Joshua/Judges Week 13
From Joshua and Judges to Jesus and the Kingdom of God: Matthew 1:18–25; Matthew 21:1–17; Hebrews 13:1–25
Assistant Professor of New Testament, George Fox University
What would you say is the most relevant and easy-to-read book of the Bible? Psalms? Proverbs? The Gospel of Matthew? James? Philippians? Romans? It is no wonder that some of the most popular Biblical quotes come from these books!
On the other end, Joshua and Judges do not rate very high on the list of “most popular” books of the Bible. Our desire, throughout this study of these Old Testament books, has been to paint enough of a picture of the historical background, broader context, and key theological ideas that relevance and meaning can be found. Perhaps some will be inspired to re-read Joshua and Judges to glean even more! Hopefully others will take up the task of exploring other “difficult” Old Testament texts, such as Ezra and 2 Chronicles.
However, despite our best attempts to trace the inspiring messages of Joshua and Judges, there is no getting around one simple fact: on their own, Joshua and Judges are real downers. You wouldn’t read these books for a “pick me up” in the morning before starting the day. Like watching a tragic movie, reading Joshua and Judges you can feel spent and despondent in light of the perpetual failure of God’s people.
There is a Bible translation called the Good News Bible. Even in that translation, after reading Joshua and Judges, you might feel that the title was misleading. How can this be “good news”? I don’t think the title should be changed, though. By themselves, Joshua and Judges don’t recount a whole lot of “good news,” but we do see the persistent gracious and merciful nature of God.
Notice, though, that the title of the Bible mentioned above is not: “Good-News-in-Each-and-Every-Book Bible.” The whole point of using the word “news” is that it is “new.” By that I mean that something must be there before the good news. You have some “situation,” and then “good news” is announced that changes things. The Bible tells a long story that culminates in “good news” — the “good news of Jesus the Messiah.”
In that sense, we need to see how Joshua and Judges fit into a wider story about God’s working out a plan of redemption in which “good news” is finally brought into the world through and in Jesus [see Author’s Note 1]. When we read individual passages in the Bible, we need to be careful that we get our bearings straight as to where we are in the big story. Thus, this week, while I won’t argue in particular that Joshua and Judges can be read as “good news” all by themselves, they do help us see the path of history that leads to Jesus.
His Name Will Be “Yeshua” (Matthew 1:18–25)
Go to any Messianic Synagogue, and these groups of worshippers will refer to someone called “Yeshua.” Who is Yeshua? They are talking about “Jesus.” They know Jesus as LORD and Savior, but they use the original Hebrew pronunciation of his name: Yeshua [see Author’s Note 2].
Yeshua is also the Hebrew pronunciation of the name we read in the Old Testament as “Joshua.” When “Jesus” was given his name by an angel to Mary and Joseph, they may have thought to themselves — oh yes, like Yeshua son of Nun. The name means “YHWH saves” or “YHWH helps.” The angel goes on to say, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Jesus did not do what Joshua did. He did not take his disciples in a new land and conquer it in the name of YHWH. However, Jesus did proclaim a message about the coming of the kingdom of God.
This is both like and unlike what Joshua was involved in. Joshua looked at this evil, yet fertile, land, and God said, “Take it over, claim it, and make it home.” However, it was not supposed to be an act of human occupation — it was going to be God’s home, and the Israelites were meant to be resident servants.
Because Israel was a small band of tribal people called to conquer a land of strong warriors, they needed God’s help; they needed to rely on YHWH as savior and helper (hence the name Yeshua).
What about Jesus (as Yeshua)? He was doing something similar (though grander) when he preached about the kingdom of God — it is coming, it is near, and God has set his sights on the entire world, not one land. Israel was given a good and right plan with Joshua — take over Canaan and set up the tabernacle. Then carry on with being God’s royal priesthood and a light to the whole world.
There was only one problem — they kept failing and moving backwards because of their sin. Jesus came to work out YHWH’s help or salvation, first by dealing with sin, and second by helping God’s people to reclaim the whole world in the name of the rightful and good King.
Good King Jesus
I love Palm Sunday, especially in recent years, because it is so delightful to see the little kids in my church (and this year one of my own) parading around the sanctuary waving huge palm branches and smiling. This re-enactment is of an event from Jesus’ life called the “Triumphal Entry,” in which Jesus journeys into Jerusalem riding on a donkey while Israelites cheer and celebrate a festival called the Feast of Tabernacles — commemorating God’s presence with them in the wilderness after the Exodus. Some in the crowds cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD!”
Wait a second. I thought Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary? Right! When they refer to Jesus as the “Son of David,” they mean that he is “David-like” — he is their king [see Author’s Note 3]. He is a new King David and that is good news. Why?
David is one of the great heroes of Israel. We know that in the period of the judges, Israel had very hard times and they came to a place where they needed good leadership, and they cried out for a human king. While God felt rejected because He was meant to be their one king, he decided to bless a human monarchy for Israel. However, having a good king David did not solve the problem of sin — it still plagued the people like a cancer. David was a move in the right direction, but Israel, and humanity, needed something more.
In the Old Testament, in 2 Samuel 7:1–17, King David told God he wanted to get rid of God’s drab, droopy, tent-house, which, at that time, was YHWH’s special home. God said, “no” to David. Instead, God promised David that He would build David a perfect house — for a king. What God was referring to was a kingdom that would be strong, everlasting, and famous. It would not happen for David or in his time. It would happen later on, for one of David’s heirs (2 Samuel 7:12).
The crowds who saw Jesus and waved their palm branches sensed that the time had come — the long-awaited heir, the new David, had come, and with him the new kingdom of God. The first David was hopeful news to a sinful and weak people that trusted YHWH. Jesus was good news.
What Happened to the Land?
Many weeks ago, I mentioned the importance of land. Israel had no national land in slavery in Egypt. When they were set free by God, they lived as nomads in the desert without land. Finally, God promised land — the land of Canaan. They entered into and settled in this land.
Because it was described as a land “flowing with milk and honey,” it was as if God was trying to re-create the Garden of Eden: Israel was like Adam, Canaan like Eden. It would be God’s special garden, Israel his special gardener. Time would tell the tale of failure and exile — the Israelites had so missed the mark that they were ousted from the Promised Land. They were not (yet) fit for the task.
The New Testament book of Hebrews, a sermon-like text that compares in depth the Old Testament with the story of Jesus and his followers, takes a special interest in a situation where those who follow Jesus have to put up with all sorts of problems — especially persecution and suffering. At one point, the author makes this comment:
For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
What does this mean? The author seems to be addressing the desire of some Christians to obsess over claiming a particular land and digging down roots in this world. Using the example of Abraham, though, Hebrews makes a point that even when Abraham spent time in the “promised land,” he did so only as a traveler, in passing.
Abraham was wise enough, even when he sensed the presence of God in the land of Canaan, to hope for an even more holy “city” (11:10). So the Christians that Hebrews is addressing are meant to see something greater than the “city” that is in their sights. As Christians broke off from the Judaism of their time, such Jesus-followers might have found it hard to “give up” Jewish traditions, places, and tangible rituals (as they were excluded from the Jewish synagogues). Hebrews calls them to widen their gaze to look for a permanent “city.”
It is important to note what Hebrews is not saying. It is not saying that Christians give up on the earth and live for “heaven.” The text talks about a “city” that is coming — somehow coming here, to our bricks-and-mortar world. Hebrews is not talking about harps and clouds. Essentially, it has in view the future coming of the city-kingdom of God, the “New Jerusalem.”
What does this have to do with Joshua and Judges? Ultimately, the vision of these Old Testament books was that God wanted to reclaim his world that had spiraled down into chaos because of human sin. He started by claiming Israel as his own, and he laid out a land (Canaan) that would be his “center of operations,” so to speak. While this hub was spoiled by Israel’s own sinfulness, that did not thwart God’s plan. He still pushed forward with the end goal of reclaiming his creation.
The land of Canaan is not a particular point of focus in the New Testament, because it has played its part. Hebrews reminds us that the kingdom of God has no physical center (whether Jerusalem, Rome, London, New Delhi, or Seattle). No one place will do, because we are still waiting for God to bring to earth his “new city” — the City of God.
So what do we do in the meantime? The Apostle Paul refers to Christians as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). His point is not that we are simply passing time on earth, waiting for the final trip “back home.” Rather, his point is that we have been commissioned as true citizens of the “heavenly city” and we should remember our unique identity in a sin-torn world.
Our current “calling” is to transform this world into the likeness of that perfect place. This resonates with the Lord’s Prayer, where it says, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Through the Spirit of Christ, God wants to take back his earth as his home.
To pick up on Hebrews 13:14 again, we wait for the lasting city, but in the meantime we aim to transform it into that city.
Questions for Further Reflection
- The week’s Lectio referred to the importance of Jesus’ name. Does your name have special meaning? Why were you given that name? Do you know someone with a special story about their name?
- How is Jesus like a “new Joshua”? How is he greater than, but also parallel with, Joshua from the Old Testament?
- What do you think Hebrews 13:14 means when it says that here we have “no lasting city”? (Ideally, you would read the whole book of Hebrews to get the best sense of what the author is talking about, but reading this chapter would help you get your bearings straight)
- Think back across our study of Joshua and Judges. What themes stand out to you? Are there particular texts or stories that have had the most impact? What questions do you still have after studying these books?
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