As a part of my Bible reading throughout 2020, I am highlighting 5 things from the books of the Bible that have stood out to me and taught me.
Here are 5 things I have learnt from the book of Joshua.
God is With Us
As Israel prepare to cross the Jordan river out and into the land of Canaan, the promised land, God gives them this amazing promise:
“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful 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. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7 – 9)
Entering into a new and unknown land, embarking on the daunting journey of building an entire nation, you would not blame the Israelites for being overwhelmed as they entered the promsied land.
Yet, God encourages them in their new venture. He reaffirms the promises that He made to them in the book of Deuteronomy, in that they will be successful and will prosper in keeping God’s law. However, He then goes even further and promises His eternal covenant faithfulness to Israel by being with them wherever they went. Centred on the tabernacle and, later, the temple, the presence of God among His people became the central tenet of God’s people.
What a great act of condescention, for God to dwell with sinful humnanity! Yet, this is only a shadow of the great condescention of Christ, who came to Earth as ‘Immanuel’; God with us.
The Futility of Thinking You Know Better Than God
This is a fault to which we are all subject, in one way or another, whether we are conscious of it or not. We like to think that we know better than God. This is particularly true of situations where we cannot see why God would instruct us to do something (or refrain from doing something) for reasons we can’t yet see.
Such is the case with Joshua in the land of Canaan. God excplicitly lays out to Joshua to drive the people in Canaan fully from the land (Numbers 33:50 – 56). However, Joshua does not obey, and instead he does not drive all the people out completely. Some remain, albeit having to do a form of forced labour as servants.
The real problem, was that the idols of the Canaanites remained within Israel, and ultimately lead Israel astray and bring them into the idolatry of their pagan ancestors. Fundamentally, Joshua thought he knew better than God and decided to keep some of the Canaanites as servants, but it leads to renewed idolatry in the land; exactly what obeying God’s instruction would have guarded against. With reflection and hindsight, Joshua could see how his belief that he knew better than God had such dire consequences.
God’s Faithfulness in the Face of the Impossible
When you read through Joshua 12, and you read all the kings defeated first by Moses, and then by Joshua, in the conquest of Canaan, you start to wonder how the (relatively small) nation of Israel managed to do what they did and fully enter into the promsied land.
Joshua, alone, fights and defeats 31 kings (Joshua 12:24) in the process of his campaign of conquest. Personally, if I were told before hand that I had to defeat 31 separate kings on the way to victory, I would not believer it to be possible. I would most certainly give it up as a lost cause.
In fact, to any human being and human strength alone, this is almost certainly a lost cause. The purpose of the Holy Spirit in the pages of Joshua making this point about the number of kings defeated is just so we’d see that these were victories of God, and not victories of man. No human army alone could accomplish what the Israelites achieved and so we are pointed to the faithfulness and power God in both upholding His promise and having the power to bring about the comprehensive victory!
The Worship of God Requires Carefulness
How could we describe the ways in which we are to worship God? With sincerity, perhaps? With passion? Devotion? Faith? Truth?
All these are of course good and right, but how often do we think that we must worship God with carefulness? Twice in the book of Joshua, we are told to be careful when we worship God.
“Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Joshua 22:5)
“Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.” (Joshua 23:11)
God tells the people of Israel that they must be careful in loving God because if they are not, then they will be ensnared by the culture around them that will lead them astray.
To guard themselves, Joshua points the people to the commandments that God issued to them. To walk in light of the law that God has revealed is the only way for Israel to prosper as a nation, as God had warned them in the book of Deuteronomy.
In an age where novelty and invention in worship are commendable assets, Joshua paints a very different picture of what service and obedience to God looks like. If we are not careful, we may drift off into Paganism. We cannot think we can trust ourselves to invent ways by which to worship God, instead we must be careful to observe His commandments serve Him with our hearts.
The Deadly Influence of Pagan Culture
Directly related to the section above, not only does the book of Joshua instruct and teach us to be careful in our worship of God, but it also gives a glimpse into what falling into the clutches of a Pagan culture looks like for the worship of God’s people.
Cynically, we might say that this part of the book of Joshua does not really apply to us today since we don’t live in an age where people make Pagan sacrifices to carved idols. However, the influence of Pagan culture is often much more subtle than that. Immediately after warning Israel to be careful to love God, Joshua then says:
“Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day…
For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.” (Joshua 23: 6 -8, 12 – 13)
Whilst the trap for Israel may well have been bowing down to carved ‘gods’ in the form of animals or other creatures, the idols of the culture into which we are born can be as equally pervasive and dangers.
Whenever we impose the standards of our culture and society on the Church, we are falling into this very trap. When acceptance by those outside of the Church becomes important; when we allow the culture to criticise the law of God, then we have been infiltrated by the very same Pagan philosophy that so captivated the Israelites of Joshua’s time. What our culture holds dear and what the ancient Canaanite culture holds dear may not have a lot in common, but their lure away from God’s word is exactly the same.
Just as Israel ought to have taken every precaution to rid themselves of the corrupting influence of the Pagan Canaanite culture, so we should endeavour to do the same with ours.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Of course, there is much more to the book of Joshua than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through Joshua in 2020. Enjoy reading it for yourself!