Joshua, Part 2

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Joshua is a good role model for any Christian.  Spiritually, he’s one of the best in the Bible.  But this man, Moses’ successor, was also a tremendous military strategist.  He was able to achieve the perfect balance between human ability and divine guidance; between careful and clever planning and fulfilling God’s will.  In this way, also, Joshua also serves as an excellent role model.  You may wonder what you could learn from Joshua’s military leadership, after all, you’re probably not in the military.  Yet, in a way, you are; all Christians are engaged in spiritual warfare:

Last of all I want to remind you that your strength must come from the Lord’s mighty power within you.  Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand safe against all strategies and tricks of Satan.  For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against persons without bodies-the evil rulers of the unseen world, those mighty satanic beings and great evil princes of darkness who rule this world; and against huge numbers of wicked spirits in the spirit world.  (Ephesians 6:10 – 12  TLB)

Verify God’s Word

After four decades of more or less silent service, Joshua lost his superior, Moses, and he was thrust into the spotlight.  “Joshua” means “Jesus,” which means “savior.”  He was aptly named.  Joshua would lead his people, the nation of Israel, into Canaan, the land God had promised to Abraham.  Joshua would, essentially, save his people from their desert wanderings; he would give them a home.

“Now that my disciple is dead, you are the new leader of Israel. Lead my people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land.”  (Joshua 1:2  TLB)

And so it began.  That’s God talking to Joshua.  We’re not told how He spoke to Joshua, only that He did.  The Israelites were camping out at Shittim, some 14 miles east of the Jordan River.  Before entering the land, he sent out two spies to get the “lay of the land.”  Previously, they had sent in spies to see if the land could be taken.  But now the spies would simply discover the best way to enter the land.  Joshua knew God’s will; he knew what God wanted him to do, but the man didn’t sit around waiting, twiddling his thumbs.  He did what he had to do.  He had to his part.

Then Joshua sent two spies from the Israeli camp at Acacia to cross the river and check out the situation on the other side, especially at Jericho. They arrived at an inn operated by a woman named Rahab, who was a prostitute.   (Joshua 2:1  TLB)

There are some details missing from the story that we wish were included.  How did Joshua know about Rahab?  How did he know to send the spies to her?  The mind wonders and wanders, and it’s probably best not to let it wonder for too long or wander too far.  The point is, the spies went to the best place they could go:  the house of a prostitute.   Rahab was not only a prostitute, she was also an innkeeper who, through her various customers, probably knew information Israel could use.  One Bible scholar, Irving L. Jensen, also noted this:

…We need to remember that in these early days, even among men who were God-fearing, standards of sex behavior were not the standards of today.

Be that as it may, what Rahab did will go down in history as a clever, courageous action of a woman who had faith.  It may have been immature, imperfect faith, but she had faith, nonetheless.  We’ve already covered Rahab in some detail on this site, but let’s just say she’s very important for two reasons.  First, she was chosen by God to reveal information to the Israelites that He wanted them to have.  God is sovereign, he can use anybody He wants to for His purposes.  Second, Rahab will forever be the perfect example of the sinner in whom God changes a heart and works His purposes in and through.  On this latter matter, it should be noted that she is listed as an ancestor of Jesus Christ (that’s Jesus Christ, of the “Son of God” fame), and both the author of Hebrews and James, the author of James, commend Rahab for what she did, noting that her good works (protecting the spies using some strategic lying) exemplified faith.

Speaking of that last point, strategic lying, it raises an important question that has been a theological elephant for a long time.  Why would God use such a person?  Two answer that, let’s dispense with two points.  First, God did not condone her profession.  And second, He did not condone her lying.  God wasn’t as interested in what Rahab was as in what she was becoming.  She was on her way to becoming a woman of faith.  God, who alone knows, sees, and lives in the future, knew about Rahab what He knows about all believers:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  (Ephesians 2:6, 7  TNIV)

Through a person who is sitting with Christ in the heavenly realms, God works wonders.

He did through Rahab, and the spies were able to get the information Joshua needed.

Then the two spies came down from the mountains and crossed the river and reported to Joshua all that had happened to them.  “The Lord will certainly give us the entire land,” they said, “for all the people over there are scared to death of us.”   (Joshua 2:23, 24  TLB)

With the help of a prostitute, the mission was completed.  There was no question about taking the land.  The spies knew what Joshua knew:  It was theirs for the taking.  God’s Word had been verified.

There are many lessons for the modern Christian in this chapter.  One of the most important is the importance of knowing the enemy.  Having faith in God and trusting in Him doesn’t preclude a good understanding of the tactics of Satan and being alert to his presence and interest in believers.

Stepping out in faith

Joshua had been through this before, 40 years earlier.  He knew what to expect.  He had his memories and he had God’s Word for it.

When the priests who are carrying the Ark touch the water with their feet, the river will stop flowing as though held back by a dam, and will pile up as though against an invisible wall!” Now it was the harvest season and the Jordan was overflowing all its banks; but as the people set out to cross the river and as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, suddenly, far up the river at the city of Adam, near Zarethan, the water began piling up as though against a dam! And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was empty. Then all the people crossed at a spot where the river was close to the city of Jericho, and the priests who were carrying the Ark stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan and waited as all the people passed by.  (Joshua 3:14 – 17  TLB)

It certainly was a scary prospect, but faith guided by the Word of God and reinforced by experience won the day.  The Lord proved to Joshua and to the rest of the nation that He was with them.  Once safely on the other side of the Jordan, Joshua set up a memorial of 12 stones:

Then Joshua explained again the purpose of the stones: “In the future,” he said, “when your children ask you why these stones are here and what they mean, you are to tell them that these stones are a reminder of this amazing miracle-that the nation of Israel crossed the Jordan River on dry ground!”  (Joshua 4:21, 22  TLB)

That’s a significant thing Joshua did.  Memorial piles of rock were pretty common during Old Testament days.  Noah set up a memorial when he left the ark.  Those piles of stones served to remind subsequent generations of what God had done.  We don’t set up literal memorials today, but Michael Youssef’s comments help us understand how what Joshua did back then relates to us today:

God wants to see prayers that are filled with genuine praise and thanksgiving for what He has done in the past.  He wants our hearts to be filled with awe and gratitude for His blessings.  He wants us to set up memorials in our hearts testifying to the provisions He has given us.

Yet there is more going on here – something on the spiritual plane.  A handful of verses in Romans will shed some light on it:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  (Romans 6:1 – 4  NIV)

Jesus Christ died for you and for me, and that’s the significance of the 12 stones.  They were placed IN the Jordan River to speak of the death of our Lord.  And the 12 stones taken out of the Jordan and put on the west bank of the river represent the resurrection of Christ.

Jesus Christ died two thousand years ago and Paul taught the Romans that believers are identified with Him in His death.   He used the word baptizo, which is always transliterated (not translated) as “baptize.”  But it’s main meaning really has nothing to do with water.  Rather, baptizo speaks of identification, as in, Christians are identified with Christ in His death.  When He died physically, we died spiritually and when He rose from the dead, we rose to a new life in Him.  Somehow, in the mystery and providence of God, believers from across space and time are tied to what happened on the Cross.  It’s the focal point of history in more ways than one.

When Israel crossed the Jordan, they became identified – forever identified – with the Promised Land.  When we became born again, Christ’s death became our death and His resurrection became ours.

What God did for the Israelites He did for their benefit.  And yet He did it for another reason, a much larger reason:

He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.  (Joshua 4:24  NIV)

That’s also a significant thing.  When God does anything for His people, His primary reason for doing so is for their benefit, and the secondary reason is so that non-believers will take notice of God’s power, just as the citizens of Jericho took notice of what He did for the Israelites.

Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.  (Joshua 5:1  NIV)

Another reason is given as to why God came through for the Israelites:  so that they would fear Him.  Out of the Red Sea and Jordan River experiences, the Israelites had at least three very good reasons for fearing God.  First, in graphic fashion, the people had seen the unlimited power of God on full display.  Second, God would use that power to help those who loved and served Him.  Finally, God’s will was communicated to the people through intermediaries:  human leaders (Moses and Joshua).

The presence of God in Israel had far-reaching consequences.  For Israel, of course, His persence meant safety.  But for the Amorites and Canaanites, His presence meant fear.  The mighty Jordan River was their natural defence against an aggressive invader, like Israel.  The God of Israel made short work of nature; it couldn’t be counted upon for help.  These pagans had nowhere else to turn to.  No wonder they were “paralyzed with fear.”

But it all started with a step of faith.  And with obedience.  When a believer has those two things operating in his life, God will do amazing things.

 

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