JOSHUA AND THE PROMISES
The editor of the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua was enamored with Moses, Israel’s greatest leader and servant of Yahweh; nevertheless, he could not help himself but carve a notch into Israel’s history for Joshua the impeccable servant of God and of Moses. “On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: ‘O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon. So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel” (Jos. 10:12-14). Without a Creator God, the incredible is debatable. The editor knew it and so should we who believe in a God where nothing is too hard for him (Gen. 18:14).
Moses himself had full confidence in Joshua. He summoned him and said in public: “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give to them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you: He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:7-8). The same message came from the Lord. “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give to them.” “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on iy day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Jos. 1:6-9).
Joshua entered Moses’ service when he was one of the twelve men commissioned to spy out Canaan. One of the young men from the tribe of Joseph-Ephraim was Hoshea (savior) son of Nun whom he renamed Joshua (Yahu is savior) (Num. 13:16). The Greek gave us the name Jesus (God with us) (Mt. 1:23). Joshua was to Israel, what Jesus is to Christians. With the help of “The I Am” (Yahweh), Joshua completed the salvation of Israel’s deliverance and promises that Moses was unable to do. Without Joshua, the work of Moses or the Pentateuch would have been incomplete. The Book of Joshua is actually the sixth book of the Pentateuch and that makes it into a Hexateuch. In comparison to men like Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus, Joshua with a small army and military skills outranks them. The reason is not that he was a good or great human being but that he had Yahweh on his side.
Joshua followed the Law of the Lord and the instructions of his teacher (Jos. 1). He crossed the Jordan River, had the people consecrated and circumcised, conquered the land and divided it among the nine and one half tribes; the other two and one half had stayed on the east side of Jordan River. Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim received tribal status. Joshua became the most successful leader in obeying and carrying out God’s orders. Like Moses, he urged Israel to obey the conditions of the covenant and warned them of the consequences of disobeying them. He made his personal commitment, stating: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your fathers worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day who you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
The people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.” The Covenant was renewed by laying a large stone under an oak near Shechem as a witness to the occasion (Jos. 23-24). At last, the Promise and the Land became one and Israel had a place where she could freely keep and live in the Promises, namely to be God’s people. After his mission was completed, Joshua summoned the people for a final remembrance of what the Lord had done in their midst. He admonished them saying: “You are not able to serve the Lord. God was holy and jealous. He would not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, He will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after He has been good to you” (Jos. 24:19-20).
Joshua’s prediction that it would be hard to serve the Lord dawned quickly. For eighty years, Israel had leaned on two domineering central figures namely Moses and Joshua. Without constant reminders by a strong leader, God became more remote and easily disobeyed. The historian wrote: “The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel” (Jud. 2:7). After Joshua, the tribes acted and lived separately from each other and began to stray from the Promises.
The impeccable Joshua did not all together obey the Lord or his mentor Moses. The Lord had instructed Moses, “I will hand over the people who live in the land and you will drive them out before you. Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you” (Ex. 23:31-33). “But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land” (Ex. 23:29-30). Moses did pass on as to how the land was to be possessed to Joshua (Deut. 7) and Joshua did the same to the tribes (Jos. 23). He told his people, “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you” (Jos. 23:12-13).
Joshua, during his leadership, repossessed the land gradually and rigidly. He was even brutal to his enemies. To him they were also God’s enemies and had no right to live. He knew that his people would not continue his policies. Hence he had them promise, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!” Joshua insisted, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy and a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins.” The people assured Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.” Joshua continued pressing them, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.” Again the people replied, “Yes, we are witnesses.” Joshua then demanded that they put their deeds where their mouth was, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” For the third time, as required by the Law of Moses, the people agreed, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him” (Jos. 24:14-27). During their lifetime, some did; but their offspring were enticed by pagans and succumbed to their lifestyles and religions. Maintaining a theocracy became an insurmountable task. It became indeed too hard for Israel. It is something we Christians ought to ponder.