Conquering Canaan With Joshua

Okay, so I’m giving myself an ambitious goal — a daily devotional reading through Joshua (and hopefully Judges, my favorite book). I have no idea what will come of this, but I’m going to give it a shot and see what happens.

Joshua was the successor to Moses as the leader of Israel, and we first meet him in Exodus 17 as Moses commands him to “choose for us men, and go out and fight Amalek.” In Numbers 11:28, Joshua is described as “the assistant of Moses from his youth” (a passage echoed in Exodus 33). Joshua was also one of the spies sent to scout Canaan in Numbers 13, one of the few who remained loyal to Moses when Israel rebelled in the following chapter. He’s a military leader, a fighter, and he is loyal to Moses and to God. His very name, Yehoshua ַיְהוֹשֻׁע means “he who saves” (from the verb ישׁע, “to be delivered or saved from external evils or troubles”), and it is the name later rendered into Greek as Ιησους, or Jesus.

The one who saves.

Martin Luther described Joshua this way:

Joshua, however, denotes Christ, because of his name and because of what he does. Although he was a servant of Moses, yet after his master’s death he leads the people and parcels out the inheritance of the Lord. Thus Christ, who was first made under the Law (Gal. 4:4), served it for us; then, when it was ended, He established another ministry, that of the Gospel, by which we are led through Him into the spiritual kingdom of a conscience joyful and seven in God, where we reign forever. (The Lutheran Study Bible, p.338)

God has told Moses he will not live to set foot in Israel’s patrimony (“For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.” Deuteronomy 32:52), the land of promise. He is too old. He “broke faith” with God. Besides, to take the land of is a different task, and one requiring a different kind of leadership, a different kind of faithfulness, than mere wilderness wandering. Moses is not the man to lead Israel across the Jordan and into battle.

But Joshua is.

7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. 8 It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:7–8 ESV)

But it is not triumph that Joshua is leading Israel to, even as God prepares the way to take possession of the land.

16 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. 17 Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us? ’ 18 And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.” (Deuteronomy 31:16–18 ESV)

God is leading Israel into his promise, and yet predicts that his people will “despise me and break my covenant.” He commands the writing of a song that predicts the future to come, of comfort and idolatry and disaster to come — war and conquest in which the Lord God of Israel exacts a terrible vengeance upon his very own people for deserting the covenant God made with them when he delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. In fact, Moses tells Israel when he has finished with this dire prediction:

46 … ”Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:45–47 ESV)

What a terrible task Joshua is given, to lead the people of God in the taking of the promise of God, knowing that the words spoken by God and by Moses during his commissioning are words of impending failure and forthcoming doom.

Talk about a terrible setup. It’s a little like life. “Congrats on being born, you’re going to do some awesome stuff, some really shitty things will happen to you, oh, and by the way, you die. Whether you do well or not.”

And yet, before he died, Moses laid hands upon Joshua, and his young successor “was full of the spirit of wisdom.” Even knowing how it would turn out, Joshua possessed the courage and the strength to lead. Not because he was promised victory — though victories will come, and the land will be taken — but because he was faithful.

Because Joshua trusted God.

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