Joshua Introduction: Covenantal Continuity And Fulfilling Promises.
Joshua arrives on the scene as Moses’ successor. The last chapter of Deuteronomy (34) draws this connection, and is a transition from the Pentateuch to the unfolding history, just as the conclusion of Joshua leads us on to the judges. Written after Joshua’s death and before Saul (c 1050 BC), the author seeks to follow the covenant community who survived the judgment of the wilderness generation, including Moses-the death of the latter signalling the transition. In view is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises-Gen. 12. The author’s main point is fulfillment of God’s word. “Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.” (21:45; cf. 23:14) That is, the covenant making and covenant keeping LORD.
God, the LORD, was not done, to be sure (13:1ff.; 23:5). Covenantal history would continue to unfold. Amidst it all, there would always be the reminder that there were aspects of this covenantal relationship which were conditional upon obedience (23:12-16). Their parents generation including Moses himself, was proof of this (Nu. 13-14; Dt. 1:26-36; Dt. 1:37; 32:48-52). But the promise to Abraham also finds fulfillment in the continuing gospel witness, as Paul pointed out (Gal. 3:8 cf. Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). This promise indeed finds it’s fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:8-11). The promise remained of rest-a rest provided in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Israel’s entrance into and occupation of the land prefigures the Christian’s life in Christ.” (NGSB, p. 295) Furthermore, the land prefigures the whole earth!
Joshua 1:1-4 Covenantal Continuity.
There is a transition. Moses has died. There is some overlap in leadership-for Joshua had been Moses’ assistant. But that generation would not act on God’s promise in taking the land. It took a new leader, who along with Caleb, showed himself faithful to the LORD, to succeed Moses in the flow of covenantal history (Nu. 13:30; 14:6; Dt. 1:36-38). Moses was “the servant of the LORD,” and the LORD was calling Joshua to take his place (24:29). The call was to cross the Jordan and take the land that was promised.
It is interesting that it was Moses who gave Joshua his new name (Nu. 13:16). On his journey to spy out the land, in effect a journey of faith, he went from being ‘Hoshea,’ meaning “salvation,” to ‘Joshua,’ meaning “the LORD saves.” “It was appropriate that the man succeeding Moses as leader should bear a name that pointed to the LORD as the One from whom the nation’s salvation must come.” (NGSB, p. 209) This is the covenant making and covenant keeping LORD. Furthermore, Joshua was with Moses when the glory presence descended on the mountain-Ex. 24:13-18.
The promise of the land reiterated that which was spoken to Moses and the people earlier-Dt. 11:24. The promise goes back to the covenant with Abram-Gen. 15:18-21. Abram also experienced a name change-Gen. 17:3-6. What they have in common, besides the land, is an expansion to the nations. We should not forget, that with the LORD’s fulfilling of this promise through Joshua, that the nations had a choice, a choice exercised by Rahab (2), and the Gibeonites (9:3ff). There was not just a promise of land here-there was the promise of bringing the nations under the covenant of grace.
Joshua 1:5-9 Strength And Courage To Keep The Law-Word Of The Covenant.
Moses passed the torch, as it were, with the promises reiterated here (vv. 5-6; cf. Dt. 31:7-8, 23). In fact, Moses laid his hands on him (Dt. 34:9). So the call to him to “be strong and very courageous,” was based upon the promise of the LORD’s presence. This has always been the way for God’s people-we can be strong and very courageous because it is the LORD who promises to be with us. This is the core of the covenant-God with us. Joshua had the example of Moses to go by-both good and bad. He was with him on the mountain when God descended in the glory presence (Ex. 24:13-18). He was also mindful that Moses looked upon the promised land from a distance (Dt. 34).
Victory would continue to be conditional. Joshua and the people must follow the law-word of the covenant-the very law which Moses had commanded but that the previous generation did not fully follow. There was no “wiggle” room-not to the right or to the left (v. 7). This was the path to prosperity and success. “This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (v. 8) One cannot do what one does not know. It also is true that the end of scriptural study must be the doing of God’s will as revealed in His word. God’s command comes with the promise of His presence (v.9).
Joshua 1:10-18 Prepare And Remember.
“Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people.” ‘Then,’ that is, following upon the call, command, and promises of God, following upon the laying on of the hands of Moses, Joshua “commanded the officers of the people.” Joshua also learned from Moses that leadership must be shared (Ex. 18:13ff.). The LORD commanded him, he commanded the officers, and the officers would command the people-“prepare” (vv. 10-11). Any strategy for victory, especially when it comes to war, requires assurance of victory, a battle plan, a working command structure, teamwork, and preparation. Men who keep their word is also required.
Those on this side of the Jordan were to remember their promise (Nu. 32:20ff.). Those who had gained rest on this side of the Jordan had committed to continue the battle with their brethren (vv. 12-18), and they went to the front of the line (v. 14). They believed in the continuity of the covenant promises, and in the authority of God’s word, and in those whom he calls to lead (vv. 16-18). There is a lesson here for the church. The church is bigger than our own geographical area. Those who find their rest cannot forget their brethren. It is also true that everyone has a part in the plans and purposes of God.
Joshua 2 “The LORD Your God, He Is God.”
“Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, ‘Go view the land, especially Jericho.’” (v. 1) Joshua was a man who knew that two reliable men of faith was all it took to bear witness to the promises of God (Nu. 13-14), and all that is needed in matters of life and death (Dt. 17:6). Names and places mean something. Acacia Grove, besides being on the promise side of the Jordan, was the place of physical and spiritual harlotry (Nu. 25:1). Such was the case when some children of the covenant intermarried with pagan idolaters, and for them the promise of rest was forfeited.
But God, through Joshua, had other designs for His faithful remnant-they would find “grace in the wilderness” (Jer. 31:2). And irony of ironies, they would go “to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there.” I wonder what some of the elders had to say about this move! But harlotry was in the rearview-the future was laying hold of the promises of the covenant. Joshua sent, they went, they viewed, and they spied secretly. There is a lesson for the church today-be as wise as a serpent but harmless as a dove. There is still more land to conquer, and promises to be fulfilled. And Rahab, by bearing true witness, would forever be in the covenantal line (Mt. 1:5).
This was a journey of faith-for both the spies and Rahab (Heb. 11:30-31). It may come as a surprise to some that we can say that Rahab bore true witness by lying to the king. But this has more to do with the failure to understand the ninth commandment. It does not say, ‘You shall not lie.” It says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” There is a difference. Those who sheltered the Jews during the holocaust may have lied, but they bore true witness. Some claim to follow God’s law, but then don’t let God tell them, from His law, what that law actually means. There was a call to Rahab to bear true witness concerning her neighbour, and she did so in faith, and her lie was part of her good work (Js. 2:25).
Later on, during the time of David, he and the people would also cross the Jordan, in no small part due to the faithful witness of a servant woman, who contradicted the false witness of Ahithophel, by lying to the servants of Absalom (II Sam 17:15ff.). And Ahithophel, like Judas, would commit suicide. Some people bear false witness by telling the truth, others bear true witness by telling a lie. One can think also of the midwives, who in lying to Pharoah bore true witness, and saved the male infants, including Moses. The scriptural testimony stands. “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them.” (Ex. 1:20-21)
And to show that covenantal headship sometimes falls upon women, when the men are absent, Rahab stood in the place of her family, as a woman of faith. This was her testimony-that the God of Israel reigns. “I know that the LORD has given you the land.” “I know.” She knew that the LORD, the covenant making and covenant keeping LORD reigned, and not the king of Jericho. And she, because of her faithful witness, spared not only herself, but her whole household (6:17). Paul was not saying anything strange when he wrote that children are sanctified through one believing parent (I Cor. 7:14). There is a principle of representation here which goes to the heart of covenant making and keeping.
Rahab understood the flow of covenant history, and the sovereign work of the LORD of the covenant. “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.” (v. 10). She not only heard the good news of the gospel, but she believed and staked her life on it (cf. Heb. 4:2, 11:31), and she in turn became part of the flow of covenantal history. “For the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” (v. 11 cf. Dt. 4:39)
Unlike the pagan gods of the Amorites, the LORD of the covenant alone is God. There is One only, and a fundamental distinction exists between the creature and the One in heaven. However, though there is this fundamental Creator-creature distinction, He is not absent from the earth-rather, He rules here also as the covenant LORD of history. Yes, this was Rahab’s testimony. In fact, we can go one step further-she knew what it meant to take an oath-the heart of the covenantal bond. In protecting the spies, and lying to the king, she in effect, took a vow of commitment to Israel’s God, and in return she asked from the servant’s of the LORD a vow of oath from them.
“Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the LORD, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father’s house, and give me a true token, and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.” (v. 13) The servant’s gave their oath, which would stand if none of those covered broke the bond and spoke of the plan (v. 14). There was also another individual commitment that each one had to make-stay in the house with the scarlet cord when the battle raged (vv. 17-19). But no one would be spared if the plan were revealed (v.20). Each person had two choices, speak and all were doomed, step outside and they would suffer their own loss.
According to the record, it would seem that all of Rahab’s family were saved. The vengeance of God would pass over her house. Meanwhile, the people of Jericho also heard what Rahab heard, but they remained terrified. The people would have ample opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Rahab, as the people of Israel would make their march around the city, but they would not (Ch. 6). There is no doubt that it was a fear and terror from God (Ex. 23:27; Dt. 2:25, 11:25). Rahab and her family were spared, not because the servants made a covenant with her or the gods of the people in the city, which was clearly prohibited (Ex. 23:31). Rather, they were saved because Rahab entered into the covenant of the LORD and confessed Him as God.
Joshua 3 Set Out-Go After.
“Then Joshua rose early in the morning.” (v. 1) Joshua provides numerous lessons in leadership. If one wants to lead, then one must be first off the mark. Many fail because they fail to show up, but leaders do more. Leaders are the first to show up. However, as important as it is to show up, one must also be prepared. Joshua had learned that he needed leaders to help him, to share the load, so to speak (1:10). He had commanded the officers to pass through the camp-these were men who lived among the people-they led from within. From this standpoint they also commanded the people. The message was, “prepare.” (1:11) So leaders not only show up, they actually lead others, and they ensure that their people are prepared.
However, to be truly prepared, one must remember. In the case of the covenant people, “remember the word which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded.” (1:13) “Remember the word,” is still the blueprint for the church’s victory today. Without it, rest and covenant fulfillment will not come. And the people understood that if Joshua was to succeed Moses, the LORD would need to be with him also (1:16-18). Joshua knew the value of the witness of two men of faith (2: 1ff.; cf. Nu. 13-14), men who were wise as serpents and harmless as doves, men who keep their word and are trustworthy. Then there was Rahab, who counted the cost of following, and led her family by faith (2).
“When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it.” (3:3) The ark had gone before the nation under Moses, accompanied by the glory cloud (Nu. 10:33-36). They knew that they needed the LORD’s presence and leading, including through the instrumentality of the Levites, His priests (cf. Dt. 31:9, 25). It wasn’t as though it were a magical thing. The ark both symbolized the LORD’s presence and what it contained. It contained the “Book of the law,” which was to be “a witness” against the people, along with the “song” of Moses (Dt. 32), should they break the covenant (Dt. 31:19-21).
When they sang the song, Joshua was inaugurated as Moses successor (Dt. 31:22-23). Now the next generation was being called upon to fulfill their oath. There was conditionality to this relationship, every bit as much as there was to the previous generation. So they were to follow the LORD’s lead, through His representatives, but not just any way they felt like going. They had to keep their distance (v. 4), just as at the mountain (Ex. 19:12). This required sanctification, as they were about to follow the One who is holy (v. 5). So Joshua commanded the priests and they led, and the people followed (v.6). The LORD was establishing Joshua’s leadership with His presence and commands, and these he passed on to the Levites and the people (vv. 7-8).
“When you come to the edge of the water of the Jordan, you shall stand in the Jordan.” (3:8) Are we prepared to take our stand in the midst of many waters? Is the church even prepared to go to the edge of the Jordan? Does she have the leaders who will not only take them there, but lead them to the other side? There is a crisis of leadership in the church of Jesus Christ, she has not sought His presence, the law, or the covenant. She needs men who will bear these up, until then she will wander in the wilderness. The people were being called upon to leave harlotry behind, and by faith to lay hold of the promises of the covenant. “So Joshua said to the children of Israel, ‘Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God.’” (3:9)
Joshua called for covenantal leadership-federal representation for the people (v. 12). These would be men whom they selected-this is important to point out (3:12). “The LORD of all the earth,” is an all encompassing expression. In effect, the promised land was but a first instalment of the onward march of the kingdom of the LORD. This was “the living God.” The LORD was not like the dumb idols of the nations to be dispossessed. They knew and would know this because He would act in history, just as He did in the past. They would know Him to be the living God, because He would drive out the nations before them (3:10).
There is a serious lack of knowing, among the people of the LORD, that He is the living God who has acted and continues to act in history for His own cause and kingdom. It is the nature of faith that we don’t see the promises fulfilled until we step out in faith, go beyond the water’s edge, and stand on the promises of the LORD of the covenant (Heb. 11:1 cf. Joshua 3:13). But by doing so, “the elders obtained a good testimony.” (Heb. 11:2 cf. Josh. 3:13) Among such a great cloud of witnesses, it becomes the choice of each new generation to step out in faith or fall in the wilderness of unbelief (Heb. 3:7-19, 12:1-2).
Joshua 4 The Stones Bear Witness.
There is a biblical principle often overlooked which is, two or three witnesses confirms a matter. Witnesses are employed in matters of life and death-one was not enough (Dt. 17:6). Joshua had the elders take up stones from the Jordan to bear witness at Gilgal, but he also bore witness to the same, “in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood.” (4:9) “And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever…twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan…twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan.” (4:7-9)
Gilgal is the place of rolling back. They rolled back the harlotry of the past, and made new covenantal commitments in the present and for the future. ‘Gilgal’ means rolling, and for the covenant people they were rolling back the past and looking ahead to the future. The people would fulfill the covenant sign of circumcision, which also gave the name significance. “Then the LORD said to Joshua, ‘This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.’” (5:9) And it is here that Joshua set up the twelve stones which the leaders brought up from the river (4:20).
The stones would bear witness through the generations that the LORD was their deliverer-brought over on dry land. This was just as He had done at the red sea (v. 23). “That all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” (4:24) It was a testimony to the world-all peoples of the earth, through the crossing of “the arc of the Testimony.” (4:16) The testimony is that the covenant making and covenant keeping LORD of Israel, is mighty. The people would remember and fear the LORD. The stones would bear witness.
Joshua 5 A Covenantal Future With The Commander Of The LORD.
“When all…heard.” (v.1) The Kings heard about the LORD drying up the Jordan for His people to pass over, “their heart melted.” (v. 1). God acted in history to deliver His people, and the people knew it was but the beginning of the expansion of His kingdom. Some, like Rahab, responded with faith, but the vast majority lost heart. But before the nation went into battle they needed to fulfill the obligations of the covenant, and renew their commitment to the LORD. It would testify to their obedience to the voice of the LORD (v. 6).
One of the things that the generation in the wilderness failed to do was to keep their part in the administration of the covenant (Gen. 17-18). They had the example of Moses to know that not circumcising was a matter of life and death (Ex. 4:25). Zipporah had more sense than Moses at this point. But when Joshua and the people obeyed, it was symbolic of the LORD rolling back the reproach of Egypt and their own harlotry (v.9). The hill where this took place was named “hill of the foreskins,” to testify to their act of obedience, and the place was called Gilgal to testify to the rolling back.
But it wasn’t just the sign of initiation into the covenant of grace in circumcision, but also the Passover which followed. Circumcision was a prerequisite (Ex. 12:43-49). As a memorial of the LORD passing over the firstborn of Israel and delivering them from death, even so would he continue to do as they went forward in their future. Only by fulfilling both these sacraments of the covenant of grace, were the people then able to enter upon the inheritance of the promised land. “And they ate of the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, unleavened bread and parched grain, on the very same day.” (v. 11)
The people went beyond temporary provisions, and so must the church today (v.12). The food of heaven was never meant to replace the provisions the LORD provides on earth. The LORD gives us in this world and in this life what we need to extend His cause and kingdom, and to bear covenantal witness and blessing. We can’t remain pining for heaven when the LORD calls us to conquer the earth. Furthermore, God will not directly intervene, as it were, when he expects us to avail ourselves of what He provides to us by other means. It is often the case that we miss His providence because it comes clothed in the ordinary. But to be blessed with abundance, which we are, is no ordinary thing.
There is a lesson here for the church under the new covenant administration of the same covenant of grace. Blessing comes when we fulfill the obligations of the covenant. As Paul made so clear, baptism is the new covenant equivalent of circumcision (Col. 2:11), and Jesus, that the LORD’s supper is the new covenant Passover (Luke 22:7ff.; Mt. 26:17ff.; Ex. 12) These sacraments prepare the church for battle and blessing. Furthermore, as these signs and seals of the covenant were meant also for the infant members, those who deny one or both, are guilty of not fulfilling the obligations of the covenant, and cannot expect the blessings which He promises.
It was upon the celebration of the sign of initiation and the meal of continuation in the covenant of grace, that Joshua has his encounter with the second person of the trinity. There can be no other understanding of this “Man” whom he encountered, for He fell with his face to the ground and worshiped Him (cf. Gen. 32:34. See also blog post on Ps. 35). Not only did the “Commander” not forbid him from doing so, which any normal angel would do, but he told him to take off his sandal for the place where he stood was holy ground (vv. 13-15, cf. Ex. 3:5).
So upon fulfilling the signs of the covenant, they receive a visitation from the second person of the trinity, in the person of this Commander. Jesus has always been, and continues to be the Commander of the LORD’s army, going to battle with the faithful keepers of the covenant. “And Jesus came and spoke to them saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (Mt. 28:18-20)
Joshua 6 Out With The Old-In With The New.
Before the people had set one foot before the other to march around Jericho, the LORD was already gaining them the victory. The mere knowledge of the history of what the LORD had done up to that point was enough for them to retreat (vv. 1-2). The battle plan, from the LORD, isn’t something one might expect. It all pointed to a victory wrought by God and not man. One might expect six days of marching and a day of rest, but no. The seventh day would in fact involve marching seven times and the people finally taking the city.
The number seven figures prominently. Six days of marching once and the seventh marching seven times. Seven priests with seven trumpets. We should remember that they just celebrated the Passover, and following upon the Passover was the celebration of seven days of unleavened bread. It would remind the people of the readiness with which the Passover was eaten. “And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover.” (Ex. 12:11)
Just as the crossing of the Jordan is likened unto the red sea, even so the destruction of Jericho is like unto the destruction of Egypt (Ex. 12:12-13). And the scarlet cord marking Rahab’s home, is like unto the blood on the homes of the covenant people at the time of the exodus (Josh. 2:18, cf. Ex. 12:7). It would be accompanied by seven days of unleavened bread (Ex. 12:15-20). The people had finished celebrating the Passover, the manna from heaven ceased, and from the land of promise they began the Feast of Unleavened bread (5:12). The LORD brought about their own deliverance, even as in the days of Egypt and the red sea.
The lesson here for the church is this-we gather together each Lord’s day for the giving of the word and the celebration of the Passover feast, with the Commander of the LORD’s army, the Passover lamb. And with this, we purge out the leaven of sin within. “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Cor. 5:7-8)
As with the crossing of the Jordan, the LORD would go with the people, symbolically represented through the ark of the covenant-the ark which contained the law. This is what the priests were to herald. God’s word and presence must always be the foundation of everything the church does, if not she will suffer defeat. Furthermore, the march of victory was of those sanctified of the leaven of sin, because the LORD provided and accepted the Passover sacrifice. This is what the trumpets sound. And the victory only came as the Feast of Unleavened Bread came to a close. Victory will only come when the church takes her sanctification seriously.
However, there were those who sinned, and failed to purge all the leaven of sin in their hearts. The people were to “abstain from the accursed things” (v. 18), but as we learn later, some coveted and took what was intended for the house of the LORD (Ch. 7). But before this sad event, the LORD gave them victory, and this was the point. The people really had nothing to do with it. They were being exercised, as it were, through the feast of Unleavened Bread, working out what the LORD was working in. “Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout, for the LORD has given you the city!’” (v. 16)
The people marched, and then they shouted, but it was the LORD who gave them the city. And so we march, with the orders He gives us, with the ark of the Testimony with the law-word within, and the sacrifice offered, the leaven purged, and a shout of victory. And that victory is complete. There was no member of society exempt, and there was nothing of the structures of pagan society that didn’t need to be replaced. And following the leadership of Joshua, the people rose early in the morning, at the dawn of the seventh day (vv. 12, 15). And cursed would be anyone who would seek to re-establish the city-note well-with the loss of their firstborn. And with their youngest, so there would be no future. The Passover was complete. “So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout all the country.” (v. 27)
Joshua 7 The Valley Of Trouble.
In the midst of victory, sin was committed-“regarding the accursed things.” (v. 1) Achan not only took of the things dedicated to the LORD, but he also coveted of the those things of which they were to destroy (6:18-19). “By all means abstain from the accursed things.” They were to exercise this abstention, “by all means”. God declared that there was no neutrality here. Joshua issued a command, even though he did not know of the danger that lie within (v.2). And until the individual and his family were brought to judgment, the whole assembly suffered defeat (vv. 4-5, 12). Perhaps there was some over-confidence on there part (v. 3). This was a new campaign-perhaps they should have gone before the LORD anew.
In any case, Joshua did prostrate himself before the LORD after the defeat (v.6). This is often the way with even the most valiant and faithful among His people-going to the LORD after defeat instead of before the battle is waged. Joshua even regrets having laid hold of the promises, and leaving the wilderness behind them (v. 7). It shows that constant daily vigilance is required. Finally, Joshua makes a covenantal plea (vv. 8-9). And to this the LORD’s reply is that they have indeed transgressed the covenant (vv. 10-11). Achan took of the accursed things, a garment, and he stole what was to be dedicated to the LORD (v. 21). And on top of it all, they deceived the nation.
Sanctification was required by one and all (v. 13). Eventually the covenant transgressor would be revealed in this process of sanctification (vv. 15ff.). And when that person was revealed, he, his family, and all that he had would perish, but the nation would be spared. Covenant responsibility resides with its leaders, but also with individuals and their families. One gets the impression that his family knew what he had done. Had they not known they might also have been spared. It is interesting that his wife is not mentioned as among those who would perish with him (v. 24). Was he a widow, or did his wife refuse to be involved in this evil? One thinks of the fact that Ananias and Sapphira each had a choice to make (Acts 5:1-11).
Joshua, in spite of his failings, was ultimately spared, along with the nation as a whole, when the man who committed the transgression was found out. And so he commanded the people to stone them, and then “they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.” (v. 25) Apparently deliberate cremation was practiced for that which was accursed. There is no example of any saints choosing to be cremated. Quite the opposite. They had hope for the body. In fact, Joseph stipulated that his bones be taken with the people when they entered the promised land (Gen. 50:24-25). In any case, they suffered the same judgment as the city of Jericho, and a heap of stones once again became a witness, and the trouble ceased (v. 26).
Joshua 8:30-31 The Altar On Mount Ebal.
With the presence of both blessing and cursing in the administrations of the covenant, some suppose that these then are not administrations of the one covenant of grace. However, nothing could be further from the truth. God knew His people would fail, and so he made provision. Within the Law itself were instructions on sacrifice. In particular, Joshua was instructed to build the altar of uncut stones on Mt. Ebal-the place where the curses were pronounced (cf. Dt. 27:2-8)
Animal sacrifice was their substitute. On the very mountain from which the curses were uttered the LORD provided a solution-a substitutionary sacrifice on an altar not made by man, but an altar made by God alone. And so we see here, in fulfillment of the Law of Moses already given, that God was communicating the good news of the covenant of grace. In the Law itself, the LORD made provision for the failure to keep it. The only curse was on those who rejected the LORD’s testimony that they needed this provision.
Boice raises an interesting point here with respect to Jesus and the Samaritan woman. They had set up their altar on Mt. Gerizim (John 4:20). Mt Ebal testifies to the reality of sin, and the altar there to the need for sacrifice. “The chief characteristic of the Samaritans of that day and of our day (they still exist) is self-righteousness. The Samaritans would not come to God as sinners, confessing their need of cleansing, substitutionary sacrifice.” (Joshua, pp. 69-70)
Boice brings together three important truths here, ending with the idea of the uncut stones. “It is not just a matter of coming to God as a sinner, thereby taking your place, as it were, on Mount Ebal. That is absolutely essential-there is no place for the self-righteous in God’s presence-but it is not enough. Nor is it enough even to come to the place of sacrifice, thereby acknowledging your need of another to die for you. In addition to these absolutely essential things, it is also necessary to come acknowledging that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can contribute to the effort.” (p. 70)
The LORD’s people have always, and always will be, those who are justified by faith alone. God in His mercy and grace has made provision. In fact, the ark itself testified that this was the basis of the guarantee of His presence, which the ark conveyed, for between the overarching angels of God’s presence and the Law within, there was the mercy seat. And this mercy seat was sprinkled with the blood of atonement (cf. Lev. 16). “In that way the ark testified to the principle of substitutionary atonement, to the fact that an innocent victim could die for those who were guilty.” (Boice, p. 38)
Joshua 8 Victory Achieved And The Covenant Renewed.
Thankfully, in their over-confidence in the first campaign against Ai, only a portion of the fighting men were selected, or else their defeat may have been more severe. Now that the LORD took away their trouble they stood ready. But this time they would first spend time with the LORD. And the LORD commanded all the fighting men to battle (v. 1). This time, all the spoil was to be taken (v. 2). Jericho was an offering of first fruits, as it were, to the LORD (cf. Ex. 22:29-30; Lev. 23:9-14; Dt. 26:1-3; Pr. 3:9; Mal. 3:10).
Once again Joshua gives us an example of leadership. He led the people when they fell, and now he dwells in their midst, rises early for the battle ahead, and “mustered the people,” as he went up with them, and the elders and the people followed (v. 10). And when everyone took up their places, “Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley.” Leaders lead, and Joshua literally went to the frontline-in the dark, in the valley. To the King of Ai he was a sitting duck. But Joshua had faith in the LORD, and a plan. It was now the king of Ai who would rush into battle, thinking things would be as they have always been.
So Joshua told the people to be ready to take the city (v. 4), “for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand.” (v. 7) They would take its spoil and cattle, but everything else would be burned (vv. 2, 8). This example of AI tells us a great lesson: men who place their confidence in fate and their own strength, will leave the most basic foundations exposed to those who obey the commands of the LORD (vv. 8, 27). And again, a heap of stones over the dead corpse of godless man, bears witness to the expanding Kingdom of the King of Kings (v. 29).
As is always the case, the unfolding of the expansion of God’s kingdom is accompanied by covenant renewal, and at the centre of these renewals is the altar (v. 30). Note well, in the revelation to Moses, the LORD Himself made provision for covenant continuity-the renewal was according to the law-word of the covenant itself (v. 31, cf. Dt. 27:1ff.). It was to be an altar of whitewashed stones, upon which nothing was to be manmade. Sacrifice and worship is by revelation, and is solely the work of God, as He has commanded.
On these stones the law was written to remind the people (Dt. 27:3, cf. Josh. 8:30-32). It was by covenant that they were made His people (Dt. 27:9-10). Furthermore, curses and blessing accompany covenant renewal (Dt. 27-30), and the people witnessed and confirmed both (vv. 33-34). “There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them.” (v. 35) Note well, the whole community was included, including “the women, the little ones, and the strangers.”
So even though only males were circumcised, women were never excluded. Of course, infants were always included, including in circumcision. It is very inconsistent for the church to then exclude infants from the new covenant sacraments of baptism and the LORD’s supper. Infants were never excluded. Last but not least there was the stranger. It was not just a national covenant of statehood as some suppose. It was a continuing administration of the covenant of grace-the covenant of promise (Dt. 27: 3). The covenant of grace is good news to the world.
Joshua 9 The Counsel Of The LORD.
Once again the people, including Joshua and the elders, fail to consult the LORD, and as a result they are duped into making a commitment to spare the Gibeonites (Hivites, cf. 11:19). One would have thought that they would have learned from the incident at Ai that it was wise to seek the LORD’s counsel first, “but they did not ask counsel of the LORD.” (v. 14, cf. Nu. 27:21) Things are not always as they appear. The Gibeonites declare that they know of the LORD’s fame and name, much like Rahab, but no confession of faith. Instead they came with deceptive words.
One should guard against making oaths. Woodcutters and water carriers is what they would become-for the house of God (vv. 21-23). They were cursed to be slaves forever (Gen. 9:25). And the house of God is the congregation, and the altar of the LORD (v. 27). At least the Gibeonites acknowledged the winning side. There were two sides-all the rest were together “with one accord” against the people of the LORD (v.2). The LORD did not want them to be entangled in their idolatry (Ex. 23:23, 32). The LORD had forbidden this very thing (Dt. 7:2).
Joshua did return to the law though. Seeking counsel of the LORD would have prevented the treaty, but having taken an oath he now fulfilled the law by making them servants (Dt. 20:10-11; 29:11). They would have to be treated like the nations and cities far away (Dt. 20:15). It is another reminder that Joshua was a man of the book. His bible was “the Law,” the books of Moses (1:7-8). This is a good example of the wisdom of Joshua in applying the law to a tragic circumstance. Eventually Gibeon would in fact be a place where the LORD would dwell (II Chron. 1:3-6).
Joshua 10 The LORD Delivers.
This is an interesting juncture in the campaign in the promised land (vv. 1-15). We have here, not a deliberate offensive proactive campaign, so to speak. Rather, the campaign goes forward because the Gibeonites were threatened, and Joshua was compelled to honour the treaty with them. God often spurs us on through several means in His good providence to the place of promise fulfillment, ways we may not have envisioned at first.
There are differences of opinion as to what happened with the sun and moon. It is certainly possible for the God, who created the days and light before the sun and moon, to stop these elements for a time. However, some suggest, based on the Hebrew, that Joshua was actually asking that God would cause the sun not to shine until they could complete the work. This view finds support in the context where a storm comes in which brings such hail as destroys more men than the battle itself.
It often strikes me that if things were as obvious, in terms of miracles, as we often assume, that there would be less controversy. For example, there have always been those who have other “scientific” explanations for what happened in Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the Jordan. Perhaps it takes more faith to believe that the God who created all that is, is fully able to change its “normal” functions, than to believe that His miracles somehow contradict this order.
One thing was certain for those nations in the land, they knew of the exploits that had gone before, and they were fearful of what lie ahead for themselves. They seem to have not feared so much the miracles, as they feared military defeat because of the victories Israel had already experienced, and now the treaty with the Gibeonites. Rahab seems to have been the only one, at this point, to see the miraculous activity of the LORD behind what was happening (2: 8-13).
It is also interesting that Joshua has his men step on the necks of the five defeated kings (vv. 16-27). He could have left them in the cave, and they likely would have died eventually. But at the end of the campaign they are brought out, their necks stepped on, hung, and then thrown back into the cave. Joshua’s words would seem to make the point. “Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed; be strong and of good courage, for thus the LORD will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.” (v. 25)
“The LORD delivered,” becomes now the recurring refrain (vv. 28ff.), and in obedience to the LORD God, everything was destroyed (v. 40). “All these kings and their land Joshua took at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel.” (v. 42, cf. Ex. 14:14; Dt. 20:4, 31:6-8) Promise found fulfillment. And so, even today, the Messiah will reign until His enemies are made His footstool (Ps. 110), and the knowledge of the glory of the LORD covers the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14, cf. Mt. 28:18-20).
Joshua 11-12 Conquest And Settlement-By The Book.
The taking of the promised land happened in three phases. There was the crossing of the Jordan and the taking of Jericho, which began with the Passover and ended with the end of the feast of Unleavened bread. And then AI, in two parts. The second phase began with Gibeon and the southern kingdoms, ending with the summary of 10:29-43. The third phase is the taking of the north in chapter 11, and a summary of the invasion in 12. The conquest in all, took seven years.
Now the land would have a Sabbath rest. “Then the land rested from war.” (11:23, cf. Lev. 25:1-7). “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.” (11:15) This was the key, and at this point this was the entire bible. This is what guided Joshua throughout. Ultimately it was all according to the LORD’s sovereign doings (12:20). Israel received her inheritance (11:23).
Joshua 13-14:5 Inheritance Awaits.
Even though Joshua “left nothing undone of all that the LORD had commanded Moses” (11:15), there was still more land to possess (13:1), and Joshua was getting old. But the promise of inheritance still remained to the people of God (13:6, cf. Gen. 13:15), and the promise remains with God’s people today (Ps. 2:8). In chapter 13 we have the division of the land east of the Jordan to Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh. And 14:1-5 introduces the division of the land west of the Jordan, which we are told was divided by lot. The taking of the cities took time-approximately seven years.
As Boice pointed out, we know this from Caleb. “In Joshua 14:7 we are told that Caleb was forty years old when Moses sent him to spy out the land. He was eighty-seven when the war was over and he was to receive the inheritance (v. 10). The difference is forty-five years, thirty-eight of which were spent in the desert with the people of Israel before the beginning of the conquest. So the wars of conquest must have taken approximately seven years.” (p. 94) The number seven again! Could this be the first celebration of the Sabbath of the seventh year? (cf. Lev. 25:1-7) The land would finally have rest from war (cf. 11:23).
The people did not accomplish this in their own strength. It was the LORD who would drive the nations out, and by lot it was the LORD who would apportion the land as an inheritance (cf. 13:6-7). God owned it all along-it was His to grant as an inheritance to His children. This was something which the nations who were removed had denied. God used Israel to remove the trespassers. The nations didn’t own it, and Israel didn’t either. God is the owner of the whole of creation, and He still seeks out faithful stewards. At this time, He apportioned these lands by lot, according to the law-Nu. 26:55, 33:54, 34:13. The LORD decided who would get what.
There was one tribe who were unique-Levi. They would receive a different inheritance. “Only the tribe of Levi he had given no inheritance; the sacrifices of the LORD God of Israel made by fire are their inheritance, as He said to them.” (13:14) “But to the tribe of Levi Moses had given no inheritance; the LORD God of Israel was their inheritance, as he said to them.” (13:33) “And they gave no part to the Levites in the land, except cities to dwell in, with their common-lands for their livestock and their property.” So besides the sacrifices, the people were to allot to the Levites land within their territory.
The Levites were the church’s ministry under the old covenant. What is the church today doing to support a full-time ministry? This should be the question we ask ourselves here. This dates back to Aaron (cf. Lev. 18; Dt. 18:1-8), and from these offerings the Levites were to offer a tenth. Does 90% of the offerings of a tenth go to ministers of the word today? Do they have enough for land and cattle and cities? This is what is meant when it says that the LORD was their inheritance-Ezek. 44:28. It is more often that ministers are expected to live in poverty or work for next to nothing. For this the church is under judgment and is suffering, is guilty of robbery, and will continue to suffer without a full-time dedicated ministry (cf. Mal. 3:8-10; I Cor. 9:9; II Cor. 11:8).
One final thing needs to be said about what took place with the apportioning of the inheritance. It is true that God drove out the nations and He divided the land by lot, but He did so through a chosen leadership. We are told that it was through Eleazar the priest, Joshua the commander, and the heads of family households (14:1, cf. Nu. 34:16-29; Joshua 19:51). God always works through covenantal headship leadership, and their decisions would carry for all. It is also important to note that Joshua, despite his exalted and important role, did not have authority in the religious sphere-the law demanded that the priest alone had authority to cast lots.
Joshua had to give way to Eleazar, and he knew it and obeyed (cf. Ex. 28:30). Such was the meaning of the Urim and Thummim. And we have a lesson here for the church today. The state or political sphere, in this case represented by Joshua, has no place in making decisions that are under the authority of the ministry of the church. There is no grounds here for the so-called “Establishment Principle.” The ministry was to be supported by the tithes and offerings-not via taxes collected by the state. Furthermore, the people of God, no matter how influential or powerful they might be, were conscience bound to heed the word, and the word was ministered by the church, not the state. In fact, the state was also bound by the word in its sphere.
Joshua 14:6-15 Caleb-A Man Who Sought The LORD’s Glory.
Every Joshua needs a Caleb. Like Joshua, Caleb was a man of faith, who “wholly followed the LORD.” (14:9, cf. Nu. 32:11-12) When Moses sent forth the twelve spies, ten looked at the opposition and discouraged the people. It was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey, and an abundance of fruit, but the majority decided the opposition were too big and strong for them. Moses recounted to the people the LORD’s promise, but despite his pleas, they would not believe the LORD (Dt. 1:32). Then the people sinned again by acting presumptuously and went up to fight after all-but this time without the LORD (Dt. 1:41-44).
Caleb thought differently (Nu. 13:30). With Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb humbled themselves (13:5-6). They pleaded with the people that to reject the LORD’s promise was to rebel. They needed to have faith in the promise (14:8-9, cf. 13:1). For this, the people wanted to stone them (14:10)! But “the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel.” (Nu. 14:10) The rebellious had lost the Glory-the power and majesty of the LORD’s presence. They went from trying to stone Joshua and Caleb for their faith, to seeking to fight the battle on their own (cf. Nu. 14:44).
It is important to remember that the LORD would forgive that generation-according to Moses’ plea. Yet, even Moses would not enter the promised land. The issue was the glory of the LORD. “Then the LORD said, ‘I have pardoned, according to your word; but truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” (Nu. 14:21) This has always been and always will be the LORD’s plan and purpose. The promised land was but one small example of what the LORD purposes to do through His people throughout the whole earth, namely, to fill the whole earth with His glory.
For this the Messiah would come (Ps. 72:19), in fulfillment of the prophetic witness. “For the knowledge of the glory of the LORD shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14) This also is what is meant when Habakkuk said that “the just shall live by his faith.” (2:4, cf. Rom. 1:17; Heb. 10:37-38) The justified ones always seek His glory in the earth. The LORD continues to seek out people like Caleb who are of a different spirit, those who will believe His word and follow Him fully (Nu. 14:24). Even though he was now eighty-five, Caleb’s commitment had not wavered (Joshua 14:10-12).
The giants still remained, but so did Caleb’s faith. “It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said.” (14:12) “As the LORD said..,” was what concerned Caleb, not the size or strength of his opponents or the obstacles in His way. Whether at forty and only looking at the promised land from a distance, or at eighty-five and standing on its ground, Caleb’s faith remained in the word of promise spoken. And for his faith he obtained Hebron among his inheritance. The promise yet remains to God’s people for the whole earth. And He still seeks for men and women like Caleb.
Joshua 15 Judah And A Family Of Promise-Caleb, Othniel, and Achsah.
Much like the genealogies, a person can get lost in the description which follows, of the demarcation of the land of promise. However, it is significant to note the place of Judah here at the beginning. As the history of God’s people would progress the prominence of Judah would continue, including the division into northern and southern kingdoms. What is of significance here is the place of Caleb. When Moses sought for tribal leaders to spy out the land, Caleb was chosen as Judah’s representative (Nu. 13:6).
The giants still remained, but so did Caleb’s faith. “It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said.” (14:12) For his faith, Caleb would receive, among other things, Hebron (15:13). He would go on to defeat the sons of Anak, and on to Debir (15:14-15). And in a stroke of brilliance, Caleb killed two birds with one stone. He used the occasion of further conquest to challenge the young men to fight. To him who would fight like he did, he would give his daughter in marriage.
So in addition to obeying the promise of the LORD in possessing the land, he would find a man worthy of his daughter’s hand in marriage. Othniel would step up and take Kirjath Sepher (Debir), and so Caleb would gain a son-in-law he could be proud to call a member of the family. We should not presume that Achsah was simply passive here. She may very well have suggested the same! Were they already in love? Look at her faith. She was determined to have a blessed place in the land of promise (15:18-19). “She answered, ‘Give me a blessing.’”
Joshua 14:6-15:19 Caleb And The Covenantal Promise Of Glory.
Caleb is referred to as the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite (14:6, 14). Boice pointed out, the Kenizzites were a people “mentioned in the original promise to Abraham, recorded in Genesis 15:18-21.” (p. 101) However, Enns suggests that this may refer to Kenaz, the Judahite (pp. 114-115). But Kenaz is listed as his brother, not his father (Judges 1:13; I Chron. 4:13-15). In fact, the only other Kenaz mentioned is a descendent of Esau (Gen. 36) It is interesting that there is this additional appellation concerning Caleb, when he is listed with Joshua in Numbers 32:11-12.
Does this echo the point made by Jesus in Luke 4:24 ff. The leaders then also wanted to stone Him when He spoke of the blessing which came to the “foreigners” during the time of Elijah and Elisha. It would certainly have made the inclusion of Rahab less unusual as it might have been seen, given the example of Caleb. It would certainly be of interest that he would be found with them in Egypt, and not his homeland. In any case, of particular interest to him is Hebron. So why did Caleb want Hebron?
Boice writes, “Hebron was the place at which Sarah, Abraham’s wife, had died and where Abraham had purchased a field containing the cave of Machpelah, which he used as Sarah’s tomb. It was the only piece of Canaan that Abraham actually owned in his lifetime, the Jews’ toehold in Canaan, as it were. Here Abraham himself was buried, and later Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, and eventually Joseph, who had commanded that his bones be brought up out of Egypt and buried there when the Jews left Egypt and conquered Canaan.” (p. 102)
Was this early “toehold” a witness to Caleb and his father, of the faith of the God who they came to believe in, much like Rahab at the dawn of the conquest (Josh. 2:11)? In any case, what does stand out here is the faith shared by those mentioned above. Abraham staked out his claim to the land by his purchase-it was an act of faith. His was more than just a heavenly faith-he took land as the LORD promised, for the knowledge of the glory of the LORD. Joseph gave instructions about his bones (Heb. 11:22), and in so doing expressed his faith in the promise of the resurrection and life to come.
These were people who wholeheartedly followed the LORD and laid hold of the promises-not just in the life to come, but in the promise of dominion now. The LORD’s purpose in the giving of the land was that the knowledge of His glory would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Nu. 14:21; Ps. 72:19; Hab. 2:14). This is still His purpose. Caleb understood this, as did Abraham when God bestowed on him the covenantal promise (Gen. 12:1-3, 15:18-21). Messiah will reign from heaven until His enemies are made his footstool on the earth (Ps. 110; Mt. 22:44; I Cor. 15:25; Heb. 1:3, 13)
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-3) “For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.” (Heb. 4:8-10)
Joshua 15:63-19:51 Inheritance By The Book.
Two things stand out in this catalogue of allotment-an adherence to the word, but also a failure to completely fulfill the objective. Beginning with Judah we hear the refrain concerning the inhabitants that the people of God “could not drive them out.” (15:63) Manasseh and Ephraim “took their inheritance” (16:4), but “the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land.” (17:12 cf. 16:10) The best that can be said is that they at least became forced labour (16:10, 17:13).
The children of Joseph wanted more territory, but they weren’t prepared to work for it (17:14-16). If they could not be more faithful in driving out the Canaanites in the easier parts, why would they presume to ask for more? Nevertheless, Joshua gave them the mountain country, with some admonishment. “Although it is wooded, you shall cut it down, and its farthest extent shall be yours; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots and are strong.” (17:18)
So it was with the remaining seven tribes. “How long will you neglect to go and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers has given you?” Then with this question ringing in their ears, Joshua challenged them to pick out leaders to go for them to go and survey the remaining land. Judah had its share in the south, and the house of Joseph in the north. There yet remained territory to be possessed, and when they had surveyed it into seven parts, lots would be cast before the LORD at Shiloh (18:6-10).
Benjamin would gain territory between Judah and the house of Joseph, but Simeon would gain their inheritance within that of Judah, “for the share of the children of Judah was too much for them.” (19:9) Later on, Judah and Simeon would fight the Canaanites together (Judges 1:3, 17-20). Then followed Zebulun (19:10-16), Issachar (vv. 17-23), Asher (vv. 24-31), Naphtali (vv. 32-39), and last but not least Dan (vv. 40-48). Dan would however gain much more, because Dan was willing to fight for more (vv. 47-48).
However, there is another thought which runs through this section, and that was their adherence to the law-word of the covenant. We see this in the final inheritance given to Joshua himself. “According to the word of the LORD they gave him the city which he asked for, Timnah Serah in the mountains of Ephraim; and he built the city and dwelt in it.” Presumably, he could have any place he wanted (Nu. 14:30), even as Caleb asked for Hebron and got it. Such was the place of these two men of faith. And how interesting that it should be in the mountains of Ephraim, the house of Joseph.
They also followed the law-word of the covenant when it came time to divide the land-they cast lots according to the law. “Now the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh and set up the tabernacle of meeting there.” (18:1) “These were the inheritances which Eleazar the priest, Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of the fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel divided as an inheritance by lot in Shiloh before the LORD, at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” (19:51)
This was according to the law (cf. Ex. 28:30), and Joshua and Eleazar would be specifically mentioned (Nu. 34:17). Joshua had to give way to Eleazar on this, and he knew it and obeyed. Such was the meaning of the Urim and Thummim. As Israel’s political leader he was duty bound to seek God’s will from the church. And he did so. Only in the place of God’s glory presence, and through the ministration of His servant of the word, would the people find His will. The state remains in the same subservient position today, as do the people of God.
Also couched within this record is the wonderful case of the daughters Zelophehad, of the western half tribe of Manasseh (17:1-13). Following upon the directions above, knowing that these men were going “by the book,” we read the following. “And they came near before Eleazar the priest, before Joshua the son of Nun, and before the rulers, saying, “The LORD commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brothers.” Therefore, according to the commandment of the LORD, he gave them an inheritance among their fathers’ brothers.” (v. 4)
This also was according to the law-word of the covenant (Nu. 27:1 ff.). At that time it was Moses who stood with Eleazar and the other leaders, but the word of promise remained. And what was their explanation then? “Our father died in the wilderness; but he was not in the company of those who gathered together against the LORD, in company with Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons.” (v. 3) In other words, their father had no part in the rebellion of Korah, and the judgment that fell upon him before the glory-presence (Nu. 16). Rather, he died like all men, for his own sin, “naturally.” (Nu. 16:29)
So even as the LORD would spare those nineteen and younger, Joshua and Caleb, and the little ones (Nu. 14:29-31), He would make provision for those like the daughters of Zelophehad, as their case would in fact be the occasion for the law given (Nu. 27:5-11). The LORD was determined to ensure that one’s inheritance was not lost. The norm was for the son to inherit the land (Dt. 25:6), but provision was made for what fell outside the norm. Tribal legacies were to be protected-Nu. 27:7, 36:6.
Ultimately the promised land and the whole earth is the LORD’s possession (Lev. 25:23). He gives all things in heaven and on earth to His covenant people, those who will be His faithful stewards (v. 24ff cf. Dt. 6:10-12, 8:10-14). So important was it that they follow the word of the LORD-only then would they gain victory, only then would they be blessed. The daughters of Zelophehad serve as an example of those who show their covenant fidelity by appealing to the law of the LORD. The law was given in an act of grace!
So the LORD’s people will not gain their inheritance without seeking God’s will among His servants. Nor will God reveal His will except where His glory-presence dwells. Again, the knowledge of His glory was the whole purpose of this covenantal promise-a promise which extends to the church and the whole earth (Gen. 12:1-3, 15:18-21; Mt. 28:18-20). The LORD’s purpose in the giving of the land was that the knowledge of His glory would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Nu. 14:21; Ps. 72:19; Hab. 2:14). Even so, Messiah will reign from heaven until His enemies are made his footstool on the earth (Ps. 110; Mt. 22:44; I Cor. 15:25; Heb. 1:3, 13).
Joshua 20 Cities Of Refuge And The Administration Of Justice.
Joshua and the people knew from the very beginning that victory, inheritance, prosperity, and success for their future, was contingent on adherence to the book of the law, the law-word of the covenant. Following the law of the LORD would require strength and courage, even as it does today. “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.” (1:7)
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (1:8-9) Courage and strength was needed, not just to defeat their enemies, but more importantly, courage and strength was needed to follow the word.
Now that the people had apportioned the land by lot, and this according to the law, it was important to keep with the law and to establish the cities of refuge. The appointment of the cities of refuge was part of the establishment of justice and a judicial system in the land. Across the various tribes, they were places where those who killed another by accident could go and have their case heard and be protected-a “refuge from the avenger of blood.” (20:3) There was also a place for the avenger-this also was stipulated in the law (Nu. 35:19-21 cf. Dt. 4:41-43).
“And when he flees to one of those cities, and stands at the entrance of the gate of the city, and declares his case in the hearing of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city, and declares his case in the hearing of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city as one of them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them.” (v.4) Important principles are contained in this law. First of all, one was presumed innocent, before the courts, until proven guilty. The elders, representing the people of the city and the nation, were to take the defendant in, in order to hear their case.
Second, both sides were given the opportunity to plead their case (cf. Nu. 35:24). Third, one’s case was to be determined by those regarded as wise and entrusted with the administration of the law (cf. Nu. 35:6). Numbers 35:6-34 shows that these cities, and the administration of justice, was entrusted with the Levites, those skilled in the word and dedicated to the LORD full-time. The word of God, and it’s proper understanding, was the standard of justice in the land, and there was provision made for professionals to be in the care of this system.
Fourth, there was an understanding that such a system was paramount to the function of these cities within the nation-at the very entrance at the gate of the city is where the defendant would go. The defendant did not have to scour the city to find the elders-they could be found at the very entrance gate deciding and determining cases. The defendant could make their stand here and find a hearing (cf. Ruth 4:1-12). These gates were not locked, and they functioned 24/7. Fifth, once the elders had heard the case, acceptance of the defendant’s argument was shown in that they were now accepted as one of their own.
Six, as part of this acceptance, they would give the defendant a place, “that he may dwell among them.” Modern states could learn a lot here about the rule of law, and the proper administration of justice. The law was given by God for the good of His people. This was a system rooted in the law itself, from the beginning (Ex. 21:13). Seven, a transportation system was in fact to be in place to aid in the administration of justice (Dt. 19:1-10). Here we find another legitimate role for government-transportation serves the administration of justice.
Eight, it is also important to note that these cities were not just for the children of Israel, but also for the stranger and sojourner-there was no partiality (Lev. 24:22; Nu. 35:15). Nine, the avenger could not act on his own-he had to produce at least two witnesses, for “one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty.” (v. 30) Finally, provision was made for the blood shed-whether done so “innocently,” or premeditated, in the ministry of the current high priest (vv. 25-28). Atonement had to be made for the blood that would defile and pollute the land (v. 33).
There was an equal requirement placed upon the people to avenge the blood of the slain, and this also was according to the rule of law. We see this at the time of Noah. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.” (Gen. 9:6 cf. Ex. 21:12; Lev. 24:17, 21) By this legislation we see that this law goes back to the dawn of creation, and man’s creation in God’s image. It is a law for all men, made necessary by the fall. Only God Himself could stipulate another punishment that might fall outside this legislation (Gen. 4:10-12 cf. 4:24).
To wield or throw an instrument, for example, while “lying in wait” (Nu. 35:20), “in enmity” (v.21), that is, in a premeditated way, made one a murderer, and subject to the justice of the avenger, who had an equal right to plead his case before the courts. There could be no ransom paid in the case of premeditated murder (v.31), and no ransom for anyone who departed from the city of refuge and the protection of the high priest in service at that time (v. 32). It was a responsibility carried out by the goel-the kinsman redeemer.* It is also worth noting that, Paul saw in the state in his time, the role of the avenger continuing (Rom. 13:4).
One final thing must be said with respect to the place of the high priest. As already noted, even one innocent of premeditated murder was still guilty of shedding another person’s blood, and that blood still cried out. The point seems to be that no atonement could be made except by the one who shed the blood, except if they took refuge under the ministry of the high priest, who could make atonement for him before the LORD. Atonement had to be made for unintentional sin, and it was the high priest alone who could do this, including for himself (Lev. 4:1-3, 20, 26, 31, 35; 9:7; Nu. 5:8; 8:12, 19, 21; 15:25-29; I Chr. 6:49; II Chr. 29:24; Neh. 10:33).
The shedding of blood always involves guilt. Those guilty of manslaughter needed atonement for their sin (Nu. 35:33 cf. Lev. 16:30, 23:27-28; Pr. 16:6). Judgment involves body and soul (Lev. 1:4, 17:11). To be acquitted in a court of law is one thing, to be assured of one’s forgiveness from sin is quite another. Secondly, as to the death of the then current high priest, in regards to the administration of justice and sentencing, part of the provision here was to place a time limit on this requirement. Those who were only guilty of manslaughter, would not be sentenced to the city of refuge for life.
Some final points concerning the administration of justice are applicable still for us today. The fact that these provisions were as much for the stranger as for the covenant community, shows that they express a universal code and standard, as applicable to states today as the stranger provision was then. Further, the fact that the avenger (seen by Paul in the state of his time), was commanded to avenge because of the image of God in man, also places this in the realm of the universal. This was a creation ordinance that found specific expression in the covenant community, and enforced principles of a universal nature.
Boice is right in quoting Schaeffer here. “The cities of refuge were levitical cities, that is, they had something to do with God. The person taking refuge had to stay in the city until the death of the high priest so he would be reminded that the civil laws were related to God. They did not just exist in a sociological vacuum. Unlike modern man, the people of the Old Testament and of the Christian communities after the Reformation did not view civil law as basically sociological. To them it was not founded primarily on a social contract. Civil law was related to society, but not only to society. It was ultimately related to the existence and character of God. This is important. Law which comes from God can provide something fixed. Today’s sociological law is relativistic.” (Joshua, p. 110, Schaeffer, ‘Joshua And The Flow Of Biblical History,’ p.p. 194-5)
*See http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/OTeSources/08-Ruth/Texts/Books/Leggett-GoelRuth/Leggett-GoelRuth.pdf for a thorough treatment of the concept of the kinsman-redeemer. I remain grateful for having sat under Dr. Legget’s teaching ministry at Ontario Theological Seminary, and this, his doctoral thesis, is regarded by many as the seminal study on this subject. Thankfully it has been provided online for download on pdf.
Joshua 21 The Blessing Of The Levites.
Boice made the point that in the case of Levi and Simeon, God turned what Jacob their father intended as a curse, into a blessing (Gen. 49:7). Reminiscent of Joseph, what Jacob intended for evil God intended for good. Jacob uttered his words because of the massacre of the Shechemites by these two sons (34:30). They would indeed be scattered-Simeon would receive an inheritance within the territory of Judah, and Levi would be scattered throughout all the land. But in a blessing, Simeon would be united with Judah when the northern kingdom of the other ten tribes would go into captivity under the Assyrians in 721 BC.
Boice went on to show the privilege that Levi was given of serving before the LORD in the ministry of word and sacrament. Also, with the exception of Judah, Levi produced more distinguished leaders than any other. There was Moses (Heb. 11:24-28), and Aaron (I Chron. 23:13), Phinehas (Nu. 25), Eli (I Sam. 4:12-18), Ezra, and John the Baptist (Lk. 1:5). “God punishes children for the sin of the fathers “to the third and forth generation of those who hate [him] (Exod. 20:5), but he also “repents” of evil and brings blessing where he sees repentance (Exod. 32:14; Jer. 18:8; 26: 3, 13; Joel 2:13).” (p. 114)
Like everything else with respect to the promised land, the allocation of the cities to the Levites was according to the law (Nu. 35:2-5; Josh. 13:33). What Jacob intended as evil, God intended good. The Levites would be for a blessing to the people. Only as they followed the law, the work of the Levites, would they enjoy blessing prosperity, and success. The Levites would establish and preserve the judicial system and with it the cities of refuge. They would also establish and preserve the priestly ministry of word and sacrament through the Kohathites (21:4). The Levites would receive the forty-eight cities and attached common lands (vv. 41-42).
The conclusion of this chapter provides a conclusion to the conquest (vv. 43-45). As Enns pointed out, “it bears witness to the faithfulness of the Lord: (1) The promise concerning the land was fulfilled (1:2, 5-9). (2) The promise of rest was fulfilled (Duet. 12:9-11). While not all the enemies of the land had been exterminated, nonetheless the enemy had been militarily subjugated; in that sense, the nation enjoyed rest from their enemies. (3) The promise of conquest over their enemies had been fulfilled (1:5).” (Joshua, p.p. 128-9)
Joshua 22:1-9 A Canonical Word Of Exhortation And Blessing.
Joshua gives an encouraging testimony concerning Rueben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh-they had kept the word of the LORD through Moses and Joshua, and they kept their own oath to fight with their brethren (vv. 1-2 cf. Nu. 32:20-27; Dt. 3:18-20; Josh. 1:12-18). Note well-the words of Moses and Joshua, were the commandment of the LORD (v. 3)! Now the men could go home (v. 4)! However, Joshua sends them on their way with his blessing (v. 6-7), but not before he gives a word of exhortation and warning.
“But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (v. 5) Wow! Where does one begin to unpack all this? But alas, it is a beautiful tapestry woven together from the past, and made equally vivid in the present, and would carry them forward in their future. “But take careful heed,” would be their watchwords.
At this point we do well to note an important point raised by Schaeffer concerning the canon of holy scripture. “Joshua knew Moses, the writer of the Pentateuch, personally. After Moses’ death Joshua accepted the Pentateuch as more than the writing of Moses. As far as Joshua was concerned the Pentateuch was the canon and the canon was the Word of God. The biblical view of the growth and acceptance of the canon is as simple as this: When it was given, God’s people understood what it was. Right away it had authority.” (Joshua, p. 34)
Moses, within the law itself, gave them principles by which to judge what was a word from God. Note well, a basic biblical interpretive principle here-the scriptures are their own interpreter. But the people had guidelines. There were two main ones to consider. A prophetic word spoken must come to pass (Dt. 18:22). However, such a word must be in agreement with the word already accepted, that is, it had to pass the canonical test-Dt. 12:32-13:5. Even if a sign or wonder should come to pass, if it was given in support of a non-canonical message given, it was to be rejected. Thus, signs and wonders performed by a speaker were not sufficient grounds for the acceptance of their words, in and of itself.
“In the book of Joshua we watch the canon grow even more. Joshua 5:1 contains the phrase until we were passed over. The person who wrote the narrative was there! (This reminds us of the “we” passages in Acts.) Joshua 24:26 tells us who this person was: “ And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law.” How did the canon grow? Moses wrote, and Moses died. Joshua continued to write, and the canon continued to grow.” (p. 36) The fact that Nehemiah refers to Joshua is proof of it’s acceptance-Neh. 8:17.
“As Joshua faced his task, then, he had with him this first great changeless factor: the written book. It provided a continuity of authority, but it was growing and would continue to grow. It grew, but it was not discontinuous. Joshua, as he led the people, had an objective standard by which to judge everything else, and the standard was so clear that God expected the ordinary people to understand it when it was periodically read to them.” (p. 36-7)
They had fought, but ultimately it was the LORD who had given them rest, “according to all He had sworn to their fathers. Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.” (21:44-45 cf. Nu. 32:33). The LORD’s word was proved. It all came to pass, and it did so in conformity to the canonical word that was given. And Joshua’s word to them was an echo of that canonical word. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” (Dt. 6:5-6)
Echoing Moses, Joshua affirmed that love to God, seen in the keeping of His word, was to go to their very core, and was to involve both soul and body. “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and His statutes which He has commanded you.” (Dt. 6:17) “For if you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do-to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to hold fast to Him-then the LORD will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess greater and mightier nations than yourselves.” (Dt. 11:22-23)
There were conditional aspects to the covenantal relationship. Possession of the land was contingent upon their keeping the law-word of the covenant, which Joshua warned the people was the same condition for continuance in it’s possession. And as the LORD would later say through Jeremiah, it would be the same condition for their return (12:16). The law was for their good (Dt. 10:12-13), and prosperity (Dt. 11:13-14). To “keep” his law was “to do” the law and to “walk in His ways”-this would show their “love” for the LORD and their desire to “hold fast” to Him. This is what it means to “serve” Him in heart and soul.
In keeping with this harmony between word and deed, Joshua sent them off, not just with a word of blessing (vv. 6-7), but a share of the spoils as well (v.8). This all occurred at Shiloh-the place where the LORD chose to dwell with the tabernacle of meeting (18:1). This word of exhortation, warning, promise, and blessing came from the LORD through Joshua from the glory-presence. Their possession of the land east of the Jordan was theirs, “which they obtained according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses.” (v. 9) The history just made was an echo of that history already made. There was a continuity in the covenant of the promise from the God who acts in history, for His people, and for His glory.
Joshua 22:10-34 An Altar As A Witness
So the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh return to the land of their inheritance with a word of exhortation and blessing from Joshua (22:1-9). And on their way out they build a replica altar of the one at Shiloh-where the LORD chose to have the glory presence dwell at the tabernacle of meeting (18:1). Davis suggested that this action on their part was “needless and presumptuous.” (Conquest And Crisis, p.86) However, there was precedence. As Enns pointed out, “Moses had also built an altar to commemorate his victory over the Amalekites (Exod. 17:15).” (Joshua, p. 130)
The western tribes presumed that this act by the eastern tribes was an act of apostasy. The command for all males to appear before the LORD at the tabernacle three times a year (Ex. 23:17), was the impetus for both sides, as it turns out. “Sacrifices were to take place only at the place appointed by the Lord (Lev. 17:8-9; Deut. 12:4-5). Thus the western tribes saw the building of the altar as an act of rebellion.” (Enns, p. 130) From a national standpoint, a central place of meeting also served to keep the country unified. But these two concerns were also what motivated their brethren (vv. 24-29).
No one needed to tell Phinehas to go to war over apostasy. He had already been rebuked by Moses for not going far enough in the case of the Midianites (Nu. 31), even though he was commended for his act in the incident concerning Peor (cf. 25:1-9). It was the incident concerning the iniquity of Peor which motivated Phinehas and the leaders of the western tribes to act (v. 17). Phinehas was accusing his brethren of breaking the covenant (v. 16 cf. Nu. 5:12, 27), and he would be God’s instrument for the execution of the LORD’s lawsuit against them (Dt. 32 cf. Joshua 23). There was also the more recent incident of Achan (v.20 cf. 7:1-26).
The response of the eastern tribes was to appeal to the omniscience of the covenant LORD, the God over all other so-called “gods.” In fact, far from breaking the covenant, they swore an oath. “The solemnity of their statement is seen in their threefold address of God: “The Mighty One (EL), God (Elohim), the LORD (Yahweh)! (22:22) The threefold address to God was repeated a second time. “EL” denotes God as strength, power, and authority; He is the strong one. The plual “Elohim” portrays God as being above all other gods. “Yahweh” comes from the verb: “to be” (Exod. 3:13-15), and is the name denoting the covenant relationship of God with His people.” (Enns, p. 131)
The people follow up their oath with an appeal for “the LORD Himself” to take an account (cf. Dt. 18:19). In other words, if they were guilty, as Phinehas was accusing them of being, then they invite the LORD of the covenant Himself to execute a lawsuit against them (vv. 22-23). But they made their appeal (v.24). And Phinehas and the rulers accepted their argument (vv. 30-31). Such is the significance of their name for their “replica.” It would be a “witness.” And like the Song of Moses (Dt. 32), and the speech of Joshua (23), it would serve as a witness if in the future the western tribes broke covenant with them, or they broke covenant with the LORD (vv. 26-28 cf. v. 34).
One final point is worth noting with respect to how this situation was handled. Boice, in reiterating a point made by Schaeffer, reflects on how these men had fought side by side for years. There parting was no doubt one of mixed emotions. They were leaving their comrades, but they were finally going home to be with their families, in the land which the LORD had given to them as their inheritance. Furthermore, the western tribes should be commended for their concern over covenantal fidelity. However, we can also be thankful that holiness was coupled with love.
First of all, the western tribes were willing to give them a share of the land to the west of the Jordan, if that was what was needed to resolve the matter, since they thought that their brethren were concerned that the land to the east was defiled (v. 19). Secondly, they did give the eastern brethren an opportunity to explain themselves. As Schaeffer pointed out, this incident was resolved happily, for two reasons. “First, there was a clear agreement on the importance of doctrine and truth, an understanding that the holiness of God demands bowing before him and obeying His commands. Second, those who were courageous in standing for truth were also courageous in acting in love.” (Joshua…pp. 180-1 cf. Ps. 85:10)
Joshua 23 Joshua’s Covenantal Witness-A Warning For Future Lawsuits.
In this chapter, Joshua bears covenantal witness to the benevolent acts of Yahweh-the LORD Jehovah, as to His covenant faithfulness to the house of Israel under his charge. In the future, this farewell address would become the basis of any covenant lawsuit that might be brought against the people for any failure on their part to adhere to the covenant. In doing so, Joshua was following in the footsteps of Moses and his song of witness (Dt. 32).
Patterned after the lawsuit structure, the beginning verses highlight the call to witnesses to hear and testify (vv. 1-2a). Should the need arise, the people themselves, with Joshua, would bear witness to what follows. And what then follows is the introductory statement of the case. Here Joshua notes the covenant faithfulness of Yahweh. As their LORD, He defeated their enemies (v. 3), and gave their lands as an inheritance to His people (v. 4-5).
This was how covenant relationships were established of course. The suzerain in the ancient near east would defeat his opponents and claim ownership. This also explains Joshua’s warning to them (v. 6), and the need to keep fidelity to His name and person (v. 7). “Holding fast,” like a faithful spouse, were to be the watchwords (v. 8). He gave them victory and continued to do so to that very hour (v. 9), and would continue to do so into the future (v. 10).
Hence the warning (v. 11), and in particular, combined with intermarriage, for the children of a foreign god would inevitably lead them into covenantal adultery against Yahweh (v. 12). Such a breaking of the covenant would bring the LORD’s indictment against them (v. 13). Such is the conclusion of this section, and what could, and ultimately would be the introductory statement of the case against them. Such would be the case with Amos (3-4), Hosea (4), and Micah (6).
Then there comes a recital of the plaintiff’s benevolent acts and indictment. “You know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you, not one word of them has failed.” (v. 14) Like the previous section, this one begins with Joshua reminding them of his soon departure. What follows will fall upon their own heads. He was bearing his final witness to them (cf. v. 2b).
Finally there comes blessing and curses (vv. 15-16). Blessing and curses are both involved in the covenant relationship. But cursing was a serious matter, and as was seen in the previous chapter, it was reserved for those who went after other gods, it was reserved for those who would deny the sacrifice which the LORD alone could provide. There is a concluding section concerning the vassal’s recognition, which in this case is expressed by the people in the covenant renewal of chapter 24.
Joshua 24 Covenant Renewal-Jehovah, Joshua, The People, And A Stone.
So in recognition of the witness of Joshua, the people renew the covenant. In the preamble of this renewal Joshua calls the people to witness at Shechem, a city of refuge, where previously Jacob had buried the gods of the people (cf. 20:7; Gen. 35:1-4). Then they were able to move on to the place that came to be known as Bethel, the house of God, where the LORD had appeared to him, and it was here that he was renamed Israel (vv. 5-15). But how fitting that they would now return to Shechem, and in recognition of the past, and now their own commitment in the present and for the future, they would reject all gods but Yahweh.
Of course, at Bethel Jacob had a dream in which he saw a ladder coming down from the heavenly glory presence. Here Jacob vowed to serve the LORD and to give Him a tenth of all he had (Gen. 28:10ff.). But now Joshua and the people are at Shechem. And here Joshua would recite the history of the LORD’s dealing with His people in the historical prologue of vv. 2-13. It established the grounds of the LORD’s ownership of His people. “In the prologue of the suzerainty-vassal treaty, the speaker enumerated the specific benevolent acts of the king on behalf of his subjects.” (Enns, ‘Joshua’, p. 138)
“Kline writes, “Following the preamble in the international suzerainty treaties there was an historical section, written in an I-thou style, which surveyed the previous relationships of the lord and vassal. Its purpose was to establish the historical justification for the lord’s continuing reign. Benefits allegedly conferred by the lord upon the vassal were cited with a view to grounding the vassal’s allegiance in a sense of gratitude complementary to the sense of fear which the preamble’s grandiose identification of the suzerain had been calculated to inspire.” (Kline, Treaty of the Great King, p.52)” (Enns, Joshua, p. 138)
“Verses 1 and 2 constitute the preamble to the covenant renewal. In it we have the identification of the God of Israel and the parties involved in the treaty agreement. Verses 2-13 describe the historical prologue; that is, the provision made by the king for his people.” (Davis, Conquest And Crisis, p. 88) Joshua went back to the time of Abraham when the LORD gave the covenantal promises, and called him from Ur of the Chaldees, or Mesopotamia. He then recited the history with Isaac and Jacob, and finally with Moses. And when Balaam intended a curse, the Lord turned it into a blessing.
And as in the case of Balaam, even so here. The witness of Joshua in chapter 23 was not an actual lawsuit-hence their recognition became this renewal. Instead of cursing they would be blessed in their renewing of the covenantal bond. But part of this renewal was in the section which then follows-the stipulations (vv. 14-18). It is at this point that this writer departs from Enns and Davis and sees a larger expansion of the covenantal structure as was found at that time, to include additional sections. But here in verses 14-18 we have the stipulations. These obligations flowed out from the deliverance which the LORD had provided.
This is an important principle. The LORD redeems His people and they respond with obedience. As Schaeffer pointed out, they were called upon to throw away three sets of gods, as it were. “Interestingly, the three sets of gods were related to three different waters. On the other side of the Euphrates were the gods of the Sumerian and Babylonian culture. On the other side of the Red Sea were the gods of ancient Egypt. Across the river Jordan were the gods of the Amorites.” (Joshua, p. 207 cf. Josh. 24:14-15) This is as instructive for the church today as it was back then. The people have many gods and many religions to choose from, and a choice has to be made.
Covenant renewal is about making a choice. Joshua made his choice a long time ago, and he hadn’t changed his mind. He put the same choice before the people. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (v. 15). Note well, as covenantal head, he spoke also for his house. Joshua never forgot the golden calf (Ex. 32). Note also that Shechem was among the hills of Ephraim, the very place where Joshua chose to dwell (cf. 19:49-50; 20:7). This was the place where Jacob had pitched his tent many years before, and had bought a parcel of land. “Then he erected an altar there and called it EL Elohe Israel” ( God, the God of Israel. Gen. 33:18-20). Here Joshua chose to dwell, and from here the covenant was renewed.
“The heart of the matter is observed in verse 14. Two things are required of Israel: (1) to fear Jehovah, and (2) to serve Him. Joshua was careful to define what the nature of that service was to be. First of all, it should be sincere, and then it should be founded on truth. It is not enough for one merely to serve God in sincerity. If the service is not founded on, and conditioned by, the truth of Scripture, it is worthless activity. True service also involves separation; thus the children of Israel were commanded to put away the gods which were among them (cf. v. 15ff.). The people agreed to these stipulations, and Joshua reminded them of the tremendous obligation that was theirs in the light of this commitment.” (Davis, pp. 89-90)
This reminder from Joshua and subsequent commitment from the people, is in fact the next section of the covenantal structure, the sentence and warning (vv. 19-21). This is then followed with the section where the witnesses are invoked (vv. 22-24). In this case, they become their own witnesses, along with Joshua. The concluding section of the covenant is found in the conclusion of this chapter and of the book-deposit, succession, and confirmation. “In a pattern similar to the Hittite suzerainty-vassal treaty, Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. (24:26). Then Joshua set up a large stone as a witness to the occasion.” (Enns, p. 140)
The covenant was confirmed and deposited, and succession would now take place for future generations, even as Joshua would pass off the scene. And in reflecting on this occasion, Davis fittingly concludes with Psalm 44:1-3 (cf. p. 90). “We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, the deeds You did in their days, in days of old: You drove out the nations with Your hand, but them You planted; You afflicted the peoples, and cast them out. For they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, nor did their own arm save them; but it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance, because You favored them.”