Here’s story so far: at the very beginning of the Old Testament, we see God choose Abraham, and his family became the people of Israel, who quickly become slaves in Egypt. Through Moses, God rescued the Israelites out of Egypt (remember the red sea?); He made a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai, and he brought them through the wilderness (which took them a bit longer than intended because of how much they complained!). As Israel reached the outside of the Promised Land, Moses spoke to them and called them to obey God’s commands so that they could show all the other nations what their God is like. They’re off to a good start.
The book of Joshua picks up just after Moses has died, and Israel is ready to enter the Promised Land.
Who Was Joshua?
Now, Joshua is considered one of the Bible’s greatest military leaders, and we can look to him as a model of leadership and a source of practical application on how to be an effective leader – which is what we are going to do over the course of this series.
We first meet Joshua as Moses’ second-in-command, during a battle against the Amalekites in Exodus 17 – the story tells us that Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people (Ex 17:13), because God was with him in the battle. While Joshua is still working under Moses, we see him move forwards with a rock-solid faith in God. At one time, Moses sent twelve people to spy out the land that they were trying to move in to: upon their return, ten reported that the land was occupied by giants and fierce warriors, and that it was not safe for Moses and his people. Only Joshua and Caleb urged the people to move into the land that God had promised them:
And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. – Exodus 14:6-8
This is the quality that sets Joshua apart: he believed in the things that God had promised his people, and he acted on that faith. They were not scared by the size of the warriors, but they knew who God was, and remembered His power and His might. God had already saved them from the great Egyptian army; He could do it again.
Joshua: Strong and Courageous
Joshua is a fantastic example of a strong and courageous leader, so to learn more about his life, we’re going to walk through the book of Joshua in four parts – we’ll be releasing one part each Monday, so you can follow along with us. The book of Joshua splits nicely into four main parts:
- Chapters 1-5: Joshua leads Israel into the Promised land;
- Chapters 6-12: The Israelites meet all kinds of hostility from the Canaanites, so go into battle: we see Joshua leading his people in battles over several years;
- Chapters 13:22: The Israelites win the land (spoilers!), and Joshua divides up the land between the tribes;
- Chapters 23-24: The book ends with Joshua’s final words to the Israelites.
… But aren’t we supposed to love our enemies?
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus tells his followers that we should love our enemies; the violence and battles that we see in the book of Joshua can seem to conflict with this – in fact, in a lot of the stories in the Old Testament we see a lot of violence as the people of God take on their enemies. The Canaanites, the people who were in the Promised Land that the Israelites were trying to move into, were not a nice group of people: there were a lot of questionable practices among the nation, including child sacrifice, which needed to wipe out before it could influence the Israelites.
So did God command the destruction of the Canaanites, like a genocide? At first glance, there are phrases used in the accounts around Joshua that suggest the battles were pretty bloody: there were no survivors; they didn’t leave anything that breathed. But when we look more closely, it’s clear these phrases were exaggerated statements, and aren’t literal: towns that the Israelites moved in to are seen later in the story, still populated by some of the original people.
What we see in Joshua, is some of the Canaanites turning to follow the God of Israel, like Rahab (we’ll come back to her in another week); God brought justice in the land, and the Israelites went in, having been told to pursue peace.
The purpose of these stories is never to tell us, the reader, to bring violence on others in His name – rather, it’s to show God bringing justice on human evil in a unique moment in Israel; and rescuing the Israelites from the hands of the Canaanites.
The book of Joshua is one of my very favorites: it sets an example of a strong and courageous leader; it shows the character of our beautiful, just God, and it’s a success story of God’s grace overcoming human evil. We’re going to take the next four Mondays to look at the book of Joshua in more detail to see what we can learn about strength, and good leadership from one of the greatest military leaders in history – come along with us on the journey!