|Joshua, Men Of Character Series|
Gene A. Getz
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Joshua comes to us as a man who was a dynamic leader- in his family as well as in the nation Israel. Though he literally trembled when he was called to succeed his great mentor, Moses, he grabbed hold of God's promises and led Israel into the Promised Land. His open heart, spirit of humility, and willingness to be taught allowed him to learn God's lesson for him well. He also knew that God understands our weaknesses, and that He promises us security and inner peace if we will only reach out and accept it. Though Joshua faced real flesh and blood battles, he shows how men today can put on the "whole armor of God" to defeat the powers of darkness just as surely in the conference room or on the factory floor. The MEN OF CHARACTER series highlights the lives of men in the Bible and demonstrates that we can still learn from their relationships- both with God and man. Each of these Bible characters faced trials, frustration and failure, yet they were inspired by God to achieve great goals. In a world where Christian role models seem increasingly rare, this series reminds us that some of the most worthy examples of godly character are still the biblical figures who brought power, wisdom and inspiration to God's people throughout the ages. Principles flow from their lives that will guide us through the maze of challenges we face in today's world and can help us to emerge victoriously.
Back to Basics
Read Joshua 8:30-35
If you've ever been involved in team sports, you know that a good coach always takes you back to basics. No matter how good a team is, it's important always to review the fundamentals.
I've personally played a lot of very competitive volleyball. When we were behind, the coaches called time-out and reviewed the basics:
”Make sure you get the serve in!" (You only score when your team serves.)
“Always work for a good set." (This sets up the spike.)
"Generally-not always-set the ball twice so you can spike the third hit." (This allows time to get good control of the ball and place.)
Invariably, practicing these basics makes the difference between winning and losing. And so it is in our spiritual life. In this chapter, we'll see Joshua taking the children of Israel back to basics in terms of God's laws.
Moving from Here to There
To get our attention, the Holy Spirit often directed scriptural authors to use sharp contrasts as a literary technique in recording various events. This is what we see in Joshua chapter 8, following Israel's unusual victory at Ai. In fact, the contrast is so sharp, not only from a literary standpoint but also in geographical setting, that some critics of the Bible believe that events recorded in this passage are out of sequence and were added by another author. Unfortunately, these scholars miss the purpose the Lord had in mind when He directed the author of the Book of Joshua to transport Israel and the reader suddenly from Ai to Mount Ebal in Shechem. But this geographical contrast only forms a dramatic backdrop against which a spiritual contrast stands out clearly. What was that contrast?
Two Piles of Stone
The final event recorded regarding Israel's victory over Ai was the execution of the king of the city. His body was buried at the gate of Ai, under "a great heap of stones" (8:29) and immediately following this statement we read: "Then Joshua built an altar to the Loin, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal" (v. 30).
|The Contrast Is Striking! |
At the gate of a defeated and desolate pagan city lay the body of a pagan king, memorialized with a pile of stones, symbolizing the futility of worshiping the false gods of the Canaanites. But at Mount Ebal-in the very center of the land of Canaan-we see Joshua constructing an altar (also a pile of stones) to the God of Israel, symbolizing the blessings and protection that come from worshiping the one true God, "the God of Israel."1
There's More Here
This is not just a contrast between paganism and Judaism. Joshua learned a very important lesson based on his personal relationship with God and in his relationship to Israel as their political, military and-most importantly-their spiritual leader. He had experienced a great and rewarding victory at Jericho (Josh. 6), contrasted by a humiliating and traumatic defeat at Ai (chap. 7).
Though Joshua was not directly responsible for Israel's failure, his initial response to the crisis (7:6-9) served as a rather painful reminder that it is very easy to forget quickly God's promises and the conditions He attaches to those promises. This is particularly true during times of great successes and victories. And God's method for reminding Joshua of His initial conversation with this new leader of Israel was to allow him to experience some of the old fears and anxieties that had plagued him when Moses' mantle fell on his shoulders.
God was not responsible for Achan's sin nor Israel's failure. As only the Lord can do, He simply took what was human failure, weakness, and sin and used it for good, particularly in the life of Israel. In the midst of this crisis, Joshua experienced the old fears that had gripped him following Moses' death. With those fears came a reminder of what God had promised in the midst of his human weakness: "'Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them."' (1:6; see also 8:1-2)
God's Conditions for Success
Not only did Joshua's emotional and spiritual crisis remind him of God's promises but also of God's conditions for success-five direct commands that relate specifically to what was about to happen at Mount Ebal.
In those early days of trauma following Moses' death, God said, "'You shall give this people possession of the land'" (1:6). But here were God's conditions:
First, "Be careful to do according to all the law." [then]Second, "Do not turn from it to the right or to the left" (1:7). Third, "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth."[then] Fourth, "You shall meditate on it day and night." [and finally] Fifth, "Be careful to do according to all that is written in it" (1:8).
|The Connection Is Clear|
Before the children of Israel ever entered the Promised Land, Moses told them specifically to build an altar to the Lord at Mount Ebal (Deut. 27:4-7).
You see, Joshua was obeying God's command. And in the process, we see he was also reviewing God's Word to make sure Israel would continue "to do according to all the law...according to all that is written in it." Joshua, particularly, did not want to face another Ai and the kind of tragic events surrounding Achan s household and Israel's humiliating defeat.
It is clear from the flow of events recorded thus far that what happened at Mount Ebal following the victory at Ai forms a perfect continuity in the life of both Joshua and Israel. Their defeat and subsequent victory motivated them to go back to the "drawing board," back to God's basics. This is why we read-
Joshua built an altar to the Loin, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of uncut stones, on which no man had wielded an iron tool; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings. (Josh. 8:30-31)
Reviewing God's Laws
Not only had Moses instructed Israel to "build an altar to the Lord" at Mount Ebal, but also carefully to "review the law" in the hearing of all the people of Israel. Memories tended to fade, particularly in a primitive culture where there were no Bibles that could be read regularly. Effective learning depended on oral communication from spiritual leaders. And Moses' command to the people of Israel was that-once they had entered Canaan-they were to spend quality time at Mount Ebal reviewing God's laws (Deut. 27:1-3). Thus, we see Joshua doing what Moses commanded. First, he wrote the law on large stones (Josh. 8:32). Then "he read all the words of the law" (v. 34). We read: "There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel with the women and the little ones and the strangers who were living among them" (v. 35).
This was an explicit statement regarding Joshua's obedience to God's command in Joshua 1:8: "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success."
|A More Careful Look|
This passage in Joshua 8:30-35, though very clearly a significant part of the flow of events of Israel's history, is skeletal in nature. This, it seems, is by design. The Holy Spirit was primarily concerned that we note clearly the contrast already referred to and the reasons why Joshua moved all of Israel to this unique place in Canaan to worship the Lord and to review His law.
What Actually Happened?
It's impossible to reconstruct all the specific details of this story from the historical record in Joshua 8. However, it's relatively simple to understand most of them when we go back and look at God's initial instruction to Israel through His servant Moses (Deut. 27).
Slabs for Writing
There were actually two events at Mount Ebal that involved "stones." Moses instructed the people of Israel to "set up...large stones." They were to "coat them with lime" and then to "write on them all the words of this law" (Deut. 27:2-3).2 Subsequently, Joshua "wrote ... a copy of the Law of Moses" on these stones (Josh. 8:32).
An Altar for Worship
The second set of stones formed the altar upon which the children of Israel offered burnt offerings and peace offerings (compare Deut. 27:5 and Josh. 8:30-31). These were stones that were taken from the earth in their natural state, evidently to make an altar that was not tainted by man's efforts at refinement. This altar was to reflect as much as possible God's creative hand-not man's. And it was on this altar that Israel made atonement for their sins according to God's law and also worshiped the God of Israel with offerings of thanksgiving and praise.3
Communicating God's Word
The most dramatic part of this story is the actual reading of the law of God to the people and their involvement in the process. Joshua's record gives a brief geographical setting for this event. "Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mt. Ebal" (v 33). But again the specific instructions in the Book of Deuteronomy fill in some unique details.
|A Human Amplification System|
Israel was actually camped in a valley between the two mountains-Ebal to the north and Gerizim to the south. Half of the tribes were camped closer to Ebal and half were camped closer to Gerizim. The Levitical priests were evidently camped in the lower part of the valley between the two mountains, where they placed the Ark of the Covenant. Though details are vague, it appears that Joshua first read a statement from the law. Then the priests repeated it in unison, serving as a human amplification system. As their voices echoed through the valley, all Israel responded to each statement by shouting back, "Amen."
A Sobering Message
What is more important than the method God used is the message He conveyed with this method. The means was indeed dramatic and sensational but the message was definite and sobering. Though what is recorded in Deuteronomy 27 is no doubt representative of what was read from the law, it contains sufficient information to reveal God's will regarding the kind of morality and ethics He demanded from His people. Nearly every significant relationship in life is represented in the twelve statements (Deut. 27:15-26).4
Though we do not have space to study carefully the nature of these twelve prohibitions recorded in Deuteronomy 27, a casual reading reveals the religious, moral and ethical deterioration that had taken place in the world of that day. This represents a primary reason why God's hand of judgment fell on the Canaanites by means of His people Israel. And if Israel was to be victorious in their battles against "flesh and blood," it was imperative that they be victorious over "the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12).
A Profound Witness
Imagine, too, the impact this event had on all the Canaanites who lived in the vicinity of Mount Ebal and Gerizim. Like all the unique and dramatic situations in Israel's life, what happened would be repeated from one end of Canaan to the other.
Thus Israel paused in their march against the cities of Canaan both to nurture their personal relationship with God and to review His will for their lives. This in itself is one of the most important lessons that emerges from this passage for those of us who are Christians living in the twentieth-century world.
|Becoming God's Man Today|
Principles to Live By
Principle 1. We must take time on a consistent basis to maintain and regain perspective on God's will for our lives.
As with Israel, there are two aspects to this process.
Reviewing the Teachings of Scripture
We must consistently learn and review God's will through His Word. If we're not careful, we can get so busy-even "doing God's work"-that we fail to remember what the basics really are. Remember, the Scriptures are the only reliable and absolute source for discovering this kind of information.
Maintaining Our Relationship with God
We also must consistently nurture our personal relationship with God through worship and communion. This involves both the group process and personal meditation and prayer. In fact, it is almost impossible to develop a warm, meaningful relationship with the Lord if we are not developing warm, meaningful relationships with other members of the body of Christ. Thus, we need relationships with one another as well as a dynamic relationship with God in order to grow spiritually.
We do not have to offer sacrifices for our sins as Israel did. Jesus Christ became the supreme sacrifice once and for all (Heb. 10:4-10). But as Christians we are not to forsake "our own assembling together, as is the habit of some"; rather, we are "to stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (vv. 24-25).
We are to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (13:15).
Principle 2. God never promised that He will specifically reveal His will directly to us every time we need to make a decision.
There was a time when I didn't understand how to determine the will of God, particularly in areas where the Scriptures are silent. One reason is that I didn't understand the freedom God has given me to make decisions within the context of His written Word. God never promised to reveal His will directly to us every time we face a decision. Rather, He gives us sufficient information and principles from the Scriptures to help us make proper decisions at any moment in our lives. Furthermore, He has given us His Holy Spirit to guide us in interpreting the Scriptures.
This Was True in Old Testament Days
Even in the Old Testament era-a time when God frequently spoke by direct revelation Joshua was responsible to review what God had already revealed to Moses. He was to meditate on the "book of the law." He was to study it and communicate it to Israel on a regular basis. This is why Joshua had his people meet together at Mount Ebal.
|How Much More So Today|
If this was true in Joshua's day, how much more so in our day when we have the full written revelation of God in the sixty-six books of the Bible. Too many Christians are relying on God to reveal Himself directly in the midst of the decision-making process, without realizing that they are responsible to seek His will through what He has already revealed.
How can we determine God's will for us today? There are four important considerations:
First, is there any statement in God's written revelation (the Bible) that is in opposition to this decision?
As Christians living in the twentieth century, we are privileged people. The children of Israel did not have access to the Word of God as we, do. They were dependent solely upon spiritual leaders, such as Joshua and the priests, to communicate and review the law of God for them. By contrast, we have access to the Scriptures themselves.
How can the Scriptures help us in making decisions? For example, God makes it very clear in Scripture that a Christian should not marry a non-Christian. Also, He makes it clear that Christians should not be divorced simply because they are having difficulty with compatibility in some area in their lives. To do either of these would be a violation of His perfect will. There's no way to make Scripture conform to our feelings if our feelings are out of harmony with Scripture.
We must look, then, for direct exhortations in Scripture that will help us make decisions. The better we know the Word of God, the more we will be able to make right decisions.
Second, what do other mature Christians think about this decision? What advice can they give?
Mature Christians who know the Word of God and who are living spiritual lives are important in helping us determine God's will. That's why we must never forsake the assembling of ourselves together with other Christians. Often through the functioning body of Christ we learn what His will is for our lives.
What other people think-even mature Christians-is not as important as our personal knowledge of Scripture. Nor can they make decisions for us where the Scriptures are silent. However, there is safety in a "multitude of counselors" (Prow 11:14). Corporate wisdom from godly people is significant in God's scheme of things (Eph. 4:16).
Third, what circumstances point to the fact that this may be a right or wrong decision?
|Circumstances are important in the decision-making process. However, we must be careful that we do not allow negative circumstances to be the primary factor in making a decision for or against a matter. Many times Christians are called upon to circumvent negative circumstances and to break through environmental barriers. The fact that a Christian is having struggles because of negative circumstances does not mean he is out of the will of God in pursuing a particular course of action. It's at this point that wise counselors play an important role in our lives.|
Fourth, how do I feel about this decision?
Feelings should be considered last. They are important, but they also can be deceptive. Negative emotions may represent purely psychological struggles. Any difficult decision creates anxious if not painful feelings. Imagine what would have happened if Jesus had paid attention to His feelings when He was praying in the Garden? In His humanity, He wanted to walk away from the cross. But in spite of His strong negative emotions, He did the will of God.
On the other hand, positive emotions may simply mean this is something we want to do! This is why feelings must always be tested and evaluated by what God says in His Word.
Points of Action
Read the following questions and circle the answer that best represents your behavior.
1. Am I taking time out of my busy schedule to review God's will for my life?  (Never)  (Sometimes)  (Always)
2. Is it part of my priority system to include regular Bible reading and Bible study, both with other Christians and by myself?  (Never)   (Sometimes)   (Always)
3. Am I taking advantage of opportunities God has given me to discover His will for my life through personal and group Bible study?  (Never)  (Sometimes)  (Always)
4. Am I pausing sufficiently in my busy schedule to meet regularly with Christ's body in order to develop meaningful relationships with other Christians and with the Lord?   (Never)   (Sometimes)   (Always)
5. Do I pause sufficiently- even in doing God's work-to thank God and praise Him for who He is and what He is doing for me?   (Never)   (Sometimes)   (Always)
6. To what extent am I trying to determine God's will through existential experience rather than through His written Word?   (Never)   (Sometimes)   (Always)
|A Man's Man Is a Godly Man|
Reread the above questions under Points of Action. Note particularly the numbers you have selected to indicate your response to these questions. As you do, ask the Holy Spirit to impress on your heart one lesson you need to apply more effectively in your life. Then write out a specific goal. For example, you may not be taking time out of your busy schedule to meet regularly with Christ's body in order to develop meaningful relationships with other Christians and with the Lord. Even if you circled number 4 which indicates that you do this "sometimes," this probably is a particular need in your life.
Set a Goal
With God's help, I will begin immediately to carry out the following goal in my life:
Memorize the Following Scripture
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
Excerpted from Joshua: Living as a Consistent Role Model By Gene Gertz. Copyright © 1995. Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers. All Rights Reserved.