Today is the first day of our summer season and we are starting a brand-new sermon series on the Book of Joshua. We did something similar to this a few years ago with a sermon series through 1 Peter. Our goal is to start with Joshua 1 today and end with Joshua 24 on Labor Day weekend.
But before we really get into Joshua my goal is to walk you through a bit of context to the story and introduce a few key themes that make their way through the book of Joshua. In other words, our text will be Genesis 12 to Joshua 1. That’s only 5 books of the Bible. And our goal is to do it in about 20 minutes.
We better say a prayer. (We need a prayer for that.)
O Lord strengthen us this morning by the truth. Your word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe.
1) A Promise from God
The story of Joshua revolves around a place called the “Promised Land.” The Promised Land was a very fertile and gorgeous area just to the east of the Mediterranean Sea—a land described as flowing with milk and honey. Today it’s Israel. But it hasn’t always been called Israel. In fact, it hasn’t even always been a Jewish land at all.
Genesis 12. There’s a guy named Abram. Abram is ordinary. He’s a farmer. He farms his unimpressive bit of family farmland in a place called Harran. It’s not so much milk and honey as it is rugged and desert. But…he tries. He works the ground. He sweats. He breaks his back. He hopes to one day provide for his wife and a son.
One day – in the midst digging holes and planting potatoes – Abram hears a voice. He looks around. Nobody.
He goes back to digging. The voice returns only louder. Abram looks around. Still no one. He mutters to himself and returns to work. But before his stone fashioned hoe can hit the ground, he hears the voice one more time – real loud. Only it’s not coming from around him. Not from the in front or behind, from the right or the left.
It’s coming from above.
“Abram go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.” (Gen. 12:1-2)
And Abram? We might expect him to pinch himself.
Maybe to pretend it didn’t happen.
Maybe you’d expect him to pour himself a couple of shots of Old Testament Vodka.
But he doesn’t. Abram listens. He heads home. He packs his things. He tells his family to do the same. When they ask why, he simply says, “We’ve got to get to the land that God promised us.”
So, they go. They travel east. They make their way to a land called Canaan. They set up nomadic farm life there. They are blessed at their new home.
But the home isn’t theirs. He and his family are strangers. It doesn’t take a very long read in Genesis to realize this. In Genesis 23, Abram has to buy land to bury his wife. (And Abram remember – One day the promised land will be ours.) In Genesis 26, his son Isaac is forced to move by the natives. (And Isaac remembers – One day the promised land will be ours.) In Genesis 46, a famine causes Abram’s grandson to pick up his family and leave for Egypt. (And as they leave, they remember – One day the promised land will be ours.)
Time passes. God treats the people of Abraham well. They grow and grow in number. But while God treats the people well, the Egyptians do not. They enslave them. They oppress them. They force the men and young boys to work outside all day long in the hot desert sun making bricks and constructing buildings. They whip them and scream at them until the wounds on their backs are burned leaving new calloused scars every day.
But the people remembered: “One day…the Promised Land would be ours.”
But the slavery continued.
For 430 years.
The people began to doubt:
Ow, my back. It hurts so much. I hate this stuff.
Just remember – God told Abram that one day the Promised land would be ours. A land flowing with milk and honey.
Really? Just shut up. Did God really say that? No. It’s a myth. Hogwash. A non-reality. You’re a slave and will always be a slave. You’ll die a slave and none of us will ever see this “Promised Land.”
2) A Leader named Moses
Enter Moses. God sends him to the Egyptian King in order to free the people and bring them back to the Promised Land. So, Moses enters the Egyptian court --
Hey Pharaoh. Good to see you. You wouldn’t mind letting the Israelite people go, would you? It’d be pretty cool of you. I think, sir.
Pharaoh looks at him. “Who are you? I don’t have time for this. Guards!!!”
The soldiers grab Moses by the arms and begin to drag him out of the Palace.
Wait…wait…wait. I am a servant of the Most High God. And it is Him, not me, that is telling you to let them go.
Pharaoh suddenly becomes very interested. Oh, really? It’s your “god” telling me to do this? I like a challenge. I am Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and I am a God. I will not bow to your God and I will not let your people go.
Ok. Mr. Pharaoh sir. Only, God won’t like this. And I’m authorized to inform you that if you reject His request, God will send plagues on this land. Terrible things will happen until you let his people go.
Pharaoh laughed. Get out of my presence. I am a god and I listen to no one. Not you. Not your people. Not your God.
About an hour or so later, the King heads out back for his morning bath. He wades into the Nile. It’s a peaceful moment. Until Moses appears on the banks.
Pharaoh! My God says, “let my people go, or he will cause all the water in Egypt to turn into blood.”
Pharaoh laughs! Really? You again? I told you already, I will not let your people go. Besides you. Go. Far away from here.
Moses nods. He hits the water with his staff and then he leaves.
The Pharaoh mutters to himself and begins pouring water up and over his head. At first it falls down his chin with a trickle of brown – the dirt and clay of the desert making its way even onto the robes of the King. But then, the brown changes into a red. A deep red, A deep, thick blood red –red.
Pharaoh looks down at his hands in horror. A servant screams. A wave of red is overtaking the entire Nile. The Pharaoh gets out in time and asks for a bucket to wash off the blood. The servant returns with bad news. The well is made of blood, too. As are the water jugs. As is the royal reserve. In fact, all of the water in Egypt has been turned into blood.
The King wipes off his face with a cloth. So…it begins.
After returning to the palace, he asks Moses to enter. He tells Moses, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Could you call your God and ask him to remove the blood and restore the water? I promise. I’ll let your people go when that happens.”
And Pharaoh says, “Just kidding. You’re still my slaves.”
Which sets into motion a terrifying month for the land of Egypt. Nine more times Moses asks the king to let the people go. Nine more times the King refuses. Nine more times God sends a terrifying, miraculous event: Frogs covering the land – jumping out of cooking pots, cupboards and toilets; miniature gnats crawling over everyone’s skin and leading to days of itchiness; swarms of flies bringing disease and lodging themselves into fruitcake and bath soaps; livestock dead; skin boils infesting the population of people; locusts eating most of the Egyptian crops; a hailstorm destroying what was left; and then darkness. Darkness – all night and all day for three days.
And then? The worst. God sends the angel of death to strike down the firstborn son of all of Egypt. But before doing so, he makes this promise to the Israelite people:
Today. Today is the day. Today is the day I set you free so that you might go to the land I promised you. Believe. Trust me. Take an innocent lamb. Kill it. Take its blood and painting on your doorframes. When my angel sees it, he will bring your family no harm. He will Passover.
The people do that. In Israel, it’s a morning of rejoicing.
But in Pharaoh’s palace, the handmaid weeps. She runs to tell a servant. The servant tells a guard. The guard slips a piece of paper under Pharaoh’s door. Pharaoh reads and burst into tears. He runs to his sons’ room and holds his lifeless body in his hands. He screams. He writhes. He gives word to tell Moses: “Get out of here. Leave! I never want to see you and your people again!”
And they do. Over a million Israelites are filled with excitement. They take their clothes. They take their food. They take their animals. They pack and they leave the city. They head in one massive exodus out of Egypt. They head to the Promised land. They follow Moses.
And on their journey – they see God’s hand through Moses. Moses leads them to the Red Sea, where in a display of awesome power – Moses lifts up his arm and the sea splits in half. God allows them safe passage through the waters – only to cave the water back in on the pursuing Egyptian army. Then Moses announces that God will provide food and He does. He sends manna -- a bread-like substance form the sky to feed the million of refugee Israelites. He sends quails – a bird flying in from the west – to give them a protein influx. Moses hits a rock when they are thirsty and water comes out. Moses goes up on a mountaintop; the mountaintop thunders and lightnings; a circle of fire surrounds the top; and Moses comes back down having heard the voice of God and bearing Ten Commandments etched in stone.
Then, they make it. They are at the border of Canaan. They are at the border of the Promised Land. Moses gathers together a group of twelve men. Twelve spies. He sends them into the land to check it out.
The men return with the report:
Moses. The people are huge. They’re giants. I’m pretty sure they could squish us under their feet. They have big muscles. No…huge muscles. Even their muscles have huge muscles. We don’t stand a chance.
Maybe, we should turn back. Maybe, we shouldn’t do this. Maybe, God can’t get us through this.
But not all of them think like that. Actually, two of the explorers think differently. Two explorers named Caleb and Joshua. Their message: Let’s go up. Let’s take this land. God promised it. God can do anything. God promised Abram. God did the plagues. God split the Red Sea. God provided manna from the sky. God can certainly help us take the land.
But the people disagree. They reject God’s purpose. And God responds: These people who have seen my signs in Egypt and in the wilderness, but who disobeyed me---not one of them will ever see the land I promised them.
And that’s it. No Promised Land. No glorious victory. Just 40 years in the desert. Wandering. Fuming. And Dying.
3) An Aide Named Joshua?
Fast forward 40 years.
It’s still hard to believe. Over 40 years Moses is all the people of Israel knew. For over 40 years, Moses is all Joshua knew. Moses led them out of Egypt. Moses led them through the wilderness. Moses led to the Promised Land. And the people still didn’t trust him.
Now he’s gone.
And the Promised Land seems like an impossibility.
Joshua puts his head down and prays.
Then, he hears a voice.
A voice that He hasn’t heard before.
A voice only Moses has heard before.
The LORD said to Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river; the Euphrates—all the Hittites country – to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life.” (1:1-4)
And if I’m Joshua that’s an extremely intimidating statement.
Wait – a second. God, I’m Joshua. You usually talk to Moses. He’s not here anymore. Remember? You took his life.
Oh wait…You do mean me? I’m not a leader. I’m an aide. It’s even in my title. I’m simply an aide. I haven’t led people before.
I’m not like Moses. I don’t speak with fire. I haven’t done any miracles. I don’t have experience with Manna or splitting seas or swarms of locusts.
I’m just me. I’m just Joshua. How can you possibly think that I am the one to bring the people into the Promised Land?
Do you realize how big that is? That’s thousands of miles for me to cover!
How am I able to do such a great thing?
God -- I can’t do such a thing.
And there’s a pause.
A moment for the magnitude of the command to set in.
Then, God continues.
And God gives Joshua the answer:
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (v.5-6)
In other words:
Joshua, it isn’t about you.
Joshua, it’s about me.
Moses didn’t do those miracles; I did.
Abram didn’t make the promise; I did.
You won’t be the driving force behind entering this land; I will.
Joshua, I am with you.
4) What’s in it for You?
1) God is with You!
Granted. You may not have been taxed with leading an army of over a million people into battle for a country land. But. You might have your own challenges.
Steep financial difficulties.
A challenging new job.
A nerve wracking health issue.
Severe relationship struggles.
A very real and addictive temptation.
A big, big sin and big, big guilt.
It’s easy to think: I can’t do this! We need someone else for the job.
And you’d be right.
But it’s not about you.
It’s about God.
The God who turned water into blood.
The God who sent locusts, frogs, gnats, boils, hail and darkness.
The God who split the Red Sea.
The God who chiseled commandments into stone.
The God who brought his people to the borders of the Promised Land.
And…more than that.
The God who defeated sin.
The God who defeated death.
The God who lived perfectly.
The God who died innocently.
The God who rose triumphantly.
That’s the God who’s with you. And if you’re starting a training program on your faith this summer – this is a must! You must remember it’s ALL ABOUT GOD!
2) You have every reason to BE STRONG and COURAGEOUS
Any of you done any weight lifting recently? The thing about weight lifting is sometimes you have to lift things that are kind of scary. You have attempt a weight you haven’t lifted before. You have to try something that you aren’t sure you’ll be able to do.
That’s kind of scary.
But what if the Rock -- Dwayne Johnson -- is spotting you. #1 -- You don’t want to be a wimp so that he won’t lay the Smackdown on you, but #2 -- you’re comforted because there’s a strong guy spotting you. You will not be crushed underneath that weight.
You have a God who has done amazing things who has your back.
He’s spotting you.
Keep pushing through whatever you’ve got going on.
Keep pushing through this thing called life.
Rest assured that God has your back.
3) Encourage One Another
One last thought about Joshua. Do you remember when the people of Israel got to the border and the spies didn’t want to enter? Joshua was one of the two men that protested. Here is his exact protest:
Do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us.
Years later Joshua needs to hear his own words of encouragement as he begins his journey as Israel’s leader.
Look around. Do you see the people here? Do you see your brothers and sisters?
They have their own problems.
They have their own battles.
They have their own intimidating situations.
Remind them who their God is.
Remind them of his awesome miracles with Moses and his awesome miracles on the cross.
Remind them that he is with them.
Remind them to be strong and courageous.
And that’s what I’m here to do today.
As we start our Summer Spiritual Training program and as you go through this challenging thing called life – whatever you’re going through—whatever it might be:
God is with you.