Fairview Baptist Church
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Bailey Sadler Class
SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – 2015
Strong & Courageous:
What This Study Is About:
focus of this week’s study is on the fact that as believers, our
confidence in God improves when
we take the time necessary to truly listen to Him.
Your Leadership Role
Be Confident in God’s Power
Stick to God’s Plan
Move Beyond Failure
Work Through Conflict
Call Others to Step Forward
from a position of confidence in God.
Confidence Through Listening (Joshua 3:7-8)
Through Communication (Joshua 3:9-13)
Through Obedience (Joshua 3:14-17)
OF BACKGROUND PASSAGE:
ordered the people to prepare for crossing by sanctifying themselves. The
priests carrying the ark of the covenant led the procession (3:1-13). The
ark symbolized the presence of God. It commonly rested in the
tabernacle’s holy of holies where the glory of God appeared (compare Exod
25:1-22; see the feature article “Tabernacle”).
the Levites who bore the ark entered the river, the waters stopped flowing
at Adam (Tell ed-Damiyeh) near Zarethan. The extraordinary nature of the
crossing is emphasized by the author, who explains that the river flooded
its banks at that time of year. Yet Israel crossed the river bed on
“dry” land (3:14-17).
miraculous crossing magnified Joshua’s leadership because it paralleled
Moses’ leadership at the Red Sea (3:7; 4:14). The crossing also
proved that the Lord was alive and would drive out Israel’s enemies
SOURCE: Holman Bible Handbook; General Editor David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville,
often calls us to step outside our comfort zones. When it’s the right
thing to do, and certainly when it is something God has commanded, good
leaders step out. Whether we have confidence in ourselves or not, we can
be confident in God’s leadership. Our obedience only increases our
confidence and motivates others to step out. Joshua was called to do
something unusual—cross the Jordan on dry land—and he led the people
to obey with confidence.
The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Listening (Joshua 3:7-8)
7 The LORD spoke to Joshua: “Today I will begin to exalt you in the
sight of all Israel, so they will know that I will be with you just as I
was with Moses. 8 Command the priests carrying the ark of the
covenant: When you reach the edge of the waters, stand in the Jordan.”
When was the last time you took a leap of faith?
Was it a daunting challenge?
If so, what was the deciding factor in you taking this leap of faith?
are some things that can keep a believer from taking a leap of faith?
are some thing that can help us to take a leap of faith?
great leadership asset did Moses and Joshua have available to them?
do you think the Lord exalted Joshua (v. 7)?
did the Lord do that?
is implied about Joshua’s relationship with the Lord by the fact that the Lord
continued to speak to Joshua?
was the Lord going to magnify Joshua before Israel?
do you think it was important for the people to know that the Lord was with
Joshua just as He was with Moses (v.7)?
part do you think “listening”
played in the Lord’s speaking to Joshua?
do you think might have happened to God’s plan for Israel had Joshua not
listened to God?
was the ark of the covenant (v. 8)?
groups were involved in crossing the Jordan River (v. 8)?
did Joshua tell the priests to do when they reached the river (v. 8)?
do you think the priests were told to stand in the river?
When is it easy for you to trust God? When is it
Communication (Joshua 3:9-13)
9 Then Joshua told the Israelites, “Come closer and
listen to the words of the LORD your God.” 10 He said: “You will know that
the living God is among you and that He will certainly dispossess before
you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites,
and Jebusites 11
when the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth goes ahead of
you into the Jordan. 12 Now choose 12 men from the tribes of
Israel, one man for each tribe. 13
When the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the LORD, the Lord of
all the earth, come to rest in the Jordan’s waters, its waters will be
cut off. The water flowing downstream will stand up in a mass.”
did Joshua urge the people to come near to hear what he had to say (v. 9)?
did Joshua describe God (v. 9)?
do you think is significant about Joshua’s reference to God as “your
God. (v. 9)?
was the message Joshua wanted the people to be sure to hear (v. 10)?
do you think Joshua spelled out which peoples were to be dispossessed (v. 10)?
do you think it was important for them to hear this message?
assurances were included in this message?
was the Ark of the Covenant (v. 11)?
Why was it important? (See Digging Deeper.)
do you think the priests felt about being the “first” to lead the Israelites
into the promised land?
is the significance of the ark of the
covenant going before the people
as they crossed the river (v. 13)?
If the ark was a symbol of God’s presence with
the Israelites, do we have a symbol of God’s presence today?
If so, what is it?
How do you experience God’s presence today?
would happen when the priests stepped into the river (v. 13)?
How can we express confidence in God even when
we don’t have all the answers?
What place does this old saying “Don’t do what I do. Do what I say.” have in a Christian life?
Lessons in Joshua 3:9-13:
is the Lord of the universe and can do awesome miracles.
should trust in God rather than in mere human resource as we deal with
can communicate our faith in God in many different ways, includes sharing
a verbal witness to others.
Through Obedience (Joshua 3:14-17)
14 When the people broke camp to cross the
Jordan, the priests carried the ark of the covenant ahead of the people. 15 Now the Jordan
overflows its banks throughout the harvest season. But as soon as the
priests carrying the ark reached the Jordan, their feet touched the water
at its edge 16
and the water flowing downstream stood still, rising up in a mass that
extended as far as Adam, a city next to Zarethan. The water flowing
downstream into the Sea of the Arabah (the Dead Sea) was completely cut
off, and the people crossed opposite Jericho. 17 The priests carrying the ark of
the LORD’S covenant stood firmly on dry ground in the middle of the
Jordan, while all Israel crossed on dry ground until the entire nation had
finished crossing the Jordan.
what event would this occurrence have reminded the Israelites?
would that be significant?
do you think this event was a test of their confidence in God?
Why do you think it was important for the people
to see the priests as they obeyed Joshua’s instructions and trusted the
time of the year was it and what conditions did the people face (v. 15)?
do you think it was so urgent that the Israelites cross at this time?
you think some people may have objected to crossing the river at this time?
Why, or why not?
to verse 16, what happened when the priest entered the river?
do you think this event impacted the priests?
do you think the priests were able to stand “firmly on dry ground” at mid
river until all Israel had crossed?
words and phrases describe just how mighty the miracle of their crossing the
Jordan actually was? (See Digging Deeper.)
Why would this event have
been significant to the Israelites?
How can your confidence in God impact people’s
willingness to follow and obey?
can happen when others see your confidence in God in your daily walk?
Lessons in Joshua 3:14-17:
place our confidence in God.
express our confidence in God by obeying Him consistently.
God can do
miracles whenever He chooses; these miracles contribute to our awareness
of His power.
Herschel Hobbs offered a timely application: “Through faith in God’s
power Israel crossed Jordan into the land of their destiny.
We too have our Jordans to cross as we achieve God’s will for our lives.
Marching, we see what appears to be a brick wall blocking our way.
If we stop, it is a wall. If
we keep walking by faith in God, we will find the wall is a mirage, is
made of tissue paper that gives way to our walk of faith, or that by His
power it is removed altogether.”1
Where do you stand? Do you
stop! Or, do you keep on
walking? Do you see the
barriers? Or, do you see the
mirage? How would you rate
your walk? On a scale of 1
(stopped) to 10 (keep on walking) rate your faith when you have a Jordan
in front of you! Are you
stopped, or do you keep on walking? Or
are you somewhere in between? No
matter where you have rated yourself, God is standing with you?
He will restart you if you are stopped!
He will encourage you if you are somewhere in between!
And He will rejoice with you if you keep on walking!
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the
center of God’s will.
Herschel H. Hobbs, “Trusting God’s Power,” in Studying
Adult Life and Work Lessons, April-June, 1989 [Nashville: The Sunday
School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1989], 25.
Lesson Outline, Introduction,
Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:
King James Version: Joshua 3:7-17
And the LORD said unto
Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that
they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee. 8 And
thou shalt command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, When
ye are come to the brink of the water of Jordan, ye shall stand still in Jordan. 9
And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, Come hither, and hear the
words of the LORD your God. 10 And Joshua said,
Hereby ye shall know that the living God is
among you, and that he will
without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the
Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the
Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant
of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan. 12
Now therefore take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of
every tribe a man. 13 And it shall come to
pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the
LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from
the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap. 14
And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass
over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people; 15
And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the
priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan
overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) 16
That the waters which came down from above stood and
rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the
plain, even the salt sea,
failed, and were cut off:
and the people passed over right against Jericho. 17 And
the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry
ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground,
until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.
Version: Joshua 3:7-17
7 And the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will
begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with
you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of
the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand
in the river.’” 9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and
listen to the words of the LORD your God. 10 This is how you
will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out
before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites
and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of
all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then,
choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And
as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD—the Lord of all the
earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off
and stand up in a heap.” 14 So when the people broke camp to cross
the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15
Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the
priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the
water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It
piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity
of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea£
) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17
The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on
dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the
whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. (NIV)
New Living Translation: Joshua 3:7-17
7 The LORD told Joshua, “Today I will begin to
make you a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites. They will know that I
am with you, just as I was with Moses. 8 Give this command to
the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant: ‘When you reach the banks of
the Jordan River, take a few steps into the river and stop there.’” 9
So Joshua told the Israelites, “Come and listen to what the LORD your
God says. 10 Today you will know that the living God is among
you. He will surely drive out the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites,
Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites ahead of you. 11 Look, the
Ark of the Covenant, which belongs to the Lord of the whole earth, will lead you
across the Jordan River! 12 Now choose twelve men from the
tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 The priests will carry
the Ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth. As soon as their feet touch the
water, the flow of water will be cut off upstream, and the river will stand up
like a wall.” 14 So the people left their camp to cross the
Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of
them. 15 It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was
overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying
the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, 16 the water
above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam,
which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea£
until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of
Jericho. 17 Meanwhile, the priests who were
carrying the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of
the riverbed as the people passed by. They waited there until the whole nation
of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground. (NLT)
Lesson Outline — “Be Confident in
God’s Power” — Joshua
Listening (Joshua 3:7-8)
Confidence Through Communication (Joshua
Confidence Through Obedience (Joshua 3:14-17)
Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old
“The New American Commentary,” and “The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament: Joshua 3:7-17
The appointment of Joshua as leader of the people would now be confirmed in
action. One major reason for the great miracle was to demonstrate that God was
with Joshua as surely as he had been with Moses.
With the command “Go and stand in the river,” the narrator builds the
suspense. There is still no indication how the people will get through the
There is no article in Hebrew in the phrase “the living God” (v. 10).
Without the article emphasis is placed on the fact that Israel’s God is living.
Joshua is not simply stating that the living God is with them. He is
affirming that the God who marches with Israel is one who is able to act and to
perform mighty deeds in contrast to the pagan gods that have eyes but cannot
see, etc. (cf. Ps 115:3-7). Either term, “Canaanites” or
“Amorites,” can be used to designate the whole population of Canaan.
Strictly speaking the Canaanites were the people living in the lowlands of the
sea coast and the Jordan valley (Num 13:29), while the Amorites lived in the
mountainous areas (“their name perhaps signifying mountain dwellers,” TWOT,
p. 56). For “Hittites” see 1:4. The emissaries from Gibeon are called
“Hivites” in 9:7. Some Hivites were living also at the foot of Mount
Hermon near Mizpah (11:3). Shechem, who fell in love with Jacob’s daughter,
Dinah, was called a Hivite also (Gen 34:2). The “Perizzites” lived in the
central highlands in the time of Abraham and Jacob (Gen 13:7; 34:30). The
“Gergashites” are mentioned here although they are not always included in
the lists of the Canaanite populations. Their inclusion makes the number of
nations seven—the number of completeness. The “Jebusites” inhabited
Jerusalem (15:63), which was formerly called Jebus. Jebusites lived also in the
hill country of northern Palestine (11:3).
The way the people would cross the Jordan still had not been revealed. The ark
would go before them, which signifies that God would go with them and prepare
The command to “choose twelve men” seems out of place here. It interrupts
the flow of the narrative, and there is no explanation of why they were to be
chosen or what they were to do. Perhaps this
verse indicates when the men were actually selected, and 4:2-3, where the
command is repeated, is the point in the narrative where the mission of the
twelve was carried out.
In the phrase “the LORD—the Lord of all the earth,” observe the difference
in the way the word “lord” is printed. Whenever it is printed with one large
and three small capitals, it represents the sacred name “Yahweh.” The Jews,
out of reverence for God’s holy name, regularly substituted the Hebrew word
“Lord” (‘adonay) when they came to the name “Yahweh” (YHWH)
in reading the Scriptures. The second occurrence of “Lord” in our verse,
printed with one capital and the rest small letters, represents that Hebrew word
(‘adon), which actually means “lord,” “ruler,” or “owner.”
One of the great themes in both the Exodus and the Conquest is that Israel’s
God is the Lord of all the earth (cf. Exod 9:29). This gave Israel the
right to take over the land. Moreover, Israel’s victories were proof of their
God’s sovereignty over all the earth. Here, at last, we are told how the
people would be able to cross. The regular flow of the river would be cut off
upstream where the waters would collect in a heap. We must carefully observe all
the clues in the text when attempting to visualize what actually happened.
Crossing on dry ground (3:14-17)
After the Israelites “broke camp,” the priests led the way bearing the ark
of the covenant (v. 14). In stating that the Jordan was at “flood
stage” (v. 15), the narrator skillfully builds the suspense by suggesting
the natural impossibility of what was about to happen. The
statement that “as soon as ... their feet touched the water’s edge, the
water ... stopped flowing” (vv. 15-16a) may be an example of narrative
heightening, i.e., a kind of exaggeration or hyperbole used to convey a true
sense of wonder at the great miracle that was taking place. The flow of the
water had to have stopped upstream prior to the moment that the priests
approached the river, or else it would have taken time for the water to flow
away downstream after they stepped into the river’s edge.
The flow of the river was interrupted, and the waters began to collect “in a
heap” upstream. “Adam” was a city located about twenty miles upstream from
where the Israelites crossed the Jordan. Aharoni (p. 34) states that “the
vicinity of Adam was famous for the occasional landslides which dammed the
floods of the Jordan.” There is some ambiguity in the Hebrew preposition b
which is translated “at” here: it could mean “from.” (Such a translation
would suggest that the water was stopped near the place where the Israelites
were and was backed up all the way to Adam. “At” seems to be the better
translation. In that case, however, the water stopped too far upstream for the
Israelites to have seen it, and the timing had to be perfect for the waters to
be exhausted at the precise moment that the priests stepped into the river.
“The Sea of the Arabah” is the Dead Sea. With the water from upstream
“completely cut off,” the water flowing downstream was soon emptied into the
The Hebrew term for “dry ground” (harabah) does not require that the
riverbed be powdery dry but simply means that it was no longer covered with
water. This indicates terra firma as contrasted to the flooding river (cf. 4:18,
where the term “dry ground” is used to distinguish the bank from the
SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New
Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor;
Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers
American Commentary; Volume 5;: Joshua 3:7-17
Instructions for Crossing: Stage Two (3:7–13)
7And the LORD said to
Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they
may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8Tell the priests
who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s
waters, go and stand in the river.’ ” 9Joshua said to the
Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. 10This
is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly
drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites,
Amorites and Jebusites. 11See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of
all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12Now then,
choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13And
as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD—the Lord of all the
earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off
and stand up in a heap.”
The instructions before the people crossed the
Jordan continued, this time with God speaking to Joshua (vv. 7–8) and then
Joshua speaking again to the people (vv. 9–13). The long build-up to the
miraculous stopping of the waters continues.
3:7. God speaks in vv. 7–8
to Joshua for the first time since his charge in 1:1–9. The words here are in
fulfillment of those in chap. 1, especially about God’s being with Joshua just
as he had been with Moses, confirming his place as Israel’s new leader (see
also 1:5, 17; 4:14). God’s presence with him was important in encouraging him
and validating him as Israel’s leader (see on 1:5). The initial confirmation
of Joshua’s leadership would be the great miracle that God would do on
Israel’s behalf. Interestingly, Joshua was not directly involved in the
miracle at all (except in giving the people and the leaders their instructions),
but he would nonetheless be made great
in Israel’s eyes because of this. Butler well notes that it was God’s
initiative and God’s work: “Joshua’s claim to power
does not rest on anything he has accomplished. It rests on what God has
accomplished at the Jordan and on the obedience of Joshua to the words and
example of Moses.”
The purpose of God’s exalting Joshua was not
for Joshua’s own sake. Rather, it was for the larger purpose that Israel would
know that God was with him. This is the thrust of the word translated here as
and it also is reinforced by the special verb form of the verb
“know.” This verb has a suffixed consonant known as a “paragogic
nun,” whose function involves “contrastivity.” Here the
author is emphasizing that the people would indeed know something they would not otherwise know: that
God was with Joshua in a special way. How would they know this? Through the
great miracle that God would perform, which is looked at from so many different
angles throughout chaps. 3 and 4.
3:8. The second part of
God’s instructions to Joshua is more prosaic than the first: the priests
carrying the ark were actually to enter the water and stand there. This
anticipates what would happen when they did this: the waters would actually stop
3:9–10. With v. 9, the text
begins an inexorable movement toward the chapter’s climax in vv. 14–17.
Joshua assembled the people to hear God’s words, and he stated that there
would be a specific way that they would know that God was in their midst and
that he would drive out the nations. This way is not stated until v. 13, when
the “wonderful things” previewed in v. 5 are revealed to be the stopping of
the Jordan’s flow.
Verse 10 is introduced by a short prepositional
phrase: “By this you will know ….”
“This” refers to the miraculous sign of the water stoppage in v. 13, which
is emphasized by the repeated verbs and the vivid imagery there. God’s actions here were for a larger
purpose than just Israel’s crossing the Jordan. It was to demonstrate to
Israel that the “living God” was among them.
The reference here to the “living God” is
most likely intended to contrast Israel’s living, powerful God with the
“dead,” false gods of the seven peoples who are named in the verse. In Hos
1:10[Hb. 2:1], the same term is used, and the context there is also part of a
contrast. There, God had instructed Hosea to name his third child “Not my
people” as an ironic reminder to Israel that they had gone astray and were
like the pagans around them, not worthy of being called God’s people (Hos
1:9). However, a promise of restoration follows (1:10–11[Hb. 2:1–2]), and to
those who would taunt Israel with the name “Not my people,” God responds
forcefully that the Israelites were in reality “the sons of the living God.”
Other uses of the term in the Old Testament also denote a contrast, usually
between Israel’s God and hostile pagan gods or forces.
Here, then, the term “the
living God” is used as a polemic against God’s enemies, who were also
Israel’s enemies. It was a forceful reminder to Israel that their God was not
like the gods of the nations around them, nations whom they were going to
displace (v. 10b), but rather he was a powerful and living God, able to effect
the type of miracle in view here. And this living God was “among you,”
literally, “in your midst,” affirming the promise of God’s presence that
he had made to Joshua (see 1:5, 9).
The wordplay of “knowing” (vv. 4, 7) is
continued in v. 10. The events that were soon to follow were not just for the
purpose of getting the Israelites across the Jordan River. They were to attest
to the fact “that the living God is among you”! These wonderful acts were
testimonies to God’s glorious presence among his people, working on their
behalf. This exact wording—“This is how you will know …”—is found only
one other time in the Old Testament, in Num 16:28, where God was authenticating
Moses’ position as his chosen leader (cp. similarly Exod 7:17). Here, he is
doing the same for Joshua.
Seven peoples are listed
in v. 10. Twenty-three times in the Old Testament we find such lists, including
five times in Joshua (3:10; 9:1; 11:3; 12:8; 24:11). The number and order of the
names vary in each list, but seven is used often, probably as a number symbolic
of completeness. Twelve peoples occur in all, but a core of seven—the seven
mentioned here—comprises the “standard” list.
In Joshua, these seven nations are listed at
3:10 and 24:11, while six nations are listed in the other three references. The
primary way in which the lists are used in the Old Testament is in connection
with Israel’s possession of the land of Canaan. These were the peoples whom they were to displace. And the fact that they are
commonly listed as separate nations—as opposed to being described simply as
“the people who live in the land” (Exod 23:31), or inclusively as “the
Canaanites”—shows a contrast between the ethnic divisions among them, as
opposed to the national unity that was so important for Israel. Furthermore,
the lists of peoples functioned to help the Israelites define themselves: they
were not these wicked, divided nations, but rather one people, God’s people.
sometimes is an all-inclusive term denoting any people living in
Canaan, regardless of their ethnic identity (e.g., Gen 12:6; 36:2–3; Exod
13:11; Ezek 16:3). Often, however, the Canaanites are distinguished from others
who lived in Canaan,
as they are here (e.g., Josh 7:9; Judg 1:27–29). In this case, they probably
are the peoples living near the sea and near the Jordan River (see 5:1, which
mentions Canaanites along the coast, and Num 13:29, which mentions them by the
sea and near the Jordan).
The Hittites appear in the Bible primarily in
the hill country of Judah (e.g., Hebron: Genesis 23; Beersheba: Gen 26:34;
Bethel: Judg 1:22–26; Jerusalem: Ezek 16:3, 45). Here in Joshua, the reference to
them appears to be the same (Josh 11:3 specifically states
that they lived in the hill country). As we noted in the comment on 1:4, there
was a great Hittite kingdom of the middle and late second millennium b.c. to the
north of Israel’s lands in northern Syria, and vestiges of this kingdom appear
to be in view in the reference to Solomon’s trading partners in 1 Kgs 10:29.
The next three peoples in the list are
The Hivites were located in the mountainous region to the north, in
what is today Lebanon (Josh 11:3; Judg 3:3). The Perizzites
appear to have lived in the forested areas of central Palestine, in the
highlands of Samaria (Gen 13:7; Josh 17:15). The Girgashites appear in the Bible
only in the lists of peoples. Based on where the other peoples lived, Hostetter
suggests that the only area left for the Girgashites was toward the north of
Palestine. All three of these peoples are unknown outside the Bible.
Like the term “Canaanite,” the term
“Amorite” is sometimes used as an all-inclusive term, referring to anyone
living in Canaan (see Gen 15:16; 36:2–3; Josh 24:15; Judg 1:34–35; Ezek
16:3). Elsewhere it is a more limited term, referring to areas in the central
hill country of Canaan (Num 13:29; Deut 1:7) or to kingdoms east of the Jordan
River (Num 21:26; Deut 4:46; Josh 13:10, 21). Here, it probably refers to the
people east of the Jordan. Outside the Bible, “Amorites” are known from
early texts in Mesopotamia, and there they are “westerners,” that is, people
coming from the west (from Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine). Later, an
“Amorite” kingdom is known, with its capital at Sidon.
The Jebusites were the pre-Israelite inhabitants
of Jerusalem (see Josh 15:8; 18:28). They are the only ones in the list named
for a city (“Jebus” was the name of Jerusalem when David captured it [1 Chr
11:4–9]). Outside the Bible, the Jebusites are known from archaeological
remains in Jerusalem, but not from literary sources.
The “standard” list of seven peoples
includes several very obscure peoples alongside several more prominent ones, yet
the list was selective, since additional peoples are mentioned in some texts.
Why were these particular seven chosen? This probably was due in part, if not
entirely, to the complete geographical picture obtained, since these peoples
occupied the lands that the Israelites took.
3:11–13. Joshua now focused the
Israelites’ attention on the ark by using an attention-getting word hinnēh
(“See!” “Look!” “Behold!”). The ark was to be their guide, and its
position at the water’s edge would signal the beginning of the miracle. The
Hebrew in v. 11 has, literally, “the ark of the covenant, the Lord of all the
earth,” which all versions correct to read “the ark of the covenant of
the Lord of all the earth.” However, if the Hebrew is correct as it stands,
then the ark is identified all that much more closely with God himself, that is,
the ark (or the covenant) is equated with the Lord himself.
Joshua’s words in v. 12 about choosing twelve
men look ahead, anticipating the actions Israel was to take after the crossing. God spoke
these words to Joshua almost verbatim in 4:2, adding that these men were to take
up twelve stones for a memorial (4:3–7). This demonstrates again the slow
building up of the story we have already noted: it shows a skilled author at work, who will repeat himself at different
points or suspend his story and then resume it, in the interests of weaving an
ordered, intricate story. We see this in the portrayal of the priests in this
chapter: they are introduced in 3:3, but their role is made clearer in 3:8, and
then clearer still in 3:13. We also see it in the repetition of the crossing
motif at several points: 3:1, 14, 16, 17; 4:1, 10, 11.
Finally, in v. 13, the substance of the
“amazing things” spoken of in v. 5 is revealed: when the priests carrying
the ark stepped into the Jordan, the waters would stop flowing! The entire
chapter thus far has been building to this revelation. In reality, probably most
Israelites—and most readers—would have guessed long before this what was
going to happen. However, the author’s presentation of the information draws
out the suspense on a literary level and highlights the magnificence of the
Here the Lord is identified as sovereign over
all the earth, although the word for “earth” (˒ereṣ) can also mean “land”; if this is the
intended meaning, it is nevertheless appropriate, since the Lord was not only
sovereign over all the earth, but also the entire land of Canaan, which he was
in process of giving to Israel.
The stoppage of the waters is viewed in two ways
here, anticipating the further elaboration in vv. 16–17 and in several places
in chap. 4: they would be “cut off,” and they would “stand up in a
of the Crossing (3:14–17)
14So when the people broke
camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went
ahead of them. 15Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest.
Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet
touched the water’s edge, 16the water from upstream stopped
flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in
the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah
(the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite
Jericho. 17The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the
LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel
passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
These verses are the climax of the
chapter—indeed, of all of chaps. 3–4. Here, the narrative slows to a crawl,
so that the reader can savor the wonder of the miracle and view it from as many
different perspectives as possible. The author, by writing in this way, affirms
God’s greatness and power and intervention on his people’s behalf. The point
is not so much that the people were able to cross over the Jordan, but the manner
in which they were able to cross: by a glorious and mighty miracle of God. The
immediate purpose of the miracle was obviously to get Israel across the Jordan.
However, the larger purpose was—as it is with all miracles—to testify to
God’s greatness and faithfulness, both to Israel (v. 10) and to all the
peoples of the earth (4:24a), and to stimulate proper worship of him (4:24b).
That we are to be awed by the wonder of the
miracle is clear as we read these two chapters, and especially when we reach the
climax itself. This is accomplished in several ways: by the many verbs
describing the water stoppage in vv. 13 and 16, by the verbs of standing or
resting in the Jordan (vv. 8, 13, 15, 17), by the references to high water or
dry ground (vv. 15, 17), and by the very syntactical constructions in vv.
14–16. This emphasis is confirmed in chap. 4, where many of the same motifs
are repeated: see especially 4:7, 18, 22–23.
3:14–16. Here finally we read
the account of the miracle that has been anticipated from the beginning of the
chapter. It is truly a remarkable one: the Jordan River, at flood stage, was
completely stopped up when the priests carrying the ark stepped into it, and the
people were able to cross over on dry land!
In Hebrew, these verses constitute one long,
drawn-out statement about the stopping up of the waters, followed by a short,
terse statement about the people’s crossing over. The drawn-out nature of vv.
14–15 especially highlights the suspense and wonder until the powerful
statements in v. 16 about the miracle itself. Unfortunately the NIV has obscured
this by breaking the passage into four sentences and changing some of the clause
A more literal translation of vv. 14–16 would
read as follows:
And it happened—when the people set out
from their tents to cross the Jordan, with the priests carrying the ark of the
covenant before them, and when those carrying the ark came as far as the Jordan,
and [when] the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped into the edge of
the waters (now the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of the
harvest)— that the waters coming down from above stood! They rose up
[in] one heap,
a very far distance away, at Adam, the city that is opposite Zarethan,
and the [waters] coming
down upon the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea,
were completely cut off. And the people crossed
Two things should be observed here about the
syntax, because it is highly unusual and appears to many scholars to be
overcomplicated and thus a signal that different literary sources lie behind
these verses. (1) The
statements in vv. 14–15 are all in subordinate clauses of some type, which
means that the author, having begun his main thought with and
it happened, leaves us suspended as to what actually happened until v. 16.
The same is true for the statement at the end of v. 16, telling of the actual
crossing: it is in a subordinate clause, and it is included as a statement of
what happened, but clearly the focus is on the miracle, not the crossing. (2)
When v. 16 is finally reached, the language changes, and in quick
succession two verbs appear describing the water’s stoppage: they stood
and they rose up. A few words later, two more verbs occur, describing
this from a different perspective: they were completely cut off. In the short
space of one verse, then, we find four different verbs reflecting on what
happened to the waters. The language “piles up” in a manner that reminds us of the waters themselves piling up!
Thus the passage’s climax tells us, in a very
impressive way, that the waters of the Jordan River, which was at flood stage,
were stopped up so that God’s people could cross over and begin their mission
in the promised land.
we have a wrap-up, highlighting things already stated and adding a bit more that
makes the miracle even more impressive. Just as the waters had stood (v.
16), now the priests stood firm
in the midst of the
Jordan. After the reference to the people at the end of v. 16, they are referred to again
twice in v. 17, in different ways: all Israel and the whole nation.
Just as the waters were completely cut off (v. 16), so now the entire
nation completed its crossing. This last point effectively wraps up this
portion of the episode.
Something new is introduced as well: the twofold
reference to dry ground. This gives us a still different perspective on
the miracle: the waters were so completely stopped up that the priests stood and
the people crossed on dry ground! No shallow fords were to be found, since the
waters were at flood stage at this time of year, so a true miracle was needed.
The end of v. 15 (see the translation above) refers to the early summer harvest,
when the river was still swollen from spring melting and spring rains. The
crossing was actually done on the tenth day of the first month (4:19), which
corresponds to March-April. Thus, the fact that Israel not only crossed the
Jordan during the flood stage but did so on dry ground (and not muddy,
mucky ground) makes the miracle even more impressive.
These events naturally call to mind the Red Sea
crossing in Exodus 14–15. There too God miraculously separated the waters that
allowed the Israelites to cross on dry ground. There too the waters stood in
a “heap” (Exod 15:8).
There too the miracle was for the immediate purpose of crossing a great
watery barrier, but it was for the larger purpose of glorifying God and
confirming his chosen leader (Moses) in the eyes of the people (Exod 14:31), just as the later miracle glorified God (3:10; 4:24) and
confirmed his chosen leader, Joshua (3:7; 4:14).
The New American Commentary; Volume
5; Joshua; David M. Howard, Jr.; General Editor: E.
Ray Clendenen; © 1998 Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville,
Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Joshua 3:7-1
3:1-17. Crossing the Jordan. In the overall narrative
structure of the wilderness traditions, these chapters form a clear inclusio
with the events of Exo. 14:1-15:21 (for a definition of the term “inclusio,”
see the comments on Josh. 2:22ff). Just as the crossing of the Red (or Reed) Sea
on dry ground inaugurated the wilderness march some forty years earlier, the dry
crossing of the Jordan River brought the march effectively to an end (cf. Josh.
4:23, “For Yahweh your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had
crossed over. Yahweh your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red
Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over”). Closer analysis
of these chapters, however, proves more complicated; see Trent Butler’s
discussion for a good analysis of
this material. Butler is probably right to label this material “cultic
teaching or proclamation” (the term “cultic” in scholarly parlance being a
neutral term referring to an organized system of religious worship). After
discussing the complicated history of the present narratives, he concludes,
“The literary narratives did not become items for Israelite archives. Rather
they functioned within the community as instruments to teach what God had done
for his people. As such, they became the object of continuing study and
exegesis.” The Israelites were to continually teach what the accounts meant to
Thus, we should not be surprised to find that the train of thought in
these chapters will at times be difficult to follow, or that there seem to be
several parallel accounts of what happened at the Jordan River. We always must
read the Bible as it was intended to be read—if strict narrative, then as a
logical, chronological sequencing, but if, as is probably the case here, we find
liturgical proclamation, then we are to emphasize theological motifs and themes,
not necessarily requiring strict plot or chronological sequence. Source-critical
analysis definitely has its place in biblical exegesis, but for people of faith,
the canonical text has special authority, and it is that text that will be
explicated in the following notes.
3:1-8. Yahweh promises to make Joshua great. As Butler
points out, already in v. 1 of this chapter, emphasis is given to the unique
leadership of Joshua (cf. the NRSV translation of the verse, “Early in the
morning Joshua rose and set out from Shittim with all the Israelites, and they
came to the Jordan.” This now familiar theme of Joshua as a second Moses is
found again throughout these two chapters and is particularly to be seen in the
first eight verses of chapter three (see, especially, 3:7) as well as the first
fourteen verses of chapter four (see especially 4:14). Of particular note is the
emphasis given to Joshua’s leadership over the priests (3:6, 8; cf. 4:15ff),
as well as the more expected references to his leadership over the twelve lay
tribes (4:4-7) and the people in general (3:5). The chronological reference in
3:2 to the “three days” evokes the similar reference back in 1:11. Once
again, the reference may be indefinite, or else it may represent inclusive
reckoning. It reads “part of today, tomorrow, and part of the next day.”
Although Woudstra sees the parallel references to the “three days” in 1:11
and 3:2 as not necessarily representing an identical period of time, the overall
thematic parallel is clear: Joshua acted immediately. As soon as he could,
Joshua initiated proper and effective leadership over the entire community (as
Butler, 44, puts it, “When God opened the opportunity, Joshua acted”). Once again, we should look for the theological emphases of this passage
rather than pressing for chronological precision.
The march across the Jordan is depicted to emphasize the liturgical
procession, with special emphasis on the moving of the Ark of the Covenant (vv.
3-6). The Ark, of course, had been constructed in the wilderness under the
leadership of Moses (see Exo. 25:10-22; 37:1-9), the artisans following the
exact pattern as given by Yahweh to Moses on Mount Sinai (cf. Exo. 25:9).
Although debated by scholars, the Ark probably was understood as representing
the earthly throne of Israel’s God, Yahweh (cf. the fuller reference in 2 Sam.
6:2 to “the Ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of Yahweh of
Hosts”). Woudstra is right to note that references to the Ark dominate these
two chapters. He writes, “thus the Lord, to whom the Ark belongs, is presented
as the One who actually enters Canaan ahead of the Israelites.”
Biblical scholars understand the divine Name “Yahweh” as deriving
from the simple stem of the Hebrew verb “to be” ( HED #2030), “the One Who
is” or the like (cf. the typical translation of Exo. 3:14, “I am Who I
am”). This is the Deity Whom we worship—to God be the glory!
Although Josh. 3:3 emphasizes the presence of the Ark, as already noted,
it also makes reference to the “Levitical priests” (NIV, “priests, who are
Levites”). Woudstra points out that the Sinai tradition had previously made
reference to presumably non-Levitical priests in the wilderness in Exo. 19:22,
24. Later biblical record is mixed in regard to the place of the Levites in
Israelite society, with Ezekiel disparaging them, but the Chronicles and Malachi
commending their service at the expense of the less dedicated Aaronite
priesthood. The contemporary reader should be cautioned against the desire to
overly harmonize these various biblical accounts. The difference, of course,
lies in the character and motivation of the individual.
The distance of 2000 cubits (v. 4) between the ark and the people
represents, of course, protection for the latter. Although the sacred object is
clearly to be in full view of the laity (v. 3), indeed showing them the path to
take “since [they] have never been this way before” (v. 4, NIV), the
non-priests must in no way touch it (cf. the later disasters recorded in 1 Sam.
6:19; 2 Sam. 6:7). The specified distance, “about a thousand yards” (NIV),
over half a mile, was the equivalent of a sabbath’s day journey.
The liturgical nature of these sections is again evident in 3:5f as
Joshua commands both the priests and the people to prepare for a remarkable
demonstration of Yahweh’s presence and power. Although language reminiscent of
the tremendous theophany of Mt. Sinai is found in v. 5 (cf. the consecrating of
the people in Exo. 19:10f, 14), the present emphasis is, once again, on
Yahweh’s promising to visibly endorse the greatness of Joshua in terms of
Moses. Contemporary readers of these ancient texts sometimes forget how radical
such biblical perspectives were in the ancient world. Joshua was not a king in
the usual sense, nor was he the head of a priestly house, yet he was visibly and
unequivocally endorsed by the Lord as preeminent over both lay and clerical
authority. Perhaps, less concern is given to religious leadership in these
passages than is given to political leadership. (It is a commonplace for modern
scholarship to link political and religious perspectives in the ancient world.
While there is much truth in such emphasis, such linkage should not be
overstressed to the point of clouding the text. Priests and kings led different
bureaucratic organizations. and had different spheres of influence.) But, in any
case, Joshua is unmistakably and effectually the leader, having received
authority transferred from Moses, the final authority over the entire nation of
3:9-17. Yahweh promises to reveal his own greatness. In vv.
9-13, Joshua announces what will become familiar in the later Israelite and
Judahite prophets—a short term prediction indicating the veracity of the
prophetic word (cf. Micaiah in 1 Ki. 22:1-40, especially v. 28; also Jeremiah in
Jer. 28, especially v. 16; also note Yahweh’s words to Zechariah in Zech. 4:9;
and even Isaiah’s famous prediction in ch. 7 of his Book where the often
ignored original context of the “virgin shall conceive” prophecy in v. 14
was first a short-term prediction for King Ahaz and his court, Isa. 7:4-11, and
especially vv. 16f, the NT fulfillment being cited in Matt. 1:22f). An important
criterion for the authenticity of the OT prophet is elucidated in Deut. 18
where, after wholesale condemnation in vv. 9-13 of typically pagan practices of
divination (amounting to attempts to ascertain, indeed to control the future),
the text spells out in vv. 14-22 how an authentic prophet was to be determined,
by what may well be termed the test of short-term prediction. The text reads,
“if what a prophet proclaims in the name of Yahweh does not take place or come
true, that is a message Yahweh has not spoken. That prophet has spoken
presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” The prediction is necessarily
short-term inasmuch as a long-term prediction will neither fit the examples
mentioned above nor serve effectively the intended audience of the prophet of
The specific sign given here in Josh. 3 is the ceasing of the flow of the
Jordan. The waters “standing up in a heap” (v. 13) corresponds with Exo.
15:8 and Ps. 78:13. although the parallels are inexact, once again references
with the Mosaic miracle at the Red (or Reed) Sea are meant to be recalled. The
Jordan was at flood stage “all during harvest.” (Whether it was the barley
harvest celebrated during the Passover in mid-spring, March or April, or the
wheat harvest celebrated by Pentecost nearly two months later, the text does not
specify.) Joshua 4:19 does date the present miracle as occurring on or before
the tenth day of the first month (four days before Passover). As a result of the
winter rains plus the melting snow in the Lebanon mountains, the river was
typically at its highest in late winter to early spring (Boling, 168).
Sure enough, as soon as the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the
water’s edge, the miracle occurred. The exact nature of the miraculous event
is somewhat unclear, although a natural cause is intimated in v. 16. In any
case, legitimate miracles may represent direct divine intervention (with no
natural explanation conceivable) or, as is more often the case, providential
timing of a natural event. It does no disservice to the believer in Christ to
opt for the latter possibility, especially if the text gives support—the town
of Adam being some nineteen miles (twenty-seven kilometers) upstream from
Jericho, and thus, in any case, too far to be seen by the Israelites at that
time. Once again, whatever the exact details, it is clear that the miracle took
place so that the Israelites might know (v. 10) that Yahweh, the “Living
God,” was among them and that he would indeed drive out the seven enemy
nations presently inhabiting the land. As Boling points out, the Hebrew verb
“to know” ( HED #3156) represents a far wider range of meaning than the
typical English translation might indicate—all the way from intellectual
comprehension to intimate experience (e.g., in Gen. 4:1, Adam “knew” Eve,
and as a result she gave birth to Cain). Once again, here in Josh. 3, a
liturgical source celebrating a one-time event speaks consciously to every
generation. Boling writes, “As in the past, the experience of the
Sovereign’s gracious initiative will ground the renewal of the
relationship.” Just as it was with the Passover, the mighty miracle occurred
only once, but it was to be recalled periodically so that all subsequent
generations might truly “know” the living God of Israel and his mighty
powers of deliverance.
Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Joshua-Ruth. Database
© 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.
Ark of the covenant
(v. 8)—A wooden chest overlaid with gold, containing the stone tablets
inscribed with the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s rod, and
symbolizing God’s presence among His people.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources, 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
ARK OF THE COVENANT: names
the original container for the Ten Commandments and the central symbol
of God’s presence with the people of Israel.
Old Testament: The
ark of ancient Israel is mysterious in its origins, its meanings, and its
ultimate fate. Its many names convey the holy sense of God’s
presence. The Hebrew word for ark means simply “box, chest, coffin,” as is
indicated by its use for the coffin of Joseph (Gen. 50:26) and for the Temple
collection box of King Joash (2 Kings 12:9-10).
The names used for the ark define its meaning by the
words which modify it. The word “covenant” in the name defines the ark from
its original purpose as a container for the stone tablets upon which the Ten
Commandments (sometimes called the “testimony”) were inscribed. Sometimes it
is identified rather with the name of deity, “the ark of God,” or
“the ark of the Lord” (Yahweh), or most ornately “the ark of the
covenant of the Lord of hosts (Yahweh Sabaoth) who is enthroned on the
cherubim” (1 Sam. 4:4).
The origin of the ark goes back to Moses at Sinai. The mysterious
origin of the ark is seen by contrasting the two accounts of how it was made in
the Pentateuch. The more elaborate account of the manufacture and
ornamentation of the ark by the craftsman Bezalel appears in Exodus
25:10-22; 31:2, 7; 35:30-35; 37:1-9. It was planned during
Moses’ first sojourn on Sinai and built after all the tabernacle
specifications had been communicated and completed. The other account is found
in Deuteronomy 10:1-5. After the sin of the golden calf and the
breaking of the original decalogue tablets, Moses made a plain box of acacia
wood as a container to receive the new tables of the law.
A very ancient poem, the “Song of the Ark” in Numbers 10:35-36,
sheds some light on the function of the ark in the wanderings in the
wilderness. The ark was the symbol of God’s presence to guide the
pilgrims and lead them in battle (Num. 10:33, 35-36). If they acted in
faithlessness, failing to follow this guidance, the consequences could be
drastic (Num. 14:39-45). Some passages suggest the ark was also regarded as the
throne of the invisible deity, or his footstool (Jer. 3:16-17; Ps.
132:7-8). These various meanings of the ark should be interpreted as
complementary rather than contradictory.
The ark was designed for mobility. Its size (about four feet long, two
and a half feet wide, and two and a half feet deep) and rectangular shape were
appropriate to this feature. Permanent poles were used to carry the ark, since
no one was allowed to touch it, and only priestly (Levitical) personnel were
allowed to carry it. The ark was the most important object within the tabernacle
of the desert period, though its relationship to the tabernacle was
discontinued sometime after the conquest of Canaan.
The ark played a prominent role in the “holy war” narratives of the
crossing of the Jordan and the conquest, of Jericho (Josh. 3-6). After
the conquest, it was variously located at Gilgal, Shechem (Josh.
8:30-35; see Deut. 11:26-32; 27:1-26) or Bethel (Judg. 20:26),
wherever the tribal confederacy was gathered for worship. Finally, it was
permanently located at Shiloh, where a temple was built to house it (1 Sam.
Because of the faithless superstition of the wicked sons of Eli, the Hebrew
tribes were defeated in the battle of Ebenezer, and the ark was captured by the
Philistines (1 Sam. 4). The adventures of the ark in the cities of Ashdod, Gath,
and Ekron are told to magnify the strength and glory of the Lord of
the ark. The Lord vanquished Dagon and spread bubonic plagues among
the enemy until they propitiated the God of Israel by symbolic guilt
offerings and a ritually correct sending away of the dread object (1 Sam.
5:1-6:12). The men of Beth-shemesh welcomed the return of the ark, until they
unwisely violated its holiness by looking into it (1 Sam. 6:13-15, 19-20).
Then it was carried to Kiriath-Jearim, where it remained in comparative
neglect until David recovered the symbolism it had for the ancient tribal
confederacy and moved it to his new capital and sanctuary in Jerusalem
(1 Sam. 6:21-7:2; 2 Sam. 6). Abinadab and his sons (2 Sam. 6:3) seemed
to have served the Lord of the ark faithfully until one son, Uzzah, was
smitten for his rash touching of the holy object during David’s first attempt
to transport the ark from its “hill” at Kiriath-Jearim to his own city. In
fear, David left the ark with Obed-edom the Gittite, whose household
was blessed by its presence. More cautiously and with great religious fervor,
David succeeded the second time in taking the ark into his capital city (2 Sam.
Recent scholarship has suggested that on coronation occasions or annually
at a festival of enthronement this ark ceremony was reenacted. Such an occasion
would re-emphasize the promise to the Davidic dynasty, as well as the glory
of the Lord of Hosts (Ps. 24:7-10; 132). Finally, Solomon built
the Temple, planned by David, to house the ark, which he then transported
into the holy of holies with elaborate festival ceremonies (1 Kings 8; 2
The precise time of the theft or destruction of the ark is unknown.
Some have suggested Shishak of Egypt plundered the Temple of this most holy
object (1 Kings 14:25-28), but it seems more likely, from Jeremiah 3:16-17,
that the Babylonians captured or destroyed the ark in 587 B.C. with the
fall of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple. As Jeremiah
predicted, the ark was never rebuilt for the second Temple, the holy of holies
Other mysteries of the ark are its relation to the cherubim, its ornate
lid called the “mercy seat,” and its precise ritual usage during the
time of the monarchy. Because the ark of the covenant was the central symbol of
God’s presence with His people Israel, its mysteries remain appropriately
veiled within the inner sanctuary of the living God.
New Testament: Hebrews
9:1-10 shows the ark was a part of the old order with external regulations
waiting for the new day of Christ to come with a perfect Sacrifice
able to cleanse the human conscience. Revelation 11:19 shows the ark
of the covenant will be part of the heavenly temple when it is revealed.
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S.
Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.
term refers to God’s causing Israel to gain as an inheritance the very land
that He would take from sinful nations who did not acknowledge Him.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources, 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
(v. 12)—A tribe was a social and political grouping of people made up of a
particular branch of a family. The twelve tribes of Israel were descendants from
one of the twelve sons of Jacob.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources, 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
TRIBES OF ISRAEL, THE: Social and political groups in Israel claiming descent
from one of the twelve sons of Jacob.
The Tribal Unit: The tribal unit played an important role in the
history of the formation of the nation Israel. In ancient times a nation
was referred to as “a people,” an 'am; in Israel’s case it was
the “people of Israel.” The nation in turn was made up of “tribes.” The
“tribe,” a shebet or matteh, was the major social
unit that comprised the makeup of the nation. The tribe was comprised of
“clans.” The “clan,” a mishpachah, was a family of families
or a cluster of households that had a common ancestry. The clan was comprised
then of the individual households or families referred to as the “father’s
house” the beth ab. Actually, the family in ancient times might be
made up of several families living together and forming one household (Num.
Tribal Origins: The
ancestral background of “the tribes of Israel” went back to the patriarch Jacob,
whose name was changed to Israel. The nation Israel was identified as “the
children of Israel, or more literally “the sons of Israel.” According to the
biblical account, the family of Jacob, from which the tribes came, originated in
north Syria during Jacob’s stay at Haran with Laban his uncle.
Eleven of the twelve sons were born at Haran, while the twelfth, Benjamin was
born after Jacob returned to Canaan. The birth of the sons came through
Jacob’s wives Leah and Rachel and their maids Zilpah and Bilhah.
The sons of Leah included Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah (Gen.
29:31-35), Issachar and Zebulun, as well as one daughter named Dinah
(Gen. 30:19-21). Rachel’s sons were Joseph (Gen. 30:22-24), who became
the father of Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 41:50-52), and Benjamin
(Gen. 35:16-18). Jacob’s sons through Zilpah, Leah’s maid, were Gad and Asher
(Gen. 30:9-13), while Bilhah, the maid of Rachel, bore Dan and Naphtali
This family of families or family of tribes occupied the focal point in
the history of the development of Israel as a nation. While there are details of
that history that we do not clearly understand and other groups simply referred
to as “a mixed multitude” (Ex. 12:38) that were perhaps incorporated
into the nation, the central focus is always on the “tribes of Israel,” the
descendants of Jacob. For that reason lists of the twelve sons of Jacob or of
the tribes appear in several places in the Old Testament, though the lists vary
somewhat. Some of the major lists include that of Jacob’s blessing of the
twelve (Gen. 49), the review of the households as the period of oppression
in Egypt is introduced (Ex. 1:1-10), Moses’ blessing of the tribes
(Deut. 33), and the song of Deborah (Judg. 5).
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S.
Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.
Miracle of the Jordan Crossing :
Joshua 3:17 we have a wrap-up, highlighting things already stated and adding a
bit more that makes the miracle even more impressive. Just as the waters had
stood (v. 16), now the priests stood firm in the midst of the Jordan. After the
reference to the people at the end of verse 16, they are referred to again twice
in verse 17, in different ways: all Israel and the whole nation. Just as the
waters were completely cut off (v. 16), so now the entire nation completed its
new is introduced as well: the twofold reference to dry ground. This gives us a
still different perspective on the miracle: the waters were so completely
stopped up that the priests stood and the people crossed on dry ground! No
shallow fords were to be found, since the waters were at flood stage at this
time of year, so a true miracle was needed. The end of verse 15 … refers to
the early summer harvest, when the river was still swollen from spring melting
and spring rains. The crossing was actually done on the tenth day of the first
month (4:19), which corresponds to March–April. Thus, the fact that Israel not
only crossed the Jordan during the flood stage but did so on dry ground (and not
muddy, mucky ground) makes the miracle even more impressive.
events naturally call to mind the
Red Sea crossing in Exodus 14–15. There too God miraculously separated the
waters that allowed the Israelites to cross on dry ground. There too the waters
stood [up] (Ex. 15:8). There too the miracle was for the immediate purpose of
crossing a great watery barrier, but it was for the larger purpose of glorifying
God and confirming his chosen leader (Moses) in the eyes of the people (Ex.
14:31), just as the later miracle glorified God (Josh. 3:10; 4:24) and confirmed
his chosen leader, Joshua (3:7; 4:14).
SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay
Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville,
The ARK of the COVENANT In Joshua’s Time
By Robert C. Dunston
C. Dunston is professor and head of the Religion and Philosophy Department,
Cumberland College, Williamsburg, Kentucky.
THE ARK OF THE COVENANT played a significant role in the events described
in the early chapters of the Book of Joshua.
When the priests carried the ark into the Jordan River, God made the
waters miraculously stop flowing and Israel crossed into Canaan on dry ground
(Josh. 3:1 – 4:24). When the
priests carried the ark around the city of Jericho, God miraculously destroyed
the city on the seventh day following the seventh circuit (Josh. 6:1-21).
After Israel’s failure to take the city of Ai, Joshua prostrated
himself before the ark seeking to discover the reason for Israel’s defeat
(Josh. 7:1-15). Finally the ark of
the covenant served as a focal point in worship when Israel renewed its covenant
with God (Josh. 8:30-35).
While we may recognize the ark’s importance in the Book of Joshua and
throughout the Bible, we still may wonder exactly what the ark signified.
The names associated with the ark in the Book of Joshua provide insight
into Israel’s understanding of the ark’s role and significance.
The Hebrew word ‘aron translated
“ark” refers to a box-like container. The
same word described Joseph’s coffin (Gen. 50:26) and the collection box used
in the temple (2 Kings 12:9-10).1
God instructed Moses to make a box or ark in which Moses would place the
covenant God would make with Israel (Ex. 25:10-22; 40:20).
According to Hebrews 9:4, the ark also contained a jar of manna to remind
the Israelites of God’s steadfast care during their wandering in the
wilderness (Ex. 16:33-34) and Aaron’s rod that budded overnight indicating God
had selected the tribe of Levi as the priestly tribe (Num. 17:1-11).2
The ark served as a sacred object to help Israel focus on God but avoided
representing Him in an idolatrous form.
Sometimes the Bible employed the simple word ark
to refer to the sacred object (Josh. 3:4), but most often the word ark
was combined with other words. The
phrase “ark of the covenant” (Josh. 3:8; 4:9) or “ark of the Testimony”
(Josh. 4:16) indicate the ark served as a reminder to Israel of God’s covenant
with His people. The stone tablets
containing the Ten Commandments and the jar of manna in the ark reminded the
Israelites of how God had singled them out as His special people, freed them
from slavery in Egypt, and sustained them in the hostile wilderness.
God had formed Israel as a people and provided them with a future and a
responsibility. The ark provided a
constant witness to Israel’s dependency on God and the need for all Israelites
of every generation to maintain God’s covenant through their obedience to Him.3
References to the ark often connected it specifically to God in phrases
such as “the ark of the Lord” (Josh. 3:13; 4:11), “the ark of the covenant
of the Lord” (Josh. 3:17; 4:18), and “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of
the earth” (Josh. 3:11, NIV). Israel
believed the ark served as a footstool or throne for the invisible God (1 Chron.
28:2) who traveled with His people (Num. 10:34).
God’s purpose in commissioning the ark was to create a place where He
could meet with His people and give His commands (Ex. 25:22).
Here Israel could seek forgiveness (Lev. 16:11-17) and instruction.
The ark reminded Israel they belonged solely to God.
The titles used for the ark in the Book of Joshua reveal much about its
purpose in Israelite life and worship; but since the titles appear throughout
the Bible, they do not tell us specifically how Joshua and his generation
understood the ark. Examining how
Joshua and his generation used the ark discloses four ways the ark helped them
recognize God and His activity.
First, the ark symbolized God’s guiding presence (Josh. 3:11).
When Israel left Egypt, God led the people in a pillar of cloud by day
and a pillar of fire by night. (Ex. 13:21) and continued to do so throughout
Israel’s wilderness wanderings (Ex. 40:36-37).
As Joshua and Israel prepared to enter Canaan, the goal of their journey
from Egypt, God continued to lead them through the symbolism of the ark rather
than the miracle of a pillar or cloud or fire.
God’s leading Israel across the Jordan River indicated His faithful
guidance. He had begun Israel’s
journey with them, guided and fed them through 40 years of wandering, and now
led the way into the promised land. While
Israel’s complaints and rebellions drew His anger and brought punishment to
Israel, God never abandoned His people. Israel
could continue to depend on God’s faithful leadership.4
Furthermore, God led His people into a land that was His to give.
God did not have to fight the gods of Canaan for title to the land.
Canaan already belonged to Him, the Lord of all the earth.
The crossing of the ark meant God was fulfilling the promises He made to
Abraham (Gen. 12:7; Josh. 3:10-11). God
would indeed give Israel an inheritance.5
Second, the ark indicated God’s powerful presence as He overcame
obstacles threatening Israel. Israel’s
crossing of the Jordan River occurred at harvest time when the river roared
along at flood stage (Josh. 3:15). Moving
men, women, children, possessions, and livestock across the swollen, rushing
river would have been dangerous if not impossible for Israel alone.6
God’s power provided a safe, dry passage across the swollen river and into the
When Joshua and the Israelite army faced the strongly fortified city of
Jericho, God again demonstrated His power using the ark as a symbol of His
presence. While conquering a walled
city was a new experience for Israel, they probably has some idea of how sieges
were normally carried out. Engaging
in a religious procession around the city must have seemed a strange battle
strategy. The Israelites obeyed God
and the walls of Jericho came crashing down, enabling Israel to begin its
conquest of the promised land. Clearly
God alone accomplished the victory.7 The Lord of all the earth had
triumphed again. The symbol of the
ark made God’s powerful presence real to Israel.
Third, the ark provided a method of seeking God.
When Israel failed to capture the city of Ai, Joshua prostrated himself
in prayer before the ark in accordance with God’s desire to use the ark as a
place for Israel to meet and inquire of Him.8 God met with Joshua and
provided instruction (Josh. 7:10-15) just as He had promised (Ex. 25:22).
The final mention of the ark in the Book of Joshua occurred when Joshua
led the Israelites in renewing their covenant with God (Josh. 8:33).
Here the priests and ark became the focal points of a worship experience
in which the Israelites remembered God’s miraculous deeds and blessings and
heard again the demands of God’s covenant with them.9 Since the ark
contained the stone tables on which the Ten Commandments were written, it was a
particularly fitting object to use in the covenant renewal.
The ark provided a perfect focus for Israel as they sought God in
Finally, the ark indicated God’s holiness.
Only the priests, those individuals specifically set aside for highest
sacred service to God, carried the ark (Josh. 3:14; 4:16; 8:33).
Joshua also commanded the Israelites to maintain about a thousand yards
between themselves and the ark as it moved toward the Jordan River (Josh 3:4).
The use of priests to carry the ark and the distance separating the
Israelites from the ark both symbolized God’s holiness.
Israel was not to attempt to trespass against or manipulate the Lord of
all the earth. The Israelites needed
to recognize His holiness and respectfully obey Him.10
The trouble with symbols, as we know, is they can become magical objects.
If a sacred object brings victory or success, we may assume the object
itself wields power rather than God. We
may begin to have more faith in the object as a good luck charm or a way to
force God to help us than we do in God Himself.
Some Israelites might have been tempted to view the ark as a magical
guarantee of God’s presence and help independent of either faith in or
obedience to Him. If the presence of
the ark brought victory at Jericho, then carrying the ark into battle would
surely ensure victory every time. Unfortunately
the ark’s presence did not guarantee success.
In the battle against the Philistines, the Israelites carried the ark
believing it would bring victory, but they suffered a terrible defeat and the
Philistines captured the ark (1 Sam. 4:3-11).11 According to the Book
of Joshua, Joshua and the Israelites of his day avoided the temptation to
attribute magical power to the ark.12
The early accounts in the Book of Joshua emphasized the centrality of the
ark in Israel’s faith and life. The
ark symbolized the holy presence of the God of the universe who led Israel and
acted in its behalf but who also demanded Israel’s exclusive loyalty and
obedience. For Joshua and his
generation the ark provided a constant reminder of God’s commitment and grace
as well as a center for worship.’
L. Seow, “Ark of the Covenant” in Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York:
Doubleday, 1992), 1:386.
R. Porter, “Ark” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco:
Harper and Row, Publishers, 1985), 64.
John Hamlin, Joshua: Inheriting the Land, International Theological
Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 24;
Marten H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, New International Commentary on the
Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981), 80.
The Book of Joshua, 85.
Joshua: Inheriting the Land, 23; Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, 85.
The Book of Joshua, 87.
G. Boling, Joshua, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1982), 223.
C. Butler, Joshua, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, Incorporated,
Joshua: Inheriting the Land, 25-26; Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, 81.
Pierce Matheney, Jr., “Ark of the Covenant” in Holman Bible Dictionary (Nashville:
Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 99.
The Book of Joshua, 80.
By Fred M.
Fred Wood is
a retired pastor, Eudora Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee.
HAD BEEN CHAIRPERSON of the Search Committee for Moses’
successor. You would have needed no
resumes. The man was evident.
Who else had the background, leadership ability, and experience needed to
follow such a leader as Moses?
an excellent article, “Following Giant Footprints,” Dr. Jere Phillips,
Director of Missions, Tennessee Baptist Convention, made a provocative
observation. He said, “Accepting
the call to follow a giant is usually a dangerous proposition.
Jack discovered the truth of that statement after climbing the proverbial
stepped into the Biblical record suddenly, heralded by no announcement, and
explained by no previous allusion. Moses
said to Joshua, one of his younger warriors, “Choose men for us, and go out,
fight against Amalek” (Ex. 17:9). Joshua
led the Israelites to a great victory as he carried out his assignment.
subsequent appearances show his loyalty to Moses and the lawgiver’s confidence
in him. He accompanied Moses, his
sons, and the 70 elders up the mountain to eat the sacrificial meal following
ratification of the covenant (Ex. 24:9). When
Moses entered the cloud to hold further communion with and receive revelation
from God, he left Joshua on the mountain (Ex. 24:13-18).
After 40 days, Moses emerged, and Joshua was the first to inform him of
the people’s lapse into idolatry. Having
a typical military mind set and thinking like a soldier, Joshua interpreted the
tumult as a “sound of war in the camp” (Ex. 32:17).
the days that followed, Joshua stayed close to Moses and “would not depart
from his tent” (Ex. 33:11). Eldad
and Medad prophesied and sought to act independently of Moses.
Joshua appealed directly to Moses, urging that he restrain the people who
were trying to undercut his authority (Num. 11:28).
finest “pre-Canaan” hour was when he joined Caleb to bring a minority report
concerning early entrance into the promised land.
He supported his colleague, who took issue with the 10 pessimistic spies
and insisted, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it? (Num.
13:30). Later, Joshua and Caleb
said, “If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land,
and give it to us . . . Only do not rebel against the Lord” (Num. 14:8-9).
This stand nearly cost them their lives (Num. 14:10).
silent period followed in Joshua’s life. The
Bible records nothing about him until the Israelites came near the promised
land. Shortly after the Balaam
incident (Num. 24:1—25:3; 31:16), followed by the second census, and the
request of Zelephehad’s daughters concerning inheritance, God gave Moses a
firm command. He said “Take Joshua
. . . a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him” (Num. 27:18).
This was not the official proclamation that Joshua would succeed Moses,
but this event did indicate that Joshua was to be a strong representative of God
before the people. This command also
gives a picture of God’s evaluation of Joshua’s character.
first Biblical record of God’s intention for Joshua to succeed Moses came in
the first of several speeches by Moses immediately preceding his death.
First, Moses said God revealed to him at Kadesh Barnea that only Caleb
and Joshua of the above twenty-year-old men would enter Canaan (Deut.
1:35-36,38). Evidently Moses did not
say anything at the Kadesh Barnea incident about Joshua being his successor.
However, at this point Moses told the people that God had appointed
Joshua as his successor (Deut. 1:38). Moses
implied strongly without stating explicitly that Joshua had been in charge of
conquering the territory immediately east of the Jordan River (Deut. 3:21).
in the same speech, however, Moses gave God’s specific word on the matter.
He said the Lord told him to “charge Joshua and encourage him . . . for
he shall go across at the head of this people (Deut. 3:28).
The narrative account later in the book records Moses
telling the people of God’s decision. Moses
said, “Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the Lord has
spoken” (Deut. 31:3b). He then
reassured Joshua with a personal word to him (31:7).
official act of appointing Joshua came shortly as God spoke to Moses.
He said, “Behold, the time for you to die is near; call Joshua, and
present yourselves at the tent of meeting, that I may commission him” (Deut
31:14). God then spoke directly to
Joshua, giving him a further word of assurance.
He said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring . . . Israel
into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you” (31:23).
After Moses’ death, God reaffirmed his choice of Joshua.
He challenged him, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise,
cross this Jordan . . . No man will be able to stand before you . . . as I have
been with Moses, I will be with you” (Joshua 1:2,5).
transition went smoothly. Everyone
seems to have accepted Joshua immediately. We
read of no plots or attempted coups to unseat him at any time.
traditions found in non-Biblical sources are lavish in their praise of Joshua.
One rabbi interpreted “He that waiteth on his master shall be
honored” (Prov. 27:18) as referring to Joshua.
The rabbi even included the first part of the verse, “Whoso keepeth the
fig tree shall eat its fruit.”2
Jewish interpreter said Joshua often arose early in the morning and arranged the
chairs orderly in the house of assembly. Moses,
therefore, raised up Joshua as a spiritual leader.
The others would lift up their heads to hear Joshua’s words, but in
modesty he would say, “Blessed he Yhwh who gave the Torah to Israel through
Moses, our master.”3
Aggadah, a record of Jewish history,
folklore, theology, and legend, says Joshua received the Torah from Moses.
It explains that Joshua was worthy to succeed Moses and to receive the
gift of prophecy for one important reason: he had served Moses faithfully both
by day and night.4
rabbi in my city, with whom I talked while preparing this article, made much of
the likenesses and differences between Moses and Joshua.
He suggested Joshua was not as creative as Moses, but depended more on
specific instructions before each battle. My
friend also stressed Moses knew God face to face, but according to him, no such
statement is made about Joshua. He
liked a common cliché which, according to him, is well known among the Jewish
community. It says “the face of
Moses was the face of the sun, the face of Joshua as the face of the moon.”5
qualities did Joshua demonstrate in his leadership role that proved he was
qualified to lead his people? Dr.
Jere Phillips listed ten suggestions to help one follow in the footsteps of a
Several of them are uniquely appropriate to the Moses-Joshua scenario.
not be jealous of the former pastor nor belittle his former administration.
Make any needed changes in a quiet and unobtrusive manner.
How marvelously Joshua scored in these two categories.
Don’t blame the former leader for problems which you inherited or which
developed after you came on the scene. Magnify
your predecessor’s good points. This
will contribute to your rising esteem in your people’s eyes.
Remember one day you will be the former leader.
Treat your predecessor as you want that person who follows you to treat
you. Joshua rated “excellent” in
strongest point, in my judgment, was that he found his security in the knowledge
he was in God’s will. Nothing
comes even close to this conviction in assuring internal peace and unlimited
resources for dealing with problems that arise.
Joshua not only followed great footprints.
By his dedication and his faithfulness, he made some large footprints of
his own. Bi
Phillips, “Following Giant
Footprints,” Your Church, Spring
Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v.
Man on Mission
By C. Kenny Cooper
Cooper is pastor, Bellvue Baptist Church, Nashville, TN.
OSHUA THE SON OF NUN played a significant role
in the Old Testament history of Israel. Nothing
is known of his parentage except that he was of the tribe of Ephraim and his
father was Nun. The name
“Joshua” is found in various forms, especially in the King James Version.
These include Jehoshua (Num. 13:16), Oshea (Num. 13:8,16) and Jehoshua (1
Chron. 7:27). The Revised Standard
Version of Numbers 13:16 has Hoshea (“salvation”) being renamed Joshua
(“God is salvation”) by Moses. The
Greek form of the name lesous, is
translated “Jesus.” The one who
led the people into the Promised Land shares his name with the Christ who leads
believers into the eternal Promised Land.
There were several factors which served to prepare Joshua for the great
mission he fulfilled, one of which was his role as servant to Moses.
We first encounter Joshua soon after the liberation of the Israelites
from Egypt. When the forces of
Amalek threatened Israel at Rephidim, Moses called on Joshua to enlist an army
and fight them (Ex. 17:8-13), a feat which proved him to be an obedient servant
and a capable military leader.
Joshua next is mentioned at the servant who went with Moses up on Mount
Sinai (Ex. 24:13). On the return
trip down the mountain, it was Joshua who heard the noise coming from the camp
that he reported to be the sound of battle (Ex. 32:17).
Joshua was the young servant who stayed with the tent of meeting when
Moses would go into the camp (Ex. 33:7-11), and it was his devotion to Moses
which led to his request that Moses forbid Eldad and Medad from prophesying, a
request Moses denied with parental gentleness (Num. 11:26-30).
Serving such an apprenticeship under Moses was of inestimable worth to
Joshua as he took on the leadership role.
A second factor in preparing Joshua for his mission is found in one of
the more familiar stories in the Old Testament, that of the twelve spies Moses
sent to survey the land before entering it.
A man was selected from each tribe,
Joshua being the one from the tribe of Ephraim (Num. 13:8).
On returning from their mission the spies reported that the land “flows
with milk and honey” (Num. 13:27, RSV).
While ten spies reported the armies were strong and the cities were
fortified, Joshua joined with Caleb of the tribe of Judah in pleading with the
people to go at once and possess the land for “if the Lord delights in us, he
will bring us into this land and give it to us” (Num. 14:8, RSV).
The report of the ten bred fear in the people, causing them to make plans
to return to Egypt. Because the
people rebelled by not taking the land immediately, a curse of death was
pronounced upon them. All those
twenty years old and older at the time of the rebellion perished in the desert,
and it was left to their children to possess the land.
Joshua and Caleb were exempted from this curse, and because of their
faithfulness were allowed to enter the Promised Land (Num. 14:30,38; 26:65).
For forty years the conquest was postponed, a task which eventually fell
to Joshua and one for which he was uniquely prepared by his firsthand knowledge
of Canaan’s geography.
Perhaps the most important factor in the preparation of Joshua for his
major work was his commissioning as Moses’ successor, and act the Bible
presents in several different settings. As
Moses approached the end of his life he requested that the Lord appoint a new
leader for the people. The Lord
responded, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay
your hand upon him; cause him to stand before Eleazar the priest and all the
congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight” (Num. 27:18-19,
In his farewell address east of Jordan in the wilderness of Arabah,
Moses informed the people of God’s instruction that Joshua enter and possess
the Promised Land for Israel (Deut. 1:38; 3:28).
A formal charge was given to Joshua before all the people by Moses (Deut.
31:7-8), and Moses was instructed to call Joshua and present him in the tent of
meeting where God would commission him (Deut. 31:14).
Deuteronomy 31:23 records the commission, “Be strong and of good
courage; for you shall bring the children of Israel into the land which I swore
to give them: I will be with you” (RSV). After
Moses’ death, the people responded to their new leader favorably, for he was
“full of the spirit of wisdom” and “Moses had laid his hands upon him”
(Deut. 34:9, RSV).
The book that bears his name begins with another instance of the
commission encouraging Joshua and all the people to go over Jordan and all the
people to go over Jordan and possess the land.
Again, there is the promise of divine presence and the warning to be
courageous and obedient, ever meditating on the law (Josh. 1:1-9).
Turning to the conquest of Canaan as recounted in the Book of Joshua we
read how he accomplished his mission. His
spiritual development under Moses, his military experience during the journey in
the wilderness, and his knowledge of the geography of Canaan all prepared him
for what is portrayed so dramatically here.
The Book of Joshua is divided into two parts: the first half (chapters
1—12) describes the conquest and the second half (chapters 13—24) records
the distribution of land and the covenant ceremony at Shechem.
The impression left by the book is that the conquest was done quickly
and completely with overwhelming success. In
reality, the conquest under Joshua was not nearly so thorough and overwhelming,
a fact made evident in the Book of Judges which details the prolonged skirmishes
between the tribes of Israel and the local inhabitants. The tribes were more a
loose confederation than a united nation. One
might argue the conquest was not fully complete as far as total control of the
people and land until David’s rule. Nevertheless,
the conquest led by Joshua during the later half of the thirteenth century BC
was successful in establishing the Hebrew people as a prominent force in Canaan.
The strategy of the conquest was nothing short of brilliant.
The tactic was to divide and conquer.
After the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River on dry ground during
the flood season (Josh. 3:1-17), Joshua led the people to Gilgal, an easily
defended site on the west bank of Jordan that served as headquarters for his
move into Canaan. From Gilgal, they
moved westward toward the first challenge at Jericho.
Jericho was taken by marching around the walls once each day for six
days and seven times on the seventh day when they raised a loud shout and the
walls fell. This was the first great
defeat as Joshua drove westward through the center of the country in order to
divide it, thereby reducing the possibility of extensive alliances being formed
among the various national kings. In
this westward march, Israel eventually conquered Ai after a first failure due to
Achan’s sin regarding the spoil of battle at Jericho.
God had demanded that all property and enemies be destroyed, a practice
After the defeat at Ai, Joshua built an altar of
unhewn stones at Mt. Ebal where he conducted a sacred service and read from the
Law (Josh. 8:30-35). Some of the
kings from the central highlands and westward down to the coast were plotting
together when the Gibeonites tricked Joshua into promising protection to them
under the guise of being foreigners (Josh. 9:1-27).
This alliance with the Gibeonites proved helpful, however, both in added
military force and in notoriety of Israel’s growing prominence in the land.2
With this alliance in place, Joshua moved southward, defeating a
hurriedly formed coalition of five Amorite kings organized by Adonizedek, king
of Jerusalem, and including the kings of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon.
This was accomplished by a miraculous intervention of God whereby Joshua
commanded the sun to stand still for about a day until Israel’s forces were
victorious. Following this
significant defeat the rest of southern Palestine was taken with little
difficulty (Josh. 10:28-43). The
Canaanite rulers of the northern territory sought to make an alliance similar to
that of the southern kings. Jabin,
king of Hazor, was prominent in this concerted effort that Joshua met and
defeated at the Waters of Merom. At
the completion of this northern campaign, the Bible concludes: “So Joshua took
the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses; and Joshua
gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments.
And the land had rest from war” (Josh. 11:23, RSV).
Following the conquest, Joshua, with the aid of
Eleazar the priest and heads of the tribes, divided the land by lot as God had
commanded Moses (Josh. 14:1-2). At
the time of the division Joshua was very old.
Later, he assembled the people and charged them to live up to their
status as possessors of the land by faithfulness to God.
At Shechem Joshua extended the covenant call and challenged them to
decide whom they would serve. His
own response already was firm, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the
Lord” (Josh. 24:15b, RSV). Joshua
died at age 110 and was buried in the hill country of Timnathserah, his
Joshua, son of Nun and servant of Moses, fulfilled
his mission by serving as the leadership bridge between Moses and the tribal
leaders we know as judges. His
faithfulness to the mission, his mentor, and God are unsurpassed in the Old
James Fleming, Personalities of the
Old Testament (New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1939), pp. 50-57.
Ibid., p. 53.
Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention;
Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 1990.
495. What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is
This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (06/07/15) Why
did God forbid the Israelites to eat blood?
Answer Next Week?
The answer to last
week’s question: (05/24/15) Two-part
question: (1) Who was the left-handed Judge and (2) who did he kill?
Answer: (1) Who? Ehud;
(2) Eglon, King of Moab; Jdg. 3:15-25.