II. Claiming the Promised Land (Joshua 5:13–12:24)


II. Claiming the Promised Land (5:13–12:24)

A. Victory at Jericho (5:13–6:27)

5:13 The Israelites were on the plains of Jericho, in sight of the impregnable walled city. Joshua knew God had given them the land of Canaan, but fortress cities like Jericho stood in the way of takeover. Perhaps while he was pondering that very thing, Joshua noticed a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword. Obviously, this stranger wasn’t merely out for a stroll. He was armed for a fight. So in light of that, Joshua logically wanted to know whose side he was on. He asked, Are you for us or for our enemies?

5:14-15 The man replied, Neither. His allegiance belonged not to Jericho or Israel, but to heaven. He said, I have . . . come as commander of the Lord’s army. Who was he? Well, God directs legions of angels to do his will, and this mighty warrior commanded them all. It’s important to observe this as an earthly manifestation of the Son of God before his incarnation as a man. Why? First, when he recognized that he was outranked by the visitor, Joshua bowed with his face to the ground in worship (5:14). We are to worship God alone, and angels rightly reject worship (see Rev 19:10; 22:9). This stranger accepted it as his due. Though Joshua didn’t understand the Trinitarian nature of God (that is, the fact that God is one in three persons), he clearly recognized that this was a visible manifestation of the divine presence. Second, the commander told Joshua to remove [his] sandals because he was standing on holy ground (5:15). If these words sound familiar, it’s because we have heard them before. As the man who had taken Moses’s place, Joshua was having his own burning bush moment, complete with the command to remove his shoes (see Exod 3:1-6). Holy ground is God-occupied space. Only God can turn an ordinary place into sacred territory.

In the next moments, God would give Joshua a divine strategy for defeating Jericho (6:1-5). But don’t miss the order of events leading up to the fight: Joshua faced a stronghold, God revealed himself, and Joshua worshiped. The strategy for victory would come only after worship had occurred.

6:1-2 The next chapter opens with the reminder that Jericho was strongly fortified (6:1). As Rahab had told the spies (2:9-11), the people of Jericho were terrified of the Israelites and their God. So as the invaders drew near, the city’s occupants weren’t letting anyone get in or out of their defensive wall of protection. But the Lord told Joshua, I have handed Jericho, its king, and its best soldiers over to you (6:2). This meant that though the battle hadn’t even occurred yet, Jericho had already lost according to God. Though it had not yet happened in history, the victory had been declared in eternity. God wanted Joshua to be assured of this because he was about to give him a battle plan that wouldn’t make sense.

6:3-5 God commanded Joshua to have seven priests carry seven ram’s-horn trumpets. They and all the men were to march around the city . . . one time every day for six days. Then on the seventh day, they were to march seven times (6:3-4). After the final lap around the city, the priests were to blow the trumpets and the men were to shout. Then the wall would collapse in such a way that the invaders could go straight in and take care of business (6:4-5).

You’d have to be asleep not to notice the repetition of the number “seven” in these verses. In Scripture, seven is the number of completion. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. The seven churches of Revelation represent all churches. As Revelation continues, the seven seals are opened, the seven trumpets sound, and the seven bowls are poured out—all indicating the completion of God’s work.

So in these instructions God was emphasizing to Joshua that he must follow the instructions completely if he wanted God to bring down his problem supernaturally. Don’t miss that truth.

6:6-25 A careful reading of 6:6-15 reveals that Joshua and the people did exactly what the Lord told them to do. We don’t know what the people of Jericho thought about this seven-day parade, but Israel was faithful to obey God. On the seventh day, the priests blew the trumpets and Joshua ordered, Shout! (6:16). Show time! And at that moment, the wall collapsed. Immediately thereafter, the troops advanced into the city, each man straight ahead (6:20). God had turned the barrier that stood in their way into a pathway of stepping-stones leading to their goal. But he didn’t do it without their involvement. The author of Hebrews says, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell” (Heb 11:30). To be a person of faith, then, doesn’t mean sitting around doing nothing. It requires acting on that faith—trusting that what God says, he will do. By faith, Israel followed divine instruction and saw supernatural results.

Because she was faithful in protecting God’s people, Rahab the prostitute was rescued as promised, along with her whole family (6:17, 22-23, 25). Many years later, the author of Hebrews would single her out for her faith (see Heb 11:31). But because the inhabitants of Jericho defied God with their wickedness (see Deut 12:29-31; 20:16-18), they were put to death (6:21). The Israelites were not to take any of the things that were set apart for this destruction (6:18). Everything of value in the city was either to be destroyed or preserved for the Lord’s treasury (6:19)—a prohibition that will be very important to the events of chapter 7.

6:26-27 Joshua placed a curse on Jericho. Whoever sought to rebuild the city would do so at the cost of his own children (6:26). This prophetic curse would be fulfilled centuries later (see 1 Kgs 16:34).

B. Defeat and Victory at Ai (7:1–8:35)

7:1 chapter 7 shows Israel’s move from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat. Joshua had commanded the Israelites, “Keep yourselves from the things set apart, or you will be set apart for destruction” (6:18). He was warning the people not to take articles in the city (whether they be of silver, gold, bronze, or iron) because such things were to be “dedicated” for “the treasury of the Lord’s house” (6:19, 24). In other words, if anyone messed with restricted items, God would mess with him. Unfortunately, one Israelite thought he could ignore the warning. He tried to get away with stealing from God.

The first verse reveals the guilty party’s identity. Then the remainder of the chapter describes the consequences of his sin. After the battle of Jericho, Achan son of Camri . . . took some of what was set apart. Therefore, the Lord’s anger burned against the Israelites. But if Achan was the lone thief, why was God angry with the whole nation? Why does the passage say the Israelites . . . were unfaithful? This is a reminder of the corporate nature of the people of God. The Israelites were like a football team in one sense. Thus, if one player committed an infraction of the rules, the entire team was penalized.

Importantly, God still expects his people to function as a team. Paul says the church is a body: “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice” (1 Cor 12:26). This, in fact, is why the author of Hebrews urges us to “encourage each other daily . . . so that none of [us are] hardened by sin’s deception” (Heb 3:13).

7:2-5 Unaware of what Achan had done, Joshua and the Israelites prepared for their next battle. Given how successfully things had gone against Jericho, the men who scouted Ai reported that the enemy forces were few in number. They thus advised, Don’t wear out all our people there (7:3). In other words, they confidently said, “We’ve got this under control; just send a few troops, and the job will be done.” Yet Israel was soundly defeated, and thirty-six Israelite men were killed (7:4-5).

7:6-12 After this, Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground and put dust on his head as signs of mourning (7:6). Then he cried out to the Lord in confusion. Why had God failed to give them victory? (7:7-9). God told Joshua to stand up and made it clear that the failure happened because the people had violated [the] cov-enant that [he] appointed for them (7:10-11). Earlier, at Mount Sinai, the Lord had made a covenant with Israel—a divinely orchestrated agreement. Under it, he would be their God and deliver them, provided that they obeyed his instructions. By taking some of what was set apart, they had stolen from God and deceived him (7:11). Joshua would have to deal with the sin in order for God to reverse their circumstances and fight for them again (7:12).

7:13-15 Joshua announced that the people were to consecrate themselves—that is, dedicate themselves to God—and present themselves tribe by tribe (7:13-14). God would then begin the process of identifying the guilty party—by tribe, then by clan, then by family, then by man (7:14). The thief he revealed was then to be executed for his sin against God (7:15). Why reveal the guilty party through such a lengthy process? First, it demonstrated to everyone the seriousness of this sin, which had affected the entire nation. Second, it allowed the people to see that God really did know each of them and their deeds intimately. And third, it gave Achan the opportunity to come clean as he watched the events unfold.

7:16-26 Joshua began the process of elimination. God selected the tribe of Judah and worked his way to smaller groups until Achan was identified as the culprit (7:16-18). At that point Achan finally confessed that he had coveted some of the restricted items, took them, and concealed them in his tent (7:20-21). Once the items were recovered (7:22-23), Joshua pronounced sentence on Achan and his children—who were apparently co-conspirators in his sin—and had them put to death (7:24-26) in accordance with the Lord’s command (7:15). Then Joshua made another pile of memorial stones (see 4:8-9) to remind the people of the seriousness of rebelling against the Lord (7:26).

Some may consider this judgment too severe. But we must be careful not to soft-pedal Achan’s sin. He willfully violated God’s covenant with Israel, disobeyed a clear prohibition, stole what belonged to the Lord, brought a curse on the nation, and was responsible for the deaths of thirty-six innocent men! And he invited all of those consequences simply so that he could enrich himself with a few trinkets. The lesson here is this: be careful not to take your own sin lightly. Though God does not call down fire and brimstone today (see Gen 19:24-25), he still shows his wrath against sin by letting people experience the consequences of their sinful choices (see Rom 1:18-32).

8:1-2 Once the sin had been dealt with, God commanded Joshua to attack Ai because he had handed over . . . the king of Ai, his people, city, and land (8:1). As with Jericho (see 6:2), God had given a promise in the spiritual realm that Israel would need to actualize in the earthly realm. However, notice that this time they were to employ a different strategy. God didn’t instruct them to march around the city and blow trumpets. This time they were to use a military tactic. Israel was to set an ambush (8:2).

This is a reminder that we must not presume to know God’s plan for a given situation. His strategies are diverse, so God’s people need to stay close to him in order to make sure we do as he wants. God’s ways are not our ways (see Isa 55:8).

8:3-8 Joshua briefed the troops on God’s plan and prepared the attack (8:3). One group was to lie in ambush behind the city (8:4). Another group was to approach the city from the front and then pretend to run scared when Ai’s troops came out of the city to confront their invaders (8:5-6). Then the first group would emerge from the shadows and seize the city and burn it (8:7-8).

8:9-29 Joshua and his men executed the plans flawlessly, and the people of Ai fell for the ruse (8:12-14). As a result, Ai was destroyed and the king’s body was hung on a tree. At evening, Joshua ordered the Israelites to take down the king’s body (8:24-29). It’s easy to pass by that statement and not recognize its significance. Earlier God had commanded Israel that if they executed a guilty person by hanging him on a tree, “[They were] not to leave his corpse on the tree overnight but [were] to bury him.” To disobey the Lord in this would be to “defile the land [their] God [was] giving” (Deut 21:22-23). So here we see that Joshua was not only a talented military tactician, he was also a godly leader. He understood the dangers of disobeying God’s Word (see chapter 7) and was not about to ignore it. His faithfulness to the Word of God, in fact, would continue throughout his life.

8:30-35 The victory over Israel’s enemies at Ai didn’t end with a party. It ended with a covenant ceremony and the public reading of the Word of God. In Deuteronomy 27, Moses had instructed the people what they were to do upon entering the land across the Jordan. They were to build an altar of stones on Mount Ebal, write the law of Moses on them, offer sacrifices, and read aloud the blessings and curses of the law (see Deut 27:2–28:68). So, now that they were in the land, Joshua obeyed all of these instructions. While Moses had prepared the people for the land, Joshua had brought them into the land

Israel’s future experience there, though, would depend on the people’s response to God. Whether they lived or died, whether they prospered or went hungry, whether they experienced blessing or cursing depended on their choices. Would they serve God or themselves? Like Adam and Eve, our shared first parents, the people of Israel were given the freedom to choose. Moses had admonished them to “choose life so that [they] and [their] descendants [might] live” (Deut 30:19). But only by heeding God’s covenant commands could Israel maximize what the promised land had to offer them. Similarly, by choosing God’s way, you will maximize the purpose God has for your life and the blessings he intends.

C. Deceived by Gibeon (9:1-27)

9:1-2 Joshua and the people had made a name for themselves. But mostly, it was God’s reputation and fame that had become well-known (see 9:9). Once the kings of the land heard what his people Israel had done to Jericho and Ai, . . . they formed a unified alliance to fight against Joshua and Israel.

9:3-13 Not everyone was up for a fight, though. When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard the news about the two fallen cities, they were scared. They wanted to live and knew their chances were poor. So they acted deceptively (9:3-4), pretending they had traveled from a distant land—that is, from outside the promised land—to make a treaty with Israel (9:6). At first, Joshua and the leaders were skeptical of the Gibeonites’ claims; maybe these people lived just down the block (9:7-8). But the Gibeonites were prepared to deal with such questions. Before leaving home, they had put on raggedy clothing and sandals to make it look like they had journeyed a great distance. They also carried provisions that appeared to be old and depleted (9:4-5). So in effect they said to Joshua, “See our worn out clothes? Look at this moldy bread; it was hot out of the oven when we started. You can trust us.” (9:11-13).

In the midst of all their lies, the Gibeonites did say one thing that was true: They had come to make a treaty because of the reputation of the Lord [Israel’s] God. For [they had] heard of his fame (9:9). This is a reminder that when God does amazing things through you, people will take notice. And they might even try to get in on the blessings.

9:14-15 Joshua decided the Gibeonites’ story sounded legitimate. He saw the tattered clothes, shabby sandals, cracked wineskins, and crumbly bread with his own eyes. So Joshua . . . made a treaty to let them live, and the leaders . . . swore an oath to them (9:15). There was just one problem: Israel did not first pause to seek the Lord’s decision (9:14). When Scripture drops insightful statements like that, make sure you don’t miss the point being made. Even though Israel had interrogated and inspected the travelers, they failed to consult God as they decided what to do with them.

Israel relied solely on what their eyes saw and their ears heard. And because they did not seek God’s perspective on the situation, they allowed themselves to be deceived into doing exactly what God had commanded them not to do (see Deut 7:1-2). In a word, God’s people had been flimflammed. This is a reminder that Satan can deceive you into sinning, too. He can lure you into doing things that compromise the promises you’ve made to God. So since you can only see what you see, you need to maintain a spiritual connection to the one who sees what you cannot. You need to know what God’s Word says and ask him to help you live by it one moment at a time.

9:16-20 Three days later, Israel learned the truth. The Gibeonites were their neighbors, living only a few miles down the road (9:16). And although the community grumbled against Israel’s leaders over what happened, there was nothing they could do. They had sworn an oath and could not retaliate against the Gibeonites (9:18-19). They had taken a self-maledictory oath—that means that if they were to break their promise of peace, judgment would fall upon them. Oaths are a serious thing in the Bible and are not to be taken lightly.

9:21-27 Thus, the Israelites had to deal with the consequences. But so did the Gibeonites. Since they had practiced deception, they would become Israel’s servants: woodcutters and water carriers for the whole community and for the Lord’s altar (9:21-23, 27). They had heard of the Lord’s reputation and fame (9:9); from this point forward, they would be made to work for him (9:27).

D. Victory throughout the Land (10:1–12:24)

10:1-5 The treaty between Israel and Gibeon had a ripple effect. The Amorite king of Jerusalem heard about Jericho, Ai, and now Gibeon, and he became greatly alarmed (10:1-2). Gibeon wasn’t a tiny village but a major city whose men were warriors (10:2). If a significant city like that teamed up with the Israelite invaders, it was only a matter of time before Jerusalem would be attacked. So its king joined forces with four other Amorite kings and besieged Gibeon (10:3-5). They determined to put a stop to Israel’s growing strength before all the peoples of the land fell like dominos before her God.

10:6-8 When the kings attacked, the men of Gibeon knew it was time to cash in on their treaty with Israel. They sent a message to Joshua and got right to the point: save us! (10:6). So Joshua gathered his troops and listened to the Lord, who told him, Do not be afraid of them, for I have handed them over to you (10:7-8). Thus, once again we see a biblical principle repeated in the book of Joshua. Those who want to see God acting in a situation are called to demonstrate faith in him by obeying him. God promised Joshua that Israel would defeat the Amorite kings. But the victory wouldn’t happen unless Joshua and Israel stepped out in obedience with swords in hand.

10:9-11 God didn’t cause the walls to topple, as at Jericho. He didn’t devise an ambush as at Ai. This time, when Joshua and his men confronted their enemies, the Lord threw them into confusion and threw large hailstones on them from the sky (10:10-11). Now, if God throws anything, he’s not going to miss. If he threw a baseball, we would call it a strike. So this was a dark day indeed for the men allied against him. But notice that this miraculous intervention on behalf of his people didn’t happen until God saw the Israelites’ faith in action. The hailstones didn’t fall until the army marched. And when those on earth were obedient, heaven intervened in history.

I like that God didn’t tell Joshua what he planned to do in this case. All Joshua and Israel needed to know was what God required of them. Sometimes Christians declare that they’re waiting on God to act in their situations. But they don’t realize that God is often waiting on them to obey him before he will.

10:12-13 As Israel’s battle against the five Amorite kings raged, Joshua prayed and the Lord replied with one of the most amazing miracles in the Bible. Joshua was committed to finishing the work God had given him, but he needed more daylight to complete the job. So he prayed that the sun and moon would stand still, and the sun stopped in the sky for almost a full day (10:12-13).

Sometimes people who are critical of the Bible will claim that passages like this prove that the Bible is fictional. After all, they argue, science shows us that the sun is already “standing still.” It’s the earth that’s moving—spinning on its axis and orbiting around the sun. But this is an absurd objection. When people today talk about the sun rising and setting, they don’t mean that they think the sun is literally moving up and down in the sky or that the sun is orbiting the earth. They’re simply using the language of observation. This passage is written in the same way, describing the way things appeared.

10:14-15 Clearly, this was a miracle that required numerous supporting miracles. If the earth slowed its rotation, it would be catastrophic—unless the author of creation was multi-tasking behind the scenes to keep everything in order. And that’s what happened. Mother Nature is answerable to Father God.

Yet, even more amazing is that the Lord listened to a man (10:14) regarding such an outlandish request. Joshua was dedicated to accomplishing the will of God—radically so. Therefore, when he boldly asked for divine drastic measures, God was willing to literally move—or in this case pause—heaven and earth. For those who are committed to making God’s agenda their own, even the wildest prayer requests just might be granted.

10:16-27 Following the super long day of battle, the five defeated kings tried to hide, but they couldn’t escape (10:16). Joshua had the military commanders place their feet on the necks of these kings (10:24)—a pose illustrating the triumph of Israel and the subjugation of her enemies. Then they were executed (10:26).

We see this imagery of the victor’s feet on the enemy’s head expressed repeatedly in the Bible, beginning with the promise that the “offspring” of the woman would “strike” the serpent’s “head” (Gen 3:15). In Psalms, the Lord instructs his Messiah, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” (Ps 110:1). In the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul emphasize that indeed the Christ will be victorious in this way (see Matt 22:43-44; 1 Cor 15:24-25). But what is true of the King will also be true of the faithful members of his kingdom: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20). So keep walking with Jesus. The devil may be spiritually attacking you now (see Eph 6:10-18), but he’s destined to have your foot on his head.

10:28-43 These verses chronicle the conquest of the southern part of the promised land by Joshua and Israel. One city after another was defeated until Joshua conquered the whole region (10:40). The point is that God made good on his promise, just as he had said, “I have given you every place where the sole of your foot treads. . . . No one will be able to stand against you” (1:3, 5).

But this was a conditional promise. God would deliver the land only if Joshua and the people were faithful to do what he commanded. We know this is the case by looking at what happened to the previous generation. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years and died there because they sinfully refused to pursue what God had promised (see Num 13–14). So if you want to enjoy the purposes God has for your life, you must trust him and follow through on what he asks of you. His promises are guaranteed—but not automatic. Remember, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6).

11:1-5 With the southern portion of the promised land conquered, it was time to turn the Israelites’ attention north. And the kings of the northern cities were fully aware of which way the wind was blowing. So they banned together until their armies were a multitude as numerous as the sand on the seashore (11:4), and they prepared to attack Israel (11:5). God’s people were about to face vast combined forces, the likes of which they had never seen.

11:6-15 Yet God told Joshua, Do not be afraid of them (11:6). This command appears often in Scripture—and for good reason. When the Lord tells his people not to be afraid, it’s because there’s something to be afraid of! In this case, Israel was grossly outnumbered. But God is the sole being who is able to counteract and overcome whatever strikes fear into the hearts of humans. He assured Joshua that by that time tomorrow, all their enemies would be killed (11:6). So, with faith in the power and promises of God, Joshua and the troops struck down their enemies—just as the Lord said (11:7-15).

11:16-23 The conquest of the land as a whole, however, didn’t happen overnight. Joshua waged war with all these kings for a long time (11:18). No city made peace with the Israelites except . . . Gibeon (11:19; see 9:1-27). Why? Because it was the Lord’s intention to harden their hearts, so that they would engage Israel in battle (11:20). As a result, Israel defeated the peoples and took the entire land (11:23).

The Bible has a lot to say about God hardening the hearts of sinners. The first occurrence of this expression is in the book of Exodus where we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (see Exod 9:12; 10:27; 11:10). But it’s important to recognize that God only hardened Pharaoh’s heart after Pharaoh first hardened it himself (see Exod 7:22; 8:15, 32). God does not harden the hearts of people who are seeking him, but of those who are defiantly rejecting him. The Canaanites were not struggling to do right but were determined to do wrong. When people reach that point of willful rebellion, God will further harden their hearts to accomplish his purposes.

12:1-24 Chapter 12 offers a list of all the kings defeated by Israel in the promised land. Future generations would read it and know that these stories were not fairy tales; they were history. The name of each king provides confirmation to readers of how heaven has acted in earth’s history to punish hardened sinners and bring about God’s agenda for his people.