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The Book of Joshua
Following the defeat of the central confederacy, chapter 10 lists the kings and the various locations which comprised the southern confederacy and describes how Joshua was victorious over the entire south. Scripture says it was "because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel" (vs. 422) and verse 43 informs us that the army returned to its base of operations at Gilgal. The biblical accounts that say Joshua swept on all the way to the Mediterranean coast (Joshua 10:40-41) are supported by the first mention of Israel in extra-biblical history by Pharaoh Merneptah (ca. 1224-1211 B.C.), who led a raid into Canaan before Rameses III's confrontation with the Philistines. Upon his return, Merneptah boasted that "Israel is laid waste, his seed is not." A broken bowl among the burnt debris of Lachish proved to be a record of tax payments to this Pharaoh.1 Chapter 11 describes the northern campaign and the move by Joshua and the army up into that area. In summary, verse 232 says, "Joshua took the whole land" and Chapter 12 is a synopsis of all the victories won by Israel and terminates in verse 24 with the information that thirty-one kings were defeated by Joshua and His armies.
Chapter 13 opens with the indication that Joshua has become too old to continue and, before his death, the land must be distributed (v7) among the remaining nine and one-half tribes (of Mannaseh). The other two and one-half tribes had already selected their land in the Trans-Jordan area.
Joshua 13v14 and 33 had reaffirmed the fact that the tribe of Levi would not receive a physical inheritance in the land because the Lord, the God of Israel, was their inheritance. Verses 21-22 in Chapter 13 reflect on and recall earlier events and then verses 23-33 are a recollection of the events in the Trans-Jordan and the time of Moses. Chapter 14 begins relating events which occurred six or seven years after the entry into the land and the conquest of the central, southern and northern confederacies. We know this from verse 72 where Caleb said, "Forty years old was I when Moses ... sent me ... to spy out the land, " and verse 10 where he records that he is eighty-five years old: "the Lord hath kept me alive, as he said, these forty and five years.... I am this day four score and five years old." So it has been approximately 6-7 years since Joshua began the occupation of the land. We recount that the time period from Kadesh to the crossing of the Jordan was thirty-eight years so the approximate date of this chapter is 1399-1400 B.C. Caleb is still claiming mountains (v12) and wanting to fight giants at eighty-five years of age. Chapters 15 to 22 detail the allotment of the land by various geographical areas among the nine and one-half tribes in the Cis-Jordan area. The fighting men from Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh are mustered out to return to the Trans-Jordan under some conflict and misunderstanding about their convictions and intentions.
Chapter 23 takes place many years later (v11): "a long time after that the Lord had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about" when Joshua was very old and had some serious warnings to relay concerning their associations with the inhabitants of Canaan. In verse 7, he commands that they were to have nothing to do with the Canaanite gods, not even so much as mentioning their names. If they were to mingle themselves with those nations, verse 131 warns:
Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you.
Thus the people received this very strong warning from God of the extent of the pain and suffering they would bring upon themselves if they fraternized with the enemy by allowing them to stay in the land - it would be like being caught in a trap and tortured and blinded by these people.
Chapter 24 is the last chapter and presents Joshua gathering the people around him at Shechem for his final farewell. This was a revered site because it was the place where God first appeared to Abram when he entered Canaan (Genesis 12:6) and where he built his first altar in Canaan. We know that the people recognized the sacredness of the place, because Joshua 24:32 tells us that they took the bones of Joseph, which they had carried up out of Egypt, and buried them there at Shechem. As Joshua gathered the people around him, he reminded them (v12) how God had sent the hornet before the invading forces and driven out the inhabitants of the cities. He pointed out how God had given them a land they had not laboured for and how they inhabited cities they had not built and were eating from vineyards and olive yards they had not planted. Verse 14 warns them to fear and serve the Lord alone "and put away the gods which your fathers served." He repeated the warning again in verse 232:
Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel.
Even after witnessing the power of God, as He dried up the Jordan River, after witnessing His power as He drove out the inhabitants of the cities, the Israelites were still carrying idols and foreign gods with them. Verse 15 reminds the people, "Make up your minds!" - one of the most challenging passages of the Bible, and source of a myriad of sermons:
Choose you this day whom ye will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
The Hebrew word for "flood," actually means river here, referring to the Euphrates. They had three options. They might choose to serve the ancient gods of Ur of the Chaldees as their forefathers had, the gods of the Amorites, or they could stand with Joshua and choose to serve Jehovah. Joshua says "I will serve neither of those - I will serve the Lord." All the people responded positively (v16): "God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods."
The book closes with the information (vs. 29) that Joshua died at the age of 110 years and we learn, according to verse 312:
And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the Lord which He had done for Israel.
Unfortunately, we learn in Judges 2:10 that, after this older generation had passed away, "there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel." As we have seen in earlier passages this is graphic proof regarding the ability of succeeding generations to look back in mockery, disrespect, and disbelief on the things that God has done for their fathers before them.
As we begin to read the book of Judges we find we are reviewing some of the activities from Joshua's days and become even more aware that, despite the promises they made to God at his instigation, the people of Israel quickly began to backslide after the death of Joshua. As with so many sins it began with a departure from complete obedience. As they settled into their new homeland they became soft and decided there was an easier way to complete the conquest than the one God had prescribed. Just like the Christian church today the absence of a real physical life or death struggle caused the people to take the soft option of friendship with the world which quickly leads to enmity with God. After a summary of the various areas inhabited, Judges 1:281 puts the finger on the beginning of the problem by saying, "And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out."
God had said, "Annihilate them," but the people said, "It is easier and more practical to enslave them and collect taxes from them." Because of this philosophy they did not drive them out completely but began to intermingle and dwell with the inhabitants in direct opposition to the commandment that God had given them through Moses and through Joshua. Already, they were beginning to do what was right in their own eyes. From the moment they made this choice they began a slow descent into compromise with the world around them as tribe after tribe capitulated:
verse 291: "Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites."
verse 301: "Neither did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants."
verse 311: "Neither did Asher drive out the inhabitants".
verse 331: "Neither did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants."
Finally, in verse 341 we read the inevitable consequences as God withdraws from His disobedient people and without His guidance and protection the tables begin to turn: "And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain; for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley." This should be a lesson to us today and teach us that as we become softer and softer and stop taking the offensive gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the world we are no longer on the attack but on the defence and forced onto the back foot.
In the final warning in Judges 2v1-5 we find that the Lord appeared before them in the form of a Theophany, as the Angel of the Lord, and He comes up from Gilgal to Bochim to make known His displeasure. He reaffirms the original covenant and says He will never break His covenant with them but, because they broke their vow to "make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land but to tear down their altars,"2 He denounced their disobedience and pronounced against them the prophesied judgment of Joshua 23:13. No longer would He fight for them to drive the inhabitants out, "but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you" (Judges 2:31). When the people heard these words they wept and sacrificed to the Lord and called the place "Bochim", literally Hebrew for "weepers." But it did not turn them from their sinful ways. As we examine this period of the judges we could call it, as Dr Leon Wood titled his book, the "Distressing Days of the Judges."
(Continued on page 520)