Thursday, May 06, 2010

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #18 - Be Strong and of a Good Courage

Lesson #18 Be Strong & of a Good Courage
Joshua 1-6, 23-24

Background: Moses was the Lawgiver and Prophet over Israel for 40 years. Due to rebellion and sin of the former slaves, only the younger generation survived to enter the Promised Land. With the exception of Joshua and Caleb, all of Israel is under 60 years of age.

With Moses' death, the children of Israel now looked to Joshua as their leader. "And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him and did as thc Lord commanded Moses" (Deut 34:9).

Preparing to Enter the Promised Land
Joshua 1

Upon the death of Moses and the requisite month of mourning, God immediately calls Joshua to take Israel over the Jordan River into the Promised Land. The Lord describes the land, "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you" (1:3). This land would stretch from the southern Canaanite lands (near the beginning of the Sinai Peninsula) to the River Euphrates in Assyria!

Interestingly, God sees it necessary to tell Joshua three times to "Be strong and of a good courage" (1:6-9). As a condition of being strong and courageous is the reminder to keep the commandments faithfully, in order to have God's power and strength with Israel in their conquests. I wonder how often we need to be reminded of our duty and faith, as we go through our daily routines and struggles.

Joshua tells the 2 1/2 tribes remaining east of the River Jordan (Reuben, Gad and 1/2 of Manasseh) to prepare to keep their promise to assist Israel in gaining the land of promise. It isn't enough for each tribe to get what they want, and then abandon the work. They are no longer a bunch of confederated tribes, but are one nation and people. For the entire House of Israel to prosper means all must do their part. In building Zion today, it does not help if some wards excel, while others struggle to survive. Often it means we must step up and assist those who have not been well established yet.

Spies in Jericho
Joshua 2

Joshua sent two spies to find the weak places of the city Jericho. The city was not far from the banks of the Jordan River. Jericho had heard of the great miracles that Jehovah performed in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in defeating the Amorites and others. Jericho feared the Israelites. There was tension in the air, as the city knew the Israelites would soon be crossing over to invade. When the king heard there were spies afoot, he sent soldiers to kill them. However, the spies found sanctuary in the home of a harlot, Rahab. She promises to assist them and Israel in taking the city in exchange for protection for her family.

On their return, the spies told Joshua, " Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us (2:24)." These are the same peoples that Israel feared forty years before. They could not imagine how God could help them conquer the people of the Promised Land, and ignored the pleas of Joshua and Caleb regarding faith in God's power. Here, God has instilled fear in Israel's enemies. The war is essentially over before it has even begun.

We can also learn that we can't always tell who our friends are. For Israel, their friend in Jericho turned out to be a harlot. Many would have rejected her assistance, simply because her life was distasteful and against God's law. But in accepting the gifts offered by a sinner, Israel was even more blessed. Perhaps we can learn to focus more on the things we have in common with others, than on division, as the spies found with Rahab. In working with Rahab, Israel was blessed, and perhaps it allowed Rahab to receive the blessings of Israel, as well.

Crossing Jordan
Joshua 3

Joshua organizes Israel in crossing the Jordan River. First, the priests carry the Ark of the Covenant, which symbolized the Presence of God, into the water. Where their feet touched the water, the river stopped moving forward. Israel crossed over on dry land, just as they did at the Red Sea.

In the Ancient Near East, tradition had it that God created the earth from chaos. Part of God's creation effort included slaying or controlling the Chaos Monster, Rahab the serpent. Isaiah looked back and noted, "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?" (Is 51:9). The Psalmist proclaimed, "Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm."

The serpent was connected with the darkness and waters at the Creation; the darkness and waters representing Chaos being controlled and allowing God to order the land to be formed and separated from the waters, the light and darkness divided, etc. Interestingly, we see that the serpent's name is Rahab, which ties directly to Joshua's experience at Jericho. Joshua must drive the evil chaos out of the Promised Land.

This Creation story repeats itself as Moses causes darkness to fall upon the land of Egypt, causes the Nile to turn to blood, and finally in dividing or bringing order to the chaos of the Red Sea, in order to allow Israel to cross, escaping the chaos which is Egypt.

Again, we shall see the Creation theme occur, as Joshua leads Israel over the Jordan River. Israel leaves the chaos of the world and enters into its Promised Land. This is a land prepared and ordered by God, a land of milk and honey, a place where Israelite slaves can raise their children in Zion.

Paul will later note that each of us also experiences a passage through the chaos into an ordered life, as we are baptized.

1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat;
4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.(1 Corinthians 10).

The primeval chaos of water is overcome by the resurrection of Christ, who we follow in baptism. We also renew this action of moving from chaos into holy order when we partake of the Sacrament, as well. For Latter-day Saints, the story of Creation from chaos and moving from chaos in our own lives to holy and ordered lives is also a key theme of the temple experience.

In modern revelation, we read: "Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God" (D&C 88:119). This is our call today to bring the world around us out of chaos, and assist God in bringing it into order. While much of the world does lay in chaos and disaster, the temple and hopefully our homes, become a place of order and light.

A Temple-Altar of Remembrance
Joshua 4

Upon crossing into the Promised Land, Israel's first object was to commemorate the event for future generations to remember. Israel did as the early Patriarchs did to establish a place to remember and honor. They built a temple in the wilderness. Anciently, temples were not always built with four walls. Israel carried the Tabernacle, a portable temple, with them in their journeys. Altars in the wilderness became solitary temples or places to worship God. Not all altars were built for sacrifice. Some were built as a memorial of a special experience or occasion, such as when Jacob saw God on his throne. Jacob saw the ladder or staircase leading to heaven with its many levels and steps. After his great theophany (seeing God), Jacob stated, "And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house" (Genesis 28:22).

Israel's first action in the Promised Land was to build a temple, a place for God's house.

The New Covenant of Circumcision
Joshua 5

Now that Israel was inside the land of promise, the men were circumcised. Circumcision was a necessary step to separate Israel from the rest of the land. Canaanites, Hittites and Philistines were not circumcised. They were now considered savage. In fact, the term "philistine" would come to be considered a term to call someone who was unclean, unkempt, uncouth. A philistine was someone who was not ordered by Jehovah, but who followed chaos.

Those born in the wilderness had not been circumcised. Entering into the land of promise, after being symbolically baptized by crossing the Jordan River, meant entering into a new covenant with God. This covenant would be one that would follow every Israelite male his entire life. Unlike the Canaanites, whose worship often included sexual rites, Israel would be pure. Sex would be limited to one's spouse and guided by rules given by Moses. Anything else was considered unclean and impure, threatening Israel with losing God's power.

We no longer require circumcision to enter the covenant. But covenants and rites are still as important in Christianity today as it ever was. We have baptism, Sacramental bread and water/wine, prayer, scripture study, marriage, and temple rites.

With the new covenant and being in the Promised Land, the manna and miracles that kept shoes from rotting in the wilderness ended. Israel would now still be blessed, but would have to provide and work in their own lands now.

Captain of Lord's Host
Joshua 5

13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?
14 And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant?
15 And the captain of the Lord’s host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.

The "Captain of the host of the Lord" is Jehovah. This is an equivalent term to the "Angel of the Lord's Presence" or the "Lord of Hosts (of the armies of God)". Joshua sees God, and has an experience similar to Moses on Sinai. Joshua is on sacred ground, a temple in the wilderness.

This experience was to show Joshua that Jehovah was indeed the Lord of the Promised Land, and that his heavenly armies would support the earthly army of Israel.

Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho
Joshua 6

Here is one place where archaeology/history and the Bible do not exactly match. The story of Joshua at Jericho has Joshua causing the walls to crumble in a large earthquake, after which the city is easy pickings for Israel. Jericho may have been easy pickings for Israel, but according to archaeology, the walls did not come down for Joshua.

"Archaeological evidence indicates that in the latter half of the Middle Bronze Age (circa 1700 BCE), the city enjoyed some prosperity, its walls having been strengthened and expanded. The Canaanite city (Jericho City IV) was destroyed c.1550 BCE, and the site remained uninhabited until the city was refounded in the 9th century BCE."

Most scholars believe Joshua entered the area about the 12th century BC. This means Jericho's walls were destroyed about 250 years before Israel showed up. Why archaeology and the Bible are not in sync on such dates is unknown. Possible options include that another city with walls was indeed destroyed, and later stories combined the later invasion of Jericho with this other attack.

What is important is that Joshua and Israel did take over much of the land. Archaeology does show the beginnings of Israel in the land with pottery and 4 roomed houses that are uniquely of Israelite origin.

Israel, Jericho and the Commandments of God
Joshua 6-7

Jehovah commanded Israel that everything in Jericho would be destroyed, including the women, children, and animals. " And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword" (6:21). Some wonder why God would create the Ten Commandments, including the law "Thou Shalt Not Kill." We find the same conundrum in the story of Nephi being commanded to slay Laban. There is no contradiction, however. God gives a foundational commandment, which is to be obeyed except when God commands otherwise. They are God's commandments. He can choose at any time to change them, or give an exception to them.

Yes, it can seem cruel in our modern view to destroy even the small children and animals. However, Israel was creating a new and Promised Land. It had to be started with clean everything. It had to be purified. Anything that could possibly turn Israel from God would prevent them from receiving his blessings and from being a "nation of priests" and a "peculiar people."

In Joshua 7, we see this problem occur immediately. Israel goes forth to fight the people of Ai (Heap of Ruins). Israel is defeated. They cannot understand how God could suddenly reject them. In seeking God's will, Joshua finds that Israel has sinned: someone has taken treasure from Jericho. Achan and his household are brought forth with the booty. Greed overtook them. There is no choice. Israel must be purified if it seeks to continue into the Promised Land. Achan and his entire household are slain and the booty destroyed and buried as a memorial for Israel to remember to be exact in their covenants with God.

Israel Defeats Its Enemies
Joshua 8-22

In these chapters, we see Israel defeat the people of Ai. (Joshua 8)

The Gibeonites have seen Israel's power and seek to survive by deceit. They put on worn clothing, take rancid food with them, and walk to the camp of Israel, seeking their assistance. They claim to be from afar off, and were wandering in the land, poor and destitute. Israel allows them to stay with them, promising to give them protection. Later, upon finding they were deceived, Israel has no choice but to let them live. However, they enslave them. The Gibeonites decide that slavery to Israel was better than complete annhilation. (Joshua 9)

Israel fight the Amorites, who create a confederation of five nations to fight Israel together. As the battle draws on, Israel continues to win. The Amorites flee, but God pelts them with huge hailstones. However, the daylight began to wane. Joshua stood forth and commanded the Sun to stand still, as Israel finished destroying the Amorite army. The five kings hid in a cave, but were discovered. Joshua had them brought forth, where he obeyed God's command and slew all of them.

Israel destroyed Lachish and Gezer, Hebron and Debir. "So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded" (Joshua 10).

In Joshua 13, we find that there is still land to be conquered, and many of the original inhabitants remain in the land. We must remember, Israel was to encompass the land going all the way to the River Euphrates. This did not occur. Even in King David's reign, when Israel expanded its lands, it still only achieved a small portion of the promised land God intended for them.

The land that has been achieved in Joshua's time was divided by lot among the tribes of Israel. Caleb received the city of Hebron as an additional blessing to his family, due to his faithfulness (Joshua 14). Ephraim receives the hill country, where they must still drive out many Canaanites. The Tabernacle is set up at the place Shiloh (Joshua 18).

Finally, six more cities of refuge are set up. As explained in a previous lesson, these are cities for people to flee to, who have committed manslaughter. As long as the person remained inside the city, he could not be stoned to death for his actions. However, if he ever left the city, he was fair game for revenge by the family of the victim.

Joshua's Last Testament
Joshua 23

Joshua is now old. He would not lead Israel into any more battles. It was now time for him to give his last counsel and leave the guidance of Israel to the high priest, elders and judges of the people.

"Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left" (23:6).

This is similar to the words God gave Joshua at the beginning of the conquest. We find that God's teachings usually do not change much, but must be repeated over and over, as we tend to forget. A key teaching of Moses and the Book of Mormon is but one word, "Remember." Remember the commandments. Remember what happened to your ancestors at the Red Sea and Sinai. Remember the covenants with God.

Joshua again warns Israel to not mix and marry with the Canaanites. Israel has already shown a taste for other gods: those in Egypt with the flesh pots, and with Baal-Peor and his religious harlots. Such actions will cause Israel to forget the covenants, to forget the commandments, to forget Jehovah. And in forgetting comes sin, rebellion, and the loss of God's blessing and power. Israel could just as easily be swept off the land as were the peoples before them.

11 Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the Lord your God.
12 Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to you:
13 Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you (Joshua 23).

Here is where we see just how much we love God. Do we fully follow him, or only insofar as it is convenient? The Nephites also were given such warnings. If they were faithful they would be blessed. However, they would be "scourged" by those unbelievers around them. And if they did not repent, they would eventually be destroyed.

Choose You This Day
Joshua 24

Joshua concluded his last testament to Israel:

14Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.
15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
16 And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods.
17 For the Lord our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed:
18 And the Lord drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the Lord; for he is our God.

Israel covenanted again to follow God. They would not follow the gods which evil men worshiped prior to the Flood. They would not follow the gods and flesh pots of Egypt. They would not worship the gods of the Amorites, whom they recently conquered. They would follow God.

21 And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the Lord.
22 And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses.
23 Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel.
24 And the people said unto Joshua, The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.

The importance of witnesses is important to God, especially concerning covenants. To covenant to put away other gods and to follow Jehovah is as important today as it was back then. Whatever we place as most important in our lives is our god. If that is not the Lord, then we have taken upon us strange gods to follow, whether it be money, work, family, celebrities, material goods, or sin. We cannot serve God and riches at the same time. Each of us must choose for ourselves whom we shall serve. Most of us like dealing in the gray areas of life, allowing for time with God, but also allowing for time with other gods and idols in our lives.

Eventually, it comes down to where we will place our entire heart, might, mind and soul.

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