We’ve been looking at the life of Joshua the past few weeks and learning from one of the most complex characters in the Bible. He started out as a minor supporting character – Moses’s assistant. During his time in that role, Joshua watched and learned. He communed with God, and his faith grew and grew and grew. Then Moses died, and Joshua was called to take over as the leader of Israel. The command for his life – be strong and courageous for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Up to this point in the story Joshua has certainly been brave. He’s been faithful, and obedient. He’s demonstrated strength and courage, just as God asked him to. We’ve come to know him as a calm, easy-going leader. We’re impressed with his willingness to do whatever is asked of him, but not necessarily surprised by it. In fact, up until now, we probably feel like Joshua is fairly known to us. Predictable. Tame. Boy are we about to be stunned as the fierce warrior comes to the forefront!
The Executioner of God’s Judgement
Unfortunately, this is the part of the story that turns many people off to Joshua, the Old Testament, and sometimes even God Himself. From the stoic student of God we’ve come to know, emerges a savage killer. It can be difficult to reconcile the loving God of grace we find in the Gospels with the One who (through His servant Joshua) executes brutal justice upon the Godless nations who inhabited the Promised Land. That’s why the Bible isn’t just the Gospels or the New Testament. Those parts of the Cannon alone don’t give us a complete picture of our Lord.
Our great and perfect God cannot stand sin, and there is nothing that arouses His anger like rejection. The Canaanites had spent hundreds of years moving further and further away from God and His ways. They bowed down in worship before a multitude of pagan gods, but never the One True God. They fashioned idols and alters and Asherah poles so they could engage in twisted, ritualistic ceremonies. They glorified adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality; including many of these practices in their worship. They sacrificed their own children upon the alters of their gods. So embedded into their culture were these dark and grotesque practices that God saw fit to annihilate them completely.
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, He will clear away many nations ahead of you…When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy…This is what you must do. You must break down their pagan alters and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols. For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure…Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps His covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes His unfailing love on those who love Him and obey His commands. But He does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject Him.” Deuteronomy 7:1-10
Once the walls of Jericho fell, Joshua and the Army of Israel began the execution of the Lord’s judgement on those people. At the Lords command, they left nothing alive. Joshua 6:21 says of the city of Jericho that, “they completely destroyed everything in it with their swords – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, goats, and donkeys.” And it didn’t stop there. In chapters 8-11, Joshua and the Israelite army sweep through the land of Canaan and wipe out great numbers of Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, and Canaanites. At one point we even see Joshua bring five kings out from the cave where they’re hiding and command some of his soldiers to lay them on the ground and stand with their boots on their throats.
“Don’t be afraid or discouraged,” Joshua told his men. “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord is going to do this to all of your enemies.” Then Joshua killed each of the five kings and impaled them on five sharpened poles, where they hung until evening.” Joshua 10:25-26
Joshua slaughtered all the other kings and their people, completely destroying them, just as Moses, the servant of the Lord, had commanded… As the Lord had commanded Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua. And Joshua did as he was told, carefully obeying all the commands that the Lord had given Moses.” Joshua 11:12 & 15
I have such a hard time picturing this ruthless Joshua as the same contemplative man who stayed behind in the Tent of Meeting after God spoke to Moses! Maybe this vicious warrior is less appealing to many, but not me! I look at this aspect of his character with the same sense of awe as I did all the rest… especially because it is combined with all the rest! I deeply desire to have that same sense of fiery justice. It reminds me of Jesus in the temple, brandishing his whip and turning tables!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be like so many we see today, standing on their soapboxes and making a lot of noise in the name of “justice.” All the while tearing down brothers and sisters in Christ whose passions and callings land in a different area than their own. No, I want to stay as far away from that as I possibly can! It doesn’t reflect my Lord. What I do want is to be filled with the same ferocious intolerance for the things that God Himself hates. I want to be ready and willing to go after those things with the same bold and unrestrained brutality that Joshua did. I believe this looks a lot different in the New Testament Era than it did then, but whatever it looks like, I want it! I want my heart to beat in sync with the heart of my Lord – just like Joshua! Click To Tweet
God’s Wise Administrator
After many years of fighting, the land was finally conquered, and once again, Joshua was required to take on a whole new role, with a whole new set of requirements. He would set aside the role of executioner and become God’s administrator, carefully dividing the land according to the Lord’s instructions.
So Joshua conquered the entire region – the hill country, the entire Negev, the whole area around the town of Goshen, the western foothills, the Jordan Valley, the mountain of Israel, and the Galilean foothills… Joshua killed all the kings of those territories, waging war for a long time to accomplish this… So Joshua took control of the entire land, just as the Lord had instructed Moses. He gave it to the people of Israel as their special possession, dividing the land among the tribes. So the land finally had rest from war.” Joshua 11:16-23
From there chapters 12-21 begin the detailed description of the division of the land under Joshua’s command. It’s about as exciting to read as your local property archives, but it was a big, very meticulous job. Just the kind of thing you would naturally hand over to your most ferocious warrior, right? Not so much… but Joshua was a rare man! Not only did he do this boring, copious job; he did it with wisdom, with care, and with attention to detail.
Identified by Victory, Defined by Devotion
As I hope I’ve shown, Joshua is a tough guy to figure out. It’s tough to wrap his complicated character up in a neat, well defined package and put a tidy bow on it. He is most commonly identified as a man of victory. “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho…and the walls came tumbling down.” He’s remembered as the man who captured the Promised Land and made it Israel. His life reminds me of this Psalm:
There’s no doubt, victory followed Joshua wherever he went. He did, indeed, lead a strong and courageous life of victory! I mean, look what the Bible says about him in Joshua 10:12-14
On the day the Lord gave the Israelites victory over the Amorites, Joshua prayed to the Lord in front of all the people of Israel. He said, “Let the sun stand still over Gibeon, and the moon over the valley of Aijalon.”
So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies… There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer. Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!
Did He ever! The Lord seemed to fight for Israel, on behalf of Joshua, an awful lot during those years! But why? What made the Lord answer such outrageous, brazenly bold requests from this man? I believe the answer is simple, and that it’s woven consistently through the fabric of Joshua’s life from beginning to end. I believe it’s an answer that can best be seen in Joshua’s farewell address to Israel just before he dies. He tells the people,
Fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:14-15
Joshua was a man devoted to his God! Wholly devoted! He may be remembered for his victories, but his life was defined by devotion. Click To Tweet
When he was in the shadows of Moses, attentively learning in the presence of God – he was wholly devoted.
When he spied out the land and came back with steadfast courage, ready to stand alone for what God had promised – he was wholly devoted.
When he stepped out from the shadows and took charge of Israel, stoically leading them across the Jordan and around the walls of Jericho – he was wholly devoted.
When he renewed the covenant of circumcision, and built alters of remembrance to the mighty works of God – he was wholly devoted.
When the fierce beast of a warrior swept across Canaan and wiped out its abhorrent, Godless nations with savage justice – he was wholly devoted.
When he boldly approached the Throne of Grace and asked God to make a way across the Jordan or bring down the walls of Jericho, or defeat the army of Ai, or MAKE THE SUN STAND STILL – he was wholly devoted.
When he settled the land, and paid meticulous attention to all the directions the Lord had given, properly dividing the country between the twelve tribes, setting up cities of refuge, and making sure the Levites had what they needed – he was wholly devoted.
When he reached the end of his life, and stood before the people, reminding them of all God had done, all He had promised, and warned them to remain faithful – he was wholly devoted.
Yes, Joshua is tough to figure out. He was a complicated man. What he would do next was never predictable, save one thing. It’s tough to sum up who he was, apart from this one simple truth – he was wholly devoted to the Lord his God.
There are countless things we can learn from Joshua. I hope as you’ve read through this series, you’ve been blessed by some of those lessons. Joshua serves as a constant inspiration to me in my own life. He has since I was a little girl. I want to live my life the way he lived his – wholly devoted to God. I want to be strong and courageous. I want victory. I want the constant assurance that God is with me and that He goes ahead of me. I want to be quiet and meditative in the presence of the Lord, I want to wait on Him, and follow His instructions. I want to study His Word faithfully. I want to be bold enough to stand alone for Him, and I want to be a fierce warrior against sin and evil. I want to be faithful to carry out the details (even when they seem boring) of what God has asked of me. But most of all, I want to leave a legacy of service to the Lord. I want to be able to say with confidence, as he did: