I. Entering the Promised Land (Joshua 1:1–5:12)


I. Entering the Promised Land (1:1–5:12)

A. Joshua Assumes Command (1:1-18)

1:1-2 The Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun . . . “Moses my servant is dead. Now . . . prepare to cross over the Jordan [River]” (1:1-2). Moses had been the greatest human leader Israel had ever known, but Moses was gone; he was yesterday’s news. Israel had to stop looking back to the leeks and garlic of Egypt (see Num 11:4-6) and the good old days when Moses had led and instead look ahead to the milk and honey and new leadership of the promised land (Exod 3:7-8). It was time to move on.

It’s important to remember the past: we should appreciate the good and learn from the bad. But in the walk of faith, you can’t live on nostalgia; you can’t live with your eyes on the rearview mirror of your life. You’ve got to face forward.

1:3-6 I have given you every place where the sole of your foot treads. . . . No one will be able to stand against you . . . Be strong and courageous (1:3-6). In other words, he reminded Joshua that the promised land—Israel’s inheritance—was already given to them. That didn’t mean, however, that they were to sit and do nothing and wait for the local inhabitants to simply abandon Canaan to them. Actions of faith were required to make literal what God had already made legal. The enemies of God would resist, but they would fail—provided that Israel was “strong and courageous” (1:7, 9, 18).

This is an example of the intersection of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. God makes promises, but we are called to obey in order to secure them. Consider a parent who pays for a child’s education. If the child doesn’t go to class or study, it is not the promise of a free education that will inevitably fail. The problem is that the promise wasn’t embraced.

God’s process for every believer mirrors his process for Israel: he offers deliverance, development, and destiny. Deliverance is salvation—what happens when we trust in Jesus Christ. Development is the process of sanctification; it’s like our time in the wilderness as we experience God’s trials to test and grow our faith. Destiny is what God has planned for us, eternal life in heaven and the rewards that come with it. God’s promises are a sure thing, but much of the timing depends on us. Will we say yes to deliverance? Are we willing to grow in our faith? Are we committed to living in light of eternity? We are called to pursue God’s promises, reaching out to touch heaven through acts of faith while our feet still walk on this broken ground.

1:7-9 Next God said, Observe carefully the whole instruction my servant Moses commanded you . . . so that you will have success wherever you go (1:7). Success for Israel, then, involved obtaining their inheritance. To do this, they had to stay tightly tethered to God’s Word.

Ultimately, success for a Christian is not rising to popularity, power, prosperity, or position. Success is fulfilling your God-given purpose in life. To do that, you (like Israel) must meditate on Scripture and carefully observe everything written in it (1:7-8). To meditate on something is to roll it over and over in your mind in much the same way that a cow chews its cud. When you do, the Word of God is driven deeply into your soul so that your actions can be driven by God’s perspective rather than your feelings or cultural opinion.

1:10-15 After receiving instructions from the Lord, Joshua told the people in effect to “get ready to rumble” (1:10-11). Specifically he told the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, who had already received their inheritance . . . on the east side of the Jordan, to help the other tribes claim their land. Joshua challenged them to reject selfishness and to battle alongside their brothers so that everyone could obtain the rest (i.e., the experience of God’s promise) that God had provided (1:12-15).

1:16-18 To this the people responded, Everything you have commanded us we will do (1:16). They had accepted the fact that the baton had been passed from Moses to Joshua (1:17). They were fully on board with the stated plan. All they wanted was for their leader to be strong and courageous (1:18). In other words, they wanted him to obey the Lord. Believers must expect the same of their church leaders. They are to be followed inasmuch as they follow God.

B. The Faith of Rahab (2:1-24)

2:1 The acquisition of the promised land began with Joshua dispatching two spies to determine the best military approach to use in the days ahead. In particular, they were to scout the city of Jericho—the first major city the people would encounter upon crossing the Jordan River. When the spies entered Jericho, they chose to hide in the red light district and stayed with a prostitute named Rahab. (It could be that Rahab was running an inn for travelers. If so, staying there would have helped the spies to look inconspicuous.) Importantly, these men were in town for righteous purposes—not for wickedness.

2:2-7 Somehow the king of Jericho learned of the presence of the Israelite men within the gates of his city and demanded that Rahab turn them in (2:2-3). But Rahab put him off by engaging in some righteous risky business: she hid the men and lied to the authorities (2:4-7).

2:8-12 Rahab’s actions in this chapter raise a significant ethical question: When is it acceptable to lie? Rahab was confronted with two sinful options, lying or abetting the execution of God’s representatives, and she chose the option that would bring the most glory to God—protecting his people. She then told the spies that Jericho had heard of how the Lord had miraculously protected the Israelites from their enemies and that therefore, the people were terrified (2:8-11). In this, she encouraged them. Yet it’s clear by what we see in this story that neither the king nor his people were planning to surrender to the plans of the Lord regarding their homeland.

Rahab was different. She confessed that the Lord . . . is God in heaven above and on earth below and showed kindness to his people (2:11-12). In other words, she expressed personal faith in the true God’s ability to work on behalf of those aligned with him and acted on it. This required her to shelter God’s people and work against his enemies, in much the same way that the Hebrew midwives had frustrated the murderous plans of Pharaoh in Exodus 1:15-21.

2:13-21 Trusting that Israel would successfully conquer Jericho, Rahab hid the spies and asked them to spare her and her family on the day when they sacked the city (2:13). This they promised to do—as long as she tied a scarlet cord in the window of her house, which was in the wall of the city. If she did that, both she and her family would be saved (2:14-20). Remarkably, though Jericho’s walls would soon fall down (6:20), this woman’s house that was constructed within them was left standing (6:22-23). Rahab submitted in faith to God’s program. As a result, she came under the covering of Israel, and her family did too.

2:22-24 The spies returned to Joshua and reported everything (2:22-23). They were confident that the Lord [had] handed over the entire land to [them] as promised (2:24). Why were they so certain? Much of it came down to the words and actions of an unlikely ally, the prostitute named Rahab.

This woman’s background and significance in God’s kingdom plan cannot be overstated. Hers is a story that provides hope to us all. It’s a beautiful reminder that God’s grace can meet us where we are and use us to accomplish his purposes. Throughout Scripture, Rahab is repeatedly identified by her occupation as a prostitute (2:1; 6:17, 22, 25)—even in the New Testament (Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25). In the Bible, repetition is emphasis. God wants us to understand that, no matter how wretched our pasts, he can do great things through anyone who righteously connects to him through faith. In God’s providence, Rahab would become a link in the family chain leading to Jesus Christ (see Matt 1:5).

C. Crossing the Jordan (3:1–5:12)

3:1-4 It was time to move. The ark of the covenant of the Lord would lead the way (3:3). Back when the Israelites left Egypt, God’s presence led them—first in a “cloud” by day and then in a “pillar of fire” by night (see Exod 13:21-22). Since God is invisible, he manifested his presence for them in these ways. But when Israel crossed the Jordan, God’s presence would be manifested by the golden ark of the covenant, a box containing the tablets of the Ten Commandments that was covered by the “mercy seat,” which had two cherubim on it. It was above the mercy seat and between the cherubim that God promised to meet with Moses (see Exod 25:22). Since the Israelites understood the Lord to be “enthroned between the cherubim” (1 Sam 4:4; 2 Kgs 19:15), in fact, this was a visual reminder that Israel’s King would personally lead them into the promised land.

3:5-6 Joshua called the people to make spiritual preparation for divine manifestation, to consecrate themselves (3:5). Most people wouldn’t dream of walking into the presence of the president of the United States without first taking a shower and dressing appropriately—though a human leader is a sinner just like the rest of us. How much more, then, should we prepare ourselves spiritually if we want to encounter the divine presence of God? Joshua told Israel to clean up and prepare because God was about to blow their minds.

3:7-13 God spoke to Joshua and provided instructions for the priests and the people. The priests were to carry the ark out in front of the tribes (3:8, 11). The Lord would stop the water of the Jordan River from flowing so that the soldiers and people could cross—but only after the priests stepped into the river (3:12-13). Why not stop the waters first? Because God wanted to see faith in action before he provided the miracle. God’s purpose for accomplishing such wonders was plain: You will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly dispossess before you the inhabitants of the land (3:10). Dividing the waters of the Jordan would be God’s way of demonstrating to Israel that he was alive and with them, so that they would be prepared for the challenges ahead. God sometimes does wondrous things in our lives too, so that when we meet a challenge in the future we will remember his power.

3:14-17 When the people broke camp they could see that not only was there a river in the way, but it was overflowing its banks (3:15). The waters were as broad and deep as they could be: there was no hope of wading or even swimming across. But as soon as the priests’ feet hit the water, the people were able to cross because the water flowing downstream . . . was completely cut off (3:15-16). And even more amazingly, the Lord also quick dried the earth where the river had been. No feet stuck in the mud; no cart wheels bogged down. Israel crossed on dry ground (3:17). This was no freak act of nature. It was an act of God.

4:1-3 God commanded Joshua to have twelve men from the people, one man for each tribe take twelve stones from the riverbed and carry them to their new camp. These were to be memorial stones. A memorial is used to help people remember important events and individuals in history. The national park service, for instance, manages sites with memorials of significant people, places, or battles from American history. The football and baseball halls of fame have memorials to special athletes and their achievements. Even the church has memorials. The greatest of these is Communion, a special ceremony through which we remember the accomplishment of the sacrificial death of Christ (see 1 Cor 11:23-26).

4:4-7 God wanted the people to remember what he did at the Jordan and to pass on that remembrance to future generations. When in the future the people’s children and grandchildren saw the stones and asked, What do these stones mean to you? (4:6), parents would be able to point to the rocks, taking advantage of an opportunity for spiritual formation in their children (4:7). They were to tell them the history of God’s work on their behalf.

We must not only remember the times in our lives when God has shown up, stepped into a difficult situation, or done something extraordinary. We must also give testimony about them.

4:8-9 The Israelites did exactly as God commanded (4:8). But Joshua also set up a second memorial of his own. He took twelve stones and set them up in the middle of the Jordan where the priests . . . were standing (4:9). Knowing that the rocks stood there, long after the river covered them over, would encourage Joshua in later years that nothing could stand in Israel’s path with the Lord leading the way. When the book of Joshua was completed, those stones the priests had placed (and those under the water) were still there (4:9), silent reminders of the mighty power of Israel’s great God.

4:10-18 After all the people had crossed the riverbed (4:10-13), God told Joshua to command the priests carrying the ark to come up from the Jordan (4:16). When they did, the water returned to its place (4:17-18). On that day the Lord exalted Joshua so that Israel revered Joshua as they had revered Moses (4:14), through whom God had worked to part the Red Sea four decades prior. God wanted all Israel to know: Joshua is my man. Follow him.

4:19-24 The people camped at Gilgal (4:19), where Joshua reminded the Israelites to use the memorial stones to bear witness to their children about the amazing works of God (4:21-23). But ultimately this testimony wasn’t merely for the benefit of the people of God. They were to report God’s deeds so that all the peoples of the earth (including you and me) [might] know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and so that [they would] always fear the Lord (4:24). God’s people, past and present, are to work to spread his fame and glory throughout the earth.

5:1-9 When the kings of the land heard what God had done at the river, they were terrified and their courage failed (5:1), which is much in line with Rahab’s earlier report to the spies (2:9-11). But before the Israelites were to engage in battle, God told Joshua to have the men circumcised (5:3).

Circumcision was the sign of the cov-enant between God and the descendants of Abraham (see Gen 17:9-14). The practice made them physically different from the surrounding peoples. Even though the men who had come out of Egypt had been circumcised, their children had not (5:4-6). So it was time to rectify the problem. The entire nation (that is, the males within it) was circumcised and stayed in the camp until they recovered (5:8).

Circumcision is a painful procedure for an adult male to undergo, and it requires a period of healing. During that time, then, the men would have been physically vulnerable to attack. But, by coming under the covenant as instructed, they were spiritually protected by divine covering. So what appeared to be negative was actually a positive.

What did God mean when he said, Today I have rolled away the disgrace of Egypt from you? (5:9). In Egypt, the Israelites had been slaves. And even in the wilderness, many Israelites were longing to return there. But in the men’s submission to the act of circumcision, this disgrace had been rolled back. It signaled that they were finally, truly free.

One of the great spiritual truths of the New Testament is that believers in Jesus Christ are free from slavery to sin (8:34-36). Though it lures us, we don’t have to submit to it. Yet throughout our lifetimes, the devil works to deceive us, to cause us to think and act like we’re still slaves to his will. He works to keep us from believing the truth of our freedom from sin, because the one who believes that he’s truly free might actually start acting like it. If you find yourself falling for his tricks, it’s time to ask the Lord to “roll away” the disgrace of your past so that you can move forward in victory.

5:10-12 While camping on the plains of Jericho, Israel observed the Passover, remembering their deliverance from Egyptian slavery (5:10). During the celebration, they ate . . . from the produce of the land (5:11). That may sound like a throw-away statement until you read the follow up: And the day after . . . the manna ceased (5:12). For the last forty years during their wanderings in the wilderness, God had provided manna—bread from heaven—for them to eat (see Exod 16). But once God brought them to the promised land, their manna days were over. Thus, from this point forward, if they were going to eat, they would have to act on his promises.

Here I see an application to a person’s spiritual development. Babies have to be fed. But if you’re spoon-feeding your twelve-year-old, there’s a serious problem! Similarly, as you grow in Christian maturity, God expects you to exercise more and more responsibility for your spiritual growth. It’s good to receive instruction in the Scriptures. But we will remain spiritual infants unless we put into practice what we’re learning by trusting God and acting on his promises.