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This Sunday School Study Guide is provided free of cost for personal study and as an aid for Sunday School teachers.  It contains copyright material and may not be reproduced in any form for sale, without permission from the copyright holders.  


Bailey Sadler Class

SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – 2015

 

Study Theme: Be Strong & Courageous:

What This Study Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The 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.

 

 

June 7

Accept Your Leadership Role

X

June 14

Be Confident in God’s Power

 

June 21

Stick to God’s Plan

 

June 28

Move Beyond Failure

 

July 5

Work Through Conflict

 

July 12

Call Others to Step Forward

 

LIFE IMPACT:

Lead from a position of confidence in God.

FOCAL PASSAGE:

Joshua 3:7-17

LESSON OUTLINE:

I.    

II.

III.  

Confidence Through Listening (Joshua 3:7-8)

Confidence Through Communication (Joshua 3:9-13)

Confidence Through Obedience (Joshua 3:14-17)

OVERVIEW OF BACKGROUND PASSAGE:  

Crossing the Jordan—Joshua 3:1-17

Joshua 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”).

When 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).

The 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 (3:10).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Handbook; General Editor David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

INTRODUCTION:

  Leadership 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.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

I.

Confidence Through 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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.   When was the last time you took a leap of faith?

2.   Was it a daunting challenge?  If so, what was the deciding factor in you taking this leap of faith?

3.   What are some things that can keep a believer from taking a leap of faith?

4.   What are some thing that can help us to take a leap of faith?

5.   What great leadership asset did Moses and Joshua have available to them?

6.   Why do you think the Lord exalted Joshua (v. 7)?

7.   How did the Lord do that?

8.   What is implied about Joshua’s relationship with the Lord by the fact that the Lord continued to speak to Joshua?

9.   Why was the Lord going to magnify Joshua before Israel?

10.   Why 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)?

11.   What part do you think “listening” played in the Lord’s speaking to Joshua?

12.   What do you think might have happened to God’s plan for Israel had Joshua not listened to God?

13.   What was the ark of the covenant (v. 8)?

14.   What groups were involved in crossing the Jordan River (v. 8)?

15.   What did Joshua tell the priests to do when they reached the river (v. 8)?

16.   Why do you think the priests were told to stand in the river?

17.   When is it easy for you to trust God? When is it difficult?

 

Lasting Lessons in Joshua 3:7-8:

1.  When God speaks to us, we should listen.

2.  While God could speak to us directly, as He did to Joshua, He most often now speaks to us through His written Word, the Bible.

3.  God’s instructions to us should take precedence over any other values or priorities in our lives.

 

II.

Confidence Through 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.”

1.   Why did Joshua urge the people to come near to hear what he had to say (v. 9)?

2.   How did Joshua describe God (v. 9)?

3.   What do you think is significant about Joshua’s reference to God as “your God. (v. 9)?

4.   What was the message Joshua wanted the people to be sure to hear (v. 10)?

5.   Why do you think Joshua spelled out which peoples were to be dispossessed (v. 10)?

6.   Why do you think it was important for them to hear this message?

7.   What assurances were included in this message?

8.   What was the Ark of the Covenant (v. 11)?  Why was it important? (See Digging Deeper.)

9.   How do you think the priests felt about being the “first” to lead the Israelites into the promised land?

10.   What is the significance of the ark of the covenant going before the people as they crossed the river (v. 13)?

11.   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?

12.   How do you experience God’s presence today?

13.   What would happen when the priests stepped into the river (v. 13)?

14.   How can we express confidence in God even when we don’t have all the answers?

15.   What place does this old saying “Don’t do what I do. Do what I say.” have in a Christian life?  Explain!

 

Lasting Lessons in Joshua 3:9-13:

1.  God is the Lord of the universe and can do awesome miracles.

2.  We should trust in God rather than in mere human resource as we deal with life’s challenges.

3.  We can communicate our faith in God in many different ways, includes sharing a verbal witness to others.

 

III.

Confidence 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.

1.   Of what event would this occurrence have reminded the Israelites?

2.   Why would that be significant?

3.   How do you think this event was a test of their confidence in God?

4.   Why do you think it was important for the people to see the priests as they obeyed Joshua’s instructions and trusted the Lord’s guidance?

5.   What time of the year was it and what conditions did the people face (v. 15)?

6.   Why do you think it was so urgent that the Israelites cross at this time?

7.   Do you think some people may have objected to crossing the river at this time?  Why, or why not?

8.   According to verse 16, what happened when the priest entered the river?

9.   How do you think this event impacted the priests?

10.   How do you think the priests were able to stand “firmly on dry ground” at mid river until all Israel had crossed?

11.   What words and phrases describe just how mighty the miracle of their crossing the Jordan actually was? (See Digging Deeper.)

12.   Why would this event have been significant to the Israelites?

13.   How can your confidence in God impact people’s willingness to follow and obey?

14.   What can happen when others see your confidence in God in your daily walk?

 

Lasting Lessons in Joshua 3:14-17:

1.  We should place our confidence in God.

2.  We should express our confidence in God by obeying Him consistently.

3.  God can do miracles whenever He chooses; these miracles contribute to our awareness of His power.

 

CONCLUSION:

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! 

What 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.

1.    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:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

 

FOCAL PASSAGE: 

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version: Joshua 3:7-17

7 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.  (KJV)

New International 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 3:7-17

I.

II.

III.

Confidence Through Listening (Joshua 3:7-8)

Confidence Through Communication (Joshua 3:9-13)

Confidence Through Obedience (Joshua 3:14-17)

COMMENTARY:

(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament,The New American Commentary,” andThe Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament: Joshua 3:7-17

3:7 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.

3:8 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 water.

3:9-10 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).

3:11 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 way.

3:12 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.

3:13 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)

3:14-16a 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.

3:16b 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 Dead Sea.

3:17 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 riverbed).

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers

 

The New 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 “so that,”  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 flowing.

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. 

The term “Canaanites”  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 relatively obscure.  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 miracle.

Here the Lord is identified as sovereign over all the earth, although the word for “earth” (˒ere) 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 heap.”

The Miracle 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 order.

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 opposite Jericho.”

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.

3:17 Here 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).

SOURCE:  The New American Commentary; Volume 5; Joshua; David M. Howard, Jr.; General Editor: E. Ray Clendenen; © 1998 Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee.

 

The 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 new generations.

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 Israel.

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 Yahweh.

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.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Joshua-Ruth.  Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.

 

DIGGING DEEPER:

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.

SOURCE: The 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. 1:9; 3:3).

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. 6:12-19).

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 Chron. 5).

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 remaining empty.

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.

Dispossess (v. 10)—This 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.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources, 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Tribes of Israel (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.

SOURCE: The 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. 3:24).

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 (Gen. 30:1-8).

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.

 

The Miracle of the Jordan Crossing :

In 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 crossing.

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 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.

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 [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, TN.

 

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:

 

The ARK of the COVENANT In Joshua’s Time

By Robert C. Dunston

Robert 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 promised land.

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 worship.

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.’                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Bi

1.  C. L. Seow, “Ark of the Covenant” in Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1:386.

2.  Joshua R. Porter, “Ark” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1985), 64.

3.  E. 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.

4.  Woudstro, The Book of Joshua, 85.

5.  Hamlin, Joshua: Inheriting the Land, 23; Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, 85.

6.  Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, 87.

7.  Ibid., 108.

8.  Robert G. Boling, Joshua, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1982), 223.

9.  Trent C. Butler, Joshua, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, Incorporated, 1983), 93-94.

10. Hamlin, Joshua: Inheriting the Land, 25-26; Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, 81.

11. M. Pierce Matheney, Jr., “Ark of the Covenant” in Holman Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 99.

12. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, 80.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Fall 2001.

 

Joshua The New Leader

By Fred M. Wood

Fred Wood is a retired pastor, Eudora Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee.

S

UPPOSE YOU 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?

In 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 beanstalk.”1

Joshua 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.

Joshua’s 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).

During 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).

Joshua’s 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).

A 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.

The 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).

Later 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).

The 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).

The transition went smoothly.  Everyone seems to have accepted Joshua immediately.  We read of no plots or attempted coups to unseat him at any time.

Jewish 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

Another 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

The 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

A 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

What 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 giant.6  Several of them are uniquely appropriate to the Moses-Joshua scenario.

Do 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 these also.

Joshua’s 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

1.  Phillips, “Following Giant Footprints,” Your Church, Spring 1984, 38.

2.  The Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Joshua.”

3.  Ibid.

4.  Encyclopaedia Judaica, s.v. “Joshua.”

5.  Ibid.

6.  Phillips, 38.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Fall 1993.

 

Joshua:  A Man on Mission

By C. Kenny Cooper

Kenny Cooper is pastor, Bellvue Baptist Church, Nashville, TN.

J

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, RSV).

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 called cherem  (ban).1

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 inheritance.

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 Testament.             Bi

1.  James Fleming, Personalities of the Old Testament  (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939), pp. 50-57.

2.  Ibid., p. 53.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 1990.

 

BIBLE CHARACTER TRIVIA

 

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.