Today we are continuing the Joshua Program and we want to see how God helped the Israelites cross the intimidating Jordan River and how that helps us understand that he will get us across any rivers we face. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer – O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Joshua 3:1 says this, “The Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over.”
And they must be feeling pretty good. Joshua received the report from the spies that the people of Jericho were frightened of them. I’ll bet Joshua shared that. The Israelites were excited. Enough of the desert. Enough of the hot. Enough of being nomads and finally they were about to get to their homes.
So, picture this:
A large group of people – millions. Walking, skipping, bouncing towards Jericho. They’re whistling and singing and filled with all types of exuberance.
Until, they get over the final hill.
“The Jordan is at flood stage all during the harvest.” (v.15)
And it is harvest.
This is not a gentle wave pool.
It’s not a puddle.
It’s not a backyard stream.
It’s a full-fledged, rushing, level 5 rapids!
So…the options are limited.
They could ford it. Run forward as fast as they can --- and hope it doesn’t get too deep.
They could swim it – hoping that all those years in the desert led to Olympic level swimmers.
They could spend days—months – years – constructing rafts for the millions of people.
(It kind of makes me think of Oregon Trail. “You forded the river and almost everyone drowned. Plus, your horse died of dysentery.”)
Or maybe there was another option…
“When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go…” (v.3-4)
The ark of the covenant. You may have heard about it from the Indiana Jones’ movie of the same name. But it’s not a mythical idea. The ark of the covenant was very real. It was constructed during Moses’ leadership in the desert. It was a chest made of acacia wood with a golden overlay. It had 2 cherubim made of gold fashioned and placed on its cover – their wings covering the opening as if to protect it
As cool as the outside of the ark looked, the inside was even more impressive. There was…
…a jar of manna. Bread that God had poured down in the wilderness for the people to eat. This particular jar never molded and the manna wasn’t even pickled.
…Aaron’s staff. Aaron was Moses’ brother. His staff had been pretty normal – a dead, dry piece of wood. But in a show of power God had made that dead staff of wood blossom – such that vines and flower blossoms adorned it.
…2 tablets of stone. Not just any tablets, but the very tablets that God had written the Ten Commandments upon with…His. Own. Finger.
This is some holy stuff.
…It was only a box.
What good would taking a box – even a religious looking box – and setting it by the river’s edge really do?
Essentially, it’d be similar to someone telling us to take down that giant cross. Designate 6 people to carry it and then start walking…all the way to the Neuse River in order to see what God is going to do.
Seem a bit strange?
A bit unorthodox?
A bit like it’s not going to work?
But Joshua believes God.
Joshua tells the people to believe God.
Joshua tells the people to “consecrate themselves,” that is, to wash their clothes and abstain from sexual activity. The goal is to focus their hearts and minds on what God is about to do.
And the people do that.
And then they wait.
…for three days.
Hey Avram, what do you think is gonna happen? I don’t see a bridge.
Yeah…I’ve been looking for rocks but I don’t see that either.
You don’t suppose there’s an ocean liner on the way or something?
Nope. I suppose that it’s a farce. That Joshua doesn’t have a plan. That we’ll wait here for a week or two and then, he’ll make up some kind of sin “We’ve got to go back to the wilderness in order to hide the fact that he doesn’t have a plan!”
Early the next morning – as people exit their tents, they hear the quiet marching of priests’ sandals against the hard-soft dirt of the fertile soil. They look up to see men – robed in white with ornamental jewelry across their waists – carrying the beautiful ark up to the edge of the river.
One by one – family by family – tribe by tribe – the entire nation fills in – a crowd around the water’s edge.
The priests nod.
They step forward.
And up at the front, a size twelve sandal, -- old, rugged, dusty from years in the wilderness, touches the surface of the water. But only the sole. Because as the sole hit the water’s surface, the water diminished.
It looked kinda like someone was stomping down on an old Coca-Cola can.
Only it wasn’t a 6-inch aluminum can.
It was an entire river.
And with his step, the river dried up. The water flowed south until it was out of site. The water to the north held up – like a dam had been installed a couple of miles away – preventing the river from flowing. (v.15-16)
The priests stopped.
The people stopped.
There was no noise in the camp.
They were stunned.
Then, Joshua smiled.
And the priests up front smiled.
He fist pumped with his free hand.
Then, kept walking.
II. What Now?
Scriptures says that, “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” (v.17) It’s a pretty cool story with a pretty dynamic entrance into the holy land.
But how does it affect you? There’s no physical river before us. In fact, the only water we’ve got in the sanctuary is the little stream that flows from that water fountain in back.
Our rivers aren’t so physical.
Our waters are more spiritual.
If you’ve been following our attempt to build the Precious Lambs expansion, we’ve been stuck…for a while. Literally, I looked online and found a photo of the plans that were posted on that wall about a year ago. And here we are a year later – no ground breaking. I’ve been tempted to walk out there with a spoon and dig in just to say we’ve gotten closer, but the reality is…we’ve been facing a white-water rapid of challenges. Legal things, city permits, waiting periods after waiting period. It’s kinda like we’re on the one side of the river – we can see into the place we want to get to, but…How are we ever going to cross?
That’s just our congregational river.
We’ve got our own personal rivers too.
A flood of debt.
A rapids of relationship problems.
A deluge of bad diagnoses.
A gushing gully of guilt.
A splashing stream of sin and shame that comes with it.
Things that get in the way and make us feel like we’re on the wrong side of God’s promises.
Like we’ll never get where we need to get.
Like we’re stuck.
How do you deal with those situations? Here’s a few lessons from Joshua 3.
1. Follow Your God!
You’ve got the same God as Israel did. That means your God specializes in showing his authority over the waters. He did it to the Red Sea. He did it to the Jordan. He did it when he controlled the flood at the time of Noah and the water that he walked on with his disciples watching. God has a unique ability to overpower the rushing waters.
Got a flood of debt? God’s power is bigger.
God a rapids of relationship problems? God’s power is bigger.
Got a downpour of diagnoses? God’s power is bigger.
Got a gushing gully of guilt and shame and sin? God’s power is bigger. God’s love is more merciful. God sent his Son Jesus Christ to wall up God’s wrath, dry up your guilt, and give you quiet walking path to your eternal promised land.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened at the cross. Because what stood before us was a sea of God’s wrath. Wild. Destructive. Powerful. Anyone who dared to cross would be swept away to eternal damnation.
He waded to the midst of it.
He took the brunt force of it.
There’s dry ground. He’s held back God’s wrath!
The path to the promised land is before us!
Meaning if God got us through the most impossible flood for any sinner to cross, God can get us through anything.
Financial flood? He’ll get you through.
Relationship rapids? He’ll get you through.
Deluge of diagnoses? He’ll get you through.
Sputter in shame of sins? He’ll get you and you will enter the Promised Land.
2. Remember the River
Because it would have been awesome to be able to think back to that awesome moment when the Jordan River dried up. If there would have been smartphones back then, can you imagine how many YouTube views that would have gotten? It would have been an awesome encouragement no matter what the Israelites would face in the upcoming days.
Nervous about the upcoming fights? Oh yeah. God did this.
Nervous about the long travel coming up? Oh yeah. God did this.
But we didn’t get to see that. Where can we look for personal encouragement?
Fast forward. Years later. God is working on the banks of the Jordan River again. Only this time he wouldn’t use the water to make a wall…
…but to destroy one.
Confessing their sins, the people were baptized…in the Jordan River. (Mt. 3:6)
In Baptism, God sends a flood of water – connected with his powerful hand of Jesus Christ – that smashes into the thick wall of sin separating us from God. It exactly what happened every time water flowed off John the Baptist’s fingers and trickled down the face of someone standing in the Jordan -- God washed – like flood waters washing a beach house away, washed – sins away!
He did the same at your baptism.
Sure. The water might have been gentle. It may have only wet your hair.
But spiritually? A big old Tsunami wave of God’s love connects with the wall of your sins and it crumbled.
If God did that for you, don’t you think he’ll get you through whatever you have to cross in this life?
3. Consecrate yourself
There’s a reason God told the Israelites to do this. It wasn’t because he needed their help in order to stop the waters. It wasn’t because he wanted them to earn his love.
It was because he wanted them keenly aware of the miracle he was about to do.
Friends – God wants us to do the same.
Think about this – how do you prepare for coming to worship?
Checking out Facebook?
Watching a cute YouTube video?
Recovering from your bender last night?
That’s not consecration. And --- no wonder we come to church – and totally miss all the encouragement God has in mind for us.
So…follow God’s directive. Consecrate yourself. Spend an evening confessing sin. Spend the night before in prayer. Look over the upcoming chapter in Joshua. Pray about it.
Prepare your heart to see God’s incredible wonders and God will fill it with his incredible encouragement.
I don’t know what you’re going through.
I don’t know exactly the river you have to cross.
But I want you to look at the last verse one more time. The whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
God doesn’t forget anyone.
And God won’t forget you.
He will get you through.
Whatever you’re going through, you will pass. Amen.
Sometimes humans don’t know when to quit.
You ever played UNCLE? If you’re a guy, chances are good. To play uncle – you put your friend in some kind of submission lock in order to get them to say “UNCLE.” Could be a noogie, a headlock or maybe a pinkie lock – something that eventually will cause your friend to give up.
I remember one time in high school – a friend put me in a head lock -- with his legs. And it hurt. He kept saying, “Say uncle. Say uncle.”
For a minute.
For ten minutes.
For like half an hour. (Which is a real long time to have your skull pressed between two thighs.)
And it hurt. And I was a sweaty mess. And I was tired.
But I didn’t say UNCLE!
Sometimes humans don’t know when to quit. But when it comes to God, we better know.
Today we are continuing our series on the book of Joshua. This will be interesting because we will be looking at the conquest of the Promised Land from the perspective of the Canaanites. As the Israelites get ready to attack, we will get a glimpse about how the people in Canaan were reacting to the impending invasion – particularly in 2 ways – fight or forfeit. Our goal is to examine both of those reactions and see which one is the reaction God wants. (It might not be the reaction you expect.)
Before we do, let’s say a prayer – O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Our lesson this morning comes from Joshua 2. It takes place right after Joshua and those leaders start gathering forces together for the invasion. Subsequently, a few members go to do some special ops for Joshua. It says, Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
A couple things to note:
Shittim (Shi-team) is an area just to the east of the Jordan river. It was not in the Promised Land. That was where the Israelites were camping out.
Jericho was in the promised land. In fact, it was the closest metropolis – near to where he Israelites were located. It was a place that had a booming population. It was also well known for its giant stone wall.
And finally, when the spies get there – they stay at the house of a prostitute named Rahab. I really wish that we knew how exactly this happened. Since it’s not written, there could be a lot of ways. Here’s a possible scenario:
The spies enter the city – wearing head coverings and keeping their heads low. (They even have fake moustaches.) They walk through the streets making note of the wall’s height, looking for weaknesses and counting the guards. As evening arrives, they make their way to the local pub, order a couple of pints and sit down in the corner to discuss strategy.
But they don’t go unnoticed. At a table close by, is a group of soldiers. One of them with a blue sash indicating his status as a captain. They keep looking over at them. Did they know? In fact, I think I saw one of them point? Should we get out of here/ --- Nah, play it cool. Play it cool.
And then as they shakily bring up a lager to their lips – the group of men get up. They begin walking in their direction. Slowly, methodically, from across the bar. One of the spies reaches down and puts his hand on the dagger attached to his thigh.
Then, a voice: Hey, do you need a place to stay?
They jump. But turn around to find a beautiful woman. Big hooped earrings, long flowing hair, paintings and tattoos adorning her body – piercing blue eyes and a gentle smile.
I said – Do you need a place to stay tonight?
The spies look at her. They look at the soldiers and decide quickly.
They grab her arm and head out of the bar – quickly getting lost in the downtown shuffle of people. They walk quickly – not too fast to arouse suspicion – but not so slow that the soldiers might catch them. Until they make their way to a tiny apartment. Through here! She says. As the men walk in and the woman begins to lock the door, they look around her one roomed habitat. There’s a tattered run on the floor, a few dead bugs on the window sill and dirty pots near the corner of a big barrel which was supposed to be the kitchen.
“I’m Rahab,” the woman said as she fetched a glass of water. “Welcome to my home. What’s your name?”
Before the men could answer, there’s a loud knock at the door. Everyone stopped. Rahab held a finger to her lips. The knock happened again. Who is it?
The Jericho Police. Open up!
Just a minute – I’m powdering my nose. She motioned for the men to head out back where they found a rickety wooden ladder. She pointed up. Coming! She repeated, as mouthed the words, “up there.”
The men wandered to the top of the ladder and found themselves on the roof. Quickly, they rearranged the flax stalks – ancient shingles – and hide beneath them.
Meanwhile, Rahab unbarred the door. How can I help you gentlemen?
We’ve been sent by order of the king. Now…Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land. (v.3)
From their flax hiding space, the spies’ hearts began to race.
Now – she knew what they were.
Now – she knew their intentions.
Surely, she was about to give them up.
“Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (v.4-5)
The captain looked at her. He looked around the house. He looked at her beautiful eyes one more time and said, “OK. Well…It’s not your fault. We’ll go get them. Don’t you worry about it. I’ll make sure you’re protected.’ And with that, they turned and left.
After the captain and his men were a good distance away, Rahab opened the back door and went up to the men on the roof. Thank you, ma’am. You didn’t have to do that.
Yes, I did. She said, “I know who you are. I know what you’ve done. I know who you serve. I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt...When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my family—and that you will save us from death.” (v.9-13)
The men looked at one another.
Was she serious?
She was a foreigner.
She wasn’t an Israelite.
And…I mean, she was a prostitute – that was against all kind of God’s commandments.
Should they really spare her?
Would God really spare her?
Would God really show her mercy?
The answer was obvious:
“Our lives for your lives! If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”
In other words:
Yes. You will be spared.
Yes. God will have mercy.
This story is very interesting. Rahab’s fear of God’s power and appeal to his mercy is very compelling. But – do note – that was NOT the most common response to the reality of the impending invasion. All the people were afraid, but the majority of them did what the King wanted to do – FIGHT.
I’ll tell you the truth -- it’s the same thing today.
This past week the MN youth group was going door-to-door with fliers that talk about our church. While they weren’t doing any kind of Jehovah’s Witness type stuff, they were knocking on doors and inviting people to church – inviting people to hear about Jesus.
One guy – when they introduced themselves and handed him a flier – were interrupted – as he reached behind his door and pulled out a flier of his own. The flier? A brief print out of trespassing laws here in Raleigh. “I’ll give you five minutes to leave or I’m calling the police.”
Now you might argue that it’s not very much fun to have strangers knock at your door – but the fact remains that he threatened police involvement with a pair of teens that were simply inviting them to come hear about Jesus’ love and forgiveness.
The reality is deeper, because God was working through those kids.
God approached that man.
He saw God coming.
And he decided to fight.
This is not uncommon. Romans 8:7 says this, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” Hostile means unfriendly – a foe. It means that the sinful mind of humans is naturally an enemy of God. That’s why when God approaches – when God comes with his law and his word – our natural response is to fight!
Sometimes it sounds like, “Get off my porch.”
Sometimes it sounds like:
That’s an antiquated Law.
I don’t like that command from God.
God’s the one who’s the bully – why doesn’t he let me live my life?
And suddenly, we’re just like the king of Jericho.
We’re fighting God.
The problem? Notice the promise of the spies – they were going to keep Rahab safe – but all the other people? The king? The soldiers? Those who knew what God was capable of and still decided to fight him?
God would battle them.
And God would win.
Because you can’t fight God and win.
TRUTH #1: Fighting God Fails For Sure in other words – It never works!
It’s even more true with God. Don’t fight Him.
You can’t win.
He never loses.
Instead, do as Rahab did. Rahab’s response – is so different. She forfeits.
And look at her reason: I know that the Lord has given you this land…I know how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt. And I know that God helped you win battles.
In other words – Rahab knew the LORD.
And that’s the difference. While all of her fellow countrymen were ready to fight, Rahab was ready to forfeit.
I give up. Lord, please spare me.
God, have mercy.
And HE does.
TRUTH #2: A faith-filled forfeit is exactly what it takes to achieve victory!
In fact, that’s exactly what Scripture says about Rahab’s victory. Take a look at Hebrews 11:31 “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” Notice the reason she wasn’t killed. It was faith. Faith in God’s mercy.
What’s incredible here is the sheer number of factors that were running against her faith.
And she was right.
What that means is that it does not matter if you’ve been a prostitute.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a drugs dealer.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a pornography producer, an abortionist or even a terrorist supporter.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been anything that’s led to any kind of sin, when you appeal to God’s grace, you will be forgiven!
Because God’s mercy is greater than your sins.
So – don’t fight him. Forfeit. Know when to give up and submit to your Lord.
A faith-filled forfeit is the key to victory. Amen.
Last week we started up our summer sermon series on Joshua. If you remember, we learned about a few themes: (1) the theme of the Promised Land – that God promised Abram and all his descendants they would one day possess the land of Canaan – just to the East of the Mediterranean Sea and (2) the leadership of Moses through whom God did awesome miracles in leading the Israelites for 40 years.
If you remember, both these things weighed on the heart of Joshua – our lead character. With the pressure of fulfilling the promise and the intimidation of following after Moses, God told Joshua – “As I was with Moses, I will be with you.” And Joshua was filled with confidence – he knew that he could trust God’s promises. And perhaps Joshua took a moment to contemplate the Red sea splitting, swarms of locusts sending, earth quaking, sky shaking, pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night God was with him! And there’s no one who could stop Joshua from reaching the Promised Land!
But then…there’s an extreme shift that takes place from verse 6 to verse 7. A shift that could have taken Joshua from a very high confidence to a terrified stupor.
What was it? Today we’re going to see what God told Joshua to do next, why it was so terrifying and yet why Joshua shouldn’t fear.
I. The Obedience Regiment
The message picks up in Joshua 1:7. God said to Joshua, Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night., so that you will be careful to do everything written in it. Then, you will be prosperous and successful. (1:7-8)
Perhaps that doesn’t sound all that intimidating to you. God just told him to obey him. No big deal. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re gathering to worship. We’re obeying him.
But…look closer. It quickly becomes apparent how downright terrifying this command was:
(1) Obey it All
Notice that opening phrase. Obey all the law my servant Moses gave you. (v.7a)
One of the last things that Moses did before he died was write down the first five books of the Old Testament. He wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. We call it the Pentateuch. (That’s definitely a Jeopardy question). It means the first five books of the Bible. (Take it home – tell your mom, she’ll be happy you learned something at church.) Granted there weren’t paperbacks or eReaders back then, so it was most likely etched on stone or written on papyrus parchment, but it was definitely there and available for people to read.
But get this – Hebrew scholars have identified over 613 laws if you add up all the different laws throughout these five OT books. Some of them are ceremonial – what to wear, when to eat, what holidays to celebrate and others are civil – what to do when someone wrongs you, how to sue someone if your horse falls into a pit -- and still other moral laws.
Now compare those laws with what God told Joshua here. How many of those was Joshua to obey?
Even if we are talking the simplest form of these laws – the moral laws – the 10 commandments. Notice that God does not say, “Obey some of what I said,” or “obey the parts that you like best.” He tells Joshua to obey it all.
This prevents Joshua (and us) from saying, “’Do not murder?’ No problem God! That’s not a temptation to me. I like people. But… this next one, the ‘do not commit adultery’ one? Well, I’m a guy so…I’ll just smudge some dirt on this piece of parchment and there! It’s gone. Forget white out; try dirt out!”
That’s not how it works. The reality is that you can put dirt, permanent marker or white out over God’s commands in the Bible, but that doesn’t remove the reality of that command. It does not remove God’s demand for comprehensive obedience.
As in – do everything.
(2) No Rights or Lefts
God continues. He tells Joshua, Do not turn to the right or the left. (v.7b)
Ever gone the wrong way when you’re using a GPS? It doesn’t matter if it’s Siri, Alexa or Cortana – they cannot get you where you are going if you do not listen to them. They’ll yell, speak in persistent, robotic annoyance (Make U-turn. Make U-turn. Make U-turn now!) – but if you keep going the wrong way you won’t get there! This is an especially big deal if you don’t actually know where you’re going.
For instance, if I turn left on Falls of Neuse and think heading north past I-540 will get me to downtown Raleigh. I will not get there. Ever.
God tells Joshua the same thing happens with obeying his commands. If they turn to the right or left and change course, they don’t end up in comprehensive obedience lane. They end up at the corner of Disobedience Avenue and Rebellion Boulevard.
The imperatives continue. Keep this book of the Law always on your lips; Meditate on it day and night. (v.8)
You’d get the impression that there’s a test coming up – and Joshua needs to study for the test. Only it’s not a verbal test. It’s not a written test. It’s not even one of those fill in the oval with a number 2 pencil tests.
It’s a 24/7 life evaluation test.
And in order to do well, look at the commitment needed! You thought studying for your SAT was hard. Study God’s Law day and night. When it’s light and when it’s dark.
AKA – all the time.
That’s what God is saying:
Do my commands.
Do them all.
Do them all the time.
And if you do them? You will be successful.
Don’t do them? Well…the implication is obvious.
Joshua knew all too well what happened.
He had seen it from the Egyptians – they were drowned in the Red Sea.
He had seen it from rebellious Israelites – they were banished to the wilderness.
He had seen even seen it from Moses…
Which was surprising.
Because Moses had done a pretty good job of listening to God’s commands. He had spoken to Pharaoh when told; he had raised his staff over the Red Sea when commanded; he had delivered the Ten Commandments as directed.
But one time – Moses had enough.
One time – Moses couldn’t handle the people’s whining.
One time – Moses got so angry that the people were complaining – You’ve left us out here to die Moses. We’re thirsty Moses. We don’t believe you have our best interests in mind Moses.
Moses was supposed to speak to the rock.
Instead, he hit it.
With a stick.
It was only a bit different than one God said.
Only a bit to the right…
But God’s punishment was complete: Moses, because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy…you will not bring this community into the land I give them. (Numbers 20:12)
God warns the same will happen to us.
God warns that disobedience will deny us access into the Promised Land of heaven itself.
And outside that Promised Land?
There’s only death.
2) Regimental Strength
And again – just like last week – Joshua feels the pressures of the situation.
Again, Joshua is confronted with the inability of his humanity to do what God wants.
Again, Joshua realizes that he cannot do this on his own.
And that’s good.
To that God says this, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (v.9)
Take note of this. Joshua was already a sinner. Joshua had already failed to do everything God said all the time. Scripture is clear “All have sinned.” (Romans 3:23) That includes Joshua.
Yet God comes to Joshua, the sinner, and says, I will be with you wherever you go. (v.9)
Today I’m speaking to you what God spoke.
I’m speaking to you God’s Word.
I’m speaking to you and God is speaking through me to you.
In other words --- God is coming to you, the sinner, and saying, I will be with you wherever you go. (v.9)
And we know that’s truth! Because of what Jesus did!
He removed all your sins of partial obedience.
He removed your turning to the right and to the left.
He removed your sporadic and episodic keeping of a minor portion of his commands.
God is saying to you, “I will be with you wherever you go,” because I have always been with you.
I reached forward through eternity and gathered up your sins.
I took you to the cross.
I died with you.
Three days later I rose and in doing so I implanted my obedience onto your soul.
My perfect, round the clock, straight and narrow, comprehensive, never turning to the right or left, obedience on your soul.
That’s what God sees when he looks at you.
That’s what God sees through faith in Jesus Christ.
III. What Now?
1. Be Very Courageous
Did you notice that in verse 7? It is the only part of this section that increases the courageous command by one word: Very.
Part of that relates to the challenge before him – because obeying God’s every word, completely, all the time—all the time – all the time--- is eons more challenging than driving out millions of people from fortified cities over thousands of miles of lands.
That’s what attempting to obey the holy commands of a holy God is like for the sinful.
But then again – that be very courageous statement comes from God --- with good reason! Not only is He all powerful, but he is the one who told us to do the very things he promises to be with us for in the first place.
It’d be like if I told you to get Doritos and you came back, a bit sheepishly to tell me, “I looked through the chip section and sadly Pastor all I could find was Doritos – so I got 5 bags. Please don’t be mad.”
I’m not. You did what I asked.
It’s the same with God. He loves it when you do what he asks, because he asked it!
It’s the same with God.
He empowers you to do his commands. And he wants you to do his commands.
That makes us courageous.
2. Enjoy Success
There is a very interesting thing that God’s Word says in verse 8, Keep the book of the Law – Then you will be prosperous and successful.
That does not mean that upon completing an hour of obeying God’s Law – suddenly you can check your Wells Fargo Account and fine a deposit of $1000 into your checking account.
It also doesn’t mean that if you keep the law perfectly for the next minute, you will have earned one minute in heaven. Again – that’s not how it works. Heaven is a gift of God’s grace obtained by faith.
Yet that does not mean that God doesn’t gift us with blessings as we follow his Word.
What am I talking about?
What happens if you honor your Father and mother? God gifts you with the fact that you aren’t grounded and you can play your video games after dinner.
What happens if you are faithful to your wife? God gives an incredible intimacy or closeness that only you both share.
What happens if you don’t steal? God gifts you with the blessing of – wait for it – not going to jail!
In short, God’s an awesome giver. Because he should have just said, “Obey me – just cause!” But he shapes his commands in such a way that obedience to them leads to incredible blessings. Not that we’ve earned it, but God provides grace upon grace that following him leads to prosperity!
Yet Joshua didn’t feel that prosperity. He felt the weight of his task. The words of God echoed in his ear, but they were no longer audible. He sat on a cold rock – alone. God is with me. Be strong and courageous. He promises blessings…be strong and very courageous. Then, he began his very first obedience tasks.
He had to gather the troops in order to begin the push into the promised land. But here’s the problem:
There were 12 tribes in Israel. (named after the 12 sons of the guy named – Israel) 2 ½ of those tribes: the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad and ½ the tribe of Manasseh had already settled on the east side of the Jordan. Before they had asked Moses and he had allowed them under the conditional promise that their fighting men come and help them when the time was right to enter the Promised Land.
But…Moses was dead.
It had been twenty years.
Did these men really want to leave their nice new homes and risk losing their lives for the sake of some other Israelites that they barely knew?
Or was it more likely they’d say, “Nah, man. I’m good.”
But God had promised.
So, Joshua took a deep breath.
He approached their leadership.
He did what God commanded.
And God blessed Joshua.
Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and whoever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous! (v.16-18)
Did you hear that last phrase? It’s exactly the phrase that God had already told Joshua.
I can’t help but think that God engineered that.
Another reminder – that God was with Joshua.
And another reminder – brothers and sister – God is with you.
Today is the first day of our summer season and we are starting a brand-new sermon series on the Book of Joshua. We did something similar to this a few years ago with a sermon series through 1 Peter. Our goal is to start with Joshua 1 today and end with Joshua 24 on Labor Day weekend.
But before we really get into Joshua my goal is to walk you through a bit of context to the story and introduce a few key themes that make their way through the book of Joshua. In other words, our text will be Genesis 12 to Joshua 1. That’s only 5 books of the Bible. And our goal is to do it in about 20 minutes.
We better say a prayer. (We need a prayer for that.)
O Lord strengthen us this morning by the truth. Your word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe.
1) A Promise from God
The story of Joshua revolves around a place called the “Promised Land.” The Promised Land was a very fertile and gorgeous area just to the east of the Mediterranean Sea—a land described as flowing with milk and honey. Today it’s Israel. But it hasn’t always been called Israel. In fact, it hasn’t even always been a Jewish land at all.
Genesis 12. There’s a guy named Abram. Abram is ordinary. He’s a farmer. He farms his unimpressive bit of family farmland in a place called Harran. It’s not so much milk and honey as it is rugged and desert. But…he tries. He works the ground. He sweats. He breaks his back. He hopes to one day provide for his wife and a son.
One day – in the midst digging holes and planting potatoes – Abram hears a voice. He looks around. Nobody.
He goes back to digging. The voice returns only louder. Abram looks around. Still no one. He mutters to himself and returns to work. But before his stone fashioned hoe can hit the ground, he hears the voice one more time – real loud. Only it’s not coming from around him. Not from the in front or behind, from the right or the left.
It’s coming from above.
“Abram go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.” (Gen. 12:1-2)
And Abram? We might expect him to pinch himself.
Maybe to pretend it didn’t happen.
Maybe you’d expect him to pour himself a couple of shots of Old Testament Vodka.
But he doesn’t. Abram listens. He heads home. He packs his things. He tells his family to do the same. When they ask why, he simply says, “We’ve got to get to the land that God promised us.”
So, they go. They travel east. They make their way to a land called Canaan. They set up nomadic farm life there. They are blessed at their new home.
But the home isn’t theirs. He and his family are strangers. It doesn’t take a very long read in Genesis to realize this. In Genesis 23, Abram has to buy land to bury his wife. (And Abram remember – One day the promised land will be ours.) In Genesis 26, his son Isaac is forced to move by the natives. (And Isaac remembers – One day the promised land will be ours.) In Genesis 46, a famine causes Abram’s grandson to pick up his family and leave for Egypt. (And as they leave, they remember – One day the promised land will be ours.)
Time passes. God treats the people of Abraham well. They grow and grow in number. But while God treats the people well, the Egyptians do not. They enslave them. They oppress them. They force the men and young boys to work outside all day long in the hot desert sun making bricks and constructing buildings. They whip them and scream at them until the wounds on their backs are burned leaving new calloused scars every day.
But the people remembered: “One day…the Promised Land would be ours.”
But the slavery continued.
For 430 years.
The people began to doubt:
Ow, my back. It hurts so much. I hate this stuff.
Just remember – God told Abram that one day the Promised land would be ours. A land flowing with milk and honey.
Really? Just shut up. Did God really say that? No. It’s a myth. Hogwash. A non-reality. You’re a slave and will always be a slave. You’ll die a slave and none of us will ever see this “Promised Land.”
2) A Leader named Moses
Enter Moses. God sends him to the Egyptian King in order to free the people and bring them back to the Promised Land. So, Moses enters the Egyptian court --
Hey Pharaoh. Good to see you. You wouldn’t mind letting the Israelite people go, would you? It’d be pretty cool of you. I think, sir.
Pharaoh looks at him. “Who are you? I don’t have time for this. Guards!!!”
The soldiers grab Moses by the arms and begin to drag him out of the Palace.
Wait…wait…wait. I am a servant of the Most High God. And it is Him, not me, that is telling you to let them go.
Pharaoh suddenly becomes very interested. Oh, really? It’s your “god” telling me to do this? I like a challenge. I am Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and I am a God. I will not bow to your God and I will not let your people go.
Ok. Mr. Pharaoh sir. Only, God won’t like this. And I’m authorized to inform you that if you reject His request, God will send plagues on this land. Terrible things will happen until you let his people go.
Pharaoh laughed. Get out of my presence. I am a god and I listen to no one. Not you. Not your people. Not your God.
About an hour or so later, the King heads out back for his morning bath. He wades into the Nile. It’s a peaceful moment. Until Moses appears on the banks.
Pharaoh! My God says, “let my people go, or he will cause all the water in Egypt to turn into blood.”
Pharaoh laughs! Really? You again? I told you already, I will not let your people go. Besides you. Go. Far away from here.
Moses nods. He hits the water with his staff and then he leaves.
The Pharaoh mutters to himself and begins pouring water up and over his head. At first it falls down his chin with a trickle of brown – the dirt and clay of the desert making its way even onto the robes of the King. But then, the brown changes into a red. A deep red, A deep, thick blood red –red.
Pharaoh looks down at his hands in horror. A servant screams. A wave of red is overtaking the entire Nile. The Pharaoh gets out in time and asks for a bucket to wash off the blood. The servant returns with bad news. The well is made of blood, too. As are the water jugs. As is the royal reserve. In fact, all of the water in Egypt has been turned into blood.
The King wipes off his face with a cloth. So…it begins.
After returning to the palace, he asks Moses to enter. He tells Moses, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Could you call your God and ask him to remove the blood and restore the water? I promise. I’ll let your people go when that happens.”
And Pharaoh says, “Just kidding. You’re still my slaves.”
Which sets into motion a terrifying month for the land of Egypt. Nine more times Moses asks the king to let the people go. Nine more times the King refuses. Nine more times God sends a terrifying, miraculous event: Frogs covering the land – jumping out of cooking pots, cupboards and toilets; miniature gnats crawling over everyone’s skin and leading to days of itchiness; swarms of flies bringing disease and lodging themselves into fruitcake and bath soaps; livestock dead; skin boils infesting the population of people; locusts eating most of the Egyptian crops; a hailstorm destroying what was left; and then darkness. Darkness – all night and all day for three days.
And then? The worst. God sends the angel of death to strike down the firstborn son of all of Egypt. But before doing so, he makes this promise to the Israelite people:
Today. Today is the day. Today is the day I set you free so that you might go to the land I promised you. Believe. Trust me. Take an innocent lamb. Kill it. Take its blood and painting on your doorframes. When my angel sees it, he will bring your family no harm. He will Passover.
The people do that. In Israel, it’s a morning of rejoicing.
But in Pharaoh’s palace, the handmaid weeps. She runs to tell a servant. The servant tells a guard. The guard slips a piece of paper under Pharaoh’s door. Pharaoh reads and burst into tears. He runs to his sons’ room and holds his lifeless body in his hands. He screams. He writhes. He gives word to tell Moses: “Get out of here. Leave! I never want to see you and your people again!”
And they do. Over a million Israelites are filled with excitement. They take their clothes. They take their food. They take their animals. They pack and they leave the city. They head in one massive exodus out of Egypt. They head to the Promised land. They follow Moses.
And on their journey – they see God’s hand through Moses. Moses leads them to the Red Sea, where in a display of awesome power – Moses lifts up his arm and the sea splits in half. God allows them safe passage through the waters – only to cave the water back in on the pursuing Egyptian army. Then Moses announces that God will provide food and He does. He sends manna -- a bread-like substance form the sky to feed the million of refugee Israelites. He sends quails – a bird flying in from the west – to give them a protein influx. Moses hits a rock when they are thirsty and water comes out. Moses goes up on a mountaintop; the mountaintop thunders and lightnings; a circle of fire surrounds the top; and Moses comes back down having heard the voice of God and bearing Ten Commandments etched in stone.
Then, they make it. They are at the border of Canaan. They are at the border of the Promised Land. Moses gathers together a group of twelve men. Twelve spies. He sends them into the land to check it out.
The men return with the report:
Moses. The people are huge. They’re giants. I’m pretty sure they could squish us under their feet. They have big muscles. No…huge muscles. Even their muscles have huge muscles. We don’t stand a chance.
Maybe, we should turn back. Maybe, we shouldn’t do this. Maybe, God can’t get us through this.
But not all of them think like that. Actually, two of the explorers think differently. Two explorers named Caleb and Joshua. Their message: Let’s go up. Let’s take this land. God promised it. God can do anything. God promised Abram. God did the plagues. God split the Red Sea. God provided manna from the sky. God can certainly help us take the land.
But the people disagree. They reject God’s purpose. And God responds: These people who have seen my signs in Egypt and in the wilderness, but who disobeyed me---not one of them will ever see the land I promised them.
And that’s it. No Promised Land. No glorious victory. Just 40 years in the desert. Wandering. Fuming. And Dying.
3) An Aide Named Joshua?
Fast forward 40 years.
It’s still hard to believe. Over 40 years Moses is all the people of Israel knew. For over 40 years, Moses is all Joshua knew. Moses led them out of Egypt. Moses led them through the wilderness. Moses led to the Promised Land. And the people still didn’t trust him.
Now he’s gone.
And the Promised Land seems like an impossibility.
Joshua puts his head down and prays.
Then, he hears a voice.
A voice that He hasn’t heard before.
A voice only Moses has heard before.
The LORD said to Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river; the Euphrates—all the Hittites country – to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life.” (1:1-4)
And if I’m Joshua that’s an extremely intimidating statement.
Wait – a second. God, I’m Joshua. You usually talk to Moses. He’s not here anymore. Remember? You took his life.
Oh wait…You do mean me? I’m not a leader. I’m an aide. It’s even in my title. I’m simply an aide. I haven’t led people before.
I’m not like Moses. I don’t speak with fire. I haven’t done any miracles. I don’t have experience with Manna or splitting seas or swarms of locusts.
I’m just me. I’m just Joshua. How can you possibly think that I am the one to bring the people into the Promised Land?
Do you realize how big that is? That’s thousands of miles for me to cover!
How am I able to do such a great thing?
God -- I can’t do such a thing.
And there’s a pause.
A moment for the magnitude of the command to set in.
Then, God continues.
And God gives Joshua the answer:
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (v.5-6)
In other words:
Joshua, it isn’t about you.
Joshua, it’s about me.
Moses didn’t do those miracles; I did.
Abram didn’t make the promise; I did.
You won’t be the driving force behind entering this land; I will.
Joshua, I am with you.
4) What’s in it for You?
1) God is with You!
Granted. You may not have been taxed with leading an army of over a million people into battle for a country land. But. You might have your own challenges.
Steep financial difficulties.
A challenging new job.
A nerve wracking health issue.
Severe relationship struggles.
A very real and addictive temptation.
A big, big sin and big, big guilt.
It’s easy to think: I can’t do this! We need someone else for the job.
And you’d be right.
But it’s not about you.
It’s about God.
The God who turned water into blood.
The God who sent locusts, frogs, gnats, boils, hail and darkness.
The God who split the Red Sea.
The God who chiseled commandments into stone.
The God who brought his people to the borders of the Promised Land.
And…more than that.
The God who defeated sin.
The God who defeated death.
The God who lived perfectly.
The God who died innocently.
The God who rose triumphantly.
That’s the God who’s with you. And if you’re starting a training program on your faith this summer – this is a must! You must remember it’s ALL ABOUT GOD!
2) You have every reason to BE STRONG and COURAGEOUS
Any of you done any weight lifting recently? The thing about weight lifting is sometimes you have to lift things that are kind of scary. You have attempt a weight you haven’t lifted before. You have to try something that you aren’t sure you’ll be able to do.
That’s kind of scary.
But what if the Rock -- Dwayne Johnson -- is spotting you. #1 -- You don’t want to be a wimp so that he won’t lay the Smackdown on you, but #2 -- you’re comforted because there’s a strong guy spotting you. You will not be crushed underneath that weight.
You have a God who has done amazing things who has your back.
He’s spotting you.
Keep pushing through whatever you’ve got going on.
Keep pushing through this thing called life.
Rest assured that God has your back.
3) Encourage One Another
One last thought about Joshua. Do you remember when the people of Israel got to the border and the spies didn’t want to enter? Joshua was one of the two men that protested. Here is his exact protest:
Do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us.
Years later Joshua needs to hear his own words of encouragement as he begins his journey as Israel’s leader.
Look around. Do you see the people here? Do you see your brothers and sisters?
They have their own problems.
They have their own battles.
They have their own intimidating situations.
Remind them who their God is.
Remind them of his awesome miracles with Moses and his awesome miracles on the cross.
Remind them that he is with them.
Remind them to be strong and courageous.
And that’s what I’m here to do today.
As we start our Summer Spiritual Training program and as you go through this challenging thing called life – whatever you’re going through—whatever it might be:
God is with you.