Our reading today begins with the fact that the people of the land were already being defeated by God (5:1). The miracle that provided God’s people with a knowledge of His presence that increased their faith, provided the enemies of God with a knowledge of His presence that increased their fear. God then commands that this next generation of Israelites be circumcised (vv. 2-8). Remember, this is the sign of the covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:12). As God’s covenant people, they were now to receive their inheritance of the land, and this marks the occasion of their inheritance. God has now fulfilled His promise to them to save them from Egypt and bring them to their own land (v. 9 – see Ex 3:15-17). Israel then keeps their first Passover in the land (v. 10). The next day, at the start of the Feast of Unleavened bread, God ceased to provide the manna (v. 12). Much like in the incident of Marah (Ex 15:22-27), we see that God provides for His people first through a direct miracle, then through natural means. Neither is less miraculous than the other.
Joshua then comes face to face with the Commander of the Lord’s Army. This is an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ, Who accepts Joshua’s worship (v. 14) and gives the same command about the holy ground that YHWH gave Moses from the burning bush (compare v. 15 to Ex 3:5). Christ’s response of “no” (v. 14) to Joshua’s question of allegiance (v. 13) is not saying that God is not with Israel. He has stated over and over again that He is. This is about God’s sovereignty in choosing Israel. It is not them (“us”) that deserve the land any more than their adversaries. This is about God’s sovereign choice. And we will see in the coming chapters how it is not only Israel that is saved, and not only the inhabitants of the land that are punished.
Chapter 6 records the fall of Jericho. It was a well-fortified city (6:1), but God would give Israel victory (v. 2). No matter how it may seem from an earthly point of view, God’s promises will stand. Note that for seven days, the seven priests with the seven trumpets would accompany the army of Israel around the city, and seven times on the seventh day (v. 3-4 – there’s that seven again). It is meant to be clear that this victory is completely the work of God. Like in crossing the Jordan, all Israel has to do is go where God tells them to go. And God commands that Jericho be completely destroyed in judgment (v. 17), except for Rahab who will be saved because her faith. It is not just Israel that God provides salvation for. And Israel is to keep themselves from the things devoted to destruction, or they will become a “thing for destruction” themselves (v. 18). After the battle, Joshua curses anyone who would rebuild the city. We will see that this curse is carried out through the sons of Hiel when he rebuilds it (1 Kings 16:34).
Chapter 7 records Israel’s defeat at the hands of Ai. Achan ignored the command of God and took some of those things devoted to destruction (7:1). And because of his sin, God was angry with all of Israel. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. In verse 7, Joshua (mistakenly) lays the defeat at God’s feet. In verse 10, God tells Joshua that it is not Him, but their sin that has caused their defeat. We see here that Israel will be punished just like the inhabitants of Jericho (and all the land) if they too will disobey God. In verse 12, God tells Israel that they have done exactly what He warned them against (see 6:18). They cannot be used of God if they will not obey Him (v. 13). Neither can we.
After lots are drawn to determine who the culprit is (see Prov 16:33), Achan confesses to his crime. Note that covetousness preceded the theft (v. 21). The actions always follow the heart. In Achan’s entire family and all his belongings being destroyed we see that the same judgment God pronounces on the sinful people of the land He will pronounce on Israel if they fall into the same sin. This physical punishment points us to the spiritual punishment that God will mete out to the unsaved.
After purging the evil from their midst, Israel is ready to defeat Ai. This is what happens in chapter 8. Note that now it will be God Who will fight the battle (8:1). Whereas the goods of Jericho were given to God (6:19), the plunder of Ai can be taken by Israel (8:2). God gets the firstfruits which are His, and graciously gives us the rest which is His. Joshua uses Israel’s previous defeat as a trap for Ai. But even with a sound military strategy, it is God Who must give the victory (v. 18). Note the similarity between Joshua holding out his javelin and Moses holding up his staff in the battle against Amalek (Ex. 17:8-13). God is indeed with Joshua like He was with Moses (1:5). And Joshua is obedient to God (v. 29 – see Deut 21:23).
The chapter ends with the building of the altar according to God’s command (vv. 30-31 – see Deut 27:4-6 and Ex 20:25). The Law is written on the altar (v. 32 – see Deut 27:2-3), Israel goes to the two different mountains (v. 33 – see Deut 11:29, 27:11-13), and they pronounce the blessings and the curses (v. 34 – see Deut 28). Note in verses 33 and 35 that everyone is included in this, not just native Israelites, and not just men. This points us to the all-inclusiveness of the Gospel (Gal 3:28).