Character Studies in Joshua
Andy was homeless, flopping under a pier or in someone else’s garage. Had he been dealt a bad hand—an unlucky life? Could he shuffle the deck and stack the future in his favor by personal, conscious decisions? He wanted to know.
Andy didn’t plan on living on the street. At nineteen, his parents were dead; his mother was taken by cancer, his father by an automobile accident. In his own words, Andy acknowledged, “I took a bad situation and made it much worse.” Only after a process of discovery and introspection was Andy willing to affirm with conviction that a life is made up of a series of personal decisions that have necessary consequences—even predictable ones.
When did Andy’s realization take hold? Actually, this discovery process began in the library where Andy read biographies—more than two hundred stories of real people—and the Bible. Andy’s mind detected a pattern: successful people’s lives exhibit common traits, regardless of their backgrounds, circumstances, and problems. Andy moved to introspection. What if a person copied these traits? Could he adopt the secrets and determine his future? Andy’s conclusion was, “Yes.” He believed his future could be different. Because he believed, he started making different decisions, and his decisions brought him out from under the pier, and he was on his way to a more desirable and productive life.
Today, Andy Andrews is a successful author and motivational teacher. What does he write and speak about? He talks about character studies—people—and the decisions that enhance life.
The Power of Character Studies
Why are character studies valuable? They’re valuable because they take an important concept or undesirable quality and put skin on it. One of the Lord’s favorite teaching tools was the parable. How many of the parables employ the use of characters? Almost all of them! We are people; we relate to people. But we must take the initiative to read the stories, discover the truths, believe that we can act upon the truths in our own lives for our betterment, and then implement the spiritual decisions that will determine positive, spiritual success. When you read of the prodigal son, have you ever thought of yourself? That’s the idea.
The Bible is not simply information. It certainly is that, but much more. Much of the information we need is relayed through historical narrative. Scripture contains information about people and how God related to them in real times and places. Through the history of real people, we learn the most sacred truths for our race: we learn about God, sin, salvation, and eternity. To people, God revealed his saving plan. People implemented the will of Christ. People recorded Scripture. And Scripture, in turn, encourages us to consider redemptive history and its people. Accordingly, Paul explicitly says of the wilderness period that we need to study the characters and not follow after their bad examples (1 Corinthians 10:6-11).
The power of biblical character studies involves the revelation of God’s intervention and his evaluation of individuals, pointing out what’s positive and what’s negative—those traits to be copied and those to be banished from our lives. The book of Joshua contains several admirable characters who, at an epic moment on the redemptive timeline, exemplified noble qualities worthy of emulation. Spiritual trust, courage, and obedience look the same today in the eyes of the Lord as it did fourteen centuries before Christ. Isn’t that the point of the parade of faithful characters in Hebrews 11, followed by 12:1-3?
Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls.
In addition to learning from biblical character studies how to live, we learn from a person in history about God himself.
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth. . . . No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him (John 1:14, 18).
Thoughtfully considered, we conclude that biblical characters are a primary method employed by God in Scripture through which our intellects, emotions, consciences, and wills can be educated in the ways of the Lord.
This is necessarily the case considering the nature of Christianity, which is not a philosophy; it is the revealed religion of the one true and living God. The Lord has revealed himself and his will to mankind; he touched the lives of many through the centuries of progressive revelation. The power of biblical character studies is ready and waiting to transform us by the renewing of our minds, to borrow a biblical expression (Romans 12:1-2). But is it within our power to change? Is there any power in biblical character studies to help us develop personally? Or are we destined to be conformed to this world?
The Possibility of Character Development
The people we’ll focus on in this character study are people of character. Unfortunately, many would question the practicality of character studies. The study of sacred history—and secular biography for that matter—has been perceived as worthwhile because of the underlying belief that people can evaluate their circumstances and make decisions for their own good, like others they meet in literature with whom they identify.
Today, postmoderns are giddy over the idea that the populace is nothing more than a product of culture; the way individuals look at the world is entirely fashioned by their surroundings. We’re told that not only does the “collective perspective” condition answers to big questions, but also the very questions asked are preconditioned by this communal incubation. Since one group’s perspective is different from another’s—and who’s haughty enough to say which perspective is “right”—there simply can’t be a better way to live, just a different one.
One of the hallmark traits of postmodern ideology is absurdity. Every sane and intellectually honest person admits that it is better to be a loving father, faithful husband, and trustworthy employee, rather than a serial killer. Better, not just different!
Postmodernism’s house of subjective values and moral relativism is hardly a hospitable place to live, but it’s the hippest effort to explain truth and values—atheistically. Supported by the world’s largest economy, propagandized in her universities, endorsed by the intellectual elites, expressed in so-called art and music, its infidelity on steroids.
Every rational human being recognizes the power of influence; people are dramatically conditioned by their surroundings. But to extrapolate that nothing exists—namely objective truth that is knowable—outside of culture is absurd. History and Scripture testify to the reality that many have risen above their surroundings and changed the culture—and the course of history. If one were always conditioned one hundred percent by his culture, then there never would have been a Joshua.
Here’s the point: don’t get sucked into the idea that you can’t change for the better. Don’t believe the lie that with all the “bad luck” dealt your way—family problems, job problems, etc.—you can’t have a bright future. You can rise above a wicked and perverse generation, seek the truth, find the truth, know the truth, love the truth, and obey the truth. You can change your life for the better, live in view of eternity, and do so alone if need be!
The mere existence of great characters from Joshua’s time is itself a noteworthy point, and it teaches us something about the possibility of character development. Consider Joshua’s culture. When Joshua assumed leadership in Israel, he had lived in two distinct cultures up to that point. He had lived the first part of his life in Egypt, the second in the wilderness. Had he been totally conditioned by his surroundings, he would have been a polytheist and idolater. But he wasn’t. Many in Israel were influenced by Egyptian culture, never fully suppressing their preference for idolatry; Scripture testifies to this. But Joshua was of a different bent; he was countercultural before counterculture was cool (and sometimes weird).
When Moses returned to Egypt with his divine message, Pharaoh put his foot on Israel’s neck, increasing their burdens. The people cried out against Moses. After several months of divine demonstrations, Israel walked out of the house of slavery without resistance as God promised. When encamped near Pihahiroth by the sea, Israel assumed annihilation was imminent with the Egyptian forces in pursuit. By miraculous intervention, God saved Israel and destroyed the enemy in one fell swoop. Rescue induced praise as Israel celebrated on the banks of her salvation the next morning. What an amazing demonstration of divine power, protection, and privilege—just as God promised.
One might assume that if God was willing and able to part the sea, then he could provide them with food and water. But at Marah, Israel complained of thirst. At the Wilderness of Sin, Israel murmured of hunger against Jehovah; God sent quail that evening, and manna in the morning. Next stop Rephidim. Moses said they wanted to stone him; they doubted again the benevolent providence of God. The Lord gave them water from a rock—another miracle.
God descended on Sinai and spoke to Israel. Soon thereafter, they worshipped the golden calf. He gave them the tabernacle plans and a pattern for worship; before long, Nadab and Abihu offered unauthorized fire before the Lord and were consumed. After leaving Sinai, widespread ingratitude arose once more to the throne of God and he sent fire at Taberah.
At Kadesh-barnea, the twelve spies were sent to assess the land. They observed that it was a good land—just like God promised. Yet, ten of them brought back an evil report, contradicting God’s explicit promise repeated at Sinai that he would give them this land and drive out the inhabitants. God’s wrath was mitigated by the intercession of Moses, and the lesser penalty of wandering forty years was handed down.
What followed? Mutiny in the wilderness. Korah’s rebellion was suppressed by God’s earth, which opened up to swallow the revolutionaries. The people complained against the punishment of anarchy; God sent a plague that killed 14,700 more (Numbers 16:49).
At the end of the wilderness period, many unbelievers still remained in Israel. At Meribah, they tempted the Lord; even Moses was carried away and sinned against the Lord. At Mt. Hor, God sent fiery serpents among the people, and at Peor—not long before the entrance into Canaan—more than twenty-four thousand died having whored after the idolatrous daughters of Moab.
What kind of culture did Joshua come from? Joshua lived in a society that was engrossed by infidelity and abject ingratitude—in the face of a miraculous salvation and preservation. He lived in a society of constant complaining, social instability, and pessimism. They pined over the past, murmured about the present, and doubted all that God promised regarding the future. If Joshua had been a product of his culture, there wouldn’t have been the Joshua of record. Men and women of God can rise above the crowd—a wicked and faithless generation—conquer their spiritual battles, and lead others toward the fulfillment of all that God has promised.
The People of Our Character Studies in Joshua
We turn our attention to the individuals in our present study whose lives offer powerful, transforming spiritual lessons.
First, consider the ordinary Israelite. Generally speaking, the ordinary Israelite has been a disappointment since leaving Egypt. Consider the Holy Spirit’s assessment:
Wherefore, even as the Holy Spirit saith, Today if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, like as in the day of the trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried me by proving me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was displeased with this generation, and said, They do always err in their heart: But they did not know my ways; as I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest (Hebrews 3:7-11).
After the crossing of the Jordan, however, national fidelity was at an all-time high because the average Israelite had grown into a believing and obedient person. Observe the indicators of the degree of faithfulness found among the average Israelites at this time:
- They accepted the leadership of Joshua without question, unlike many of the previous generation who challenged Moses.
- They followed the divine plan to prepare to enter Canaan without complaint.
- They followed the unorthodox Jericho battle plan to the letter.
- Though they were homeless, impoverished (in some senses), and basically wore the same clothes most (if not all) of their lives, thousands obeyed the Lord’s command to devote the entire city of Jericho and all her wealth to the Lord. According to the record, only one man sinned—Achan.
- Israel rebounded from the loss at Ai and had consistent success—a sign of consistent obedience on the part of Israel.
- They marched all night to Gibeah, only to fight through Joshua’s long day. Again, an indication that it was not easy, but they trusted in the Lord, submitted to Joshua’s leadership, and found success as the obedient people of the Lord.
When God’s people are zealous to do his will, he gives them spiritual victory, and their accomplishments are significant as they work together according to God’s plan. Regardless of how difficult the skirmishes may be, God will keep his promises and bring us into that “other rest” of which Joshua spoke. Accordingly, the Hebrews writer said:
For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day. There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest hath himself also rested from his works, as God did from his. Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience (4:8-11).
Rock solid Caleb! The conquest account relates the fact that Joshua disabled the military capability of the Canaanite city-states and coalitions, but the individual tribes had to do mopping-up operations in their respective land allotments. Without hesitation, the patriarch of the tribe of Judah believed God’s promise down to the last square inch of promised land. Here’s a powerful lesson: God’s leaders believe whatever God says—period!
Circumstances, bad odds, discouragement, and criticism don’t deter the Calebs of the Lord’s church who know what’s right and will fight for it until the day they die. The church of every generation needs leaders who are zealous, according to knowledge, for every good work. And when that kind of spirituality leads, good families will follow.
Consider Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron. His father, Eliezer, had been a faithful high priest, undeterred about serving in the priesthood of God, though his brothers were executed by the fire of the Lord. Phinehas proved his zeal for God prior to crossing the Jordan, and he faithfully executed his office before the Lord and the people. He successfully mediated a tribal conflict, a possible civil war.
A powerful lesson cannot be overlooked here: familial commitment and consistency—in the face of personal discouragement—can protect a family against infidelity, even though the culture around it is evil. The Amram-Aaron-Eliezer-Phinehas line demonstrates the generational success that results from commitment and consistency. Dads and moms who are on-again-off-again are doing generations of descendants an eternal injustice; but committed and consistent fidelity, like compounding interest, is significant over the course of generations.
Consider the great conqueror Joshua. We’ve talked about his culture; he rose above it. But in order to possess the land, he had to dispossess its wicked inhabitants. He had to lead and conquer. That would take courage and conviction, and he was the man for the job. Why? Because of his previous success, he was prepared for the battle of a lifetime. His previous conquests were personal as much as they were physical conflicts. He was at God’s disposal for great service because he had battled fear and won. He conquered the temptation to doubt God. Unlike the rest of them, he coped with hunger and thirst without castigating God. He conquered pride by attributing his success to God. He conquered public opinion at Kadesh. He conquered loneliness at Sinai. He conquered discouragement at Ai. He conquered pluralism at Peor. He conquered indifference, distractions, pessimism, and impatience in the wilderness. He conquered the age-old temptation to put God to the test and doubt his word.
He was victorious as an individual, as a father, as a leader of generals, and as the leader of a nation. He conquered personal circumstances and cities because he won the first and greatest battle men ever face—whether or not to take God at his word. When he allied his life with God’s will, he never turned back, didn’t compromise, and his spiritual success came as a result of this zealous fidelity for the Lord’s will.
The Most Important Character
Finally, consider the most important and most prominent character in the book of Joshua. When the book of Joshua is read and carefully studied, the purpose of the book surfaces with great clarity and power, and its purpose is essentially tied to the main character of the narrative.
Who is the main character? Think about the fact that the contents of the book record the preparation for entering Canaan, the conquest of the land, the tribal allotments, and covenant issues. Although Joshua defeated thirty-one kings, a few battles are recorded only with few details given. The book of Joshua is not an unabbreviated military record of the conquest of Canaan. The battles that are recorded are preserved for what they contribute regarding the main emphasis of the book.
Who made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Who called Moses? Who parted the Red Sea? Who fed Israel with manna in the wilderness so that they might learn that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God? Who parted the Jordan? Who gave the battle plan for Jericho’s conquest? Who caused the walls to fall? Who caused their defeat at Ai when sin was in the camp? Who granted them victory against Ai and Bethel against the kings of the south and of the north?
This book is about God! God makes covenants with men. God keeps his promises. God reveals his will to men. God expects men to remain focused on whatever has been spoken. God empowers his faithful people to accomplish his will. And no matter what the odds, God is—and always has been—one hundred percent reliable. There’s absolutely no sane reason not to believe God and obey his commandments.
The Plan Is for You to Consider
As long as we are in the wilderness of this flesh, we fight. We must put on the whole armor of God and fight the good fight of faith so that when our time comes to cross the frigid waters of Jordan, God may grant us safe passage, borne by angels, into that rest of which Joshua spoke. May the Lord be with us; we have not yet entered into that rest. It is imperative that we consider how to have the Lord fighting on our side as we battle against personal sin and discouraging circumstances.
- Take off your shoes. As Joshua met the captain of the army of Jehovah, he was instructed to take off his shoes; he was in the presence of holy greatness. In order to have the Lord on our side, we must be humble before him and worship his holy name.
- Think about where you’ve come from. Just like Joshua could remember former days in the house of bondage and think of that magnificent deliverance, so we should remember that we were in bondage to sin and the terror of death, without God and without hope. But God saved us, having sent his Son to bear the wrath of sin, and we escape the fury of his divine holiness through the blood of Jesus, his only begotten Son. When our zeal falters and our growth stagnates, we have forgotten where we’ve come from (cf. 2 Peter 1:9).
- Think about where you’re going. God will bring you into the promise land. He will save you; he desires your eternal fellowship in heaven. If you want the Lord to fight for you now, remember that this world is not your home. Lay up treasure in heaven. If you want to go to heaven, put your heart into it.
- Identify your next battle. Joshua immediately sent spies to Ai from Jericho. Gibeah may have come sooner than expected. One battle after another, little time for celebration. Faithful Christians value their past success, but they must prepare for future conflicts. The devil is not done with us; the battle rages. Is there some area of your life wherein you doubt God? Are you fearful to give more generously? Has your evangelistic zeal cooled? Are you as committed to your family’s spiritual development as much as you are to the things that rust? Identify your next battle and focus on God’s will—not a carnal, selfish one. What does God want you to conquer today in your life? Without focus, we may falter.
- Don’t fight alone. Joshua never did; he needed his brethren. So do we. Remember, we’re family; we pray together, work together, share together, and fight together. Families ought to grow closer and more supportive through the years. Make a valuable contribution to the family life of the church. Be an active part of it.
- Lead others to victory. Leadership is influence. Exercise and expand your spiritual influence and help other people go to heaven. God can use every single one of us; he needs “average Israelites” to work together to accomplish his divine plan in the world in our generation. He needs you to step up—or continue, as the case may be—to lead others to greater degrees of service and sacrifice for the cause of Christ. He needs you to talk, show hospitality, encourage, and teach. He needs you to be like Jesus, exemplifying the joy that comes from serving God. He needs you to light the fire of enthusiasm for serving God in someone else. He wants you to help yourself by leading others to victory.
Do you think that those who make it to heaven are the lucky ones? Or will those who make it to heaven have made some specific decisions for which they are rewarded? When Jesus comes again, we’re told he will say to the saved, “Well done,” not, “Lucky you.”
Our options are: (1) take personal responsibility to follow the Scriptures and make the right decisions to fight, conquer, and enter the promise land; or (2) die in the wilderness (i.e., be eternally lost). It really is up to you. The wonderful thing about God’s promise of heaven is that it is absolutely reliable and certain. But in order to reach the promise land, we must fight with God on our side, faithfully following his word without compromise or complaining. The plan is for your victory through faith in Jesus Christ. We must decide to follow the battle plan.