By Dustin L. Abbott
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Can you imagine trying to fill the shoes of Moses? What an intimidating thought! Here is a man who was the friend of God, who talked to Him face to face, a man whom the Lord had made like a god in Egypt. Anyone would suffer by comparison! Joshua often gets lost in the shadows of biblical study because it is impossible to look at his life without comparisons to Moses…and Moses was a hard act to follow! Moses symbolizes effective leadership and epitomizes the possibilities of relationship with the Almighty the ministry and leadership of Moses are full of spectacular events that will never be replicated.
His relationship with God is perhaps unequalled throughout the entirety of Scripture. As a result, Joshua’s life tends to be more obscure, but he was an integral leader during a very important time. The transition of power before the campaign to take back the Promised Land is clear evidence that God’s Kingdom is not built upon personalities. It is bigger than any one man. Moses was a uniquely suited leader for his day, yet God’s plan moved ahead without him. We can never be deceived into assuming that the Kingdom of God “revolves around us.”
One of Joshua’s greatest assets was that he never tried to pretend that he was Moses. He obviously had enough self-confidence that he was able to effectively make that difficult transition while leading in his own unique style.
Big Shoes to Fill, Hard Job to Do
Joshua was given a most unsavory task. He was given the responsibility of the conquest of Canaan. God’s command was not just to conquer Canaan’s armies; Joshua was to decimate the Canaanite population and remove their race from the earth. This meant killing women, children, and animals along with the male populace. God’s command can be hard to understand in this dispensation of grace where our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). But God knew full well the consequences of allowing the extraordinarily wicked inhabitants of Canaan to remain as a corrupting influence upon the Israelites.
His purpose was to establish a holy nation, and holiness always requires a purging of evil. The evil that needed purging was the Canaanites. Their sinfulness and guilt was clear, but the challenge of fulfilling God’s admittedly difficult command was great. Many men would have lost their way in the midst of such a challenge, but Joshua clearly retained both his integrity and his love for the Lord until the end. Joshua and Caleb were the only adults to enter the Promised Land who had been born and raised to maturity (over twenty) in Egypt, which gave Joshua unique perspective as a leader and a drive to see God’s ways accomplished that proved to be lacking in the following generations.
He was an effective bridge from the past to the future. He knew the reality of what they were escaping firsthand and knew what a privilege it was for Israel to be free. The events of the Exodus were more than just stories for him. He had a greater appreciation of his people’s freedom than most of the children of Israel, and this kept him focused on the task at hand. He was an effective warrior against idolatry and apostasy all of his days. In some ways Joshua was not quite up to Moses’ standard. He proved an effective and intelligent leader, a brilliant strategist on the battlefield, but ultimately lacked the level of intimacy with God that defined Moses’ career.
Unlike Moses, Joshua’s leadership was centered on war and conquest, and the sum total of lives that ended on the point of his sword is certainly staggering. Coming home covered with blood and gore probably diminishes one’s prayer life! In that sense Joshua was more of a blunt instrument than Moses, but he was what God needed for that particular time and place in God’s plan. When the war was over, his purpose seems to have been served, and he very quickly passes off the scene. There are some exceptional qualities to Joshua’s life, and in some ways he typifies Christ. He led his people into the Promised Land, he brought them victory over their enemies, and he gave them an inheritance.
His name is the Hebrew version of the Greek name Jesus, also pronounced Hosea or Jehoshuah. The Hebrew version of the name Jesus or Joshua is Yeshua. These names all mean “the God who saves” or “Jehovah Is Salvation.” Most importantly, Joshua served his purpose of getting Israel into the Promised Land, completing the work originally tasked to Moses. The people responded well to Joshua’s leadership. We might think of Joshua as a young man, but he was actually one of the elders of the congregation at the time of conquest, a final remnant of the last generation in Egypt. The Israelites that conquered the Promised Land were a very young nation, almost entirely born within the forty-year window in the wilderness.
The people seemed to unite under him and even stayed away from idolatry for the span of his life and even beyond, as long as the elders lived. He effectively led them in a prolonged military campaign against their enemies, succeeded in portioning out the land to the twelve tribes, and even established the cities of refuge previously designated under the law. All was not perfect, however. It is unclear if the nation’s failure to completely subject the land and purge it of the Canaanites was due to a failing on his part or simply because the tribes did not carry through what he started. The land was never completely conquered, which in the long run led to the Israelites being dominated by surrounding nations at times. Israel was constantly tempted by the Canaanites’ idolatry because their pagan influence was allowed to remain. Long after some of the nations had completely perished their idolatrous practices lived on in the Israelites.
Joshua under Moses
Joshua’s character shines in the brief moments that he appears in the narrative during the life of Moses. Early on we see him commanding Israel’s forces in a battle against the Amalekites. Moses stood on the mountain above in the general’s strategic position, and as long as his hands were up, Joshua and the Israelite army had resounding victory. If his arms went down, the tide of the battle turned.
Eventually Aaron and Hur came and supported Moses’ arms, and through their support an overwhelming victory occurred. Although this is the first glimpse of Joshua in the narrative, it is readily apparent that he had already proven himself on many previous occasions. One does not become the field commander overnight! He had proven himself as a fighting man, one who knew the battlefield and was not afraid of war (Exodus 17).
This brings us to one of the interesting distinctions between Joshua and Moses: when it came to war, we never see Moses on the battlefield. It appears that his days of fighting with his hands ended the day he killed the Egyptian overseer. Moses was on the mountain in the position of leadership; Joshua was far more “hands on” in his approach. We continually see him as a field commander, actively leading the people into battle. Although he graduated into the position of Israel’s leader, he never stopped being Israel’s field commander.
We later see him as the trusted assistant to Moses. How was Joshua chosen for this position? He was not from Moses’ tribe; nor was he from Moses’ peer group.
Joshua is a very young man when he is first introduced to us. I believe that it was a matter of his own personal desire that he ended up as Moses’ assistant. He made himself available and then proved himself through faithful and competent service. He was on the sacred mountain with Moses when the book of the law was given. Although separated from Moses, he was far enough up the mountain that he could not really see or discern what was going on in the camp below. When Moses got back to Joshua’s post, Joshua stated that it sounded like a war was occurring in the camp (Exodus 32:17). The common people were forbidden to even touch the mountain, so this account illustrates the fact that the hand of the Lord was already upon Joshua. He was already the “assistant pastor” of sorts.
Throughout the many leadership disputes that came over the years, involving Korah, various elders, and even Aaron and Miriam, there is never any mention of Joshua taking sides against Moses. His loyalty to God’s man was one of his strengths of character. Surely he also experienced frustration in the long sojourn in the wilderness, but he always proved loyal to his leadership. This is a very important lesson for all those who serve in a “secondary” position. God honors those who show loyalty and respect to His anointed one. His faithfulness as Moses’ assistant is probably the single greatest reason that he became the future leader of the people.
Joshua also seems to have served as Moses’ personal bodyguard. Exodus 33 describes how even before the tabernacle was built, Moses had designated a tent (perhaps even his own) as the “tent of meeting.” This tent was always pitched outside the camp at a far distance from all of the others. It was set apart, holy; this was a consecrated place for the sincere to seek God. This was the place where
Hard Knocks and Life Lessons
Moses frequently met God, face to face within this tent of meeting. The cloud of God’s presence would stand at the entrance of the tent when Moses went in, and the people would stand at the entrance to their own tents to worship God as Moses and God communed within this special place. It is interesting to note that Joshua seems to have always accompanied Moses to this special place as a personal bodyguard (and perhaps, less nobly, his “gofer”).
But this young man was not just there for his muscles; the Bible records that sometimes, even after Moses had left, Joshua would linger in the presence of the Lord. “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent” (Exodus 33:11 ESV).
I don’t believe that this was just to prevent others from getting “nosy” and poking around; I believe that Joshua was interested in absorbing as much of the lingering presence of God as possible. God might not have come specifically to meet with him, but Joshua was willing to take whatever “leftovers” he could get. This is the kind of attitude that God loves! Joshua was an Ephraimite, not a Levite (the priestly tribe), yet God allowed Joshua some “special access” upon the merit of his desire…and loyalty to his leader.
He further proved his loyalty to God’s leadership when he was chosen as one of the twelve spies to search out the land and bring a report. He and Caleb were really the only ones that understood their mission and fulfilled their mandate. Their mission was to bring back an accurate report of the land. They were to bring a report of the strength of the enemy, specifically whether they were strong or weak, many or few, whether they lived in cities, tents, or strongholds. They were commanded to report on the richness of the land and to bring back a sample of the fruit. In this case, it was the season for grapes. The cluster of grapes that was brought back forty days later was so big and heavy with fruit that it had to be carried between two men on a staff they were specifically charged to be courageous! The other ten forgot the purpose of their mission. They instead appointed themselves as a tribunal to decide whether or not to try to conquer the land.
There was absolutely no need for such a decision. God had brought them here to give them the land, not for them to come and evaluate whether or not they could take the land. ‘What exactly was the alternative? It is no accident that the arid Sinai wilderness is still largely uninhabited. They couldn’t legitimately go back to Egypt. Where else were they going to go? The ironic thing is that because of the negativity of these ten spies, the nations within Canaan ended up with forty extra years to fortify themselves and prepare their defenses for attack! They would certainly know that there were several million people in the wilderness that had to go somewhere! What had been only a few months to prepare themselves for the coming assault turned into a full generation in which they could build up walls, prepare defenses, and train armies. The job only got harder because of Israel’s unbelief? Joshua and Caleb were the exceptions to the rule.
They came back full of confidence, and Caleb even stated that they were “well able” to overcome it (Numbers 13:30). Their positive report was unfortunately lost in the sea of negativity from the other spies. The people began their rant about how it would have been better to die in the wilderness and even went so far as to begin discussions to elect a new leader to take them back to Egypt! When Joshua and Caleb tried to reason with them, the people actually rose up to stone them. But God intervened, and once again Moses had to stand up and intercede on behalf of the people to stay God’s wrath. God extended immediate mercy, but the die was cast.
This generation was sentenced to forty years of aimless, pointless wandering in the wilderness, one year for each day the spies were in the land (Numbers 14). The people had moaned about how their children would become prisoners of war, but God reversed the tables on them. The adults became the cost of the war never fought. Everyone twenty years old and above would die in the wilderness as they perpetually wandered. The children who were victimized by the adults’ doubtful imaginations would be tomorrow’s army, and they would conquer the land that the adults would never see.
Furthermore, the ten spies who brought the negative report were immediately struck with a plague that killed them on the spot. The only ones in that age group who would survive would be Joshua and Caleb. They were the only “old men” who would really see the Promised Land. They were the only ones with an adult’s view of Egypt and a clear perspective of all of the miraculous things God had done to deliver their people from Egypt. Everyone else would be less than sixty years old, with the majority of them being fifty or less. An entire generation was lost to a lack of faith in God. How many spiritual generations have been lost to the same cause?
The people were upset enough that some of them (against the instruction of Moses) actually tried an invasion of their own. They went contrary to God’s command, they went without the Ark of the Covenant, and most importantly, they went without the help of God. As a result, they were swiftly attacked and routed by the Amalekites and Canaanites of the region. Those who remained accepted their fate, and thus began one of the greatest wastes of time and men in the biblical record. What a shame that these people sacrificed the greatest deliverance in history on the altar of unbelief! All that was achieved for these doubters was a pointless existence and death in the wilderness. The miracles were wasted on them.
Forty very long years passed, full of strife and discord. God commanded Moses to appoint Joshua as the new leader before his death. Moses had forfeited his right to lead the people into the land because of his disobedience at Meribah, so God wanted the transition to occur before the initial invasion of the land. In a solemn ceremony, Moses appointed Joshua as his successor, the one that would carry on what he was now forbidden to do. Joshua assumed the reins at a very crucial (and difficult) time. It would be his responsibility to help the people make the transition from nomadic wanderers to a civilized nation. Between his people and that promised future, however, were hundreds of thousands of warriors and many walled cities that would need to be besieged along the way. There would be no “easing into the job” for him.
Joshua and the Conquest of Canaan.
Because of the unfortunate events that resulted in Moses being unable to enter the Promised Land, Joshua assumed leadership with the lion’s share of the job still left to do. The majority of the time that Moses had served as the leader of his people had largely been wasted in the wilderness. I’m sure there were times during the latter portion of his life that Moses wished he could go back to his sheep! The early stages of Moses’ leadership had accomplished so much; the final almost forty years had been an exercise in frustration and futility.
In the final analysis, Moses had to pass the reins to Joshua with only a small portion of what they had set out to do actually accomplished. They had been delivered from Egypt, received the law, and then had made the relatively brief journey to Canaan, but none of the Canaanites had been dispossessed and no one had permanent homes, fields, vineyards, or possession of anything within Canaan proper. The dirty work was still ahead of them.
That is not to say that Israel was unfamiliar with battle now. This was one advantage that Joshua had. The army of Israel had now been “blooded.” They had fought the earlier battle with the Amalekites (when Aaron and Hur held Moses hands), along with some other minor skirmishes along the way, but more recently (and more importantly) the current generation of Israelites had fought two major campaigns with the giants Og and Sihon, two kings of the Amorties, or “Highlanders”. These were vast kingdoms controlled by mighty warriors, who lived in an area that was naturally very easy to defend. In the case of Og, for example, the Bible records that there were sixty walled cities in his domain, as well as many smaller villages, The Bible is specific in stating that these cities were well fortified, with high walls and barred gates.
Og himself was a giant, and the Bible records the astounding find of his iron bed, which was over thirteen feet long and six feet wide. These remarkable victories, even employing hornets against the foe that drove populated by “greenhorns” but rather by warriors who have seen both battle and victory. The fear and trepidation of the previous generation had receded. These men were ready to be conquerors. Joshua found his career starting in a similar fashion to that of Moses. He stood before a body of water that needed crossing but was impossible to cross by conventional means. Jericho, the first battle in the Promise Land, stood across the river.
This was the first test of Joshua’s mettle, for both the river and the fortress of Jericho seemed to insurmountable obstacles, Jericho was formidable fortress because it stood as bastion of defense against the east. It was the logical entry point to Canaan and was a extraordinarily rich merchant city. It was the “City of the Palm,” a lush oasis that was well situated both geographically and economically. Its location allowed it to have trade with both the Mesopotamian Empire to the east and the vast Phoenician Empire to the west. Its walls were massive, thick enough that someone like Rahab could have her house built upon the walls themselves (or perhaps even within the walls).
Joshua sent spies ahead to attempt to determine what they were up against. They were to blend into the city and spy out its weaknesses and defenses. The spies chose to stay in a house of ill repute, a place owned by a woman named Rahab. This was strategically wise, as they would have an excellent opportunity to both blend in and pick up on the local gossip. The inns of this era were multipurpose entertainment venues, featuring drinking, dancing girls, and usually girls available for hire as well. Rooms could be rented, often in the upper chambers.
Men from the area and merchants passing through would typically congregate in these inns, and alcohol (probably a palm wine) would loosen their tongues. In the matter of an evening, a spy could learn a tremendous amount with some well-pointed questions and a few coins to purchase the locals a round or two.
Rahab probably started out as one of the dancing girls or prostitutes, but somehow (likely through her shrewdness) she had risen in the ranks to become the owner of the establishment. It is unlikely that she had to “hire” herself out any longer, but instead served as the “madam” for the other girls. The Israelite spies took up residence in one of the rooms in her inn, but at some point they were discovered, and the king of the city sent guards to Rahab’s place to arrest them. Rahab got wind of what was happening, and her shrewdness (accompanied by some genuine faith in the God of the Hebrews) led her to choose the side of the Israelites.
She recognized in them a chance for salvation from the coming destruction, so she hid them in rows of flax that were drying on the rooftop. She then met the guards and lied to them, saying that the spies had slipped out right at the time of the closing of the city gate. The guards took off in hot pursuit on what was a proverbial “wild goose chase.” Rahab made a covenant with the two men that they would spare her and her household when they conquered the city.
She stated that she knew that their God had already given this city into their hands. Her complete faith in God’s ability to accomplish this caused her to become one of the heroes of the faith (Hebrews 11) and a type of faith exemplified by works (James 2:25). “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Hebrews 11:31 ESV). Because of the unique situation of her inn, she was able to let them out of a window on a scarlet cord (rope), which they could climb down on the outside of the wall. That same scarlet cord would later mark the home of Rahab and be her protection from the wrath of the army when it struck. The spies were able to make their report, and the plan to conquer Jericho was ready to be set into motion.
But first the Jordan needed to be crossed. The priests with the Ark of the Covenant assembled first before the waters of the Jordan, with the remainder of the host behind them. When the feet of the priests bearing the ark touched the water, the Jordan parted so that they could cross on dry land. Scripture states that far upstream the water was supernaturally dammed and heaped up, leaving them a clear path across the riverbed. Twelve appointed men each took a great stone from the near bank of the river and heaped them in the middle of the river. Then twelve more great stones were taken from the riverbed to set up on the far bank as a memorial of the miracle that God had wrought. It was a landmark to the fact that God was still with His people.
They set up camp in a place called Gilgal, which remained as base camp for the majority of the remaining campaign. It was a defensible place close to Jericho where the tabernacle could be set up and the women and children could remain when the main army went off to fight battles. It was there that Joshua had his “burning bush” experience. Instead of a bush, Joshua looked up and saw a warrior with his sword drawn, ready for battle. He challenged him, and the man revealed himself as the captain of the host of the Most High. Joshua dropped on his face to worship, and the fact that the praise was received clearly shows that this was more than just an angel.
Righteous angels do not accept praise in Scripture, for they always remind humanity that only One is worthy to be praised! This “captain of the host” could be no other than God Himself in human form. This illustrates just how far God will go to minister to us on a personal level. Joshua was a man of war throughout his life, a soldier, and in order to better relate to him, God appeared to Joshua as a soldier. God communicated to Joshua on his level. He cares that much about us! Like Moses at the burning bush, Joshua was told to remove his shoes, for he was on holy ground. While Scripture does not explicitly say so, it is likely at this juncture that God gave Joshua the battle plan for Jericho.
This odd battle plan included no fighting at all. For six days it involved only marching and silence. Without a word they were to circle the entirety of the city walls in complete silence. All that would be heard was the sound of tens of thousands of sandaled feet striking the earth. God alone understood the impact this would have. God was light years ahead of any other strategists, understanding psychological warfare long before the phrase even existed. He knew how this would unnerve the army within the city, how they would begin to fear what they could not understand.
The jeers, catcalls, and mocking voices that would have bellowed from the walls on the first day would begin to trail off, leaving the defenders of the city confused and jittery. When the seventh day arrived, the army was commanded to make seven full laps around the city, once again in complete silence. But when the seventh lap was completed, the silence was loudly broken with a huge shout from every throat, with trumpets and horns blaring. The cacophony of sound after the eerie silence surely completely unnerved the men of Jericho, particularly when God added His help! God brought the walls down. Not just crumbling into huge piles of stone, but flat with the ground. All the defense was instantly gone. Every bit of resistance within the city was gone. The Bible does not record one Israelite fatality in the ensuing conflict.
It is interesting to note that archaeological digs have discovered evidence of a great earthquake that literally caused the walls to sink down into the earth, save for one section of the wall the part where Rahab’s house stood, of course. It was not only the Israelites that honored their covenant with Rahab, but God honored it (and her) as well. God literally gave them the city, but asked in return that they honor Him by giving all the spoils of the city to Him. Rahab and her family were saved, and eventually she married into the tribe of Judah and entered directly into the bloodlines of both King David and King Jesus!
This resounding victory led Joshua to his first mistake: overconfidence. Following his new method, he sent his spies to recon the next city, a small place of 12,000 named Ai. Small name, small town! After Jericho, the town of Ai seemed like little more than a speed bump. At one point the Hebrew army had been numbered at more than 600,000, so a community of 12,000 didn’t exactly intimidate them! The report came back that a token force of perhaps 3,000 elite troops should be able to easily overrun the place. Feeling comfortable with that assessment, Joshua proceeded and sent forth the troops.
He was an experienced soldier and commander, and the report that his spies brought back agreed with his own experience in the matter. He had forgotten, however, that he was not the commander-in-chief of Israel’s army. He was their field commander, but God was the “captain of the host”! Israel’s true strength was not in its numbers or its strategists; it was in their God. Moses had taught by example the importance of seeking God in every situation, but somehow Joshua forgot this lesson. He relied on his own judgment rather than seeking God’s will and approval. He approached it like a man, using logic and the available data. He relied on field reports, intelligence, and his own experience. It proved disastrous! The small army of Ai streamed out of the city and began dealing the Israelite force a crushing defeat. The superior Israelite force ran from the battlefield in shame and horror. The psychological effects on Israel (and Joshua) were catastrophic. Not only had they failed, but it was clear that God had not been with them on this day. The lesson was quickly learned; they went to their knees and called upon the Lord.
God revealed what should have been discovered before they entered the battlefield; there was sin in the camp and God could not bless them. God had made a covenant with them before the battle at Jericho that He would give them absolute victory if they would honor Him with all the spoils of the city. It was a tithe, so to speak, the first fruits of the spoils they would themselves gain in this campaign. He had fulfilled His end of the bargain, but unbeknownst to Joshua, they had not fulfilled their end. Through a system of lot casting, God led them to the culprit, a man by the name of Aichan.
He had taken of the spoils of the city for himself and hidden it in his tent. His greed had cost the lives of thirty-six of his countrymen. It was not until this sin was harshly dealt with and cleansed from the camp that God gave His blessing again. Joshua could have avoided both the defeat and the loss of life by talking to God before he made his decision. With God now back on their side, Israel quickly destroyed Ai. Unfortunately, this was not a lesson that Joshua always remembered. He made another very similar mistake on another occasion. Ambassadors came from what appeared to be a far country. Their clothes were in tatters. Their food was moldy.
Their wineskins had been patched many times. Their words were very carefully calculated, praising Jehovah and His might. They pretended that they had not heard of recent events, praising battles that were many months in the past as if they would not have gotten fresh news while on the long journey. Joshua and the other princes of Israel fell for it hook, line, and sinker. The ambassadors wanted to make a covenant of friendship, in which they would acknowledge the Israelites’ God and would not introduce paganism. In return, they wanted the Israelites to provide protection for them. There would be trade and friendship between the two peoples. This all sounded good, so they went for it, but once again Joshua had forgotten to talk to God about it.
The Hivites went on their way, and three days later the Israelites came upon their territory and its four principle cities (Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim)… right in the dead center of Palestine! God was very specific that He did not want them to make covenants with any of the people of Canaan. Because they had given their word, however, they had to honor their promise to these people and ended up fighting a war to defend them from their neighbors, who were furious that the Hivites had “sold out” to the invaders. The Israelites ended up making them a servant subclass within the nation, but the damage was done. Rather than being removed and destroyed by the Israelites, they instead ended up under their protection. This would cause further problems during the era of the kings of Israel. They were not the only ones who did not get conquered.
Over the many years of battle, six complete nations and thirty-one kings were subdued. Joshua shone as a military general, inspiring confidence and helping lead the army of Israel to victory after victory. He had a very bloody job to do, but he was effective in doing it. God had called him to a very different task than that of Moses. Moses had been a spiritual leader, but Joshua was mostly a martial leader. He had very little rest from the sword in his lifetime, and that was perhaps his cross to bear. Despite his bloody task, he obviously found a way to be a spiritual man. There were times when the supernatural power of God was shown in a very similar way to the life of Moses.
An exceptional example was a day of warfare that literally changed the course of the earth itself. Five kings had united against them, but when the Israelites attacked, God gave them a great slaughter. As the enemy began to turn and run, God began bombing them with stones (probably hailstones) of such a great size that they killed more than what the sword did. There was one major problem: the sun was beginning to set, and the victory was still incomplete. Joshua knew that many of the enemy would be able to slink away under the cover of darkness and live to fight against them another day. Joshua was not interested in fighting this battle again. Full of faith, Joshua commanded the sun to stand still long enough that they could finish the battle. Joshua 10 states that the sun stood still for a full twenty-four-hour period.
We now know that Earth rotates around the sun, so, in relation to Earth, the sun is always “standing still.” For Joshua’s request to be answered, it would require Earth to come to a complete halt. If there was twenty-four hours of light on the eastern side of the world, then the western side of the world would have had twenty-four hours of darkness. Furthermore, gravity is dependent upon the spin of Earth, so God either reversed the turn of Earth, backing things up, or else created artificial gravity for that period of time. Either way, it is one of the single most spectacular (super)natural events of all time. A complete victory was gained because of the extra hours of sunlight that came directly as the result of Joshua’s faith. God literally suspended the laws of the universe upon the prayer request of one man!
But Joshua grew old during the long campaign (he was probably sixty-five to eighty years old at the beginning of the campaign), and there were cities and strongholds left that he could not deal with. He began to portion out the land to each of the tribes according to the designation of their inheritance. There were areas in each of these holdings that still had pockets of resistance that needed dealing with. These were left for the individual tribes to deal with…but the latter part of the book of Joshua records many cities and regions where the Canaanites remained and the job of conquering the land was left unfinished.
Pockets of Canaanites remained in the land, along with their heathen practices, false gods, and hatred of the Israelites. The pattern for Israel’s future was set. They programmed destruction into their future, from ongoing struggles with the paganism of the Canaanites to the scores of times that Canaanite groups with long memories would rise up against them and subdue them until God intervened. God’s instructions (as always) had been given with a purpose in mind.
Joshua’s Last Words
In his last years, Joshua could see the writing on the wall for the future of his people. He made one final stand before them. At the end of his life he challenged them to make up their minds as to who would be their God. They had to quit vacillating back and forth! He reminded them that Yahweh was the one that had delivered them, given them victory, and fulfilled His promise in giving them the Promised Land. He challenged them to live for God and to stay away from the false gods of the land. On the strength of his conviction, the people reformed and lived for God for the entirety of his life and the elders that served with him. They returned to the Lord and, for at least a generation, they walked with Him.
Somehow the chain of command was broken when Joshua passed away. It does not seem that there was a natural successor to Joshua, and after his death at 110 years of age, the people quickly began to fragment. There was no central leadership to unite them into a nation. The nation became more tribal and less cohesive. Idolatry and suppression would creep in because no one was really leading the people. Joshua failed to pass the torch on to another generation. That being said, Joshua did seem able to avoid the leadership challenges that plagued Moses, for there is not one insurrection against him recorded in the Word of God. It is likely that he was a much harder, more aggressive man than Moses, who is characterized by meekness. Joshua was a soldier and a tested warrior and probably didn’t put up with much.
He was an effective leader in his lifetime but left some things unfinished. The land was not completely conquered. There was no natural leadership to carry on what he had started. The Bible does not lay blame upon him for these issues, but it would have been much more advantageous for Israel if they had been completed. They were still a long way from actually being a true nation. After Joshua, the people fell into chaos until God started to send them judges. They needed a successor for Joshua but never received one. That may not have been Joshua’s fault, however, for there is no record of God instructing him to appoint another man to follow him.
The transition from Moses to Joshua had been relatively smooth because God clearly orchestrated it. For some reason, however, God did not seem to use that same pattern at the end of Joshua’s life. Perhaps there was no natural successor to him. Where was the next young man who had Joshua’s passion for the Lord and a desire to serve? He never seems to have surfaced. Perhaps Joshua’s mistake was to have never mentored a young man in the way that Moses had mentored him.
Above all else, the life of Joshua is a fine example of doing a difficult task well. His is the story of a soldier who was also a man of God. Joshua was an honorable man and helped finish the task that Moses had set out to accomplish. He had a challenging job to fulfill for the Kingdom of God but seems to have done it with honor and integrity.
There was one glaring fault in the life of Joshua. It was not a sin problem; nor was it a weakness of his ethics; it was more subtle than that. Joshua showed on at least two recorded occasions that he tended towards self-reliance rather than seeking the counsel of the Lord. Solomon clearly challenged that way of thinking when he wrote, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Joshua’s greatest mistakes came in the times when he relied upon his human resources (formidable as they were) instead of seeking the counsel of the Lord. He was obviously a very capable man, strong and courageous. He was probably the most effective warrior of his generation. No one, however, is so smart, strong, or self-sufficient that they no longer need to rely on God. He could have saved the lives of his men at Ai, not to mention helped save future generations the hassle of dealing with the Hivites if he had just taken a little time to seek the direction of the Lord. He made the mistake of thinking that experience and human counsel were suitable substitutions for seeking the will of the Lord.
This flawed decision process led to his greatest failures, although both decisions seemed strategically sound at the moment. Joshua made his decisions based upon the available “intel” but forgot that God has access to far more intelligence than man could ever dream of having.
Many times we are very guilty of doing the same. We tend to go to God after we have already tried and failed, like Joshua did at Ai. We often forget to seek God in advance before making our decisions. When we do go to Him, it is often to beg him to clean up the mess that we’ve made! If we feel overwhelmed by a decision we might go to God, but we rarely involve Him when we feel confident in our own decision-making.
Too often we find out (after the fact) that our decision-making process was flawed and we made a mistake. We might have made the decision to the best of our abilities, but either our abilities or our available information was limited. We miss out on taking advantage of the best resource that we have… God! Taking the time to always consult God, even in the small things, will lead to a life that is much more blessed and fulfilling. It will also have far less heartache along the way. God’s ways are perfect; ours are not! Whether you feel confident or unsure about a decision, it is always wise to consult the Lord and let Him guide the decision-making process.
Joshua is a princely example of doing whatever task God gives you with excellence. I’ll be honest: I wouldn’t have wanted his job! Keeping one’s integrity through such a thoroughly bloody task is next to impossible, yet Joshua managed to do it. Joshua is evidence that a man can be both a soldier and a man of God. The task that Joshua was given was not pleasant, yet it was God’s will and God’s place for him. Once again the words of Solomon are appropriate: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol to which you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10 ESV).
The principle is to give whatever task you are given in this life your very best, for Sheol, the grave, will give you no second chances to work hard. This brief life is the time for our labor, and the time where our legacy is formed. The task we are given may not be our dream job, but we must do it “as to the Lord’ (Colossians 3:23).
We should make up our minds to bring excellence to every task that we are given, because how well we perform our tasks becomes our legacy. Not everyone can do the noble jobs. The Kingdom of God does not begin and end in the pulpit; it is found in classrooms, bathrooms, lawns, snow banks, people’s doorsteps, kitchens, workplaces, and in the pew. Many memorable heroes of the faith were never pulpit ministers or even leaders of the people.
They were people that brought excellence to whatever task they were given by God. Jesus spoke of the day when that kind of faithfulness and excellence would be rewarded on the other side of the grave: “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21). We are only given this brief life to make our mark upon eternity, so whatever you are given to do, do it with all of “your might’!
This article “Joshua” was taken from “Hard Knocks And Life Lessons” by Dustin L. Abbott and may be used for research and study purposes only.
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