Entering the Land of Canaan

THE narrative concerning the children of Israel entering the land of Canaan is recorded for us in the Book of Joshua. As we view this momentous episode in their history, we can sense an air of excitement in the camp of Israel. Anticipation was high because a portentous event was imminent. They were about to become a nation with a country! Their faith was to be realized in a promise Jehovah God had made to their father, Abraham, four hundred and seventy years earlier. God’s promise to Abraham was that he would give the land of Canaan to him and to his posterity forever. Before Moses’ death, as he stood at the top of Mount Pisgah looking over into Canaan, God outlined the extent of the land that was to be Israel. Moses was not allowed to enter Canaan. But now, under the leadership of Joshua, they were camped at the border of that very land.

Perhaps there was a shred of doubt in the minds of some when, in retrospect, they looked back forty years to the time they had stood in the same position—just at the borders of the land. At that time, only three months after they had escaped from Egypt “with a high hand” and with triumphant songs of praise to God upon their lips, they reached the border of Canaan. (Exod. 14:8; 15:1-21) And yet, when Moses had sent the twelve spies for reconnaissance into Canaan, only two came back with positive reports. Joshua and Caleb said, “Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.” “Surely it floweth with milk and honey”! (Num. 13:30,27) But the other ten spies “brought up an evil report of the land. … [It] is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof … and there we saw the giants … and the people wept that night.” (Num. 13:32,33; 14:1) Because of these stories of dark and foreboding walled fortresses, and of giants, their anticipation turned to fear—a fear so great it drove them to consider stoning Caleb and Joshua! (I Cor. 10:5; Num. 14:10) Their faith in Jehovah God was not strong enough to follow his leadings.

But now, after forty terrible years of wandering in the wilderness, the Sinai desert had taken its toll of that entire generation. Even their staunch leader, Moses, was now dead. (Deut. 34:4,5) Only the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb, remained of the generation that came out of Egypt. (Num. 32:11,12) And they were still convinced that God was a mighty God who could give them Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey.

Historians assure us that Palestine was not the arid, unproductive country we know today, demanding irrigation to make crops spring forth in abundance. No, at that time, “the records of Rameses II of Egypt show the conditions of Palestine and adjacent countries in the age of Moses prior to the Exodus. The. Egyptian king brought back from there gold, glass, gum, cattle, ivory, ebony, boats, horses, chariots enwrought with gold and silver, iron, steel, dates, oil, wine, asses, cedar, suits of armor, war galleys, incense, gold dishes, precious stones, honey, lead, brass, paints, all plunder of a rich, civilized land. The meadows of Palestine, its fortresses, its roads and its orchards are mentioned showing that prosperity of every kind abounded.” (Grecken’s History) Surely, being citizens of such an abundant region was a wonderful prospect to contemplate.

And so here stood Israel, forty years later, poised again at the frontier of what was to become their homeland. All were new faces, all doubts dissolved, ready to follow Joshua. Although he was a man over eighty years old, he was still strong and agile. (Josh. 14:10,11) After the death of Moses he was the logical choice of God to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land. He had been Moses’ dedicated right-hand man, apparently already demonstrating great leadership abilities. It was he who had led Israel in their fierce fray with the Amalekites, and, with the Lord’s help, won the battle. Since Moses was gone, the people turned to Joshua’s authority, confidently placing their trust in him. But more than this, the Lord Jehovah especially appointed Joshua to take command. Joshua, we find, like Moses, was a meek man who did not grasp responsibility and authority as he could have done, even though Moses had already told him that this would be his mission. (Deut. 31:22,23) However, when God charged him with the function which had been Moses’, he immediately accepted the privilege and took action. The Lord said, “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee, all the days of thy life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage. Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”—Josh. 1:5,9

Joshua’s first command was, “Pass through the host, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the Lord your God giveth you to possess it.” (Josh. 1:11) And the people replied, “All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go.” (vs. 16) Times had changed, and the people with them! This generation was far more confident than their fathers had been; they longed for an end to their desert wanderings.

Joshua began to address himself to the essential preparations for entering Canaan. First, he chose two trusted men to secretly survey the city of Jericho. The spies were directed by God to seek out a woman named Rahab, who quickly took them into her home and hid them. But the alert guards at Jericho had already noticed the two men of Israel come into their city. From Rahab’s words we know that the towns-people were frightened, and watching for Hebrew spies. (Josh. 2:9-11) Her expression of faith is shown in verse eleven: “For the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.” Although this woman did not have a good reputation, she was commended by the Apostle Paul for her conviction when he said, “By faith … she had received the spies with peace.” Her assurance was so strong that she was willing to place herself in jeopardy by first hiding them, and then helping them to escape by a rope through the window of her home, which was built into the wall of the city. Because of this service, she and her whole family received protection and safety from the Israelites at the time of their invasion of Jericho.

After following Rahab’s advice to hide in the nearby mountains for three days to avoid their pursuers, the spies crossed over Jordan and returned to Joshua. Their report was a word-for-word repetition of what Rahab had told them—they had not had much opportunity for an eyewitness evaluation of Jericho themselves. “Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us.” (Josh. 2:24) With this affirmative information, Joshua set in motion the plans to cross the Jordan River. The next day they were to enter Canaan. Joshua said to them, “Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” It was a singularly significant day—the tenth day of the first month, Nisan.

From a military standpoint, it was a very unfavorable time of the year to cross the Jordan River, since it was at peak flood stage, swelled to overflowing, rising over its banks. Normally it was about one hundred feet across at this point, and an average of six or seven feet deep, but the spring rains increased its span many times that width, and the current had become dangerously swift and deep. But this fact did not deter the eagerness of the Israelites. As they made camp that night on the banks of the river and Joshua outlined the plan for the coming day, not one word of protest was made. Their faith in God’s power and wisdom was strong.

Through Joshua, the Lord instructed the people that on the following day they were to watch the Levitical priests who would precede them, carrying the Ark of the Covenant from the Tabernacle. From a position approximately three-quarters of a mile behind, the whole company of Israel was to follow. God would perform a miracle! As soon as the soles of the priests’ feet rested in the water, Jordan would stop flowing, and the waters would “stand upon an heap.” (Josh. 3:13,16) The priests, carrying the Ark, were to stop and stand in the center of the river, until all Israel had passed safely over.

So it came to pass, just as God had described to Joshua, “and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.” (Josh. 3:17) This included “about forty thousand prepared for war … before the Lord unto battle.” (Josh. 4:13) Archeologists and historians offer the explanation that perhaps an earthquake, or a mudslide, dammed up the river near the city of Adam, which was about fifteen miles north of their point of crossing. But whatever method he used, we know that it was the mighty hand of the Lord that was exercised on behalf of his chosen people.

The Lord instructed Joshua to select one man from each of the twelve tribes and command each of them to carry out a rock from the middle of Jordan, where the priests stood holding the Ark. “These stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel forever. … And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal. And he spoke unto the children of Israel, saying, 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. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: that all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God forever.” (Josh. 4:7,20-24) Before the priests could leave their position in the river, Joshua placed another “twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests … stood: and they are there unto this day.”—Josh. 4:9

“And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord were come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before.” (Josh. 4:18) When the kings of the Amorites and Canaanites heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, and that the flooded river was no longer a measure of safety to them, their hearts melted, “neither was there spirit in them anymore.”—Josh. 5:1

At Gilgal, where the memorial stones had been placed, Israel for the first time pitched camp in Canaan. During the forty years in the desert, none of the males born had been circumcised. And so this was the first order of business, “and this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise.” Four days later, they celebrated the Passover on the Plains of Jericho, “and they did eat the old corn of the land on the morrow after the Passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day. And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna anymore; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan.” This was the fifteenth day of Nisan, the exact day, forty years earlier, when they had left Egypt!—Exod. 12:17; Num. 33:3

What pictures can we find in this thrilling account of entering the Land of Canaan? Much in the Old Testament has an illustrative meaning, and there are certainly valuable lessons to be found here. We learn how faith is rewarded, when we observe the case of Rahab; how the Lord championed Israel when they trusted in him; and how he gave them strength to overcome the great obstacles which they encountered in entering and conquering the land. Paul, in the third and fourth chapters of Hebrews, draws striking, heedful lessons from the fact that the unfaithful Israelites who originally left Egypt were not permitted to enter the land. He states it in this context: “As I swore … they shall not enter into my rest. … Who was it who heard the Word of God and yet provoked his indignation? Was it not all who were rescued from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses? And who was it with whom God was displeased for forty long years? Was it not those who … fell into sin, and left their bones in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they should never enter into his rest? Was it not these very men who refused to trust him? Yes, it is all too plain that it was refusal to trust God that prevented those men from entering his rest.” (Heb. 3:11,16-19, Phillips) These examples admonish us to place our reliance upon our strong and faithful God who will never desert those who put their trust in him.

The Apostle Paul has used this ancient experience of Israel in a pictorial way; he explains that God’s rest began on the seventh day of creation—a day which was to see the final steps toward the completion of God’s purpose for the earth, and for mankind. (Gen. 2:2) Man in his original perfection and original dominion was commissioned to complete this work. “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” But after Adam’s fall, man lost his dominion—he was not able to subdue the earth—he was not able to fill it with a race that possessed life. The terrible wilderness experience of man began when he displayed his lack of faith in God, and instead believed Satan’s lie.

The name, Joshua, has the same meaning as Jesus—‘Savior, deliverer, or Jehovah-saved’. Can we see a picture here? Consider that the nation of Israel represents the world of mankind, lost and wandering aimlessly in the desert land of sin, sickness and death. The poor suffering human race is certainly on the far side of the river Jordan where there is no rest. “We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” (Rom. 8:22) It is impossible for the people, waiting in pain and longing for six thousand years, to cross the Jordan River (condemnation) without God’s mighty hand to help. What does the river Jordan represent? It is an apt picture of divine condemnation, the sentence of death pronounced upon Adam and passed through inheritance to his posterity. (I Cor. 15:21,22) Mankind can never enter the land of rest until this “river” has been passed over. We are reminded that the very name, Jordan, means ‘judged down’, and that it flowed into the Dead Sea—everlasting death.

As we consider the meaning of the various parts of this picture, we see how appropriate it was that the Ark of God, the Ark of the Covenant, which to Israel was a symbol of God’s covenant favor with them, and in its fuller significance, a type of God’s future covenant favor with the entire world through Christ, should stand in the midst of the river enabling them to cross safely. The waters of the Jordan, picturing the sentence of death, dried up when the Ark, carried on the shoulders of the priests, entered the river. It was the Ark, in which was represented both the death and the resurrection of Jesus, which effected a cancellation of this sentence of death in order that the blessings promised, the land of rest, could be reached. God’s covenant was, “In thee and in thy seed [the Christ] shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”

It is also significant that the Ark was carried by the priests, and that these first passed into the Jordan before any of the people could cross over. Standing there in the midst of the river illustrated the essential part played by the great high priest and his associate priests in freeing the people from this condemnation. Jesus, himself, died for the world’s sins. He stopped in the midst of Jordan in order that the world might have the opportunity of passing over. The underpriests, too, his followers, also stop there. They lay down their lives to share sacrificially in the work of offering the world an opportunity to completely pass out from under this terrible curse of death that is upon them, and has afflicted their minds and hearts for six thousand years.

It was not necessary that the priests should remain in the river Jordan in order to complete the picture. Twelve stones were taken, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel (denoting the entire world of mankind), and were placed exactly where the priests stood, to represent the priests. These stones are an illustration of the 144,000 faithful ones who have been called “out of every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation” and will be made unto God kings and priests, and shall reign on earth, God’s spiritual Israel, who will constitute the royal priesthood. (Rev. 5:9,10; 7:4) These footstep followers of the Master became “dead with Christ” according to the flesh. They didn’t cross over the river Jordan, but remained in the midst, like the stones that “are there unto this day.” (Josh. 4:9) They gave up their inheritance in Canaan, their earthly inheritance, to seek the high calling to the divine nature, in order that they might help in the blessing of all the families of the earth, lifting them out from under the curse, as the servants and priests of God. What a beautiful picture!

Here is still another lesson we can draw from this account: The first commandment given by God when all the Israelites had safely crossed over the Jordan and had entered Canaan was the circumcision of the people. When this had been accomplished, the Lord said to Joshua, “This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.” (Josh. 5:2-9) The reproach of Egypt was that God’s people were bound by enslavement which kept them separated from the land of Canaan promised to them. This separation continued with them throughout their entire wilderness experience—they were a people without a land. But once over Jordan, they were home; they were free.

Joshua went out in the evening and stood on the plains, looking up at the great, high walls of the city of Jericho, a mighty fortress that still blocked their way to possession of the land. As Joshua contemplated the wall, he was, no doubt, trying to find some weakness in it which he could use to his advantage as a means of acquiring access into the city. Perhaps it would be possible to destroy a section of it large enough to get his army inside the city and conquer it. “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? And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord 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? And the captain of the Lord’s host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place wherein thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.”—Josh. 5:13-15

This mighty angel then told Joshua that God was going to give him the victory over this city by an unusual and unorthodox method, not by an ordinary military procedure, but in a manner that would try the faith of every man in the camp of Israel. Instead of using their armies to destroy the wall, the angel told him that they would again use the Ark of the Covenant. Israel was to march around the city of Jericho once each day for six days, with seven priests carrying the Ark and blowing trumpets. This was the only sound to be heard. “Ye shall not shout, nor make any noise with your voice, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout.” (Josh. 6:10) The army was to pass in front of the priests, and after all the people had passed the Ark, it would proceed behind them, with the priests continuing to blow on their trumpets.

And this they did! How incredulous the effectiveness of this might seem to some! From a human point of view, how doubtful that this action would be successful. But who could disbelieve the mighty power that had turned back the swift current of the Jordan? They were now ready to listen to God and to follow his instructions. At dawn on the seventh day, they were instructed to circle around the city as before, but on this seventh day they were to pass around it seven times. “At the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout: for the Lord hath given you the city.” And the walls fell down flat!—Josh. 6:15,16,20

The destruction of the city of Jericho is a remarkable illustration of the coming victory over the citadel of Satan during the Millennial Age. The entire world of mankind, by reason of their resurrection, will have been delivered out from under the legal sentence of death—they will have crossed the Jordan. They will have their feet actually planted in the land of promise. The first requirement will be circumcision, just as it was with the nation of Israel, but it will be “circumcision … of the heart.” As the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness, the reproaches of the land of Egypt will be rolled off them. They will no longer be enslaved by sin and death, or by the cruel Pharaoh, Satan.

However, standing before them will be their Jericho, rising up like a mighty barrier to their full entrance and enjoyment of the land. It is a great stronghold of sin which must be overcome. It represents the imperfection of mankind still remaining to be warred against and vanquished. Just as the full power of Almighty Jehovah was available to his ancient people as they, in faith, battled against the foe, so, too, through faith, all the assistance needed will be at hand for each individual in the kingdom. It will be in God’s strength that they also overcome.—Rev. 21:7; Ps. 103

The Apostle Paul says, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down.” How ready the world of mankind will be to follow the instructions of their deliverer, their Joshua, Christ and his church, surrounding their Jericho and destroying it with a glad shout, “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.” (Rev. 5:13) How wholeheartedly, enthusiastically, the Israelites entered into God’s plan, despite the fact that it seemed a strange, even foolish, method to conquer a city. So eagerly, too, when the mountain of the Lord’s house is established in the earth, “all nations shall flow into it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord … and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”—Isa. 2:2-5

The people will recognize and follow the presence of God as represented in the Ark of the Covenant, in the Christ, which will be the law administration of the people. The trumpet of truth will be heralded forth by the priesthood of that age, and the people in their desire to fully enter into the land will shout for joy. No trace of sin will remain when the kingdom is ended, for the people of the earth will be required to destroy every vestige of it in themselves. (Rev. 21:24-27) The high fortress wall of sin and evil will simply crumble away under this onslaught. Having been kept secure by the adversary for over six thousand years, in a comparatively short time—just one thousand years—the Lord will cause it to disappear in utter destruction, never to rise again. The complete cooperation of mankind will make that kingdom a lasting success.

Now, by growing in faith and trust, keeping our hope bright, and continuing steadfastly on in our striving to learn righteousness and subdue sin in our circumcised hearts—in his strength we can be prepared to march around Jericho as the future priestly trumpeters. We will carry the Ark of the Covenant, and the walls of Jericho will tumble down. All mankind will render honor, praise, and glory to God. “Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.”—Rev. 5:13

Dawn Bible Students Association
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