Already we have reached the end of the Book of Joshua. The promised land has been won and the land has been divided between the tribes. The people have begun to settle into their new land, homes, and routines. The men of the tribes east of the Jordan have been summoned and Joshua has thanked them, blessed them, and sent them back home. No doubt it was an interesting conversation as the men headed home. It had been years since they had seen families and not having to fight for a while must have seemed like a luxury. But it is clear they had some fears as well. These men who had been obedient and faithful to all Moses and Joshua had commanded them were worried that because they lived east of the Jordan there would be a time when their descendants would not be accepted as part of the family of the Israelites. They built an altar not to be disobedient but to be a witness they had a part in the Lord too. But look at how fast things deteriorated between these brothers because of a misunderstanding. It doesn't look much different than some of what we see today.
Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel have gone the way of the world. So have Jacob's twelve sons. We read at the end of Deuteronomy as first Miriam, then Aaron and finally Moses were also gathered up to their people. Now it is time for Joshua to join them. But before he goes, like Moses before him, he gathers the Israelites around him and makes a covenant between them and the Lord. And like Moses before him, Joshua gives the Israelites a history lesson, a reminder of where they have been and what the Lord has done for them. Joshua reminds them of the promises they have made, the need to be obedient, to keep their covenant promises, and the laws and statutes. Joshua reminds them of the blessings they have already received with more to come. But there are also consequences if they fail to be obedient. And most importantly the Israelites needed to remember God chose them, starting with Abraham. God always takes the first step.
As we near the end of the book we see once again the mention of the hornet. No one is quite sure exactly what this hornet is. It may be as simple as the actual insect, sent in a huge swarm. But it may also be an image of something else. Invading armies are sometimes compared to bees because of their numbers and the noise they make. The hornets could also be the reports that made their way into Canaan, of Israel's conquests, reports that frightened and almost paralyzed the inhabitants of the land. And those of us who are of the right vintage may see the green hornet!
Joshua has spent his whole life with these people. He realizes that when they get comfortable, they begin to take their blessings for granted, just like we do. The last verses of the book, 14-33, use the word serve 15 times. To serve the Lord here means to fear Him, obey Him, and worship Him and Him alone. It means to love the Lord and fix your heart on Him, obeying Him because we want to not because we have to. Joshua made it very clear the Israelites had to make a decision to serve the Lord. It is clear many of them were still worshiping other gods and idols and Joshua tells them several times to get rid of them. It is amazing that after all the Israelites had seen the Lord do, they could still worship idols made of wood, stone, or metal. But they were. Joshua made it a point the Israelites could not worship both. They had to choose. Three times the people affirmed their desire to serve only the Lord. Joshua took them at their word but I wonder if he really believed they could do that. Because this was a solemn covenant the people made with the Lord Joshua set up a large stone as a witness to their agreement. This is the last of nine memorials that were set up in the Book of Joshua.
This book ends with three burials. Joshua died at the age of 110 and was buried in the land he had received as his inheritance from the Lord. Eleazar the high priest, son of Aaron died and was succeeded by his son Phinehas. And the bones of Joseph brought up from Egypt were buried in Shechem, in the same place as the patriarchs. So here is where the Israelites are. Moses had named Joshua as his successor, but God did not tell Joshua to appoint one. The elders who had served with Joshua lead until their deaths. But then, the people went astray and began to worship the foreign gods and idols of the Canaanites. We will see that early in the Book of Judges. What we see is the next generation of Israelites did not know the Lord and what He had done for Israel. Why? Because the people of Joshua's generation failed at the command in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. They did not teach the next generation.
Here are a few things to think about. When God wants to accomplish something, He prepares a servant for the task and He prepares the task for the servant. It took 17 years for God to prepare Joseph to do the task God had prepared for him in Egypt. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness as a shepherd as God prepared him to lead the Israelites. King Davis was also prepared over a long period of time. Joshua was no different. He was Moses number two guy throughout the wilderness wandering and when Moses died the transition was seamless.
Joshua was born in slavery in Egypt. He knew what it was to be oppressed. He may have also known the promises God had made to Abraham. But just like Jesus, like us...the suffering must come before the glory. Suffering can do one of two things. It can make people bitter, hard, and angry so that they turn away from the Lord. Or it can make people turn to the Lord and build strength and character. Joshua knew how to submit to authority, first as a slave and later as the commander of Moses army. And finally, as a servant leader of God's people.
What we see in Joshua is a good role model of leadership. He walked with God. He may not have spoken face to face with God like Moses but God made His will known to Joshua who was obedient in carrying it out. Joshua had courage. Four times at the beginning of his leading the Lord told Joshua to be strong and of good courage. It takes courage to be a successful leader, courage to stand for what you believe is right and courage to do what you know God has called you to do. General Omar Bradley once said bravery was the capacity to perform properly even when you were scared half to death! Joshua had a plan from the Lord and he stuck with that plan, sometimes pushing the Israelites in the right direction. Joshua did not quit. When they were defeated at Ai Joshua admitted failure, asked for forgiveness, went back to work, and won the next battle. The same thing happened when he made the treaty with the Gibeonites.
Joshua was concerned about the future of and for the Israelites. His closing speeches showed the burden he carried for God's people. He wanted the Israelites to be successful, to live long in the promised land and most of all, to glorify God is all they did. After all, we too are called to glorify the Lord in all we do, in what we say and how we act. We live to draw closer to the Lord, to become more and more like Him and to glorify Him with our lives. And as with every other book we have read so far, this book is about the Lord. Yes, Joshua is a major player but once again this is about the Lord. In fact, as you read you will discover this to be true about all 66 books of the Bible.
Joshua was a faithful servant of the Lord, just like many who went before him and countless thousands who have come after him. That number includes you and I. We too are called to be faithful servants of the Lord. We probably don't have to conquer new lands but we might have to conquer our own fears, struggles and challenges. We aren't the leaders of a whole people but we are called to be the spiritual leaders of our families. Every one of us is called to lead in God's name in some way shape, or form. And all of us are called to pass on to the next generation who God is and what He has done. If we don't, we are only one generation away from people not knowing who God is.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W