Second, concerning the content of that prophecy — the vision of God exalted over all things. The theme here is that the battle belongs to the Lord and not to the human soldiers involved. Without describing the heavenly host fighting, the text leaves no doubt that the invisible dimension to this battle is far more imporant than what can be seen. Just as the author had been concerned with Spiritual preparation – worship and doing the rituals of the faith, circumcision and Passover – we now see a ritualistic battle plan. This is part of emphasizing that the battle belongs to YHWH (the LORD). The people march around the city of Jericho once each day for six days and then on the seventh day they march around seven times and on the seventh time the horn sounds and the people shout and the walls fall and people march in from their positions surrounding the city. The pattern of six days plus the seventh is a pattern of new creation. The Promised Land will be a new creation land, a new Garden of Eden, flowing as it is with milk and honey. The number seven also communicates completeness and once they have completed these rituals the city would totally fall. The actual battle is dismissed with a short phrase: “Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword” (6:21). There is no blow by blow account of the battle. There are not enough details to make a good action movie. All of the focus is on the ritual. This is because we are being taught that the invisible dimension to this battle is more important and likewise that the battle (both invisible and visible) and its visible spoils belong to the Lord.
If you watch a program on the History Channel about the battles in the Bible, they will focus on precisely what the text of Scripture says is unimportant. They focus on military preparation and commando-like teams. But the text leaves no doubt that everyone understood the battle meant YHWH God was giving Jericho to Israel. This is another characteristic of the Prophets. They are not concerned to give you information on each and every king of Israel, for example, but to make a particular theological point. Thus a historian may tell you that a particular king was really powerful in the region but they are dismissed in Scripture with a single verse. The Prophets have a different purpose than historians (not that historians should be confused for what passes as history on the History Channel). The battle belongs to YHWH.
“But Joshua commanded the people, ‘You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout” (6:10). This was a musical shout, which the ram’s horn would imitate. Often churches will have you leave on Maundy Thursday without making any sound – in total silence – and then you gather together again on Easter to shout musically. Sunday is a day to musically shout. We musically shout because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead (to look back) and because the battle for the nations belongs to the Lord (to look forward). This time it is the wall between Jews and Gentiles that has fallen as well as the curtain in the Temple. And now walls in people’s hearts are also being torn down by the word of the Lord. Remember with evangelism that it is God’s battle. Some belong to Him to be devoted to destruction (king of Jericho) and some to be saved alive forever (Rahab). Thus we worship the Lord with the spoils of evangelism (ourselves and our stuff) because the battle belongs to Him.
Not only the battle but also its spoils belong to the Lord. Joshua ordered all of the silver, gold, and vessels of bronze and iron be put in the treasury of the house of YHWH. Many other treasures were offered as a fragrant offering (they burned the city) and the livestock were devoted to destruction. This was the first city conquered in the Promised Land and so its treasures were like a firstfruits offering to God. Everything belongs to God because He created everything. Everything you have (yourself and your possessions) belongs to God also because He redeemed you and your possessions. Stealing from God by not giving tithes and offerings is a theme that will also show up at the end of the Prophets (Malachi). Disciple-making is an exercise in Spiritual warfare – your opponent is not the other person but instead is the invisible spiritual forces of evil. Thus the real battle is invisible in nature but the spoils of the battle are not. Not only does Christ own all the material things in your life because He has redeemed them for His use – but you yourself become God’s treasured possession when you are redeemed. If you have been saved, then you have been set apart for His use and glory. If you have been saved, then you have been set apart for worship. You have been set apart from the present evil world-age for Spiritual preparation for Spiritual warfare. So here again the theme is worship – it is what you and your possessions have been redeemed for… The center of the story is the Lord’s instructions where He focuses on holiness, obedience, and purity of worship. Thus God tells Joshua to tell the people to consecrate themselves – that is, to set themselves apart as holy.
Now not only is the text not a good movie because it leaves out the gore but also because the next chapter begins by taking away any suspense: “Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things” (7:1). These are ominous words; we know something really terrible is coming. And it does as the people of Israel suffer defeat in battle and they will be totally devoted to destruction if they do not remove the unbeliever from their congregation. So we see that sin can bring defeat in Spiritual warfare. In Numbers 32:23 Moses told the Transjordan tribes that if they failed to go into the Promised Land and fight for Israel then, “You have sinned against YHWH, and be sure your sin will find you out.” And we see this principle in practice in Scripture as YHWH catches the tribe of Judah, then the clan of the Zerahites, then Zabdi, and then Achan. God caught Achan with the stolen goods. Achan’s sin found him out. Achan’s sin was reckless and would have been caught even if God had not showed Joshua who the thief was. After all, Achan could not exactly show off his riches or wear the cloak.
Achan’s sin did not begin as stealing, it began as coveting. He said, “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them” (7:21). Achan’s sin of coveting found him out because unchecked it led him to steal from God’s treasury and to the course of events where it would be exposed for all to see. The temptation to steal from God’s treasury still persists today. It may not be as flagrant as stealing from the offering plate as it is passed around or embezzling from the church’s bank accounts – these being modern equivalents of Achan’s sin. But even more subtle stealing takes place. It also begins as coveting. Instead of acknowledging that all we have has been redeemed for God’s use and giving generously, the temptation is to hold back. YHWH told Joshua, “Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I have commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings” (7:11). So Achan’s sin by association is Israel’s sin. We saw this principle many times in the Torah and particularly in Deuteronomy it stresses purging the evil from their midst. His sin caused 36 Israelites to die in battle at Ai. And not only Achan died but also his sons and daughters who stood by him were devoted to destruction. And the result is that Israel becomes like the Canaanites. The hearts of the Canaanites had melted, so now “the hearts of the people [of Israel] melted and became as water” (7:5). The Canaanites had been devoted to destruction and because some devoted things were taken the people of Israel have become devoted for destruction. And using a word-play of Achan and Achor – we see “that place is called the Valley of Achor” or the Valley of Trouble because Achan had brought trouble on upon Israel. Or to use the Hebrew words, Achan had brought Achor on Israel. Achan was treated like a Canaanite. The last step in church discipline, for those who fail to repent is treating the person like a Gentile. We live at a different time in the history of salvation and the equivalent action now would be putting the unbeliever outside the church and treating them like any other unbeliever – the Lord’s Supper would be closed to them as if they are not a Christian but also as with anyone who is not a Christian the good news would be shared.
But these two reasons (your sin will find you out & your sin hurts others) are insignificant compared to the third: your sin is against God. Achan admitted it, “Truly I have sinned against YHWH God of Israel” (7:20). Though the text later describes Achan’s sin as stealing, the first verse calls the sin in question ‘breaking faith.’ Achan not only broke the eighth commandment (“you shall not steal”) but he has broken the first commandment (“you shall have no other gods before me”). He has not been faithful to God but instead he coveted other gods and worshipped them. His was the sin of unbelief. All sin is against God. Stealing is a failure to trust God’s provision for us. If you steal, then you are saying that you do not believe God will give you everything that you need. And if you steal, then you are taking something God has provided for someone else. All of the material things under your care belong to God. But having said this, then you can see how much more serious it is to steal not just from your neighbors but to steal from God’s treasury. It is a direct affront to God and provokes His wrath and deserves His curse.
Achan and Rahab are foils. Achan was an Israelite who broke faith and became as a Canaanite. Rahab was a Canaanite who was faithful to God and His people, thus becoming an Israelite. It is through faith. Achan brought the covenant curses down upon all Israel. The solution was for the covenant curses to fall upon Achan as he was stoned and then buried under a pile of stones. Achan had brought Achor on Israel. Therefore, God brought Achor on Achan. The outwardly cut off or circumcised Achan had to be cut off from the people of Israel.
Next in our English Bibles is the renewal of the covenant. Different versions of the book put the six verses where Joshua renews the covenant in different places. This is sometimes called a floating unit. In the early Greek translations, likely reflecting a different Hebrew version of Joshua, the unit comes after the first two verses of chapter nine. This is pretty close (just two verses difference) to where the main Hebrew version puts it (8:30ff). A text found in a cave at Qumran puts these six verses right before 5:2. So in this third version it comes right before the circumcision and Passover observance. It would not surprise us at all if in history this covenant renewal ceremony took place before the circumcision and Passover observance. In fact, this would make a lot of sense. But I think it is better to have here where the main Hebrew version puts it because it reminds us that covenant renewal is not just a one-time thing. It would make sense for the people of Israel to do it in the fifth chapter just before circumcising the nation that had neglected to do so in the wilderness and it would make sense right after a member of the congregation of Israel had broken covenant.
It is important to note that Joshua followed all of The Book of the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy) in fulfilling all of the instructions for the covenant renewal ceremony. He built an altar of uncut stones on Mount Ebal and they offered burnt sacrifices to YHWH and sacrificed peace offerings. He copied the Law of Moses onto the stones. They heard all of the blessings and curses for keeping and failing to keep covenant. The focus is on worship: observing all that was commanded in the written word of God and hearing all that was commanded there.
The evangelism battle (an aspect of worship in everyday life, see the previous post) requires that we be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (cf. Matt 10:16). Being innocent as doves is keeping covenant. Being wise as serpents is the ambush. The people of Israel make the people of Ai think they are fleeing in fear again but when all of the men of Ai have left the city the hiding troops emerge and invade the city and then the fleeing Israelites turn around and trap the men of Ai in the middle. You might find this in evangelism if you hear them out and show that you understand their point of view and then share the word of God and how it actually makes sense of their world better.
Moving on, the Gibeonite story fulfills Noah’s curse on Canaan. Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. Ham’s son was Canaan. Noah cursed Canaan because Ham saw Noah’s nakedness and told Shem and Japheth. The curse was that Canaan would be the servant of Shem and Japheth. Shem was the ancestor of the Israelites and Canaan was the ancestor of peoples including the Hivites. Did you notice that the Gibeonites in our text are Hivites? Speaking to the Gibeonites the author tells us, “But the men of Israel said to the Hivites” (9:7). The text is very clear that the Gibeonites are cursed to be the servants of Israel – cutting wood and drawing water for the congregation of Israel – for the house of the God of Israel (9:23). So this fulfills the curse that Canaan would be the servant of Shem.
This story points forward to another Old Testament text. In the book of Samuel, King Saul brought bloodguilt on his house because he put many Gibeonites to death and King David avenged the Gibeonites by giving seven of Saul’s sons to the Gibeonites to be put to death (2 Sam 21). The author of Samuel explains the situation to us by saying, “Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah” (21:2).
Israel was allowed to make treaties with people who lived far off from the Promised Land but not with the people of the land. The Gibeonites were aware of Israel’s law and pretended to be from far away. If the Gibeonites had been telling the truth about living far away, then there would have been no problem with Israel making a covenant with them. The idea of oaths has been a recurring one in Joshua. Rahab made the spies swear an oath to protect her and her household. Joshua “laid an oath” on Israel after the battle of Jericho not to rebuild the city. Achan was an oathbreaker. Covenant making is an oath-taking activity.
A key to understanding the passage is, “So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from YHWH (9:14). The leaders of Israel relied on their own wisdom and they got tricked by the Gibeonites. At the end of three days after they made the covenant they heard that the Gibeonite people lived in the Promised Land and including the day when they left and the day when they arrived it only took three days to get to their cities. And as a result of the oath Israel could not fulfill their purpose to remove all of the Hivites from the Promised Land without bringing the bloodguilt of the Gibeonites upon themselves.
Evangelism or disciplemaking includes bringing bloodguilt upon other’s heads. When we fail to do it, the bloodguilt is on our own head. But if we are faithful and declare the good news to others, then the bloodguilt is on their head. For example, in Acts 5 the high priest says, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name [the name of Jesus], yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s [Jesus’] blood upon us.” And Paul says to the Ephesian elders, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26-27). Some of the verses (10:28-39) repeat the following formula – Joshua conquered the city, struck it with the edge of the sword, everyone was devoted to destruction, and the city was compared to other victories. Telling us that everyone was devoted to destruction, emphasized by putting it in different ways, shows that these victories were decisive. And the comparisons (“Just as he had done to Hebron and Libnah and its king, so he did to Debir and to its king” (10:39d)) show that just as they had done to these cities and their kings, so they could do to all remaining cities and their kings. Nothing would stop them.
The text also gives us the impression that these victories are rather comprehensive. The repetition of the word “all” over and over in chapter eleven means to convey this and the long list of victories under Moses and Joshua in chapter twelve means to reinforce the picture of an overwhelming victory. The victory was not only decisive for individual cities but for the whole land. To use a World War II analogy: the really long day and these other battles under Joshua are D-Day and V-Day was certainly coming. You have to wait until the thirteenth chapter before there is any indication that there are cities and kings left to conquer.
Israel was advancing with all boldness and without hindrance because YHWH fights for them. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a D-Day victory. It was a decisive victory. Christ was devoted to destruction but He conquered sin and death through His resurrection. It was not the last battle, but we know that the day of victory is coming. This D-Day battle really is complete at the end of the book of Acts. Acts 28:30-31 “He [the apostle Paul] lived there [at Rome] two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” Joshua is the OT book of Acts.
The text makes it clear that it was the Lord who fought for Israel. 10:8ff And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.” And then as if there were any more room for doubt, the Lord answered Joshua’s prayer that the sun and moon stand still. 10:14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel. Later in the chapter we see a prophetic sign of what will happen to all the enemies of Israel so long as the Lord fights for Israel. 10:24 And … Joshua summoned all the men of Israel and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Then they came near and put their feet on their necks. And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus YHWH will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.” And as a summary statement for the chapter the author tells us, (10:42) “And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because YHWH God of Israel fought for Israel.”
The author tells us that the reason so many kings and their cities came out to face Israel was because of the Lord’s work. 11:20 “For it was the YHWH’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as YHWH commanded Moses. The people of the land were hardening their own hearts. But the author of Joshua tells us “it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts.” Both are true, just as they were with Pharaoh. Thus again Joshua is the new Moses. It would be worth researching this point with Deuteronomy’s presentation of the battles Moses led in the TransJordan area.
Thus the theme throughout is that the battle belongs to YHWH and this means there is an invisible dimension to the battle that is the decisive factor and this truth shows us that the will of God is that the spoils of the battle (us and our stuff) belong to YHWH. Joshua is better than any movie or history textbook. Joshua is good news.