God took 40 years to teach Israel the importance of following Him. This long lesson was littered with powerful reminders about who God was and what he had done. Israel had a big task ahead of them, and God had to ensure that they had been given every possible opportunity to train and prepare themselves spiritually for the job ahead.
This book follows Israel’s largely successful battle campaigns into the Promised Land. But despite the strong leadership of Joshua, Moses’ anointed successor, God knew that his people would eventually fall away from His leadership. He did not have unrealistic high hopes. He knew that they would more often disgrace their heritage than they would act as he taught them to act. Nevertheless, God has made a covenant. God has a great, century-spanning plan, one that results in the blessing of both Jew and Gentile. It is a plan that includes even us in these last days as it reaches on into eternity, and he will carry it out for his own name’s sake.
In the book of Joshua, we find a theologically motivated historical record. That means it was not written as a disinterested bystander account of historical occurrences (as modern historians might). Rather, it identifies what is important about these events (i.e. what they say about God).So it builds on what previous accounts of God’s people have shown us about the nature of God, and highlights the key features of this next phase of Israel’s history in terms of their theological relevance. The literary term for the story is an epic. It invites the reader to imagine themselves present at the events as they unfold, and relish the suspense, danger and dramatic conflict which occurs at every level, from physical to cultural to spiritual.
The book can be divided into four sections :
ENTER, TAKE, DIVIDE, SERVE. Cross the Jordan into the promised land (1-5). Take possession of it (by warfare and force) (6-12). Divide it according to the apportioned territories (13-21). Serve God in this land. (22-24)
God’s people were being urged to enter a land foreign to them, slaughter all its inhabitants and take their land. I would be very wary of any contemporary Christian for whom this did not present some seriously troubling questions.
How did Israel have any right to seize that land?
How can it be God’s will for them to spare none of those who resisted them in defense of their own land?
Could this be a level of barbarism that God tolerated in the OT but now forbids in the NT?
Some people conclude that either a) God has changed b) God’s morality is subhuman c) The bible only teaches us about certain people’s views of God, not objective realities about him.
We will hopefully get a chance to examine these questions over the next few weeks, but in the mean time, if you’d like to add your thoughts to the discussion, I encourage you to do so.