For all the years I was in the Worldwide Church of God, even at Ambassador College, I heard only one message about the former prophets, and it was given by Dr. Herman Hoeh. I thought it was fascinating. I wanted to hear more about the subject but never did. Herbert W. Armstrong spoke quite a lot about Elijah and a few other specific subjects within these books, but he never really delved into what the former prophets are all about.
The former prophets contain a lot for us today that we need to understand. These books teach us about leadership. They teach us how to build faith. They give instruction especially pertinent to the ministry.
“Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Israel’s history was recorded for our instruction. The lessons of the former prophets were written for you and me! We will never understand the lessons God wants to teach us if we don’t study the former prophets.
Many people call history our most effective teacher. There is a lot of truth to that statement. Napoleon Bonaparte said that if you want to be a great general, you must study the great generals of the past. That is good advice for us spiritually as well. Bible history is the greatest history of all because it’s God’s history. We have to learn about these spiritual warriors of the past. We need to learn about Joshua and Samuel, and about David—who has the greatest, longest biography in the Bible. We should understand why Saul failed even though he had such a great opportunity. We need to know about Elijah and Elisha.
What were these powerful leaders all about? We must learn from our own history! It really is prophetic history and even more, as we will see.
Worldly Christians and even many of God’s Laodicean people say that the former prophets contain only history. Basically they are saying that these books are of limited value for us today. Such reasoning is ignorant and spiritually dangerous. Describing the former prophets as mere history damages people’s faith.
There is a lot more to these books than just history. The former prophets do record history, but it’s history that, in many cases, also becomes prophecy.
Some commentaries describe the former prophets as descending partly from oral tradition, and that also damages people’s faith. Oral tradition could be almost anything. In fact, the Catholic Church says tradition eclipses the Bible in authority. That is human reasoning run amok. Even in God’s Church today we don’t rely on oral tradition: If I am going to talk about Mr. Armstrong, something he said or a doctrine he proved, I always look back at the record to see what he said. I don’t rely on my memory. We quote him and the scriptures he used.
Ephesians 3:5 says God reveals truth to His prophets and apostles. Ephesians 2:20 says that this is all “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” God revealed prophecy only to prophets in the Old Testament. Prophets certainly wrote the books of the former prophets. The writing prophets usually were the most outstanding in the work they did for God. Much of these books is about prophets, and they were all written by prophets. So they are all prophetic history.
Ambassador College instructors thought that Isaiah probably orchestrated the epic production of these books of the Bible. But I think the actual orchestrator was Jeremiah—though there were several writers involved. The most important thing is that these authors were inspired by God.
In Luke 24:25, Christ spoke these strong words of condemnation: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” Do you believe all that the prophets have spoken? Christ called these people fools for failing to do so.
What prophets was Christ talking about? Verse 27 says, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” He went all the way back to the Pentateuch and then the former prophets. Christ was very condemning of those people for not understanding what was in these books, including the former prophets. So we had better learn everything we can about these books and everything in the Bible that God leads us to understand. We don’t want Christ calling us fools.
The former prophets are mostly prophetic. They contain spiritual history that is primarily for us today. The more I study into it, the more I believe these books are specifically for the Philadelphia Church of God. Otherwise, why didn’t we understand it more when Mr. Armstrong was alive? We understood parts of it, but we need to understand it a lot better. God is adding more to our knowledge all the time.
The first book of the former prophets is Joshua. Why was this book written? It shows that God’s plan continued after Moses.
Joshua ascended the mountain range of Sinai at the first giving of the tables of the law (Exodus 24:13). He was with Moses quite a lot. The book of Joshua—and the other former prophets—is directly tied to the Pentateuch. All the Scriptures came from one mind—the mind of God!
Joshua was a courageous warrior. He was Israel’s first soldier. In Exodus 17, he was right on the front line in the war against Amalek. In Numbers 13, he was one of the 12 spies who scouted out the Promised Land. He was accustomed to risking his life in service to God. You don’t hear much about Joshua when times were easier—you only hear about him when there was an emergency!
Courage seemed to be his major strength. Joshua was a warrior! He had proved himself before he went into the Promised Land. But God also told him at that time, Don’t be afraid! Stand up and be courageous! Wherever you go, I am with you (Joshua 1:5, 7-9). God wanted him to build more courage still because there were far bigger battles ahead.
The book of Joshua isn’t just a biography, or a record of history, or merely a historical link to the Pentateuch. It applies directly to God’s people today. We have the same faith-filled responsibility that Joshua had. Joshua had to fight his way into the Promised Land! We will have to fight our way into the Kingdom of God! God’s ministers must fight to fulfill their responsibilities toward the people they serve. It is the same thing that Christ said was His “meat”: to do the will of God and to finish His work.
Joshua’s book shows why he won battle after battle going into the Promised Land—how he was able to defeat 31 kings and to finish his job. Above all, it shows how he exalted God.
Joshua spoke a lot about Moses, and he hammered home what that great prophet had received from God. From the beginning of his rule, this was Joshua’s message: “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, The Lord your God hath given you rest, and hath given you this land” (Joshua 1:13).
I have written before about the two Joshuas: this one in the former prophets, and the one spoken of in the prophecy of Zechariah. (Request a free copy of Malachi’s Message to learn more.) Over and over, this Joshua of old told Israel to remember and exalt what God revealed through Moses—and he and the nation prospered as a result. The modern Joshua rebelled against doing that with God’s man in the end time. This led to his downfall.
“[T]he Lord commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua” (Joshua 4:10). Joshua didn’t decide on his own to do that; God commanded him to do it! And He commands us to do it when it comes to Mr. Armstrong. (OurHaggai booklet proves that statement. Request your free copy.)
“There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel …” (Joshua 8:35). “But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you …” (Joshua 22:5). This was at the end
of Joshua’s life, yet this was still his message. “Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left” (Joshua 23:6).
God really wants us to know about this loyal, faithful man who was so consistent in emphasizing what He revealed through Moses.
Put God First
In Joshua 3:7, God promised Joshua, “This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee.” How did God do so? By using a wonderful miracle that centered on the ark of the covenant.
The former prophets mention this ark time and time again. It was a symbol of God’s throne, and God’s presence in the nation. It contained the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod and a golden pot of manna, symbolizing God’s law, His government and His spiritual food—His truth. How the Israelites used that ark was critical to God.
God’s true Church today possesses the ark of the covenant spiritually. God’s presence is in His Church. God’s law is our constitution. We talk about the Ten Commandments a lot, but we are not just ruled by the Ten Commandments—we are ruled by God. We must always give God His proper place and priority. God rules us by the law, which is the foundation of the Pentateuch and the whole Bible. And the revelation we receive shows that God is feeding us with spiritual food, which is further proof that God is ruling this Church.
In Joshua’s day, God used the ark in a dramatic way not only to magnify Joshua’s office, but also to teach a profound lesson for us in this end time.
When the Israelites were to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, God commanded that the priests lead the entourage with the ark. When they stepped foot in the river, the waters miraculously stopped flowing through, and built up in a great heap to the north! (Joshua 3). God stopped the waters so Israel could walk across. The priests carried the ark right out into the middle of the dried-up riverbed where everybody could see that symbol of God, and they stayed there as all the people crossed over.
It was mostly carnal-minded people who actually witnessed this miracle. God didn’t perform it primarily for their benefit—but for His Spirit-begotten people today! Consider the lesson: If you follow this example and put God first in your life, you can expect a lot of miracles—even more so today than in the past!
We have to rely on the God of miracles to get this Work done! We must make sure we are putting Him out in the front where everybody can see Him. Joshua was careful to get the ark out in front to ensure the people could see who was doing all this! It was all about God. We must always be exalting God. That takes a lot of effort on our part, emphasizing the ark and all that is in it.
The former prophets record examples when the Israelites didn’t get it right with the ark, when they didn’t put God first and follow God’s way. That was a fatal mistake! They lost battles and worse! In this end time, we have experienced the Laodicean rebellion, which can be attributed to the fact that God’s people didn’t hold the Head, Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:19).
To avoid these traps, we absolutely must put God in the spotlight! He must be center stage! That
is what makes everything really click. Only God can lead this Work, and we have to make sure He is doing it.
The Twelve Stones
While the river was dry, according to God’s command, the Israelites took 12 stones from the center of the Jordan and brought them over to the other side. With these stones, they made a memorial of this spectacular event (Joshua 4:1-8).
Joshua then did something very unusual: “And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day” (verse 9).
This was another memorial, in addition to the one they made within the Promised Land from the stones taken from the riverbed. They set this one up right in the middle of the Jordan. After this, the priests came up onto the riverbank and the waters began flowing again, covering this memorial (verse 18).
What was the purpose of this second memorial? Surely the Israelites didn’t learn anything from it; they would have forgotten all about it as soon as it disappeared under the waters. They didn’t even take any lasting instruction from the memorial they set up right where they were living!
This too is mainly for us today who have the Spirit of God and understand God’s Word.
It seems to me this is an obvious lesson in how much depth this history has if you will just dive in!
There is a lot of symbolism here. God clearly performed a miracle by holding back the waters; the ark was a symbol of God being right there. Now there are 12 stones at the bottom of the Jordan River. The water is a type of God’s Holy Spirit. The 12 stones represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus Christ—who was baptized in that same river and came up out of it afterward—was over the 12 apostles who will rule over the 12 tribes (Matthew 19:28). David will rule over all the apostles from the throne that is actually the throne of the Father and the Son (Luke 1:30-33).
If you think on what those 12 stones are all about, they actually contain the key of David vision! (Revelation 3:7). The Key of David is the name of our television program.
This is a fascinating picture. To the world, the beauty of what God has done and what He will accomplish with those 12 stones just disappears. People are deceived; they don’t understand, and most of them don’t want to understand.
But if you start diving in, you begin to comprehend a spectacular, miraculous vision! You see evidence of God’s very presence—you see a work of miracles—and you begin to appreciate the wonder of these 12 stones, which opens up a glorious future! It is through Israel that God plans to save the whole world! This is God’s Work! It is God’s master plan!
So much wonder comes into your mind when you study this example deeply!
This memorial of the 12 underwater stones is another way God is telling us that this history is for us. The former prophets are specifically for the Philadelphia Church of God (pcg). That is why God is continually giving us more understanding about these books. There is so much depth here. If you will meditate on these things day and night, it really will amaze you. Every day that you do, it will become more thrilling and wonderful to you.
The Captain of God’s Host!
Once the Israelites had entered the Promised Land, God wanted them to begin to conquer it. But before their first conquest—the Canaanite city of Jericho—God impressed a vital truth deeply into Joshua’s mind.
“And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant? And the captain of the Lord’s host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so” (Joshua 5:13-15).
Joshua removed his shoes very quickly! This was holy ground! Here was the Captain of the host of God!
Jesus Christ—here manifested as a man—is a military commander. He holds a drawn sword because sometimes He has to slaughter people. This magnificent being was the one leading the Israelites into the Promised Land—it wasn’t Joshua!
The Lord of hosts appeared right there to Joshua. This tells you a lot about the kind of man Joshua was.
We will have some battles with the Jerichos of the world. Where is the Captain leading us? Where is this great God who had Joshua take off his shoes? We do have a physical leader, but we must make sure we give God the respect He deserves. We always ought to stand on holy ground spiritually. When we do God’s Work, we are on holy ground, and we’d better never forget that if we want God to be with us! If He isn’t, we are in trouble. But if you really know and believe that, how can you not have courage?
The Apostle Paul wrote, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:9-10). Christ is the Captain of our salvation! That goes beyond His being the Captain who led Joshua into the Promised Land. This is the Captain who is leading us into salvation! It’s not about what happened anciently; it’s about what’s happening right now!
Verse 8 says that God “put all things in subjection under his feet.” Moffatt translates “all things” as “universe.” This is the Almighty Captain of our salvation!
Joshua really showed respect for this God! He kept Him in the spotlight all the time! He was ready to fight Him, but when he found out who He was, he bowed down before his Captain.
We need to capture that spirit. Today, this Captain is leading us—not just into some physical paradise, but into the universe! We are going to help Him bring all mankind into the universe!
The Wars of the Lord
The day after Joshua met his Captain, Israel marched to Jericho (Joshua 6). For seven days they just walked around the powerful walled city. The great military leader Joshua had the priests lead this army with the ark of God! On the seventh day, Jericho just crumbled. It was another spectacular miracle. That ark was a symbol of God, and these Israelites began to really get the message.
The same God is the Head of the pcg and is leading us today. We have to get Him out front and let Him destroy the Jerichos.
Malachi’s Message was new revelation, and it showed where God had begun working when the Worldwide Church of God went off track. When everything was falling apart and seemed so hopeless, that book gave a lot of hope. It was God’s revelation showing what was happening in the Church and how it would be corrected. That book turned people to God, and still does. All we had to do was follow the ark, or Jesus Christ our Head, and then everything worked out.
While everything is falling apart, our Captain is trying to lead us out into the universe. We don’t need a lot of people to do this Work—we just need God leading us! If Jericho or anything else gets in our way, it will crumble. Unless there is some trial God wants us to have, that obstacle will fall as long as God is leading us.
The book of Joshua teaches this lesson of faith over and over again.
One source document for the former prophets is found in Numbers 21:14: “the book of the wars of the Lord.” Joshua was a warrior who fought “the wars of the Lord”! He understood, as it says in 2 Chronicles 20:15, that “the battle is not yours, but God’s.” That is how to win battles: Rely on God!
Joshua stood up for God and fought with courage and faith. We must do the same. We have to fight as He directs, but these are the wars of God. We could write a book about the wars of God today. Our court battle for Mystery of the Ages was a war of God. We relied on God, and He delivered us. If God doesn’t fight our wars, we don’t win.
This lesson is impossible for a carnal mind to understand. It takes a lot of faith to put your life in God’s hands, and most people simply do not have it.
Commentary authors often talk about the “tales” of the Old Testament. They don’t really believe the history. Lange’s Commentary says, “The primary stumbling-block for most of the critics is, when we reach the bottom, miracles, which are assumed beforehand to be something impossible and incongruous with rational conceptions, whether we find them on Old or New Testament ground” (emphasis added). That is the downfall of a lot of Bible scholars—they just can’t believe there is a God who performs miracles for man. They have no faith and attribute these miracles to exaggeration.
In God’s Church, however, we routinely depend on His miracles as a way of life! That is why history like Joshua’s victory at Jericho is so valuable to us.
Nothing That Breathes
Another lesson from Israel’s wars in conquering the Promised Land is something that many people have a real problem with, if they believe it at all. When Joshua waged war, he annihilated the enemy. As God commanded in Deuteronomy 20:16, “[T]hou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth.” That is what Joshua did. In conquering a city, he left nothing behind. This is the biblical record.
Why would God do that? Many people cannot understand it. They simply don’t believe God could be so cruel.
Note this statement from German theologian Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, who has been called “the founder of modern Old Testament criticism”: “How impious is the narrative of the book of Joshua! It makes God not only give away to the Israelites, against all right, the land of Canaan, which the Canaanites as the first occupants most justly held, but also sketch out a horrid plan for its conquest, and directly order the most dreadful bloodshed and the total extinction of the Canaanites. Who can reconcile this with even a partially correct view of the Godhead?”
This German rationalist believed the Canaanites had the right to that land, and that no just God would have ever commanded the Israelites to remove them. This man spoke with authority, making this great pronouncement about who properly owned the Promised Land. He knew a lot more than God—or so he thought! How can you reason with a man like that?
Do you believe the history as recorded in the Old Testament? Do you believe it was orchestrated by the same God who sent His Son to die for the sins of the world? Worldly Christians reject the scriptures from that “Old Testament God.” But the same God rules His people today. It’s the same God, dealing with mostly carnal-minded people.
Think for a moment about the people within Islamist culture today. They are raising their children—from the time they are little babies—to hate, even to murder. Those young people constantly hear that message of hatred, and they become more evil as they grow older. They say they want to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth! What is the solution to that problem? God has a plan for them. He will resurrect them into a world that has been transformed into a paradise by keeping God’s law of love! He plans to educate them and give them all the love that they never received in this evil world today!
That is also true of the sin-saturated people who lived in the Promised Land at the time of Joshua. They will have their opportunity to learn the truth and become converted. In the short term, however, God punished them for their sins and perversions (e.g. Deuteronomy 9:4-5). He removed them from Canaan because He intended that to be a holy land.
God determined that these sinful people were better off simply to be wiped out. It is like what the Islamists today want to do to Israel, except that this was the God of perfect justice doing so out of love—not some perverse human beings who are motivated by hate.
Those who believe God would never do such a thing are simply exalting their own human reasoning. They may focus on select scriptures that they like, which describe God’s mercy. But the former prophets reveal a God of judgment—sometimes painful judgment. And in a real sense, even the judgment He exacted upon the Canaanites was an act of mercy.
People who hate this history actually hate God and don’t know it. He is a God of judgment. We can’t escape that—and we shouldn’t want to!
God did command Israel to remove those people from the Promised Land because He knew that if they remained, they would draw the Israelites away from God. He knew that Satan would use those people as a weapon to destroy what God was building within Israel—the nation through which He intended eventually to save the world!
Look at what happened as soon as Joshua and the men under him died: Israel compromised; it became weak; and it fell into exactly the problems God warned about. That is what set the stage for the disastrous book of Judges. Later on, this was also where things broke down with King Saul. He was so “righteous” that he didn’t want to kill everyone God commanded him to, so he saved some (1 Samuel 15). He was “more righteous than God.”
If you had long-range vision, you would see what God sees. We don’t see but just a little speck of what God sees. He knows what He is doing! He’s going to bring the whole world out into the universe to rule it if people will just listen to Him and be taught by Him!
Some of the earlier Bible commentators from the 1800s understood this. Even ministers in the world understood why God did what He did to the Canaanites. They recognized that those people were beyond being helped in this life—they were descending into increasingly terrible sins and demonism, and nobody could reach them. If God wants to wipe them out and resurrect them in a wonderful World Tomorrow, is that okay? Of course it is.
Perhaps God kept them from getting so horrendously evil that conversion might have become extremely difficult or impossible.
What does this have to do with us today? Probably the biggest problem in the Church today revolves around essentially the same issue! God instructs us to cut off contact with those who have turned away from God (e.g. Romans 16:17; Galatians 1:7-9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:5; Titus 3:10-11; 2 John 10-11). The Laodiceans do not believe these scriptures; they reason that it is more loving and righteous to be friendly to such people.
God’s love says to cut them off. If they want to run around in rebellion against God, let them go! If we maintain contact with them, Satan will use them to destroy us! Satan would like them to stick around so they can do their dirty work in the Church of God.
That is what these physical examples are to teach us. We want to help anybody we possibly can—but if they are Laodicean and want to go their own way, we must cut them off. This is a lesson we have to learn! If we don’t keep this in mind, then we will make a lot of mistakes. Now, it is possible to go overboard in the other way—we need always to make sure we’re doing it God’s way.
We must keep the big picture in mind. This is all a work of mercy. God is doing this work in such a way that He can save the greatest possible number of people! That is what it is all about!
Joshua’s name was originally Hosea or Hoshea, which means “salvation.” But God changed it to “the salvation of God.” A lot of people criticize what Joshua did, but this is really what this man was about! It’s not about saving people physically—this is about the salvation of mankind spiritually! God did not create man just to be physical and have physical blessings. This is ultimately about spiritual salvation.
Just before he died, Joshua gave his last sermon to the Israelites (Joshua 24). He took them all the way back to the beginning of their history, starting with Abraham. He reminded them of their past, and how God blessed them and did wonderful things for them when they obeyed Him. Joshua had been right there as a slave in Egypt. He had seen many miracles during his lifetime.
When Joshua and the elders who were under him died, Israel forgot all about that history. The Israelites had marvelous examples in Joshua, Caleb and others—men who were loyal and inspiring and encouraging. But once those men were gone, we get into the bloodiest book in the Bible. In the book of Judges, everything fell apart. The Israelites became plagued by divisions and problems because they wouldn’t hold fast to what Moses and Joshua had taught. Everybody began doing what was right in their own eyes. That is exactly what is happening today, and our nations are also falling apart!
But when we study this history and see these wonderful examples like Joshua, we can recognize the tremendous value of godly leadership! If we follow these examples, we can have a real, positive, wonderful impact on people!
We are here to learn how to become strong leaders and to build the strongest leadership we possibly can.
God’s ministers and God’s people must strive with all our being to let God lead and guide and help us in fulfilling this monumental calling. As we do, we will be building strong congregations and a strong Work of God. And we will be establishing a strong foundation for our future in the real Promised Land—the wonderful World Tomorrow!