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.