Last week we started up our summer sermon series on Joshua. If you remember, we learned about a few themes: (1) the theme of the Promised Land – that God promised Abram and all his descendants they would one day possess the land of Canaan – just to the East of the Mediterranean Sea and (2) the leadership of Moses through whom God did awesome miracles in leading the Israelites for 40 years.
If you remember, both these things weighed on the heart of Joshua – our lead character. With the pressure of fulfilling the promise and the intimidation of following after Moses, God told Joshua – “As I was with Moses, I will be with you.” And Joshua was filled with confidence – he knew that he could trust God’s promises. And perhaps Joshua took a moment to contemplate the Red sea splitting, swarms of locusts sending, earth quaking, sky shaking, pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night God was with him! And there’s no one who could stop Joshua from reaching the Promised Land!
But then…there’s an extreme shift that takes place from verse 6 to verse 7. A shift that could have taken Joshua from a very high confidence to a terrified stupor.
What was it? Today we’re going to see what God told Joshua to do next, why it was so terrifying and yet why Joshua shouldn’t fear.
I. The Obedience Regiment
The message picks up in Joshua 1:7. God said to Joshua, Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night., so that you will be careful to do everything written in it. Then, you will be prosperous and successful. (1:7-8)
Perhaps that doesn’t sound all that intimidating to you. God just told him to obey him. No big deal. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re gathering to worship. We’re obeying him.
But…look closer. It quickly becomes apparent how downright terrifying this command was:
(1) Obey it All
Notice that opening phrase. Obey all the law my servant Moses gave you. (v.7a)
One of the last things that Moses did before he died was write down the first five books of the Old Testament. He wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. We call it the Pentateuch. (That’s definitely a Jeopardy question). It means the first five books of the Bible. (Take it home – tell your mom, she’ll be happy you learned something at church.) Granted there weren’t paperbacks or eReaders back then, so it was most likely etched on stone or written on papyrus parchment, but it was definitely there and available for people to read.
But get this – Hebrew scholars have identified over 613 laws if you add up all the different laws throughout these five OT books. Some of them are ceremonial – what to wear, when to eat, what holidays to celebrate and others are civil – what to do when someone wrongs you, how to sue someone if your horse falls into a pit -- and still other moral laws.
Now compare those laws with what God told Joshua here. How many of those was Joshua to obey?
Even if we are talking the simplest form of these laws – the moral laws – the 10 commandments. Notice that God does not say, “Obey some of what I said,” or “obey the parts that you like best.” He tells Joshua to obey it all.
This prevents Joshua (and us) from saying, “’Do not murder?’ No problem God! That’s not a temptation to me. I like people. But… this next one, the ‘do not commit adultery’ one? Well, I’m a guy so…I’ll just smudge some dirt on this piece of parchment and there! It’s gone. Forget white out; try dirt out!”
That’s not how it works. The reality is that you can put dirt, permanent marker or white out over God’s commands in the Bible, but that doesn’t remove the reality of that command. It does not remove God’s demand for comprehensive obedience.
As in – do everything.
(2) No Rights or Lefts
God continues. He tells Joshua, Do not turn to the right or the left. (v.7b)
Ever gone the wrong way when you’re using a GPS? It doesn’t matter if it’s Siri, Alexa or Cortana – they cannot get you where you are going if you do not listen to them. They’ll yell, speak in persistent, robotic annoyance (Make U-turn. Make U-turn. Make U-turn now!) – but if you keep going the wrong way you won’t get there! This is an especially big deal if you don’t actually know where you’re going.
For instance, if I turn left on Falls of Neuse and think heading north past I-540 will get me to downtown Raleigh. I will not get there. Ever.
God tells Joshua the same thing happens with obeying his commands. If they turn to the right or left and change course, they don’t end up in comprehensive obedience lane. They end up at the corner of Disobedience Avenue and Rebellion Boulevard.
The imperatives continue. Keep this book of the Law always on your lips; Meditate on it day and night. (v.8)
You’d get the impression that there’s a test coming up – and Joshua needs to study for the test. Only it’s not a verbal test. It’s not a written test. It’s not even one of those fill in the oval with a number 2 pencil tests.
It’s a 24/7 life evaluation test.
And in order to do well, look at the commitment needed! You thought studying for your SAT was hard. Study God’s Law day and night. When it’s light and when it’s dark.
AKA – all the time.
That’s what God is saying:
Do my commands.
Do them all.
Do them all the time.
And if you do them? You will be successful.
Don’t do them? Well…the implication is obvious.
Joshua knew all too well what happened.
He had seen it from the Egyptians – they were drowned in the Red Sea.
He had seen it from rebellious Israelites – they were banished to the wilderness.
He had seen even seen it from Moses…
Which was surprising.
Because Moses had done a pretty good job of listening to God’s commands. He had spoken to Pharaoh when told; he had raised his staff over the Red Sea when commanded; he had delivered the Ten Commandments as directed.
But one time – Moses had enough.
One time – Moses couldn’t handle the people’s whining.
One time – Moses got so angry that the people were complaining – You’ve left us out here to die Moses. We’re thirsty Moses. We don’t believe you have our best interests in mind Moses.
Moses was supposed to speak to the rock.
Instead, he hit it.
With a stick.
It was only a bit different than one God said.
Only a bit to the right…
But God’s punishment was complete: Moses, because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy…you will not bring this community into the land I give them. (Numbers 20:12)
God warns the same will happen to us.
God warns that disobedience will deny us access into the Promised Land of heaven itself.
And outside that Promised Land?
There’s only death.
2) Regimental Strength
And again – just like last week – Joshua feels the pressures of the situation.
Again, Joshua is confronted with the inability of his humanity to do what God wants.
Again, Joshua realizes that he cannot do this on his own.
And that’s good.
To that God says this, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (v.9)
Take note of this. Joshua was already a sinner. Joshua had already failed to do everything God said all the time. Scripture is clear “All have sinned.” (Romans 3:23) That includes Joshua.
Yet God comes to Joshua, the sinner, and says, I will be with you wherever you go. (v.9)
Today I’m speaking to you what God spoke.
I’m speaking to you God’s Word.
I’m speaking to you and God is speaking through me to you.
In other words --- God is coming to you, the sinner, and saying, I will be with you wherever you go. (v.9)
And we know that’s truth! Because of what Jesus did!
He removed all your sins of partial obedience.
He removed your turning to the right and to the left.
He removed your sporadic and episodic keeping of a minor portion of his commands.
God is saying to you, “I will be with you wherever you go,” because I have always been with you.
I reached forward through eternity and gathered up your sins.
I took you to the cross.
I died with you.
Three days later I rose and in doing so I implanted my obedience onto your soul.
My perfect, round the clock, straight and narrow, comprehensive, never turning to the right or left, obedience on your soul.
That’s what God sees when he looks at you.
That’s what God sees through faith in Jesus Christ.
III. What Now?
1. Be Very Courageous
Did you notice that in verse 7? It is the only part of this section that increases the courageous command by one word: Very.
Part of that relates to the challenge before him – because obeying God’s every word, completely, all the time—all the time – all the time--- is eons more challenging than driving out millions of people from fortified cities over thousands of miles of lands.
That’s what attempting to obey the holy commands of a holy God is like for the sinful.
But then again – that be very courageous statement comes from God --- with good reason! Not only is He all powerful, but he is the one who told us to do the very things he promises to be with us for in the first place.
It’d be like if I told you to get Doritos and you came back, a bit sheepishly to tell me, “I looked through the chip section and sadly Pastor all I could find was Doritos – so I got 5 bags. Please don’t be mad.”
I’m not. You did what I asked.
It’s the same with God. He loves it when you do what he asks, because he asked it!
It’s the same with God.
He empowers you to do his commands. And he wants you to do his commands.
That makes us courageous.
2. Enjoy Success
There is a very interesting thing that God’s Word says in verse 8, Keep the book of the Law – Then you will be prosperous and successful.
That does not mean that upon completing an hour of obeying God’s Law – suddenly you can check your Wells Fargo Account and fine a deposit of $1000 into your checking account.
It also doesn’t mean that if you keep the law perfectly for the next minute, you will have earned one minute in heaven. Again – that’s not how it works. Heaven is a gift of God’s grace obtained by faith.
Yet that does not mean that God doesn’t gift us with blessings as we follow his Word.
What am I talking about?
What happens if you honor your Father and mother? God gifts you with the fact that you aren’t grounded and you can play your video games after dinner.
What happens if you are faithful to your wife? God gives an incredible intimacy or closeness that only you both share.
What happens if you don’t steal? God gifts you with the blessing of – wait for it – not going to jail!
In short, God’s an awesome giver. Because he should have just said, “Obey me – just cause!” But he shapes his commands in such a way that obedience to them leads to incredible blessings. Not that we’ve earned it, but God provides grace upon grace that following him leads to prosperity!
Yet Joshua didn’t feel that prosperity. He felt the weight of his task. The words of God echoed in his ear, but they were no longer audible. He sat on a cold rock – alone. God is with me. Be strong and courageous. He promises blessings…be strong and very courageous. Then, he began his very first obedience tasks.
He had to gather the troops in order to begin the push into the promised land. But here’s the problem:
There were 12 tribes in Israel. (named after the 12 sons of the guy named – Israel) 2 ½ of those tribes: the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad and ½ the tribe of Manasseh had already settled on the east side of the Jordan. Before they had asked Moses and he had allowed them under the conditional promise that their fighting men come and help them when the time was right to enter the Promised Land.
But…Moses was dead.
It had been twenty years.
Did these men really want to leave their nice new homes and risk losing their lives for the sake of some other Israelites that they barely knew?
Or was it more likely they’d say, “Nah, man. I’m good.”
But God had promised.
So, Joshua took a deep breath.
He approached their leadership.
He did what God commanded.
And God blessed Joshua.
Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and whoever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous! (v.16-18)
Did you hear that last phrase? It’s exactly the phrase that God had already told Joshua.
I can’t help but think that God engineered that.
Another reminder – that God was with Joshua.
And another reminder – brothers and sister – God is with you.