Links between Joshua and Acts (part 2)

A. McShane, Lurgan

In the early chapters of Joshua the camp of Israel and the Tabernacle were in Gilgal, but toward the end of the book the camp is removed to Shechem. These two centers are the only two mentioned in the book. In the early chapters of Acts, Jerusalem was the hub of the work, and the centre from which the Gospel spread. All important matters were dealt with in that city. Later in the book, Antioch become the centre of activity, and from it the journey of Paul and Barnabas into Asia began, and to it they returned to report of the work. The fact that two centers are a feature of each book is another link in their similarity.

It was a great day in Israelis history when the land was divided among the tribes, but distribution of anything among people can often be beset with difficulties. In the closing days of Joshua, when each tribe was given its portion of the land, there was one tribe, Ephraim, which murmured and felt it had not received the extent of territory it should have been given. They reasoned that their numbers were so large that a greater part of the conquered land should have been apportioned to them. Joshua ended their murmuring by telling them to go and conquer the part of the land still held by the enemy. Likewise in the book of Acts, when the provisions for the widows was being distributed, there was also murmuring for the Hellenists, (Greek Jews), felt that their widows were being neglected. The apostles overcame the problem by appointing men to oversee the distribution of the food and to assure that all were treated alike.

A very serious problem arose after the army of the tribes returned to their inheritance on the west side of Jordan. When they passed over the river they erected a grand altar on its banks. News of this reached the other tribes and caused a great stir in the camp, for they hastily concluded that the purpose of this altar was to set up a new religion, and thus divide Israel into two parts. Eleazar, together with a delegation from the remaining tribes, crossed the Jordan and sought an explanation for this new structure. This was given in the fullest possible way, and the fears of the ten tribes were ended. Something similar to this occurred in Acts when the question of circumcision arose among the saints. So serious was the situation that if the champions of this rite had succeeded, the work would have been divided into two parts, one of circumcised Jews, the other of uncircumcised Gentiles. The church at Antioch represented the Gentile view and the church at Jerusalem had some members in it who represented the Jewish rite. Paul and a delegation went up to Jerusalem to have the matter settled and were successful in their effort. The parallel of these two stories is obvious, and gives us encouragement to try to settle differences among saints before serious divisions are allowed to develop. In the cases considered there was neither surrender of truth or compromise.

The last link between Joshua and Acts considered in this paper is by no means the least important, for all can see a close parallel between the parting words of Joshua and the parting words of Paul in Acts. The former had dedicated the leading of the nation to elders fitted by the Lord, and the latter likewise had appointed overseers to care for the assemblies. Before his death, Joshua called the tribes and the elders to hear his parting message, for he realized his end was approaching. In his address he stressed the importance of the nation to serve God and to obey His word. The encouragement to do this was a rehearsal of the past goodness of God which they had experienced. He had a serious dread in his mind, for he feared the old tendency toward idolatry would again arise, and that the nation would depart from the true God. He held out to the people his own example, for he and his house had served the Lord and would continue to do so. In Acts 20, Paul called the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him at Miletus. The message he delivered to them has much in common with the one delivered by Joshua. He too believed his departure was near and that he was delivering a farewell message. He also stressed his own example as one they should follow. He too commended them to God, and the word of His grace.

Just as there were fears in Joshua’s heart of the departure from God of the nation, there were fears in Paul’s heart that wolves would enter and scatter the flock and that men would arise teaching perverse things. When leaders like Joshua and Paul leave the stage, the enemy soon attempts to introduce those into the scene who will do his evil work.

Perhaps this linking of these two books together will arouse more interest in the study of the comparison of Old Testament and New Testament writings and to learn from them that history often repeats itself.