Entering the Promised Land
After wandering in the desert for forty years, Israel finally enters the Promised Land. This is a partial fulfilment of God’s much earlier promise to Abraham, and a delayed completion of the Exodus that had taken Israel out of slavery. Led by Joshua, Israel crosses over the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. The river parts, mirroring the parting of the Red Sea; God is still with his people.
Israel’s early years in the Promised Land are not a walk in the park. There are some stunning successes, but also some stunning failures as Israel struggles to live out their mission to be God’s people. They continue to grumble, reject God’s Covenant and fail to trust him; just as they had done in the desert, just as Adam and Eve had done in the Garden. The issues that will later lead Israel into exile are already present in their early days in the Promised Land. We are left with a question that will stay with us for a long time: How is God going to redeem the world through this nation, even as he promised Abraham?
New Leader, Same Mission: Joshua 1:1-11
After 40 years of desert wanderings, Israel is ready to enter the Promised Land under their new leader Joshua. In this transition, God’s promises guarantee that the mission will succeed but Joshua must be very careful to obey all that God has commanded. This will require strength and obedience.
Essential to Joshua’s role will be his engagement with God’s word. He is to meditate on it day and night so that he is enabled to obey it. This kind of meditation does not empty the mind but rather fills the mind with God’s word. It can be a form of purposeful repetition, paying careful attention, appreciating its facets and its whole– so that God’s word is hidden in our hearts (Psalm 119:9-11).
Eugene Peterson, drawing from many years of experience as a pastor and translator, highlights the rewards of meditating on Scripture. The Hebrew word for meditate is hagah — the same word used in Isaiah 31:4 to describe how a lion savors its prey. Peterson likens this to the way a dog “meditates” on a bone; gnawing it, turning it over and around, licking it, taking pleasure in it. Most Christians have sampled Scripture. But how many of us have meditated on both the Old and New Testaments, right down to the marrow? For further thought’s on meditating on scripture, see Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book (Eerdmans, 2006). Excerpt here.
- When are you strong and courageous, on the basis of God’s word?
- We are not Joshua entering the Land. What reason(s) might we have for eagerly digesting God’s word, often?
Entering the Promised Land and the renewal of the Covenant: Joshua 3-5
Israel finally enters the Promised Land. Joshua is presented as a new Moses, leading a new ‘exodus’ across the Jordan River, a sign to Israel and the surrounding nations that God is with them. Outside Jericho the Covenant is renewed— the Israelites are starting to look like the nation God called them to be. ‘The Commander of the Army of the Lord’ visits Joshua, and like Moses he is told to remove his sandals as he is on holy ground. Just as God led Israel under Moses, so he is leading them under Joshua: but whose side is he on?
Joshua’s question to ‘The Commander of the Army of the Lord’ (5:13-15) is turned back upon him: whose side will Israel be on? Clearly, God is on a mission to cleanse his land of the Canaanites. He invites Israel to join him.
- Is God on your side or are you on his side?
Israel after Joshua: Judges: 1:1-26
The pattern of conquest generally established in the book of Joshua seems to continue after Joshua’s death at the beginning of the book of Judges. Israel continues to defeat the Canaanite peoples and take their land. Compare God’s commands in Deuteronomy 7:1-5 to the events described at the beginning of Judges. What questions or concerns do you have?
Israel and the Surrounding Nations: Judges 1:27-3:11
God had commanded Israel to drive the nations out of the Promised Land, but in the book of Judges we see the consequences of Israel’s failure to obey. After the death of Joshua, Israel begins a downward spiral. Throughout Judges, a pattern repeats: Israel worships other gods, they are handed over to their enemies until God raises up a deliverer (a ‘judge’) to rescue them, Israel obeys for a season, and then the cycle begins again.
Shedding Light on the Scene
The last words of Moses to Israel: Deuteronomy 29-30; Joshua 23-24
At the end of their lives both Moses and Joshua give similar challenges to Israel. God has fulfilled his promises to Abraham, now Israel has a choice: keep the covenant and enjoy God’s blessing; or abandon it and face the curse. Both Moses and Joshua predict that Israel will choose death not life, but they also offer hope that God will still redeem his people.
As Israel enters the Promised Land and begins to settle in, we are left with a question: Can they remain faithful?
Holy Genocide?: Deuteronomy 7
God’s command to ‘devote to destruction’ all the Canaanite peoples amounts to Genocide. This would save Israel from being tempted by their gods, their customs and their culture (see also Deut 20:16-18). It also gave expression to God’s judgment on the Canaanites’ false religion, which included among other things, child sacrifice and ‘sacred’ prostitution in the use of Asherah poles and the worship of gods like Molech and Baal (see Gen 15:16; Ex 34:13; Lev 20:1-5). God’s verdict was that it was an abomination so vile and all-pervasive, and that the danger of his own people being corrupted by it was so great, that it could be dealt with only by wholesale destruction.
Both the practices of the Canaanites and God’s command to wipe them out challenge our contemporary sensibilities.
For further thought:
- What gives God the right to exercise judgment before Judgment Day, as he did against Sodom and Gomorrah, or as he did in Noah’s time?
- What is it about God’s absolute and final judgment that we find hard to accept?
- The story of Rahab the prostitute of Jericho (Joshua 2:1-21; 6:22-23) illustrates that God’s mercy is always available to those who will turn away from sin and turn to God for forgiveness.
God fights for and against Israel: Joshua 6-7
God is a mighty warrior (Joshua 5:13-15), but he will fight either for or against Israel, depending on their faithfulness to the covenant. God desires a ‘holy people’, set apart and obedient to him, and he does what is required to help Israel be that people.
For further thought:
- What does the unusual parade around Jericho say about the leadership of God’s people? What does it say about the mission to conquer the land and peoples of Canaan?
- An easy victory at Jericho is followed by humiliating defeat in Ai. How might this bring to a head the key questions raised in the first 6 chapters of the book of Joshua?
A Low Point: Judges 19-21
As noted before, the book of Judges seems to have a cyclical theme where peace is broken by sin, followed by judgment, despair, God’s deliverance provided by a ‘judge’, and then another season of peace. But this cycle is actually a spiral, a downward spiral which goes from bad to worse. The final cycle of the book is the most disturbing. The book ends with Israel almost torn apart by civil war. Israel seems no better, if not worse, that the surrounding nations.
For further thought:
- This final episode is framed by some bookends (see Judges 19:1 and 21:25). What do you think the author might be suggesting?
- How can God possibly redeem the world through the descendants of Abraham when they are not acting like the ‘holy people’ they were called to be?
God captured by the Philistines: 1 Sam 2:26-7:2
Samuel is introduced into the narrative in a manner reminiscent of the Judges. Perhaps he will be another Judge to rescue Israel? He grows up among the perplexing family of Eli the priest. Wars with the Philistines and surrounding nations continue to plague Israel.
In this context, Israel treats the Ark of the Covenant as a military totem, not the holy place of God’s presence. God is not a talisman and shows this by allowing the symbol of his presence to be captured by the Philistines.
What does this comic-tragedy reveal about the character of God himself?
Samuel, the last Judge: 1 Samuel 7:3-8:22
The book of Judges has told a tragic story of Israel’s descent into idolatry, sin, rape, violence and civil war. Samuel is the last Judge in Israel. As he ages, the people demand that God give them a king like those in the surrounding nations. Samuel is heart-broken. Israel had rejected God’s call on their lives, thereby rejecting God’s kingship, in exchange for a human king.
This passage raises a persistent and haunting question: Will Israel’s kings lead them into greater faithfulness or will Israel end up looking just like other nations?
Looking Forward and Backward
The fulfilment of the promises to Abraham, the hope of rest in a good land, the opposing realities of blessing and cursing are major themes running, and indeed driving, the biblical story. Each of the following passages draws upon one of more of these themes. As you read, consider how these powerful motifs shape both the biblical story and your own story.
Blessing and Cursing the Earth: Genesis 1:26-3:19
Eden is often aligned with the Promised Land in the Biblical narrative. The duality of blessing and cursing is clearly prefigured by the first chapters of Genesis.
God’s promises to Abraham: Genesis 13:14-18; Genesis 15
Abraham is promised land and many descendants, through whom God will restore the whole world. This is the great expectation that Israel has within them as they begin their Exodus and as they cross the Jordan River.
The Broken Covenant: Jeremiah 11
As God’s people repeatedly turn from him, God sends prophet after prophet to warn of the consequences of the broken covenant. Ultimately, Israel’s unfaithfulness leads to exile from the Promised Land, which is the fulfilment of the curse Moses warned about in Deuteronomy 28-30.
The future blessing of Israel: Isaiah 11
Israel’s prophets longed for a time when their nation would no longer be cursed and devastated by God, but would live again in the Promised Land under the blessing of God. Isaiah foreshadows this in the promise of a future saviour figure.
The promise fulfilled in Christ: Galatians 3:1-4:7
Themes of Abraham’s promise, blessing and curse, are woven together in this passage. Jesus is the true descendant of Abraham through whom the world is restored and freed. It is Jesus who suffers the curse in our place.
Reading the Whole Bible
|Mar. 1: Deut. 1-4|
Mar. 2: Deut. 5-8
Mar. 3: Deut. 9-12
Mar. 4: Deut. 13-16
Mar. 5: Deut. 17-19
Mar. 6: Deut. 20-23
Mar. 7: Deut. 24-26
Mar. 8: Deut. 27-30
Mar. 9: Deut. 31-33
Mar. 10: Deut. 34; Josh. 1-3
|Mar. 17: Judg. 1-3|
Mar. 18: Judg. 4-7
Mar. 19: Judg. 8-10
Mar. 20: Judg. 11-14
Mar. 21: Judg. 15-17
Mar. 22: Judg. 18-21
|Mar. 11: Josh. 4-6|
Mar. 12: Josh. 7-10
Mar. 13: Josh. 11-13
Mar. 14: Josh. 14-17
Mar. 15: Josh. 18-20
Mar. 16: Josh. 21-24
|Mar. 23: 1 Sam. 1-3|
Mar. 24: 1 Sam. 4-7
Mar. 25: 1 Sam. 8-10
Mar. 26: 1 Sam. 11-14
Mar. 27: 1 Sam. 15-17
Mar. 28: 1 Sam. 18-21
Mar. 29: 1 Sam. 22-24
Mar. 30: 1 Sam. 25-28
Mar. 31: 1 Sam. 29-31
Reading through the allotment of territories in the Promised Land makes a bit more sense with this map: