“A Review of Joshua”
If you were to summarize the Book of Joshua in one word, what would that word be? I believe it is the word, “inheritance.” Consider the four major divisions of Book of Joshua:
Chs. 1-5: the preparation for the conquest of the Promised Land;
Chs. 6-12: the conquest of the Promised Land;
Chs. 13-22: the distribution of the Promised Land;
(Chs. 23-24: covenant renewal in the Promised Land and the burial notices of three individuals in their respective land of inheritance.)
The Promised Land is of course what God promised to Abraham and his descendants as their inheritance. So, even in v. 28, we are told that “every man [went back] to his inheritance.”
The Preparation for the Conquest of the Promised Land (Chs. 1-5)
What did Israel do in preparation? There were some practical things that Israel had to do, such as sending out the spies and crossing the Jordan. But there are two things that are quite unusual or unexpected. The first is that there is no mention of any military training. This is not to say that there was none. As we mentioned on numerous occasions, the Bible does not mention every fact. It mentions only the things that are pertinent to the truth God wants to communicate. But the fact that no military training is mentioned is significant.
Add to this what is mentioned: a covenant ceremony of sorts in setting up the twelve stones of witness (Ch. 4); the circumcision for the new generation as well as the celebration of the Passover (5:1-12). We can easily see the religious nature of these incidents. What about Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the angels (5:13-15)? Interestingly, the point of this encounter wasn’t any discussion of military strategy; rather, it was more religious in nature. The command he gave to Joshua was to take off his sandals because the place he was standing was holy.
All these things point to the true nature of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan. It was not just a military affair. It was not just to forcefully acquire a territory for this nomad people. It was first and foremost a holy, sacred war. Israel was God’s instrument of bringing divine punishment to the Canaanites because their iniquity reached the full measure of sin (Gen. 15:16). It was a way of cleansing the land of sin by the blood of the perpetrators. This is why it was important for the people of Israel to purify themselves by receiving circumcision; to renew their covenant with God by celebrating the Passover. This is why the commander of the angels reminded Joshua that the ground he was standing on was holy.
Here we see a close connection between God’s gift (the inheritance of the land) and Israel’s mission. This may not sound very pleasant at first but God’s gift is not just for our enjoyment. We may not like gifts with strings attached. Of all people, we expect God’s gifts to be this way since He is generous and He has no need.
But it is precisely because God is generous and good that His gift is not just for our enjoyment. Listen to what Linda Sattgast says about the life of the foolish rich man in one of Jesus’ parables: “Those who GET, / But never GIVE,/ Choose a foolish / Way to live. / When that night / The rich man died, / Not one person / Even cried” (Linda Sattgast, The Rhyme Bible Storybook, “The Poor Rich Man,” p. 372). That is no way to live, is it? Consider the Dead Sea–how it came to be what it is. While it is fed with the water from the Jordan River, it does not have an outlet: all the water just sits there, trapped. The result is that now nothing can live there (except some micro organisms) because of the high concentration of salt and other minerals that have built up. Such will be our life if we just receive and receive and not use God’s blessings for a greater purpose (of serving God and serving others around us). If God loved us, He could not, and should not, spoil us rotten to our own destruction!
Think also about how our joy is multiplied when we bless and enrich the lives of others. (The story of a couple with their extra $400.)
I hope you can take some time to count your blessings and give God the kind of gratitude He deserves from you. I also hope that you would think about why you have been blessed so richly. What do you think is the “mission” for which God has blessed you? How can you advance the kingdom of God in the world, in your home, in your heart? How can you let other know of Jesus’ glory, beauty, love and goodness?
The Conquest of the Promised Land (Chs. 6-12)
The next section deals with the actual conquest of the Promised Land, starting with Jericho. This section starts slowly with an extensive account of Israel’s battle against Jericho. Then the pace picks up and it climaxes with a long list of the kings conquered under Moses and Joshua. The main point of this section seems to be two-fold: 1) God went before them to drive out the Canaanites and conquer the land; 2) But not all the Canaanites were driven out of the land because of Israel’s timidity. These two points seem contradictory, don’t they? If God was responsible for chasing out the Canaanites, why should it fall short because of Israel’s timidity?
The two points are not contradictory to each other. They actually point to the complexity of our Christian life, which is a delicate intersection of two realities at work. One is the reality of our responsibility as free moral agents. The other is the reality of God’s sovereign rule over all His creatures and all their actions, including those of human beings.
What do these two points communicate? First, the Israelites could not have conquered the land on their own: they came to possess the Promised Land only by God’s gracious intervention. Second, God’s grace does not eliminate man’s responsibility (although it does eliminate man’s boasting). This is why there seems to be a “mixed message” in Joshua: on the one hand, Israel came to possess the land just as God promised; on the other hand, Israel failed to drive out all the Canaanites.
There was no way Israel could fail to take possession of the land: it was God’s gracious promise to Israel and as such it was 100% guaranteed (including the gift of Israel’s faith). If God’s plan can be frustrated, if His will can fail in any way, He is not God–at least, not the God of the Bible: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isa. 46:9-12). We can say that God determined the exact extent of Israel’s conquest from the foundation of the world–down to how many Canaanites would survive and who each of them should be. That meant Israel could not succeed beyond this point or fail below this point. But this was not because God actively prevented them from achieving more. You see, we should not think that Israel was good and God predestined its failure. It’s the other way round: Israel in its sinfulness could not obtain the land on its own but God in His grace granted the land to Israel.
Because He is extending His grace to sinners, there are some areas in which He must do everything–that is, He must accomplish His will in spite of our inadequacies and failures: we are totally passive beneficiaries of God’s work. Think about the Ten Plagues by which God brought Pharaoh on his knees in defeat. Israel did not contribute anything to this. They just reaped the benefits of God’s work. Think also of the crossing of the Red Sea. Did Israel contribute anything to the parting of the sea? Nothing, absolutely NOTHING! God did it all. All Israel had to do was just cross the sea on dry ground. This corresponds to our justification. “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (WSC, #33). In justification, God pardons all our sins because Jesus died for our sins; He accepts us as righteous in His sight because Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness for us. Our justification is based on what Jesus did for us, outside of us, without any contribution from us.
But there was also a definite sense in which the extent of their conquest and the quality of their life in the land depended on the Israelites–not absolutely but partially, not as the cause but as an instrument. As such, Israel was called to be an active participant in His work. Think of Israel’s crossing of the Jordan River. Unlike the Red Sea crossing, the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant had to step into the flooded river before it was cut off. Also think of Israel’s conquest of Jericho and other Canaanite nations. Israel could not just sit back and watch God destroy them. They actually had to pick up their swords and fight the battles, each and every one of them.
God wanted Israel involved in the battle as an active participant; God wanted Israel to know that it had a definite, significant role in it. This could only work in the direction of falling short of what God commanded because of its sinfulness, of course. This was an unfortunate yet unavoidable consequence of God working with fallen sinners who are not irrelevant in His redemptive plan. Israel could not possibly take any credit for its victory at Jericho (and for all the battles that followed) since their circling and shouting in and of itself obviously had no power to bring down Jericho’s wall. But their actions were necessary. Maybe it’s like being invited to a royal wedding. Is your presence necessary for the wedding to happen? No, there need to be only the bride and the groom, the officiant, and two witnesses (at least in California). But your presence and that of other guests play an important role in making the wedding what it is, especially in its festivity. Of course, no analogy is perfect but it somewhat explains the nature of the role Israel played.
This corresponds to our sanctification. “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC, #35). In sanctification, God works in us (as opposed to working for us, outside of us, as in justification). God must work in us because the goal of sanctification (and salvation as a whole) is to renew us in the whole man after the image of God. This renewal is not as simple as switching out one computer program with another. This renewal involves change of our character.
Character is not something that just happens because we read an insightful book or hear an inspiring speech. Character formation is likened to construction of a building, one brick at a time. It is formed by a gradual accumulation of each thought we entertain, each word we speak (both to ourselves and to others), each choice we make, each action we take, each habit we form. God’s work in us is intimately involved in this process: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). What an awesome idea this is that God works in and through us, even our inadequacies and failures! We are part of His redemptive work–not only as the beneficiaries of His grace but also as the instruments of His work.
So, as far as justification is concerned, we are all equal–Paul is not more justified than the thief who believed in Jesus as he was dying on the cross next to Jesus. But as far as sanctification is concerned, there are varying degrees of sanctification among us. From the eternal perspective, even the degree of our sanctification is determined by the measure of grace God assigned to each of us. But this belongs to the secret things of God (Deut. 29:29). All we know is that we are called to trust in the Lord and engage in the works of faith. So, from the practical standpoint, we can say that the degree of our sanctification depends (at least partially) on our work of faith. This leads to our third point.
The Distribution of the Promised Land (Chs. 13-22)
What do we learn from the way God distributed the land? The first lesson is that God is sovereign in dispensing His gifts to His people. This is shown by the fact that the land was to be distributed by casting lots: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Prov. 16:33). Can we argue with this? He is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. All things belong to Him, who made them all out of nothing. As the Owner and Master of all things, He can do what He wills with them, can’t He? Jesus said in one of His parables, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me” (Matt. 20:15)? Paul too asked, “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use” (Rom. 9:21)?
The second lesson is that God is equitable in His dispensation of gifts to His people: He does so according to His infinite wisdom and perfect knowledge of who we are and what we are capable of. We saw that in the order in which the land was distributed to the tribes–the tribes with more significant roles in Israel’s history received their inheritance first–for instance, Judah and Ephraim, which later became the dominant tribes in the divided kingdom. And the larger tribes received larger portions in the land. The people of Joseph (Ephraim and a half tribe of Manasseh) complained that their portion was too small for their number. But it turns out that the lot itself was large enough, just not enough ready-made, inhabitable area. Joshua gently chides them to clear the forest within their portion.
We complain to God at times, not because God is unfair or tight-fisted, but because what He gives is not exactly what we want and how we want it. We must remember that God’s gifts to us come in two types: those that give us pure pleasure and delight, such as delicious fruits and breathtaking landscapes; and those that are designed to make us stronger, such as various trials in life, which stretch us and challenge us to grow stronger in faith and deeper in wisdom. Matsushita Konosuke, the founder of Panasonic, was once asked about the key to his success. He replied,
“I was able to succeed because I have been blessed with three things. First, I was born into an extremely poor family. So I had to work from my childhood, shining shoes and delivering newspapers. Through them I gained a lot of helpful experiences for living. Second, I was not healthy as a child. So I had to be very intentional about exercising and as a result I was able to maintain good health. Third, I could not finish the grammar school. So, I considered all the people in the world to be my teachers and applied myself diligently to constantly educate myself” (as quoted by Ok Pyo Jun in Winning Habit, translated from Korean by James Lee).
What a convicting lesson!
We talked about the close connection between Israel’s inheritance and Israel’s mission. We also talked about Israel’s inheritance as God’s gracious gift and Israel’s role in obtaining it and enjoying it. And we just talked about God’s sovereignty as well as His wisdom in dispensing Israel’s inheritance to the twelve tribes. How about us who live on this side of the cross? We saw the connection between our salvation and the Great Commission that is entrusted to us. We also saw the equality of our justification (all the Jews living in the Promised Land) and the varying degrees of our sanctification (the extent of Israel’s conquest of the land and the quality of Israel’s life in the land). We also saw how God sovereignly grants us differing gifts for service.
While we see the parallels, we also see the differences, too, don’t we? The Book of Joshua is about Israel’s conquest of Canaan as their inheritance. The New Testament is about the church’s inheritance of heaven and eternal life in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Pivotal Point–from Israel to the church of Jesus Christ, from a holy war to a spiritual war (the Great Commission), from the earthly inheritance to the heavenly inheritance, from types and shadows to substance and fulfillment. In fact, Jesus is the Life and the Resurrection. Jesus is the Bread from heaven and the Living Water. Jesus is the Wisdom from God, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). He is our true Inheritance, in whom we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places!
Although we are finishing up with the Book of Joshua, our Christian life continues on. Let us persevere in faith, for Christ is our great Joshua. He has put to death sin and death by His death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. Thus He won for us all of heaven and every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Let us march to the drumbeat of the Great Commission. Let us strive to be in sanctification what God has declared us to be in justification and this by faith in Jesus Christ, our justification and sanctification and glorification! And let us faithfully exercise our gifts to build one another up to the glory of our God!
© Copyright 2017 by Jeong Woo “James” Lee
All Rights Reserved.