largely consists of a listing of the names of the kings, and their cities, that Joshua conquered. These were all west of the Jordan River. Remember that the city-state was the primary form of government in ancient times, thus all of these cities had their own king. There were 31 of these monarchs conquered (v. 24). Interestingly, verse 10 mentions that "the king of Jerusalem" was defeated, but this was a Jebusite city that the children of Israel were unable to take until the time of David (II Sam. 5). He will make it the seat of his government, moving from Hebron. The name of their king was Adonizedek (Joshua 10:1). The Jebusites were descendants of Noah's son Ham, through Ham's son Canaan. These people appear only once more in the person of "Araunah the Jebusite" (II Sam. 24:18), who sold his threshing floor to David on Mount Moriah as a site for an altar to Jehovah.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Joshua 11

The Northern Alliance (vs. 1-5)--Joshua's successful southern campaign roused the concern of the kings of various city-states in the north. Most of these cities were up around the Sea of Galilee, Hazor being north of it. But the king of that city was able to raise armies, "as many people as the sand that is on the seashore in multitude, with very many horses and chariots" (v. 4). Where the "waters of Merom" (v. 5) is uncertain, but that is where they waited for Joshua.

The battle won (vs. 6-9)--But waiting was a mistake. After encouragement from the Lord that he triumph (v. 6), Joshua launched a surprise attack (v. 7). "And the LORD delivered them into the hand of Israel" (v. 8). Joshua did all that Jehovah told him to do, including hamstringing the horses and burning the chariots (v. 9).

Capture of the cities (vs. 10-15)--The king of Hazor had been the leader of this northern alliance, so Joshua made an example of him and his city. He killed the king (v. 10), and then destroyed the city, annihilating the inhabitants thereof (v. 11). He also killed all the people of the other cities of the alliance (vs. 12, 14), but he didn't burn them (v. 13). There was a lot to be taken: "And all the spoil of these cities and the livestock, the children of Israel took as booty for themselves" (v. 14). One of the reasons for Joshua's success was his obedience to God: "As the LORD had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the LORD had commanded Moses" (v. 15).

The extent of the conquest (vs. 16-20)--The writer then tells the extent of Joshua's conquests, north and south. It wasn't easy; "Joshua made war a long time with all those kings" (v. 18), mainly because "There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon" (v. 19). But the Lord had intended, for a long time, to punish these people, "that He might utterly destroy them" (v. 20). He had told Abraham, back in Genesis 15, that one of the reasons the children of Israel would be delayed 400 years before taking the land of promise was that "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete" (Gen. 15:16). These people had been very wicked, trying God's patience for a long time. But, as of yet (Abraham's day), they were not fully ripe for the Lord's justice. By the time He was ready to give them the land of Canaan, He would have had His fill of those evil, idolatrous people and want them wiped from the face of the earth.

The defeat of the Anakim (vs. 21-23)--The Anakim were a group of people who dwelt, in various tribes, in the south part of Canaan. We meet them in the days of Abraham (Gen. 14:5-6), and their fierce, warlike appearance was one of the reasons 10 of the 12 spies Moses sent in to reconnoiter the land came back with a negative report (Numbers. 13:33). They seem to have been identified with the Nephilim, the "giants" of Genesis 6:4 (see the spies report in Numbers 13:33). Joshua expelled them from the land, except for a small remnant that remained in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod (v. 22). It's possible that some of the "giants" David faced (II Sam. 21:15-22) were descendants of the Anakim; they were in the same region.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Joshua 10

The alliance against Gibeon (vs. 1-5)—I find it interesting that the kings of five cities—Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon—made an alliance against Gibeon and not Israel. Who was the greater danger? But, apparently the five kings were disgusted that Gibeon had made peace with the Israelites, so they decided to make war against that city (v. 5).

The sun stands still (vs. 6-15)—Not surprisingly, the Gibeonites turn to their new allies for help. “’Do not forsake your servants; come up to us quickly, save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the mountains have gathered together against us’" (v. 6). And Joshua responded without hesitating (v. 7). The Lord assured him of victory (v. 8). Joshua made a forced march (v. 9), and a surprise attack upon the alliance of five kings, and “the LORD routed them before Israel” (v. 10). Jehovah helped Israel’s cause further by casting down “large hailstones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died from the hailstones than the children of Israel killed with the sword” (v. 11).

It wasn’t quite as simple, or as short, as the above summation implies. The battle stretched for so long that Joshua asked for an extended day: “’Sun, stand still over Gibeon; and Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.’ So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the people had revenge upon their enemies” (vs. 12-13). This period lasted “for about a whole day” (v. 13). This is a notable miracle indeed, and commentators have made a big deal of it, trying to explain how it happened, etc. etc. etc., but God could do something like this in His sleep, so there’s no reason to go ga-ga over the thing. I don’t want to minimize any great act of Jehovah, I just don’t believe it was a difficult thing for Him to do, no more difficult than any other miracle wrought by divine power. Once the battle was finally finished, Joshua returned to his base at Gilgal (v. 15).

Death of the alliance kings (vs. 16-27)—When they had determined the battle was lost, the “five kings had fled and hidden themselves in a cave at Makkedah” (v. 16). Joshua made sure they stayed there by having a large stone rolled over the mouth of the cave (v. 18), and then once the battle was over, had them executed (v. 26). Such would serve as a warning to all of Israel’s enemies of the consequences of opposition to the people of Jehovah.

The southern conquest (vs. 28-43)—The remainder of the chapter briefly details Joshua’s conquest of the southern region of Canaan. He attacked, and captured, the leading cities of the area, including some which had joined the alliance against Gibeon. He took Libna (vs. 29-30), Lachish and Gezer (vs. 31-33), Egon (vs. 34-35), Hebron (vs. 36-37), and Debir (vs. 38-39). The chapter ends with a note on the extent of the land Joshua conquered.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Joshua 9

The coalition against Joshua (vs. 1-2)—Usually these peoples fought each other, but on this occasion the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—with one exception—formed a confederacy to defeat Joshua and the children of Israel. It must have been an awesome force, but Joshua, the man of God, was confident because Jehovah was on his side.

The craftiness of the Gibeonites (vs. 3-15)—Gibeon was a Hivite city about 6.5 miles from Jerusalem via a main road, but five miles as the crow flies. It would lie, eventually, in the territory of Benjamin. The Hivites were descendents of Noah’s son Ham, through Ham’s son Canaan. It was a Hivite, Shechem, who violated Jacob’s lone daughter, Diana, and led to the mass murder of the inhabitants of that city by Levi and Simeon (Genesis 34). A remnant of Hivites still existed in Solomon’s time (I Kings 9:20), but they aren’t heard from after that and disappeared into the dustbin of history. The city of Gibeon was in Joshua’s path and so, fearing destruction, “they worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors” (v. 4). They took some old provisions and clothes and told Joshua that they had come from a long distance to make a covenant with Israel (vs. 5-6). Joshua was suspicious (v. 7), but when the Gibeonites showed him their “dry and moldy” bread (v. 12), plus their empty wineskins and worn out sandals and clothes (v. 13), they convinced the Israelites that they indeed had come from afar and posed no threat. “So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them to let them live; and the rulers of the congregation swore to them” (v. 15). It’s the only time in the book that Joshua doesn’t come out well. Verse 14 says “the men of Israel…did not ask counsel of the Lord.” Since “men,” plural, were involved, it’s highly likely that Joshua got some bad advice. But the buck stopped with him, so Joshua is given the responsibility for making the treaty (v. 15).

The deception discovered (vs. 16-27)—But, obviously, the Gibeonites' secret could not remain so for long. Three days later (v, 16), they were found out. The Hivites actually lived in four cities, and they are listed in verse 17—Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjath Jearim. The Gibeonites apparently acted in behalf of the whole tribe of people. So when the Israelites came upon those cities (v. 17), they “did not attack them, because the rulers of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD God of Israel. And all the congregation complained against the rulers” (v. 18), a legitimate gripe. But, to their credit, even though they had been deceived “all the rulers” abode by their agreement with the Gibeonites and did not attack those cities (v. 19). However, they did enslave the Hivites—“let them be woodcutters and water carriers for all the congregation” (v. 21).

Joshua was understandably upset that he had been tricked. He asked the Hivites, “’Why have you deceived us, saying, “We are very far from you,” when you dwell near us?’” (v. 22). So he told them that, because of their dishonesty, they would become Israel’s slaves (v. 23). The Hivites told Joshua pretty much what they had told him earlier, that, having heard of all that the God of Israel had done for His people, “we were very much afraid for our lives because of you, and have done this thing” (v. 24). So, they agreed to Joshua’s conditions (v. 25). No “give me liberty or give me death” for these people. Better to be a live slave than a dead hero, at least to the Hivites. Thus, they became the slaves of the children of Israel, “even to this day,” i.e., the “day” that the book of Joshua was written, a “day” which we do not know.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Joshua 8

The capture of Ai (vs. 1-29)—Once the sin had been removed the camp, the children of Israel were ready to take Ai. The Lord gave Joshua encouragement in verses 1 and 2, and a brief tactical plan: “Lay an ambush for the city behind it" (v. 2).

Joshua chose 30,000 “mighty men of valor” to be the main force for the capture of Ai (v. 3). 5,000 of them would be placed on the west side, between Ai and Bethel (v. 12), and the rest would take their position on the north side of the city (v. 11). Joshua would take a small contingent and approach the city; when the men of Ai came out after them, Joshua and his troops would “flee before them” (v. 5), drawing their attackers farther away from their town (v. 6). Then the Israeli ambushers would seize the city (v. 7). The town was to be burned (v. 8), though the Lord did allow them to take booty this time (v. 2).

The plan worked to perfection. The king of Ai took his troops and attacked Joshua (v. 14), who “fled” before him (v. 15). This drew all the Ai men of war out of the city (v. 16); apparently, the troops of Bethel came to Ai’s assistance (v. 17). Joshua, at the Lord’s command, then gave the signal for the ambushers to attack (v. 18). They did, and easily entered the city—there was no one left to protect it (v. 19). The army of Ai knew it had been had (v. 20), and became easy prey for Joshua’s contingent of troops (v. 22). They took the king alive, however, (v. 23), but Joshua hanged him (v. 29).

12,000 people of Ai, “both men and women” (v. 25), were put to death. As the Lord allowed, the livestock and “spoil of that city” were taken (v. 27). Ai was completely obliterated, “a heap forever, a desolation to this day” (v. 28). The king of Ai was buried under a pile of stones at where the entrance of the gate had been (v. 29). A glorious victory for the children of Israel, the first time, in the land of Canaan, they had won an actual battle. They took Jericho, of course, without a fight.

The altar and the reading of the law (vs. 30-35)—Even though there was much to be done, time was taken to give glory to God. Joshua “built an altar to the Lord God of Israel” (v. 30), “of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool” (v. 31). Burnt offerings and peace offerings were sacrificed on this altar (v. 31). Joshua then wrote a copy of the law on the stones, the “blessings and cursings” (v. 34), not the whole law. Half the people were in front of Mount Gerizim and the other half in front of Mount Ebal when Joshua read the law (v. 33). All of Israel, men, women, children, and “strangers” were there for the reading (v. 35). It was their law; they needed to hear it as often as possible.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Joshua 7

The crime of Achan and defeat at Ai (vs. 1-5)—Unbeknownst to anyone, a man named Achan had violated the order not to take any valuables from Jericho (v. 1). Interestingly, the Lord held the entire community accountable (v. 1). “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (I Cor. 5:6). In one body, every individual must be extremely cautious and watchful over each other. This is so true today. How many times has a church been reproached because of the actions of one person? In Israel’s case, they lost a battle against a small city called Ai. Thirty-six men were killed (vs. 2-5). The Lord had forsaken them because of the sin of one man. A dire warning, indeed!

Joshua’s complaint and the Lord’s answer (vs. 6-15)—Understandably, Joshua took the matter up with Jehovah. Israel’s defeat would very probably embolden their enemies and lead to eventual destruction (v. 8). “Then what will You do for Your great name?” (v. 9). Jehovah explained to Joshua that “Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them” (v. 11). The specific sin is revealed: “they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff” (v. 11). Notice again the plural “they.” Because of this sin, the army was defeated and “neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you” (v. 12). The command is thus given to purify the camp (v. 13). The Lord would reveal the guilty party (vs. 14-15).

Achan discovered and confesses (vs. 16-21)—Joshua followed Jehovah’s instructions, and Achan was found out (v. 18). He confessed his covetousness and the extent of his transgression: “When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it" (v. 21). His admission will do him no good, however; 36 men lost their lives because of him.

Achan’s punishment (vs. 22-26)—Joshua sent men to locate the hidden items, and they “laid them out before the LORD” (v. 23). All that Achan had stolen, plus his belongings and family were taken to the Valley of Achor (v. 24). Joshua pronounced the doom, and “all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones” (v. 25). The text is a little ambiguous—they stoned HIM, and burned THEM after they had stoned THEM. Some other foreign translation seem to indicate that only Achan was punished. Deuteronomy 24:16 reads “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.” What appears to have happened, though, is that Achan was stoned in the presence of his family, and then they were stoned as well, and the whole of his belongings were burned. This particular perspective implies that Achan’s entire family was culpable in his crime; could he have dug a hole in his tent without his family being aware of it? Probably not, but I think it’s worth noting that some commentators believe that only Achan was put to death. After the punishment was inflicted, “a great heap of stones” was raised at the location, and “the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger” (v. 26). The Valley of Achor became symbolic in Israel of purification. Hosea 2:15 says “I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope.” Once again, the Lord is very strict in dealing with these people. It is the early stages of their habitation of Canaan and He wants them to know that sin will not be tolerated even after He has fulfilled His great promise to them.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Joshua 6

The taking of Jericho (vs. 1-27)—The city of Jericho was apparently preparing for a siege by the Israelites: “Jericho was securely shut up because of the children of Israel; none went out, and none came in” (v. 1). Such wasn’t what the Lord had in mind, however. Jericho would be taken, without a fight, as a gift of God (v. 2). The instructions from Jehovah were for the men of war were to walk around the city once for six days (v. 3). Seven priests would “bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark” (of the covenant, v. 4). On the seventh day, the men would walk around the city seven times, the priests would blow their trumpets, the people would shout “with a great shout” (v. 5), and the wall would fall down (v. 5). Joshua passed that information along to the priests and people (vs. 6-7). The Lord’s instructions were followed (vs. 8-21). The people were to keep silent until the seventh day when Joshua told them to shout (v. 10). Rahab the harlot and her family weren’t forgotten (v. 17). And the people were take no booty when they entered the city; the silver, gold, bronze, and iron items were all “consecrated to the LORD; [and] they shall come into the treasury of the LORD” (v. 19). This command, as we shall subsequently see, was not fully obeyed. Every living thing—human and animal—was to be “utterly destroyed” (v. 21). Once Israel had completed Lord’s directive, then, as He promised, “the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city” (v. 22). Never before or since has a city been captured by the means employed here; it was, of course, a miraculous gift from God. But without faith and obedience, that wall would never have fallen (Hebrews 11:30). Interestingly, the text speaks twice of the “wall,” not “walls,” of the city. It was one continuous structure surrounding the city, and it all came crashing down at once.

Joshua sent the two men who had spied out the city to go into Jericho and bring out Rahab and her family. She had been able to convince “her father, her mother, her brothers, and all that she had” (v. 23). She, too, is commended for her faith in Hebrews 11:31. The city was subsequently burned (v. 24), only the commanded articles were spared to put into the treasury. The chapter closes with Joshua placing a curse on anyone who tried to rebuild the city of Jericho. “He shall lay its foundation with his firstborn, and with his youngest he shall set up its gates" (v. 26). This is exactly what happened some 500+ years later. I Kings 16:34 reads, “In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation with Abiram his firstborn, and with his youngest son Segub he set up its gates, according to the word of the LORD, which He had spoken through Joshua the son of Nun.” So the “curse” Joshua placed on the rebuilding of the city was actually “the word of the Lord.” The taking of Jericho, not surprisingly, enhanced Joshua’s reputation throughout Canaan (v. 27).

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Joshua 5

The Canaanites disheartened (v. 1)—This chapter is introduced with a brief statement of the discouragement of the kings of the land when they “heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan from before the children of Israel” (v. 1). A superstitious people anyway, these pagans knew that their gods had never done such a miracle. How could they defeat a God Who could? Thus, “there was no spirit in them any longer because of the children of Israel.” We’ve already seen this, as stated by Rahab the harlot in chapter 2.

The men circumcised (vs. 2-9)—A few things remained to be done, however, before the conquest began. Jehovah commanded the men to be circumcised (v. 2), something they had not done in the wilderness (v. 5). The men in Egypt had been circumcised, but those who were born in the wilderness were not. No reason is given why they weren’t; it was a rebellious people, so perhaps they rebelled in that matter as well. Joshua (and I am assuming he is the author of the book) explains that the men of war who came out of Egypt were not allowed to enter the Promised Land “because they did not obey the voice of the Lord” (v. 6). So they all died, and their children came into the land. But, initially uncircumcised. Joshua had all the men circumcised (v. 7). They remained in the camp until they were healed (v. 8). This would have been a good time for the pagan peoples of Canaan to attack them, when the Israelites could not defend themselves. But…verse 1. They were disheartened. God makes His plans very well, thanks you. Jehovah names the location of this camp “Gilgal,” which means “rolling,” because “this day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” (v. 9).

The Passover kept (vs. 10-14)—It was that time of the year, so the people observed the Passover. That would take a week, and again, they could have been attacked at that time. But the Lord took care of them. Joshua mentions that, for the first time, they “ate of the produce of the land” (v. 11). The manna, which had fed them for 40 years, ceased (v. 12). It was no longer needed. They were in the “land flowing with milk and honey.”

Joshua confronted by a “Man” (vs. 13-15)—As they neared Jericho, Joshua came face to face with “a Man” who had “His sword drawn in His hand” (v. 13). Joshua did not immediately recognized Him, and asked if He were friend or foe. The “Man” introduced Himself as “Commander of the army of the Lord” (v. 14). Joshua then recognized Him and “worshiped” Him, which indicates that the “Him” was not an angel, but was a manifestation of God. He commanded Joshua to remove his sandals “for the place where you stand is holy.” Joshua, of course, did so (v. 15). The indication here is that the Lord is providing encouragement and strength to His human commander. By announcing that He is the true “Commander of the army of the Lord,” how could Joshua lose?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Joshua 4

The twelve memorial stones (vs. 1-9)—We see the purpose now of the twelve men who were selected in chapter 3. They were, at the command of the Lord (v. 1), to take twelve stones, “out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood firm” (v. 3), and take them to the place where they camped that night. Joshua passed that information on to the people, and then told them why they should do it: it would be a memorial for future generations (v. 7), to remind them of the Lord’s holding back the waters of the Jordan so the people could cross over.

The people did “just as Joshua commanded” (v. 8). It is possible that two sets of 12 stones were set up, because verse 9 mentions that “Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day.” They obviously were placed in a location where they could be seen once the river returned to its normal condition. A second set of stones was situated at Gilgal (v. 20).

The people pass over the Jordan (vs. 10-14)—“The people hurried and crossed over,” (v. 10), not because they were afraid, but because they were being obedient to all “that the LORD had commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua” (v. 10). It’s nice to see obedience, for a change, in the children of Israel. The men of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh come in for special mention (v. 12), to indicate that they were fulfilling their promise to aid their brethren in the coming conquest of the land. They brought 40,000 warriors (v. 13). It was obvious to the people that the Lord was with Joshua, as He had been with Moses, so “they feared him (Joshua), as they had feared Moses, all the days of his life” (v. 14).

The water returns (vs. 15-18)—The Lord issues all of His commands through Joshua. Now, since the people had all crossed, He orders the priests to come up out of the river basin (v. 16). Joshua passes the command along (v. 17), and the priests come out. As soon as ”the soles of the priests' feet touched the dry land…the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks as before” (v. 18). That must have been an awesome spectacle, though perhaps not as breathtaking as the restoration of the Red Sea.

The second set of stones (vs. 19-24)—If there was, as it appears, another collection of twelve stones, we learn of their disposition in this passage. The people came to a locale named Gilgal, “on the east border of Jericho” (v. 19). Gilgal will become an eminent location in Israelite history; we will come across it several times in subsequent stories. But it is noteworthy here that it was the first place the Israelites camped upon entering the land God had promised Abraham 500 years previously. Twelve stones were placed here to memorialize the crossing of the Jordan, something they were to tell their children in subsequent generations (vs. 21-24). This obviously implies that the Lord intended for these stones to be there, and visible, for a long time. Perhaps they were. But if they are yet there in our day, we are fully unaware of it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Joshua 3

Instructions in crossing the Jordan (vs. 1-13)—The Israelites were encamped in a placed called Shittim (that’s the Hebrew, the NKJV translates it “Acacia Grove,” v. 1). According to Josephus, this location was about 8 miles from the Jordan. “After three days” (v. 2), which perhaps refers to three days following the return of the spies, the officers of the people gave them their signal for departing: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it” (v. 3). Yet there was to be a distance of 2,000 cubits between the ark and the people (v. 4); that’s probably 3,500 feet, about a kilometer. The idea is respect; there is a great distance between God and man and that is represented by the space between ark and people. At the appropriate time, Joshua then commands the people to “sanctify themselves” (v. 5, in what way we do not know), and instructs the priests to take up the ark and begin the march.

Jehovah once again encourages Joshua and tells him that He will let the people know that “as I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (v. 7). The Lord then instructs Joshua to tell the priests that when then get to the edge of the Jordan River, they are to stand in the water” (v. 8). The Bible doesn’t record, at this location, what will happen when they do, but we’ll learn that before the end of the chapter. This is the method Jehovah used to let the people know that Joshua was His chosen leader—what God says to the people through Joshua will happen, and they will thereby understand that the Lord was with him. Joshua then tells the people that the Lord is fixing to give them a sign that He will aid them in their conquest of the land (v. 10); once again, Jehovah is trying to strengthen the faith of the children of Israel. They are about to go to war; no doubt it was nice to know in advance that victory was assured. Joshua tells each tribe to select one man (v. 12), for a reason we shall discover in chapter 4. Then he informs the people that, when the priests enter the river, “the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap" (v. 13). This is same miracle, of course, that God used in helping the Israelites cross the Red Sea. Some of the people were no doubt alive at that time, as children, and would remember that great event.

The waters of the Jordan divided (vs. 14-18)—We are given an interesting piece of information in verse 15—“the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest.” Otherwise, dividing the river really wouldn’t have been necessary. Usually, the Jordan is shallow and only about 20 yards wide; they could have made the crossing without the miracle, though it wouldn’t have been as easy, of course. But the Jordan was uncrossable without the miracle. As Joshua had said, when “the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water” (v. 14), then “the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan” (v. 16). The location of these two places is uncertain, but it has been suggested that they might be as much as 30 miles apart. We have no idea why the Lord would stop up the river as such a distance, but He did. If that word got around to Israel’s enemies, no doubt it would be discouraging to them. Regardless, the priests “stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan,” and “all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan” (v. 17).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Joshua 2

Spying out the land (vs. 1-24)—Even though God was going to give Israel the land of Canaan, such did not preclude wise reconnoitering and strategy. Joshua will use a “divide and conquer” approach, attacking Canaan in its midsection from the east, splitting the land, and thereby preventing cities in the north and south from uniting against him. The British used the same tactic in the American War of Independence, but not with Joshua’s success.

So the son of Nun sent out two men on a reconnaissance mission , “especially Jericho,” the first city to be attacked (v. 1). The spies entered the city and lodged with a harlot named Rahab. Some have suggested that Rahab was only an innkeeper (the Hebrew has that possible meaning, but its basic connotation is harlot). Her being an innkeeper would make some sense; the men had to stay somewhere and it would no doubt be more appropriate for them to stay at an inn than at a house of prostitution! Regardless, the king of Jericho heard about it and demanded that Rahab cough up her guests (vs. 2-3). Notice Jericho had a king; it was a city-state, which was the most common form of government in the ancient world, and nearly all of them had their own king. It is one of the reasons Joshua—and subsequent empires like Assyria and Babylon—were able to conquer much territory. There was rarely unity among the kings of the city-states, all of whom jealously guarded their domain, which included the city and the surrounding farm area for provisions. The easiest way—though not the fastest—to defeat a city-state was via siege; just plop your army outside the city walls and keep the people bottled up inside where they couldn’t get to their farmland. Such a siege might take months, or even years, but it saved the lives of the attacking army. Joshua never used this strategy, though it will be used against Israel later on (see II Kings 6 and 7), where the famine in the city became so severe than some of the people were reduced to cannibalism (II Kings 6:28-29).

Back to Rahab. She had hidden the Israeli spies (v. 4), but told the king that they had escaped, and if he would hurry, they could be overtaken (v. 5). She lied, of course, but protected God’s men. God never approves of lying, but this was a heathen prostitute so He forgave her in her efforts to help the spies. She had hidden them on the roof under some stalks of flax (v. 6). The ripe flax indicates the month was either March or April. Roofs were often flat-roofed, used commonly the way we use a porch. People might also sleep on them. Deceived, the king’s men vainly pursue spies who were not where Rahab said they might be (v. 7).

She explained herself to the spies in an astounding statement (vs. 8-13). “I know that the Lord has given you the land” (v. 9), and all the people of the region were fainthearted because of Israel. They had heard about what the Lord did in Egypt, and how Israel had defeated two strong kings on the west side of the Jordan River. “And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (v. 11). The Israelites could have almost walked in and taken the land anytime in the previous 40 years, but because of their unbelief, they didn’t do so. This heathen prostitute had more faith in God than His own people did! That is truly an amazing thing. Rahab asked the spies if they would please spare her family in Israel’s coming victory over Jericho. The spies agreed, upon certain conditions. She must not report them (v. 14), and “you [must] bind this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down” (v. 18), and bring all her family into her house. Anyone caught outside, “his blood shall be on his own head” (v. 19). Rahab accepted these conditions (v. 21). Her house being on the city wall, “she let them down by a rope through the window” (v. 15), and told them to flee to the mountains and hide for three days until their pursuers returned (v. 16). The spies escaped and returned to Joshua (vs. 22-23), where they gave a glowing report, unlike the 10 fools in Numbers 13: “Truly the LORD has delivered all the land into our hands, for indeed all the inhabitants of the country are fainthearted because of us" (v. 24). That was just what Joshua wanted to know, and no doubt, expected to hear, given his faith in Jehovah.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Joshua 1

The Lord speaks to Joshua (vs. 1-9)—Moses was dead, so now the leadership is turned over to Joshua, who was basically a military man, but still a man of great faith. The Lord will now give the land of Canaan to Israel (v. 2), fulfilling the promise He made to Abraham nearly 500 years before. 500 years before. The Lord works in His own time. In verses 3 and 4, He tells Joshua the extent of the land Israel will eventually possess; however, because of their disobedience and idolatry, they will only have that much land for a short time under David and Solomon. Jehovah encourages Joshua with the words “no man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life” (v. 5)—and Joshua believed Him. That’s why he was a great man and a successful one. God was with him, and he trusted in the Lord. In verse 6, the Lord tells Joshua to “be strong and of good courage;” indeed, He tells him that three times in these nine verses and Joshua receives the same exhortation from the people in verse 18. It’s interesting in what Jehovah wants Joshua to be strong; not in fighting battles, as one would think, but “that you may observe to do all according to the law which Moses My servant commanded you” (v. 7). Obeying God’s will can take great strength and courage, especially in front of a fickle multitude. This group of Israelites were better than the mob that died in the wilderness, but even so, the Lord encourages Joshua to be strong and courageous. And if he will do that, “then you will make your way prosperous and you will have good success” (v. 8). What Joshua was about to do was monumental, and the final words of Jehovah to him were “do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" (v. 9). If only we believed that, too.

Joshua’s message to the people and the confirmation to the eastern tribes (vs. 10-18)—Joshua then spoke to the people (through the “officers of the people”, v. 10) telling them to prepare themselves, for “within three days you will cross over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess” (v. 11). The event the Israelites had been waiting for for 500 years was about to take place. There must have been great excitement among the people.

Three tribes had asked for, and been promised, land on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh had already been given their allotment of land, providing the men of war helped the rest of the tribes conquer the land on the western side of the river. This is all recorded in Numbers 32. Joshua reminds them of that agreement in verses 13-15. The three tribes responded that they would honor their commitment to help their brethren, and indeed, “whoever rebels against your command and does not heed your words, in all that you command him, shall be put to death” (v. 18). And their final message to Joshua was “only be strong and of good courage.” Again, these Israelites are a much different group than the disobedient people who came out of Egypt and perished in the wilderness.