The fifth chapter of Joshua describes a generation of God's people coming of age and preparing to do their duty. Does that sound familiar to you? I found several valuable lessons in this passage that I will here share with you. The history of the Old Testament is true and valuable as such. We can also glean spiritual lessons from the good and bad examples of the characters we see. As Paul told us, the things written in the past were written to teach us (Romans 15:5).
1) We should make a difference in the world.
The first verse tells how the pagan kings were afraid of the sons of Israel when they heard how the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan. Do worldly leaders fear us today? Do believers play such a prominent role in society that unbelievers are afraid of our influence?
I'm not talking about physical intimidation in our case. I'm talking about allowing God to work through us to make a difference the world. God has used certain individuals and groups to make a positive impact in recent years, but overall, the influence of the church seems to have decreased in the United States and other "Western" countries. We should expect family problems, substance abuse, vile entertainment, and other social ills when we fail to follow God's ways. Because the church has not effectively addressed these problems even among its own members, their influence for bad continues to grow while influence for good declines.
We should accomplish God's purpose in our generation as did David (Acts 13:36). One important way to do this is to increase our numbers. This comes through the sharing of the gospel with those who do not know Christ. It also comes through natural processes when two faithful homeschool graduates marry and produce, say, five or ten more faithful homeschool graduates! Such people contribute greatly to the cause of Christ.
In addition to increasing our numbers, however, we must increase our holiness. When unbelievers (and other believers) look at our lives, they should see something different from the general pattern of the world. The way we talk, they way we love, the way we conduct ourselves should testify to the power of God. When unbelievers see the power of God working through our lives, they should be afraid. Afraid not of us, but of the Lord, the one whom we fear, and of the judgment that will come upon them if they remain in disobedience to him.
Unrighteous leaders and society-shapers should be afraid that they will lose power and influence as righteous spreads in the land. Believers should play such a prominent role in society that people think we have turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). It can start with us as we seek to make a difference in the world.
2) Men are usually responsible for problems.
Verses 2-9 describe the realignment that the Israelites made after their years of wandering in the desert. How did they get to this point? I'll go on record and say that men are almost always responsible for the problems we face in families, churches, and societies. I can point that big finger because I'm pointing it at myself, too.
The reason the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years was because the men complained about God's provision and were too chicken to follow God into battle against the Canaanites (Numbers 14). The reason we have child kidnappings and murders is because men feed on filth. The reason we have "unwanted pregnancies" is because men can't control themselves. The reason we have corporate scandals is because men are greedy. The reason we have broken families is because men don't love and lead like Jesus. The reason most men are wimps is because their fathers were wimps before them. They were too lazy, too selfish, or too plain wicked to do their duty.
Yes, men are usually responsible for problems, but when they do their job well, God provides great blessings. Thank God that many men today are recognizing and pursuing their God-given responsibilities. We young men who are coming of age can start off on the right track. I'm thankful that my father has encouraged me by his example and teaching, and given me a foundation of faith on which to build my life. However, whether or not our fathers or grandfathers have diligently followed the truth, today is the day we can set our course. We men must stand up to fulfill our obligations to God and to others.
3) Following God's ways can be painful.
Once I was helping a group of young boys study for a Bible Bowl competition. I think we were studying Joshua. I remember squirming as I attempted to simply and quickly explain what circumcision was. Talking about it is hard enough, so don't think too much about how hard it would be actually to circumcise a few hundred thousand men! This incident (verses 2-9) reminds us that following God's ways can be painful.
Many believers around the world suffer physical pain because of their faith. They are tortured and killed by their enemies. Most of us in so-called civilized countries do not face such treatment. We may hear an occasional mocking remark or face social stigma for our decisions, but we are not usually forced to bear on our bodies the marks of Jesus.
However, the deeper struggle and the deeper pain comes from the internal war against sin. Even in the Old Testament, God wanted circumcision of the heart, not just circumcision of the body (Jeremiah 4:4). That is what all believers today must face, male and female (Colossians 2:11-12). The plucking out of eyes, the cutting off of hands, the peeling away of layers of pride and guilt -- these are the painful decisions that we must make as followers of Christ.
For many parents in the modern homeschooling movement, the decision to homeschool was not automatic or easy. Older children who had attended schools often wrestled with questions, too. Confidence grows with experience, however. As with other decisions in life, the first step is often hardest. Once we submit to God, our path becomes easier to travel even if it is not easier to understand. Whatever God instructs, we should do, even when it is painful.
4) God wants to give us something even better.
After the circumcising, the Israelites observed the Passover. The next day they ate of the produce of the land. The day after that, the manna stopped. Now, the Israelites hadn't been especially pleased with the food God provided in the desert. I imagine they got used to it, however, and some of them may have even been disappointed when it stopped. When God takes away something we love or depend on, however, he replaces it with something better or enables us to get on without it.
The Israelites could have stayed in Egypt eating vegetables and slaving for Pharaoh. They could have stayed in the desert eating a regular diet of manna and quail. Instead, God wanted to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey where they could work for themselves and enjoy the produce of a fruitful country.
When you were younger, perhaps you didn't always enjoy the educational assignments or chores your parents gave you. In many ways, though, the regimentation of childhood is easier to handle than the responsibility of adulthood. As young adults, even if we continue to live at home, we begin to face more complicated decisions about how we spend our time and energy, with more responsibility for the consequences.
We are moving into a new phase of life. We cannot think and act and speak like children anymore. We must put childish ways behind us and accept the challenges of serving God as adults. We do not enter this phase alone, however. Our parents can and should provide godly counsel and correction, and we have a loving Father in heaven who is ready to provide for our needs as we continue walking by faith. God wants to give us something even better.
5) We should be on God's side.
Joshua chapter 5 closes with the powerful scene of Joshua meeting the man with a drawn sword. Joshua understandably asks whose side he is on. The man tersely replies "No" and says that he comes as captain of the host of the Lord (verses 13-15).
Doesn't everyone want God to be on their side? In nearly every dispute among men, from international wars to church disputes to cultural quibbles to sibling rivalry, people on both sides of the question think that God is on their side.
Isn't God on my side because I don't go to public school? Isn't God on my side because I don't date? Isn't God on my side because I'm not a socialist liberal? Isn't God on my side because I write inspirational articles?
The question should not be "Is God on my side?" The question should be "Am I on God's side?" Yes, God is "on our side" in the sense that he is present to support and guide us. However, he is not "on our side" in the sense that he approves of everything we do and opposes everyone who disagrees with us.
When the messenger with the drawn sword met Joshua, God was preparing to lead the Israelites to victory over the Canaanites. The Israelites didn't just happen to be on the right side, and the Canaanites didn't just happen to on the wrong side. God chose the Israelites to be his own possession (Deut. 7:6-9), and he was going to punish the Canaanites because of their wickedness (Lev. 18:24-25).
We shouldn't expect God to be on our side just because we say the right things and go through the right motions. The Pharisees thought that God was on their side because of what they did, even though their hearts were far from him. We should do whatever is necessary to be on God's side, following his leadership and listening to his commands. If we have that motivation, then we will end up saying and doing the right things, too.
This generation of Israelites went on to accomplish great deeds in God's name. They destroyed or drove out many of the Canaanites. They established a new society based on God's instructions. For a few decades they served the Lord well.
Then, sadly, a generation arose which knew not the Lord. Those Israelites who had come out of the desert and conquered the land failed to pass on to their children the wonderful deeds of God and the importance of following him.
As we seek to chart a new course for ourselves and our future families, let us take a warning from Joshua chapter 5. Let us see the danger of falling from a spiritual high into a pit through negligence and indifference. However, let us take encouragement, too. Let us consider the wonderful things God can do through us as we seek his way. We are a generation of God's people coming of age and preparing to do our duty. May we be found faithful.