Old Testament Survey - Lesson 7


The historical books--Joshua, Judges, and Ruth--are essential reading for understanding how the bible views the progress of history. These books help us understand what the basic stages are in the progress of God’s relations with humanity. There is development, and progress in history we can refer to as epochs. This lecture provides an overview of redemptive history and a summary of the book of Joshua.

Douglas Stuart
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 7
Watching Now

The Promised Land: Joshua


I. Redemptive History

A. Simplification

B. Jerome Brunner


II. Redemptive History Simplified

A. Creation and Prehistory

B. Patriarchal Prologue

C. Creation of Israel

D. Israel under Blessing

E. Israel under Curse

F. Israel under Blessing


III. Structure of Joshua

A. Conquest of Promised Land

B. Land Allotment


IV. Last Chapters of Joshua

A. Towns for Accidental Killers

B. God as a Culture Buster


V. Covenant Renewal

A. Exclusive Nature of the Covenant

B. Bargaining Language

C. Call to Leave False Gods


VI. General Conquest Pattern

A. Central/Entry Campaign

B. Southern Campaign

C. Northern Campaign

Class Resources
  • The purpose of this overview of the Old Testament is to focus on the content of each of the Old Testament books, the historical events that give context to the books, and specific questions that help draw out the overarching principles contained in the Old Testament. There is also an emphasis on identifying ways to use this material that can help people in their daily lives.

  • Genesis narrates ten stories that describe origins or beginnings. These include the origin of the “heavens and earth,” and the origin of specific families that are significant in God’s dealings with Israel and the nations.

  • Themes from selected passages in Genesis about which there are interpretations that differ greatly. These include Genesis 2 regarding creation of women and their roles, Genesis 6 about the "Sons of God," and Genesis 9 about the "curse of Ham." Other themes are the story of Abraham, and God as a punisher of evil.

  • The three major themes in Exodus are Israel's deliverance from Egypt, establishment of the Covenant and the Tabernacle. Other themes are how name repetition in a sentence is significant throughout Scripture, and how humility in the Jewish culture affects the actions and responses of many biblical characters. Exodus contains both apodictic and casuistic laws. There are also paradigmatic laws which are designed to give broad guidance for specific situations that arise. The first part of Exodus is mostly stories, and the second part is mostly a record of the laws which are the basis for how they interact with God and other people.

  • In this lesson, the concept of a covenant is defined as a legal binding agreement between two parties. In the ancient world there were many covenants. There were covenants between individuals, and even between nations. For example, a superior ruling king would make a covenant with a lesser vassal king. Covenants in the ancient near east contained the following six elements.

  • Does God punish the grandchildren for what the grandparents have done? Some people read these passages (Exodus 20:5, 34:7) and assume that they mean God punishes grandchildren based on their grandparents' sins. Unfortunately, they misinterpret these texts because they fail to understand the phenomena of numerical parallelisms. The Hebrew language favors parallelism, so that numbers which are close to other numbers will often be put in parallel to exhibit literary balance.
  • The historical books--Joshua, Judges, and Ruth--are essential reading for understanding how the bible views the progress of history. These books help us understand what the basic stages are in the progress of God’s relations with humanity. There is development, and progress in history we can refer to as epochs. This lecture provides an overview of redemptive history and a summary of the book of Joshua.

  • When discussing violence in the Old Testament it is important to discuss the concept of Holy War. This lesson does not suggest that Christians are soldiers first and nothing else since Christians are also called to be peacemakers. However, this lesson does put forward the idea that God is fighting a holy war. That is, God is seeking to promote blessing for all people by eliminating evil everywhere. The final enemy is death itself, and God is resolute on destroying evil and death. Holy war is a complex set of ideas that should be interpreted in light of the entire corpus of scripture.

  • In this lesson the extent of the conquest is discussed to frame the book of Judges. The orienting data for the book of Judges helps explain how the book recounts the decline of the people of Israel. Finally, the Dueteronomic cycle which recurs in the book is explained and helps frame Israel’s history up to the time of the exile.

  • After the division of the kingdom, 40 kings reigned during this period of the divided monarchy. Only three Kings reigned during the united monarchy—Saul, David, and Solomon. We might be able to assume the time period of the united monarch to be something like 120 years with each of the three kings reigning forty years. But the term “forty” in Hebrew means something like the English expression “several dozen.” That’s why we see the idiomatic expression “forty” so often in Hebrew literature.

  • David is a man after God’s own heart. How is this possible when he made so many moral mistakes? Being after God’s own heart does not mean David is morally upright, but that he has unwavering faith in the one true God of Israel. That is unique to David in these narratives. The narratives are clear that both Saul and Solomon conjoined belief in the God of Israel with the worship of other gods. David, however, is never portrayed as worshipping other gods or setting up altars to Idols.

  • In this lesson several key elements from the lives of Saul, David and Solomon are briefly reviewed. The rejection of Saul as King is explained. The rebellions against David are highlighted. And the disobedience of Solomon is described. Although these three kings are imperfect, God keeps the Kingdom of Israel unified throughout their successive reigns.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Stuart provides an overview of the ten types of Psalms found in Scripture, a few suggestions regarding preaching through the Psalms, and addresses how we are to interact with the hystoricizing statements within the Psalms.

  • This lesson provides an overview of the structure of Proverbs, which seems to be the most secular book of the bible. Proverbs is a book of wise memorable sayings collected by Solomon. These sayings are collected from various individuals in Israel and the Ancient Near East and serve to provide wisdom for how to live in the world.

  • There is a chiastic structure to the book of Job that begins with the prologue and ends with the epilogue. In a chiasm, the middle portion is a convenient hinge of the book, it is not necessarily the most important piece of textual material. The main question the book is asking is, where do you find wisdom? The answer is, wisdom is found in the LORD. Proverbs is monological wisdom, whereas Job is dialogical wisdom. People are debating back and forth throughout the book about the nature of wisdom.

  • This lesson briefly describes existentialism as a philosophical movement in order to frame Ecclesiastes as an ancient type of existentialist literature. Existentialism tends to argue that this life is all there is. Ecclesiastes entertains these various perspectives in the first six chapters, which serve as a literary foil, before ending with a surprise for the reader—life does have meaning because there is a God who will judge our actions.

    There is a storyline to the Song. A clue is found in the term Shulamite, which in Hebrew can be translated as Mrs. Solomon. So this is a story about Solomon marrying his wife. It conveys some of the challenges Solomon and his wife face in coming together in covenant marriage. The beginning of the book outlines their engagement. In the middle of the book they get married, and the end discusses their honeymoon. What we see in the Song is the biblical ideal of a monogamous marriage, which, ironically, Solomon failed to live up to.

  • While it is difficult to preach through the prophets it can be done well if some basic views are taken regarding the prophetic books in general.

  • This lesson provide an overview concerning three contemporaries Prophets during the period of the divided monarchy at the end of the 8 th Century BCE.

  • The passage discusses a period of time when great materials are produced, including the Book of Isaiah. The rise of the Assyrian Empire becomes a significant concern, as they expand their territory across various regions. Tiglath-Pileser III, also known as Pul, leads the Assyrians into the domain of Israel, Palestine, and Syria. The expansion is driven by economic considerations, as kings seek wealth for grand projects through tribute, tax, and tolls. The cycle of conquering and resistance repeats itself, impacting the Israelites. The passage also highlights the importance of 2 Kings, focusing on Elijah and Elisha, Jehu’s massacre of Baal worshippers, the kings of Judah, the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, and the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.

  • Historical context is vital when one moves to reading the prophets. After Solomon’s death in 931 BCE, the kingdom of Israel undergoes an extended period of civil war as rivaling leaders take control of the northern and southern regions of the kingdom. Unfortunately, this split eventually becomes permanent. In the north the kings reigned for short periods and when compared with the southern kingdom of Judah this shows a tremendous amount of upheaval. This may have to do with the fact that the north is never ruled by a descendant of David. In addition, the north fails to worship at the Jerusalem temple, and decides instead to worship idols.

  • In this lesson an overview is provided for the prophetical books of Isaiah, Micah, and Nahum.

  • An overview of the revival under King Josiah, the fall of King Josiah, and the subsequent fall of Jerusalem to Babylon.

  • Jeremiah begins his ministry in 627 BCE. This is five years before the great revival under Josiah in 622 BCE. So Jeremiah spans the time from the Assyrian domination to the invasion of Judah by Babylon. Unlike other prophets who predicted a short exile, Jeremiah preached a long, though not unending exile. Because of this Jeremiah was not popular with the government establishment of Jerusalem.

  • Dr. Stuart provides an overview of Joel, Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah and how they each relate to end times and God’s eternal reign.

  • Lamentations is a massive, huge, compound, complex lament that seeks to help God’s people see God’s goodness in the midst of tragedy.

  • Dr. Stuart provides a brief overview of Ezekiel, his difficult message of impending judgment on Jerusalem and his uplifting message of the hope to come.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Stuart describes the characteristics of apocalyptic literature and gives an overview of the books of Daniel. Esther, and the latter half of Isaiah.

  • An overview of the background to the post-exilic books including the necessity of the temple and the role of the Persian empire in it’s rebuilding.

  • An overview of Haggai and Zechariah, the beginning of the rebuilding of the temple, the encouragement of God’s people to put the things of God first, God’s sovereignty, the need to be faithful, the nature of God’s covenant, and God’s promises being fulfilled.

  • A look at the latter days, the closing of the prophetic cannon, and the books of Malachi, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

Did you know that the Old Testament contains more than 2/3 of the text of the Bible? Did you realize that the Old Testament timeline covers thousands of years of history and tells us the stories of people whose lives still affect world events today? Are you familiar with the Old Testament prophets that describe in detail the characteristics of the Messiah and the events that happen when he comes, hundreds of years before they take place? Have you ever read the Old Testament books of poetry and wisdom literature that contain inspirational and instructional passages that we still use today to inspire, comfort and inform our lives during life events, and are ubiquitous in both classic and contemporary literary works?

In Dr. Stuart’s Old Testament Survey class, he guides you through each of the Old Testament books by giving you the historical background, major themes and insight into the stories, characters and teaching of the book. In the historical books, you will become familiar with Old Testament Names like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph and David. In the Old Testament prophets, Dr. Stuart will introduce you to the lives and messages of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and others. When you study the Old Testament books of wisdom literature, Dr. Stuart will give you insights into the teachings, structure and creativity in Proverbs, Psalms and other books in the Writings.

From the description of Creation in Genesis, to the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, the Old Testament contains stories and teachings that can inform, inspire and transform your life. Dr. Stuart’s years of training and his skill in communicating, provides you with this opportunity to study and learn from one of the best. Now it’s up to you!

You may download a syllabus for the class including the Course Outline by clicking on the link in the Downloads section. We do not have access to the notes or the 130 exam questions that he mentions in the lectures. The Syllabus is from the SemLink class that was originally offered online through Gordon-Conwell Seminary so you can see the class outline and suggested readings. The links are not active. If you want to participate in the assignments and tests and earn credit, you may contact Gordon-Conwell Seminary to find out if they still offer this class.

Thank you to Charles Campbell and Fellowship Bible Church for writing out the lecture notes. Note that they do not cover every lecture.

Recommended Books

Old Testament Survey: Genesis-Malachi - Student Guide

Old Testament Survey: Genesis-Malachi - Student Guide

Did you know that the Old Testament contains more than 2/3 of the text of the Bible? Did you realize that the Old Testament timeline covers thousands of years of history and...

Old Testament Survey: Genesis-Malachi - Student Guide

Will you join me in prayer please?

We ask, Father, for wisdom to be able to appreciate what is in your Word, to gain from thinking about Joshua, Judges, and Ruth and to put together as much as we can that will help our minds grasp the significance of this block of material in your Word. What we would love to have happen is that we become better servants of others as we serve you, using this kind of knowledge, this insight, this material that you have provided for all of us in a way that is really helpful and practical. We ask that for Christ's sake, Amen.

I. How God Sees History - Redemptive History

We are going to look at the beginning of what are often called the historical books tonight. That is Joshua, Judges, and Ruth and in so doing I want to be sure that the big picture is as clearly as possible before you. What do I mean by the big picture? I mean really the overview of how the Bible looks at the progress of history. This is knowable; there is not some mystery about this. Many, many books have been written on it, the biblical view of history. Many times when you read books on the prophets you can see this basic schema laid out for you. Anybody who has ever written on redemptive history, that is a terminology that is sometimes employed. Usually if they have written on redemptive history they have provided something like this. It is a way of asking and answering the question, what are the basic stages in the progress of God's relating to people? Some of you know there is also a view called dispensationalism. It is not a view that I hold but dispensationalism has a wisdom in it that comes from its ability to say there is a progress, there is a way in which you have some developments and some changes and you can speak of the great epochs of history according to dispensations. The weakness of the view, in my opinion, is that it over-defines what happens in those epochs so that it tends to say this kind of ethical responsibility is appropriate only to this dispensation and then it all changes and so on. It is an over-definition of what is going on but there really are epochs and this is my attempt to simplify what you can find in, say Geerhardus Vos' book on the history of redemption (Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments by Geerhardus Vos) or whatever. It is just a simplification. You know well every simplification has its risks because the simpler, the greater the level of potential distortion. We all understand that. But simplification also has its benefits. If somebody simplifies it for you, you at least can get the concept in some form and go from there. I am always a believer, you know, you have seen me do it, I love lists because I think lists for students when the material is pouring at you, lists are great. They are very helpful; they organize the material for you. Simplification is what you need. You do not need every qualification, every possible caveat, every footnote that would explain the nuances. No, especially in a survey course, this is the kind of thing you want to get. By the way, I am actually following an approach that a great learning theorist named Jerome Brunner came up with. Brunner was very influential especially for the following statement, which made him kind of famous. He is a learning theorist who taught at Harvard for many years. He said, "Any person can learn any concept at any age in some form." It is a little bit of an exaggeration. The average two-week old baby probably is just not going to let you know whether or not he or she gets the concept. Of course in itself it is a kind of a simplification of an idea. But what Brunner was arguing was this in effect. Here is how it would work out in our case. Do not ever think you cannot tell a kindergartener about how Christ died on the cross and yet there are all kinds of curricular materials that are put out by major Christian publishing houses who have got an advisory board saying, "We'll introduce the crucifixion when they are in seventh grade." The basics of the gospel will be hidden from little kids because they are too young to comprehend it; it will just scare them or something. "Let's not mention the blood of Christ until they are at least nineteen or whatever and they have already cut their finger." Brunner would say that is silly. Even a kid who is just learning to talk can talk about the greatest of the concepts. Do not ever say, "We must dumb it down because of age. We must prevent it from being exposed to the children because they are only children." You do not do that. But, you have to be very careful how you house the concepts. So, his point is, anybody any age, any concept in some form, and it is the form that is everything. Here is my form, which I admit is a simplification.

A. The creation and prehistory, really a block of material. We have talked about that, how everything in history down to 2000 B.C. is just summarized very rapidly in those chapters.

B. Then it slows down with a patriarchal dialogue and you get a very important chunk of material: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph and Joseph's brothers.

C. Then a third major epoch and this is, notice, creation. We are talking about a second kind of creation, if you want to think of it that way, but the better way to think of it is a continuation of creation. The vocabulary for creation in the Scripture just does not stop in the early chapters of Genesis, it just does not, it keeps rolling right along and you get creation vocabulary just right through. There is lots of it in connection with the time period that we would call Exodus and Sinai.

D. The part that we are going to start looking at today I have titled "Israel Under Blessing" because in the Old Testament there is a blessing-curse-blessing scheme that is very big and very prominent. It is in Deuteronomy, it is in Exodus, Leviticus, it is all over the place, in the prophets, it is in some other places as well like Lamentations. It is really a very prominent theme. It is in Ezra, Nehemiah, in a big way, blessing, curse, blessing. What does that mean? First, when the Israelites are made a nation by God they have got a covenant. That is what happens at Sinai, they get a covenant. What is the deal on the covenant? "You will be my people, I'll be your God. You'll keep my covenant and I will just bless you and bless you and bless you. And remember this promise, if I have to I'll punish you but I would like to bless you for thousands of generations." Just on and on and on. That is the basic idea, "I'll bless you." So God mercifully does bless the Israelites and he does so for hundreds and hundreds of years while they live in the Promised Land. The beginning of that blessing is what we will see in the book of Joshua. Do the Israelites, in fact, violate God's covenant? Sure, they keep doing it generation after generation. There are exceptions, but sadly even in Joshua's own generation, which was one of the better ones, they are still violating the covenant in various ways. We will talk about that tonight. Then eventually they become worse than the people that they drove out. A thing that we have not yet come to but I will just finish off the pattern is that then according to the covenant (it is right there in Deuteronomy 28-32 and Leviticus 26 and so on) God will punish his people if they break his covenant. And eventually they break it so much, so often, so constantly, in every conceivable way that he finally says, "That is it. I have been patient with you. I am long suffering. I am not quick to anger but that's it."

E. Then comes what we call the curse, which is in fact especially centered in the exile. We will come to that business of the exile and we will talk about it but that is what we are dealing with.

F. After the exile there comes the restoration. It is a new period of blessing and, furthermore, it is also a new period of creation. So there is much language in the New Testament about the new creation. They are not getting it out of the blue; they are just picking it up from the Old Testament prophets and carrying it on. It is just consistency with what the Old Testament itself predicts. This view of history is an Old Testament view but it is also a New Testament view. Everything you need to comprehend it is right in the Old Testament, but it is also reflected in the New Testament as well. In the New Testament when Paul talks about the fact that he is living in the latter days, he is talking about the fact that this is stage six. We have had it. All the others have come and gone, we are now in the period of restoration blessing, the era of new creation. There is not some set of epochs to come after this. Next thing that happens is that we have the return of Christ, the judgment, the transformation of heaven and earth, and eternal life breaks out in full. There is not some new thing, not going to get any more law, not going to get any more scripture, not going to get any more anything. Since that time, since 27 A.D when Christ died and was resurrected, everybody who has lived has been living in the last days. It was the last days as of 27 A.D.; it is the last days now. Why should it take so long? The answer is every hour that goes by people become believers and get to have eternal life with us. Who would want to say, "Cut that off God, stop that, there is enough people in heaven already? I'm in." No, God who enjoys seeing people saved and come to eternal life is constantly letting them in. That is a great thing. So every year that Christ waits is a year when more people experience God's love and joy, so it is perfectly understandable. Maybe it will go for twenty thousand more years, who knows. But Christ could return before I finish my sent---. No, he didn't. It would be good if he had, but he didn't. It is just a big picture. It is really the whole scheme of the way the Bible develops. Is there overlap? Sure there is. It is not as if you say, "Woe! That is Genesis 50, we had a total change." No, there is plenty of overlap, these things are influencing and falling into one another. Are there continuities from number one to number six? Sure. So do not overdo the thing as I think dispensationalism has tended to do. Do not chop it up so that it is so discrete it is not fluid. In general, can you see references made at various places in Scripture to these things? The answer is yes you can. Knowing that basic overview will help you understand. Even some of the things Jesus says, when he says, for example, "Before Abraham was I am." He is making a point about his being there even before all of the things that come with the patriarchs. He is back early on in creation. When John, in the beginning of the gospel of John, writes his prologue and says, "The Word was with God and the Word was God in the beginning." He has taken the whole identity of Christ right back to creation. He is doing the same thing in various other ways in his prologue also. John the Baptist is quoted as saying, "The one who comes after me was before me." It is just another way of saying Christ bridges all these epochs and all these general categorizations of biblical history. Tonight, in particular, we are going to deal with the conquest of Canaan and its aftermath. We look at Joshua and Judges and something that happens during the days of the Judges, that is the book of Ruth. The book of Ruth is a special focus on events in one location and really one family that correlates very closely with the book of Judges and that is the reason for the book of Ruth's location in the English Bible, at least, right after the book of Judges. That is what we are going to do tonight.

II. Structure of Joshua

A. This just gives us a little bit of a feel for the way that the conquest of the Promised Land actually operated. If one examines this you can see what I will also refer to shortly. The Israelites are over here and they are in northern Moab. The Israelites are in northern Moab and they are ready to enter the Promised Land. They have already captured, as you know from your brilliant analytical, careful reading of the Book of Judges, certain territory over here on this eastern side of the Jordan River that is often called the Transjordan. You will see that terminology employed. Now Moses preaches to them the Book of Deuteronomy right from the plains of Moab and then Joshua leads them across. They get across the Jordan and they come to a little place called Gilgal. It was not a big population center or anything; it was just a little area. There they set up some stones as a special testimony that God had brought them across the Jordan miraculously. There they gathered and worshiped and so on, and from there they then went and attacked Jericho, which is right near by. Jericho is right down in the Jordan Valley, you can get to it easily, it is not complicated, you do not have to have any form of hiking shoes or anything, you just walk there from Gilgal. But because of that vulnerability, Jericho had often been attacked. Over the years Jericho had been a place where many different people had, when invading the Promised Land, sought to attack and establish what we call a beachhead sometimes. So Jericho had also then developed a huge wall complex as a way of protecting itself. It's down in the Jordan Valley, basically pretty accessible, easy to get to, long history of attack, so huge walls. Yet the Israelites do succeed by God's special help. Then you can see they go through the central hill country here and have what we would call just a central campaign. Then they go south. After they have gone south, I will talk more about this and elaborate on it, they turn around and partly retrace their steps but then go way up north, mostly along the Jordan River Valley but have several important campaigns in the north. So it is central, then it is southern, then it is northern. The usefulness of this is just simply that that is a rough, general outline of what you have in the book of Joshua and it sets up for you some things that take place during the days of the judges. If you can get that picture, coming in, attacking Jericho, from there doing a campaign in the central hill country, then going south, then going north, basic pattern over the period of time that is twenty or more years. It is a little hard to tell exactly how many years are involved that constitutes the first ten and a half chapters of the book of Joshua. Now, let me give an outline of Joshua to you in a little more detail than what I have just done, because I hardly gave you any at all, and make some points about what is going on here. This is a story about how a group of former slaves, people who formed themselves at God's command into an army but had never been an army. They began to think we are an army. They began to encamp by divisions. The term divisions is used. Each of the tribes thought of itself as a division of an army. So together twelve divisions formed an army. That is not unusual at all. They used the term division in that connection, but they are former slaves. They are former slaves who become something very special. They invade and they possess a territory that had long ago been promised them. We made reference to Genesis 15 previously, but it would not hurt for you at some point to look back and see that. It is a very important passage where God says to Abraham, "Your descendents are going to come here and occupy this land, but they can't do it yet because the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." So God was watching that Amorite culture become corrupt and corrupt and corrupt. He was seeing it. He was being patient like he was later with Israel. But eventually their corruption reached the point where even an extremely patient, generous God would have to say, "That's it. It's enough. These people are going to be eliminated as a people. I'm going to give their land to somebody else." Later, he will do the same thing to the Israelites and the prophets will say this. They will say, "You are as bad or worse as the Amorites, that is why it is happening says the Lord." They do not deserve the land, they should not be there, it was not their land in the first place but it is the land that God promised them and they do not earn it but they accept it from God as a gift that he is making to them in fulfillment of a promise. If you get that, you see there are many parallels to our own situation. We are people who have been promised a land. We have not been there yet. Have we earned it? Of course not, but it is ready for us. We do not have to get anybody out of it who is iniquitous, that is the nice thing about it. But rather, it will be a wonderful, eternal place to live and all the better than the original land of Canaan but the parallels are very substantial. It is a land inherited by people who do not have the qualifications and yet have been brought together by God and formed into a people and so on. If you look at the way things work in the first eleven and a half chapters or so or ten and a half depending on how you want to think of it, you have basically the conquest and then basically the allotment. Then there is a bit of an epilogue. Thus Joshua has, essentially, a bifid structure. I have talked about that before, I will talk about it again because roughly half the books in the Old Testament have a bifid structure and it is just nice to know that, it is helpful to see it. It is a style of organization of literature in the ancient world and people put a lot of books together in this way. Joshua stands out because you read all kinds of interesting things up through chapter 11, really the first part of 11, then thereafter it is some of the most boring reading in all literature. You need to know that because most people are not going to be turned on by this kind of biblical material. "The northern boundary started from the bay of the sea at the mouth of the Jordan and went up to Beth Hoglah and continued north of Beth Arabah to the Stone of Bohan son of Reuben. The boundary then went up to Debir from the Valley of Achor and turned north to Gilgal, which faces the Pass of Adummim south of the gorge. It continued along the waters of En Shemesh and came out at En Rogel." Very few people are going to say, "Ah ha, my life verse!" It's just not going to happen. It is not fun reading. It is chapter after chapter of boundary descriptions. You say, "What's going on here? Why does God spend so much time doing it?" The answer is a lot of things are not great reading but they sure are precious. You get someday to buy a piece of property that you have always dreamed of buying or something and the deed is not great reading but, boy, is it nice to have the deed. That is what this is like. Read down through your medical tests that say normal, normal, normal, it is kind of boring, the same word used constantly but it is awfully nice. There are a lot of things that are not exciting reading but are wonderful truth. That is what this is. For these Israelites to get this land is a fabulous thing but they do have to get it by conquest. They cannot just walk in, filter in, arrive, and claim it; they have got to win it. That is genuinely important. We observe that chapters 1 to 8 describe the entry campaign and then we observe that chapters 9 and 10 only, just two chapters, describe the southern campaign, which was actually more extensive than the central entry campaign, but I will talk about that further. Then note that chapter 11 describes the northern campaign, a single chapter for that one campaign.

B. Then there is kind of a wrap-up list of conquered kings and conquered land. Then the allotment descriptions. Important here is the fact that there it is mentioned that there were very large areas of land that were not conquered. You need to spot that. It is very easy when reading through the book of Judges to read about, "Then they attacked that city and they conquered and they did this and the burned it and they did this and they went up here, the Lord gave them into the hand …." It is very positive and it should be positive. It was just a remarkable supernatural set of events. But, you can miss the fact that the inspired writer is saying, "On the other hand, don't get a misimpression that we actually drove out all of our enemies." Of course, you have to ask the question why and I will come back to that. There are important qualifications given. You also have after the allotment of the land part of the deal special towns for accidental killers, special towns for Levites, then a list of tribal squabbles, then Joshua's covenant challenges at the end of his life--will you stay faithful, please stay faithful, I challenge you to stay faithful, my household and I will stay faithful. Will you? Trying to get the people to establish a pattern of continuing to be faithful to the Lord. Sadly, as we will see, they abandon that pattern pretty fast.

III. Last Chapters of Joshua

I actually want to start talking about these things at the end of the book and then go back and talk about some things at the beginning.

A. In chapter 20, God sets aside special towns for accidental killers. You might say, "How am I ever going to do a Bible study on that, how am I ever going to teach on that?" If I go make a hospital visit, I am going to read to them and I say, "I know you're facing surgery tomorrow so I would like to read this list of towns for accidental killers." No, here is the deal. This is a culture breaker that in some ways is quite exemplary for us.

B. God is regularly a culture breaker. He does not let corrupt human culture stop him from doing special things. He does a lot of things differently from the way it would be done. In the ancient world, for example, it was absolutely standard for a woman to leave her family and when she got married she would arrive at the home of her husband and live there. So if you were a woman in ancient Israel, ancient Moab, ancient anywhere, you would leave your family where you had grown up and you would go move in with your husband's family. In most cases he would not be building a new house, in some cases he would. But even if he did he was building it on his family's land. So generally you went and left. If you are a man growing up; however, you know someday when you get married you will still live right here, you will still live with your family. That is the standard of the whole ancient world as far as we know. Yet, how does God give the commandment about marriage? He says, "Therefore, a man shall leave his mother and father and go be joined with his wife." God words it the opposite to be sure that the men do not miss the fact that they too must leave that family. Even if they do not leave the land or the house, they must leave the family and they must "cling" or "grab on" to their spouse. This is a new family, a new one-flesh arrangement; you do not just let the family of origin dominate. That is a culture busting way of saying something about marriage. There are many other things. It was the practice in the ancient world for the oldest son to be the heir of most things. Do we read in Numbers about the daughters of the Zelophehad who say, "Wait a minute, this won't work in our case." Moses says, "I'll bring it to the Lord." God says, "They're right." We have got to have provision to be a holy nation for situations in which it does not work for the women to be protected fully and equally by the inheritance system that passes stuff on to the sons. When there are any dangers that prevent that from happening, there has to be another way of handling it. That is culture busting. When the oldest son is normally the one chosen yet someone like King David is chosen who is the youngest son, that is culture busting. Or when Joseph turns out to be the most prominent of all the children of Jacob and he is next to youngest, again it is counter cultural. Or, for that matter, Jacob is the younger son, it is counter cultural. For that matter, Abraham is not the oldest son, it is counter cultural. You have lots of things in Scripture where the strong, usual, typical cultural expectations are just overturned by God because he has a different set of values from what a culture has. Does that mean that he cannot work with a culture? No. Does that mean that he invites us to be defiant of our culture in every possible way? No, but it means that when important necessities come you do not let culture determine it. In this particular case the culture believe this--that there was an obligation to take vengeance when blood was shed. It could happen anyway. If somebody ran over your grandmother because they were driving their chariot too wildly, in the whole ancient near east as far as we know, you would then feel an obligation. That person took the life of my grandmother. It does not matter if it is an accident, it does not matter if it was on purpose. That person took my grandmother's life. I am going to take his life or, depending, his grandmother's life. But they would see the need to have some kind of retribution. You shed blood; you are going to have your blood shed somehow. So families would go after families. This has continued to this very day and it is a very big part of the Arab-Israeli conflict. You may say, "Aw, not modern Arabs." Absolutely. We have in our church in Boxford where I pastor a person who came from Lebanon. He is now a lawyer and a permanent resident of the U.S. but he said there are whole villages in Lebanon that have just been wiped out by the blood feuds. Family x feels an obligation, and once it happens, once you go after their blood, they then say, "Wait a minute, they took the life of my sister-in-law because we ran over their grandmother, okay I'll get their sister-in-law." And it is back and forth. After a while it is only a question of time and strategy as to when the next hit takes place. Whole villages just decimated because the blood feud principle, alive and well, currently right now in the Middle East. It is a powerful thing. It is part of the culture. God says to the Israelites, "No! You are not going to do that. I have got a system now where certain cities that are among the special towns for the Levites. These special towns are among the Levitical cities. I'll have three of them in the Transjordan and three of them in the Cisjordan, that is west of the Jordan. They will be north and central and south. If you will look at where those are located you will see that it is spread out. Those cities will be for people who have accidentally killed someone. They will flee there and they will live there until the death of the high priest, in other words a very indeterminate time that is in the hands of God. The idea is that so much time will go by they will be untouchable where they are there, because the Levites who run the cities will be obligated to protect them and allow no one in to take vengeance. So those were the ancient equivalent of cities with metal detectors at every gate. They were disarmed cities run by the clergy. The system was then that if you ran there you stayed an indefinite period of time. Everything could cool down, no one could touch you. The hope is that after that indefinite period of time you would be able to go back, but if you were still in danger you would also have lived there so long you would be essentially resettled and if you had to stay you could stay and your life would be protected. It is a very interesting little detail. It is something you might, kind of, zip by in your reading but it is a part of the way that this promised land and the people in it are not just to be one more nation. It is not just one more people group occupying one more territory. The Israelites are to be a holy people. They are to be different. They are to be special. They are to be people who reflect who God is and act like and live like and think like people who are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Do they do it very well? Unfortunately no, but the assignment is real clear even down to breaking one of the most basic habits in the ancient near east and sadly the modern near east that of the blood feud. One sees the tendency to squabble in the last part of the strictly historical narrative portion of this book with the tribal squabbles. You find fighting going on among the tribes in Joshua 22. They are making various accusations back and forth against each other. Some people said we fought more than others. Some people said we have a right to do what we have done. They are mad, they are alleging that there is a breaking of faith and so it is a whole deal that requires real intervention and diplomacy and Phinehas the priest has to get involved deeply in the whole process to make sure that kind of arbitration takes place and so on and they conclude the chapter setting up an altar that says, "The Witness Between Us that the Lord is God" is the name of that altar. In other words, a witness between us is literally that. Somebody will say, "Watch out. Don't fight each other." Then the book ends with Joshua urging the people to recognize that they have got to honor God, they have got to be obedient to him.


What you really have then is covenant renewal. What is covenant renewal? It is the same thing you have in Deuteronomy. The first covenant is given at Mount Sinai. It is the Sinai Covenant. It is from Exodus 20 to the end of Leviticus, great big covenant. It gets renewed forty years later in Deuteronomy. New generation, new group of people and they have to make it their decision. You cannot inherit covenant obedience. You cannot say, "My parents obeyed the covenant, therefore I am. They were right with God, therefore I am." You cannot inherit that anymore than we who are Evangelicals would say you can inherit salvation. Each person has to make a decision to accept Christ as Savior. You cannot say, "Since my parents did it and I grew up in their home I'm okay." That has been a hallmark of Evangelical theology always that every individual must for himself make that formal decision to follow Christ. You never can ease into it. You cannot say, "I was catechized into it, I went through a process, it is okay. A pastor approved of the process, so therefore I'm going to heaven." No, none of that. It is really what separates, in a very huge way, Evangelicals from all other groups because the Evangelicals will say, "Nobody is in God's kingdom who doesn't accept it in faith like a child and believe that Christ died in his place on the cross and confess sins and repent and be baptized and so on." Everybody has to do that individually so it is a very big thing. Joshua is basically paralleling that by saying, "Yes, there was a generation that renewed the covenant in the plains of Moab before they entered the Promised Land but now decades have gone by, we've conquered the Promised Land, I'm an old guy and I'm calling to all of you before I die to renew the covenant once again so that as a different generation you will (now it is corporate, it is not individual, but the individuals participate), you all as you are individual members of this corporate identity will in fact also agree to the covenant. You have got to make it your own. You have got to do it." He warns them like crazy, be careful, watch out, it is dangerous, it is hard.

A. He says, for example, in Joshua 24:14, "Fear the Lord, serve him with all faithfulness," then listen to what he says, "throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose whom you are going to serve. Whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my family, we're going to serve the Lord." Notice what he is saying. "You want to do this? Get rid of those idols. Get rid of your faith in other gods." He is talking to people for whom the attractions of idolatry were very powerful. People for whom it is so natural to practice idolatry. People for whom it was just hard to believe that one god could do all the things that needed doing in the universe. "One god, really?" So he says to them, "I want you to serve the Lord and if you are going to do it, it is exclusive." If you preach and teach this, I hope you will point out to people the parallels because it is the same today. When Jesus preaches about following him, he is constantly using exclusivity language. "You can't serve God and money, it won't work, don't do it, you'll love one or the other." "Let the dead bury their dead. Are you going to follow me or not?" "I don't have any place to lay my head, you wanna come?" He is constantly talking about exclusive obedience, exclusive following. He is the Lord and his values will be your values. What he wants done is what you will do. His priorities will be your priorities and so on. That is very parallel; there is nothing different about that. When Christ calls each of us to follow him, it is comparable to this kind of challenge from Joshua.

B. Now the people then say, this is Joshua 24:16. "Far be it from us to forsake the Lord and serve other gods. The Lord brought us out of Egypt; the Lord brought us out of slavery. He is the one who protected us. The Lord drove out the Amorites. We're going to serve the Lord." Joshua says in verse 19, "You can't do it." Now this is not because Joshua actually believes they cannot do it but it is classic near eastern style. It is classic style of challenge. We talked before about the so-called false eastern humility, "I am unworthy, I am this or that." You really do not believe you are the worst of all possible people but you say it that way hoping that someone else will say, "Oh, no you aren't." It is a little like the teenager, "Aw, Mom, I look ugly." "No you don't dear, you're beautiful." "No I'm not, I look crumby." "No you're the nicest kid in your class." "Really, you think so?" It is a little like that. In this case it is another kind of bargaining. Joshua says, "You can't. He is a holy God, a jealous God. He will not forgive rebellion and sin. If you forsake him and serve foreign gods he will turn, bring disaster on you, make an end of you after he has been good to you." The people say, "No we won't" The challenge is obvious. "No, we are taking the challenge. We understand how you are using this bargaining style." Joshua said, "Okay. You are witnesses against yourselves that you've chosen to serve the Lord." "Yes we are."

C. Then he says in verse 23, "Okay, throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord." For that generation, for his own generation, they still had lots of people there, still thinking polytheistically, still thinking pantheistically, everything is somehow partaking of divinity; all aspects of nature are a god or a reflection of a god in some way and not thinking about there being a true God that is separate from his creation and not thinking about there being only one and so on. The ancient people were polytheistic, pantheistic and also syncretistic. They tended to believe in all kinds of beliefs. The more they knew the better. If you met somebody and you began talking theology with them and you said, "I worship the God that helps motor scooters get started in the morning." They would say, "Really, what is the name of that god?" "Well, it's called putt-putt." "Oh, really. Well I would like to worship him. Which shrine is his?" "He has a shrine over there." You might say, "Maybe I'll need that god's help someday, I have a motor scooter," so you make an offering to that god. That is syncretism where you put beliefs together. The Israelites in this chapter, Joshua 24, are not saying, "We don't believe in Yahweh. Nobody says that. They all believe in Yahweh. The only question was did their belief involve exclusivity or were they syncretistic believers? Did they say, "Well, yeah. Yahweh is our national God, but we also have a personal god and a family god and this god and that goddess," and so on. Joshua is saying, "No, you can only have one. If you want to follow Yahweh, one god, invisible, no idols, etc.," and basically takes them through the practical implications of the Ten Commandments. That is the covenant renewal that ends this book. Did they follow through? We will see how poorly they followed through as then the inspired writer brings us into the book of Judges and describes the problems and exceptions so that you realize that the hopes and dreams Joshua had for the people did not last terribly long.

V. General Conquest Pattern

Having said that let me go back and talk a little bit about the beginning parts of the book. What I would like to do, actually, is use yet another overhead just to emphasize how specially structured these first eleven chapters are.

A. Notice the cities that are actually mentioned as related to the central campaign in chapters 1 to 8, three cities. Gilgal is not a city. It is just the place they land when they get across the Jordan. They capture it but it is an area. Then they capture three cities, Jericho; Ai, after lots of problems and we will come back to that; and then Shechem. That is it. Eight chapters devoted to three cities and an initial beachhead area.

B. Then look at the substantial list, it is twice as long, that is described in just chapters 9 and 10: Gibeon, Beth Horon, Makkedah, Libnah, Gath, and so on. These are all over the place; this is quite a range of places in the southern campaign.

C. Then one chapter only for the northern campaign with huge coalitions. So you have then, cities, states, gathering together, banding together, forming defensive groups so that Joshua cannot pick them off one by one. He has to now fight a whole group at a time; he has to fight coalitions. That is a whole different ballgame. That really was the largest area and largest number of complicated battles of any of them yet it is covered in only one chapter.

What is going on? Clearly, when I say clearly it does not mean that it is absolutely open and shut but I think it is clear, I think that we are supposed to get the point that something is special about these first eight chapters. Most of the energy of the inspired author goes in the description of that relatively small, initial-entry central campaign. It looks like the inspired writer, it could be Joshua who wrote it but it could be somebody else, you cannot tell, it appears to be written very soon after the conquest is over but there is nothing in the book that says Joshua wrote it so we cannot ever be authoritative, but whoever wrote it, Joshua or somebody close to him or somebody right around that time, it looks like that person said, "I'm going really lay out the basic conceptual pattern here and really discuss it during the initial campaign and after that I am just going to basically wrap up the other campaigns very quickly and then talk about how the land was distributed." If you want to get a feel for what happens, good and bad, in the book of Joshua, it is really those first eight chapters that will give you the details and the rest of it is going to come in another kind of fashion. What do we find in the details? We find basically three things. First, they conquer Jericho without any help from humans and with total combat from God and then they cannot capture Ai at all, even though it is a dinky little place, then they have success and capture Shechem again. It is a very interesting situation.