Here is the dramatic story of one of the truly great people of the Bible.
Only a few times in history has a person been born who accomplishes so much that his deeds are remembered as much or more than the person himself. Such a man was Joshua. Have you ever noticed that Joshua is not even named by Paul as one of the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11? Yet far lesser known personalities such as Barak, Samson and Jephthah are cited as examples. Why not Joshua? Joshua who took charge of Israel after the death of Moses? Joshua who gave instructions to carry the ark across the Jordan, which parted as the Red Sea had in the days of Moses? Joshua who led Israel around the city of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down? Joshua who led Israel's conquest of the promised land? Joshua who commanded and the sun stood still for one whole day? Are there more dramatic examples of faith in the entire Bible? Why, then, did Paul leave Joshua out of Hebrews 11? Perhaps the answer is found in the long list of Joshua's accomplishments. What he did — or, better, what God did through him — was so great that the events actually overshadow the man. The first time we hear of Joshua in the Bible is during the second month of the Exodus. Under Moses, God led Israel out of Egypt by way of the Red Sea. After dividing the Red Sea for Israel, God killed the pursuing Egyptians in the returning water. The Israelites journeyed into the rugged mountains of the southern Sinai and camped in a plain called Rephidim. At Rephidim, Israel entered into their first battle against hostile forces — the Amalekites. You remember the story. When Moses held his staff high in the air, the Israelites were victorious. When his hands fell to his sides, the Amalekites were victorious. Finally, at the end of the day, Moses sat on a rock with his hands held up by Aaron and Hur. Israel was victorious. And what about Joshua? Moses had appointed Joshua the commanding officer in the field. Notice the orders: "'Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek …' So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek" (Exodus 17:9-10). No doubt a lifelong lesson was learned on that battlefield. Joshua knew victory did not come from his great military strategy and prowess. He had none. Joshua knew victory came from God. He experienced the intervention of God firsthand. We are introduced to Joshua as he learns to trust in the powerful God of Israel.
The Ten Commandments
Everyone knows God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel at Mt. Sinai. And everyone knows how Moses went up to the summit where he received the tables of stone and the remainder of the law, statutes and judgments. But did you know, when Moses was on the mountain, that Joshua played an important role and continued to prove himself qualified for the job he would fulfill? After God thundered His law to all Israel at Mt. Sinai, the Lord said to Moses: "Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them" (Exodus 24:12). So Moses left the camp of Israel for nearly two months. But did he go alone? Notice: "So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up to the mountain of God" (verse 13). Aaron and Hur were left in charge of the camp. Moses and Joshua went up the mountain and set up a base camp. They waited there six days (verse 16). On the seventh day, God called Moses to the summit of what the Arabs now call Jebel Musa, the mountain of Moses. Moses was there 40 days, nearly six weeks. Joshua remained at the base camp. Meanwhile Israel, lacking faith in God, insisted on making an idol of gold — a calf after the manner of the Egyptians and other pagan nations. They entered into drunken revelry and immorality. Moses and Joshua did not know what was happening at the Israelite encampment. Having received the law and the tables of stone, Moses started down the mountain. At base camp he rejoined Joshua, who had been faithfully waiting. Together they hurried down the mountain to show all Israel the tables of stone carved with the very finger of God. As they neared the encampment, they heard faint noises in the distance. Louder and louder the voices reverberated off the stony canyon walls. Joshua said to Moses, "There is a noise of war in the camp" (Exodus 32:17). They broke into a run. Then they discovered the truth: "It is not the voice of those who shout in victory, nor is it the voice of those who cry out in defeat, but the voice of those who sing" (verse 18). Finally they reached a bluff where they could overlook the camp of Israel. There, glistening in the bright sunlight in the center of the encampment, was a golden calf. Thousands of Israelites were singing and dancing, many virtually naked, most drunk. They whirled round and round and fell in worship before the golden calf. Moses, in a rage, threw down the tables of stone. They broke into a thousand pieces.
Placing trust in Joshua
Moses and Joshua rushed to the mound where the calf was set up. Moses ordered a fire built, immediately melted the calf, ground the metal into powder, mixed it into the drinking water and made the children of Israel drink the mixture (verse 20). Moses then demanded an explanation from Aaron. Unfortunately Aaron had weakened and permitted the idolatrous, drunken orgy. Then Moses removed the tabernacle of worship from the center of camp to an outer extremity; if the people wanted to repent and worship God, they would have to make an effort to get to it. Even Aaron the high priest had polluted himself. Who was trustworthy and faithful to be placed in charge of the safety of the tabernacle? Joshua! Notice it in Exodus 33:11: "The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle." Of course, Joshua was not perfect. He had lessons to learn as we all do. One such lesson came a little later when God instructed Moses to convene the elders of Israel at the tabernacle. You can read the story in Numbers 11. God chose this occasion to perform a special miracle. He took of the Spirit that led Moses and gave it to the elders of Israel. They began to prophesy – God gave them miraculous thoughts and words. But this was a special gift to the elders who assisted Moses. Joshua, as a younger servant, apparently did not receive the gift. Then a runner came from camp. Two other elders who had not come to the tabernacle also were giving prophetic utterances. Joshua exclaimed, "Moses my lord, forbid them!" (Numbers 11:28). It seems Joshua had an important lesson to learn. Moses, perceiving Joshua may have been a little hurt, even jealous, since he had not been given the gift of prophecy, said to Joshua: "Are you jealous for my sake? [Or are you jealous for your sake?] I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!" (verse 29, New International Version). Joshua must have gotten the point.
Selected to spy
Israel had been gone from Egypt nearly six months when Moses sent a group to spy out the land of Canaan. He wanted a report on the condition of the land, the weather, the crops. He also wanted to know who lived in the land, how strong they were, how their cities were fortified. Twelve men were selected, one from each of the tribes of Israel. The representative from Ephraim was Joshua. Caleb represented Judah. Each of the other 10 tribes selected a man. This story is told in Numbers 13. God said He would lead Israel to a land flowing with milk and honey.
For nearly a quarter of a century Joshua led Israel as they settled into the promised land. There probably was no comparable 25 years in Israel's history when God's laws were more applied.
The spies probably arrived in Canaan in September. The grapes were ripe for harvesting. The pomegranates and figs and other autumn produce were in abundance. The verdant pastureland could support all their cattle, sheep and goats. It was almost too good to be true They gathered some of the fruit. A cluster of grapes was so succulent and large that Joshua and Caleb had to put one cluster on a pole to carry it back to the Israelites. After spying out the land for 40 days, the spies returned. Joshua and Caleb reported, "Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it" (Numbers 13:30). But the other 10 spies said, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we …. The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature …. we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight" (verses 31-33). Almost all of the Israelites wanted to return to Egypt. They feared entering the promised land. Joshua, Caleb, Moses and a few others were shocked. They had learned the lesson of faith. They knew God would be with them — they were His people. But all Israel refused to go. Some even wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb. After that God had to teach all Israel a lesson. They refused to go into the land God prepared for them, so God made them spend 40 years in that parched, barren, desolate wilderness of Sinai — one year for each day the spies were in the promised land. So for 40 years they wandered in the desert. All those who had been 20 years of age or older at the time of the Exodus grew old and died in the wilderness. They were not allowed to enter the promised land. Even Moses, who had his own lessons to learn, died on the east side of the Jordan River. He was permitted to see the promised land from afar, but not to enter it himself.
Joshua appointed leader
Joshua continued faithful to God throughout the 40 years wandering. Trained at Moses' side, he really was the only one of the older generation who was qualified to lead Israel (Caleb would have been the only other possible consideration). Moses was 120 years old when Israel reached the Jordan. In Deuteronomy 31 you can read the story of how God selected Joshua to replace Moses: "Behold, the days approach when you must die; call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of meeting, that I may inaugurate him" (verse 14). And God said to Joshua, "Be strong and of good courage; for you shall bring the children of Israel into the land of which I swore to them, and I will be with you" (verse 23). Joshua was 85 years old when he took command of Israel. He was thoroughly trained for the job. He had proved for some 40 years that he would faithfully lead the people in the way of God. It was at last time to enter the promised land.
A series of miracles
We can now pick up the story in the book of Joshua. Perhaps now when you read this exciting book, you will understand how this man came to the position of leadership we find him holding. On the command of Joshua; the priests who bore the ark of the covenant walked out into the Jordan. Just as the waters of the Red Sea parted 40 years before, the waters of the Jordan parted so Israel could cross into the promised land. God performed through Joshua a similar miracle as through Moses. The people could confidently know God had selected Joshua to lead them. All the male Israelites were circumcised (this had not been done in the 40 years wandering) and Israel kept the Passover on the 14th of Nisan. The next day, the manna that had fed the Israelites for 40 years stopped, and they could live off the produce of the land. They marched westward to Jericho, the first settlement Israel was to possess. Jericho was a heavily fortified city. The inhabitants were not overly concerned with the motley crew of Israelites camped on the plain. For six days the troops of Israel marched round the city walls. Nothing happened. The people of Jericho must have laughed at what they thought were half crazed soldiers who had been driven mad by the desert sun. On the seventh day the band of "crazy" soldiers marched round and round the city – seven times. What was going on? At Joshua's command, the priests sounded the trumpets and the people let out a shout! At that instant the walls of Jericho came crashing to the ground. The shocked inhabitants were easily routed by the Israelites. Even though Joshua is not named in Hebrews 11, his example of faith is: "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days" (verse 30). From Jericho Israel marched on. The king of Jerusalem, hearing Israel was coming his way and that the Israelites had made a treaty with the nearby Gibeonites, decided to attack at Gibeon. With allies from four surrounding city-states, the Jebusites stormed Gibeon. Upon hearing of the attack, Joshua marched the Israelite army all night and surprised the enemy at Gibeon. In disarray, the Jebusites fled out the Beth Horon pass into the valley of Aijalon. Here, two more great miracles of the Bible take place. First, God, who promised to go before the armies of Israel, caused great hailstones to fall from heaven. More enemy troops were killed by the stones than by the battle. Yet another well-known Bible miracle took place. Upon the command of Joshua, the sun and moon stood still in the valley of Aijalon (Joshua 10:12-14). This is the story of Joshua's long day. In a series of continuing victories, Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, conquered the southern portion of the land from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza. They moved northward to Hazor and on to Mt. Hermon. Six nations and 31 kings were conquered during the next six years. The land was then divided for the tribes of Israel.
For nearly a quarter of a century Joshua continued to lead Israel as they settled into the promised land. There probably was no comparable 25 years in the history of ancient Israel when God's laws were more applied than during this period. Finally, at the age of 110, Joshua was old and growing physically weak. Knowing he was about to die, he assembled the elders of Israel where he delivered perhaps his most famous speech. He concluded with the memorable words, "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15). How much impact can one man have to lead a people? Joshua shows. The Bible says of his time, "Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua" (verse 31). Not only that, the influence of this man lived on beyond his physical lifetime. Verse 31 continues, "Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the Lord which He had done for Israel." So for perhaps another 25 years Israel continued to obey the laws of God. But slowly, gradually, Israel slipped into idolatry and immorality. For some 400 years they were governed by judges, some more zealous than others, but none led them as Joshua had. Then for 400 more years they were ruled by the kings of Israel and Judah. Their wickedness and sins increased until finally, by 585 B.C., Israel and Judah had gone into captivity. After the Babylonian captivity, God led a number of Jews back to the promised land under Ezra and Nehemiah. They began to rebuild Jerusalem, the city walls and the Temple. They discovered, to their amazement, that God has instructed, through Moses, the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles for eight days. Nehemiah reinstituted the festival. It is recorded: "For since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so [observed the festival in that manner]. And there was very great gladness" (Nehemiah 8:17). You can see how much impact proper leadership can have on an entire nation. Few leaders have ever had the ability to motivate the way Joshua did. The story of Joshua is one of the most inspiring in all the Bible. But it should not be viewed as just a story. It is the real-life saga of a great man of God.