What is the function of Israel?
The uniqueness of the Children of Israel can be highlighted when you consider the sequence of events that accompanied the beginning of their conquest of the 'Promised Land'. Firstly God provided a miracle, by parting the River Jordan - no bridges for this army! To emphasise the divine nature of this event, the huge army were to cross the river not by a direct route, but fanned out to the north and south. This was because the centre of the river was taken up by the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant - God's earthly home - and no-one else was allowed to pass within 900 metres of this, on fear of death.
Next, the Jewish men were circumcised with flint knives! Circumcision was the most important sign of who they were. It was an instruction given to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.
"You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner - those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant." (Genesis 17:11-14).
What had happened was that during the forty years in the desert (perhaps even earlier), the Children of Israel had stopped circumcising their children. Perhaps God was sparing them extra pain, their trudging endlessly through the desert being punishment enough. Perhaps it was simply because, as they were separated from the rest of the World during that time, there was no-one around for whom a sign on their body need be displayed. But crunch time had now come; they were about to re-enter the World and meet other nations. They now had to display a sign of their separateness, their holiness. They had to go under the knife; there was no escape.
Then they partook of the Passover meal, a commemoration of that event 40 years earlier when their parents (mostly) had taken their first step of nationhood and left behind their lives in Egypt. The Passover commemoration was part of the Torah instructions given by God, as described in Numbers 9:2:
"Make the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time."
This was an important Passover meal for them. It was the first celebrated ever as free people in a land of their own and the day after they ate of the produce of this land, the manna that had sustained them for decades in the desert suddenly ceased falling from the sky. A new chapter had started.
Finally, Joshua was to meet an angel on the road to Jericho, who told him how this walled city was to be taken by the Israelites. Priests with trumpets were going to pave the way for this particular siege and you know the rest of the story. If you don't then, suffice to say, they marched round the walls of the city and, as an encore, 'brought the house down'.
Yes, this was no ordinary army!
Joshua spent the rest of his life leading his people through battle after battle in this land promised by God, but nevertheless a land already occupied by Canaanites, Amorites, Anakites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. When he was an old man, God informed him that, although they had by no means conquered the whole country, it was time to colonise the cities and regions that were in their control. So the twelve tribes of Israel were each allocated a district to call their own and were given a time to enjoy the peace. Joshua was even older when he gathered together the great and the good from the tribes and made what was, by all accounts, his farewell speech.
"You yourselves have seen everything the LORD your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the LORD your God who fought for you." (Joshua 23:3)
He needed to remind them that they weren't by nature great military tacticians. They hadn't graduated from a middle-eastern West Point or Sandhurst. They were basically just upstart slaves, who had become desert nomads. Their success was due to the simple fact that they were representatives on earth of the God of the Universe and He wasn't going to let them fail to conquer the land He promised them. And it was important that they shouldn't forget this important fact. Joshua reminded them ...
"The LORD has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no-one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the LORD your God." Then the crunch.
A warning that, sadly, became an epitaph ...
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation)