After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the children of Israel finally reached the promised land. But the land was inhabited by wicked, idol-worshipping peoples. Before the Israelites could live there, it had to be cleansed of all evil.
Moses had led the people out of slavery and through the wilderness, but he was old and could not go with them into the promised land. Instead, he prayed to find out who the new leader of the Israelites would be. The Lord told him to “take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him.”
Joshua, whose name means “God is help,” was born in Egypt while the Israelites were still in bondage. He had served as minister to Moses throughout the forty years of the Exodus and now, at eighty years of age, was being asked to do a difficult thing. But Joshua was faithful; he knew that the Lord would help him. Humbly he accepted this call to lead Israel in cleansing the promised land.
The first thing that the Lord commanded Joshua to do was to have the people cross the Jordan River with the ark of the covenant, which was to be carried by the Levites.
The ark of the covenant was a sacred chest that contained the Tables of the Law (scriptures). It was to be carried to the middle of the river, and the people were to follow it, pass it there, and continue to the other side of the river.
Joshua was not to worry about the Israelites doubting his leadership over them. “This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel,” the Lord told him, “that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee.”
When the priests started to carry the ark into the overflowing river, the water upstream stopped flowing and heaped up, leaving the riverbed dry for the people to cross. From the middle of the crossing, the priests watched as all the rest of the Israelites, about forty thousand people, crossed the Jordan River. After everyone had completely crossed, the priests finished carrying the ark across.
To help them remember this great miracle, Joshua commanded the people to erect a monument of twelve stones taken from the riverbed. He told them, “When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones?
“Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.”
Later the Lord instructed Joshua to conquer the city of Jericho. It was a small city but was completely encircled by a strong wall many feet thick. Instead of commanding the Israelite warriors to fight against Jericho, the Lord told Joshua to have them march around the city once each day for six days. The ark of the covenant was to be carried with them by Levite priests, and seven of the priests were to carry trumpets made of ram’s horns but not blow on them. On the seventh day the warriors were to circle the city seven times; then the seven priests were to sound their trumpets. At the sound, all the people were to give a great shout.
The men did as Joshua instructed, and when the trumpets sounded on the seventh day, Joshua ordered, “Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city.”
At the tremendous sound, the strong walls of Jericho tumbled to the ground, and the Israelite army charged in and captured Jericho.
Joshua next went to battle against the wicked people in the land of Ai. The Lord had promised that He would help the Israelites if they obeyed Him, but the people of Ai won the battle! Joshua, bewildered, asked God why He had not helped the Israelite armies.
The Lord answered, “Israel hath sinned.” He told Joshua that His commandment that no one should steal during the battle of Jericho had been broken. Because it had been broken, the Israelites had lost the battle with the people of Ai.
Joshua arose early the next morning and began a search of the people, tribe by tribe. Finally in one tribe, he found a man named Achan who had stolen silver and gold during the conquest of Jericho. According to the command of the Lord, Achan was punished for his sin. Once more the armies of Israel entered Ai. This time the Lord helped them, and they won the battle.
When the Israelite army battled the Amorites, they had to fight the armies of the kings of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon, too, because they had banded together. Joshua’s warriors fought valiantly, and the other armies began to flee. As they ran, the Lord cast down great hailstones that killed more of the Israelites’ enemies than were killed by Joshua’s men.
But the battle had not quite been won, and night was fast approaching. So Joshua, full of faith and the power of God, commanded the sun and moon to stop in their places. With the sun and moon stopped, the Israelites were able to win the battle, and everyone knew that the Lord was fighting for Israel.
Joshua was one hundred ten years old when he died. Before he did, he called the people together and reminded them that it was the Lord God who had freed them from Egypt, had led and fed them in the wilderness, and had driven their enemies out of the promised land. “Be ye therefore very courageous,” Joshua told his people, “to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses.”
Joshua warned the people against worshiping false gods and then said, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
The people answered, “The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.”
Joshua had the people make a covenant that they would always remember this promise and obey God.
Joshua’s mission on earth was now finished. He had been a devout warrior, a worker of many miracles. When he died, this true servant of the Lord was buried in his own city, Timnath-Serah.