This Means War

Posted: February 5, 2015 in Joshua, Route 66
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Route 66: Joshua, “This Means War”

There are times it is necessary to declare war.  December 7, 1941 was such a day, and it was declared to be a day that would live in infamy.  September 11, 2001 was another, and few of us will ever forget the images of the Twin Towers collapsing.  After those terrible attacks, our country rallied together to engage in the cruel necessity of war.  That war continues to this day.  Even if many politicians refuse to recognize it, our enemies do not hesitate to do so.  The actions that are carried out by ISIS, Al Qaida, Boko Haram, and others are savagely barbaric, and the only proper response to them is outright war.

Of course war is not limited to the realm of the physical.  There is a very real literal spiritual war taking place all around us.  Writing to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul makes it clear that we do not battle against flesh & blood, but against powers and principalities that are unseen in heavenly realms (Eph 6:12).  When the OT prophet Daniel struggled in prayer, he later learned of a fierce battle between angels and demons that was taking place around him (Dan 10:12).  From the very beginning, humanity has been confronted by the demonic, as seen when Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden.  The war is real, it is profound…and thankfully, it has already been won by the Lord Jesus Christ.  One day the full results of Jesus’ victory will be seen when the devil himself is forever cast into the lake of fire in hell.

But beyond the battles that the devil wages upon humanity are the battles that take place within our own minds and hearts.  We wage a daily war against sin and temptation in our lives, though we don’t always recognize it as such.  But that is exactly what it is.  Sin wreaks terrible havoc in the lives of all people, and the consequences can last for generations.  This is just as true for the Christian as it is for the non-believer. 

Obviously a Christian is someone who has had his/her sins forgiven through the work and grace of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus died upon the cross for us, every bit of the punishment that was due our sin fell upon Him, and by faith in His resurrection, now we can be forgiven and receive everlasting life.  Praise God for that!  Of course, that’s not all there is to life, is it?  Once a person comes to faith in Jesus and is born-again, it is wonderful – but there is still life to live.  There are still future sins and temptations to face, and though we may have forgiveness in eternity, sin still carries its deadly consequences in the present.  Despite what is often thought, Christians DO still struggle with sin.  A Christian who claims never to sin is lying…and that just proves his/her own sinfulness!

So what are Christians supposed to do with the temptations that come flying at us every day?  Declare war.  Often we think we can make deals with sin, negotiating how much we should or should not do.  That’s the wrong mindset entirely.  We need a war mentality.  Not against people, but against temptations.  We need to recognize the sin for what it is, declare war upon it, and fight against it with all the power of God.

And that’s the message of the book of Joshua.

The book of Joshua is a war story – it is the historical account of the military conquest of the Promised Land.  The Hebrews came into the land, and waged war by the power of God.  It was not something to take lightly, nor was it something to ignore.  They had a task before them, and they were to be dedicated to it.  As God initially commanded Joshua, they were to “be strong and very courageous.”  A war awaited them, and it was one that could not be fought in their own strength.  They needed the power of God to do battle, and they needed the strength of His courage not to back down from the fight.

So do we.  We’ve been gloriously saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, but there are still many battles that lie ahead.  We need to be ready to do war.

BACKGROUND:
The book is named for Joshua, but is Joshua actually the author?  That’s a matter of some debate.  Although Joshua’s words and actions are accurately recorded within the book, there does not seem to be a direct claim of Joshua to having written it.  There are a few indications that an eyewitness may have written parts of it (in familiarity with the events and the pre-Israelite names of the cities), but there are actually several other indications that the book was authored after the events took place.  The phrase “to this day” pops up many times, signifying that at least some time had passed since the conquest and the writing (though not too much, as Rahab was apparently still alive at the time of the writing – 6:5).  Some scholars believe that the book was written sometime around (or just prior to) the establishment of the Israelite Kingdom, perhaps with Samuel being a primary editor or author – others think Joshua was indeed one of the primary authors, with perhaps Eleazar or Phinehas contributing.  Jewish tradition certainly did hold to Joshua as the author, but ultimately we don’t know as the Biblical text itself is anonymous & no other Biblical writing indicates who wrote the book.

Of course the date of when it was written is heavily tied to the actual author of the book.  If Joshua and the priests were involved, then it had to have taken place shortly after their settlement in the land, towards the end of Joshua’s life (and just after, in recording his death).  If the Exodus out of Egypt occurred in 1446BC, then the conquest of the land obviously began 40 years later: 1406BC.  The conquest lasted seven years, so at least some parts of the book could have been written around 1399BC.

Even with the author unknown, the primary character of the book IS Joshua.  Who was Joshua?  According to the old joke, Joshua was an orphan, since he was the “son of Nun.” (Num 11:28)  Actually, Nun and his son Joshua (also known as Hoshea) were of the tribe of Ephraim, descendants of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh received Joseph’s double-portion of inheritance).  Joshua was one of the generation to come out of Egypt in the Exodus, and had served as the assistant to Moses at Mount Sinai, and during the 40 years of wilderness wandering.  Even during those years, Joshua was the military commander of Israel, and he was the one leading the Amalekites (Exo 17), and most likely also the battles against Og and Bashan.

Joshua was also one of the original scouts of Israel sent to go spy out the land when the nation first arrived at the borders (Num 13:16).  12 men were sent in, one representing each tribe, and only two of those men had faith to do as God commanded: Caleb (of Judah), and Joshua.  Because they pleaded with the people to obey the Lord and walk in faith, they were the only two men of that generation to actually survive the wilderness wandering.  Even Moses had rebelled against God (at a later time) and was denied entrance, but Joshua and Caleb were able to walk from Egypt slavery to the future land of free-Israel.  Joshua was a man of faith, full of determination and courage, willing to lead his people through tough battles and unwilling to compromise with the enemy.

In some ways, Joshua points to our Lord Jesus. Just as Moses could not lead people into rest, neither can the law lead us into rest and salvation.  Yet Joshua did so for Israel, and Jesus does it for us.  Joshua waged unrelenting war on the enemies, not ceasing until the land was delivered.  Jesus waged war on sin, not ceasing until He had fully conquered (and He will return to physically wage war on the enemy during His 2nd coming).  They even have the same name.  “Jesus” is the English transliteration of Ιεσους, which is the Greek version of “Joshua” = “the Lord is Salvation.”  Jesus is the Greater-than-Joshua, and the One who delivers us into the ultimate rest and inheritance of God.

ISSUES:
One of the primary issues that needs to be addressed in regards to Joshua is the concept of the conquest itself.  God commanded the Hebrews to engage in a holy war, and completely eradicate certain populations in the land of Canaan.  In our current day our own culture struggles against people of another religion (Islam) who are engaged in their own version of holy war (global jihad), and we decry them as evil.  What is the difference between Joshua and jihad?  Can a moral equivalence be drawn between the two?  Skeptics against Christianity often use the conquest of Canaan as an example of the supposed evil commands of God.  We need to have an answer to this.  In fact, we’re commanded to have an answer: 1 Peter 3:15, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;" .  Not only are we to be able to answer why we live the way we do, but we need to be ready to respond to questions about the God we serve.

First things first: did God order the wholesale destruction of men, women, and children?  Yes.  Deuteronomy 7:1–2, "(1) “When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, (2) and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them." .  There’s not much getting around this.  It was Moses speaking, but he was speaking the command of God.  These nations were to be utterly destroyed – absolutely wiped out.  If Israel did not do so, then the remaining survivors would prove to be a snare to the people, drawing their hearts away from God (which was precisely the case, and is the recurring theme of the book of Judges).  God had called His people to be holy, and they were to be totally separated unto Him, not tempted to worship false gods and other idols.

So yes, God did order this.  The real question is: was God’s command justified?  It is easy to sit back over 3000 years later and accuse God of evil (as many skeptics do), but just as it is wrong to accuse anyone without knowing all of the facts, so it is with God.  Did God have a reason for ordering this destruction?  And again, the answer is yes.  Long ago with Abraham, God foretold exactly what would happen with the eventual conquest, and He gave the reason why He was giving Abraham’s descendants this land in the first place.  As God told Abraham of the 400 years of slavery that was coming to his children, God also spoke of the time that He would bring them out again.  Genesis 15:15–16, "(15) Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. (16) But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”" .  The Amorites (and all those who were in the land) had sinned greatly against God, and would continue to do so.  At the time of Abraham, God would not yet judge the Amorites.  He would give them 400 years to repent, but they would never do so.  They would sink deeper and deeper into their sin, committing all kinds of abominations.  Throughout the other books of Moses, some of those sins were detailed: incest, fornication, homosexuality, and bestiality (Lev 17) – human sacrifice and witchcraft (Deut 18), and more.  These are horrendous sin, and the original people of the land had sunk deeper and deeper into this toxic mire for 400 years.  It had to be dealt with – God had to bring His judgment.

Sometimes the best way to deal with a problem is through extreme measures, and that’s what God did.  Just as cancer needs to be cut out in order to prevent it from spreading, so did God command the Israelites to cut the cancer out of the land.  This kind of sin wasn’t to be compromised with.  It wasn’t to be winked at & tolerated.  Think about it: this sin was sending whole generations of these cultures straight to hell.  How could future generations be spared?  By cutting out the cancer entirely.  And that was the point.

This is the primary difference between the holy war ordered by God, and the global jihad waged by Islam.  One cuts out sin and shows the mercy of God; the other perpetuates sin and takes people away from God.  One is merciful amputation as a last resort; the other is barbaric savagery done in the name of power.  There is no comparison.  Our God is just, holy, and righteous.  He will never do what is evil, for He is not capable of doing so.  God is the very definition of “good,” and we need to give Him the benefit of the doubt in all matters.

SIGNIFICANCE:
So what purpose does the book of Joshua serve for the Christian?  First of all, it recounts the history of how Israel inherited the land given them by God.  God had promised this land to the nation as a part of His covenant stretching back to Abraham, and God showed Himself to be faithful to His word.  Because God was faithful to that part of the covenant, it demonstrated God would be faithful to all parts of His covenant, including His promise to bring forth the Messiah.

Secondly, it illustrates the rest that Israel was supposed to find in the Lord.  That was the land of promise – a rest from their wanderings in the desert.  Yet we know that they did not rest.  They continued to labor, and strive in their attempts at righteousness.  The true rest they longed for would only be found in Jesus, who is our Sabbath rest. (Hebrews 4:8-10)

Thirdly (and probably most practically), it illustrates life in the Spirit for the Christian.  When Israel obeyed the Lord, they victoriously conquered their enemies, giving them no quarter or relief.  When Israel attempted to do things on their own, they experienced defeat.  Today as NT Christians, we are no less dependent upon God the Spirit.  Like Israel during the Passover, our redemption has already been purchased by Christ.  But like Israel, we also still struggle against sin on a daily basis.  We have no power of our own to conquer that sin, and conquer it we must.  We must wage war on sin, allowing it to have no quarter in our lives.  So what do we do?  We rely on God the Holy Spirit, being empowered by Him to wage war we would otherwise be unable to do.  When we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, we too will walk in victory, and we will experience the abundant life that God desires for us.

GENERAL OUTLINE:
The book of Joshua is all about entering the land, and a general outline of the book follows the same idea:

Entrance (1-5)
Conquests and Challenges (6-13)
Distribution of the land (13-22)
Epilogue and Covenant Commitment (23-24)

Basically, the nation of Israel comes into the land and settles there.  However, this is far more than a story about real estate – this is an account of the covenant faithfulness and power of God.

Entrance (1-5)
Joshua is called (1)
The book picks up where Deuteronomy left off.  Moses had died, and although Joshua had already been publicly commissioned as the new leader of Israel (Deut 31), God reiterated His calling upon Joshua’s life.  God told him exactly what lay ahead of him, promised to be with him, and promised to prosper him.  The only thing Joshua needed to do was to move forward in faith, being grounded in God’s word.  Joshua 1:8–9, "(8) This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (9) Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." .

Three times in God’s address to Joshua does He tell Joshua to “be strong and courageous” – no doubt God wanted this to sink in!  If Joshua moved forward in faith – and if he was faithful to the word of God, Joshua could be assured of his success over the enemy.

That’s no less true today than it was of Joshua.  Of course, we need to define “success.”  We don’t want to rip this out of context & start talking about materialistic things, or our careers, or anything along those lines.  God had called Joshua to wage war on the enemy, and Joshua needed faith in God and faithfulness to the word of God to see it happen.  That is exactly the same way it is with us in our ongoing war against sin and temptation.  We cannot expect to have victory over temptation if we’re actively diving into it.  If we’re not willing to live by God’s word, why should we expect God’s victory?  Likewise, if we’re too afraid to take a step of faith, then it’s guaranteed that we’re not going anywhere.  We have to be willing to trust God and obey His leading.  When we do, our victory is guaranteed.

  • That’s not to say life will be easy.  The Bible never once promises that life will be easy.  Paul is a textbook example.  Here was a man that walked by faith in the promises and power of God, and lived in humble submission and obedience to God.  Yet he experienced riots, arrests, robbers, and had his life endangered many times.  Was Paul successful?  Absolutely!  He had an abundant life beyond compare.  It wasn’t easy, but it was indeed victorious.  Do you want the same?  Then do the same.

Spying out Jericho (2)
The people agreed to follow Joshua as they had followed Moses (which wasn’t necessarily the most assuring of promises!), and Joshua commanded that spies cross over the Jordan river to the city of Jericho in order to not only look at the land, but get a feel of the first city they would go to battle against.  While there, the king heard of the Hebrew spies and searched them out.  The men found refuge at the house of Rahab, who was a prostitute.  She hid the men in an act of placing her faith in God, and told them of the fear that had come upon the people because of what they had heard about the God of the Hebrews.  She asked for her own life to be spared, which the Hebrew spies promised as long as she had a scarlet cord hanging out her window as identification.  Just as the Hebrew homes were covered by the blood of the Passover lamb in Egypt, so would Rahab’s house be marked with red, sparing her from the wrath of God.

Interestingly, this is not Rahab’s only mention in Scripture.  She is also found directly in the genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:5).  This is the grace of God, that He would take a Gentile prostitute, and give her the privilege of being a literal part of the family of Jesus.  We have been shown the same grace in our adoption as sons and daughters!

Crossing the Jordan (3-4)
With the return of the spies, and their good report, the nation was now ready to cross over to the other side of the Jordan river and begin the conquest of the land.  All that stood in their way was the river itself.  How would a nation of nearly 2 million cross over to the other side with all of their goods?  God would have to work a miracle, and that is exactly what He did.

In a close duplication to what happened a generation earlier at the Red Sea, God once again allowed the Hebrews to cross over on dry land.  There were a few key differences: (1) The priests bore the ark in front of the people, and it wasn’t until their feet touched the water that the river dried up, and (2) The waters did not stand in a heap on either side, but dried up from upstream, allowing the people to cross.  The people still needed to move forward in faith to see the work of God, and God has the right to do things as He sees fit, and not necessarily according to our expectations.

God wanted His people to remember this work, and commanded them to take stones from the river bed to be set up in memorial.  The whole idea is that in the generations to come, as future Hebrews saw the stones stacked up on the riverbank, they would ask the reason why – and their parents would have the opportunity to tell them of the wonderful work and power of God.

  • Sometimes memorial stones are still needed.  There are certain ways God has worked in our lives that we can look back to when our faith fails.  We need to remember that God has always been faithful, and thus will always BE faithful.  How has God worked in your life?  Mark it as a memorial stone, look back, and give glory to God.

Commitment of Circumcision (5)
This initial section ends with Israel recommitting themselves to the Lord through the covenant sign of circumcision.  Remember that Israel had two signs of their covenant with God: the Sabbath, and circumcision.  All during the wilderness wandering, they had kept the Sabbath, but this new generation had not yet kept circumcision.  It was essential to address it before moving forward.  They could not walk in the promises of God if they were not committed in covenant to God.  Why would we expect otherwise?  If we aren’t willing to walk in obedience, how can we expect God’s blessing?  We are not saved by our obedience, but neither do we live as if God has not called us to be holy.

Conquests and Challenges (6-13)
Jericho (5:13 – 6:27)
The first stop was Jericho, and the pre-incarnate Jesus appeared to Joshua as a way of assuring him that God was indeed with him in this journey.  Joshua proved to be a wise military leader, but the battle plan at this time was strange indeed, and God commanded this to be done specifically as a way of reminding Israel Who it was that fought for them and gave them victory.  Israel was not to immediately attack Jericho, but they were to march around it for several days silent in their voice, but sounding the shofar trumpets.  On the 7th day, they were to march around the city 7 times, blow the trumpets once more, and then let out a mighty shout.  They did so, and just as the old song says, “the walls came a-tumbling down.”  The entire city was destroyed in dedication to the Lord, and only Rahab and her family were spared.

Ai (7-8)
From Jericho, the people came to Ai, and learned a painful lesson.  God had commanded that nothing be taken from Jericho as spoil.  That was God’s battle on their behalf, and the firstfruits belonged to Him.  Yet not all of Israel obeyed.  A man named Achan of the tribe of Judah had kept some of the spoil for himself, and thus brought blame upon all Israel.

Of course, this was unknown in the camp.  Fresh from such a massive victory, Joshua made the mistake of not consulting the Lord prior to giving his next order (it wouldn’t be the only time he made this mistake).  He sent a relatively small party to the tiny town of Ai, thinking that they would be more than able to conquer this city.  3000 Israelites went to battle, 36 were killed, and the rest came running back with their tails between their legs.  Shocked, Joshua went to the Lord in prayer, and finally learned that sin had entered the camp & God had removed His blessing from them.  Unless Israel dealt with the sin, they would not be able to move forward in the power of God.

  • Sin MUST be dealt with.  As the NT tells us, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” (Gal 5:9)  Only a little yeast is needed to cause a whole loaf of bread to rise, and only a little sin is needed to infect an entire life – an entire family – an entire church, etc.  Sin can’t be compromised with or ignored.  Sin always causes harm, even if that harm isn’t evident at the time.

In the case of Israel, the sin was dealt with, and sadly Achan and his family paid with their lives.  But the nation was cleansed, and with the blessing of God upon them again, they went once more to battle against Ai, and experienced a rousing victory.

The irony of it all is that God DID allow the Israelites to take spoil from Ai for themselves.  If Achan and his family had only trusted the Lord and waited upon God for their provision, they would have been spared all of their terrible consequences.

The Gibeonites (9)
By this time, the word was beginning to spread about the Hebrews.  Cities and nations feared when Joshua would eventually reach them.  One such nation was Gibeon.  The Gibeonites were smack dab in the middle of the region to be conquered by the Israelites, and they knew they were in trouble.  They decided to try a bit of trickery to save their lives, and they disguised a group of Gibeonites as travelers from a far-away city, offering to make a covenant of peace with Israel.  They took moldy bread & worn-out clothing, and made themselves look as if they had traveled many weeks.

They met with Joshua, and their ruse worked.  Without consulting the Lord, Joshua believed the Gibeonites and promised to let them live.  As Joshua and the Hebrews continued on their way, they came upon the city of Gibeon and the deception became known.  Israel was bound by their covenant oath to protect Gibeon, and Gibeon promised to be servants and laborers for the nation – a relationship that continued well into the monarchy.

One can hardly blame the Gibeonites for doing what they did – after all, who wouldn’t want to live?  But from the perspective of the Hebrews, a tough lesson was learned.  We cannot afford to take things for granted.  We can’t afford to just go with the feeling of our gut.  If we’re not relying upon the counsel of God (as revealed in the Scripture), then we’re placing ourselves into a dangerous position.

  • Obviously we could take this to an extreme & handicap ourselves.  I.e., “Do I wear the red shirt or the blue shirt?  God didn’t tell me which one!”  That’s not what God has in mind for us.  What God does desire is a heart that steadfastly seeks Him in humility and worship.  It’s the person who continually goes before the Lord that can trust that God will continually guide his/her steps.  As David wrote, “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass,” (Ps 37:5)  Are you committed to God, or are you trying to do it on your own?  Trust in the Lord, and He will guide you!

War and Victory (10:1-27)
After Israel made their covenant with the Gibeonites, the other nearby kings heard of it and decided to take vengeance upon Gibeon (knowing that Israel would have to get involved).  An alliance of five kings of the Amorites (Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon) made war against Gibeon, and sure enough, Joshua and the Hebrews came to their defense.  Despite the Hebrew’s foolish covenant, God honored Israel for honoring their word, and promised a mighty victory against what would have surely been overwhelming odds.

The sun famously stood still that day, and God rained down hail upon the enemy armies.  In fact, more Amorites died from the hailstones than were killed by the warriors of Israel (10:11).  As for the kings, they fled to a cave in hiding, where Joshua had them sealed in, until the battle was finally over.  Afterwards, Joshua pulled them out, stepped on their necks in victory and had them executed.

Harsh?  Perhaps, but sin is to be given no quarter.  This was not a time for negotiation and compromise; this was a time to be faithful to the command of God.  God was exacting His judgment upon the Amorites, and this was the just action to take.

  • How do we best deal with sin in our own lives?  Make war against it!  Don’t play around with it – don’t try to find the limits of what we can/can’t do…just be done with it.  Romans 6:11, "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord." .  Jesus said to cut off the hand or pluck out the eye that causes us to sin – the idea is not to mess around with it, but be dead to it.  Declare war against the sin in your life and live to the glory of God!

Remaining Conquests (10:28 – 13:7)
From this point, things move fairly quickly – not only through this section, but through the remainder of the book.  The major details and lessons from battles have already been described, and the author simply lists out the other various cities that were conquered.  Joshua and Israel were already in the South, and had conquered the major kings of the south in their last battle.  At this point, they simply needed to conquer their cities.  And so they did, not leaving any Amorite warrior alive. (10:28-43) 

From there, Israel moved north and did the same thing to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jubusites, and Hivites. (11:1-15)  Even as these kings came at Israel with superior weaponry (horses and chariots – the ancient equivalent of tanks), God still granted favor to Israel and they experienced similar victory in the north as they did the south.

The remainder of Ch. 11-12 review the military battles of both Moses and Joshua, listing off every king conquered by them.  Joshua had done all that God had commanded him, and the people were finally able to rest from the major battles of war.  That’s not to say they had completely finished the job.  There were still other areas in the land to possess, and God called the people to remain faithful to the task at hand (13:1-7).

Distribution of the land (13-22)
Although this begins a lengthy section in terms of words, the length is due to the specificity of the land borders of Israel.  There were 12 tribes inheriting the newly conquered land, and the borders of their inheritances were clearly spelled out.

Transjordan tribes (13:8-33) – Western tribes summarized (14:1-5) – Western tribes detailed (15-19).  These various borders mean little to us as Western Christians, but we need to remember that for the people this book was originally written, these borders were very significant.  This was the inheritance that their people had been given by God.  This was the land in which they lived, and it was to always belong to them, simply because God graciously gave it to them.  We read this & see a bunch of real estate information; the ancient Hebrews read this and saw the grace of God.

Caleb’s courage (14:6-15)
In the middle of all of the details about the land distribution, the book picks up again on the story of Caleb.  Remember Caleb was the only other member of the previous generation to survive the wilderness wandering.  He had been faithful to the Lord all of these years, trusting in God’s power and provision – and that never changed.  At the age of 85, he still trusted the Lord, and in his inheritance, he specifically requested a portion of the land of Judah that had not yet been conquered.  Caleb didn’t look for something safe; he wanted to step out in faith and see God work once more.

  • That’s the kind of faith that pleases God.  May God raise up more Calebs among us!

Cities for Refuge and Levites (20-21)
The book of Joshua detailed not only the general borders of the tribes, but also detailed several individual cities within the land, specifically given out according to the law of God.  The first set of cities were the cities of refuge: places that were sanctuaries for people accused of crimes.  They could flee to these places until justice was sorted out, and be free from vigilantes and mobs.  If guilty, they were not excused from their crime, but they would be safe until the truth could be known.  (Underscores that God is a God of justice, and also a God of order.)

The second set of cities were specifically set aside for the Levites.  The tribe of Levi was the only tribe among Israel that did not receive a specific area of land for themselves as an inheritance, because the Lord Himself was their inheritance.  That said, they still needed places to live among Israel, in order that they could teach the people the things of God.  Thus God gave them their own cities.

Transjordan return and controversy (22)
Eventually, all the people settled into their new homes, including those who had travelled from the far side of the Jordan.  They crossed the river & went home, and inadvertently almost started a civil war among the nation.  They built an altar, seemingly in violation of the command of God, and the other tribes of Israel thought (not without reason) that the Transjordan tribes were engaging in idolatry.  They marshalled their troops and marched ready for battle, and only stopped when the Eastern tribes told their reasoning.  They feared the separation that the river would cause, and wanted a permanent witness that they too were children of Israel.  Thus this wasn’t an altar for sacrifice, but an altar for memorial and testimony.  There was unity in the nation, for now (though it wouldn’t last long).

Epilogue and Covenant Commitment (23-24)
Joshua’s farewell (23)
Joshua had likely been a young man when first leaving Egypt, but after 40 years in the desert, and another 7 conquering the land (and who knows how long after that point), he was finally ready to say good-bye.  He called the nation to gather for one final address, and reminded them how the Lord God had fought for them and granted them the inheritance in which they now lived.  They experienced peace, blessing, and prosperity all due to the mighty hand of God.  This was not something they could take for granted.  They needed to be careful to continue to walk with God, worshipping Him, and keeping His commandments.  If they turned aside to other gods, they could be sure that God would no longer give them victory over the enemies that remained in the land.  In fact, these enemies would be perpetual thorns in their side (23:13).

Joshua spoke with much wisdom, perhaps prophetically knowing what lay ahead for them in the near future.  Indeed, the nation would turn away from God, taking the blessings of God for granted, and they would experience the terrible cycle of sin and judgment for generations to come.  They could have been spared this, but they could not afford to take their eyes of God.  They couldn’t grow lax.

  • Neither can we.  We will never reach a point that we are so “holy” that we are beyond the point of temptation.  We will never reach a time that we are not utterly dependent upon the grace and power of God.  Thankfully the ultimate war against sin has been won, but we will have battles against sin for the rest of our lives.  We cannot afford to give up the fight. 

So what do we do?  We make the same decision Joshua made: to intentionally follow the Lord…

Covenant renewed (24)
When Joshua brought the covenant once more to Israel, it wasn’t only that the nation would affirm it – it was so he could publicly example that he himself would affirm it and follow it.  Joshua could not make the decision for anyone else, but he could make the decision for himself.  Joshua 24:15, "And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." .

In response, the people claimed that they would also follow the Lord – but would they?  Time would tell.  All they could do at that one moment was make the choice…and it’s the same choice that each of us has to make.  Will we follow and serve the Lord?  Choose wisely!

Conclusion:
The book of Joshua ends with the record of his death, and it is the record of a life well-lived.  Joshua lived dedicated unto God.  He was a man of war, but his war was one that was truly holy.  He would not willingly compromise with the enemies of God, and his desire was to serve God whatever the cost.

Is that our desire?  Are we willing to make the choice to serve God and declare war on sin?  God help us be strong and courageous!  God help us be filled with the Spirit so that we would walk in victory – in the abundant life that God desires for us to have.

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