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Prophet of Conquest
Spring Quarter: Prophets Faithful To God’s Covenant
Unit 1: Faithful Prophets
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 14, 2021
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: Joshua 5:13-15; 6:1-5, 15-16, 20
Key Verse: Joshua 6:2
- Following the death of Moses, to summarize Joshua’s role as God’s chosen servant in leading the Israelites to their promised inheritance.
- To review how God’s plan, Israel’s faith and obedience led to victory.
As we enter the book of Joshua we are introduced to the divinely appointed leader who is to guide the people of Israel into their promised inheritance. So, when Moses died, God put Joshua in his place.
Now, we often think of Joshua’s role as a military commander before we think of him as being a prophet – if we think of him that way at all.
Was Joshua a prophet? First, he was Moses’ successor, and Moses was called a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15).
Second, God spoke through Joshua to give direction to Israel, and that is one characteristic of a prophet (Hebrew 1:1).
Third, Joshua challenged the people to put away their idols and commit themselves fully to the Lord (Joshua 24:28), a common task of prophets.
And Joshua may be considered a prophet forerunner of Christ. The names “Joshua” and “Jesus” both mean “the Lord is salvation.” Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua. As Joshua led ancient Israel into the promised land of Canaan, Jesus leads generations of God’s faithful people into the promised land of Heaven.
We are told that the first mention of Joshua in Scripture is in Exodus 17:8-16, a context not long after the exodus and the parting of the Red Sea. So by the time of today’s lesson text, Joshua had witnessed many mighty works of God.
The book of Joshua begins with God’s exhortations to Joshua following the death of Moses. God repeats several times the directive for Joshua to be strong and courageous in fulfilling his sacred duties (Joshua 1:6,7,9,18). Joshua had been assured of God’s presence, just as God had guided Moses (Joshua 3:7). And God’s presence with Joshua also points to Joshua’s calling from God, an event that precedes a true prophet’s ministry.
It is generally agreed that the events recorded in the book of Joshua took place between 1250-1225 B.C., and that the book is named for its chief character, not its author. The book of Joshua traces the Israelite’s entry into the Promised Land (Joshua 1-5), conquests and settlements in it (Joshua 6-21), and covenant renewal (Joshua 22-24).
Christians, we are informed, have come to consider the book of Joshua to fit the category of “history” in the Old Testament’s 5-12-5-5-12 arrangement of its 39 books (five books of law, 12 of history, five of poetry, five by major prophets, and 12 by minor prophets). But to Jewish readers, the book of Joshua was part of the Former Prophets (along with Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings). And though the Former Prophets are very different from Latter Prophets (like Isaiah or Hosea), these books are concerned with God’s guiding the people through his chosen leaders. And the first such leader in this section was Joshua, followed by the judges, etc.
Joshua 3-4 records how the Israelites crossed the Jordan River on dry land, much as the earlier generation had crossed the Red Sea on dry land under Moses’ leadership. And after some further spiritual preparation, the Israelites were almost ready for the task of conquering the Promised Land.
The Israelites had crossed the Jordan River, and they were now camped between the river and city of Jericho, whose high walls loomed before them. At the command of Joshua, they were to go up against not only this city, but all the cities and nations that occupied the land of Canaan.
In preparation for what was ahead, Joshua had evidently gone out to reconnoiter. He was looking upon Jericho, doubtless considering the best way to capture that walled city. But he soon learned it was not for him to direct the armies of Israel, except as the Lord himself gave instruction.
Suddenly Joshua saw standing before him a man with a drawn sword in his hand. Apparently without fear, Joshua immediately went over to him and asked the question, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
Based on Joshua’s initial reaction to the appearance of the armed “man,” there is no reason to think he looked extraordinary in any way. But putting two facts side by side yields an extraordinary scene: (1) Joshua’s question indicates his uncertainty regarding whose side the man is on, yet (2) Joshua “went” up to this armed many anyway! The scene is therefore one of confidence in the protective presence of the Lord. As to the answer to Joshua’s question, he was about to find out that the answer wasn’t a simple “us” or “them.”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the Army of the Lord I have now come” (Joshua 5:14). This individual was likely an angel of the Lord, perhaps the same one whom God had promised would go before his people to lead them into the Promised Land (Exodus 23:20-23).
In this passage, we have the “Army of the Lord.” The word “army” is used as a reference to an armed force (Judges 4:15, etc.). The man’s identifying himself as commander reinforces the military overtones suggested by his unsheathed sword and the armed force at his command (compare 1 Samuel 12:9).
Note and this is very important! The man does not give Joshua a straightforward endorsement of allegiance. Whether the man was for or against the Israelites depended upon their faithfulness and obedience to “the Lord.”
Chuck Swindoll often says to university or seminary graduates when he addresses them in commencement messages, “Don’t show me your honors today. Come back in 30 years, and we’ll talk. Today, I’ll congratulate you for the four, five, maybe six years of work it took to graduate. But show me 30 years of faithful consistency, then I will applaud.”
Until the commander of the Army of the Lord witnessed the Israelite’s faithfulness he did not give Joshua a straightforward endorsement of allegiance. The point is, faithfulness and obedience are not options with God. The psalmist stated, “Love the Lord, all his faithful people! The Lord preserves those who are true to him, but the proud he pays back in full” (Psalm 31:23).
Moving on to verse 14b and 15, the posture of “reverence” Joshua adopted should not be seen as indicating worship since angels, as created beings, do not accept worship (Revelation 19:10; 22:8). However, realizing that such a man would not show up just to chit-chat, Joshua’s question sought to get to the heart of the man’s errands immediately. Joshua’s referring to himself as “servant” and to the man as “my Lord” are two more indications of Joshua’s great respect for this messenger sent by God.
As we understood, “the commander of the Lord’s Army” did not immediately reveal the nature of his visit. His directive simply echoes the scene of the burning bush episode involving Moses at Mount Horeb (Sinai). This incident grants us another link between Moses as God’s prophet and Joshua as his legitimate successor (Deuteronomy 18:15; Joshua 1:1-9).
The walled city of Jericho was the first obstacle that confronted the people of Israel as they set out to claim their promised inheritance. But how were they to subjugate this walled city when they had no battering rams or other engines of war?
Joshua had previously sent two spies into the city to assess the situation there. And although they had gained entrance, one or more alert members of the populace had informed authorities of their presence and location. However, under protection from Rahab, the spies had learned that the city was in a state of panic because of reports of what the Lord had done to the kings east of the Jordan River (Joshua 2).
To the question of how the Israelites were to subjugate the walled city, we find the answer in Hebrews 11:30, “By faith the walls of
Jericho fall, after the army had marched around them for seven days.” And it is only by faith that such obstacles as walls are overcome in our spiritual lives.
Surprisingly, the “Lord” himself, not the commander of the Lord’s army, addressed Joshua. This could indicate either (1) that the commander prepared Joshua for the Lord to arrive on the scene or (2) that the Lord had chosen first to introduce himself as commander of the army before identifying himself more fully. Either would be in keeping with ways that God had interacted with great men from the past (Genesis 18:1-2; Exodus 3:1-4).
The description of the forthcoming conquest of Jericho in terms of “its kings and its fighting men” reassured Joshua that the victory would be complete. Neither king nor soldiers would escape and we should note that the Lord did not say “I will deliver,” but “I have delivered.” The victory is so assured that he spoke of it as already having happened.
The promised land was a gift from God to Israel (for example, Numbers 13:1, 2). They had done nothing to earn or deserve it; it was a demonstration of God’s gracious treatment of them as his covenant people. And because of this feat, their life in the land was to be different from that of the nations they dispossessed.
Because God was the giver of the land his instructions for taking the land had to be followed to the letter. There was no room for human schemes or military tactics. All was ordered of the Lord and Joshua and Israel had but to follow and obey.
The following are a few notes taken from God’s strategic plan to conquer Jericho (read Joshua 6:3-5).
First, the Lord’s intent here is that the Israelites would realize that the victory was solely by His might, not theirs. Second, unlike other nations, military success in Israel didn’t depend on numbers, technology, or skills. Rather it depended on the Lord’s presence, and the Ark of the Covenant would symbolize that presence. Third, obeying God was the key to victory. Fourth, the deviation from the pattern of the six days marked the fact that the “seventh” day would bring a different result. Fifth, armies need ways to communicate, and the trumpets of curved “ram’s horns” served that purpose. And, sixth, the shout of the “whole army” in combination with that longer blast would precede the Lord’s bringing down “the wall of the city.” No other military action would be necessary for God to raze Jericho’s defenses. For “everyone” to go “straight” in would keep each other from getting in each other’s way.
Joshua 6:6-14 (not in our printed text) records the obedience of the people, the priests, and the armed man to Joshua’s orders. The result was the walls came down.
Joshua 6:15-16, 20
Joshua spoke again as though the Lord had already given them Jericho. As we know, this city was being conquered through God’s power, not through Israel’s greatness or might. Though it had not yet happened, it was as good as accomplished.
Joshua 6:17 (not in our printed text) contains a reminder to spare Rahab and her family because of her protecting the spies previously sent by Joshua to spy out the city. Everything else in the city was slated for destruction.
Now, the importance of following God’s direction not only applied to the conquering of Canaan but was to be a central feature of Israelite faith from then on. It was to be the key not only to conquering of the land but also keeping it. The key to remaining in the land would never be found in military might, economic strength, or by mastering the tactics of international diplomacy. It would be found only in continuing to recognize the land as a gift from God and honoring him as the giver in every phase of life. And to fail in this regard would surely mean to forfeit the gift God had given them.
The first lesson we Christians would do well to remember is that God’s commands are still meant to be obeyed without equivocating. Though Christians may disagree on some particulars, we know from Jesus that our first command is to love the Lord (Mark 12:30) and loving him involves obedience (John 14:15).
Second lesson, walls are a problem that need to be addressed! Ancient Jericho relied on a wall surrounding the city to protect its inhabitants from invaders. As individuals, many of us have built walls in our hearts and minds for a similar purpose: to protect our self-esteem, guard against challenges to our prejudices, etc. And often such walls end up destroying our relationships with family and others. Sometimes these walls are so strong that only the power of God can break them down. So what are some of the walls in our lives that need to be broken down?
Third lesson, no power can stand against us if we are careful to give God His rightful place in our lives.
Resources for this lesson
- Have the class discuss the lessons in the “Lessons Considered” section of today’s lesson.
- What further lessons did class members gain from today’s lesson?
- What’s the single most important thing you can do today to hold yourself accountable to acting as the Lord desires?
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).
- “2020-2021 Standard Lesson Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 241-248.
- “The Abingdon Bible Commentary” by Lindsey B. Longacre, pages 348-349.
- The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume II, pages 610-613.