Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Joshua, the Story

For our VBS, we're covering the story of Joshua.  This is more or less the story as I'm telling it, plus a few teaching notes and discussion questions.  This telling grew out of the previous bible study.

Start with the timeline: Creation, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Jesus, something historical (knights, pilgrims, etc.), Today.

In particular, ask about Moses, and get or share at least the Exodus story. When the Lord frees them, they are supposed to go to Mount Sinai to worship and praise God, and then to the land of Canaan, that God has promised them. It was like an entire big city trying to get up and walk someplace new. The Israelites were divided up into 12 tribes, based on Jacob/Israel’s 12 sons, which included Joseph.

The Story of Joshua

Day 1
So almost as soon as the Israelites left Egypt, before they even got to the mountain to worship and praise God, they had a battle. The people – called the Amorites (possible aside about people named after their ancestors) – did not want this humongous crowd of people coming through their land. The Israelites were confused, tired, and anxious about what their future would hold. And now they have a battle on their hands!

This is the first we hear about Joshua. Moses calls him forward to be the general of the people: Joshua, son of Nun, and Joshua goes forth into battle. Moses goes above the battle with the staff the Lord gave him. When he raises the staff, the Israelites start winning the battle. When his arms lower, they start losing. So his brother Aaron and a man named Hur make him sit down, and they help him hold his arms up. So Israel wins the battle! Then the Lord tells Moses, “Write this reminder on a scroll, and make sure that Joshua hears it, too.” (Exodus 17)

After this, Joshua, son of Nun, becomes Moses’ assistant. When the Israelites finally get to the mountain, Moses is supposed to go up on the mountain to talk with the Lord. A cloud came down on the mountain to show God’s presence. Moses leaves the Israelites to worship at the base, and Aaron and Hur to watch over them. Moses enters the cloud for 40 days and 40 nights. Was Joshua in the cloud, too? We don’t know! This is when God gave Moses the 10 commandments. But Joshua stayed up with Moses the whole time, because when they came down, he said, ‘It’s so loud – sounds like a battle!’ And that’s when the Israelites had made a golden calf, and were worshipping that, instead of worshipping God. Moses was so angry he broke the tablets of the law, and he and Joshua went back up on the mountain. God forgave them and gave Moses new stone tablets with the Law. (Ex 24)

God gave very specific instructions for making an Ark – a container like a big box – to hold the tablets. And a tent where they could put the ark and that would be where the Lord dwelled. Moses would go in this tent to talk with God. “The Lord would speak to Moses personally, as a man speaks to his friend.” Moses would take Joshua, son of Nun, with him to this tent of meeting, and the pillar of smoke would come to the front of the tent while they were in. When Moses went out to share with the people what God said, Joshua stayed in the tent. (Ex 33) Why do you think he did that?

Finally, about a year after Mount Sinai, they reached Canaan, the promised land. They received manna in the morning and quail at night to eat. Manna appeared like frost on the ground, and quails are like a small chicken. Sometimes we think of manna like a kind of bread. Moses, at God’s command, sent one person from each tribe to scout out the new land. It had been more than 400 years since Jacob had left to take his sons to join Joseph in Egypt. Joshua represented the tribe of Ephraim, and a man name Caleb represented the tribe of Judah. These 12 men went into the land looking for all the details Moses had asked about. What might they have been looking for? (Food, people, cities, armies.) They crossed the big river Jordan, and went into Canaan for 40 days.

They found an amazing land! More food than they could have imagined. Moses asked them to bring back fruit, and they brought a bunch of grapes so big it had to be carried on a pole between 2 men. They described a fertile land with many people and cities and kings. They said “It really is flowing with milk and honey.” But… they also said the people were big. Ten of the scouts were afraid of trying to go in, even though the Lord had promised to clear their way. Caleb told the people to be quiet and listen to Moses. Caleb said, “Let’s go now and take possession of the land. We should be more than able to conquer it.” But the men who had gone with him said, “We can’t attack those people! They’re too strong for us!” So they started spreading lies among the people. The land devours the people who live there! The people who live there are giants! We’ll all die if we try to go there! Only Joshua and Caleb told the truth and supported Moses. So what do you think the people said?

God was very angry. The 10 lying spies were struck dead by a plague. Moses begged for forgiveness for the people. Again. And God spared them, but he did give a curse. None of the grownups who rejected the Promised Land would be able to go in, and the whole tribe of Israel would have to wait 40 years. One year for each day. So they went back into the wilderness. Only Caleb and Joshua would return. (Numbers 13)

What did you learn about Joshua? Tomorrow we’ll find out what happens next. Even Joshua didn’t know what God was preparing him for.

Day 2
Timeline review, plus discuss ‘What happened yesterday?’

At one point in the wilderness, even Moses disobeyed God. So he was not going to enter into the Promised Land either. But God led him up onto a mountain to show him the land. He also had Moses tell Joshua that Joshua was going to be the leader of the people now, and was going to lead them into the Canaan. Moses blessed him, laying on his hands. God spoke to Joshua directly, telling him ‘Be strong and courageous! Don’t tremble or be terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ In fact, God told him twice: “Be Strong and Courageous” How do you think he was feeling? (Num 27, Deuteronomy 31) From then on, Joshua was full of the Spirit. (Joshua 1)

Right away, Joshua tells the people it’s time to go in. He gave them three days to pack. He sent two spies into the big city that guarded the river, Jericho. They stayed with a woman named Rahab, who almost everyone in Jericho disapproved of. But somehow the king’s men found out they were spies and went to Rahab’s to find them. She tells the spies that everyone in Jericho knows what the Lord has done for Israel, and that they are all scared.  She hid and protected the spies, but made them promise to spare her and her father’s family. They agreed, and later were able to escape back to the city. (Josh 2)

But how to cross the Jordan? A few spies can get across, but a whole nation of people with all their stuff? God gives Joshua the plan. Send the priests carrying the ark of the covenant, which holds the tablets of the law, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s sprouting staff, into the river, which was at flood stage. The river will stop, and the people can cross. Like a whole big city’s worth of people. The priests went out, and the river stopped. Like there was dam, the water built up in a wall. The people crossed on dry land. Joshua told the leader of each tribe to grab a stone from the river to be a reminder of what God was doing. All the people crossed safely, and they made camp. They had a meal from the food that grew in Canaan - in fact their Passover meal. (What did the Passover meal help them remember?) And that was the end of the manna; God let them know that the story of their time in Egypt was over and their story in the Promised Land had begun. (Josh 3)

Now that they were across the river, Joshua was faced with the problem of Jericho. A big, powerful city with massive walls to protect it.  Joshua went out to pray about this problem, and almost immediately bumped into a stranger wearing a sword. ‘Are you one of us or one of our enemies?’ Joshua asked him. ‘Neither,’ he said, ‘I am the commander of the Lord’s Army. The Lord is going to hand over Jericho to you. Have the priests march around the city, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, once a day for six days. On the seventh day, march around 7 times. After that, blow the shofar and shout with all your might.’ Joshua told the priests the instructions, and then he told the soldiers to go in front of them. For six days in a row, the marched around the city. Their instructions for the 7th day included completely destroying the city, taking nothing for themselves, bringing any treasure for the Lord’s house, and sparing Rahab. He charged the spies with finding her and getting her and her family out safely. On the 7th day, they marched all 7 times. Then Joshua gave the command: Priests blow your horns! Then he told the people to all shout with all their might. And the Lord crumbled the mighty walls of Jericho. The soldiers went in and completely conquered the city. One soldier disobeyed the Lord’s command, took some treasure for himself, and brought ruin on himself and his family. Rahab really became a part of the Israelites, and in fact is the great-great-great-grandmother of David and one of Jesus’ ancestors. (Josh 6)

The Israelites were finally safely in the Promised Land. Unfortunately there were 30 kings who wanted them out! But that’s the story for tomorrow night.

Day 3
Timeline review. What happened yesterday? What’s their big problem now?

The first battle after Jericho was with the city of Ai. They won that by splitting into 2 armies. One army ran away, and when the King of Ai and his army gave chase, the other Israelite army came from behind and trapped them. (Josh 8)

The next people they met were the Gibeonites. Even though they were more powerful than the people of Ai, they were terrified of the Israelites and more so, their God. So they put on their oldest clothes and sandals, brought old crumbly bread and wineskins, and went to the Israelites. They told them they had heard of the power of God (true) and came from far away (false) to make a treaty. (What’s a treaty?) ‘How do we know you’re not from Canaan?’ the Israelites asked, ‘we’re supposed to conquer this country completely.’ ‘Look at our clothes, sandal, wineskins and bread!’ the people from Gibeon said. The Israelites were convinced, and make a promise in God’s name. Without asking God. Soon they found out they had been tricked! The Israelites wanted to kill the Gibeonites. But Joshua says no, they made a promise in God’s name and now they had to keep it. He made them the servants for the Tabernacle, and they became a part of the Israelite nation. (Josh 9)

When the King of Jerusalem heard about this, he got together four more kings and attacked Gibeon. The Gibeonites sent word to Joshua and asked for help, so Joshua marched all night with the army to surprise the five kings. The Lord sent them into disorder, and finished the battle with large hailstones. During this battle, Joshua asked the Lord to stop the sun in the sky, so there would be no night for the enemies to escape. And He did, making the sun stand still for an entire day. (Josh 10)

The Israelites then defeated the kings of the south. So most of the remaining kings gathered together to make a massive army. The Lord told Joshua not to worry. The Israelites only had to make it so they couldn’t use their chariots, and then the Lord would hand over the army. And that’s just how it happened. Israel defeated king after king with the Lord’s help, and yet none of those cities asked for mercy; instead they chose to fight. In this way, Joshua conquered the whole land, as God had promised Moses, not leaving out even one part. (Josh 11)

Are we called to crush our enemies like the Israelites? No! Now we have Jesus’ command to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:44).

The Lord told Joshua it was time to start dividing up the land among the tribes. Some decisions were made on the spot, some by promises that Moses had made. Joshua listened to the people, and changed decisions to be fair if that was needed. One of the people who came to Joshua was Caleb. He reminded Joshua of how Moses had promised him the land he had explored 40 years ago. Even though there were the giant people there, Caleb told Joshua, “so now look at me today. I’m 85 years old. I’m still as fit to go to war now as I was when Moses sent me out. Now give me this mountain region which the Lord spoke of that day. You heard that the people of Anak are still there and that they have large, fortified cities. If the Lord is with me, I can force them out, as he promised.” So Joshua did as Moses had promised. (Josh 14) The Israelites gave Joshua the city he had wanted, and he rebuilt it and lived there. (Zoomable map.)

When all the land had been divided, Joshua called together the people. He told them to respect the Lord, and get rid of the gods of Egypt and the gods of the Canaanites they had conquered. If even after all he has done for you, you don’t want to serve the Lord, decide that now. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

The people dedicated themselves to the Lord. Joshua asked them if they were sure, and they said yes! Joshua warned them that if they went back to other gods that they would deserve disaster because God is perfect.

And they had many problems, but the Lord showed them great mercy, even to the point of sending his own son. Jesus, instead of calling us to conquer a country for ourselves sends us out to let people know about God’s mercy. (Matthew 28:19) But we can learn a lot about how to do it from following Joshua’s example. What made him a great leader?

Photo credits: Flickr - popculturegeek.com, Jamie Lynn Ross

1 comment:

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