He was dead. They had mourned him for thirty days and the next day it was expected Joshua would take on the task Moses had given him. But Joshua was afraid. How could he do what Moses had done? Moses had made mistakes, of course he had. He had told Joshua about some of them. But Moses had so much experience.
And he had had Yahweh.
That was what had made the difference. In spite of Moses’ mistakes, Yahweh had always been with him. Joshua had been overcome by the way Moses had sometimes singled him out to fulfill commissions given to him by Yahweh, the One God. It was such an honour.
Like the time Moses had chosen him to be one of the group which were to go ahead of the people and explore the land which was to be theirs. Moses had sent twelve of them out.
“Go south,” he said, “to the mountain, and look out over the land of Canaan. Explore the land and look at the sort of people who live there. Are they strong or weak? How many of them are there? Is the land fertile? What sort of cities do these people live in, or are they tent dwellers? Do they have strongholds?
“Are there trees? Bring a sample of the fruit that grows on the trees. Don’t be afraid, but do these things for Yahweh and for your people.”
So they left and did as Moses commanded.
They explored for forty days, going deep into new territory. Many people inhabited the area. There were several different tribes with their kings and their own religions. But there was wealth, fine crops and flocks of animals that bore witness to the fertility of the land.
At last, they had seen enough and turned back to Moses and the people. They cut bunches of lush grapes and harvested pomegranates and figs. Just as Yahweh had promised their father Abraham, this was a land of plenty.
Once back at the camp, the scouts showed Moses and the people the fruit they had harvested. Joshua agreed with their spokesman, who told everyone it was a land of milk and honey.
But he was shocked as the man continued.
“But the people are like giants! They are strong and there are many of them. Many different tribes inhabit the whole land. They are powerful – too strong for us to go against them.”
Joshua was dismayed. Of all the men who had accompanied him, Caleb was the only other man to disagree with the leader’s opinion. Caleb was quick to voice his objection.
“We are well able to overcome … let’s go at once and possess the land.”
Joshua agreed with him. He had seen miraculous things in the desert as they followed Yahweh. If Moses had told them to go and spy out the land, it was because Yahweh had commanded it. With Yahweh on their side, they could conquer these people.
But the rest of their companions protested, insisting the people in Canaan were stronger than the Israelites. They would not be victorious. They even described the Israelites as grasshoppers compared to the Canaanites.
What would Yahweh think, to hear his own people describing themselves as grasshoppers?
Straight away the people began to cry out and weep in despair. There were complaints against Moses and Aaron for leading them out of Egypt in the first place. They grumbled about Moses and their lives and Yahweh.
Joshua trembled. A man should not grumble about the One God, for Joshua knew Yahweh would not accept it. He expected Moses to step forward and slam his staff onto the rock and declare Yahweh’s anger.
But Moses never did what people expected of him. Instead, he and Aaron fell on their faces in front of the people of Israel.
Joshua felt it was as if the people were turning their backs on Yahweh who had promised them this land. He was overcome with despair. He and Caleb tore their robes in their people’s expression of grief. Caleb’s voice rang out above the objections of the crowds.
“The land which we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
His words fell on deaf ears, for the people started picking up stones to throw at Caleb and Joshua. Joshua feared for their lives, but before their attackers could straighten up from the ground with their stones, the glory of the Lord descended and dazzled them. Joshua heard the thumps as stones fell from their hands. Everyone heard the rumble of thunder as the Lord spoke to Moses.
Once again Yahweh had come to their aid. And once again, Moses managed to persuade him to forgive the people for their rebellion.
So God’s people continued to wander in the desert for years. Moses had confided in Joshua that none of those who had rebelled against Yahweh on that day would enter the land the Lord had promised them.
It had all come to pass, for now, Moses was gone and the burden of leadership fell on Joshua. Moses had laid hands on his successor in front of Eleazar, the priest and all the people at Yahweh’s command sometime before. Moses had assured Joshua that God would be with him, but even so, he was inexperienced and doubtful of his own ability.
So on that first early dawn, as the mourning period for Moses ended, Joshua went to the Tent of Meeting to worship. And the Lord met him there.
Before, he had only heard the rumbling of thunder when Yahweh spoke to Moses. But now the voice of the One God rang clear.
“Joshua, Moses my servant is dead; now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses … As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”
‘Be strong and courageous.’
Three times he said it to Joshua. And that morning Joshua made a choice. He would trust the Lord, for the Lord had promised – and Joshua believed him.
The people followed Joshua, obeying the commands he passed on to them from Yahweh. They rested for three days before they crossed the Jordan. The waters flowing downstream stopped, as if held back by an invisible hand as the priests carrying the Ark took the first step into the stream. And they crossed the Jordan on dry land as their parents and grandparents had crossed the sea all those years before.
The people marvelled at the miracle. Yahweh was indeed with them and the spirit in the camp was one of hope, as they waited to see what Yahweh would do next.
Which was a good thing.
For Yahweh’s next command was the strangest command the people had ever heard.
If there had been any doubt at that time, they would not have followed Joshua and they may not have known the Lord’s grace towards them.
The city of Jericho lay before them.
What hope did they, a throng of desert wanderers, have against such strength?
The people might have turned and fled, but the miracle of the Jordan was fresh in their minds. So they followed the commands Yahweh gave to Joshua.
The One God said to him, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Have seven priests blowing trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. Do this for six days. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast from the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”
Joshua called the priests, and then the people. When they were all together he gave the Lord’s orders to them. He told the people to be silent as they followed the priests and the Ark of the Covenant.
They did what he commanded.
For six days the priests led the way, blowing their trumpets, followed by the Ark of the Covenant and all the people. Not one person raised their voice as they circled the city.
The citizens of Jericho mocked them. They laughed and called out to them, challenging them to fight like men; to respond to their jeers, to do something warlike. But the people stayed silent. They had received such a strange command from the Lord. It was as if the only thing they could do, other than rejecting it outright, was to obey as they had been instructed. After all, over the years they had seen what could happen when they disobeyed the Lord.
At last, dawn on the seventh day was approaching. It was still dark when Joshua left his tent to summon the people. For this day was to be different.
The priests were to march around the city as they had done before, but now they were to do it seven times. In silence, the people would follow. But on the seventh circuit, the priests were to sound a long trumpet blast. Joshua would issue the order for the people to shout.
For then the Lord would give them the city!
As they entered the city, they were to destroy everything to prevent the people of the One God from being contaminated by the possessions of the citizens of Jericho. Only the silver, the gold and the articles of bronze and iron were to be saved. They were to be set apart for the Lord and put in his treasury.
Joshua called the people together and reminded them one last time of the Lord’s words. He watched as they followed the priests and began the first circuit of the city. The people obeyed Yahweh’s command for silence. The citizens of Jericho laughed and jeered as they stood on the walls insulting the people of the One God.
One, two, three, four, five, six times. With each circuit completed, the excitement built up. People looked at one another and watched the walls. But still, they were silent. Joshua marvelled at their obedience. A miracle in itself.
As they drew close to completing the sixth tour around the city, Joshua looked up to the heavens in praise of Yahweh. What was to happen next was in Yahweh’s hands. Joshua had never heard of a city being taken without a battle. But he knew he should not question God. He had no idea how Yahweh would accomplish what he had promised, but he was prepared to trust him, even in this, for Yahweh is always faithful.
The trumpets sounded in a mighty blast. As Joshua ran forward, he gave the order of the One God which Yahweh had given to him.
“Shout …!” and the victory over Jericho began.