The Death of a Generation.

29 After these things Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being 110 years old. 30 And they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash.

31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.

32 As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.

33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of Phinehas his son, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim. Joshua 24:29-39 ESV

Joshua lived to the ripe old age of 110. He had served Israel for many years and had led them into the promised land, but also in their efforts to conquer and possess it. Under his guidance, the Israelites had gone from a rag-tag assemblage of former slaves to a powerful force in the Middle East. They had successfully and, in most cases, miraculously defeated the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, taking over their cities, villages, pastures and fields. By the end of his tenure as Israel’s spiritual and military leader, the Israelites were well-established in the land promised to them by God many centuries earlier. But as they say, all good things must come to an end, and Joshua’s life-span reached its allotted course. He died, leaving the people of Israel without an appointed leader. Joshua had not followed the example of Moses, who had passed on the mantel of leadership to him before his own death. Perhaps Joshua assumed that each of the 12 tribes, now established in the land with their own inheritance to manage, would appoint their own leadership. After their renewal of the covenant at Shechem, each of the tribes had dispersed to their own cities and villages, and they were to have begun the final stage of God’s command to eliminate the Canaanites from the land. There were no longer going to be any joint military efforts combining the forces of all 12 tribes. Instead, each tribe would be expected to police and possess its land allotment on its own. And one of the things that will become increasingly clear as their story unfolds is that, without proper leadership, the people of Israel tended to lack follow-through.

In the opening verses of the book of Judges, which chronicles the next chapter in the story of the Israelite’s conquest of the land of Canaan, it becomes clear that the tribes are attempting to follow the example for them by Joshua. They seek the counsel of God in order to determine their next steps.

1 After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The Lord said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him. Then Judah went up and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek. – Judges 1:1-4 ESV

They begin to form some strategic alliances among themselves in order to improve their chances of success against the Canaanites. And God gave the tribes of Judah and Simeon success in their efforts. But there is a nagging pattern of incompleteness that permeates the opening chapters of Judges. They enjoyed success, but it seems that it was always marked by a failure to finish what they had started.

And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. – Judges 1:19 ESV

Notice what this verse says: The Lord was with Judah…BUT. God was fighting alongside the people of Judah and Simeon and they had enjoyed numerous victories as a result. But the presence of chariots of iron had stopped their progress. They had come up against a superior force that had somehow stymied their efforts. But years earlier, long before the Israelites had made it into the land of Canaan, God had told them:

“When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 20:1 ESV

Their inability to stand against an enemy with chariots and horses was due to a lack of faith on their part, not a deficiency in God’s power to deliver. And their failure to trust God would become a pattern that would repeat itself in the story of each of the tribes.

But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. – Judges 1:21 ESV

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. – Judges 1:27 ESV

And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them. – Judges 1:28 ESV

Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them – Judges 1:29 ESV

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out. – Judges 1:31-32 ESV

Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. – Judges 1:33 ESV

The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain. – Judges 1:34 ESV

These are not just statements of military failure or incomplete conquest. They are a reflection of the state of Israel’s spiritual health. They were failing because they were no longer trusting God. They were making compromises and concessions. Allowing their enemies to remain in the land was easier than stepping out in faith and eliminating them completely as God had commanded them to do. And God reprimanded them for their lack of faith, accusing them of not only disobedience, but of failing to keep the covenant they had made with Him.

1 Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” – Judges 2:1-3 ESV

Their disobedience to God was going to be costly. They were going to learn just how difficult spiritual warfare was going to be without God’s help. And the book of Judges provides us with an important detail concerning the leadership of Joshua and its impact on the people of Israel.

…the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. – Judges 2:7 ESV

But this is followed by a sobering caveat, a all-telling addendum that will set the stage for all that comes later in the book of Judges.

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10 ESV

The final chapter of the book of Joshua chronicles the deaths of Joshua and Eleazar. It also provides details concerning the interment of Joseph’s bones, brought back from Egypt. But it really paints a bleak picture concerning the death of an entire generation. Those who had come from Egypt under the leadership of Moses had died in the wilderness because of their failure to enter the land the first time. And all those who had played a role in conquering the land under Joshua’s leadership would eventually die as well. Their days in the land would be numbered, just as Joshua’s had been. And as long as he was alive, they had served the Lord. But with his death, they began to falter and fail in their commitments to God and their capacity to trust His word. And by the time they pass off the scene, the next generation had long forgotten who God was or any of the great things He had done.

11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. – Judges 2:11-13 ESV

It happened just as God said it would. They had failed to do what God had commanded and, as a result, their hearts were led away from Him. The failure of a single generation to maintain their covenant faithfulness to God resulted in an entire spiritual meltdown on the part of their descendants.

The book of Psalms provides a stark reminder of just how different things should have turned out, had the people of Israel done what they had been told to do.

What we have heard and learned—
that which our ancestors have told us—
we will not hide from their descendants.
We will tell the next generation
about the Lord’s praiseworthy acts,
about his strength and the amazing things he has done. – Psalm 78:3-4 NLT

so that the next generation, children yet to be born,
might know about them.
They will grow up and tell their descendants about them.
Then they will place their confidence in God.
They will not forget the works of God,
and they will obey his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors,
who were a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation that was not committed
and faithful to God. – Psalm 78:6-8 NLT

But, sadly, there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

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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God Provides.

Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, had no sons, but only daughters, and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They approached Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the leaders and said, “The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance along with our brothers.” So according to the mouth of the Lord he gave them an inheritance among the brothers of their father. Thus there fell to Manasseh ten portions, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is on the other side of the Jordan, because the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance along with his sons. The land of Gilead was allotted to the rest of the people of Manasseh.

The territory of Manasseh reached from Asher to Michmethath, which is east of Shechem. Then the boundary goes along southward to the inhabitants of En-tappuah. The land of Tappuah belonged to Manasseh, but the town of Tappuah on the boundary of Manasseh belonged to the people of Ephraim. Then the boundary went down to the brook Kanah. These cities, to the south of the brook, among the cities of Manasseh, belong to Ephraim. Then the boundary of Manasseh goes on the north side of the brook and ends at the sea, 10 the land to the south being Ephraim’s and that to the north being Manasseh’s, with the sea forming its boundary. On the north Asher is reached, and on the east Issachar. 11 Also in Issachar and in Asher Manasseh had Beth-shean and its villages, and Ibleam and its villages, and the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, and the inhabitants of En-dor and its villages, and the inhabitants of Taanach and its villages, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; the third is Naphath. 12 Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. 13 Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out.

14 Then the people of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, “Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, although I am a numerous people, since all along the Lord has blessed me?” 15 And Joshua said to them, “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.” 16 The people of Joseph said, “The hill country is not enough for us. Yet all the Canaanites who dwell in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel.” 17 Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, “You are a numerous people and have great power. You shall not have one allotment only, 18 but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.” Joshua 17:3-18 ESV

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When reading the Scriptures, there will be times when certain names and events are mentioned that seem to come out of nowhere and make no sense in the context. Today’s passage is a case in point. As the author describes the allotment of the land of Canaan to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph, he suddenly mentions the five daughters of Zelophehad. He even provides the names of the five women: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And it’s almost as if he expects his audience to be well acquainted with these women and their story. Seemingly, out of nowhere, these women appear, making what appears to be a very bold demand of Joshua, Eleazar the priest and the leadership of Israel.

The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance along with our brothers. – Joshua 17:4 ESV

This is one of those situations where, if we are not familiar with the rest of the Scriptures, we will find it difficult to understand what is going on. Are these women making up their story? Have they joined forces to fabricate a lie in an attempt to deceive Joshua and finagle a portion of the land for themselves? First of all, it is important to understand the situation in which these women found themselves. They were the sole remaining heirs of their father. He had no sons. And in that culture, the inheritance passed down through the sons. So, any allotment of land would have gone to the sons of Zelophehad, not his daughters. But years earlier, these women had seen the handwriting on the wall and had understood that with their father’s eventual death, they would be left unprotected and unprovided for. And when the people finally entered the land of Canaan, they would have no right to a portion of the land. So, they had appealed to Moses, Eleazer the priest and the leadership of Israel.

1 Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”

Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 And if he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. And it shall be for the people of Israel a statute and rule, as the Lord commanded Moses.’” Numbers 27:1-11 ESV

Their father had died in the wilderness, leaving them, in a sense, destitute. They were unmarried and without the protection and provision of a male figure in their lives, a necessary requirement in their culture. But they had been brave and bold enough to appeal their case to Moses and the leadership of Israel. And Moses had wisely taken their case to God. Their whole argument was based on the fact that their father had been a good man and his death had not been the result of sin against God. So, why should the legacy of his name fail to carry on just because he had daughters instead of sons? And God agreed with the logic behind their argument, telling Joshua, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them” (Numbers 27:7 ESV). Not only that, God used their case as a precedence for a new law concerning inheritance. From that point forward, the inheritance of any man who had no sons, was to pass on to his daughters. And if a man was childless, his inheritance was to go to his brothers. If he had no brothers, it was to go to his uncles. And if he had no uncles, his inheritance was to go to his nearest living relative. God had taken the plea of these five women and turned it into case law, providing for His people a statutory requirement concerning the issue of inheritance. 

It is important to notice that these women were the ones who came to Joshua and reminded him of the decision handed down by Moses as he had received it from God. Had they not spoken up, there is a good chance that they may have forfeited their right to a portion of the land. These woman showed extreme faith by making their initial appeal to Moses, but also in bringing their God-decreed right to their father’s inheritance before Joshua, Eleazar and the leadership of Israel. And their faith and fearlessness to stand up for their rights was rewarded with “an inheritance among the brothers of their father” (Joshua 17:4 ESV). We can only imagine that this decision was not well-received by their uncles. When Joshua apportioned part of the land to these five women, the brothers of Zelophehad lost out. Their portion of the inheritance diminished as a result of the womens’ request. But it was their God-given right to enjoy their fair-share of the inheritance and enjoy the blessings of the land promised by God. 

The story of the daughters of Zelophehad is the positive side of this chapter. But then the chapter ends with a somewhat sad recounting of the descendants of Joseph, the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, coming to Joshua and complaining about the inadequacy of their allotment of land. Perhaps it was based on God’s decree to give a portion of their land to the five sisters. But whatever the case, the descendants of Joseph demanded that they were too large in number to live in the land that they had been given. But part of their problem was that they viewed portions of the land as uninhabitable. Part of it was occupied by well-armed Canaanites. The rest was forested and would require work on their part to clear and cultivate it. But Joshua challenged them to do just that. Not only that, he expected them to do what God had commanded them to do and drive out the Canaanites from the land. Yes, the land was filled with enemies and part of it was covered by forests, but it was not a case of too little land, but too little faith on the part of the people of Joseph. Trees can be cut down and Canaanites can be defeated. What God had given to them was more than enough. But the full enjoyment of their inheritance was going to require that they do their part. Joshua reminded them that they had been blessed by God and were “a numerous people and have great power” (Joshua 17:17 ESV). They saw their size as a problem, but Joshua challenged them to see it as a blessing from God. Their superior numbers would give them an advantage over their enemies, and a workforce large enough to clear the trees and cultivate the land. God had adequately provided for their needs. But they were going to have to make the most out of the gift given to them by 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

The Gift of the Land.

The allotment for the tribe of the people of Judah according to their clans reached southward to the boundary of Edom, to the wilderness of Zin at the farthest south. And their south boundary ran from the end of the Salt Sea, from the bay that faces southward. It goes out southward of the ascent of Akrabbim, passes along to Zin, and goes up south of Kadesh-barnea, along by Hezron, up to Addar, turns about to Karka, passes along to Azmon, goes out by the Brook of Egypt, and comes to its end at the sea. This shall be your south boundary. And the east boundary is the Salt Sea, to the mouth of the Jordan. And the boundary on the north side runs from the bay of the sea at the mouth of the Jordan. And the boundary goes up to Beth-hoglah and passes along north of Beth-arabah. And the boundary goes up to the stone of Bohan the son of Reuben. And the boundary goes up to Debir from the Valley of Achor, and so northward, turning toward Gilgal, which is opposite the ascent of Adummim, which is on the south side of the valley. And the boundary passes along to the waters of En-shemesh and ends at En-rogel. Then the boundary goes up by the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the southern shoulder of the Jebusite (that is, Jerusalem). And the boundary goes up to the top of the mountain that lies over against the Valley of Hinnom, on the west, at the northern end of the Valley of Rephaim. Then the boundary extends from the top of the mountain to the spring of the waters of Nephtoah, and from there to the cities of Mount Ephron. Then the boundary bends around to Baalah (that is, Kiriath-jearim). 10 And the boundary circles west of Baalah to Mount Seir, passes along to the northern shoulder of Mount Jearim (that is, Chesalon), and goes down to Beth-shemesh and passes along by Timnah. 11 The boundary goes out to the shoulder of the hill north of Ekron, then the boundary bends around to Shikkeron and passes along to Mount Baalah and goes out to Jabneel. Then the boundary comes to an end at the sea. 12 And the west boundary was the Great Sea with its coastline. This is the boundary around the people of Judah according to their clans.

13 According to the commandment of the Lord to Joshua, he gave to Caleb the son of Jephunneh a portion among the people of Judah, Kiriath-arba, that is, Hebron (Arba was the father of Anak). 14 And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak. 15 And he went up from there against the inhabitants of Debir. Now the name of Debir formerly was Kiriath-sepher. 16 And Caleb said, “Whoever strikes Kiriath-sepher and captures it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter as wife.” 17 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, captured it. And he gave him Achsah his daughter as wife. 18 When she came to him, she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she got off her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” 19 She said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have given me the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” And he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs. Joshua 15:1-19 ESV

judahJudah was the largest of the 12 tribes and this may have been the reason its territory within the promised land was the first to be determined. As chapter 14 revealed, Caleb, a member of the tribe of Judah, was given the city of Hebron in recognition for his faithful service to and faith in God. He and Joshua had been the only two of the twelve spies who had believed that God could deliver the land to the people of Israel in spite of the presence of powerful enemies. The city of Hebron was located within the boundaries of what would be the tribe of Judah’s inheritance.

We are not told how the boundaries of the lands awarded to the various tribes was determined. But the passage provides detailed information regarding the specific geographic markers that would form the boundaries of Judah’s territory. The Dead Sea would form Judah’s eastern border. Verses 5-11 establish Judah’s northern boundary, with very specific details concerning where its territory begins and ends. This was important, because it would prevent future debates or disagreements from taking place between the tribes over their allotments and the cities found within them. The Mediterranean Sea would represent Judah’s western border.

Within these vast boundaries, the clans of Judah would be expected to complete the task of conquering and eliminating any and all of the current inhabitants. They were to capture the cities and make them their own. And Caleb, who had been awarded the city of Hebron, did his part.

And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak. – Joshua 15:14 ESV

But Caleb didn’t stop there. He also attacked Debir and offered a special prize – the hand of his daughter in marriage – to anyone who captured the city. His own brother, Othniel, was the one who ended up garnering the reward. And Othniel would go on to become one of the judges of Israel (Judges 3:9). These two men appear to be highlighted in this passage because they provide examples of faithfulness and obedience to the will of God. They did what God had commanded all the people of Israel to do. They finished what the forces of Israel had begun, continuing the process of spiritual and moral cleansing of the land. The Canaanites were far from eradicated and it was going to take every single tribe and every member of those tribes to faithfully obey God and trust Him for the strength they would need to continue to possess the land by dispossessing its inhabitants.

Even Achsah, Caleb’s daughter, recognized that this land was a symbol of God’s promise made to Abraham, and she wanted her own part of it. While she had been given to Othniel as little more than a prize, she was not willing to go unrewarded herself. So, she requested that her father give her a portion of the land in the form of a spring.

“Give me a blessing. Since you have given me the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” – Joshua 15:19 ESV).

And Caleb honored her request. The land and everything in it was of great value to the people of Israel. It represented their inheritance. Property would become a primary sign of wealth and affluence among the people of Israel. But the land given to the tribes by God was to remain within their clans. It was not theirs to sell or trade. God had made it clear that they were little more than stewards of the land, because it belonged to Him.

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. – Leviticus 25:23 ESV

Actually, God had provided a provision by which the land could be sold, but He had placed very stringent restrictions and conditions on such sales.

25 “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. 26 If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, 27 let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. 28 But if he does not have sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property. – Leviticus 25:25-28 ESV

God had established what was known as The Year of Jubilee. Every 50 years, the land would be restored to its original owners. This was God’s plan for maintaining the original boundaries established between the tribes.

“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.” – Leviticus 25:8-12 ESV

God knew His people well. He realized that they would be prone to take what He had given them and use it to prosper themselves. They would take what was rightfully His and attempt to profit from it in ways He never intended. The land was a gift from God, intended to provide for the people of God. It was not to be a bartering chip used to line their own pockets or to pay off debts. So, every 50 years, God required the mandatory release of any and all liens, deeds of ownership, and records of sale. The land returned to its original owners and was kept within the allotment as prescribed by God.

And God assured the people of Israel that obedience to His laws concerning the land would bring with it a blessing. They were to faithfully adhere to His commands and, in doing so, He would faithfully ensure their future prosperity and peace.

17 You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord your God. 18 “Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely. 19 The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and dwell in it securely.” – Leviticus 25:17-19 ESV

The land was a symbol of God’s love and covenant faithfulness. It was through the land that God intended to bless His people, using it to provide for all their physical needs. The land would be their source of food, water, shelter, protection and identity. But they were not to worship the land. They were never supposed to place a higher priority and value on the land than they did on God. The gift was never to take precedence over the Giver.

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 Perils of Partial Obedience.

Now Joshua was old and advanced in years, and the Lord said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess. This is the land that yet remains: all the regions of the Philistines, and all those of the Geshurites (from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron, it is counted as Canaanite; there are five rulers of the Philistines, those of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron), and those of the Avvim, in the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians, to Aphek, to the boundary of the Amorites, and the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrise, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo-hamath, all the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, even all the Sidonians. I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh.”

With the other half of the tribe of Manasseh the Reubenites and the Gadites received their inheritance, which Moses gave them, beyond the Jordan eastward, as Moses the servant of the Lord gave them: from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland of Medeba as far as Dibon; 10 and all the cities of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, as far as the boundary of the Ammonites; 11 and Gilead, and the region of the Geshurites and Maacathites, and all Mount Hermon, and all Bashan to Salecah; 12 all the kingdom of Og in Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth and in Edrei (he alone was left of the remnant of the Rephaim); these Moses had struck and driven out. 13 Yet the people of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel to this day. Joshua 13:1-13 ESV

division-of-promised-land-to-ancient-israelChapter 12 presented a synopsis of the Israelites’ successful campaign against 31 different kingdoms. They had enjoyed unparalleled victories and had virtually eliminated all significant military threats. But their job was not yet done. In the seven years since Joshua had led the people across the Jordan and into the promised land, they had been engaged in an almost constant military action. But now, the time had come to begin taking possession of the land. Chapter 13 opens up with the announcement that Joshua had grown old. It is estimated that he was somewhere around the age of 80 by this time and the mention of his age provides a sense of urgency. There was still work to be done. It was necessary that the land be divided up between the various tribes and that the remaining inhabitants of the land be eliminated. God provided Joshua with a not-so-subtle reminder that his days were numbered and that his job was not yet finished.

“You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess.” – Joshua 13:1 ESV

Joshua didn’t have time to rest on his laurels or to start thinking about retirement. It was essential that he finish what he had begun and ensure that the people took possession of the land – in its entirety. So, God provided Joshua with a list of the remaining nations to be conquered and destroyed: The Philistines, Geshurites, Canaanites, Sidonians, Amorites, and Gebalites. But these nations would not be dealt with using the combined forces of the Israelites. It was going to be the responsibility of each tribe to conquer the nations still remaining in the land allotted to them as an inheritance.

Chapters 13-24 are going to provide a record of Israel’s efforts to obey God’s command to occupy the land. The land was legally theirs, having been given to them by God Himself. But they were responsible for taking possession of the land and this was to include the removal of all pagan influences and any potential temptations that might draw them away from worshiping God alone. But what these chapters will reveal is the partial obedience of God’s people. While they had successfully eradicated many of the threats against them, they were still surrounded by nations that posed a potential problem if left unattended. And one of the first nations God points out to Joshua is that of the Philistines. This was a people group who were native to the land. At one time, they had migrated from the northwest and had successfully dispossessed the inhabitants living in the southwest portion of Canaan. The land they occupied was part of the inheritance promised by God to Abraham. It belonged to Israel, but they were going to have to take it from the Philistines. But as we will see, the Israelites failed to eliminate the Philistines, allowing them to grow in strength and numbers. And they would prove to be a constant threat to the people of Israel for generations to come, not only militarily, but spiritually.

In Joshua’s day, the Philistines would have been few in number and should have been an easy target for the people of Israel. The land they occupied was located to the west of the land awarded to the tribes of Dan, Simeon and Judah. Their cities, including Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron, were to be considered Canaanite cities and, therefore, part of the inheritance God had given to Israel. But that little strip of land would prove to be a major obstacle in Israel’s efforts to obey God’s command to occupy the land of Canaan. And more than three centuries later, King Saul would find himself dealing with the constant threat of a much larger, stronger Philistine nation, all because the people of Israel had refused to do what God had commanded them to do.

The dangerous tendency of the people of Israel to practice partial obedience is revealed in verses 8-13, where we are provided an overview of the less-than-successful efforts of the tribes of Manasseh, Reuben and Gad to eradicate the enemies living in their allotted land east of the Jordan. Joshua had given these three tribes permission to occupy the land captured by Israel in the early days of their entry into Canaan. And while they had successfully defeated the two kings, Og and Sihon, taking over their cities and occupying their former kingdoms, the text provides us with a sad assessment of their overall efforts to obey God’s command.

Yet the people of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel to this day. – Joshua 13:13 ESV

This will not be the only time we read of Israel’s failure to rid the land of its inhabitants and to eliminate the potential threat of spiritual contamination from pagan influences.  These statements of partial obedience will appear throughout the remaining chapters of the book of Joshua.

But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day. – Joshua 15:63 ESV

However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor. – Joshua 16:10 ESV

Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out. – Joshua 17:12-13 ESV

The various tribes would struggle to keep the word of God, choosing instead to make concessions and compromises, allowing the enemies of Israel to remain in the land. God had never commanded the Israelites to make the Canaanites their slaves. He had commanded that they be completely eradicated. Years earlier, Moses had clearly warned the people of Israel of God’s commands concerning the people of Canaan, and he had given them a strong reason for such drastic measures.

1 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 ESV

Partial obedience to the will of God is not obedience at all. It is sin and it is dangerous because it comes with consequences. The Israelites would choose to allow their enemies to live. They would end up making covenants with them. They would eventually allow their children to intermarry with them. And they would find themselves led away from God because of them. The land of Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey. It was rich and bountiful. It was beautiful. And it was a gift given to the people of Israel by God. But it was marred by the presence of sin. It was filled with false gods and people who stood opposed to the one true God. Israel’s decision to practice partial obedience to God would prevent them from enjoying the fullness of God’s blessings. And their failure to obey now would have long-term ramifications for generations to come.

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 Am the Lord.

1 Now these are the kings of the land whom the people of Israel defeated and took possession of their land beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise, from the Valley of the Arnon to Mount Hermon, with all the Arabah eastward: Sihon king of the Amorites who lived at Heshbon and ruled from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and from the middle of the valley as far as the river Jabbok, the boundary of the Ammonites, that is, half of Gilead, and the Arabah to the Sea of Chinneroth eastward, and in the direction of Beth-jeshimoth, to the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, southward to the foot of the slopes of Pisgah; and Og king of Bashan, one of the remnant of the Rephaim, who lived at Ashtaroth and at Edrei and ruled over Mount Hermon and Salecah and all Bashan to the boundary of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and over half of Gilead to the boundary of Sihon king of Heshbon. Moses, the servant of the Lord, and the people of Israel defeated them. And Moses the servant of the Lord gave their land for a possession to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the people of Israel defeated on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, that rises toward Seir (and Joshua gave their land to the tribes of Israel as a possession according to their allotments, in the hill country, in the lowland, in the Arabah, in the slopes, in the wilderness, and in the Negeb, the land of the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites): the king of Jericho, one; the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one; 10 the king of Jerusalem, one; the king of Hebron, one; 11 the king of Jarmuth, one; the king of Lachish, one; 12 the king of Eglon, one; the king of Gezer, one; 13 the king of Debir, one; the king of Geder, one; 14 the king of Hormah, one; the king of Arad, one; 15 the king of Libnah, one; the king of Adullam, one; 16 the king of Makkedah, one; the king of Bethel, one; 17 the king of Tappuah, one; the king of Hepher, one; 18 the king of Aphek, one; the king of Lasharon, one; 19 the king of Madon, one; the king of Hazor, one; 20 the king of Shimron-meron, one; the king of Achshaph, one; 21 the king of Taanach, one; the king of Megiddo, one; 22 the king of Kedesh, one; the king of Jokneam in Carmel, one; 23 the king of Dor in Naphath-dor, one; the king of Goiim in Galilee, one; 24 the king of Tirzah, one: in all, thirty-one kings. Joshua 12:1-24 ESV

division-of-promised-land-to-ancient-israelThis chapter provides us with a summary of the conquests of Joshua and the people of Israel, beginning with their defeats of the two cities belonging to Og and Sihon. These two kings and their kingdoms were located on the eastern side of the Jordan and had been the first two Canaanite cities to fall to the Israelites before they crossed the Jordan and entered the promised land. Their domains were awarded to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. These three tribes had decided to forfeit their right to a portion of the land within the land of promise and chose instead to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan. But they had agreed to cross over with the rest of the Israelites and fight alongside them until the possession of the land was complete. Once Joshua was ready to divide up the conquered land between the remaining tribes, he allowed the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh to return to their families and property on the other side of the Jordan.

In this chapter we are provided with the names of 31 kings whose kingdoms fell to the Israelites. From Sidon in the far north to Kadesh in the distant south, from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, Joshua and the people of Israel successfully conquered the land of promise, establishing themselves as its new occupants and solidifying the reputation of God as the one true God. The whole campaign had been according to God’s will, accomplished by His power and in fulfillment of the promise He had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Possession of the land had not come easily. God had given it to them, but He had not handed it to them. They were required to do their part and fight. At least 31 times, they had to march into battle and, in most cases, against far more powerful enemies and in the face of overwhelming odds. Each battle had required faith in God. And every victory was a testimony to the faithfulness of God. This ragtag remnant of former slaves had been able to walk into a foreign land and face enemy forces equipped with better-trained troops and more advanced weaponry. But, in each case, God gave them the victory. He had not only given them the land, He had provided them with the capacity to possess the land.

It is easy to read this chapter and see it as nothing more than a list of difficult-to-pronounce names of ancient kings and long-forgotten people groups. We see the names of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and they mean little or nothing to us. But the author of the book of Joshua is attempting to provide us with a report that should remind us of God’s power. This isn’t meant to be some kind of Excel spreadsheet listing all of Israel’s victories. It is an objective chronicle of the exploits of God Almighty on behalf of His chosen people. The sheer impossibility of all that we read in this chapter should not escape us. It is less the synopsis of a military campaign, than it is a reminder of God’s power and His faithfulness to fulfill what He promises. 

All the way back in the book of Exodus, we have recorded the words God spoke to Moses when He called him to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt.

6 “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’” – Exodus 6:6-8 ESV

And God had done it. He had delivered on His promise. Not only had He set them free from their captivity and led them across the wilderness to the land of Canaan, He had given them possession of the land. Every step of the way, the odds had been against them. They never should have been able to walk out of Egypt, but they had. They never should have survived the arduous journey across the wilderness, but they did. They never should have defeated the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, but as chapter 12 of the book of Joshua clearly indicates, they most certainly did. Notice how many times God said to Moses, “I will.”

I will bring you out…

I will redeem you…

I will take you to be my people…

I will be your God…

I will bring you into the land…

I will give it to you as a possession…

He said He would and He he did. And God had book-ended His promise to Moses with the four simple words: “I am the Lord.” He used His proper name, Jehovah, which means “the existing One.” The everlasting, eternal God had entered into time and space and shown Himself to be not only real, but reliable. He wasn’t some transcendent, distant deity who refused to interact with His creation. He intimately involved Himself in the affairs of everyday life, redeeming, guiding, providing, rescuing and fighting on behalf of His chosen people. So, while the list of names and places found in chapter 12 mean little to us, they should remind us of the undeniable power and undiminished presence of our God. He is still among us. He is still guiding, directing, protecting and providing for us. And He is still in the business of fighting our battle for us – against any and all odds. The apostle Paul reminds us that our God is still on our side, having proven His love for us by sending His Son to die for us. And in spite of all the odds against us, we are victorious.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:35-39 NLT

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

Rest From War.

10 And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms. 11 And they struck with the sword all who were in it, devoting them to destruction; there was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire. 12 And all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua captured, and struck them with the edge of the sword, devoting them to destruction, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. 13 But none of the cities that stood on mounds did Israel burn, except Hazor alone; that Joshua burned. 14 And all the spoil of these cities and the livestock, the people of Israel took for their plunder. But every person they struck with the edge of the sword until they had destroyed them, and they did not leave any who breathed. 15 Just as the Lord had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.

16 So Joshua took all that land, the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland and the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland 17 from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, as far as Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. And he captured all their kings and struck them and put them to death. 18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses.

21 And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war. Joshua 11:10-23 ESV

joshua_conquest_of_canaan.jpgWhen Moses and the people of Israel had arrived at the borders of the land of Canaan the first time, he had sent in 12 men as spies and charged them with the responsibility of bringing back a report on conditions within the land. When they returned, they had good news and bad news. The land promised to them by God was abundantly fruitful and they had brought back samples to prove it. But there was a problem. The land was also full of well-fortified cities filled with well-armed people. The land of Canaan was literally crawling with potential enemies.

27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” – Numbers 13:27-29 ESV

This news kept the people of Israel from entering the land. Which was the cause behind God’s decision to let that generation die off in the wilderness rather than allow them to enter the promised land – the place of rest. But 40 years later, Joshua and the next generation of Israelites were in the land and discovering first-hand that the report of the spies was true. The land was full of fortified cities and formidable enemies. And yet, as this chapter reveals, Joshua and the people of Israel methodically eliminated any and all competition. As they stepped out in faith, obeying the will of God, they experienced unparalleled military success. From Hazor in the north to Debir in the south, Joshua and his troops made their way throughout the land of Canaan, racking up an impressive list of victories over the Amalakites, Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites. All those mighty warriors that the 12 spies had seen and warned the people of Israel about, were falling before the forces of Israel. Even the descendants of Anak, the people of Anakim. This particular group had been singled out by the spies as especially significant because they were seen to be giants. And yet, they proved to be no match for the Israelites. We’re told “There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel” (Joshua 11:22 ESV).

This chapter contains a summary of the military exploits of the people of Israel, but it is also provides an important reminder that this amazing feat was the work of God.

For it was the Lord‘s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses. – Joshua 11:20 ESV

God did His part and Joshua and the people of Israel did theirs. “Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses” (Joshua 11:23 ESV). Joshua did exactly what God had commanded Moses to do. He followed orders and enjoyed unprecedented success. He had learned an invaluable lesson at Jericho, that disobedience has consequences. He had also discovered the hard way, that making decisions without God’s input is costly. His alliance with the Gibeonites, made without God’s approval, was going to haunt the people of Israel for generations. And the Gibeonites are conspicuously mentioned in this chapter as the only nation that was spared by the Israelites.

There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. – Joshua 11:19 ESV

Because of the unfortunate alliance Joshua and the elders made with the Hivites, they would remain in the land, protected from destruction and free to influence the Israelites with their pagan ways and false gods. This passing mention of the Hivites is important, because it reminds us that God had clearly included them in His list of nations to destroy.

1 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 ESV

The Hivites were idolatrous, worshiping the false gods Moloch, Baal and Ashtaroth. Their worship of these gods involved the sacrifice of children and temple prostitution. So, their presence in the land would have long-term ramifications on the people of Israel.

But in spite of this one blot on Joshua’s record, he obeyed God, doing exactly as he had been told.

So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war. – Joshua 11:23 ESV

This does not mean that all of Canaan had been defeated and occupied by the people of Israel. There were still Canaanites in the land. But Joshua had broken the will of the people who occupied the land, having put the fear of God in them. There was no part of Canaan where the reputation of the Israelites and the name of Yahweh had not been heard. But now, the individual tribes of Israel were going to be held responsible to perform the necessary clean-up operations in their respective portions of the promised land. They would have to finish what Joshua had begun. God had brought them to the land, provided them with a miraculous entrance into the land, and assisted them in conquering the nations that occupied the land. Now it was their turn to populate and possess the land. The Canaanites were no longer a significant military threat, but they would remain a spiritual threat for generations to come. Yet, the Israelites would take the period of rest from battle that God was giving them and turn it into a time of complacency and compromise. Rather than complete the task that God had given them, they would eventually choose to allow the Canaanites to remain in the land, intermarrying with them and even worshiping their gods. Living in the rest that God provides does not mean we should relax our guard. We should not let down our defenses and become complacent in our obedience to His will.

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

Joshua’s Secret Weapon.

1 When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of this, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.

And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. And the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining. And Joshua did to them just as the Lord said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire. Joshua 11:1-9 ESV

Battle at MemorChapter 10 ends with the summary statement: “And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.” God had given Joshua and the people of Israel a series of lopsided victories over the five-nation confederation from southern Canaan that had aligned themselves against the Gibeonites. Because of an alliance Joshua and the elders had made with the people of Gibeon, Israel was forced to come to their rescue. And because the Israelites had sealed their treaty with the Gibeonites with an oath made in God’s name, God protected the honor of His name by providing Joshua and the Israelite forces with success. They routed the combined forces of the enemy, executed the five kings, and then completed a campaign that captured and destroyed their cities. But this kind of massive military action didn’t go unnoticed, even in the days before mass media. Word got out and before long, the kings of northern Canaan began to fear the presence and power of the Israelites. Jabin, king of Hazor, located in far northern Canaan, decided to prepare for the worst, and called on his fellow kings of the north to form an alliance against the Israelites. This would prove to be a multinational effort, with troops representing the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Hivites coming together in a massive show of force. The text describes them as “a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4 ESV). According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, this multinational force was made up of 300,000 armed footmen, 10,000 horsemen, and 20,000 chariots (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews).

Before Joshua and the people of Israel could enjoy a well-earned rest from the victory over the kings of the south, they found themselves facing an even greater threat from the north. The longer Israel remained in the land and the further they ventured into the interior, the more difficult the obstacles seemed to become. Each successive victory, while enjoyable for the moment, was followed by even greater resistance on the part of the remaining inhabitants of the land. No one was surrendering. The various people groups who occupied the land of Canaan were not giving up without a fight. And this time, the Israelites found themselves facing their most difficult test to date. These troops were well-trained and armed with chariots. The Israelites were outnumbered and out-gunned. They had no chariots or sophisticated, state-of-the-art weaponry. But they had God, and He had promised to go before them and fight their battles for them. He had already shown Himself true to His word, bringing down the walls of Jericho in a miraculous display of His power. He had also sent hail to destroy a large portion of the southern Canaanite forces. God was on their side and it didn’t really matter who or how many lined up on the other side. On paper, the northern alliance was the odds-on favorite to win this battle. They had everything going for them, except that they didn’t have God on their side. You might say that the Israelites had a secret weapon. They had a power at their disposal that no nation on earth could match. And, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, God provided Joshua with the assurance, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire” (Joshua 11:6 ESV).

But it’s one thing to hear the words of God and another thing to believe them. What God told Joshua didn’t make the enemy go away. They were still camped at the waters of Merom, and they were still intent on doing battle with the Israelites. Their numbers had not diminished and their chariots had not gone anywhere. God didn’t eliminate the threat, He simply guaranteed the victory. And Joshua had to take God at His word and lead his forces into a battle that, by all accounts, looked like a recipe for disaster. But Joshua did as the Lord commanded and led his inferior force into battle, taking the enemy by surprise. And the text tells us, “the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining” (Joshua 11:8 ESV).

Long before the Israelites arrived in the land of Canaan, God had promised to give them victory over their enemies, and He had told them that it would be accomplished in surprising fashion.

You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. – Leviticus 26:7-8 NLT

God doesn’t require superior forces to accomplish His will. He simply needs obedient servants who will trust His word and who will rely upon His strength instead of their own. Joshua knew he was out-manned. He was well aware that the odds were against him. But he also knew that God was for him. He was slowly learning to trust God and to step out in faith, knowing that the circumstances he faced were a lousy predictor of the outcome God intended.

If Josephus was right, the Israelites completely destroyed 300,000 armed footmen and 10,000 horsemen, and they set fire to 20,000 chariots. Any way you look at it, that is a remarkable accomplishment. It’s an act of God. The odds were against them, but God was for them. The enemy was superior in number, but God was superior in strength. Israelite lacked chariots and horses, but they had God on their side.

It was the future king of Israel, David, who would later write of secret weapon that is God Almighty.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
    but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:7-8 ESV

And Moses had told the people of Israel to keep their eyes focused on the strength of their God, not the size of their enemy.

“When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you!” – Deuteronomy 20:1 NLT

Joshua was learning to trust God. The enemies were not going away, they were actually increasing in number and growing in strength. But the power of God is best displayed against a backdrop of impossibility. It is when all looks lost and the odds are completely stacked against us that we find the power of God not only necessary, but most vividly displayed. The psalmist knew what it was like to be surrounded, outnumbered, and out-manned, but victorious in spite of the odds.

10 Though hostile nations surrounded me,
    I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.
11 Yes, they surrounded and attacked me,
    but I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.
12 They swarmed around me like bees;
    they blazed against me like a crackling fire.
    But I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.
13 My enemies did their best to kill me,
    but the Lord rescued me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has given me victory. – Psalm 118:10-14 NLT

Nothing is too difficult for God. No enemy is too powerful or circumstance too impossible for Him. In God, we have a secret weapon that no force in heaven or on earth can stand against.

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

And the Lord Gave…

29 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Makkedah to Libnah and fought against Libnah. 30 And the Lord gave it also and its king into the hand of Israel. And he struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it; he left none remaining in it. And he did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho.

31 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Libnah to Lachish and laid siege to it and fought against it. 32 And the Lord gave Lachish into the hand of Israel, and he captured it on the second day and struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it, as he had done to Libnah.

33 Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish. And Joshua struck him and his people, until he left none remaining.

34 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Lachish to Eglon. And they laid siege to it and fought against it. 35 And they captured it on that day, and struck it with the edge of the sword. And he devoted every person in it to destruction that day, as he had done to Lachish.

36 Then Joshua and all Israel with him went up from Eglon to Hebron. And they fought against it 37 and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword, and its king and its towns, and every person in it. He left none remaining, as he had done to Eglon, and devoted it to destruction and every person in it.

38 Then Joshua and all Israel with him turned back to Debir and fought against it 39 and he captured it with its king and all its towns. And they struck them with the edge of the sword and devoted to destruction every person in it; he left none remaining. Just as he had done to Hebron and to Libnah and its king, so he did to Debir and to its king.

40 So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded. 41 And Joshua struck them from Kadesh-barnea as far as Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, as far as Gibeon. 42 And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. 43 Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal. Joshua 10:29-43 ESV

003-joshua-sunThese verses chronicle the efforts of the Israelites as they wrapped up their defense of the people of Gibeon. After having defeated the combined forces of the five city-states and executed their kings, Joshua led his troops in a series of attacks on their cities. As you may recall, there had been four kings from southern Canaan who had alligned themselves with the king of Jerusalem, in order to attack the Gibeonites. This was all as a result of an alliance Joshua had made with the king of Gibeon.

Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it. – Joshua 10:5 ESV

But in spite of Joshua’s ill-advised and God-forbidden alliance, he was given victory over these kings because he had sworn an oath in God’s name to protect the people of Gibeon. So, God had given the people of Israel a great victory over them. But now, they had to do what God had commanded them to do and destroy all the nations of Canaan. While they could do nothing to harm the people of Gibeon because of their oath, they had no such alliances with the other cities of southern Canaan, collectively known as the land of the Amorites. So, beginning with Makkedah, the place where the five kings had sought refuge in a cave, Joshua and his forces began a methodical march through the land, conquering one city after another.

One of the most important factors behind these conquests is the obvious references made to God’s involvement. Repeatedly, the author tells us that God gave these cities into the hands of the Israelites. The victories were God-ordained and orchestrated. In fact, verse 42 tells us that “Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel.” By obeying the will of God, Joshua and the people of Israel experienced the blessing of God. He fought on their behalf and their victories were evidence of His presence and power. Beginning at Libnah and ending at Debir, the Israelites made their way through the land, doing exactly what God had commanded them to do.

So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded. – Joshua 10:40 ESV

There were no compromises made or treaties signed. No cities were arbitrarily spared or kings allowed to live. Joshua seems to have learned a valuable lesson. He had discovered that things go so much better when you do things God’s way. With each victory, he was witnessing a miracle, because the nation of Israel was not a well-trained, well-equipped military force, but a rag-tag group of people who had spent the last 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Their blitzkrieg-like march through southern Canaan was the work of God. In just days, they defeated seven different kingdoms. Through simple obedience to God’s will, they were experiencing the benefits of God’s divine assistance. God gave them victory because they gave Him honor through their obedience.

As always, it’s important that we not view these events as some kind of land-grab as one nation attempts to illegally dispossess the rightful occupants. This is a spiritual endeavor, ordained by God and intended to set up the Israelites in the land so that, one day, He could send His Son to be not only the Jewish Messiah, but the Savior of the world. One of the cities that Joshua and his forces defeated was Jerusalem. This would become the capital of the Hebrew nation, where David reigned and where Jesus would die. And one day, Jesus will return to the city of Jerusalem, where He will set up His kingdom and reign for 1,000 years. God has a much larger, grander plan in mind than the defeats of a series of seven city-states. He is preparing the way for something far more important: The coming of His Son as the Savior of the world. In his gospel account, John describes Jesus as the light of the world.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

When Jesus came into the world, it was a place of darkness. It was filled with sin and its people were marked by a spirit of rebellion against God. The same thing was true in Joshua’s day. The land of Canaan was a place of spiritual darkness, filled with people who worshiped false gods and whose lifestyles were marked by open rebellion to the one true God. Paul describes their spiritual state in stark terms:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:19-23 ESV

It is important to remember that the spiritual darkness of Canaan was palpable and real. These nations were under the curse of God because they lived in rebellion against God. And while we may find God’s methodology of destruction and devastation difficult to comprehend, He was establishing Himself as the one true God and the people of Israel as His chosen possession. As we have already seen, the victories of Israel over their enemies were leaving an indelible impression. Those Canaanites who were not living in the cities Israel destroyed, were undoubtedly impressed by the power of Israel’s God. They were convinced that Yahweh was far greater and more powerful than their own gods. They had no doubt pleaded with their deities to give them victory. They had made sacrifices at their altars and begged their gods for divine intervention. But their gods had failed them.

Like the plagues brought on the people of Egypt, God had a purpose in all of this. He was displaying His power among the nations through His chosen people, Israel. He was letting everyone in Canaan know that there was a new God in town. He was great and greatly to be feared. He was holy and demanded of His people that they live obediently and in keeping with His revealed law. As long as they obeyed Him, they would enjoy His power and presence. All the way back at the Jordan River, when God dried up the waters so the people could cross over into the land of promise, Joshua told the people, “He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the LORD’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the LORD your God forever” (Joshua 4:24 NLT). God was displaying His power through the lives of the people of Israel. They were His light in the darkness. They were revealing what happens when a nation lives in relationship with the one true God and in willing obedience to His will.

 

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

Stones of Remembrance.

1 When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the Lord told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day. 10 For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua.

The people passed over in haste. 11 And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the Lord and the priests passed over before the people. 12 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the people of Israel, as Moses had told them. 13 About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14 On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life. Joshua 4:1-14 ESV

centered-stones-largeGod’s  people have a tendency to forget, and nobody seems to know that better than God Himself. Their collective ability to recall and rejoice in His wondrous acts was spotty, at best. So, God was constantly reminding His people to remember. He knew their particular tendency toward forgetfulness and the human proclivity to take credit for their own accomplishments.

Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. – Deuteronomy 4:23 ESV

10 “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. – Deuteronomy 6:10-12 ESV

11 Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery… – Deuteronomy 8:11-14 ESV

Their entrance into the land of promise was a memorable experience. As soon as the feet of the priests carrying the ark of the covenant entered the Jordan River, the water ceased to flow. Somewhere up river, a wall of water formed, preventing any further water from reaching the spot where the Israelites would pass over. One minute the river was there. The next, it was gone. And the priests found themselves standing on dry ground. Joshua commanded the 12 men he had chosen earlier to each take one stone from the river bed and carry it to the other side. Those 12 stones would become a memorial, a permanent reminder for the people of Israel, recalling the miraculous provision of God. The stones were to provide a visual history lesson, prompting their children, yet born, to ask for an explanation as to the meaning behind the stones. And the answer was simple: “you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off” (Joshua 4:7 ESV). Notice that the answer doesn’t mention God. It’s almost as if the question elicits a response which is intended to create even greater curiosity on the part of the child asking the question. “How were the waters cut off?” “What made this happen?” And the answer to those questions was, “God.” The miracle had a source. The action had an agent behind it.

But remembering can be difficult work, and forgetfulness comes easy. As amazing as this particular event was, the day would come when the people would fail to remember what God had done for them. The stones would be neglected. The memory of crossing over the Jordan would be replaced by the more pressing concerns of taking over the land. The attitude of that-was-then, this-is-now would take over. The people of Israel would learn to live in the moment, rather than in the memory. But failing to look back and recall what God has done, will dramatically weaken our ability to look ahead and trust God for what He can do. Our recollection of God’s past provision is the fuel for our future faithfulness. When we fail to remember what He has done, we tend to doubt what it is He can do. He becomes out of sight, out of mind. And that is exactly what eventually happened to the people of Israel. If we fast forward to the book of Judges, it opens up with the news of the death of Joshua. It also tells us that the people were still trying to possess the land God had given them. But they had been less-than-successful because they had been far from obedient. They had failed to do things God’s way. And then, we read these sad words:

10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. – Judges 2:10-12 ESV

Not only had they forgotten what God had done for them, they forgot God. They abandoned Him. The one who had delivered them from captivity in Egypt, who had led them through the wilderness and who had miraculously made a way for them to cross the Jordan River on dry ground, had been forgotten and forsaken. How in the world do you forget God? You simply fail to remember what He has done for you. Memorials are memory pegs that provide a solid foundation for our faith. One of the reasons we take the Lord’s Table is to remind us of what God has done for us. It is to stir in us the memory of Christ’s sacrificial death and atoning work on our behalf.

He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” – Luke 22:19 NLT

When we remember what He has done, we are far better prepared to trust Him for what we need Him to do. But time has a way of fogging our memories and causing us to forget God’s past acts of mercy. Immediately after crossing the Jordan, the people of Israel were enthusiastic and filled with faith. They even afforded Joshua the same respect they had shown to Moses.

On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life. – Joshua 4:14 ESV

But would it last? Would their excitement linger and their faith hold? The stones of remembrance would still be wet from the waters of the Jordan. The memory of crossing over on dry ground would be fresh. But in time, that memory would fade, the stones would be forgotten, and the goodness of God would become overshadowed by the next pressing issue of the day.

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