Joshua dabbed at the perspiration on his forehead.
They’re almost all here, Mr. Joshua Sir.
Joshua nodded from his seat behind a tree and took a sip of water. It was an important day. Joshua, the general of the Israelite army, was about to make a speech to tens of thousands of Israelites. They had gathered in Shechem – a place centrally located to the entire land of what – until recently – had been called Canaan.
Now it was known as Israel.
Joshua smiled at the thought. This is exactly what God had said. Over 500 years ago, God had promised this land would be theirs. God had said that he would give it to them. God had promised that he was going to do some awesome things to get them to this point even when they were slaves in Egypt!
And God had.
When they faced a roaring flood stage river and were unable to cross, God was with them…and split the waters in half for them to cross.
When they faced a gigantic 12-foot-thick wall surrounding the city of Jericho, God was with them…and knocked the walls at the sound of a trumpet.
When they were running out of daylight to defeat their enemies, God was with them and held the earth in its place, on its axis, pausing the universe to give them the land he desired to give!
The land was theirs.
It was all thanks to God.
But…recently…people seemed to be forgetting that.
He had overhead some of the soldiers talking about “What a great thing it was that they had done. And how they had won this land for themselves.”
He had seen fliers being passed around for a new group’s weekly meetings: the W.I.A.A.S. We Israelites Are Awesome Society.
He had noticed fewer and fewer people had been attending worship services on a weekly basis.
Even as Joshua watched the people file into the makeshift amphitheater, he could see signs of it.
The “Baal, golden calf god” t-shirts were speckled throughout the arena.
A tattoo could be seen that read “Praise to Asherah! The cool NEW god”
The look of annoyance on the teenager who could clearly be seen mouthing the words, “Why do we have to listen to what the LORD has to say? He isn’t relevant anymore.”
Joshua shook his head
And his eyes got a bit teary eyed.
How could they forget? How could they forget the LORD?
He got the signal from his assistants. The people were ready.
He took a deep breath.
He may have been old. He may not be hip. He may not be cool.
But he knew…EXACTLY what needed to be said:
Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served or the gods of the Amorites in whom you are now living. But…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (24:15)
Today we look at the final chapter in the book of Joshua. We will unpack this statement from Scripture as we learn (1) why serving two gods doesn’t work (2) which household gods to throw away (3) which God to serve and (4) how to ensure that our households serve that God. Before we do that, a prayer: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is 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. Is it Possible to Serve Two gods?
Maybe this seems a bit strange to you. Why is God so jealous? Shouldn’t he be content if people worship him sometimes? Think about it:
People have two dogs.
People have two cats.
People have two kids.
People have two Netflix series that they watch at the same time.
Why can’t people have two gods?
The answer lies within the definition of a god. A god is “whomever or whatever you love, fear, and trust the most.” Makes sense. God is who you view as most powerful. God is who you view as most protecting. God is the one to whom you are most thankful for things. God is the one to whom you turn when you are in trouble.
Notice. God is a superlative. He is MOST. If we think back to English class, do you remember what a superlative means? It means there is nothing that holds a higher content of whatever adjectival quality is attributed to it.
The spiciest chili pepper is the ghost pepper. Nothing is spicier.
The tallest mountain in North Carolina is Mt. Mitchell. No mountain is taller.
The best biscuits in Raleigh are at Rise Bakery. No biscuits are better.
When faced with a superlative, the reality is that there can only be one.
I’m a pastor. Pastors should be all things to all people. In other words, I want to enjoy the things people enjoy so that I can serve them with the message of God’s Word. That means I like coffee with the coffee drinkers and tea with the tea drinkers. It means I high five those who like high fives and shake hands with those who like to shake hands. It means I cheer for UNC with UNC fans and the Wolfpack with Wolfpack fans. I am neutral.
At least, in theory.
A couple of years ago the two teams were playing in a football showdown. I thought to myself, “I don’t know who I’m going to cheer for.” But as the game went on, I noticed something. There was definitely a team that was I was cheering for. There was definitely a team that I like better.
Now...I’m not telling which one. I don’t need to get mugged after this. But do you get the point? When pitted against one another, one team becomes more important than the other. You can’t have two superlatives.
And if that’s true for football teams, wouldn’t it be true with “god?”
Jesus said this, “You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Mt. 6:24)
Because when Jesus says, “Serve me only” and Allah says, “Serve me only.” You can’t serve one without immediately breaking the command of the other.
You can’t serve two gods.
II. Society’s Household Idols
That was the problem that ancient Israel was facing. There were a bunch of different options that were suddenly available to them in their new land. Joshua mentions the “gods of your ancestors and the gods the Amorites.” Those were the ‘false gods’ that were a part of their society. There were a few:
There was Baal – a bronze god that was ½ human and ½ cow.
There was Dagon – a stone gold that was ½ human and ½ fish.
There was Asherah – a formless fertility goddess that you worshipped by having intercourse in front of the statue.
They were new.
They were interesting.
They seemed to allow more “fun.”
The only problem? None of them were real.
Baal was a bronze statue.
Dagon was a stone statue.
Asherah a piece of wood that had etchings, paint, and a bit of glitter tossed on it.
How could any of these things be “most” powerful if they didn’t even come into existence without the artistic hands of the human being?
How could any of them be “most” loving if they couldn’t even have emotions?
How could you put their trust in any of them, if you got into a bit of trouble and, “Oh no, I left my god in my other pair of pants?”
Baal, Dagon and Asherah are not as popular today. (You might not have even heard of them until today.) But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of false gods in our society. Here are a few:
Have you heard of this god before? He’s very popular in our society. Sometimes he’s green with one dead president on it. Sometimes he’s a little piece of metal that fits in your pocket. Sometimes he’s just a bunch of numbers that appear in that frequently used banking app on your phone.
Money is not bad. We need money. But the problem is society tells us to trust money to fix our lives. And when we believe that, we start trusting money more than God.
Yes. I know God is there, but things are going well, because I have money. Thanks be to you, O money.
Things aren’t going well. It’s because I don’t have enough money.
If I want things to be good for my kids and for them to have opportunities, I’d better work more, I’d better make more money, because money will fix us.
Money doesn’t care about you.
Money didn’t create you.
Money was created in some US Government mint machine.
Money will not save you to eternity.
It will just get spent.
Don’t choose it for your household god.
Academics are a big deal in America. There’s all kinds of pressure to teach your kids lots of things and lots of stuff. The goal is so that they have a 5th grade education by the time they are five. We do it because we figure that they’ll get ahead. If they are only smart enough, then they get a job and life will be wonderful for them.
But what happens if we trust Academics as the key to a good life—more so than God?
Yes. Bible study is important, but if my girl gets a 4.0 then she’ll be set for life!
I’m sorry honey, there’s no time for devotion tonight; you need to be working on homework!
Yeah, I know…Sunday School and getting you ready for eternal life, but…this online course? It might get you to Harvard.
Academia is good, but Academia is also not god.
Don’t make it your household god.
I asked a mom what she had going on that weekend. She response that she was taking her kids to soccer in the morning, then get karate, then swim lessons, then chess club, and finally home for piano lessons. In other words – she was working for Uber.
But this is a common thing. The notion is that the only good parents are the ones that get their kids involved in at least seven extra curriculars. (And almost none of them are ever God related. Because God is the one extracurricular that society frowns on, but…I digress.) The point is that there’s this pressure to devote your life and your kids to extracurriculars. Because maybe they’ll be the next Lebron James…and then they’ll be set.
Extracurriculars aren’t bad. But when you start to devote more of your life to them than God then…there’s trouble.
School House Rock songs become more important than God songs.
Swimming lessons become more important than baptism.
Kids Cooking class becomes can’t miss while worship becomes…I suppose, if there’s time.
Extracurriculars are fine. They are also not god.
Don’t make them your household gods.
(4) Your Kids Themselves
That might be a bit strange. You might not label your kid as god, yet – we mentioned earlier a god is whoever you fear, love and trust most in your life.
Do you ever do something solely because you have a fear of not getting your daughter’s approval?
Have you ever not disciplined a kid for sin because you love their visible smile more than God’s invisible one?
Do you find yourself trusting that as long as my kid is happy (even if the happy is artificial flavoring induced) life will work out?
And suddenly we don’t feed God’s Word to our kids because – they really like it and I gotta keep them happy.
Here’s the truth: If you devote yourself to serving your kid’s desires instead of serving them the truth of God (and His Word), then you aren’t serving your kid.
Because happy people still die.
But people with faith in their Savior, live with eternal life.
And if you aren’t serving your kids a steady diet of their Lord, then…
You aren’t telling them about their Savior.
You aren’t telling them about his forgiveness.
You aren’t telling them about the peace he won for us.
You aren’t telling them about the One, the Only One who can get them into the promised Land!
III. The God who Serves You
Because he is the only option for household God – who has served you.
“I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life as a ransom payment for many.” (Mt. 20:28)
Think about this. Jesus said that His purpose was not to be served. He didn’t come to earth so that his disciples could kiss his feet, set him up in a hammock, and start waving palm branches at him. He did come to earth because he needed us to sing songs to Him, give money to Him, and say prayers to Him.
He came to serve.
And not just a glass of Coca Cola – or a bowl of Tostitos.
He came to serve with his whole life.
Even giving up his life as a ransom payment.
Because there is probably nothing worse than having a part of your family kidnapped. Can you imagine that? If someone was kidnapped, one of your kids, and there was nothing but one of those notes with only newspaper cutout letters that said, “Bring me $1 million dollars by Wednesday or else, you’ll never see your loved one again,” that would be awful! You’d probably do anything to get that $1 million. Take out a loan. Call al your family and friends. Sell all of your stuff on Amazon. Whatever it takes to get back your family member.
That’s what happened to us.
We followed other gods.
We fell into sin.
We were trapped – ransomed away from God’s family!
Only the ransom payment wasn’t a million dollars.
It wasn’t a bag full of gold.
It wasn’t even a getaway chopper.
It was the death of God.
So that’s what God did.
He gave up his life to save you.
And as we were being released from our sins.
As we were being released from our imprisonment to guilt.
As we were getting ready to mourn our God who gave up his life for us…
…three days later? He rose! He came back to life! He not only set us free but defeated our captors once and for all with his life and death on the cross!
Which means he still serves us.
He serves us peace in His Words.
He serves us forgiveness with His Promise.
He serves us adoption papers with baptism.
He serves us daily – with his promise of protection!
Which leads to this important truth:
God wants us to serve him because then he is truly serving you!
If you don’t serve God – if you reject him – if you want nothing to do with him, all of his gifts mean nothing! You’ve thrown them away.
But when we serve God.
IV. What Now?
(1) Throw Away your False gods
That was what Joshua told the Israelites. Take those false gods. Pick up those stone statues. Take those wooden poles and…toss ‘em. Burn ‘em. Destroy ‘em. Have nothing to do with them ever again.
Today God is calling us to do exactly that. Take those false gods…take that false god love and throw it away. Throw it at the feet of the cross. That’s confession. Jesus will take it to the cross, beat it with a hammer, nail it to a few pieces of wood, then take it down and throw it away into a tomb.
And…here’s a thought. Is there something that is taking up all of your time? Is there something that is getting in the way of you and God? Cut it out. Maybe you think you can’t do that, well, then why not cut it back? Remove the false gods so there’s time for worshipping the real God. Because when you worship the real God – he will be serving you!
(2) Make the LORD Your ONLY Household God
Don’t just do this for you; do it for all of your house. In fact, make the LORD your only household God.
Because contrary to what society tells you today, God is all you need.
When there are family struggles, God is all your need.
When there is sickness, God is all you need.
When there is sadness, God is all you need.
When there is guilt, God is all you need.
When there is death, God is all you need.
That’s what Joshua knew.
It’s what got Joshua to the Promised Land.
It’s what got Joshua to THE Promised Land.
It’s what will get you and your family there as well. Amen.
Things had finally settled down. For the very first time, you could call the Promised Land – Israel. The majority of the land had been conquered. The Israelites had moved in; they had planted their gardens; picked out the right backsplash; they had even set up a few of those little lawn gnomes on the front lawn.
The land was at rest.
What could they possibly have to worry about?
Today we are looking at the second to last chapter in Joshua. It’s essentially the first of two final sermons that Joshua preaches to his people. This one he speaks directly to the leaders of all 12 tribes. Listen as Joshua warns Israel of the danger that lay before them; a danger that we have to watch out for, too. Before we begin, a prayer: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is 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. Identify Bad Company
Chapter 23 starts by mentioning that Joshua is well advanced in years. He’s older than he was in the last sermon – and that was pretty old. And he summons all the leaders of Israel together to give them one final speech. Check out verse 7 in chapter 23. It’s a key verse in Joshua’s sermon. It says this, “Do not associate with the remaining nations; do not invoke the name of their gods or swear by them…but hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have until now.”
Maybe you get to that part and you wonder, why?
What was wrong with the Canaanite people?
Is God some kind of racist?
First of all, absolutely not.
God made all people.
God made the Canaanite people.
God loved the Canaanites.
But that was the problem. The Canaanites didn’t love God. Rather the Canaanites loved to take pieces of wood, cut them to the appropriate length, sand them down, use their carving knives to make a face, six eyes, a couple of noses -- sprinkle on some glitter and …voila! “This is my new god.” Even though…it didn’t exist until about 5 minutes ago.
And what’s interesting is that these Canaanites still held to their belief in these gods – even after all that had happened over the previous years!
Even when they heard of how the LORD held up the Jordan River.
And how the LORD knocked down the wall of Jericho with a couple of trumpet blasts.
And how the LORD caused the sun to stand in the sky and expand the daylight 24 hours.
And how the LORD had drastically changed the borders and boundaries of their land over the last couple of years.
The Canaanites still held to other gods.
The Canaanites still held to their own “pretend gods.”
And if Israel got too close, they would gladly teach Israel to do the same.
It’s easy to see how that would happen.
It starts with a trip to the local Canaanite Restaurant that everyone was raving about. The food was good and…the decorations were interesting. “Bartender…sir? What are those decorations?” “Those? Those are Asherah poles. They are devoted to the goddess Asherah. She’s pretty awesome. She lets you drink as much as you want and sleep with whomever you want.” (He nodded in the direction of one of the waitresses.) “Does your God let you do that?” “Um...no?”
Then, there was the time little Avram went for a sleep over in Little Philistine. And he came back so excited – “Mom and dad! It was so much fun. They have this god ‘Dagon.’ He’s part man and part fish. I saw his action figure. He has big muscles and karate chop action. PLUS, each package comes with a piece of gum. Can we get Dagonite action figure? Please!?!”
And then, there was the wedding. I don’t know. I like Bob. But? Should we really be entering Baal’s temple for a wedding? I’d feel weird about praying to a golden statue in order to bless them? But…then again. They are nice people. And…I heard there’s gonna be a Chocolate Fountain, so….
And I kinda like it.
And I kinda see where they are coming from.
And I kinda believe this isn’t so bad
And I kinda think that God might not be the only God.
And I kinda think I’m not a God follower anymore…
Scripture says this: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:33) That was the point of what God was saying through Joshua. These Canaanites were bad company. These Canaanites could lead Israel into their own sin. These Canaanites could lead them away from faith in the true God.
One of the first steps in avoiding bad company is identifying bad company.
Because the thing about bad company is that it isn’t always so obvious. In fact, it’s usually not. For instance, you probably aren’t going to have a group of Satanists come to your door dressed in “Satan rules” t-shirts with matching tattoos and an invite card in their hand that says, “Join us for Back to Satan Worship Sunday.” It’s never that obvious. It’s usually much subtler. Here are three modern areas where bad company tends to hideout:
This isn’t just a warning for cyber sexual predators. (Although there is that and please watch out). It’s a warning against cyber spiritual predators.
And they look nice. They become friends with you. You have cheerful dialogue via social media. You comment on their cat pictures and they comment on the photo of your dog.
But then, you notice something different in their social feed. A steady stream of attacks on Jesus, followed by a constant promotion of sinful things. And at first you think – this doesn’t affect me. And at first you give them a LIKE because “They’re my friend.” And then later you give them a LIKE because “They made a good point.” And finally, you give them LIKES left and right because, “They’re right. God is awful.”
Bottom-line: If one of your friend keeps posting stuff from AtheistsAreTheBest.com…Please Be Careful. Bad company corrupts good character.
We all probably know this, but TV executives are not all that interested in helping you lead a holy life. Not even remotely. They want money and sin sells. So, they promote sin.
Please be careful. Because suddenly some of our favorite characters end up being a virtual version of bad company.
Homer Simpson may lead you to believe that drinking beer and hanging out on the couch is a great way to treat your wife.
Anything on HBO might make you think that those filthy words aren’t so big a deal.
Grey’s Anatomy could have you believe that sleeping around with anyone and everyone is just how life is.
Careful. Bad company corrupts good character.
That might sound crazy! Isn’t church supposed to be the place where we go for good company? Absolutely. It is. Yet – the devil works hard at church. And it’s easy for him to watch friendships be made, relationships be strengthened, and then…inject a bit of sin.
I’ll never forget about the time when I was at another church…and some of the older ladies invited me to join them for a Bible group. So, I went. And the Bible study opened like this:
Did you hear about so and so?
Oh I know. She’s terrible.
And did you hear about what that person did?
I know they are the worst.
And can you believe pastor did that?
I can’t and I think he’s pretty terrible.
I was there for about five minutes when I realized…
I wasn’t at a Bible group.
I was at a gossip group.
Bad company can exist even a church. Even when we don’t want it to.
If there’s a group that loves to get together and gossip, politely break it up.
Because this shouldn’t be a place for bad company…
…but sometimes…it can be.
So, we are careful and watch each other’s back because…Bad company corrupts good character (even in church).
II. The Problem with Bad Company
Yet it can be hard to leave bad company.
Oftentimes because bad company has something to offer in return:
Even “they think I’m cool.”
But the reality is that bad company has very little to offer. Listen to Joshua’s reminders:
(1) “Bad company” does not Save
The LORD has driven out before you powerful nations…the LORD your God fights for you...so be careful to love the LORD. (v.10-11)
Because their new Canaanite friends didn’t split the Jordan River.
And their “idol”- didn’t cause the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down.
To put it simply:
It was not some pile of rocks splashed with red paint and glitter that protected you from your enemies! It was the LORD.
Those false gods that the Canaanites promoted would not protect them! Neither will whatever it is that is causing you to want to remain in bad company.
Money won’t save.
Fame won’t save.
A promotion at work won’t save.
“Being cool” won’t save.
None of these things are god and none of them will save.
(2) God is the Opposition
In fact, they lead to big trouble. Joshua said, “If you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you…then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you.”
Because how else would you expect God to react? He brought them out of Egypt, provided for them in the desert, and conquered the Promised Land for them. In return, they hang around a pile of rocks and sing, “How Great is this Pile of Rocks.”
Here’s how God reacts. God doesn’t fight for bad company.
God fights against them.
And if you are a part of that bad company…
God fights against you.
(3) Bad company are Deathtraps
Joshua says it this way, “These nations will become snares and traps for you, whips on your back and thorns in your eyes, until you perish…” (v.13)
Have you ever used a sticky ant trap? It’s especially useful if you have lots of ants in your home. It’s a trap that you place on the ground around the area where they seem to get in. It lets off a really nice and pleasing smell to the ants (I don’t know. Sugar or something.) and the ants follow the smell. They walk onto the trap and…they get stuck. They can’t move. They are trapped. They die.
And that’s exactly what would happen to the Israelites.
These flashy new gods might seem nice.
The beautiful Canaanite fertility dancer might seem beautiful…
The handsome Asherah worshipper might seem like a gentleman…
But it was nothing more than a trap.
It would lead to false belief.
Which would lead to falling way from God.
Which would lead to falling away from salvation.
Which would lead to HELL.
TRUTH: Bad company always leads to death. Even if they aren’t promoting obvious idolatry, if they are promoting sin…sin leads to death. Thus: They are promoting death.
They are a trap.
Get out before it’s too late! Before these traps get ahold of you; get ahold of the LORD.
III. Why God?
These scary warnings drive us back to the true LORD.
They drive us back to Jesus.
And when we hold to Jesus, we need not be afraid. Here’s why:
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…The Lord your God himself will push the remaining nations out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you. (23:3-5)
1) Look at What God’s Done!
For Israel, He split the Jordan River in half in the middle of flood season. He caused the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down with a few blasts of a trumpet. He stopped the sun in the sky, gave you 24 extra hours of daylight, and led you to victory over five vicious armies. And look down at your feet! He gave you the very land that he promised to give their great, great, great, great, great, great-grandfather 500 years ago!
And since then?
He appeared on this earth. He lived perfectly, completely apart from bad company.
He died innocently, at the hands of bad company.
He rose triumphantly, defeating the bad company of sin, death, and the devil.
God saved you from sin! Nothing bad has ever come from Him.
Hold fast to the LORD.
2) Look at What God Will Do
He would knock out any nations that remained. He would give Israel the final 5% of the land. He would have no problem completing the job.
He will have no problem completing the job for you.
God is not like a credit card. His goodness doesn’t get maxed out…so that you have to put him back in your wallet and pull out a different credit card, because “I’m out of money, but those rhinestone studded slippers are really nice.”
God’s love is infinite.
God’s love is unending.
His resources are unlimited.
He will not fail you.
He will bring you home to heaven.
He will give you eternal rest.
He will give you peace.
IV. What now?
1) Identify Bad Company
That doesn’t mean just avoid people you don’t like.
It doesn’t mean that you avoid people who don’t believe like you do. The Bible says, “Be the light of the world.” In order to be that light…you have to be in the world.
But it does mean be careful. And if the situation warrants, avoid them.
If you struggle with gossip, avoid those who gossip.
If you struggle with alcohol, avoid the bar.
If you struggle with faith, avoid those who are making you question it.
Identify what your bad company is and be careful.
2) Be Good Company
Again, the Bible says, “Be the light of the world.” Be that good company that influences others back towards God!
Whether it’s at work, with friends, at school – be that light.
Even at church! Because (we said this earlier) that’s what God would have us be – an encouragement to one another to keep serving Him and keep sharing His message! We are to be the good company for one another.
3) Hold fast to the LORD
Because the LORD is all Israel ever needed. And the LORD is all you need. And the LORD is all will ever need.
Think about how you can hold fast to the LORD.
Do your own Bible reading.
Join a small group.
Make worship a weekly priority.
Whatever you’re doing – great – do more! Fill yourself with as much God as you fill yourself with social media.
And God will hold fast to you.
In fact, do you remember that earlier phrase? Bad company corrupts good character?
With God, the opposite is true. Because God-company purifies corrupted character.
May God purify us and make us good company for one another. Amen.
Do you know what I really love? Couches. Couches are awesome.
And if I’m telling the truth – there are times throughout the week when I dream of my couch.
When I’m working out, can’t wait to go to the couch.
When I’m tired of typing things, can’t wait to go to the couch.
When I’m stressed out, can’t wait to go to the couch, grab a bag of Doritos and catch up on America’s Got Talent.
Rest is good.
Rest keeps us going.
The promise of rest keeps us working.
We’ve been spending all summer in the book of Joshua. We have heard about the hard work of the Israelites in conquering the Promised Land and following God’s commands. Today we are going to hear about why it was all worth it. Our goal is to look back at the historical listings and land ownership documents in order to learn some valuable lessons about God’s promises of rest.
Before we do that, let’s pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is 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. Caleb’s Reward
Start our exploration of inheritance by looking at a man named Caleb. If you’ve been following along with this series from the beginning, Caleb might be a familiar name.
But just in case you need review…backtrack about 45 years.
Caleb was a middle aged warrior. He must have been a skilled fighter and a trusted infantryman, because Moses gave him a very important task. Caleb was selected as one of the 12 men who would infiltrate the region of Canaan, spy on the land, and bring back a report on the best places to attack, the weaknesses of the men, and the condition of the terrain.
In short, the group was supposed to come up with a plan to defeat Canaan.
Ummmm…it’s nice and all, but…is milk and honey really worth getting squashed like a bug?
These guys are giants! We don’t stand a chance.
Here’s our proposal for military action: (1) Pack up (2) March in the opposite direction (3) Never return.
The majority of the spies gave up before they even started.
Caleb walked forward to Moses.
Um. Mr. Moses, sir. I know I’m only one man. But I have a different idea. Yes, the people are big and yes, the men are muscular and yes, they would squash us in a one on one battle.
But…we aren’t alone. God is with us. You say these men are giants. God is a giant to these giants. With him on our side, nothing can stop us.
But unfortunately, his idea was drowned out by the misery of the other spies.
And the people listened to the other spies.
And God rebuked the people.
And God said that none of those adults would enter the Promised Land.
None…except Joshua and Caleb.
The LORD said, “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, except Caleb...He will see it and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly!” (Deut. 1:35-36)
Fast forward 45 years.
40 years in the wilderness.
5 years in battle.
45 years of following God.
And Caleb is ready for his inheritance.
Goodness. He’s 85 years old. It’s time for him to retire.
And there were plenty of places available that Israel already had in its possession.
You might expect him to choose a quiet farm.
A lazy valley.
A nice bungalow by the river.
“Now then give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” (14:10-12)
Does this not seem a bit crazy?
Instead of taking the easy way.
Instead of choosing a simple plan.
Caleb wants a challenge.
Caleb wants to fight.
Caleb wants to head to the area that he had seen years ago and fight for his land…against giants…
…at 85 years old!?!
And the reason for his confidence?
It wasn’t his impeccable physical condition.
It wasn’t some secret serum of energy plucked from the honey of the land.
It wasn’t himself.
It was God.
“With the LORD helping I will drive them out just as He said.” (v.12)
Here’s the truth: Confidence in God leads to confidence in action.
And this confidence comes regardless of your age.
Whether you’re young and inexperienced.
Whether you’re older and tired.
Whether you’re middle aged and dealing with midlife crises –
Confidence in God leads to confidence in action.
That’s important to us as a church. Because God has given us a big task to do -- “Go and make disciples of all nations…” – And we might look at that statement and combine it with America’s perception on religion and decide: “I’m a believer now. I’m pretty content to take it easy, put my feet up on the pews and relax. Here. Here’s a buck or two for mission work. Enjoy.”
I’m not sure that’s serving God vigorously.
That’s serving God…while limping.
Be like Caleb.
Because you can be confident in God:
He kept Caleb safe for 45 years!
He provided bread from heaven.
He helped him cross the Jordan river.
He toppled the walls of Jericho.
He caused the sun to stand still and give Caleb and his friends an extra 24 hours to defeat their enemies!
That’s the God that you have on your side. A God that has shown similar power to your life.
He has kept you safe throughout your life.
He provides nourishment in his Word.
He helps you cross the challenges you face.
He toppled the wall of sin with his death on the cross.
And has extended your life into eternity through the resurrection of his Son!
Just imagine what it would be like if we stopped intimidating ourselves into not sharing the Gospel.
Or fighting amongst ourselves to distract us from sharing the Gospel.
Imagine if we were like Caleb and vigorously; confidently; boldly share Jesus!
There’d be evangelism going on in all of our homes.
There’d be evangelism at about 100 different workplaces.
There would be conversations about Jesus at Starbucks, Sheetz and Steak & Shake!
Take on this challenge. Back 2 Church Sunday is coming up in two weeks. I’ve got invites ready for you to pass out to others. I have email invitations for you to pass on. There will be social media blasts for you to like, forward, etc.
Don’t just send me an invite. I’m already coming.
Choose a friend who doesn’t know Jesus.
Even a friend who doesn’t like Jesus.
Even a friend who has denounced Jesus.
And invite them.
Tell them about Jesus.
And serve the LORD vigorously confident that the LORD is vigorously fighting for you.
II. The Temptation to Give Up
Enough about Caleb. Because God also has promises and inheritance for many people who didn’t follow God so whole heartedly. Chapters 14-19 chronicle the allotment of the land for all twelve tribes of Israel.
Perhaps what is most interesting is the relation of these sections to a bedside prophecy about 500 years earlier.
…the place is Egypt. Jacob, also known as Israel, is on his deathbed. Before he passes from the earth, he calls his twelve sons --- Yes, twelve sons – into his room. They crowd around the bed. They have tears in their eyes as they listen to his heavy breathing.
Yet in the midst of this sadness, God does something amazing. He works through Jacob to prophecy about the very land allotment that is reference in Joshua. Jacob speaks to his sons – and 500 years later the descendants of each of his sons is allotted land in accordance with these prophecies. Take a look:
Let’s start with Jacob’s most famous son – Joseph. He is the one with the multicolored coat. He was thrown into a pit by his brothers, thought to be dead, but ended up saving the land of Egypt from starvation. Jacob grants a double blessing to Joseph. He says, Joseph is a fruitful vine…a vine near a spring who climbs up over a wall. (v.22)
Immediately I get the picture of a one of those vines that you don’t plant. A weedy vine that you can’t quite control. What happens with those types of vines? You don’t plant them; but they end up taking up more of your garden and fence than anything else.
Jacob prophesies that Joseph will be like that. His land will be great and double in portion to anyone other tribes. Which seems strange. Because if you look over all of the book of Joshua, you will not find mention of a tribe named Joseph.
That’s because Joseph’s inheritance was double.
That’s because Josephs inheritance was given to his two sons – Manasseh and Ephraim.
God gives these people twice the land…and again God keeps his promises.
Jacob says to Zebulon: Zebulon will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships... (v.13) Which is exactly what happens. Joshua allots the Zebulonians (Zebulonites? Zebulonii? the people of Zebulon) an area that’s less than ten miles from the Mediterranean sea. These guys wore a lot of flip flops and got out their surfboards, because it happened exactly as God promised.
Jacob says to Asher: Asher’s food will be rich; delicacies fit for a king. (V.20) And 500 years later, Joshua grants them land near the northern border of the Mediterranean. Archaeologists indicate that that particular portion of land was filled with some of the country’s richest soil. It was perfect for growing pomegranates. God gave the Asherites wonderful farmland -- and God kept his promise.
Jacob says to Simeon: Simeon and Levi…will be scarce and dispersed in Israel. (v.5) This was a punishment on the brothers for a violent incident that God greatly disapproved of. And as a result, Levi doesn’t receive any inheritance at all. In fact, they are simply given places in cities to live in. And Simeon is given the smallest allotment of all. An allotment so small that it eventually gets swallowed up by one more tribe.
Jacob says to Judah: Judah, your brothers will praise you…because you are a lion’s cub. The scepter will not depart from Judah. (v.9-11) And like a lion – God gives Judah the lion’s share of the land. Look at how large it is! It’s huge. It’s the largest section of any tribe.
And above all else? It contains Jerusalem.
Jerusalem which would be home to many kings.
Jerusalem which would be home to many kings of Israel.
Jerusalem which would be home to THE king of Israel.
Here’s the point of all this. These land allotments are proof that God keeps his promises. Whether he’s promising lots of land, or a beach front, or even a tiny little bit…God gives exactly what he promises.
So, what about you? What has God promised you?
A beachfront like Zebulon?
A good gardening area like Asher?
Or just enough land for one of those tiny little houses like Levi?
God has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:12)
No matter what the devil says.
No matter how much he tells you that you don’t qualify.
No matter how much he tells you that you might forget.
God has not forgotten you.
He already paid for it.
He has a place reserved for you in heaven.
No matter how long it takes.
III. Joshua’s Inheritance
Which leads us to Joshua.
Because the very last inheritance that God passes out, isn’t given to some lonely orphan.
It isn’t given to some naysaying skeptic.
It’s given to their leader.
When they had finished dividing the land into its allotted portions, the Israelites gave Joshua son of Nun an inheritance among them, as the Lord had commanded. (Joshua 19:49)
Do you see the point?
Joshua followed God and God followed through.
When others didn’t want to, he stuck to God’s promises.
When he couldn’t get past a river, he stuck to God’s promises.
When he faced giant walls, he stuck to God’s promises.
When his people sinned and failed, he stuck to God’s promises.
When he fought an army of five kings, he stuck to God’s promises.
And God stuck to Joshua.
And Joshua had a home.
And Joshua had rest.
Do the same and God will do the same. Follow God and he’ll follow through for you.
If you’ve been abandoned, cling to God’s promises.
If you’ve been sick, cling to God’s promises.
If you have financial struggle, cling to God’s promises.
If you’re facing death, cling to God’s promises.
God will keep his promises and you will receive your inheritance…in heaven. Amen.
Over the past couple of weeks, we have heard some amazing stories. About the Jordan River splitting in half, the walls of Jericho tumbling down, God’s grace in keeping the prostitute Rahab safe, his wrath against the greedy Achan and his incredible power that extended the daylight for 24 extra hours!
Today’s sermon is a bit different. Because we are getting to the part of Joshua that isn’t so jammed packed with action. The literature switches from narrative to a legal listing; from storytelling to atlas. It’s one of those parts of the Bible that might not seem like it’s got a lot to do with you.
You’d be wrong.
Today we’re going to take our first of two looks at the non-narrative parts of Joshua. This is from Joshua 13-21. Our goal is to discover a couple of different ways these listings are a blessing for 21st century Raleighians.
Before we do that, let’s pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is 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 Temptation to Grow Tired
Chapter 13 starts right after Israel has finished conquering a vast majority of the land. Joshua 13:1. When Joshua had grown old and was well along in years, the LORD said to him, “You are now very old…”
Notice that there seems to be a repetitive theme. The Bible calls Joshua “old” and then, it rephrases it so that we don’t get confused, “well along in years.” Finally, the LORD himself approaches Joshua and the very first thing he says to him is, “You are…very old!”
Sheesh, God. Thanks a lot.
I doubt Joshua needed the reminder. The white hairs, the creaky knees and the wrinkles probably told him enough. In fact, if you jump forward in the book – Caleb, Joshua’s contemporary, is identified as 85 years old. Joshua, probably a bit older, might be around 90.
That means – things were not as easy as they used to be.
Each morning he would stand and straighten his back very slowly.
He would grab his pair of glasses and squint in order to read the 14-point font of Moses’ OT Writings.
Soldiers would pretend not to notice his inability to remember any of their names. Marty? Abimelech?
Joshua was no spring chicken.
So, what does God want?
Is this the talk where he tells him to slow things down?
Is this the talk where he told Joshua he probably shouldn’t drive anymore?
Is this the talk where he told Joshua about the new retirement village they had set up in the confines of Ai?
Joshua…there are still large areas of land to be taken over. (v.1b)
I still have plans for you.
I still have work for you.
You are not too old to serve me.
That’s a key truth I want to focus on for a moment. You are never too old to serve God.
I was sitting down next to a friend for coffee the other day. And in the midst of our conversation, the man began to tell me about his children. How he had fallen away from church and wasn’t a believer anymore.
And then…he sighed: But...what am I going to do? I’m old.
Is that really how it works?
Is Jesus just for young kids?
Is Jesus not for adults?
Do you get to a point where you’re so old that even God can’t use you?
Look at these Scriptures:
Matthew 28 says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Galatians 5 says, “Serve one another in love.”
Matthew 5, “Let your light shine.”
Notice Scripture does not say, “Go and make disciples – unless you have arthritis.”
It doesn’t say, “Serve one another in love…unless you are over 73. Then, serve in grouchiness.”
It doesn’t say, “Let your light shine…unless you live in a retirement community.”
There are no qualifiers.
These commands are all inclusive.
These commands are for you – no matter how old you are.
Because you are never too old to serve God!
Joshua was 90 years old and God still called on him to lead the Israelite army throughout the rest of Canaan!
But Joshua wasn’t alone.
Moses was 80 years old when God used him to get Israel out of Egypt.
Daniel was 87 when he was thrown into the lion’s den for confessing faith in Jesus.
Sarah was 99 when she gave birth to Isaac – forefather of Jesus.
Noah was 600 when God used him to build an ark and save humanity!
How old are you?
How will God use?
Don’t listen to the devil:
You are never too old to serve God.
II. The Temptation to Give Up
That’s what God wanted Joshua to do. Listen to his command: There are still very large areas of land to be taken over…be sure to allocate this land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have instructed you. (v.1b, 6) Because up to this point Israel hasn’t conquered everything. They only possess about 2/3 of the Promised Land. They had won many battles and driven out many armies, but they still needed to win victories up in the North kingdom and they still needed to drive out armies in the southwest.
The temptation might be to call it good.
The temptation might be to say close enough.
The temptation might be to grab a PBR and relax.
God doesn’t want them to quit.
God wants them to finish it.
And with good reason.
My initial favorite sports teams were based in Minnesota. Did you know this? I was 2 when I moved there from Baton Rouge, LA and I was 4 when I watched my first baseball and football games. The Twins and the Vikings. Then, in first grade I moved to Wisconsin. And in week one of the NFL season I was one of the only kids wearing Viking purple – while everyone else wore green and gold.
And there was polite joking.
And there was polite ribbing.
And…there was the time in fourth grade when Brett Favre led the Packers deep into the playoffs – and the Vikings were not so deep in the playoffs – that I finally switched allegiances.
People influence you. In sports teams, favorite restaurants, binge worthy TV shows and religion.
This is one of the main reasons for God driving out the Canaanites. He doesn’t want the Canaanites’ idol worship to influence the Israelites God worship. He doesn’t want the Canaanite unbelievers to lead Israelite believers to unbelief…
And Joshua gets it. He sends out each tribe into its particular region of the Promised Land in order to drive out all the nations. That’s exactly what chapters 11-19 entail. Numbers, places and results of their victories. But…hidden in the midst of these victories – in the midst of this long historical commentary on how they followed through on God’s commands – are a few verses which show that…they didn’t.
13:13 The Israelites did not drive out the people of Geshur and Maacah so they continue to live among Israel to this day.
15:53 Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites.
16:10 They did not dislodge the Canaanites in Gezer.
17:11-12 They were not able to occupy Beth Shan, Ibleam, Dor, Endor, Taanach and Megiddo...for the Canaanites lived in their region.
19:47 But the Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory…so they moved up to Leshem.
Perhaps this seems like no big deal. Perhaps this seems like “at least they tried hard.”
Perhaps you can understand them being tired and saying – “Good enough. We don’t bother you and you don’t bother us.”
And everything seems fine.
Jump forward with me:
After Joshua died…another generation grew up who neither knew the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then, the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD…they followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them. So…the hand of the LORD was against them…and he sold them into the hand of their enemies all around them. (Judges 2:8-13)
Do you see the problem?
They didn’t listen to God.
They didn’t drive out the Canaanites.
And the Canaanites led them to worshipping false gods.
Just. Like. God. Said.
God has not asked us to conquer any kind of land or people in any kind of way. But God does tell us to fight against sin and drive it out of our lives – completely!
However – I wonder if sometimes we don’t do the same thing Israel does. Go about 90% of the way and call it good. I don’t commit adultery. Especially when it comes to something I like to call Peripheral Sins.
What’s a Peripheral Sin? Peripheral vision describes the vision to the right and the left of what you are focusing on. For example, if you look straight at the cross right now and I stand over here --- peripheral vision is me. Maybe you can tell that I’m there, but I’m not clear. I’m fuzzy. (Try and guess how many fingers I am holding up. Not easy)
Peripheral sins are the sins that we don’t focus on. Sins that we refuse to focus on. Sins that we can maybe kind of see in our life – but they aren’t big and clear like murder OR cheating on your wife so…we just kind of let those be.
For example – three common Peripheral Sins:
Granted, if you’ve struggled with lust, there may have been a moment when this wasn’t in the peripheral. And you fought pornography. And you stopped seeing that person who was threatening your marriage.
But at some point, the devil loves to get us to stop the fight.
I’m not looking at porn anymore; so, I’ll just look around at the gym. That should be ok.
I’m not planning on sleeping with that guy at work; I’m just flirting. My husband would be cool with it.
This right here? It’s just the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. I only read it for the articles…on sports.
Lust is not a small thing. It’s always a big thing. Drive it out.
(2) Sinful Anger.
Because for whatever the reason, anger is one of those sins that people say, “Well everyone gets angry.” (Which is true) and “Anger isn’t necessarily a sin.” (also, true) and “Anyways…it’s probably not a big deal the way I showed my anger there.” (Which is a bald-faced lie.)
Humans aren’t God.
Humans are sinful.
Human anger – even ‘righteous sounding anger’ will be tainted by sin.
And oftentimes is acted out sinfully.
Anger cannot be ignored.
It kills relationships at home.
It kills relationships at work.
It kills relationships at church.
It kills your relationship with God.
Anger is not a small thing. It’s a big thing. Drive it out.
After recent events in Virginia, this deserves to be revisited. Because I think the common sentiment is: I’m not a member of the KKK. I’m not a Neo-Nazi. I’m good. Stop telling me I’m racist.
But Jesus calls us to look deeper.
Jesus tells us sin affect us.
Jesus tells us that sinful selfishness easily affects the way that we think and act.
And when we see the problems – even small problems – drive them out.
If I befriend that guy who looks like me, but don’t even try to befriend that guy because…he doesn’t. There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
If I make a joke here and a comment there, and say…but “it’s just a funny stereotype that’s all.” There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
If I dismiss the struggles of my friend (who looks different) because I never had to deal with those kinds of struggles (since I look different) and it would make me uncomfortable to consider that people who do look like me might be part of the reason this friend who doesn’t look like you is struggling. There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
In fact, drive all of these peripheral sins out. Because the reality is that they are sin. And sin destroys.
Lust destroys marriage.
Anger destroys churches.
Racism destroys society.
Drive it out before the destruction takes place!
III. God Finishes What He Started
Here’s the good news for Israel. In spite of their failure to completely drive out their enemies, God still blessed Israel. He gave them the Promised Land. He kept that in their possession. He made sure that Israelites were in that land when he finally sent the Savior from there.
God finished what he started.
In Bethlehem, Jesus was born.
In Nazareth, Jesus grew up.
In Cana, he turned water into wine.
At the Jordan, he revealed himself as Lord.
In Jericho, he healed a blind man.
Just outside Jerusalem he died…and just outside Jerusalem he rose from the dead.
God finished what he started.
And he was complete about it! Scripture says, “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.”
Please note the all. It doesn’t say “some.” It doesn’t say “a few.” It doesn’t say, “Just the obvious big ones.”
His blood purifies you from peripheral lust.
His blood purifies you from seeping anger.
His blood purifies you from that hidden racism.
Jesus died and his blood completely purifies you from all sin.
It’s like a water purification system. If you put that on your faucet, the water goes through the first filter and the big sediment it blocked. Then, it goes through the secondary system and the little sediment it blocked. Finally, it goes through a laser purification process and even the hidden particles are destroyed.
Jesus purifies us from all sin.
And that empowers us to drive out all sin.
That’s exactly what God tells Joshua. Right after he tells Joshua about all of the nations that he still needs to drive out – God says this in verse 6: I myself will drive out the nations. He was still fighting with them. Even if they didn’t see gigantic miracles like the river splitting in half or the walls tumbling down or the sun sitting in the sky for an extra 24 hours – God was still with them and would not withdraw his support.
And God is still with you.
He’s not like some big athletic sponsorship that withdraws their sponsorship because the athlete tweets something they don’t agree with or posts a picture of something that they shouldn’t.
In spite of our sins – for the sake of Jesus – God will not withdraw his support. He is in your corner.
When you are old.
When you are young.
Whether you’re fighting lust, holding back anger or working against subtle racism, God is in your corner.
God has your back.
We are in Joshua 10 this morning – and quick review – last week we heard about how 5 kings – the Fearsome Five – decided that they were going to gang up on God. They decided to pool their resources, join their armies, and attack the ally of God’s people. They figured – their collective armies would outnumber Israel, give them a tactical advantage and result in their victory.
They were thrown into confusion.
They were routed by the Israelites.
They were pegged by deadly hailstones from the sky.
The daylight was extended an extra 24 hours just so Israel could completely annihilate them.
Today we are picking up right in the midst of the retreat. We’ll see what the five evil leaders – the 5 kings – try to do in order to keep themselves safe from annihilation. In the midst of this chapter, we will learn (1) a hard lesson about fighting against God (2) a wonderful lesson about fighting with God. Before we do, let’s say a prayer: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is 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 People Against God
This section picks up with the Israelites in hot pursuit of these armies. But while the men of the armies are in pursuit, the 5 kings who incited this fight against God, are slipping away. Now the five kings had fled and hidden in the cave at Makkedah. (v.16)
You can almost imagine the conversation that they are having:
Did anyone see us? Did they see us run in?
I don’t know. I don’t see anyone following us.
This was a disaster AZ! (Adoni Zedek) We got annihilated. We weren’t just fighting men. We were fighting hailstones, confusion and a sun that won’t go down!
Yeah, we weren’t fighting just Israel. We were fighting God.
We almost died! We’re going to die! This is all your fault AZ! This is all your idea.
And as the men took turns blaming one another, AZ stroked his beard.
He held up his finger.
Calm down. Calm down. Listen. We’ll be ok. The Israelites are too distracted. They’ll chase our men. We’ll hide out here. When the coast is clear, we can slip out, pack our bags and travel to Rio de Janeiro. I hear it’s lovely this time of year. Anyways – don’t worry. We may have lost to God. We may not have been able to defeat him…but we should be able to hide from him. He can’t find us.
And as AZ finished speaking those confident words, the kings heard a noise coming from the front of the cave. Like a rock scraping against the ground. As it grew louder, the cave grew dimmer. Until – darkness.
What was that? AZ said with fright.
Another king approached. That? That was the LORD. I think he found us.
So, Joshua and the Israelites defeated the armies completely…And Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me.” So, they brought the five kings out of the cave…He summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders…and said, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.” Then, Joshua put the kings to death and exposed their bodies on five poles and they were left hanging on the poles until evening. (v.21-25)
I’ll stop and let you ponder that.
It’s kind of disturbing, isn’t it?
It’s one of those parts of the Bible that you probably wish wasn’t a part of the Bible.
It’s one of those parts of the Bible that you probably aren’t going to teach in Sunday School.
But it’s important.
Do you remember the old anti-drug commercials? They’d say, “This is your brain,” and show an egg. Then, they’d say, “This is your brain on drugs,” and show the egg frying. I was always a bit disturbed by those commercials. (Who wants to think of their brain sizzling on a skillet?) But that was the point: Don’t do drugs and this won’t happen.
Similarly, are those anti-smoking commercials. They show a regular set of lungs—health- looking and good—next to a blackened, charred set of lungs. Kind of gross. The point? Don’t smoke cigarettes and this will not happen.
Joshua 10:26 is one of those moments in the Bible. These men fought against God. These men were defeated. And Joshua parades their bodies like a public service announcement: This is what happens when you fight against God.
Don’t fight against God and this won’t happen.
It was a warning for his armies.
It was a warning for Israelites to come.
It was a warning for North Raleigh residents thousands of years later.
Sure. You might not be preparing an ambush at the church. You might not own a spear that you plan on hurling at the pastor. (Hopefully…Thankfully?) You might not be leading a formal rebellion against God.
Bur fighting against God? That’s what sin is.
And fighting against God has severe consequences.
That means sin has severe consequences.
Sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:15)
This isn’t me being mean.
It isn’t the Bible being mean.
It isn’t God being mean.
It is us being mean (sin) and God being nice (and warning us) and ultimately God doing what is really nice and annihilating the bad!
Stop fighting against God.
If you are doing something that you know is wrong, repent!
If you keep saying things that you know are wrong, stop!
If you are in a relationship that you know is sinful, get out!
If you keep bad mouthing God to your friends, watch out now!
Quit fighting against God.
You will not win.
You will only suffer.
II. Fighting with God
Which makes me think – maybe – maybe we should have similar PSA.
A painting of some kings hanging on a tree? I know it sounds antique and even barbaric – but better to be offended than dead, right?
But then...I got to thinking.
We already have a piece of art like that.
In fact, we look at it every Sunday.
A grotesque reminder of sin.
Because on the cross, someone hung on a tree.
On the cross, someone died on the tree.
On the cross, someone died in our place.
Remember that James passages? Sin, when it is full grown gives birth to death?
Jesus didn’t do any sin.
Jesus didn’t fight against the Father.
Jesus even went to the cross to die when it was a part of the Father’s plan!
Why did he hang on a tree?
Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
That “for” is a very important word.
It explains why Jesus died.
It explains his reasoning.
It explains the purpose.
It explains whose place he took on that cross:
It’s like in baseball when they make a substitute in the middle of the game. They’ll say, “Now batting for the pitcher -- # 27.” That means the pitcher is out and the new player is in. He’s a substitute. He’s taking his place.
Jesus is your substitute.
Jesus took your sins.
That you might live.
This means that God fought on our side…even when we weren’t on his side.
This means that God will fight on our side…if we stay on his side.
It means that if we fight with God, there will be an entirely different outcome.
Because if you skim through chapters 10 and 11, you’ll find a list of countries that Israel has defeated: Maakedah, Libnah, Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, Hazor, Shimron, Acshaph, Mizpah.
Then, you’ll hear a list of lands that the Israelites receive as inheritance: the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills, the mountain slopes, Arabah, Mt. Halak, Baal Gad and the Valley of Lebanon.
In short, the Israelites dominate. God defeats their enemies. God gives them the land of Canaan.
But here’s where it gets interesting. Because at the end of chapter 11, the author explains to us what the secret was behind the Israelite success.
It wasn’t a strong military.
It wasn’t great tactics.
it wasn’t a military grade tank.
It was God.
All these nations were conquered in one campaign because the LORD, the God of Israel fought for Israel. (11:42)
That is what it is like with God on your side.
He defeats your enemies.
He defeats your worries.
He defeats your doubts.
He defeats your guilt.
He defeats your shame.
He defeats your demons.
He defeated your sin.
He defeated the devil.
He defeated death itself.
And you? You get the spoils.
Peace with God.
III. What Now?
(1) Fight with God
Because God wins! If you’re with God, you win!
What’s cool is that when you fight with God, God supplies the weapons. They aren’t Nerf guns or water balloons. They are the spiritual version of AK47s! They are perfect for assaulting the devil and our own sinful desires.
Check out Ephesians 6: Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, the with breastplate of righteousness (That I have been declared innocent by God) in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. (Feet ready to go and share that Jesus is our Savior)
In addition, take up the shield of faith, (That I am saved in Jesus), take the helmet of salvation (that I am on the winning team) and the sword of the Spirit which is God’s Word. Hurling the truth of Scripture in the face of temptation and doubt!
(2) Watch Him Fight for You!
And it isn’t as obvious anymore. God doesn’t usually send hailstorms in our favor nor does he extend the daylight for 24 hours so that we can get everything done that we need to.
But he does fight for us.
A while back – I was visiting a friend who had visited our church. I thanked them for coming to worship and they thanked me for having them. They invited me inside and we chatted for a while at the breakfast table.
And while we were chatting, I couldn’t help but notice something on top of the refrigerator. It was a couple of clear cookie jars. Which would get anyone’s attention, but there weren’t any cookies in there. No Oreos. No Nilla Wafers. Not even homemade chocolate chip cookies.
There were simply scraps of paper.
So…I asked. “What are those?”
My friend went up grabbed a jar with a few pieces of paper in it and brought it down.
“This is my prayer jar. These are things that we are praying to God for. We pray them and then we put them in the jar – and wait for God to be God.”
Cool. I thought. And what are the other jars for?
She set the prayer jar on top of the fridge again and pulled down two more jars both full of scraps.
These aren’t prayer jars. These are blessing jars. Once God answers our prayers – we take them out of the prayer jar and place them into blessing jar. Because God has fought for us, and we get the spoils.
Cool, huh? I know it’s the same in your life too. With God on your side, you will be blessed. Peace, forgiveness, and even some temporal blessings – until you receive the eternal blessing of heaven itself.
Thank you, God, for fighting on our side. Amen.
For our sermon, we are continuing the story of the Promised Land conquest and we will be looking at Joshua 10. Joshua 10 is interesting – because it’s kind of like the climax. A group of nations join forces to fight off the Israelites. That’s one of their toughest challenges to date.
Will they win the battle?
Can God win the battle?
Can God beat 5 nations at the same time?
We are going to look at the answer this morning and I know it’s going to be a very encouraging story for you. But before we begin, let us pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is 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 Coalition
Adoni Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies. He and his people were very much alarmed at this, because Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters. So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, and Japhia king of Lachish and Debir king of Eglon, “Come up and help me attack Gibeon, because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites.” (10:1-4)
Now I don’t know exactly how this look. For some reason, I picture them all around the table (kinda like a 1920s mobster movie). A few are smoking cigarettes and others are twirling their knives on the table – just to show that they have some skills.
Then Adoni-Zedek speaks, “Listen. I don’t like you guys. You don’t get along with me; I don’t get along with you; and you don’t get along with each other. But I ain’t asking us to be best friends. I’m asking us to get each other’s backs. There’s a bigger threat out there. Those Israelites – need to be defeated. They crossed the raging Jordan River. They knocked down the walls of Jericho. They routed Ai. Soon – they’re coming for us.
I say…We don’t let ‘em.
I say…We get ‘em.
I say…We fight this “LORD” and shut him up once and for all.
And they glare at each other.
And they nod at each other.
And they spit in their hands and shake on it.
It’s an alliance.
An alliance against God.
To be fair there are getting some pretty, nasty characters.
Adoni-Zedek. He’s the mastermind of the plans and the king of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was always a very rich city which would have allowed him to fund the upcoming battle.
Hoham of Hebron was the king of giants. That was the area that the Israelite spies had visited 40 years earlier and after seeing the men of Hebron decided, “These guys are like giants. We are like grasshoppers. We are gonna get destroyed.” Those same intimidating gigantic men were now a part of this coalition.
Piram and Debir were the kings of Jarmuth and Eglon. These cities were both located a hill. That allowed them a tactical vantage point. Like two fighter jets nose diving onto the playing field – their armies could bull doze down on their enemies and strike. Not to mention – that being on the top of the mountain – they likely had many skilled archers in their ranks.
Finally, there was Japhia, king of Lachish. Lachish at that time was under the control of the Egyptian empire. They would have had access to Egyptian technology and weaponry. Chariots. Horses. Javelins. And fine military training.
Together they were similar to any group of super villains.
The Injustice League.
The Legion of Doom.
They wanted to ban together for the sake of their common enemy:
II. God Fights Back
So, the Fearsome Five make their plan. They decide to attack Gibeon. It’s smaller than Israel and it doesn’t have a history of God helping them out like Israel does. So, it makes good sense. They come down. They attack. They put the city under siege.
But not before Gibeon gets a messenger sent out.
He takes the back roads.
He heads through the forests.
He makes his way into the camp of Israel and deliver a message to Joshua.
I suppose it sounded something like this:
Hi. Remember us? We are the guys who totally deceived and tricked you a couple of weeks ago. You were kinda angry. Sorry about that. Anyways…will you…and God…um…honor that treaty? Help us!!!
And Joshua crumbles up the message. He summons his army, but gets a bit nervous. This was bigger than anything they’d faced. 5 nations – all at once?
Could they handle that?
Could they defeat the Fearsome Five?
Would they be victorious?
And perhaps – right about then – Joshua remembered something that someone had said to him at the start of all this. “Do not be afraid; Do not be discouraged. I the LORD you God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1)
Only…he wasn’t remembering it.
God was repeating it:
Do not be afraid…I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you. (10:8)
So, Joshua nods.
God approves of the rescue.
There may be five nations against them; but they had God on their side.
And God is full of surprises.
(1) All Night March
Joshua summons his army and he takes the best fighting men marching through the night. It’s a 20-mile journey from Gilgal – where Israel was camped – to the battle scene at Gibeon. Think about that – the armies of the Fearsome Five sleep in their tents with complete confidence, but wake up to see the army of Israel approaching in the distance. It’s not a pleasant sight while you’re drinking your morning coffee.
But that’s God’s swift hand! When we need rescue, God acts swiftly to save us.
And I do mean God. Because the second surprise is found in verse 10. The LORD threw the Canaanite armies into confusion before Israel. Now I’m not exactly sure what confusion means – but I’ve noticed that just about every iteration of confusion that I can think of doesn’t serve an army very well.
Whether it’s dizziness so they can’t see where they are going.
Or color blindness so they can’t tell which army is on which side.
Or that kind of weird haze that you get after a nap where you aren’t really sure if you’re awake or not – and whether the dog is licking your hand or not….
Whatever the confusion was – it is not something that an army wants to deal with while fighting.
And look who causes the confusion. Notice the subject.
It’s not the well water.
It’s not the bourbon from last night.
It’s not something that a group of soldiers were smoking close by.
God is the one causing the confusion.
God is the one fighting the war.
Which leads to the next surprise:
(3) Victory for the Underdog
Verse 10 continues, “Joshua and the Israelites defeated the Canaanites completely at Gibeon.” Even though they are only one army – they easily dispatch the 5 armies they are fighting against.
Because they’ve got one God on their side.
One God is stronger than 5 armies.
He’s stronger than 10 armies.
He’s stronger than all the armies of the world armed with swords, daggers, spears, machine guns, F-150s, tanks and an ocean liner of nuclear bombs.
God is undefeated.
But God isn’t done.
Because look at what happens next – as the armies of the Kings flee and retreat. The Israelites pursue. They try to overtake them. But the armies have a head start and Israel is having a hard time cutting them off.
Verse 11: As they fled before Israel, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them.
Have you ever seen hail before? To be fair – you don’t want to be trapped in a hailstorm. It smarts to have a marble sized piece of hail hit you in the right spot. And golf ball sized hail is the kind of hail that will dent your car --- even ruin your roof – where hopefully your hailstorm insurance will take care of the damage.
How big are these stones?
More of the Canaanites died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites. (v.11b)
Wow. That’s miraculous.
(5) The Day Lengthens
But still. There were a lot of soldiers. There were a lot of nations. And as Joshua is watching this battle take place he’s smiling. He’s happy. But as he watches from a hill to the south, he looks at the horizon. In the distance, he can see the sun about to set in the west and the moon is already making its appearance to the east.
It’s about to be dark.
It’s about to be impossible to battle.
It’s about to be time for this incredible day to end.
Too bad. God was on a roll too.
It’s too bad it had to end.
Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you moon, over the Valley of Aijalon. (v.12)
What happens next is another incredibly puzzling and yet amazing event. One that contradicts everything that we can observe in day to day science. One that we take incredible cosmic powers to accomplish: the ability to manipulate gravity and the fortitude to hold giant rotating rocks in their exact place in the universe.
The sun stopped…and delayed going down about a full day. (v.13)
Think about that.
The sun doesn’t move.
Or rather – the earth stops rotating to allow day to continue.
III. What Now?
The author of Joshua – who wrote well after these events were finished wrote this in verse 14, “There has never been a day like that day before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a human being.” He literally did that incredible, amazing thing that Joshua asked of him.
And it was an awesome day. But how does that awesome day affect today for you?
(1) Be Confident in Your Savior
Because that’s the God that is on your side.
He sends his enemies into confusion.
He protects his people with hailstones.
He literally controls the solar system in order to save his people from their enemies.
And this wasn’t the only time.
Because…Do you know what happened 1500 some odd years later? God controlled the solar system again. It was midday and God blocked out the sun. There was pitch black darkness all over the land from Noon to 3 pm.
Around the time that Jesus was hanging on a cross.
Then, three days later – early in the morning – God put his hands around the sides of the earth. He lifted it up. He shook it. He shook it hard. He shook it hard until the stone that was sealing off Jesus’ tomb was rolled back.
And as the dust clears, he sends the devil into confusion.
He sends hailstones of his righteousness to crush our sins.
He raises his SON to STAND firm that day…and always.
Be confident in your Savior.
Be confident in his Victory.
(2) Be Bold
Because Joshua prayed a pretty bold prayer, wouldn’t you say?
He prayed for God to break the regular rules of time and space in order to keep the fight going.
But God listened.
Be bold in your prayers, too.
Pray for healing from your sickness.
Pray for help finding a job.
Pray for your marriage to be repaired.
Pray for full forgiveness from your Lord.
Prayer for peace with your heavenly Father.
Prayer God to take you home to heaven.
No matter the prayer – how big OR how small – prayer it to your incredible God!
Because God answers prayer.
God doesn’t answer halfheartedly.
God doesn’t answer a bit.
God doesn’t answer but act sometime next week.
God comes to fight.
In fact, that’s how this section of God’s Word ends: The LORD was fighting for Israel. (v.14b)
Here’s the truth -- The LORD not only fought for Israel.
The LORD is fighting for you.
We are in Joshua 9 this morning – and quick review – we’ve seen a lot of amazing things happen so far. We saw the rushing white water rapids of the Jordan river split in half; we saw the walls of Jericho come tumbling down; and we saw Israel defeat Jericho & Ai – with the incredible help of their God.
It’s a joy.
But imagine you are not a Christian living in North Raleigh years removed from these events.
Imagine you live in Canaan and hear about these attacks.
Not so exciting.
One of the nations – the nation of Gibeon – heard about Israel’s miracles streak and decided to do something about it. Before we look at their plan and see how Israel handles it; let us pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is 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 Gibeonite’s Deception
When the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse. To help us be understand the ruse – Israel was not supposed to make a treaty with anyone in the Promised Land. Why? (1) God wanted to give the entire Promised Land to the people of Israel. (2) God wanted to protect them from the false god worship that was prevalent among the Canaanites.
Gibeon understood that, so they make a plan: Trick Israel into thinking that they aren’t from Canaan. Here’s the plan:
It says they went and grabbed worn out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. A sack is a sack. Not hard to interpret. But a wineskin is a bit less familiar. It was literally the skin of an animal, sewn up to hold wine. When it was new it was plump. It was fresh. It held the wine with no problem. But the Gibeonites go and grab the wineskins that have been in Uncle Joe’s basement for the past 7 years. They’re old, dusty, and are starting to leak.
Why visit Joshua with the worn-out wineskins and old sacks? Remember – they are going to tell Joshua that they are from far away. If their stuff looked new, it wouldn’t look like they were from far away. They were travelled in the desert for a long time.
So, they bring the old stuff. Hoping that the little drip of wine coming off through the broken wineskin will be enough to convince Israel they are legit.
But just in case…
They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. This is literally walking the extra mile. Because when your shoes start to develop holes in them – they are not all that comfortable. You get rocks in them, sand in them, prickers in them. It’s uncomfortable.
I can almost picture one of them saying, “It hurts. I’m getting blisters. I don’t like the way it feels. The sand is scorching my feet. Can I take it off?”
Well that depends:
Do you value your life?
Wear the shoes.
(3) Gross Food.
This is where they go all in. Because they must have searched through the garbage to put together the meals for the trip. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. The idea? They want Joshua to think they baked the bread weeks ago – but the journey was long. The journey was hard – the journey was arduous – and they didn’t have Air Tight Ziploc Bags – so the bread went stale.
Which is a travesty! Ever been on a long trip and somewhere along the trip – someone forgets to fully seal the Doritos before they put them back into the snack bag? It’s a travesty! Nacho Cheese goodness now tasting like cardboard – (I still eat them) – but still…
They are going all in on this ruse. Even willing to waste a perfectly good road snack.
(4) The Script.
Then there’s the script. Check out verse 6. It says, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.” It’s interesting. Joshua and the Israelites don’t buy the story at first. “Perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you? Where are you from?” (v.7-8)
Listen to their response. We come from a very distant country. They don’t give a name. They don’t mention the place. They don’t even make up name. Just – “It’s very far away. I’m sure you haven’t heard of it. We won’t burden you with such trite details. Just know it’s very far – and it definitely is not—in any way – a part of the Promised Land.”
In fact – and this is sneaky – listen to their reasoning: We have heard about your God – all that he did in Egypt and all that he did to Sihon and Og.
Both of which are amazing stories of God’s might.
Both of which are stories of God’s might that happened decades ago.
Both of which are stories of God’s might that didn’t happen in Canaan.
Notice – these men ignore the miracles that would have happened by them: the crossing of Jordan River, the wall of Jericho and the battle at Ai. That would give them away! It would prove that they must be locals because how else would they know about these local events which happened within the last month. Remember – Joshua did not have his own Twitter handle yet and there weren’t any Vines of the walls tumbling to the ground.
Besides—the Gibeonites do not let the Israelites ponder it for all that long. They switch gears:
Touch the holes in my shoes.
Look at the moldy bread.
Smell the gross wine.
Do you remember Wil E. Coyote? He would order those Roadrunner catching kits from Acme. One of those was a refrigerator strapped to his back with a fast-acting ice maker that shot the ice in front of him allowing him to ski after the Roadrunner and catch him.
It didn’t work.
The plan from the people of Gibeon similar.
It's seems silly.
It won’t work.
II. Israel’s Terrible Detective Work
But as outrageous as this ruse is, it’s not as outrageous as the Israelite response. Look at their detective work skills: The Israelites sampled their provisions… Think about that: They ate the moldy bread. They ignored the maggots.
But they did not inquire of the Lord.
Which is especially terrible considering what God had just done.
Remember what happened in chapter 7? It was the caper of the stolen goods. The account of Achan stealing some silver and gold – and it causing Israel to fail at Ai. It was quite the detective story – trying to find the few pieces of gold among the hundreds of thousands of tents of the millions of Israelites. It was an impossible task.
But God did it.
He showed them exactly who did it.
He gave them the truth.
After God did that, why in the world didn’t they ask God for help on this one?
Instead: “But they did not inquire of the Lord.”
I wonder how often that would appear in our lives.
I wonder how often I’ve decided what my plans are for the weekend and I think, and I plan and at the end of the week, the caption underneath my Instagram photo should read: But he did not inquire of the Lord…
Whether it’s what to do for the weekend, which boyfriend to choose, which doctor to go with, how to react to the coworker, which job to get, or whatever…
How often is the tagline on our exploits: But he did not inquire of the Lord…
Or how often do we look to Facebook for the answer…
Or a horoscope…
Or a magic 8 ball…
Or my friend…
Or type into Google “What to do in this particular instance” and read a 5-step article on Wiki-How-To…
Or think and ponder and come to a conclusion myself. And at the end of the day the decision is made… But he did not inquire of the Lord.
TRUTH: Not inquiring of God is foolish.
God knows all things.
God knows the best things.
God loves you more than all things.
God loves you better than any other advice giver out there.
We should listen to him.
If you haven’t, listen to Him right here:
III. The Truth Revealed
Because look at the result of not inquiring from God. Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them.
They approach the Gibeonites: What gives!?! How could you trick us?
The Gibeonite’s response is simple: We feared you. We feared your God. We didn’t want to die – so we signed the treaty. Do with us as you wish.
And now the leadership is in a tough spot.
God had told them to completely, destroy every nation in the Promised Land.
But God had also told them to keep their oaths – one of which they just made to NOT destroy the Gibeonites.
What should they do?
The rest of the Israelites are getting testy…How could you leaders have done this?
So, they respond:
We have given them our oath by the Lord, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now. This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that God’s wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them. (v.19-20)
In other words:
We are representing God.
We have given his Word.
And in His Word he tells us that His Word is never broken.
That’s a huge truth for Israel, too! Because it means:
Even if Israel had sinned, God would not break his promise to win them the Promised Land.
Even if Gibeon had sinned, God would not break his promise to keep them safe, too.
Even if all them all had sinned, God would not break his promise to send his Messiah.
No matter how hard it got.
Because keeping your word can be hard.
There’s unexpected expenses, a meeting you forgot, health issues that prevent it or even distance.
But nothing’s too hard for God.
There is no harder time for anyone to keep their Word than God about 2000 years ago. He had promised to send a Savior. He had promised to be that Savior. He had come to earth, live 33 perfect years and was ready for the final part of his promise.
But it got hard.
He was abandoned by his friends, arrested, beaten, nailed to a across, slowly suffocated, all with the sins of the world on his back and God the Father’s wrath against him!
Having the hellfire wrath of God against you? Nothing sounds more difficult.
But Jesus did it.
He kept his Word
And he keeps his Word.
And in his Word, he declares you forgiven.
Don’t take my word for it. Inquire of His Word yourself:
Colossians 1:14 -- In Jesus we have the forgiveness of sins.
Ephesians 1:7 -- In Jesus we have…the forgiveness of sins.
1 John 2:2 – Your sins have been forgiven…on account of his name.
Acts 13:38 Through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed.
IV. How to Inquire?
Since you have been forgiven, God wants you to be confident. To inquire of him.
But how to you do that? A few things to keep in mind:
In the Old Testament, the Israelites had this special thing called Urim and Thummim. It’s a strange word without a translation because it spoke to very special items that the Israelites would use to inquire of God. Not a lot is known about these items – other than that they were items of chance. It sounds a bit like picking the shortest straw to find the answer – except that God had given them these items and told the Israelites to use them to find answers.
You don’t have to wait for archaeologist to find the Urim and Thummim.
God has given you prayer.
Prayer is a conversation with God.
And God loves you.
So, ask him for anything.
For help figuring out your health.
For help figuring out if that relationship is for you.
For help figuring out where to go on vacation.
For help figuring out how to handle that coworker.
From the big to the small – God has no limits on prayer. He simply tells you to pray to him. Inquire of him. If it’s important to you, it’s important to God.
(2) Listen to His Clear Word
Because there’s this idea out there that after we pray, we just kind of listen. As if you might here God’s voice in the wind and he’ll tell you what to do – or he’ll give you a good feeling and that’ll tell you what to do. (Unless you mistake an old burrito feeling for God’s voice.)
There’s a simpler place to look for God’s voice.
There’s a clearer place to look for God’s voice.
Do examine God’s Word when you are making a decision.
For instance, if I’m at Kroger and a guy cuts in front of me in line when I get distracted by the latest National Inquirer Headline – and I’m trying to figure out how to react and I wonder “Should I punch this guy in the face?” I look in God’s Word. God’s Word says, “Love one another.”
I have my answer: Don’t punch him.
Simply put –
If God’s Word says do it; do it.
If God’s Word says don’t do it; don’t do it.
(3) Seek His Will
But what about the neutral zone? You know the neutral zone in hockey. It’s the area that’s neither on one team’s side or another’s. The spiritual neutral zone is neither on the commanded side nor the forbidden side.
Like what kind of jelly to put on my peanut butter sandwich.
Neither commanded nor forbidden.
I can eat strawberry.
I can eat grape.
I can eat apricot.
But even in the area of the neutral zone – remember God’s Word.
God wants us to love him.
God wants us to love each other.
Suddenly, that affects my jelly choice.
I might remember that my wife doesn’t like the smell of grape jelly on my breath, so I don’t pick that.
I remember that my kid likes strawberry and there’s only a spoonful left so I don’t pick that.
I remember that apricot is the healthiest – which allows me to keep the body God has given me in good shape so that I can go and share his Word and give him the glory – so I pick that.
That’s just one scenario. Whether the decision is big or small – seek God’s Will! Inquire of God.
Because God speaks the truth.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. In the final verse it says, “Joshua made the Gibeonites woodcutters and watercarriers.” Servants. If you go backwards in Scripture all the way to Genesis 9 – Noah (the guy with the ark) tells his son Canaan who is the patriarch for the Canaanites that he will one day serve his brother Shem – the patriarch of the Israelites.
Here – it comes true.
They don’t die. They live. It’s better to be a servant in God’s house than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
God has made the same promise to you.
The truth is you will one day be in his Promised Land.
Don’t believe Him? Inquire about it. He’ll gladly tell you again. Amen.
Joshua bristled at the bitter boldness of his morning coffee.
It was stronger than normal, since he was a bit drowsy. It had been a long couple of days. They had marched around Jericho for a whole week, seen the walls topple down, entered into the city and completely destroyed it. They toppled every wall, killed every citizen and burned to the ground every building.
Then, they partied.
Today, it was back to work.
Today they were attacking the next city in Canaan.
Ai was a much smaller city. Located in the countryside to the west of Jericho, it lacked the fortification of Jericho. In fact, there’s not even a reference to any kind of wall. And when spies came back to report on it, they recommended that Joshua give most of the men rest. They would only need 2 or 3 thousand soldiers to easily take the city.
If taking Jericho was a miracle…
Taking Ai was expected.
So, Joshua had the trumpeters gather the small group that he would send against Ai. His speech was simple: “We took the great city of Jericho – this won’t be that hard. Let’s go in, get the job done, and get back to celebration.”
So, the army marched to Ai.
They marched boldly.
They marched confidently.
They marched directly into a route.
About three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. (7:4-5)
How can they go from conquering Jericho – a huge city with a gigantic double wall – to getting routed by the agricultural community of Ai?
Before we take a look at the reason and learn a few very important lessons about sin, let us pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is 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 Route of Ai
Take a look at verse 7. We’re going to find out what happened at the same time that Joshua found out what happened. Because -- take a look at Joshua’s words – he is absolutely dumbfounded as to why Israel was unsuccessful:
Joshua tore his clothes because he was so upset.
He fell face down on the ground.
He stayed there weeping.
Then, he spoke: “Alas Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant…what can I say?" (7:7-8)
Why did you do this if you just wanted us to lose?
Why the escape from Egypt?
Why the splitting of the Jordan?
Why make the walls of Jericho tumble?
Why all the promises?
Why did you do this to us?
And in response,
God let’s Joshua finish.
Then, He clears his throat:
The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant.” …They have taken some of the devoted things.” (7:10-11)
What were the devoted things? In chapter six, God mentions this to Joshua again and again. Unlike some of the other cities coming up – which God would allow them to reoccupy and use what’s there – Jericho was God’s. As such, it was to be completely destroyed. All the people. All the animals. All the buildings…and the few things not destroyed: Gold and Silver were to be saved for use in religious ceremonies.
God said, “Keep away from the devoted things... Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction.” (6:18)
So, what does this mean when God tells Joshua that Israel had taken devoted things?
It means the loss at Ai wasn’t God’s fault.
It was Israel’s.
TRUTH #1 -- You can’t blame the results of sin on God.
I bring this up because humans do this all of the time.
My wife and I are feeling disconnected. You must not be blessing our marriage God. And no, I don’t think it has anything to do with the porn that I look at on my phone.
Work is hard. No one likes me. That’s on you God! Not on the fact that I’m a total jerk.
My boyfriend left me! And I feel terrible. God why do I have such emotional pain? It certainly has nothing to do with the fact that I was living together with him and sleeping together with him – long before we were married!
The reality is that the results of sin are not God’s fault.
The results of sin are on us.
Just like the results of sin – the loss at Ai – was on Israel.
II. Achan’s Story
And Joshua should have known that.
God wouldn’t have broken his promise. If they lost at Ai, the only option was that Israel had sinned! It’s why God tells Joshua to “Stand up!” He needs to quit moping and start acting.
And God has a plan. He tells Joshua to bring all of Israel out together -- a mass meeting. Then, Joshua would cast lots. He’d assign a number to each tribe and then roll a pair of dice. The number that was rolled would represent the tribe that was at fault – and so on it would go down from tribe to clan to family to man.
His heart skipped a beat.
No, no, no. They know someone took the sacred things? I was careful. I made sure no one was looking. I…I… I’m sure this won’t work. There’s millions of Israelites. That game of chance will not reveal me. Better to stay hidden.
And the first lot was cast.
Ok…That’s coincidence. There’s a 1 in 12 chance. It’s unlucky, but Judah is the biggest of the tribes. There’s still hundreds of thousands of others. I’ll be fine. Just stay calm. Stop sweating. Breathe deeply.
What!? Don’t panic. Another lucky guess. That’s all. There’s still hundreds of other people. There’s still hundreds of other chances. No one knows what you did. No one…
Except maybe God. O I hope he takes my brothers. Maybe I could frame him. Or my cousin? He’s been in trouble before. Please don’t let that lot fall to me. Please don’t let that lot fall to me. Please don’t let them find out it’s me!
And Achan fell to the ground.
God had been behind that investigation.
God had revealed the culprit.
And Joshua approaches, “Son, give glory to God and tell me what you’ve done.”
And Achan stops hiding.
He stops pretending.
He’s been caught.
I have sinned.
TRUTH #2 -- You can’t hide sin from God.
To be fair – you can hide sin from your pastor.
You can hide it from the elders.
You can hide it from the other people at church.
But not God.
You can hide it from your family.
You can hide it from your parents.
You can hide it from your spouse.
But not from God.
In fact, Scripture says this, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)
And laying it bare means ‘it’s uncovered.’ It’s like if you have a bunch of mold under your sink, but you cover it up with all kinds of bottles and cleaner and always keep the door shut. That way no one knows about it.
But God is like the Home Inspector who comes in, walks right over to the kitchen sink, throws open the doors, takes out the bottles and shines a light on the mold. God has a way of making sin known.
Whether it’s through the rolling of dice in Achan’s fault or whether it’s through internet search history, phone records, stories that don’t match up, funny receipts on the credit card, or just plain that “weird feeling about him,” God will make sin known. Or whether it’s through the divine fiery judgment of Judgement Day, God will make hidden sin known.
III. God’s Mercy
So, don’t hide your sin; but confess it.
Because in Achan’s case, it was God who revealed the sin and God who held Achan accountable.
Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan, the silver, the robe, the gold bar…and all that he had. Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. (7:24-26)
Which might seem harsh…but remember:
(1) Wages of sin is death.
(2) He had repeated opportunities to confess.
(3) His sin led to the death of 36 people! 36 involuntary manslaughters.
But I think there’s one more thing that’s important.
One more thing that’s missing.
There’s no call for mercy.
No call for God’s love.
That’s striking. Had Achan confessed rather than been caught, does the situation change? Maybe.
It certainly does for you. That’s what God tells us in 1 John: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us all of our sins.”
(1 John 1:9)
Why trust this? Because: TRUTH #3: God is the ultimate eradicator
In fact, may that be motivation for your confession. Because the reality is that God already knows all of your sins. He already knows what you’ve done. He knows and, in fact, he knew. He knew and he went to the cross for you. “He himself bore our sins” (1 Peter 2:24) in his body on the cross.
Jesus died for every last one of your sins.
He took your sin in his body on the tree.
He brought them to the cross for eradication.
When you confess, all your trust is in his eradication abilities. It’s like signing the dotted line for the Terminix man. When you do that, you trust that he’ll be able to poison, burn, trap, and eradicate every single pest that you have in your house.
Trust in Jesus to do the same.
He'll go under the floor boards, look in the cupboards of your heart and eradicate the sins that even you didn’t know were there!
Jesus eradicated every one of your sins.
Jesus will eradicate their eternal consequences.
Confess and trust in his mercy.
III. What Now?
(1) Eradicate Temptation.
Because God didn’t eradicate the consequences of your sin, just to leave you in sin. God wants you to eradicate sin from your lives. That’s what Israel does. They eradicate Achan and the stolen devoted things.
You do the same.
Get rid of the unrestricted access to internet porn.
Set limits on late night with boyfriend so you aren’t tempted to sin.
Throw out the alcohol.
Flush the drugs.
Stop the late nights that prevent you from church in the morning.
“Break up” with the group of ladies that wants to sit around and gossip.
Whatever the sin might be – eradicate the things that tempt you to do it.
It’d be like the exterminator telling you that the reason you have so many rats in your house is that you have been stacking your half-finished pizza boxes in your living room.
Get rid of the pizza boxes.
Get rid of temptations.
Be free from sin, guilt and shame.
(2) Watch God Work.
After the Israelites do all of this – God says, “Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged…Go up and attack Ai.” (8:1)
Which if I was an Israelite, I’d probably think, “Don’t be afraid? We just got our butts kicked. God, you didn’t help us. It was our fault, but how do we know that sin is really forgiven?”
But God promises.
So, they trust. They attack Ai. They are more than victorious.
Trust God to eradicate sin.
Trust that he already eradicated its consequences.
Trust that He will eradicate its power.
Trust that he will enable you to eradicate temptation.
I. The Wall
As the soldiers peered at it through the thick foliage of the distance, they couldn’t help but feel a bit intimidated.
The city was named after the “moon god.” One could see why. It had an abundance of water and a pleasant year-round climate. Everything was impressive. Impressive gardens. Impressive marketplaces. Impressive culture and night life. From the distance, one could see ancient skyscraper-like apartments.
But the thing that was most noticeable about Jericho?
A double wall.
A thick double wall.
A wall of solid stone.
A wall of solid stone wrapping completely around the city.
And because of the impending invasion, the city gate was closed.
There was no way in.
There was no way out.
There was no way under – without having the guards at the top of the wall pin you to the ground with spears.
There was no way over – without taking an arrow to the chest.
For some reason…
They were planning on going through it.
The LORD said to Joshua, “March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have the priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven time with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them around a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse.” (6:2-5)
In other words: March around the city and make some music.
The 6-foot-deep, 15-foot-high double wall will be no match for some jazz.
This had to be one of the greatest faith tests that the Israelites had ever faced. Yes, they had just seen God’s Almighty power as he split the Jordan river in half, but there’s a couple of reasons that this faith test was more challenging.
(1) The Composition
Because this wall isn’t made of liquid. It wasn’t easily transported like the Jordan River might have been. It wasn’t able to be manipulated by the simple touch of a hand. This was a solid wall of stone.
Just to give us a better understanding of what that wall was, archaeology in the 1950 has uncovered remains of a wall around the area where Jericho would have been. Based on their finding, the mound of the city was surrounded by a great earth rampart with a stone retaining wall at its base. The retaining wall was some 12-15 feet high. On top of that was a mudbrick wall of about 6 feet thick and 20-26 feet high.
The third little pig would have been proud of the people of Jericho. How in the world would you get past that wall? This task was humanly impossible. There was no technology of any kind that would allow them to destroy it.
So… God’s plan.
(2) The Tools
A bomb? Didn’t exist yet.
A battering ram? That allows the defenders to attack the single spot – for the hours you’d be at work.
A ladder? You’ll take an arrow to the chest before you get very high.
God says that they should walk.
I was playing BIG JENGA last week with Julianna. Have you ever played BIG JENGA? It’s the board game where you remove one brick from the tower at a time without having it fall over – only it’s a giant version of it.
I remember as I started to get nervous that I might lose. I started marching around, stomping my feet, jumping up and down in hopes that the vibrations might cause the tower to fall during Julianna’s turn.
If marching around a toy the whole point of which is to make it fall doesn’t make that toy fall down, how likely do you think marching around a giant 6-foot-deep, 15-foot-high double wall until it falls down will be?
Because in order to split the Jordan River all that had to happen was the priests touching the river with their feet. Then – instant miracle. This miracle was going to take days. It was going to repetition. It was going to take repetition of the same thing without any visible results.
And the people of Jericho would have noticed:
You idiots. What are you doing?
Oh no, Bob! They’re walking again! Duck!
I’m cowering in fear at the sight of those deadly, deadly trumpets!
In fact, if you’ve ever seen Veggie Tales, this is where the people of Jericho – played by a bunch of peas – come up with this doozy of a song: “Keep walking, but you won’t knock down our wall. Keep walking. But it isn’t going to fall. It’s plain to see that your brains are very small, so keep walking, but you won’t knock down our wall.”
Question – how likely are you to keep doing something if you don’t see any results?
God says, “Pray to me and I will hear it.” But…what if you don’t get what you’re praying for?
God says, “Study my Word and I will grow your faith.” When it feels like that isn’t doing anything, do you keep it up?
God says, “Trust in me.” When finances are tight, you’re behind on your mortgage, your ant’s in the hospital and there’s all kinds of stress at work – it sure seems a lot easier to just give up?
When it seems impossible, when it seems like there’s nothing going on, when it seems like God’s not doing anything…
God is at work.
And God specializes in demolishing walls.
II. The Demolition
At least, Joshua thought so.
And he was the commander.
So, no matter how foolish it sounds or how impossible it seemed, the soldiers obeyed.
They obeyed for six days.
They endured ridicule.
They endured doubt.
They endured sore calves.
Then, the seventh day.
They walked again.
They walked a third time and heard the ridicule from the soldiers at the wall.
They walked a fourth time and heard the doubting from the soldiers behind them.
They walked a fifth time and started to doubt themselves.
They walked a sixth time and heard Joshua’s command, “Keep going. God is with us. This will happen. Trust him.”
Then, they walked a seventh time. And as they made their way around to the same rock that they had seen so many times this past week – the priests stopped.
They lifted up their trumpets.
They pressed them to their lips.
They blew with all of their might.
And Joshua commanded them, “Shout! For the LORD has given you this city!”
The soldiers looked at one another.
They shrugged their soldiers.
And as they shouted, suddenly, they heard a bass added to their music.
It wasn’t coming from the trumpet.
It wasn’t coming from a fellow soldier.
It was coming from the wall.
The rocks began to tremble.
The fortification began to give way.
And the men shouted even louder.
When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet the wall collapsed. (v.20)
And they took the city. (v.21)
III. What Now?
1. Hire the Same Demolitionist
Nobody has the power to knock down walls like our God.
Not Home Builders, Inc.
Not Demolitions ‘R Us.
Not even the U.S. Army with all its fire power.
No one is an expert demolitionist like our God.
And the greatest wall torn down isn’t even this one from Joshua 6. Take a look at what Isaiah 30 says: Sin is like a high wall. That’s because sin does what walls do: It separates. Us from God. It makes it so that God’s on one side and we’re on the other side.
There is a disconnect.
There is a barrier.
There is a barrier of sin between us and God!
Maybe you’ve done sins and you’ve felt that.
Apart from God.
And there’s nothing we can do about it. No dynamite of doing good has any effect. The TNT of trying hard doesn’t make a dent. Even the hard-swung wrecking ball of “I’m really doing my best God,” will fail to tear that wall of sin down.
No one human can tear that wall down.
You can’t tear that wall down.
Only God can.
And He did.
Ephesians 2 says this, “Formerly you…were separate from Christ…without hope and without God in the world. But…in Christ you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace! Jesus has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility!” (v.10-14)
Understand what it’s saying:
Jesus is the spiritual TNT.
Jesus is the spiritual dynamite.
Jesus is the wrecking ball to knock down the wall of sin and leave us barrier-less…connected to God!
And finally….it means God is the one to turn to no matter what kind of wall your facing.
God destroyed the wall of sin. God destroyed the wall of Jericho.
Whatever wall you got? It’s no problem for him.
Hire him for all of your problems.
2. Appeal to His Grace
But…what if you’re part of the wall?
Do you remember Rahab? She was not an Israelite. She had a job that was not remotely God honoring – she was a prostitute. Yet when she heard that God was going to take back the Promised Land – she didn’t fight.
She appealed to God’s mercy.
Look what happens in verse 22 - Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all that belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” So…the young men went in and brought out Rahab and all who belong to her.”
And here’s what’s most interesting. Her house – had been built into the wall. Yet it was the wall that was destroyed! How did Rahab make it out?
Even though she was a part of the wall (and by her sins against God was a part of the spiritual wall), God had mercy on her. God kept her alive. God brought her out. God spared her.
Have you built your own wall of sin between you and God?
Do you feel like you are a part of that wall?
Do you figure – there’s no way he’ll spare me?
Appeal to his grace.
Because while God is powerful – knocking down walls, our God is merciful to spare those who built the wall.
Without Jesus, you aren’t getting to God.
With Jesus, you are.
Call on his mercy.
Believe in Jesus.
You will not be destroyed with the wall.
You will be saved.
You will be a recipient of God’s incredible mercy.
Because those battle cries must have turned into cries of praise! God had done the impossible. God had knocked a wall down. God had kept his promises.
God had done the same for you:
He did the impossible.
Jesus knocked down the wall of sin.
Jesus kept his promise.
Shout for joy!
Don’t just do it here – but do it out there.
Do it when you go home to see the rest of your family.
Do it when you’re around your friends.
Do it on Facebook.
DO it on Instagram.
Do it at work, at the coffee shop and at the workout club.
Wherever you are – shout God’s praise! Tell others about the GREAT Things he has done.
Tell others about our God – and the walls he has brought down.
We are a chapter away from some big-time action in this Joshua series. But before we get there, chapter 5 reveals some final preparations that God does before he acts. As we take a look at these, it’s interesting to note that God uses very similar things to prepare us before we enter the Promised Land above.
So as always, before we begin, 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. Preparations for Jericho
Take a look at the first preparation. It isn’t even a preparation on the hearts of the Israelites. It’s on the hearts of the Canaanites. Take a look:
Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites. (5:1)
It makes sense that the Canaanites are afraid. Because if you remember when we were talking about Rahab – the people of Jericho had already heard of God’s awesome work in the desert. They had heard of God’s promise to give the Promised Land to the Israelites. They had heard of all the miracles he had done in the desert to get them to the Promised Land’s borders.
Now? They heard that their God had split a raging, white water rapids in half – wide enough for a million some odd people to cross!
This miracle was from God.
This miracle caused the people of Jericho to be afraid.
God caused the people of Jericho to be afraid.
…this was a blessing.
This fits in well with a question that a few different people have asked me recently.
What did Jericho do wrong?
And to be fair that’s a question I’ve pondered before. They seem to be minding their own business. They weren’t like the Egyptians who held the Israelites in slavery. They weren’t like the kings in the desert that attacked the Israelites. They were just enjoying life in the land of Canaan.
What’d they do to get kicked out of their city?
Why was God attacking them?
Why is God being so mean?
While I understand where that line of questioning comes from (and there’s a lot of forms in it when it comes to Old Testament God), that line of questioning makes two incorrect assumptions:
(1) “People are generally good.”
Do you know what bias is? Bias is the underlying worldview or notion that someone has when they look at a particular event. Bias isn’t always a bad thing, but bias can absolutely affect the way that you react to or report on a certain event.
Take the new:
One network says, “Republican does dumb thing.”
Another network says in the exact same story, “Republican stands up for what is right.”
One network says, “Democratic is whiny.”
Another network says, “Democratic defends freedom!”
Did you know that there’s a bias that humans naturally read the Bible with? A bias that humans are naturally good. Why do we have that bias? Because…(Wait for it)…we’re humans! I like to think of myself as good.
So…when I come across instances in the Bible where it pits God against humans and I don’t find an immediate obvious sinful thing (like Pharaoh horribly mistreating hundreds of thousands of Israelite slaves) my human bias tends to demonize God.
He’s being a jerk.
He did wrong.
He is a monster.
Is that right?
Is God a monster?
Think about it!
Our God created us – he didn’t have to.
Our God gave us this wonderful world – he didn’t have to.
Our God died for us – he didn’t have to.
Our God rose to save us – he did not have to.
Our God did this because our God is good.
All the time good.
When God and humanity clash?
That’s not on God.
That’s on us.
In fact, this is exactly what Scripture says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” (Romans 8:7) Hostile means an enemy. A violent enemy. A violent enemy with a bias on the opposite side of God.
Don’t be surprised when your sinful human bias look at a Bible story and wants to rewrite the history to make God the villain!
That’s the wrong narrative.
It’s the sinful, broken, imperfect narrative.
The narrative is not about a good people and a cruel God.
The narrative is about a good God and a cruel people.
And…maybe you know that?
Because you know this world is broken.
To name a few.
And at least a few of those made your heart squirm because you’ve walked a bit close to those lines.
Let me tell you.
That uncomfortable feeling?
Proof that God’s always in the right.
(2) “That God didn’t care about the people of Jericho.”
If you were here last week, do you remember one of the purposes of the memorial that God had his people build? It was so that “all the nations on earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful.” (v.24) That’s a key purpose. Because it shows you that with these miracles – with this memorial – with the message that was striking fear into the hearts of the Canaanites – God was making it very obvious:
I am the LORD.
That’s what Rahab did! Remember the prostitute? She concluded that God was with the Israelites. She concluded that God was going to use the Promised Land for HIS purposes! And…rather than fight, she concluded that she would follow the true God.
Was Rahab the only one who knew about God’s power and Strength?
Nope. She’s just the only one who decided not to fight God.
But even after that…Chapter 5:1 is proof – yet again – that God wanted these Canaanites to recognize him as the one true God. He splits the Jordan River. (1) to get Israel across (2) to give Israel confidence (3) to give the Canaanites a warning! They were up against the One and Only God of Heaven and earth! That fear they were feeling? Was a gift! – a warning – a divine smack in the back of the head – to listen to him and follow him, lest they be destroyed!
The fear then is proof that God cared about the people of Jericho.
1 Timothy 2:4 says this about this God of the Old Testament, “God our Savior, wants all to be saved.”
That includes the people Israel, sure.
But it also includes the people of Jericho.
In fact, that’s the ultimate purpose of Israel having ownership of the Promised Land, isn’t it?
God wanted the Promised Land because…
God promised a man named Abraham his descendants (the Israelites) would dwell in the Promised Land, because…
God also promised that same man a Messiah would be born in the Promised Land, because…
God would one day send his son Jesus to be born in the Promised Land, because…
God wanted it to be clear and simple and obvious that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah, because…
God wanted all people – even the people of Jericho – to read these prophecies, trust in this Messiah and be saved.
What does this mean?
It means this fear isn’t God being a big meanie.
This fear is a gift from God.
A gift to get them on his side.
A gift to get them to listen to him.
A gift to cause them to be just like their friend Rahab – and turn to him as their Savior.
It’s a wonderful blessing from God--
They just didn’t listen.
II. Preparations for Israel
Let’s shift. While this fear spreads over Jericho, Joshua is following God’s instructions to prepare the Israelites. Look at verse 2 (Yes, we are at least ten minutes in and haven’t even made it past the first verse…but I digress):
1. The Preparation of Circumcision
2 The Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites…
I’ll say it once so we don’t linger on it. Circumcision is exactly what circumcision is today. It’s the cutting off of skin in the male private area. Interesting note – this was done amongst the ancients for a lot of reasons: health benefits, a tribal mark, a rite of passage, or even simple hygiene.
Biblical circumcision was a visual, outward reminder of God’s personal promise to the recipient. It’s similar to a tattoo of a cross or a key chain that says John 3:16. It’s a very personal reminder of God’s promise.
And it’s permanent! You can’t undo it. Just like you couldn’t undo God’s promise – Even when you faced terrifying things:
In battle and surrounded by the enemy? I have been circumcised – God has promised to be with me.
Walking around a giant, impenetrable wall? I have been circumcised. God has promised to be with me.
Setting up my home for my first year in the Promised Land? I have been circumcised. God has promised to be with me.
2. The Preparation of the Passover
10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.
Remember – the Passover was a reminder of how God saved the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. In the final plagues, he sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of every family in Egypt. But to those who trusted God, they need only take an innocent lamb, slaughter it and paint its blood on the wooden frame of the door. Then, the angel of death would “pass over” them and they would be safe.
The Passover was a bit different from circumcision then. The Passover was a visual, outward reminder of God’s public promise to the recipients. He would be with them. He would deliver them to the Promised Land.
And I love the very special meaning behind this Passover. Because it was the first Passover that had ever been eaten in the Promised Land. Look at verse 11: The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. (5:11) Because they were where God had promised the nation that they would be.
Can you imagine the patriotic spirit that night?
4th of July was cool, but…think of it like the 4th of July in 1779 – they year after the Revolutionary War was over!
That’s what was going on for the Israelites.
They had made it.
God had made it for them.
That night -
They reminded each other.
They celebrated together.
They encouraged each other in God’s promises.
III. What Now?
A couple things from these lessons –
1. Thank God for Fear
Because maybe earlier…you felt a bit uneasy when we talked about sin and being enemies of God. That’s a good thing.
It’s similar to the uneasy feeling that you might get if you head to the zoo and you get a bit close to the giant jungle python. It’s behind bars. It’s behind the glass that’s supposed to not break – but still you don’t tap on the glass because you’ve got a healthy fear and respect for the giant serpent.
Same thing with God.
Fear means a healthy respect and awe and wonder and yes – even a bit of – unease. It recognizes the danger we are in as we, sinners, approach God.
Don’t fight him.
Fall at his feet.
Ask for forgiveness.
Ask for his mercy.
Ask for his compassion.
Be confident that he has sent it – in the form of his Son Jesus Christ dying on the cross for your sins.
Moving us from enemies – to friends.
2. Remember God’s NEW Personal Promise
Because circumcision is no longer a church ceremony. Still – we have a ceremony – a beautiful, divine ceremony in which God places his personal promise onto our hearts.
In Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism. (Colossians 2:11-12)
See the connection? Just as Old Testament circumcision involves the cutting off of flesh, so baptism involves the spiritual cutting off of sin from our hearts! And what’s more? That sin that’s been cut off has been tossed into the grave.
It’s been left behind.
It is no longer who you are.
Have you been baptized? This is God’s personal promise to you.
Want to be baptized? Wonderful. Let’s talk. And God will make his personal promise to you.
3. Remember God’s NEW Public Promise
In fact, as related as circumcision seems to be to baptism; there is an even simpler and easier to see correlation between the Passover and a different New Testament ceremony.
While Jesus and his disciples were eating the Passover Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)
The connection is greater than just Jesus started the Lord’s Supper in the middle of the Passover meal.
Scripture calls Jesus the “Lamb of God.” (John 1:29)
In fact, the “Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7)
And “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn. 1:7)
In other words, because of Jesus blood – God’s wrath passes over us.
That’s what’s going on when we partake of the Lord’s Supper.
It’s a big deal.
It’s one of the reasons that we ask people who haven’t been through our newcomer’s class to go through our newcomer’s class before they come up here for Lord’s Supper. Because this is a big deal what’s going on up here and I don’t want you to miss it.
And honestly, if you have kind of forgotten why it’s a big deal – come back to newcomer’s class. I’ll call it “review class.” Learn again what your Savior did for you.
I love the ending to this section: The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan. (5:12)
Cool. They are no longer desert dwellers.
They are no longer warriors.
They are home.
Though there are battles to come, because of God’s promises – they are as good as home.
The same is true for you.
Humbled by our fear of God.
Trusting in God’s mercy.
Dwelling in the promise of baptism.
Meditating on the promise of Lord’s Supper.
We aren’t home.
But we’re as good as home.