The task of taking the Promised Land from the Canaanites appeared impossible. "They are far too powerful for us to conquer!" "Their city walls are heavily fortified, and the inhabitants are giants!" "It's true that the land is rich and fertile, but how can we overcome these fierce warriors in their own land?"
So it was that 10 fearful men gave Moses what Scripture calls a "bad report" (Numbers 13:27-33). All Israel, motivated by sight rather than faith, trembled with fear.
Because they believed God’s promise, Joshua and Caleb would live to enter the Promised Land. Eventually Joshua would succeed Moses as leader of Israel and would guide the people into the land God had promised them.
But the representative from the tribe of Judah, Caleb, was a faith-filled man. He quieted the people and countered the discouraging report: "Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it" (Numbers 13:30). The 10 leaders staunchly disagreed with Caleb: "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we" (Numbers 13:31).
One other man who had spied out the land supported Caleb's positive report. He was Joshua, from the tribe of Ephraim. Together he and Caleb confirmed that their trust was in God: "The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.' Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them" (Numbers 14:7-9, emphasis added throughout).
But Joshua and Caleb couldn't overcome Israel's fear. In fact, the Israelites demanded that Joshua and Caleb be stoned to death (Numbers 14:10). This angered God, who threatened to destroy the faithless Israelites (Numbers 14:12).
Moses pleaded with God: "Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy" (Numbers 14:19). God spared the Israelites, but imposed a sobering condition: They must still be punished for their lack of faith and testing of God. They would wander in the wilderness for another 40 years, until the complaining generation had died out. The Israelite fathers would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land, but their children would.
These were the same defenseless children their fathers said would surely die if they tried to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:3; Numbers 14:30-31). The unbelieving Israelites had said they would prefer to die in the wilderness rather than in this new land (Numbers 14:2-3).
Because they believed God's promise, Joshua and Caleb would live to enter the Promised Land. Eventually Joshua would succeed Moses as leader of Israel and would guide the people into the land God had promised them (Joshua 1:1-9).
Forty years later one of Joshua's first daunting challenges was to determine how his countrymen would cross the Jordan River, swollen from spring rains.
Crossing the Jordan on dry ground
Unknown to Joshua, God had a plan. "And the LORD said to Joshua, 'This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. You shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, saying, "When you have come to the edge of the water of the Jordan, you shall stand in the Jordan"'" (Joshua 3:7-8).
Joshua did as he was told and reassured the Israelites that God was with them and would help them overcome their enemies in the land. Standing at the riverbank, the Israelites were astonished when, as the priests bearing the ark stepped into the water, "the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap." The waters backed up for miles, "and the people crossed over opposite Jericho" (Joshua 3:9-16).
God thus confirmed His choice of Joshua at the Jordan River as He had Moses at the Red Sea.
Joshua then instructed that 12 stones be gathered out of the Jordan riverbed and erected as a monument, a reminder to the Israelites of this miracle. This would recall for later generations their need to fear God and obey Him. Joshua instructed God's people: "When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, 'What are these stones?' Then you shall let your children know, saying, 'Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land'; for the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, . . . that you may fear the LORD your God forever" (Joshua 4:21-24).
God then commanded Joshua to have the sons of Israel circumcised, renewing God's covenant dating back to Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14). The act of circumcision symbolized obedience and faithfulness to God. For 40 years in the wilderness the male children of Israel had not been circumcised, but now God required the renewal of this covenant with Israel.
The Israelites then celebrated the commanded Passover (Joshua 5:10). God stopped giving Israel the miraculous food, manna, at this point, allowing Israel to eat of the produce of the land, unleavened bread and parched grain (Joshua 5:11). These acts of obedience helped prepare Israel for its next major obstacle in the Promised Land: the fortress city of Jericho.
Help from inside Jericho
For Joshua to conquer the Promised Land, he needed help. God provided him supernatural help, but Joshua also needed help from humans besides his own army. Rahab was one who helped Joshua and Israel conquer Jericho. A citizen of Jericho, she provided Joshua an ideal means for infiltrating and spying out the city.
Rahab lived on one of Jericho's walls (Joshua 2:15). A prostitute, she helped Joshua by hiding his spies. Led by faith, she protected Joshua's men and struck a shrewd bargain with them (Joshua 2:1-14).
Through her efforts the spies were saved. She helped smuggle them out of the city and directed where they could hide for a few days (Joshua 2:15-16).
God honored Rahab's actions many centuries later: "By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace" (Hebrews 11:31).
The apostle James extolled her faithful works: "Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?" (James 2:25). Rahab trusted God. Joshua didn't forget her help and faithfulness: "But Joshua had said to the two men who had spied out the country, 'Go into the harlot's house, and from there bring out the woman and all that she has, as you swore to her' " (Joshua 6:22).
And the walls came tumbling down
Out of fear of Israel, Jericho closed its massive gates, barring anyone from entering or leaving (Joshua 6:1). Unknown to the walled city's residents, God had bottled up Jericho's king and warriors to turn them over to the Israelites (Joshua 6:2).
God gave Joshua specific instructions. The Israelites were to march around the city once each day for six days. On the seventh day they were to march around the city seven times, and then the priests were to sound their trumpets.
When they heard the long blast of the ram's horn, the Israelites were to shout. The wall of the city would then fall down flat, and the Israelite troops would enter the city, climbing over the fallen walls.
There was one stipulation in all this: The people were not to shout nor to make any noise with their voices until Joshua signaled them (Joshua 6:3-10).
Israel faithfully followed Joshua's instructions and gained a miraculous victory. We're reminded again by Joshua that Rahab and her father's household were spared for their cooperation and assistance in hiding the spies (Joshua 6:25). God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34), as the Israelites soon discovered at Ai, the next city blocking their way.
A painful lesson
Joshua sent spies to Ai. When they returned to Joshua they recommended that he send about 3,000 men to attack the city.
"Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few," they reported (Joshua 7:3). But when the 3,000 men came into contact with the inhabitants of the city, they turned and fled for their lives. The men of Ai chased and killed 36 Israelite men in that fateful battle.
What a shock to Joshua! All he remembered was that God had promised him victory in all Israel's military campaigns. This defeat made no sense to him at all.
Joshua and the other elders of Israel fell on their faces before the ark of the LORD (Joshua 7:6). Joshua reasoned with God, reminding Him of His promise and that this defeat could endanger Israel in Canaan (Joshua 7:7-9).
But there was a deep-seated problem among the Israelites. The cause of the defeat was about to be revealed. God had warned them not to take anything from Jericho, commanding that the city be completely destroyed (Joshua 6:17-19). One man, however, disobeyed God's instruction and stole clothing, gold and silver from the ruined city.
God told Joshua and his elders to get up and face their problem: "Israel has sinned . . . They have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived . . . Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you" (Joshua 7:11-12).
God showed there was a direct relationship between Israel's defeat and disobedience.
Joshua obeyed. He searched Israel by tribes and families and with God's help narrowed the search to Achan. When confronted, Achan admitted his sin and disclosed where the booty from Jericho was hidden (Joshua 7:19-21). Achan was stoned to death and his belongings burned (Joshua 7:24-25).
Victory at Ai
With Achan's sinful influence removed, Joshua was again sent to conquer Ai. Joshua chose 30,000 soldiers and approached Ai by night. He planned his strategy: Part of Israel's army would show itself to the men of Ai, then flee from them as before. When the men of Ai pursued the Israelites, the remaining Israelite forces would enter and take the city.
The difference between the two battles against Ai was obedience. God is in charge of human affairs; He fights for those who humble themselves to honor and obey Him.
His plan worked perfectly. As the smaller group of Israelites retreated, the men of Ai poured out of their city to pursue them. "So all the people who were in Ai . . . pursued Joshua and were drawn away from the city. There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel. So they left the city open and pursued Israel" (Joshua 8:16-17).
The remaining Israelite forces entered the city and burned it in a great victory for Joshua and Israel. It was a greater victory for the glory of God.
The difference between the two battles against Ai was obedience. God is in charge of human affairs; He fights for those who humble themselves to honor and obey Him.
Even after this great victory and the greater one at Jericho, the Canaanite kings did not seek peace with Israel (Joshua 9:1-2). Their pride cost them their power, property and lives (Joshua 10). Not all the people of the land, however, were so proud. The Gibeonites were an exception.
The Gibeonites save themselves
The Gibeonites, terrified by the encroaching Israelites, concocted a deceitful plan to save their lives. Although they were really only a few miles away from the Israelites, some of their men posed as representatives of a faraway land seeking to establish a peace treaty with Israel.
"But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors. And they took old sacks on their donkeys, old wineskins torn and mended, old and patched sandals on their feet, and old garments on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy. And they went to Joshua, to the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the men of Israel, 'We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us' " (Joshua 9:3-6).
After questioning these men and being convinced they had traveled from far away, Joshua agreed to spare them. However, Israel had failed to inquire of God what should be done in this case (Joshua 9:14-15). Should Joshua have consulted God on the matter? Yes, but he didn't. Nonetheless, the Gibeonites became Israel's servants, and the Bible shows they remained faithful servants of Israel for centuries.
The Gibeonites accepted the requirements imposed on them, preferring service as woodcutters and water-carriers for Israel rather than the fate that met the other inhabitants of the land.
They also hoped for Israelite protection, for which a need quickly arose: Five Amorite kings gathered to attack the Gibeonites to teach them a lesson and strike fear in the hearts of others who might also consider surrendering to Israel.
Victory over Israel's enemies
When the Gibeonites saw the five armies poised to attack them, they sent for immediate help from Joshua and Israel.
Responding to the Gibeonites' call for help, Joshua and Israel marched all night from Gilgal to Gibeon (Joshua 10:9), striking the Amorites by surprise. "So the LORD routed them before Israel, killed them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, chased them along the road that goes to Beth Horon, and struck them down as far as Azekah and Makkedah. And it happened, as they fled before Israel and were on the descent of Beth Horon, that the LORD cast down large hailstones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died from the hailstones than the children of Israel killed with the sword" (Joshua 10:10-11).
After this miraculous victory, Joshua went on to conquer northern Canaan (Joshua 11:1-23). However, he did not conquer all the kings of Canaan; some were left for Israel to remove later (Joshua 13:1-33). Joshua was growing old, so God directed him to divide the land among the 12 tribes.
Dividing the Promised Land
Joshua divided the land among all the tribes of Israel, with two tribes and half a tribe settling east of the Jordan River and the remainder throughout Canaan itself (same chapter). He established cities of refuge (Joshua 20:1-9) and specific towns for the Levites so all Israel could be properly served by God's servants (Joshua 13:14; Joshua 14:4).
Joshua reminded the Israelites that as long as they obeyed God’s commandments He would prosper and protect them.
Finally, when Joshua was 110 years old, he called for all the Israelites, including their elders, judges and officers, and said to them: "I am old, advanced in age. You have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the LORD your God is He who has fought for you" (Joshua 23:2-3).
Joshua reminded the Israelites, including their leaders, that as long as they obeyed God's commandments He would prosper and protect them. If they disobeyed God by taking on the ungodly ways of the Canaanites, He would "bring upon you all harmful things, until He has destroyed you from this good land which the LORD your God has given you" (Joshua 23:15).
Joshua gave God the credit for Israel's salvation and deliverance. His final admonition was to urge Israel to faithfully serve God and never forget His laws (Joshua 23:1-16 - Joshua 24:1-33).
Joshua's long journey of faith
Joshua fulfilled many roles during his life: slave, soldier, servant, spy, savior, statesman and saint. Joshua was born during Israel's years of bondage in Egypt. Toiling as a slave, he probably knew the cruel lash of the whip.
In the record about the Israelites in Egypt, we glimpse their despair and sense their anguished longing for liberty. Joshua witnessed the moral and social degradation of his countrymen, and when he came to a position of leadership he helped forge a nation established on the principles of justice.
As a soldier he was daring and imaginative, skillful in campaign strategy, the use of spies, the disciplining of his forces and, above all, he was faithful to God.
Joshua was initially a servant of Moses (Numbers 11:28; Joshua 1:1), although at the end of his days God referred to him as "the servant of the LORD" (Joshua 24:29), an affectionate and honorable title. Moses changed Joshua's name from Hoshea (meaning "help") to Joshua, "God is salvation." Moses and Joshua both learned to look to God's leadership rather than physical force and leaders.
Joshua fulfilled the meaning of his new name-"God is salvation"-leading his people into the Promised Land. He helped remove the Israelites' reproach of slavery and led them to possess their promised inheritance as a nation in their own land. In this he was a type of Christ, who leads His people to victory (1 Corinthians 15:57; 1 John 5:4-5).
As a statesman Joshua directed the dividing up of the land among his countrymen, setting up the tabernacle and establishing the cities of refuge.
Finally, as a saint, he enjoyed the presence of God (Joshua 1:5; Joshua 6:27), was eminently knowledgeable of the Word of God (Joshua 1:8) and was faithfully obedient to the will of God (Numbers 32:12). No wonder that at his death, when he was 110 years old, he was deeply mourned and his service to God and Israel was universally acknowledged.
Even after his death the memory of his example spoke for him and heavily influenced Israel and its leaders, for the nation continued to serve God all the days of the elders who were contemporary with but outlived Joshua (Joshua 24:31).
Joshua lived up to his name, "God is salvation." His life is a living testimony for those who desire to obey God in living faith. In truth God, not man, is our salvation!