The Law and Blessing.

30 At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, 31 just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. 32 And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. 34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them. Joshua 8:30-35 ESV

ten_commandments-720x340Joshua and his forces have just defeated and captured the city of Ai. The men of the neighboring city of Bethel, who had joined forces and fought alongside Ai, were also defeated. So, in essence, the Israelites now had three cities they had conquered in their relatively short tenure in the land of promise. And now, Joshua leads the people to a place called Mount Ebal, where he builds an altar to the Lord. What is going on here? What prompted Joshua to do this? Was it simply because they had enjoyed two rousing victories over their enemies and he wanted to express thanks to God?  And why would he choose to travel all the way north to Mount Ebal in order to build his altar there? This would have entailed a 30-mile journey on the part of the people, so Joshua must have had a good reason for making this arduous trip immediately after a major military engagement against the city of Ai.

To understand what is going on in this passage, we must recall the instructions that Moses had given to the people of Israel concerning their entrance into the land of promise. He had been very specific, providing them with detailed instructions as to what they were to do as soon as they crossed over the Jordan. But it would appear that the people of Israel were behind schedule, having taken time to capture Jericho and Ai before they actually obeyed what Moses had told them to do.

1 Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you. And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God. And you shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.” – Deuteronomy 27:1-7 ESV

Mount Ebal was located near a place called Shechem, a site with historical and religious significance for the people of Israel. It was at Shechem that Abraham had built an altar to the Lord after having arrived in the land of Canaan for the very first time.

Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. – Genesis 12:6-7 ESV

So, Joshua’s selection of Shechem and Mount Ebal were not arbitrary. He was following the commands of Moses and replicating the actions of Abraham, the great patriarch of the people of Israel. On this site, Joshua and the people of Israel renewed their covenant with God, recommitting themselves to keep His law and live as His people in the land He had provided for them. They built an altar to the Lord God, the God of Israel. This monument built of stones would be a tangible representation of Israel’s presence in the land and their dedication to worship their God as opposed to the many false gods of the inhabitants of Canaan.

The people erected an altar to God and offered sacrifices on it. But, in addition, Joshua “wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written” (Joshua 8:32 ESV). This seems to indicate that Joshua wrote the law on the stones of the altar, not two tablets of stone as Moses had done. And while it is not clear what the text means by “the law of Moses,” it is possible that Joshua wrote the entire contents of the Book of Deuteronomy. The text states that, once Joshua had written the law on the stone, “he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law” (Joshua 8:34 ESV). The blessing and the curse is a reference to the content found in chapter 28 of Deuteronomy. In that chapter is spelled out all that God will do for the people of Israel if they remain obedient to His law and all that He will do to them if they choose to disobey. They had already learned a painful, yet invaluable lesson about obedience in their initial defeat at the hands of the people of Ai. They had failed to keep God’s command regarding the plunder from Jericho and had suffered because of it. Now, with the building of the altar and the recitation of the law of Moses, the people were receiving a powerful reminder that their hope of receiving blessings from God while in the land was directly tied to their willingness to live in obedience to His law. And God had made it very clear what would happen to them if they chose to disobey.

15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. 16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. 17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. – Deuteronomy 28:15-19 ESV

Their ability to conquer the land was dependent upon their willingness to obey God. He would bless them beyond measure, if only they would obey Him without question. This ceremony was more than just a religious ritual. It was a solemn and sobering reminder that their God was serious about obedience. He was a holy God who demanded that His chosen people live lives that would be set apart and distinctively different than those of the people living in the land. He had given them His law in order that they might live in keeping with His divine will. The law was to regulate all their behavior and all their relationships, including their relationship with God Himself. God had not left it up to their imagination. Right and wrong was not going to be a subjective issue for the people of Israel, because God had established an objective, black-and-white criteria for life and godliness.

With the reading of the law, the people of Israel received a much-needed reminder of their covenant commitment to God. Nothing had changed since God had given the law at Mount Sinai all those years before. The original tablets of stone, on which were written the commandments of God, were still in the ark of the covenant. His law had led them across the wilderness and over the Jordan. It had gone before them as they marched around the walls of Jericho. Now, they saw it written on the stones of the altar at Mount Ebal. And it would remain there, a permanent memorial, visible to Israelites and Canaanites alike, declaring the holiness of God and His unwavering demand that His chosen people live according to His will.

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” – Leviticus 19:2 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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In Fulfillment of a Promise.

So Joshua and all the fighting men arose to go up to Ai. And Joshua chose 30,000 mighty men of valor and sent them out by night. And he commanded them, “Behold, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind it. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you remain ready. And I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. And when they come out against us just as before, we shall flee before them. And they will come out after us, until we have drawn them away from the city. For they will say, ‘They are fleeing from us, just as before.’ So we will flee before them. Then you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city, for the Lord your God will give it into your hand. And as soon as you have taken the city, you shall set the city on fire. You shall do according to the word of the Lord. See, I have commanded you.” So Joshua sent them out. And they went to the place of ambush and lay between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai, but Joshua spent that night among the people.

10 Joshua arose early in the morning and mustered the people and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai. 11 And all the fighting men who were with him went up and drew near before the city and encamped on the north side of Ai, with a ravine between them and Ai. 12 He took about 5,000 men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13 So they stationed the forces, the main encampment that was north of the city and its rear guard west of the city. But Joshua spent that night in the valley. 14 And as soon as the king of Ai saw this, he and all his people, the men of the city, hurried and went out early to the appointed place toward the Arabah to meet Israel in battle. But he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. 15 And Joshua and all Israel pretended to be beaten before them and fled in the direction of the wilderness. 16 So all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and as they pursued Joshua they were drawn away from the city. 17 Not a man was left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel. They left the city open and pursued Israel.

18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. 19 And the men in the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it. And they hurried to set the city on fire. 20 So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers. 21 And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had captured the city, and that the smoke of the city went up, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. 22 And the others came out from the city against them, so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side. And Israel struck them down, until there was left none that survived or escaped. 23 But the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him near to Joshua.

24 When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. 25 And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai. 26 But Joshua did not draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had devoted all the inhabitants of Ai to destruction. 27 Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their plunder, according to the word of the Lord that he commanded Joshua. 28 So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. 29 And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. And at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day. Joshua 8:3-29 ESV

Bethel and AiBefore we take a look at the second battle for the capture of Ai, it is important that we recognize the importance of this particular region of the land. We know that Ai is the city Joshua intends to attack, but the text also mentions Bethel (vs 17). Bethel was a nearby city that had evidently formed some kind of alliance with Ai, agreeing to come to their aid in the event of an attack by enemy forces. Soldiers from Bethel were part of the army that attacked the Israelites in an attempt to route them a second time. But why is this important? These two cities play an important role in the history of Israel. They provide direct ties all the way back to the days of Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people. Abraham, then known as Abram, had been called by God out of his hometown of Ur, and sent to the land of Canaan, which God had promised as his inheritance. And when Abraham had arrived in the land, he came to the very location where Joshua and his troops were about to do battle.

From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. – Genesis 12:8 ESV

Abraham had built an altar to God in this very spot. But due to a famine in the land, Abraham was force to flee to Egypt. In time, he returned, a very rich and prosperous man, and he came back to this same spot.

And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. – Genesis 13:3-4 ESV

Many years later, Jacob, one of the grandsons of Abraham, would find himself in this very same place. He was on his way to a place called Paddan-aram, sent by his father Isaac, in order to escape the wrath of his brother, Esau. Jacob, with help from his mother, had tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn, rightfully belonging to Esau. Having robbed Esau of his birthright, Jacob was forced to live with his uncle. And yet, in spite of his use of deceit to get what was not rightfully his, God appeared to Jacob in a dream and spoke to him.

13 “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 ESV

God had reaffirmed the promise made to Abraham many years earlier. And Jacob memorialized the spot on which he had the vision.

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel… – Genesis 28:18-19 ESV

So, this location held significant meaning for the people of Israel. After 400 years in captivity and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, they were standing at the very spot where their forefathers had built an altar and a memorial to God. This land was theirs by right, according to the promise of God. Ai and Bethel were not just two arbitrary cities that happened to stand in the way of Israel’s conquest of the land. They were important landmarks that provided a link to Israel’s past and a reminder of God’s covenant promise to make of them a great nation and to provide for them a land.

Back to the battle. This time, Joshua was careful to do things God’s way. They had removed the sin from their midst, having stoned Achan and his family for his crime of disobeying God’s ban on taking plunder from Jericho. Now, they could move ahead with God’s battle plan for taking Ai. It involved a bit of subterfuge, taking advantage of the over-confidence of the people of Ai, since they had easily routed the Israelites in their first confrontation. But this time, Joshua divided his army up, sending a portion of his troops to wait in ambush on the other side of the city while he and the rest of his force marched toward the city as if to attack it a second time. The plan was simple. They would draw out the forces from Ai and then feign a retreat as soon as the enemy exited the walls of the city. This allowed the troops in hiding to enter its open gates and capture the city. They set fires that acted as a signal to Joshua and his troops, who then turned on the men of Ai and Bethel. Surprised by the sudden display of aggression on the part of the Israelites and seeing the smoke rising out of their city, the men of Ai and their allies from Bethel lost heart and were completely annihilated. Not a man was left alive. And the city fell that day, with every single citizen put to the sword.

As grim and gruesome as this scene appears to our modern sensibilities, we must not overlook that this entire affair was according to the will of God. He had clearly told Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand” (Joshua 8:18 ESV). God had promised to give the land on which Ai sat as an inheritance to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And now, God had promised to give the city of Ai to Joshua.

“Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land.” – Joshua 8:1 ESV

But God knew that the removal of the inhabitants of the land was critical if the people of Israel were going to remain pure and totally dedicated to God. God had warned Moses not to make alliances with the people of the land, because He knew what would happen if they did.

12 Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. 13 You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim 14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods. – Exodus 34:12-16 ESV

And we will see that, in time, the people of Israel will fail to consistently keep this command of God. As the book of Joshua unfolds, we will witness the Israelites disobeying the will of God and choosing to spare the inhabitants of the land. They will make compromises and concessions, even intermarrying with the Canaanites, Amorites and other people groups. And as a result, they will find themselves worshiping their false gods.

But the battle of Ai was a rousing success. God gave them the victory, just as He had at Jericho. They had been obedient and God had blessed. And God had been faithful to the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The question is, will the people of Israel be faithful to God?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

If Only Achan Had Waited.

And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.” Joshua 8:1-2 ESV

Achan saw and he took. He violated the command of God by greedily grabbing what God had expressly ordered to be given to the treasury of the Lord. Achan let the lust of his eyes get the best of him and he ended up being stoned to death for his efforts. But if only he had waited. At the battle of Jericho, God had made it clear that no one was to take anything of value away from the city. There was to be no plunder. No livestock was to be taken. Every single living thing was to be put to the sword. And all the gold, silver and vessels of bronze and iron were to be dedicated to God. The victory at Jericho was to be seen as God’s alone. He had brought it all about. And, in a way, it was a test for the people of Israel, to see if they would remain obedient to His command. But they had failed the test because of the actions of one man.

But when God exposed the sin of Achan and commanded Joshua to deal with it severely, the people followed Joshua’s lead and removed the sin from their midst. They cleansed themselves from the impurity created by Achan’s actions, reconsecrating themselves to God. And God, knowing that all of this had been a blow to the confidence of Joshua, encouraged him to stay strong.

“Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! Take the whole army with you and march against Ai! See, I am handing over to you the king of Ai, along with his people, city, and land. – Joshua 8:1 NLT

This is similar to the words spoken by God to Moses when the people of Israel were preparing to attack King Og and the nation of Bashan.

But the Lord said to me, “Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” – Deuteronomy 3:2 ESV

Joshua had been a part of that battle and God was reminding him that just as the people of Israel had enjoyed victories over Bashan and the Amorites, they would defeat the people of Ai. Their set-back had been temporary and due to disobedience. But now that they had purged the sin from their midst, God would deliver the city of Ai into their hands. Victory in the life of the child of God does not come through self-effort and is never the product of self-confidence. And anytime covetousness or greed enters into the equation, the outcome will result in failure. Achan had allowed the things of this world to influence his decision-making, and his desire for material wealth clouded his thinking. He sought an earthy reward and was not satisfied with the God-given reward of victory over a more power enemy. But here is the important lesson in all of this: Had Achan been willing to wait, he would have received all the plunder he could have taken. Had he been patient, God would have allowed he and all the Israelites to enjoy all the tangible benefits of their victory. Look closely at the instructions God gave to Joshua.

Do to Ai and its king what you did to Jericho and its king, except you may plunder its goods and cattle. – Joshua 8:2 NLT

This time, things would be different. Whereas at Jericho, God had forbidden the taking of any plunder and had commanded the destruction of all livestock, in this case He gave different instructions. They could plunder all the goods and keep all the animals for themselves. There was no command to dedicate all the gold, silver and vessels of bronze and iron to God. There was no prohibition on taking the livestock. God was allowing them to take the treasures of Ai as their own. He was rewarding them for their willingness to do things His way and not their own. If only Achan had been willing to wait, he would have enjoyed the blessings of God. But oftentimes, man’s disobedience is fueled by his impatience. We are not willing to wait on God. We seek immediate self-gratification. We want instant results. But God would use wait. He would ask that we place a higher priority on obedience than on personal reward.

There is a well-known verse in the book of Malachi that speaks of this principle of obedience and blessing.

“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” – Malachi 3:10 NLT

At Jericho, God had put the people of Israel to the test, and they had failed. At Ai, God was once again testing the people of Israel, but in a way, they were being given an opportunity to test the faithfulness of God. By doing exactly what Joshua commanded them to do and doing it according to the will of God, they would discover the goodness of God. They would learn that doing things God’s way comes with remarkable benefits.

Achan had stolen from God. He had squirreled away “a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels” (Joshua 7:21 ESV). But his guilt was evident because he had buried them in the ground inside his tent. He couldn’t enjoy what he had taken. His crime had saddled him with a guilty conscience. What he thought would bring him joy, brought him misery and, ultimately, death. But had he waited, he would have had all the plunder he could carry and the clear conscience that comes with living in obedience to the will of God. The Bible has quite a lot to say about ill-gotten gain.

Tainted wealth has no lasting value,
    but right living can save your life. – Proverbs 10:2 NLT

Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors. – Proverbs 1:19 ESV

1 What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night,
    thinking up evil plans.
You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out,
    simply because you have the power to do so.
When you want a piece of land,
    you find a way to seize it.
When you want someone’s house,
    you take it by fraud and violence.
You cheat a man of his property,
    stealing his family’s inheritance.

But this is what the Lord says:
“I will reward your evil with evil;
    you won’t be able to pull your neck out of the noose.
You will no longer walk around proudly,
    for it will be a terrible time.” – Micah 2:1-3 NLT

The author of Hebrews reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). God was calling the people of Israel to have faith in Him, to believe that He exists and that He will reward them at just the right time and in just the right way. They simply must believe. But they must also obey. God gave Joshua very simple, but clear instructions: “Lay an ambush against the city, behind it” (Joshua 8:2 ESV). Their victory at Ai was going to be dependent on their willingness to do things God’s way. Their blessing, in the form of plunder, would be directly tied to their obedience. Just as marching around the walls of Jericho for seven days had made no sense, the battle plan that God gave Joshua for the defeat of Ai would seem illogical and unnecessary. But they were learning the invaluable lesson that doing things God’s way always comes with God’s blessings.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

When I Saw…I Took.

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. 13 Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” 14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought near by your tribes. And the tribe that the Lord takes by lot shall come near by clans. And the clan that the Lord takes shall come near by households. And the household that the Lord takes shall come near man by man. 15 And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.’”

16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18 And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor. Joshua 7:10-26 ESV

There is in this passage the revelation of a personal sin committed by a single individual, but there is also the corporate consequences of that sin. God had forbidden the Israelites from taking any of the items they found in Jericho as spoil.

18 “But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” – Joshua 6:18-19 ESV

All the inhabitants and the livestock were to be destroyed. Nothing and no one was to be spared, except Rahab and her family. And all the gold, silver, and vessels made of bronze or iron were to be placed in the treasury of the Lord, as an offering to Him for His role in delivering the city into their hands.

But someone had disobeyed God’s command. And while the text reveals that it was one man who committed this crime, God held the entire nation of Israel culpable.

Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them…” – vs 11

“…they have taken some of the devoted things…” – vs 11

“…they have stolen and lied…” – vs 11

“Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies.” – vs 12

They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction…” – vs 12

God viewed Israel as a covenant community. And while Achan would be revealed as the guilty party, the entire nation was accountable for his transgression. Until he was eventually exposed and his sin confessed and punished, the Israelites would find themselves unable to stand before their enemies. The victory they enjoyed over Jericho would be their last, because the sin in their midst would deny them access to the presence and power of God. And God gave them an ultimatum.

“I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.” – vs 12

How did they find themselves in this predicament? What led to this dramatic turn in their fortunes? It was the result of nothing more than what John described as “the desires of the eyes” (1 John 2:16 ESV). It’s that craving that rises up within as a result of something the eyes see. Solomon, the son of David and the king of Israel, had a constant struggle with this temptation.

“…whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.” – Ecclesiastes 2:10 ESV

And Achan, when his sin became known, eventually confessed, “when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them” (Joshua 7:21 ESV). He saw. He coveted. He took. A simple, yet devastating process that had resulted in the deaths of 36 Israelite soldiers and had brought the anger of God against the entire nation. Achan, driven by his desires, thought he could get away with his sin. He had hidden the items in his tent, hoping that no one would notice, including God. He had not only disobeyed God’s command, He had ended up stealing from God. The items he took were to have been devoted to God and placed in the treasury of the Lord. But Achan had kept them for himself. The book of James describes the internal process that took place in Achan’s heart and led him to do what he had done.

14 But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. 15 Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. – James 1:14-15 NLT

Achan’s sin had resulted in death – the death’s of the 36 Israelites who had fallen in the battle to take Ai. But there would be more deaths due to his sin. Achan and his entire family were stoned. This was the God-ordained punishment for such a crime. Achan’s real sin was that he had defied the law of God. He had defiantly disobeyed God’s command. And God had given very explicit instructions regarding this kind of behavior.

30 “But those who brazenly violate the Lord’s will, whether native-born Israelites or foreigners, have blasphemed the Lord, and they must be cut off from the community. 31 Since they have treated the Lord’s word with contempt and deliberately disobeyed his command, they must be completely cut off and suffer the punishment for their guilt.” – Numbers 15:30-31 NLT

And immediately after God had given this warning to the Israelites in the wilderness, one of their own was caught gathering wood on the Sabbath, in direct violation of God’s command. And God told Moses exactly what should be done with him.

35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must be put to death! The whole community must stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the whole community took the man outside the camp and stoned him to death, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. – Numbers 15:35-36 NLT

We may find God’s solution to the problem as a bit overbearing and heavy-handed but, as human beings, we have a tendency to minimize the impact of sin. We don’t view our decisions to sin as a form of defiance against a holy God. We may not even view our actions as sin at all. But God does and He takes them quite seriously. In the book of Acts, we see a very similar situation. In the early days of the church, as the number of Christians increased, there were those who were selling their possessions and giving the proceeds to the apostles, in order to care for the needs of those who had nothing. When a couple named Ananias and Sapphira brought money to the apostles and claimed that it was the entire profit from the sale of some property they owned, God exposed them as liars. They claimed to be giving all that they had made in the sale, but had actually kept back a portion for themselves. And Peter exposed their sin, saying, “How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!” (Acts 5:4 NLT). And as a result of their sin, their lives were taken from them by God.

In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, their deaths had a dramatic impact on those within the church. It was a wake-up call to take sin seriously and to treat God reverently. The same would be true for the people of Israel. The deaths of Achan and his family would have had a dramatic and sobering impact on all those who witnessed them. The temptation to violate the will of God would have been greatly diminished. In this passage we have seen the deadly influence of self-confidence and covetousness. The God-given victory at Jericho had led the Israelites to become over-confident and self-reliant. They thought they could win any battle and defeat any enemy – on their own. But they were wrong. And Achan’s personal struggle with covetousness led to Israel’s corporate defeat at the hands of their enemies. His sin infected the camp. He saw…he took…and the community suffered for it. God takes sin seriously. So should we.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Broken Faith.

1 But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.

Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, “Go up and spy out the land.” And the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.” So about three thousand men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” Joshua 7:1-9 ESV

What do you do after a great victory like Jericho? The people of Israel had to have been on an emotional high after having witnessed the miraculous fall of the city and their defeat of it. It had been a literal walk in the park. And now, the surrounding nations would hear of their victory and their reputation would spread. As a result, the Israelite’s faith in God and their self-confidence as a nation must have been at an all-time high. So, it’s only natural that they immediately began planning their next conquest. Joshua sent spies to check out the conditions of another city called Ai. You can sense the confidence of the people when the spies return and announce that Ai will be an easy target, requiring just a fraction of the Israelite forces to ensure a victory. In fact, there is a noticeable absence of any reference to God by Joshua or the spies in these verses. It appears that their self-confidence was so great that they saw no reason to call on God for advice or assistance. Their great victory over Jericho had produced in them an unhealthy over-confidence. Somehow, they had forgotten that the fall of the walls of Jericho had been God’s doing, not theirs. In their excitement and enthusiasm after the victory, they had allowed themselves to take credit for what God had done. And they began to view their God-empowered success as having been self-produced.

But their efforts to defeat the insignificant city of Ai proved unsuccessful. They failed. And the text tells us that “the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:5 ESV). Their self-confidence evaporated. Their feelings of invincibility disappeared. And Joshua and the elders of the people went into mourning, calling out to God in despair and confusion. They were at a loss as to what had happened. And their frustration quickly took the form of resentment and bitter murmuring against God.

“Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! – Joshua 7:7 ESV

Joshua sounds eerily like his ancestors when they had complained to Moses about the lack of water at Meribah.

“Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? – Numbers 20:3-5 ESV

It was also reminiscent of the words spoken by the people in the wilderness of Sin.

“Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” – Exodus 16:3 ESV

When things didn’t quite go the way they had expected them to, they turned on God. And notice that Joshua questions the integrity of God, but does not call into question the integrity of his own people. He accusingly asks God why He has brought them into the land. He blames God for their loss, but never seems to consider that there may be something amiss among the people. How quickly he loses faith in the faithfulness of God.

But the opening verses of the chapter provide us with the information that Joshua was lacking. We know the reason for their failure, and it wasn’t simply because they were cocky and overconfident. They had disobeyed God.

…the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. – Joshua 7:1 ESV

The Hebrew word used to describe the sin of the people is ma`al and it refers to the committing of a trespass or act of treachery against God. They had violated the expressed command of God.

18 “But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.”  – Joshua 6:18-19 ESV

One man, named Achan, had decided to disregard God’s command, committing an act of treachery against God Almighty. He took what should have been devoted to God and made it his own. He stole from God. And his selfish act would have devastating consequences on the entire nation of Israel. His greed caused him to take what did not rightfully belong to him, and his sin ended up infecting the entire community of Israel. They were a covenant community and his selfish act was seen by God as a corporate violation of His command.

Joshua’s quick determination to cast the blame for their defeat on God reveals His belief in God’s sovereignty, but also his lack of understanding in man’s culpability. He should have known by this point that he was leading a stubborn and rebellious people. Their crossing over the Jordan River had not eliminated their propensity for sin. No radical transformation had taken place upon entering the promised land. They were still the same hard-hearted, sin-prone people that Moses had led for 40 years in the wilderness. Joshua should have expected something like this to happen. And rather than blame God, he should have called on God’s help in determining the true cause behind their failure. But God would open Joshua’s eyes and reveal the source behind their defeat. And He would demand that restitution and retribution be delivered. God will not tolerate sin in the camp and He will make sure that Joshua and the people recognize the danger of disobedience.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Devoted to Destruction.

15 On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. 16 And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. 17 And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. 18 But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” 20 So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. 21 Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.

22 But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel. 24 And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. 25 But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

26 Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho.

“At the cost of his firstborn shall he
    lay its foundation,
and at the cost of his youngest son
    shall he set up its gates.”

27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land. Joshua 6:15-27 ESV

The seventh day finally arrived, and it was on this day that the people of Israel were to march around the walls of Jericho seven times. We are provided no explanation for this change in protocol, except that it was the will of God. He had commanded it. So, they marched as they had the previous six days, but on completion of their seventh circuit around the wall, the priests blew their shofars and the people broke their silence with a collective shout of victory. And when they did, the walls of Jericho crumbled and fell. There is no logical reason for this to have happened. Nothing the Israelites had done over the past seven days had contributed to the weakening of the walls of Jericho. Their marching had not weakened the foundations of the walls. The constant blowing of the shofars by the priests had not damaged the structural integrity of the walls. This was a work of God. And the seven days it took for the walls to fall had been less a battle than a religious rite. The priests, the ark of the covenant, the shofars, the ceremonial procession –  it was all a visual reminder of God’s power and presence. He was going before them. He was leading them. And their faithful following of the ark of the covenant provides a tangible expression of the peoples’ dependence upon God. The walls standing between them and the city of Jericho were too great for them to overcome. They had no means by which to breach the defenses of Jericho. But by faithfully following God, they were able to see Him do what only He can do. He brought down the walls. He removed the barrier. Like the Jordan River held back by the hand of God, so the people could cross over on dry ground; God leveled the walls of Jericho so the people could enter into the city unobstructed and unhindered. The walls of Jericho represented the hope of the people of Jericho. That stone barrier had been their protection for generations. They had placed their faith and hope in their mighty wall on many occasions and had yet to be disappointed. Until this fateful day.

God was greater than their wall. He was more powerful than some stone structure erected by the hands of men. He destroyed their great wall and exposed the unreliability of all man-made forms of salvation.

Once the wall had collapsed, the people of Israel had clear instructions from Joshua as to what they were to do. And his instructions echoed those given by Moses many years earlier.

16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 20:16-18 ESV

Joshua had told them, “And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction” (Joshua 6:17 ESV). They were to destroy anything and everything. There were to be no inhabitants spared or spoil taken. Only Rahab and her family were to be protected, in keeping with the agreement made between her and the two spies. All the gold, silver and other forms of precious metals were to be dedicated to God and placed in the treasury of the Lord. And the text records that the people obeyed the command of Joshua.

Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. – Joshua 6:21 ESV

We find these verses hard to read and even more difficult to justify. They seem barbaric and unjust to our modern sensibilities. They appear to paint God as some kind of heartless and vengeful monster who shows no regard for the lives of men. How can a God who demands justice and mercy from His people also demand that they completely destroy another people group, including their innocent women and children. But what we fail to recognize is that this is far less a battle between two people groups than it is a war between righteousness and wickedness. The real enemy here is sin. The nations occupying the land of Canaan were known for their wickedness and moral corruption. God had chosen the people of Israel and given them His law, in order that they might display to the rest of the world what living in a right relationship with Him might look like. But God knew that the influence of sin was going to be a constant threat to their testimony. The presence of these pagan nations and their immoral practices would make it next-to-impossible for the people of God to keep themselves set apart for Him. So, He demanded the removal of the temptation. He commanded the destruction of anything and everything that might cause His people to fall away. It is a picture of the way in which believers in Christ as to purge their lives from their old ways of living. The apostle Paul provides us with similar admonitions to eliminate anything that would hinder or harm our relationship with God.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. – Ephesians 4:31 NLT

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. –  Colossians 3:5 NLT

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. – Colossians 3:8 NLT

…put to death the deeds of your sinful nature… – Romans 8:13 NLT

Sin is contagious. It is a dangerous and deadly disease that, if allowed to exist, will spread throughout the body of Christ infecting all with whom it comes in contact. The same was true for the people of Israel. God knew that the people of Jericho were infected by sin and the pagan practices of their false religions. To treat the residents of Jericho with kid gloves was to invite destruction. To wink at the wickedness that permeated the city of Jericho would prove to be a deadly mistake. And God knew it.

And God had Joshua put a curse on the city of Jericho, demanding that it never be rebuilt. It was to be a permanent reminder of God’s judgment against sin. The broken walls would form a perpetual memorial to God’s righteousness and the ultimate fate of all who stand opposed to Him. The rubble of Jericho would form a monument to the folly of sin and a life lived without God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

March. Madness.

1 Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.” So Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord.” And he said to the people, “Go forward. March around the city and let the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord.”

And just as Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord went forward, blowing the trumpets, with the ark of the covenant of the Lord following them. The armed men were walking before the priests who were blowing the trumpets, and the rear guard was walking after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually. 10 But Joshua commanded the people, “You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.” 11 So he caused the ark of the Lord to circle the city, going about it once. And they came into the camp and spent the night in the camp.

12 Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. 13 And the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord walked on, and they blew the trumpets continually. And the armed men were walking before them, and the rear guard was walking after the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets blew continually. 14 And the second day they marched around the city once, and returned into the camp. So they did for six days. Joshua 6:1-14 ESV

Joshua and the people of Israel stood on the western banks of the Jordan River, camped at a place called Gilgal. They were just a few miles from the city of Jericho, which would be the site of their first attempt at taking possession of the land provided to them by God. The men of Israel had followed the Lord’s command and been circumcised. The nation had just celebrated their first Passover in the new land. And Joshua had received a reassuring visit from the captain of the Lord’s armies, the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ Himself. Now, Joshua received news that they were to take the city of Jericho, but the battle strategy given to him by the Lord was anything but conventional. In fact, it was outright strange. They were preparing to attack one of the most formidable cities in the entire region, an 8-1/2 acre walled fortress guarded by, according to the Lord’s own description, “mighty men of valor.” And yet, God’s battle plan involved the army of Israel walking around the circumference of the city, following the ark of the covenant as it was carried by the Levitical priests. They were to do this for six consecutive days, then on the seventh and final day, they were to march around the city seven times, and after their final lap, the priests were to blow their shofars, the people were to shout, and the walls would fall. That was the plan.

And the truly amazing thing is that there is absolutely no indication in the text that the people showed any signs of dissent or disagreement with this plan. In fact, it tells us that Joshua commanded the people, “Go forward. March around the city and let the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord” (Joshua 6:7 ESV), and “just as Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord went forward…” (Joshua 8:8 ESV). They simply obeyed. What a stark contrast to the day, 40 years earlier, when the people of Israel stood on the eastern shores of the Jordan, poised to enter the land of promise, but they refused to do so. They heard the reports of the spies and listened to their warnings about giants in the land, and they stood their ground, disobeying the expressed will of God and threatening to kill Moses and Aaron.

Yet, on this occasion, the people responded with willing obedience. And it is important to consider just how strange this battle plan must have sounded to them. They were an ill-equipped and inexperienced band of former farmers and peasants who had spent the last 40 years wandering around the desert. They were not seasoned soldiers and they lacked any of the weapons of modern warfare that the troops inside the walls of Jericho would have had. Not only that, they were going up against a city that had a virtually impenetrable barrier around it. They had no siege engines. They lacked any kind of trebuchet or catapult that could bring down the walls of the city. No, all they had was a strange-sounding battle plan that involved a great deal of walking and waiting.

Imagine what it was like that very first evening, as the men made their way back to their camp in Gilgal. They had walked the circumference of the city wall, in silence, as the priests blew their shofars and the enemy soldiers on the walls hurled taunts and ridicule their way. These men must have questioned the wisdom behind this bizarre tactic. That night, around the camp fires, there must have been whispered discussions regarding the credibility of the Lord’s battle plan. But they obeyed. They got up the next morning and did it all over again.

And the people of Jericho must have scratched their heads in wonder as they watched, day after day, the inexplicable ritual taking place just outside their walls. What were these crazy Jews doing? What did they hope to accomplish by walking around the city in some kind of strange parade? The people of Jericho must have felt comfortable and safe inside their city, surrounded by their walls and protected by their superior army. But little did they know that God Almighty was the one behind all the events taking place just on the other side of their impregnable walls.

And, the people of Israel kept walking. For six days, they did what God had told them to do. In the face of opposition, in spite of their own doubts and in direct contradiction to all common sense, they obeyed. God had promised to bring down the walls. But that promise was directly tied to their faith and their faith was to be displayed in the form of obedience. Partial obedience would not suffice. A single trip around the walls was not going to bring them down. Half-hearted commitment was not going to result in an all-out victory. They were going to have to take God at His word, and obediently follow His directions – down to the very last word.

God’s will doesn’t always make sense. His ways are sometimes strange and illogical to us. But Joshua seemed to know that their capture of Jericho was going to require complete dependence upon God. He knew they were undermanned and poorly equipped for the job of taking the city of Jericho. He realized that any hope they had of conquering the land of Canaan was directly tied to their reliance upon God. The captain of the Lord’s armies had appeared to Joshua with a sword in His hand, and He had claimed, “I have come.” He was there to do battle on behalf of the people of Israel. And He had a plan. His was not a normal, run-of-the-mill battle plan, but a divinely ordained strategy that was going to unleash the power of heaven through the willing obedience of ordinary men. The greatest effort required of the people of Israel was not their daily walk around the walls. It was their faith. It was their continued confidence in God’s plan and their faithful reliance upon His promise: “the wall of the city will fall down flat” (Joshua 6:5 ESV). Their faith in God, while demonstrated by their obedience to the will of God, was going to ultimately manifest itself in the miraculous display of the power of God. The walls would fall. Their faithful walking and waiting would turn impenetrable walls to rubble, an unconquerable army to fallen foes, and a ragtag group of wandering Israelites into a powerful force led by the captain of the Lord’s armies.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

I Have Come.

10 While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. 11 And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 15 And the commander of the Lord‘s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. Joshua 5:10-15 ESV

Not long after Joshua had instructed the men of Israel to undergo the rite of circumcision, the time came for the nation to keep the Passover celebration God had instituted in Egypt. Those outside of the covenant community of Israel were prohibited by the Mosaic law from taking part in the Passover, so the timing of the circumcision of the Hebrew males was critical. Circumcision was a sign of their covenant relationship with God and made them legally approved to participate in the Passover. So much of what we see in this passage points toward God’s divine time table as He prepares His people for an important transition in their covenant relationship with Him. He is leading a new generation of Israelites because the older, rebellious generation had died off. They have a new commander, in the form of Joshua, because Moses had died in the wilderness. They are in a new place, the land of promise, having miraculously crossed over the Jordan and entered into Canaan. And for the first time in over 40 years, they are celebrating Passover in the land God had promised to give them. He had delivered them from captivity in Egypt, led them across the wilderness, and had now delivered them into the land. It was a new day.

And almost as a sign of that new day, the manna that had sustained them during their 40-plus years of wilderness wandering, went away. It was there one day and gone the next, because it was no longer necessary. God had led them into a land that was filled with everything they would need to feed and sustain themselves. His miraculous provision of daily bread would not be needed. And it’s interesting to recall the circumstances under which God had first given them the manna. It had been early on in the days after their exodus from Egypt and it had occurred in the wilderness at a place called Sin. It had been just two months since they had walked out of Egypt as a free people, having been delivered by the hand of God. Now, they found themselves in Sin, without food and running out of patience with Moses.

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” – Exodus 16:2-3 ESV

God heard their grumbling and complaining. But rather than punish them, He promised to provide for them.

“I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” – Exodus 16:12 ESV

Each evening, God provided His people with quail. And each morning, the people woke up to find manna covering the ground. He met their needs. He sustained them all the years they were in the wilderness. But now that they were in the land of promise, there was no longer a need for quail and manna. The land God had given them would now sustain them. And this was in keeping with the promise that God had made to Moses when He called him to be the emancipator of the people of Israel.

“I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Exodus 3:17 ESV

The land would meet their needs, but they would be required to conquer the nations that occupied the land. They were going to have to transform themselves from wanderers to warriors. Under Joshua’s leadership, they were going to have to take over the land that God had given them. And the very first place they were going to conquer was Jericho, which lay just a few miles from Gilgal, where they were camped. As Joshua went to reconnoiter the situation at Jericho, he had an unexpected encounter. He ran across a man who was carrying a sword in his hand. He was obviously a warrior, but Joshua did not recognize him. So, Joshua naturally asked him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And the man responded, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” (Joshua 5:14 ESV).

This is a pivotal moment in the story. The manna was gone, but the Messiah had come. This encounter was between Joshua, the leader of the people of Israel and Jesus, the Son of God and the commander of the Lord’s armies. This was a theophany, a pre-incarnate appearance by Jesus Himself. And we can tell from the reaction of Joshua, that he understood the significance of the moment and the holiness of the one to whom he was talking. The passage tells us that Joshua “fell on his face to the earth and worshiped.” He recognized that this was no ordinary man, but a vision of God Himself. And the captain or Prince of the Lord’s armies commanded Joshua: “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” (Joshua 5:14 ESV). These are the same words Moses heard emanating from the burning bush when he had encountered God in the wilderness of Horeb (Exodus 3). Joshua, like Moses, found himself standing in the presence of deity. And the appearance of the Son of God in the form of a warrior was meant to be a reminder that God was going to be with them. They were not alone. Even as they faced the formidable and foreboding task of attempting to take the fortified city of Jericho, God was letting them know that He would be right there with them. 

“I have come.” Those were the words that Joshua heard him say, and those words were meant to provide Joshua with assurance. As the captain of the host stood with sword in hand, Joshua was being given a visual and verbal reminder that the battle was not theirs, but God’s. He would be fighting for them. This was a new day. Their entrance into Canaan was going to bring with it new challenges. Joshua led a people who lacked formal training as soldiers. They had no siege engines or chariots. Their weapons consisted of spears, slings, and bows. They lacked armor. But they had God on their side. And as we will see in the very next chapter, the most fortified city they would face would prove to be no match for the commander of the army of the Lord.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Danger of Disbelief.

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt. Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way.

When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day. Joshua 5:2-9 ESV

For this passage to make any sense, it requires an understanding of the rite of circumcision, as practiced by the people of Israel. Circumcision was not a cultural rite of passage, created by men, but a divinely mandated sign of their covenant relationship with God. It had been instituted by God and given by Him to Abraham centuries earlier, long before there were any Israelites.

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-14 ESV

For generations, the Israelites had kept God’s command to circumcise their infant sons, even during the dark days of their captivity in Egypt. Circumcision was a physical sign and tangible reminder to the Jews of their having been set apart by God. They belonged to Him. And it was tied to the covenant God had made with Abraham, promising to make of him a great nation.

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:4-8 ESV

God had kept His promise to Abraham. From one man, who was old in age and married to a barren wife, God produced the nation of Israel. But now, as they stood on the western bank of the Jordan, preparing to possess the land God had promised to Abraham, they faced a problem. The men of Israel were uncircumcised. They were missing the sign of the covenant, the mark of their ownership by God. The generation that had been released from captivity in Egypt had been circumcised, but because of their refusal to enter the promised land 40 years earlier, God had forbidden them from ever entering the land. They all died in the wilderness. And during those days of wandering in the wilderness, a new generation was born. But for whatever reason, outright disobedience or simple neglect, the people of Israel had failed to circumcise their male children. So, by the time Joshua and the nation made it to the land of Canaan, an entire generation of Israelite men were in violation of their covenant commitment to God. Their parents had failed to set them apart through the practice of the God-ordained rite of circumcision. And from the passage, it would appear that not a single male within the Israelite camp bore the mark of circumcision. The rite had been totally abandoned by the people of Israel during the 40 years they had spent wandering in the wilderness.

There is far more going on here than the neglect of a religious rite. The failure of the people of God to keep the command of God reveals the sad state of their relationship with Him. The author of Hebrews provides us with an insightful understanding of what was really going on. He warns his readers to avoid making the same mistake the people of Israel did, when they rebelled against God and refused to enter the promised land.

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. – Hebrews 3:16-19 ESV

Notice that he blames their ban from entering the land on their unbelief. They had failed to trust God, listening instead to the dire reports of the spies who told them of giants in the land. That generation disbelieved the promises of God. They doubted His word. And after having been barred from entering the land, they continued their rebellion and disbelief, choosing to ignore His command to circumcise their sons. And a whole new generation of men made it to adulthood without bearing the sign of the covenant with God. But God was not going to allow them to take another step until they had rectified the problem. So, He commanded Joshua to order the immediate circumcision of each and every male in the camp. It is interesting to note that God had provided them with entrance into the land by making a way for them to cross over the Jordan River on dry ground, and all while they were in their uncircumcised states. He had not required their circumcision before allowing them to cross. God had kept His part of the covenant commitment in spite of their failure to keep theirs. He had allowed them to enter the land uncircumcised, but He would not allow them to remain that way. They would be required to commit themselves to the covenant by keeping God’s covenant sign.

And one of the fascinating aspects of this entire scene is that it clearly illustrates an obedience to and reliance upon God by the people of God. Here they were, standing in the land of promise, surrounded by potential enemies, and the very first thing God has them do is circumcise all their males. This procedure would have left their entire fighting force incapacitated for days as they recovered. They would have been sitting ducks, easy prey to the Amorites and Canaanites who occupied the land. To obey God’s command to circumcise all the men in their camp was going to require trust in God. He would have to protect them while they were in this vulnerable state. But their obedience was more important than any risk to their well-being. God had done His part, now it was their turn.

When the people had stepped out in faith and had circumcised all the males in their camp, God spoke the following words: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Joshua 5:9 ESV). The exact meaning of this statement is unclear. It could be that God is simply stating that their willingness to keep His command to circumcise their males was the final phase in their deliverance from Egypt. With that one neglected task now taken care of, the process of possessing the land could proceed unabated. But there is also the possibility that this remark by God was a reference to a fear that Moses had expressed on several different occasions. During their days in the wilderness, when the people had made the golden calf, God had determined to wipe out their generation, but Moses had intervened.

12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” – Exodus 32:12-13 ESV

When the original generation had refused to the enter the promised land, God had threatened to wipe them all out with a plague, but Moses had intervened yet again.

13 But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, 14 and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, 16 ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ – Numbers 14:13-16 ESV

So, it could be that “the reproach” to which God referred had to do with any future possibility of Egypt or any other nation accusing God of failing to keep His word. Not only were the people in the land, but they were covered by the sign of His ownership. No one could question God’s integrity or impugn His ability to care for His own.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Healthy Fear of God.

15 And the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” 18 And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.

19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” 

1 As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel. Joshua 4:15-5:1 ESV

On the tenth day of the first month. The placement of that calendar notation may seem a bit odd or out of place, but it is actually quite significant, providing us with an important time marker. It lets us know that it had been 40 years to the day since God had told Israel to prepare to take the Passover, in preparation for their departure from Egypt.

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.”Exodus 12:1-3 ESV

This day was already a memorial for the people of Israel, commemorating their deliverance from slavery in Egypt by the hand of God. God had told the Israelites that their keeping of the Passover each year on that day was to act as a reminder and a teaching opportunity.

26 “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord‘s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” – Exodus 12:26-27 ESV

Now, they would have another reason to remember the tenth day of the first month, and another story to tell their children about the greatness of God. Not only had He delivered them from captivity in Egypt, He had brought them into the land He had promised to give them. They were no longer slaves, but freemen. Rather than live as captives, they were to be conquerors, possessing the land promised to them by God by the very power of God.

Notice the similarities between what God told the people of Israel regarding their keeping of the Passover and what Joshua told the people about the stone memorial.

21 “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over… – Joshua 4:21-23 ESV

In Egypt, God passed over the houses of the Israelites. At the Jordan, Israel passed over the border of Canaan on dry ground. In Egypt, God had spared the Israelites from death because of the presence of the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. At the Jordan, God had provided a path to a new life through the presence of the ark, the symbol of God’s covenant faithfulness. And as soon as the feet of the priests stepped out of the Jordan and onto the western shoreline, the waters returned and overflowed their banks. God had faithfully kept back the waters until each and every Israelite had passed over. He had delivered them safely into the land of promise.

And Joshua provides two important reasons for this miraculous provision by God. First, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty.” This was to be a witness to the nations who occupied the land of Canaan. News of this miracle would spread. The drying up of the waters of the Jordan would not have gone unnoticed by others who lived in the land and who depended upon its waters for their well-being. We are not told how long it took the Israelites to cross over the Jordan, but however long it took, those living downstream would have noticed that the river had dried up at a time of the year when it should have been overflowing its banks. And in the very next chapter we see that the news of this miracle had its intended impact on the inhabitants of the land.

…their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel… – Joshua 5:1 ESV

But Joshua lets the people know there is a second and even more significant reason for the miracle they had just witnessed: “that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” God had just revealed His power. He had displayed His sovereign control over the elements. Just as He had dried up the waters of the Red Sea 40 years earlier, He had dried up the waters of the Jordan. Nothing was too difficult for Him. And they were to fear Him. But it’s essential that we understand what this fear of God entailed. It was not to be a fear of Him, in the sense that they were to cower in His presence or live in fear of His wrath. The fear of God is an expression that communicates faith in God. It is a experiential understanding of His power and provision. God had just done a miracle on their behalf. He had just performed an inexplicable act of divine deliverance, and it was to produce in them a healthy reverence for Him and an emboldened faith in Him. So that, the next time He spoke, they would readily listen and quickly obey. Their God was powerful. Their God was faithful. And there was no other god like Him. The gods of the Canaanites and Amorites would prove no match for God Almighty.

Many years earlier, long before the Israelites had made it into the land of promise, Moses had given them a powerful reminder concerning the fear of God.

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 ESV

The fear of God was to have an outward expression. It was to be visible and tangible in nature. And it was to be characterized by obedience and faithfulness.

20 “You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.” – Deuteronomy 10:20-22 ESV

The Israelites were to fear God, because He was their covenant-keeping, miracle-working, grace-bestowing God. The Amorites and Canaanites would learn to fear God, but for completely different reasons. They were going to learn that He was God, and they would come to fear His power and presence, but they would never bow down and worship Him as their God. But for the Israelites, their interactions with God were to produce a reverence for Him that would increase their dependence upon Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson