JOSHUA 1, 2, 3 and 4
In our Old Testament reading, we are beginning a new Book: Joshua. From an action point of view, it largely continues the stories in Numbers; from a teaching point of view, it expands on Deuteronomy. Most conservative scholars regard Joshua, servant of Moses, as the main author of most of it. God is keen to keep the leadership momentum moving and to establish Joshua as the heir to Moses. Verse 2 of the first chapter sums us the style: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan…”. Again, the Lord repeats the need for Joshua to be ‘strong and courageous’ (three times again in verses 6 – 9); when God chooses to say the same things several times, then it needs taking very seriously indeed.
The additional thing that He commands Joshua to do is found in 1:7-8. Complete obedience to all the Law gives great success in all aspects of life. So how do you ensure that you have this complete obedience? “Meditate on it, day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it…”. The practice of scriptural meditation is a key tool in our spiritual armoury – and one that is greatly neglected these days. Psalm 1:2 basically says the same thing! It is important to grasp that the key piece of wisdom that God gave a warrior-leader like Joshua, was to meditate on scripture. If it were necessary for him, then it should be necessary for us too!
Winding back to Joshua 1:3, a vital phrase occurs: “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses”. Occupation of the land was the key to inheriting it; Israel had to physically move into the enemy’s territory in order to gain possession of it – it was no good just looking on from afar. And the Lord then went on in Joshua chapter 3 to illustrate the point graphically. The Jordan was in flood – when it becomes an impassable fast-flowing river up to a mile wide – and the nations in Canaan must have thought that they were safe for a while longer. But God chose this ‘obstacle’ to prove by miraculous means that Joshua was his new anointed leader. Israel lined up in a long column, with the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant in front; as soon as their feet touched the river, the waters receded and the upstream flow was miraculously stopped far into the distance, piling up in a great heap.
This was a similar scene to the crossing of the Red Sea during the life of Moses. The point made here was that God himself had ‘claimed’ the centre of the river as his territory, since it was His feet that had occupied that ground (the priests carrying the Ark were representing him). After all of Israel had crossed, the removal of those same feet allowed the river to regain its former domain. And to remind Israel’s subsequent generations of this fact, they removed 12 large stones from the centre of the riverbed and built a memorial heap of them. In New Covenant terms, the ‘land’ to be conquered now equates to the unsaved people who need to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Christians ‘presence themselves’ amongst the unsaved and reclaim them, just as millennia earlier, Israel claimed the land. So “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses” is transformed into: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7).
Previous to these events, Joshua had sent two spies back into Canaan, to look over the land in preparation for the invasion. They sensibly chose the house of a prostitute – since lots of men would be expected to be seen sneaking in and out of her house at all times of the day and night. And her house was conveniently sited in the city wall of Jericho, so escape was simpler.
As we read, Rahab placed her faith in the God of Israel (see also Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25), by siding with the spies and the nation and by concealing them from discovery by their enemies. She also encouraged the spies and the nation with the news that all the Canaanites were ‘melting with fear’ at the presence of Israel. In return, an agreement was made to preserve the lives of Rahab and her family once Jericho had fallen.
We see, therefore, that God was deliberately exalting Joshua in the sight of Israel, by doing similar acts of power to the ones he did through Moses previously. This worked; Joshua 4:14 says that Israel stood ‘in awe’ of Joshua all the days of his life – just as they had stood in awe of Moses.