The Israelites had just made a 40-year journey through the wilderness meant to make of them a nation of priests. Several purposes had been achieved during their long wandering.
- 1. They had been taught to rely fully on the Lord for their material and spiritual sustenance. You might call this the “wilderness experience,” and it is a valuable teaching tool for all of God’s children. Most of us have our own “wilderness experience,” wherein we have completely taxed all of our own strength and talents and find ourselves unable to cope with our trials and problems. The only recourse is to cry unto the Lord for help and rescue. It is at these times that we discover what Moses learned during his vision of God:
- “And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed…. And calling upon the name of God, he beheld his glory again, for it was upon him; and he heard a voice, saying: Blessed art thou, Moses, for I, the Almighty, have chosen thee, and thou shalt be made stronger than many waters; for they shall obey thy command as if thou wert God” (Moses 1:10, 25).
In other words, without God, man is nothing, but with His help, he has miraculous strength. The Israelites were sustained in the wilderness by many miracles that would anchor them for the rest of earth’s history.
2. The flesh-pots of Egypt were purged from their memory, along with the idolatrous religious practices Egypt embraced. Only three of the original Israelites who left Egypt at age 20 or over remained alive to see the promised land — Moses (who was translated before the Israelites entered it), Caleb, and Joshua (see Numbers 14:38 ). The others perished, so that the Lord could keep a “peculiar people” unto Himself.
3. The Israelites had become a great nation and enjoyed the protection of God during their battles with heathen armies in the wilderness. Thus, the Israelite nation became a standard unto the surrounding pagan societies.
4. The Lord had a captive audience to which to introduce the gospel. The Israelites refused the high priesthood, but they had the Levitical ordinances in the tabernacle, and the symbolism of the higher law.
“Latter-day Saints are taught that Moses was “in the similitude of [the] Only Begotten” ( Moses 1:6 ; see also McConkie, The Promised Messiah, pp. 442–48). Just as Moses, in his role as prophet, lawgiver, mediator, and deliverer, was a type of Jesus Christ, so Joshua, who led Israel into the promised land, was also a type of Jesus, who leads all the faithful into the ultimate land of promise, the celestial kingdom. (See Alma’s comparison of the promised land to eternal life in Alma 37:45 .)
“Joshua, the son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim, was first called Oshea or Hoshea , . . . [ Numbers 13:16 ], which signifies saved, a saviour, or salvation; but afterwards Moses, guided no doubt by a prophetic spirit, changed his name into . . . Yehoshua or Joshua, which signifies he shall save, or the salvation of Jehovah; referring, no doubt, to his being God’s instrument in saving the people from the hands of their enemies, and leading them from victory to victory over the different Canaanitish nations, till he put them in possession of the promised land. . . . By the Septuagint he is called . . . , Jesus Naue, or Jesus son of Nave: and in the New Testament he is expressly called . . . Jesus; [see Acts 7:45 ; Hebrews 4:8 ].” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:3.) In other words, in the original Hebrew both Joshua and Jesus were the same name.”
The transition from the five books of Moses and Moses’ leadership to Joshua parallel the transition from the Gospels of the New Testament to the Acts of the Apostles. Christorganized his Church, and in The Acts, we see the 12 apostles and 70 elders bring it into fruition, a living church. Moses organized the Levitical church, and we see Joshua and the Twelve Tribes and elders bring it into the real world among the heathen nations.
Baptism begins life anew: As Moses was magnified by the Lord in the eyes of Israel when God parted the Red Sea, so Joshua was magnified in the same way through the parting of the Jordan River. In both instances Israel passed through the water into a newness of life. This passage may have been what Paul had in mind when he spoke of Israel’s baptism “in the cloud and in the sea” ( 1 Corinthians 10:2 ; see also vv. 1, 3–4 ). In each instance the passage represented a new covenant agreement. Israel passed over the River Jordan on the first day of the Passover (see Joshua 3:17 ; 4:19 ; compare Exodus 12:3 ), the celebration of which was a fitting review of their deliverance from Egypt.
The Promised Land Joshua 1:4
“Biblical Israel is generally thought of as that region south and southwest of the Lebanon mountains, north and east of Egypt, east of the Mediterranean coastal plain, and west of the Arabian desert. In dimension, Israel was roughly 150 miles from Dan to Beersheba, and at its greatest width it was about 75 miles across. The Lord promised Joshua that the original extent of the land promised to Abraham was to be given to Israel (see Genesis 15:18 ; Joshua 1:4 ). Although the Israelites who went into the promised land with Joshua were generally faithful and obedient, as a nation Israel soon returned to their old ways and lost the blessings promised to them of winning the whole land. Not until the time of David and Solomon (about two hundred years later) did Israel control the land given in the original covenant and then only for a short while, for they soon lost the outermost parts of it again.”
It bothers many people that the Israelites were awarded a land that was peopled, and that they committed acts of violence to defeat the inhabitants, often not sparing even the animals. This is one example people use to distinguish the God of the Old Testament (a god of vengeance) from the God of the New Testament, wherein Christ speaks of loving one another. However, the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same God, and both aspects are part of His identity. The Lord is highly patient with His children. One can see this in His treatment of the Israelites in the wilderness. When they rejected the higher law, He gave them an appendage to it in order to gradually train them. He provided manna for their sustenance until they were able to grow crops in the promised land. The Lord is patient with all people, but He has promised destruction upon any society whose “cup of iniquity is full.” Such a society is so corrupt that no child can be raised up unto righteousness within it. Either the righteous have fled or have been destroyed by the wicked members of the society. The Law of Moses was a law of love just as much as the law Christ Himself taught. In Leviticus 19:18 it says, “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.” Remember that the Lord told Abraham that He would spare Sodom and the other cities of the plain, if there were but ten righteous among them. He then saw to it that Lot’s family, the only God-fearing family left, was led out before Sodom was destroyed. Here are some statements of the Lord regarding the destruction of the wicked:
And verily I say unto you, that they who go forth, bearing these tidings unto the inhabitants of the earth, to them is power given to seal both on earth and in heaven, the unbelieving and rebellious; Yea, verily, to seal them up unto the day when the wrath of God shall be poured out upon the wicked without measure— Unto the day when the Lord shall come to recompense unto every man according to his work, and measure to every man according to the measure which he has measured to his fellow man. Wherefore the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear: Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh; And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth (Doctrine and Covenants 1:8-13).
This statement directly from Jesus Christ pertains to the time of His Second Coming. Remember, that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will be accompanied by great destruction, even the burning of the wicked by fire. Here’s one from the Book of Mormonagainst the wicked city of Amonihah in the Americas:
Behold, now I say unto you that he commandeth you to repent; and except ye repent, ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. But behold, this is not all—he has commanded you to repent, or he will utterly destroy you from off the face of the earth; yea, he will visit you in his anger, and in his fierce anger he will not turn away. Behold, do ye not remember the words which he spake unto Lehi, saying that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land? And again it is said that: Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. But behold, I say unto you that if ye persist in your wickedness that your days shall not be prolonged in the land, for the Lamanites shall be sent upon you; and if ye repent not they shall come in a time when you know not, and ye shall be visited with utter destruction; and it shall be according to the fierce anger of the Lord (Alma 9:12, 13, 18).
The people of Amonihah did not repent. The Lamanite tribes descended upon the city and destroyed it with every last inhabitant in one day, as prophesied by Alma.
It appears that the people who inhabited Canaan when the Israelites finally entered it, were so wicked that in some cases, even their animals had to be destroyed. This could have been necessitated by the spread of disease, which could have threatened the Israelite conquerors. Leaving those animals alive, as the Israelites sometimes did, could have threatened the success of their new society as much as any spiritual threat. Remember that the Lord intends to save us physically as well as spiritually.
The Fall of Jericho and the Loss of Ai Joshua 6, 7
There is symbolism in the destruction of Jericho, in that the Lord ordered everything to be done in sevens, the holy number of God. The
number seven is symbolic of wholeness and perfection, as in the week with its sabbath. The Ark of the Covenant was carried at the forefront; Israel was meant to conquer spiritually, as well as physically. However, though Jericho was conquered, the city of Ai was lost for a time:
There are powerful spiritual lessons… in the account of Achan and Israel’s defeat at Ai. First, the story shows the effect of individual sin on the whole community. No one sins in isolation. We cannot say that our actions influence only ourselves for even if we do something sinful that is completely personal, our individual loss of spiritual power means a lessening of power for all mankind and contributes to the withdrawal of the Lord’s Spirit, and that is damaging to all mankind.
There is a second valuable lesson in the Lord’s answer to Joshua when Joshua asked why Israel had been defeated (see Joshua 7:10–15 ). If we have lost power with God, we can know, as surely as we know the sun will rise on the morrow, that the problem lies within us and not within God. As He said in our day, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” ( Doctrine and Covenants 82:10 ). And the key for restoring the relationship with God was also given when the Lord told Joshua, “Up, sanctify the people” ( Joshua 7:13 ).
More than Jericho, Ai, the second city conquered after Israel crossed the Jordan, became a model for the conquests of other cities. Once Ai was taken, Joshua moved Israel to Mount Ebal and fulfilled the instructions of Moses to build an altar there and pronounce the blessings and cursings of the Lord from Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.
To see a map of Israel’s invasion, click here.
Did the Sun Really Stand Still? Joshua 10:12–14
The Book of Mormon has something to say about this miracle:
“Yea, and if he say unto the earth—Move—it is moved. Yea, if he say unto the earth—Thou shalt go back, that it lengthen out the day for many hours—it is done; And thus, according to his word the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so; for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun. And behold, also, if he say unto the waters of the great deep—Be thou dried up—it is done. Behold, if he say unto this mountain—Be thou raised up, and come over and fall upon that city, that it be buried up—behold it is done” ( Helaman 12:13–17 ).
The Israelites did not Fulfill the Lord’s Command in Destroying the Wicked — Joshua 23
The thirty-one Canaanite city-states destroyed by Joshua in his day were not all that the Lord intended to purge from Israel (see Numbers 23:4–5 ). Since men tend to adopt the values or habits of those with whom they associate, it was imperative that all idolatrous nations in Canaan be destroyed. Joshua warned Israel of three things in the event that some heathen nations, including those that surrounded them, were allowed to remain: (1) beware of social intercourse with them (see Joshua 23:7 ), (2) refrain from worshiping their false gods (see vv. 7–11 ), and (3) avoid intermarriages with them (see v. 12 ). Otherwise, “snares and traps,” “scourges,” and “thorns” awaited Israel ( v. 13 ).
Choose ye this day whom ye will serve:
In Joshua 24 we read that Joshua is nearing the end of his life and counsels the children of Israel to be of good courage and choose to be on God’s side. Some people like to say that those who follow God are like unthinking sheep, but the opposite is true. It takes much courage and strength of character to choose the right. It is the weak who “become a law unto themselves,” and choose to follow the world. Being “meek” is different than being “weak.” The meek will inherit the earth. Christ was the meekest person who ever lived. A meek person is humble and teachable in the ways of God, but he is courageous in his testimony of Christ and willing to serve Him at any hazard.
*Parts of this article have been adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament manual.