Friday Night Genesis - Friday, June 1 2012 - JoshuaIntro to the bookThis month we are examining the book of Joshua. It is a rather exciting book, becausehere, finally, after centuries of slavery and 40 years of wandering through the wilderness,Israel is now entering and taking possession of the land that God promised to theirforefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So we get to see God as someone who keepsHis promises over the long haul. However, in giving the land to the Israelites, God alsoseems to be engaging in some wholesale ethnic cleansing, which also raises someserious questions about His character. I am sure we will have the opportunity to examinethis subject in more detail as we go through the Bible.At the end of Deuteronomy Moses died, and so now Joshua becomes the new leader ofIsrael, and this book covers the period of his leadership of the nation. In the beginning ofthe book we find Joshua coming to terms with the daunting task of leading this entirenation into the long awaited promised land. God comes and encourages him to bestrong and courageous. The people also come to encourage him to be strong andcourageous and offer this promise: “Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obeyyou.” (Joshua 1:17) Wouldn’t that make you feel so much better? Have you read theprevious 4 books of the Bible?! Joshua was there for the last 4 books of the Bible andhas seen just how fully they obeyed Moses! Can you just see him looking up and saying:“buckle up God, it’s gonna be a rough ride”.Historically we are somewhere around 1400BC, with the initial fighting taking some 5-6years. (show map) At the end of Deuteronomy we left the action here on the east side ofthe river Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea. In this book we cross to the west bank ofthe river Jordan into the area that is today known as the West Bank (show map). By theend of the book of Joshua the land is divided between the 12 tribes (show map). Not allof this land had yet been conquered, but it was now up to the individual tribes to clearout the portions of their allocated territory that had not been taken during the initialcampaign. At this point the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh were releasedto return to their lands on the east side of the river Jordan.Scripture reading: Joshua 2:1-13I find the story of Rahab and the spies absolutely fascinating, not least because theprostitute Rahab will eventually wind up listed among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.It is in this story that we begin to see the dynamics of things outside of Israel, and alsobegin to understand just what it was that God was trying to do through His patronage ofthe nation of Israel. You may remember way back in Genesis 12 that God promisedAbraham that he will become a great nation and all the peoples of the earth will beblessed through him. This specific promise was then repeated to Isaac and Jacob, andhere we start to understand just how God had already been doing it for centuries.The first thing that helps us understand how God was reaching the nations is tounderstand the mindset within which the ancient world operated. The nations of theancient world each had their god or more likely a number of gods that they worshipped.The prevailing wisdom of that time was that the state a nation found itself in was directlyproportional to the power of their gods. So if a nation was prosperous and successful onthe battlefield their gods must be powerful. If a nation was poor and got conquered byanother nation it meant that their gods were pretty useless. Convinced of the power of acertain god, people may begin to worship that god, not necessarily leaving their previous
gods, but simply adding this new one to the collection as a sort of fire insurance, kind ofcovering all the bases type of thing. Understanding this mindset also helps usunderstand why God had so much trouble with the Israelites running after other godsand having to spend a good deal of time impressing upon them that He was indeed theONLY God.Right off the bat God was impressing those who came in contact with Abraham, Isaacand Jacob that their God was something extraordinary. Through Joseph and hisinterpretation of the dreams and subsequent governing of Egypt, the God of Josephbecame well known and respected at the Pharaoh’s court. However in Exodus 1 we readthat there came a time when a Pharaoh who knew nothing of Joseph and his God tookpower and enslaved the Israelites. And this brings us to the time of Moses. As theplagues rip into Egypt God specifically tells Moses “I will bring judgment on all the godsof Egypt.” (Exodus 12:12) And through the plagues Egypt is once again reacquaintedwith the God of Israel. When Moses and Aaron first go to the Pharaoh his response isvery blunt: “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know theLord and I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2). However, by plague eight Pharaoh wouldbecome well acquainted with God and say “The Lord is in the right, and I and my peopleare in the wrong." (Exodus 9:27). Of course, we know that it took a few more plagues forhim to relent and let the people go, only to then change his mind once again. Hegathered his army and pursued the Israelites. As the Israelites were pegged in by theEgyptian army from one side and the Red Sea from the other they started to panic. Butlisten carefully to what God says: “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying outto me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over thesea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I willharden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glorythrough Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptianswill know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and hishorsemen.” (Exodus 14:15-18).And so here we are at Jericho 40 years later reading the words of Rahab to the twospies and we finally come full circle. Here we get to see what a tremendous effect theevents in Egypt and at the Red Sea had on the nations in that entire region. TheIsraelites may have needed constant reminders of God’s power, but Rahab’s memoryand reasoning were razor sharp: “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that agreat fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fearbecause of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for youwhen you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of theAmorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, ourhearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord yourGod is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Joshua 2:9-11) The people ofJericho heard about the events in Egypt and at the Red Sea, and it was this that ledRahab to conclude that the Lord is God in heaven and earth.It is here that the penny drops - Israel was not chosen to be God’s little pet on this earth.Israel was going to be the vehicle through which God was going to make Himself knownto all the peoples on the earth. In an environment where the credibility of a god wasdependent on the strength of the nation that worshipped the said god, God called outAbraham and made him into a nation through which God could establish His owncredibility among ALL the peoples of the earth. And with Rahab we see how this isstarting to bear fruit.
This is also how the Apostle Paul understood the role of Israel: “Understand, then, thatthose who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justifythe Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations willbe blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, theman of faith.” (Galatians 3:7-9).There have been some other clues along the way too. When Moses sent out the 12spies all those years ago to check out the promised land, and these guys came backsaying there is no way we can take this land, God told Moses to stand aside so He couldwipe out the entire nation and then make Moses into an even greater nation. “Mosessaid to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought thesepeople up from among them. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. Theyhave already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have beenseen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in apillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If you put all these people to death,leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, ‘The Lordwas not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so heslaughtered them in the wilderness.’” (Numbers 14:13-16). You may also remember theking of Moab, Balak, being so concerned about the Israelites that he hired Balaam tocurse them. Through his interaction with Balaam however, he discovered that the Lordhad blessed that nation. Or how about this statement of Moses about the laws that Godgave the Israelites, which we mentioned last month: “Observe them carefully, for this willshow your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all thesedecrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” Whatother nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God isnear us whenever we pray to him?” (Deuteronomy 4:6,7).Back in the 1400’s BC they may not have had CNN or the internet, but that did not meanthat what happened in Egypt stayed in Egypt. The news spread among the nations, andso as the Israelites made their way towards the promised land, people that theyencountered were well aware of their history and the power of their God. And God wascounting on this in order to reach the nations of the world.I often hear people say that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God ofNew Testament. I do not think this is the case. In a world that understood and respectedonly power, gentle Jesus meek and mild would have been completely ineffective inreaching the masses. But the God who sent His only Son so that whoever believesshould not perish but have life everlasting is the same God that I see actively working,using the nation of Israel trying to reach and bless ALL people, even in the gruesomeworld of 15th century BC. The God who reached the prostitute Rahab by the reports ofHis power, is the same God who will one day reach another prostitute thrown at the feetof Jesus by His kindness. As we saw last month, knowing God and following God’s lawshas intrinsic blessings, and God wanted to share those blessings with all the peoples ofthe earth throughout history. Israel had the privilege of being the vehicle which enabledGod to do so. At the time of Moses and Joshua this involved swords and bloodshed. Buta time came to put down the sword. In 10th century BC Israel had a king by the name ofSolomon. God had given him peace on all sides, and the Bible reported the following:“God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding asmeasureless as the sand on the seashore. From all nations people came to listen toSolomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.” (1.
Kings 4:29, 34).God has always been looking to reach all mankind, regardless of whether mankind wasin the mood to fight or to seek wisdom, and God’s special relationship with Israel overthe centuries was an integral part of that effort to reach us all - both Jew and Gentile.Because God “wants ALL people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”(1. Timothy 2:4).