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).