Posts tagged Joshua
One generation. Only one generation kind of got it right – the one that lived at the end of Moses’ tenure and the beginning of Joshua’s. Remember, the previous generation was denied access to the promised land and forced to roam around in the wilderness until they all died off. And now we read that the children of the “one generation” went off and did exactly what Joshua (and Moses before him) said that they would do.
It only took one generation for the people to completely forget about God. You have to wonder how in the world we can be so self-destructive. Forget about the spiritual side of things for a moment. This was the God who had allowed them to absolutely route some of the largest cities around. This was the God that threw hail stones at their enemies. He was a good friend to have! And yet, within one generation, the people of Israel were looking elsewhere for their inspiration.
Inspiration, it seems, is what we’re all looking for and we’ve become convinced that we can only find it in something brand new. Shiny objects distract and attract us, drawing us away from the tried and true. Like a mosquito flying into a bright light, we are mesmerized by that which is unfamiliar. We are sucked in by the mystery and wonder of it all. Everything else seems boring.
And yet, what we fail so often to realize is that the ultimate mystery and the only truly mesmerizing force in the universe lies “back there” where we came from. Hopefully, as you read along with me, the Holy Spirit is opening up these Scriptures to you and reminding you of the vastness of God and his story. I mean, there’s so much in this book that we should never get bored. If I’m bored by the Bible, it’s because I am a boring reader, not because it’s a boring story.
The Israelites failed to understand that. They got what they wanted from God and moved on. I don’t want to do the same. For you and I, it is imperative that we keep the mystery in front of us, that we recognize the vastness of God and that we allow ourselves, everyday, to be inspired and utterly amazed by him.
A thought occurred to me as I was reading these passages. This rampage of military might – this wave of brutality in the form of the army of Israel – is very reminiscent of the great flood. This time, however, it was people and not water that flooded the land. It was the swords and spears of the Israelite army that brought death and destruction to the land. But the result was the same. God destroyed the godless nations in the land of Canaan.
For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Joshua 11:20)
Again, remember the point that God made to the Israelites back at the end of Moses’ life. He was going to give them victory for his purposes, not because of anything they did or deserved.
With that said, however, I have to take a moment to marvel at Joshua’s military leadership. Let’s face it, part of the reason that God put this guy in charge was that he had what it would take to run a military campaign. Sure, God was fighting for the Israelites, but so were…well…the Israelites. And Joshua helmed the army with the kind of precision and wisdom that is the envy of any battle commander. He used sneak attacks, ambushes and brute force to absolutely destroy some incredibly powerful nations.
You know, it’s been said that God helps those who help themselves and, while that idea may not necessarily be based on any Biblical text, I think it probably fits in this context. What do you think would have happened if the people of Israel had gotten lazy? What if they just stopped preparing for battle, since they knew that God was on their side? What would have happened if they just got arrogant and stopped paying much attention to Joshua’s leadership or to observing the law of the Lord?
What happens when we do that? Sometimes I think the biggest fault of the Church is that we get arrogant and lazy. After all, God is on our side, right? We plaster our cars with bumper sticker theology like “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” We declare proudly that God will punish our enemies and we “arm” ourselves with the “sword” of Scripture – at least in our words. In reality, most of us are doing very little to prepare for the real battles. We are, in essence, sitting in our comfy armchairs and screaming at the TV. We’re launching verbal assaults on those with whom we disagree. But we’re lazy and arrogant.
How many people have actually studied the things they are blabbering about? How many people know what the Bible has to say about political or economic policy? How many people have sought the Lord’s advice on immigration? How many people have anything but a cursory knowledge (often based on inaccurate information) about the beliefs and philosophies of our “founding fathers?”
The truth is that in our laziness, we have allowed a few blabbermouths to tell us what to think and believe. Then, in our arrogance, we have parroted whatever we heard them say last. And while this isn’t the place for political commentary, let me just say that I’m sick of Christians being used as political pawns. We need to wake up and read our Bibles (presumably, you’re doing that with me) and seek the Lord!
Like the people of Israel, we need to look to God to discover where he wants us to do battle. We may discover that our true foes are those we thought were on our side. Worse yet, our allies might actually be “across the aisle.” How often do we think about that when we go to the ballot box?
Success and failure. For any leader, there is a double-edged sword. You make decisions – calculated, but risky – and, when they work out in your favor, you are hailed as a hero. When they don’t work out, though, there is hell to pay. For Joshua, his honeymoon period as leader of the people of Israel came to an abrupt halt when the troops were routed at Ai.
Understand that just prior to that pummeling, Joshua and the Israelites had enjoyed an incredible victory at Jericho using one of the strangest military tactics in history. It was a plan that could have only worked if God was in it. And so, armed with new confidence in God’s ability and willingness to route their enemies, Joshua sent out his men to make quick work of Ai.
There was only one problem. There was a key piece of information that Joshua didn’t have. He didn’t know that one of his own people had defied the command of God when they conquered Jericho. One man had messed it up for everybody by stealing what was to be devoted to God. As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of Gene Wilder’s rant toward the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).
“It’s all there, black and white, clear as crystal! You stole fizzy lifting drinks! You bumped into the ceiling which now has to be washed and sterilized, so you get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!” – Willy Wonka
God basically says the same thing in Joshua 7:10-12:
The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. (Joshua 7:10-12)
You lose. Good day, sir!
And so, armed with this new information, Joshua slinks off to find out who made him (and, in his eyes, God) look like a fool. Of course, he finds that person, a man named Achan, and “takes care” of him. The Israelites then go on to route Ai with the help of God and some of Joshua’s military prowess.
And then, we get this great scene of all the people of Israel coming together between two mountains and reading the law of Moses – just as God had commanded. The series of events is an incredible reminder of how God’s plans can work, if only we follow them. Sure, Joshua and the people of Israel had a bit of a hiccup when they failed to follow God’s instructions, but when they corrected their error, God’s path was still there for them – waiting for them to come back.
He does the same for us – marks out a path and waits for us to walk down it. Sometimes, we stray, but the path is still there. We just have to get back on it in order to go where God wants us to go. And, once there, we’ll realize that his plans were always better than ours anyway.
Whenever a new leader is installed, the pundits and political observers always look for some sign that he or she truly has been passed the baton – you know, not just on paper, but in reality. For Joshua, that meant not only having the blessing and following of the people of Israel, but also (and more importantly) the blessing of God himself. Fortunately for Joshua, he would receive both very shortly after he succeeded Moses as leader of his people.
First comes the encouragement of the people of Israel, after Joshua has commanded them to prepare for entry into the promised land:
Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!” (Joshua 1:16-18)
This is just about as ringing of an endorsement as Joshua could have hoped for from the people of Israel. Of course, maybe he shouldn’t put too much credence in it, given the fact that they said, “Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you.” A little revisionist history there, but I think their hearts were probably in the right place. But their allegiance may have been conditional. Look at the next phrase: “Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses.”
The people, as hard-headed as they were, realized that Moses had a special relationship with God – one that had benefited the people of Israel greatly. Now that Moses was gone, they were just hoping and praying that Joshua would have the same kind of relationship. After all, their biggest battles were in front of them. They would need a little extra God power on their side. They needed to know that God had granted Joshua the same kind of favor that he had granted Moses.
Of course, God was there to give them the answer. Just as he had done at the Red Sea as Moses was taking his place as leader, God once again parts the waters for his people to cross – this time the waters of the Jordan River. Now, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that these two miracles – so similar to each other – take place at the beginning of Moses and Joshua’s leadership. For Moses, he needed something big to happen – something that couldn’t be explained away and something that proved that God was for the Israelites and not just against Egypt. For Joshua, the burden of proof was different. What he needed was a spiritual link to Moses – some indicator that, in the eyes of God, Joshua had inherited something from Moses. And so, like a biological son receiving the physical appearance of his father, this “spiritual son” received a miracle from God that mimicked his spiritual father.
Interestingly enough, however, God may have been making a statement about the on-again-off-again relationship that the people of Israel had with him in the way the miracle happened. In the Red Sea parting, the Israelites crossed on dry ground and the Egyptians drowned – two statements about two different people groups. In the Jordan River crossing, however, the ark of the covenant had to remain in the river in order for the water to be held back. If the priests carrying the ark had moved on, presumably, the waters would have started to flow again. So, this time, in the midst of confirming his blessing of Joshua, God seems to be saying, “but you people of Israel don’t deserve this. You need a surrogate to stand in your place and hold back the water.”
What great prophetic imagery of the surrogacy of Jesus who holds back the torrents of death from us, the undeserving people.
Moses, Joshua and God walk into a tabernacle…
No, this is not an ancient Hebrew joke. This is the moment of Joshua’s commission as the leader of the people of Israel. It’s a big deal. It’s the kind of thing that would typically be cause for celebration. And yet, God and Moses both play Debbie Downer for Joshua. First of all, Moses is a little doom and gloom because he’s going to die. Then God slaps the new leader of Israel with the news that “soon” the people are going to turn to other gods and break the covenant – not exactly a ringing endorsement of Joshua’s leadership or power of persuasion.
No, I’m guessing there wasn’t a whole lot of celebrating that day. I would imagine that it was a pretty somber moment and Joshua, realizing the size of the shoes he had to fill, stepped uncomfortably into them. Joshua had learned a lot from Moses and he brought a lot to the table as a leader. And yet, he knew from day 1 that he wouldn’t be able to keep the people from doing the things they had their hearts set to do.
It strikes me that, in this way, Joshua got to experience just a taste of what God experiences every day. God looks at us, knows exactly what’s going to happen, has chosen to limit his intervention in our affairs and, so, has rendered himself powerless to keep us from doing the things we set our hearts and minds to do – the very things which cut us off from him.