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SIMPLIFIED JOURNEY (8): Taking the Land

Near the end of Deuteronomy (chapter 31), Moses named Joshua as his successor to lead the people  into the promised land. Moses gave a charge to Israel and to Joshua:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you, Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” – Deuteronomy 31:6-8

When God called him to lead Israel, Moses had worked as a shepherd in the Wilderness of Sinai for forty years. Joshua was one of two men in the Israelite camp who had walked through the promised land for 40 days as they spied out the land. Ten of the spies had died in the wilderness because they did not believe God would be with them to give them the land. They feared the inhabitants of the land – and the people had accepted this evil report.

Now, Joshua stands forth as the leader to finally take them into the promised land!

Under Moses, Joshua had already been the general who defeated two powerful kings on the east side of Jordan. This signaled that God would indeed be with His people to give them the land.

But many today want to question God’s justice. Why did He take that land from its inhabitants and give it to Israel? Was He just being a big cosmic bully?

These do not consider all that God was doing there. He was not only giving something to the Israelites; He was also giving well-deserved punishment to the nations who were already in the land. Back when God was talking with Abraham more than four centuries before this, He told Abraham,

Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. – Genesis 15:13-16

In Abraham’s day, God was still giving the Amorites time to turn from their gross immorality and idolatry. By Joshua’s day, God’s patience had run out. Israel came as God’s instrument of justice to punish the nations that lived in Canaan because of their sinful ways. That is why Israel was to destroy them and not learn from them how to live in cities and on farms – for their idolatry was ingrained into their entire way of life. Israel was, instead, to learn to trust the Lord.

God gave Joshua a huge task. Things changed when they crossed the Jordan. In the Wilderness, God gave the people manna to eat every morning. He provided for them in a miraculous way. In fact, I suspect most of the people who entered Canaan thought Manna was a natural phenomenon. (Don’t we tend to forget God is the one who feeds the entire population of the earth – including all the animals? Why should we think they were any different from us?)

To do what God called him to do would require much courage and fortitude. In Joshua 1:6-9, three times God said to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.” He gave three different reasons for this charge:

  1. “You will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them” (v. 6). In other words, be strong because of the great work that is before you.
  2. “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you…that you may be successful” (v. 7). Here is a warning not to stray “to the right or to the left.” He was not to “let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth” (v. 8).
  3. “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you…” (v. 9). As long as they walked with God and followed His directions, they succeeded. When they forgot what God said, trouble followed.

At Jericho they obeyed God – and the walls came tumbling down! But when there was sin in the camp (and they had gotten a little proud of themselves as well), at Ai, a little town, they fled before the local population. When they identified the sin in the camp and eliminated it, they successfully took Ai.

Their successes struck fear into the other inhabitants of the land. The Gibeonites came to them pretending to be from a far country and petitioned Joshua to make a covenant (treaty) with them. God had told them not to make treaties with the people in the land – but these (or so they thought) came from afar. Surely it would be alright to agree with them for good relations in the future, wouldn’t it? Wrong! They did not consult the LORD before making this agreement, but they honored it. They did not kill these deceivers, but they did make them slaves to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water” (Joshua 9).

This secured the central part of Canaan. A coalition of city-states in the south of the promised land combined to punish the Gibeonites for going over to Israel. They sent to Joshua for protection, and after an all-night march Joshua took the coalition forces by surprise (Joshua 10:9). The ensuing battle lasted all day – and beyond, as Joshua prayed that the sun stand still for about a full day.

After this, a similar coalition of kings of the north came together at the Waters of Merom. Again, Joshua “came against them suddenly…and attacked them, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Israel” (Joshua 11:7).

Joshua had taken all of the land, defeating 31 kings in all. But Israel had not destroyed all of the people. These people remained to be a thorn in their side for generations to come, especially in the period of the Judges.

Near the end of Joshua’s life, Joshua called the people together one more time. He rehearsed all that God had done with them and for them in bringing them out of Egypt into their promised land. Then he challenged them”

Now fear the LORD and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. – Joshua 24:14-15

The people accepted the challenge. “We will serve the LORD!” they declared. In Judges, we will discover how long they kept this promise.

NEXT (9): Sin and Salvation in Judges

PREVIOUS (7) The Wilderness Wanderings


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