by Sam E. Stone
Throughout the Old Testament, “God Instructs His People.” The first five lessons this quarter are from the book of Joshua where we will observe how God’s people learned from prosperity. Joshua is the first of what are commonly called the books of history. Joshua begins where Deuteronomy ends—with the death of Moses and the selection of Joshua to be his successor and lead the children of Israel.
W. W. Winter explains, “The book of Joshua is not intended merely as a continuation of the history of Israel . . . (although) it does fulfill this immediate purpose. Neither should it be called only a description of the acts of Joshua. The real purpose is to show how the faithful covenant-God fulfilled his promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:18; Joshua 1:2-6).”
When Moses was 120 years old, the Hebrew people had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. He told the people, “I am no longer able to lead you” (Deuteronomy 31:2). God had revealed to Moses that he would not cross over into the promised land with them. Moses then called Joshua and placed on him the mantle of leadership (Deuteronomy 31:7, 8).
The Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.” By this directive, God makes it clear that Joshua is his chosen replacement for Moses. While he served as “second in command” for many years, Joshua’s title was “aide” to Moses (Numbers 11:28).
God’s promise to make the land his gift to Israel dates back to the patriarchs—Abraham (Genesis 12:7), Isaac (Genesis 26:3, 4), and Jacob (Genesis 28:4; 35:12). The Lord cites this twice as he commissions Joshua (1:2, 6). The dimensions of the land specified here “are the farthest limits—conquered and held only by David and Solomon,” as Arthur Lewis notes.
The Lord promised Joshua, “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.” God’s presence and power reassured not only Joshua, but all of Israel as they faced the challenge of conquering the promised land. He then encouraged him, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Christians enjoy the same promise from the Lord Jesus (see Matthew 28:18-20).
In the intervening material not in our printed text (1:7—11:15), the book of Joshua tells about Rahab and the spies, the fall of Jericho, the crossing of the Jordan River, the deception by the Gibeonites, and the death of a number of kings who ruled over various parts of the promised land at the time. All of this indicates the blessing of God upon the people of Israel. He lived up to his promise that he would bring victory to Joshua’s army as they battled the pagan rulers. So Joshua took this entire land. The message the young spies told Joshua before Jericho had come true (see 2:24).
The book of Joshua lists the various regions of the promised land in verses 16 and 17, in what one writer calls “a lesson on the geography of Canaan.” It is evident that these conquests by the children of Israel were “a God thing.” The one group of people not conquered were the Gibeonites, the only nation to seek peace with Israel (v. 19).
Chapter 9 gives the background of the Gibeonites. These pagan people had come to believe in the power of the one true God. They had seen him at work. The Gibeonites are an example of how God gives to all people freedom of choice. Instead of hardening their hearts (like the other Canaanites did), they came determined to make peace with Israel.
This is consistent with how God dealt with Pharoah when the Israelites were in Egypt. Pharoah refused to let them go. Pharoah hardened his heart and God hardened it as well (Exodus 8:32; 9:12). The same thing happened with the other Canaanite people. They could have shown the spirit of the Gibeonites. Because they did not, but instead hardened their hearts, they faced defeat. This section closes with the summary, So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses. God keeps his promises!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.