Category Archives: Joshua

Joshua: Following the Leader

Welcome to the Book of Joshua. In the Book of Joshua we see God’s faithfulness to his promises to bring his people into the promised land. We see success in the conquest of the land, and we see Israel respond in faithfulness under the leadership of Joshua.

Who wrote Joshua? According to Jewish tradition, Joshua wrote most of the book of Joshua, with some additions and “editing” done by perhaps Eleazar the priest and others. We cannot really know for sure, and at the end of the day it’s no big deal. What is important, is that we can be confidant that in the final account of the book of Joshua, God has preserved His word for us concerning the events of the time.

Scholars also argue over the date that the events in Joshua, the conquest of “Canaan” (“Palestine”), took place. Some scholars, basing their estimates primarily on archeology, favour a date of around 1200 BC. However, the problem of archaeological evidence, is that it is often uncertain or ambiguous. The biblical data, based on 1 Kings 6 and Judges 11:26, seems to point to a time for the initial conquest of around 1400 BC (which would put the Exodus from Egypt at around 1440 BC).

Joshua 1: God’s Antidotes to Fear

When is it hardest for you to trust God? What situations scare you the most?

Going to the Dentist? Starting a new job? Or a new school? Visiting your mother-in-law?

Mel Warner was telling me about an opportunity she had, a of weeks ago, to visit the Villawood detention centre. She was scared, but in the end she went. She sat and listened. And learned a lot.

And Mel’s got other scary decisions to make. Because she’s thinking about missionary work among Muslims.

Let me tell you about a time I was scared. It was last year before the church Open Day. And it was an afternoon we’d organised to do door-knocking.

Now, I’m not a when it comes to door-knocking. I find it DIFFICULT. But for some reason, the THOUGHT of door-knocking is actually worse than the DOOR-KNOCKING ITSELF. It’s never as bad as I imagine it’s going to be.

I was in the car outside the school here. Waiting for people to turn up. And my imagination was being its usual creative self. I imagined being abused by a large, y, tattoed man. And chased out of the yard by wild dogs. And knocking on the door as a -deal was going down.

I imagined feeling uncomfortable. And people laughing at me.

And as the time to start door-knocking passed. Noone else had turned-up. I realised that if I went, I’d probably be door-knocking by myself. I waited five minutes. Ten minutes. And still no-one.

And my imagination started to work on a different plan. Imagining all the valid reasons NOT to go door-knocking. I could be spending the time with my family. I can’t do much by myself anyway. It’s not really a church activity if only I do it. The lawn needs mowing.

But they weren’t really valid reasons. They were just EXCUSES. I was SCARED, and looking for any excuse NOT to do it!

I was at a cross-roads. And I didn’t know what to do. I knew what I SHOULD do. And I also knew what I FELT LIKE doing. And in the end I gave in. I started the car, and went home.

Every day there are cross-roads we come to/ where we have to make a choice. The choice to be obedient, and do what we know God would have us do. Or the choice to be disobedient, give in to fear, and take the easy option.

When is it hardest for YOU to trust God? What situations scare YOU the most? (share in night church)

What does God want us to know as we stand at those cross-roads? Weighing up the options. Deciding if we have the courage to go the right way.

He wants us to know that he has CURES for our COWARDICE. TREATMENT for our . OINTMENT for our INSECURITIES. He’s got ANTIDOTES for our FEARS.

You see, Joshua had exactly the same problem. Here at the start of the Book of Joshua, he’s standing at the entrance to the Promised Land. He’s been left in charge of Israel. Moses has just died. But just before he did, he passed the baton on to Joshua – given HIM the responsibility to lead God’s people.

There was a huge hole in Joshua’s life now that Moses was gone. He was the one who’d led Israel all the way from Egypt. Put up with so much. Shown such patience and wisdom and strength.

And Joshua had looked up to him for more than 40 years. He was always there to follow. To tell Joshua what to do, and when to do it. To make the hard decisions. To communicate with God.

In fact, the words that come immediately before this. At the end of Deuteronomy. Say this about Moses.

(Deu 34:10-12 NIV)  … no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, {11} who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt–to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. {12} For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

They’re pretty big boots to fill. And Joshua is the one who has to try to fill them.

And he can feel the weight of expectation. The whole history of the Jewish nation has brought them to this point. And every one of God’s people since the time of Abraham is looking over Joshua’s shoulder. To see whether he can finish the job. This is the climax.

And Joshua is SCARED. Scared of being able to follow after Moses. Scared of being able to live up to expectations. Scared of the HUGENESS of the task that lay in front of him.

How do I KNOW he was scared? Because God went to the trouble to tell him NOT to be. Three times in fact! “Be strong and courageous! Be strong and VERY courageous! Be strong and courageous!”

But God doesn’t just tell him NOT to, he gives him the MEANS to BE courageous. Four antidotes to fear.

And as we look at them, what we find is that they’re antidotes for OUR fears too. They help US as we stand at OUR cross-roads.

Here’s God’s four antidotes to fear.

He REMINDS us of his PURPOSES:

He ASSURES us of his PRESENCE:

He DIRECTS us to His WORD:

He SUPPORTS us with His PEOPLE:

Antidote 1. Reminding you of God’s purposes:

So let’s look at what God says to Joshua. Moses has died. He’s been buried, and the whole nation’s mourned for 30 days.

But at the end of that, God speaks to Joshua. “Enough’s enough! Time to get on with it. I’ve got a PURPOSE for you. So hop to it!” Ch 1 v2.

(Josh 1:2-5 NIV)  “Moses my servant is . Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites. {3} I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. {4} Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates–all the Hittite country–to the Great Sea on the west. {5} No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.

This was God’s purpose for Joshua. And for Israel. He’d promised it to Abraham 400 years ago. And, in just the same way, he promises it to Joshua. “I WILL give you every place where you set your foot. Noone will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.”

That’s my plan. That’s my purpose. All you have to do is work in the footsteps of that plan. Go along for the ride. Follow obediently where I tell you! And I will give you evey place where you set your foot.

What a wonderful purpose. What a great promise!

But what does that mean for us? Is that promise to Joshua meant for us, too? “Noone will be able to stand up against you!”

Some people would say, “Yes!” A particularly dangerous approach has been that of Christian political movements. Like the Sth African apartheid system, or the American-backed Israeli conflicts against the Palestinians. Or that of South American liberation theology. “God promised all-conquering victory to Joshua, so he’s promising it to US TOO!”

Or a little closer to home. Churches right here in Sydney that teach that we should expect EXACTLY THE SAME VICTORY in EVERY area of life because God promises it – health, wealth, personal relationships, evangelism, church growth. Even weight loss!

But it just isn’t so. It’s a wrong-headed way of reading the bible. I don’t know what they make of the way Jesus saw the Christian life. Mt 16:24

(Mt 16:24-25 NIV)  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. {25} For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.

Or John 15.

(John 15:18-20 NIV)  “If the world s you, keep in mind that it d me first. …: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

You don’t have to look too hard before you realise that following Christ is often about suffering. Phil 1:29

(Phil 1:29 NIV)  For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to SUFFER FOR HIM,

There doesn’t seem to be too much victory there! … Or does there! Let me suggest that if you look a little closer/ you see victory alright. Just not what WE might call victory.

We tend to think of victory as comfort, and ease, and well-being. But for God, victory is when HE gets the glory and praise. Victory is when his people grow into his likeness, become more holy. Become more like Jesus.

Try these verses on for size!

(1 Pet 1:6-7 NIV)  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. {7} These have come SO THAT YOUR FAITH–OF GREATER WORTH THAN GOLD, WHICH PERISHES EVEN THOUGH REFINED BY FIRE–MAY BE PROVED GENUINE and may result in PRAISE, GLORY AND HONOR when Jesus Christ is revealed.

(2 Cor 12:7-10 NIV)  To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. {8} Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. {9} But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. {10} That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God uses weakness and suffering to TEACH US ABOUT HIMSELF. To teach us to TRUST HIM. To bring him glory. And ultimately, they were the same purposes he had for his people in the Promised Land. To bring glory to himself, and to make a people who were holy.

So let me suggest/ the common ground we have with Joshua. God’s first antidote to fear is to remind us of his purposes. I MAY have a terrible time door-knocking. I may be chased down the street. But I know that God has designed it JUST THAT WAY to strengthen me. So that I can learn to trust him more. To give him the glory. And that’s victory – if I’m willing to be obedient.

Antidote 2: Assuring you of God’s Presence:

God’s second antidote for fear is that he ASSURES JOSHUA OF HIS PRESENCE. Look at the second half of v5.

(Josh 1:5 NIV)  As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU.

What a great promise for Joshua! In the same way that God was with Moses, he’d be with Joshua.

The LORD knew Moses face-to-face. Intimately. Completely. Absolutely. And DESPITE that, he promised to never leave.

Those of us who are married know our spouse pretty well. But we don’t know them COMPLETELY. In fact, there are probably things about YOURSELF you’re glad your spouse DOESN’T know. Little secrets. Things you’ve never admitted to anybody. Because you’re not sure they’d still love you quite as much. Perhaps even whether they’d stay with you!

But God knows them! And DESPITE them, he promises to never leave us.

And it’s being known and accepted so unconditionally/ that MOTIVATES us to be the people God wants. Listen to how Heb 13 uses this Joshua-promise. Heb 13 v 5

(Heb 13:5-6 NIV)  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” {6} So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

The assurance of God’s presence gives us the confidence and courage to face whatever God’s got planned. “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Antidote 3: Directing you to God’s Word:

God’s third antidote for Joshua’s fear is to direct him towards HIS WORD. Look at v7.

(Josh 1:7-9 NIV)  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. {8} Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. {9} Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

There’s the encouragement to be strong and courageous (on the one hand) And there’s the command to obey God’s law. How do the two connect? The RSV makes it a bit clearer.

(Josh 1:7 NRSV)  Only be strong and very courageous, BEING CAREFUL to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you”

The WAY to be strong and courageous – the method of achieving that end – is by obeying God’s law. It’s God’s antidote to fear.

But it’s more than just obeying a set of rules. It’s a whole MINDSET. “Do not let God’s word depart from your MOUTH; MEDITATE on it day and night, so that you may be careful to DO everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” It’s a WHOLE APPROACH to life. Words, thoughts, actions.

It’s the sort of thing I’ve found true in my life.

It’s when I’m not reading the Bible that I find it easiest to give in to temptation. For the sorts of thoughts and words to creep in which have no business being there. Dirty, puny, angry thoughts. Discouragement and apathy and fear become monsters that are hard to see a way past.

And the weird thing about the way Satan works, is that the times you MOST need to be filling yourself with God’s words/ are the times you want to do it/ LEAST. When you don’t feel like spending time with God – do it anyway. Because that’s probably when you really need it.

It’s by reading the bible that you’re reminded of God’s promises. Of his character. His faithfulness, his wisdom, his love, his commitment to you in Jesus.

And it’s by DOING what he wants, that your DESIRE to do God’s will changes. The more you obey God, the more you LOVE to obey God.

So, God calls Joshua to IMMERSE himself in God’s word. “Be careful to obey it all. Don’t turn to the right or the left. That’s the way to success and prosperity. That’s the way to be strong and courageous.”

Antidote 4. Supporting you with God’s People:

So now, after those antidotes, Joshua moves into action. Verse 10. He issues the order. “Pack up. Get ready. Three days time, and we’re crossing the Jordan. We’re going to take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own”

And he gives a special word to two and a half tribes. The one’s who’s inheritance is on the desert side of the Jordan. They’ve promised to help the REST of Israel to win their land. And Joshua reminds them of their responsibilities.

Verse 15. “Help your brothers” he says. (Josh 1:15 NIV)  â€%9 il the LORD gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

God’s people maintain their strength – with solidarity – with unity. A commitment to God’s purposes. A commitment to each other, and to working together.

And that’s God’s 4th antidote to fear. He supports Joshua with God’s people. Look at how they answer him. Verse 16.

(Josh 1:16-18 NIV)  Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. {17} 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. {18} Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey your words, whatever you may command them, will be put to . Only be strong and courageous!”

“We will support you just like Moses. May God be with you like Moses. Be strong and courageous.” Great words for a leader to hear from his people.

And when you’re standing at YOUR cross-roads, summoning up the courage to do what’s right, God’s given you his people to help. That’s the great thing about being part of a church. None of us is an island. We need other people.

Take someone with you to those cross-roads. Stand there together. Tell them about your struggle. Ask their advice. Their support. Ask someone to pray for you.

If there’d been someone else there with me on that Saturday afternoon, I wouldn’t have chickened out. Who knows what might have happened – what God had in store – if I’d been obedient.

Working together with God’s people to serve him is great! The Blacktown festival is coming up again soon. That was a great time together, wasn’t it? By ourself, it would have been almost impossible. But God’s antidote is that his people are a body – each part playing it’s part. No part is INDISPENSIBLE. (Every part is needed) No part is INDEPENDENT. (Everyone needs other people)

We’ve got a responsibilty to each other. You standing beside someone – even if it’s just at church – can be God’s antidote for fear for that person. Your support might be the thing God uses to help them make it through the week. To make that stand against their boss. Or to resist that temptation to sin. Or to speak up for Jesus in the lunchroom. Or to make the tough decision about their children. Or to perservere one week more in a bad marriage.

We sometimes put the Bible heroes up on a pedestal – make them out to be SUPER-human. But Joshua was like anyone else. He stood at the cross-roads, and he was scared.

But God had four words for him. Four cures. And they’re God’s words to you this morning.

He reminds us of his PURPOSES – All that happens is for his glory, and that we become more like Jesus.

He assures us of his PRESENCE: – “I will never leave you nor forsake you”

He directs us to His WORD: – “Don’t let it depart from your mouth. Meditate on it day and night”

He supports us with His PEOPLE:

Let’s pray.

Joshua 2:1-5:12: God prepares the way

Good Counsel beats Gonzaga 50-38American football, or gridiron, has 11 players per side. But the basic setup involves two lines of 7 men who stand facing each other. The middle guy is called the centre. Normally the biggest and strongest. He starts with the ball. And he flicks it between his legs to the quarterback. That’s called “the snap”. Now the quarterback is a lot smaller than these linemen. And his job is to pass the ball to a team-mate so his team can score a touchdown. On the other side of the line are the defensive team. Their main job is to get the quarterback before he passes the ball. Most quarterbacks, understandably, are pretty good at getting rid of the ball quickly – before they get pulverised. But just occasionally they do something unexpected. They actually RUN WITH THE BALL. It’s called a “quarterback sneak” And whenever a defensive lineman sees a quarterback, with the ball in his hand, starting to run, his eyes light up. “Me see quarterback. Me, kill!” Because if they can take the star quarterback out of the game, there’s a good chance they’ll win the game. So a quarterback has to be pretty sure that he’ll be safe/ before he decides to run with the ball.

And that’s the situation you saw on the video. One team was about 1 yard away from a touchdown. The teams lined up. It looked like the quarterback was going to pass to someone else. The centre snapped the ball between his legs/ into the hands of the quarterback. Everyone looked to the left and the right/ expecting a teammate to receive the ball. But at the last minute, the MASSIVE CENTRE put his head down, barged straight ahead, right through the middle of three defenders. And the little, battered and bruised quarterback followed straight behind, right into the end zone. He scored a touchdown, with hardly a finger laid on him. It all depended on the enormous centre doing his job properly. Paving the way. Preparing the ground/ so the quarterback, who was MUCH WEAKER, would have a clear path.And in the end he did it easily/ because of his power and size.

And that’s what God doing here for the Israelites. PREPARING THE WAY. He’s making it easy for his people to take the land. In Joshua ch 2 we see how he prepares the way by melting the hearts of the Canaanites – striking fear into the foreigners. In Ch 3 we see how he parts the waters of the Jordan river so his people can cross over. And in chapter 4 we see how he prepares the way by HELPING THE PEOPLE TO REMEMBER his goodness and his power. It’s important that they don’t forget God’s actions. That they don’t fall for the folly of forgetfulness.

  1. God prepares the way – fear for foreigners

So let’s start by having a look at Ch 2. God prepares the way by creating fear for the foreigners. Verse 1. Joshua wants to check out the land. So he secretly sends two spies. “Have a look over the land. And take a special look over Jericho. It’s the big one we need to conquer.”So the two spies go. They get to Jericho, and night falls. And the city gates are shut. There’s no escape now – even if they wanted to. They’re in for the night. And they end up at the house of Rahab, who, we’re told, is a prostitute. Now if you think about it, it makes pretty good sense to stay there. No one would look twice at a couple of strange men who stay the night.

But someone works out who the two strangers are. Verse 2. The king sends some soldiers around. But for some reason Rahab DOESN’T sell them out. She PROTECTS them. Verse 4.

(Josh 2:4-6 NIV) But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. {5} At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” {6} (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.)

So she sends them on a wild goose chase. They race out of the city. And the gates are shut again.

Now that the coast’s clear, we get to the central part of the chapter. As far as ACTION goes it’s not too interesting. But it’s the most important part. Because it’s here we learn WHY Rahab does what she does. It’s all to do with what she’s learned about Israel’s God. Look at v8. (Josh 2:8-11 NIV) Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof {9} and said to them, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that A GREAT FEAR OF YOU HAS FALLEN ON US, so that all who live in this country are MELTING IN FEAR because of you. {10} We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. {11} When we heard of it, OUR HEARTS MELTED and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for THE LORD YOUR GOD IS GOD IN HEAVEN ABOVE AND ON THE EARTH BELOW.

This Gentile, for all her failings, looks at what God’s done, and recognises who He is. And just like always happens when someone sees God clearly, she RESPONDS. Verse 12.(Josh 2:12-13 NIV) Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign {13} that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.”Despite being full of fear, she throws herself at the MERCY of God. She asks that he will show her KINDNESS. It’s the word for loving-kindness – the particular faithfulness God shows to his covenant people Israel. And here, a GENTILE SINNER is asking for that same privilege!And the spies promise to protect her. And in the end, God miraculously saves her family – when the walls of Jericho collapse – all except for the one part where Rahab’s house is!And in Ch 6 v 25 we read she lives among the Israelites “to this day”. In other words, at the time the story was written down, she and her family are living as God’s people.In the midst of whole cities being wiped out, and every living thing being destroyed, God spares one Gentile family. That’s so often the way with God – that in the midst of punishment and vengeance/ there’s grace and forgiveness.God saves ONE GENTILE FAMILY because that what he promised to Abraham. Back in Genesis 12 – that ALL NATIONS would be blessed through him. And this is A START.

But the bigger picture of this chapter/ is what God’s done in the hearts of the whole city. It’s fear, alright – just like for Rahab. But not FEAR THAT LEADS TO FAITH. God melts their courage. Fear that flees FROM God, rather than flees TO him, like it did for Rahab. It’s BLIND fear – that freezes their brains/ and ties up their hands. Panic that petrifies. They’re like rabbits caught in the spotlight. Frozen, just waiting to be finished-off.In Ch 1 God’s encouraged Joshua NOT to fear. Here, he causes the people of the land TO fear. God’s preparing the way for Israel’s victory.And that’s what the spies report when they make it back to Joshua. Down in v24.(Josh 2:24 NIV) They said to Joshua, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”God prepares the way.

  1. God prepares the way – a feat for feet! (3)

And next, in Ch 3, God prepares the way by parting the waters of the Jordan. The whole chapter makes the point, again and again, that this is God’s doing. He’s the one the people are following. He’s the one who knows where to go. He’s the one who parts the waters.Verse 1. The next morning, Joshua gets everyone ready. They pack up, and move to the edge of the Jordan river. And then in v3, the attention shifts to the Ark of the Covenant. Remember that’s the box that represents God. It’s got the Ten Commandments inside it, and it’s carried around by the priests. Look at v3.

(Josh 3:3-4 NIV) …”When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. {4} Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

The point is/ it’s God who’s leading them. Where God goes, they follow. But notice that they’re not to follow TOO close. He’s a God who’s interested in his people, but he’s still much too holy for them to get too close. They’re to watch from about 1000 yards. Perhaps it’s so they can get a good view of what happens next. Have a look down at v14. The priests carrying the ark head down to the river. As soon as their feet touched the water, the water stopped flowing! It piled up in a heap upstream. Which would have been an amazing sight TOO. And this was even during the flood season! What an amazing FEAT FOR FEET! But of course, it wasn’t the feet that did it – it was the God they served. The God who was represented by the Ark they carried. And as long as the priests stood in the middle of the river, the bed was dry. And all Israel crossed over.GOD was in the middle of the river, represented by the ark. Right in the place of danger. Protecting his people as they crossed over. First one IN, LAST one OUT. Just like that big centre in the Super Bowl. Holding back the opposition. Protecting his quarterback.

  1. The Folly of Forgetfulness

But why so spectacular? Wouldn’t it have been EASIER if they just crossed at a different time of year? Or at a shallow FORD? When they could just paddle across? God does it in such a SPECTACULAR way because he wants to make sure the people DON’T FORGET. They needed to know the folly of forgetfulness. And let me suggest two reasons why it’s important to remember.

  1. It’s important to remember when things get TOUGH.
  2. And it’s important to remember when things are EASY.

Firstly, it’s important to remember when things get TOUGH. Have a look back at Ch 3 v9.

(Josh 3:9-10 NIV) Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. {10} THIS IS HOW YOU WILL KNOW THAT THE LIVING GOD IS AMONG YOU and that he will CERTAINLY DRIVE OUT BEFORE YOU THE CANAANITES, etc”

And then he proceeds to tell them how the river would be stopped. Do you see the connection? Down the track, when they’re in the middle of a battle, surrounded by enemies, and they start to wonder, “Gee, Are we REALLY going to defeat this enemy? Is God REALLY going to give us the land?”, then they’ll remember what God did to the Jordan.“If God can do THAT to the Jordan, then victory over this army is NOTHING!”

It’s important to remember God’s miracles in the tough times because it’s THAT REMEMBERING that gives us the FAITH and the CONFIDENCE to make it through. You’re sitting in the doctor’s waiting room. The biopsy results are back. They’re not good. Can God get you through? Of course he can! He got you through the sickness of your kids, or your unemployment, or the death of your father.Or you’re at home. Another screaming match with the kids, or your husband, or your wife, or your parents. And you decide you’ve HAD it. You’ve put up with this rubbish for long enough. You’re leaving. And you’re not coming back.But then you remember that God never gave up on you. He chased you for years. He kept putting Christians across your path. He kept doing things in your life that pushed you one step at a time towards him. And eventually you stopped running. And you fell in love with Jesus. REMEMBERING. It’s important in the tough times.

It’s exactly the same thing that Paul does in Romans Ch 8. Early in the chapter he describes present sufferings, and groaning as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons. But despite it all, he’s able to declare confidently in v31 “If God is FOR us, who can be AGAINST us?”HOW can he be so SURE about God’s actions in the future? Because of his actions IN THE PAST. V32 He who did not spare his own SON, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with HIM, graciously give us ALL THINGS? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who JUSTIFIES. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also INTERCEDING FOR US. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… 37 NO, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Remember the cross to keep trusting God when things are TOUGH.

(pause) But, back to Joshua. It’s also important to remember/ when times are EASY.Everyone makes it across the river bed safely. But before the water rushes back, God has one more task in mind. One more job to help them remember. And this is aimed at the generations to come. Look at what he says in Ch 4 v5. He’s talking to 12 men – one from each tribe.

(Josh 4:5-7 NIV) “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, {6} to serve as a SIGN among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ {7} tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

It’s not just THESE people God’s saving. He’s saving FUTURE generations as well. And so THEY need to know what’s happened, too.And so he gets these 12 men to pick up twelve round boulders. Right from the middle of the river where the priests were standing. And to carry them to the other side.And at the end of the day he sets them up at Gilgal. Maybe four or five km’s from the river. 12 large round boulders standing up in some sort of monument. Probably on a high point somewhere. They’d stick out like sore thumbs. You can just imagine people in years to come. Everything’s settled. Life’s good. Plenty of milk and honey for everyone. And a father and son are walking along the road one day. All of a sudden, the son says, “What are those RIVER ROCKS doing there? It’s MILES to the river! And how come they’re all standing up against each other?”“Well son, that’s to remind us what God did for us. Back when we came into the land. It was a miracle. Let me tell you about it! HE did it all. We just FOLLOWED.” And so God’s people would be reminded of God’s GOODNESS and POWER and FAITHFULNESS.

It’s important to remember in the EASY times/ as well as the tough times. God knows how quickly we forget about him. How easily a warm bed, and a full stomach, can cause spiritual amnesia. Spiritual complacency.

You see, following God is a bit like marriage. In a marriage, for most people, the greatest threat is not infidelity, (an obvious, complete act of betrayal) but simply the slow process of FORGETTING, of TAKING FOR GRANTED. Complacency. The gradual failure to appreciate their spouse. To remember how precious they are.

It can happen in marriage, and it can happen in our Christian walk. We can gradually take God for granted. We assume that we’re saved because basically we’re pretty good people. We assume that life goes well because we’re basically making good decisions. But it’s not true. Every day. Every hour. Is God’s gift. And we need to acknowledge that.Just like Israel, we need reminding.

4. God prepares the way FOR US – freedom from failure and fault

And that’s just what God’s done. Given US reminders of his saving action. Of how he’s prepared the way for US.He’s prepared the way for us to come back into friendship with him. He sent Jesus to lead the way back. To lead the sinless life WE should have. To die the death WE deserved. To be raised to life like WE will one day.Jesus is the Superbowl centre who leads the way for us to follow.

And just like crossing the Jordan, God’s given US a MEMORY AID, too. There’s a wonderful connection between that saving event. And the saving event of Jesus’ death.Ch 4 v19 of Joshua tells us that all this took place on the tenth day of the first month. Those of you who know your Jewish calendar will know that’s the day of preparation for Passover. The day when God first passed-over the Israelites in Egypt. When he killed the Egyptian babies. And led his people out.

Now flip forward nearly 3500 years. Jesus. In Jerusalem. The night before his death. And what’s he celebrating with his disciples at that Last Supper? Passover. And what does he do at the last supper? He gives them A REMINDER of HIS saving act. When he’s gone, he tells them to remember his death every time they eat and drink. “This bread is my body. This wine is my blood. Do this in REMEMBRANCE of me”.God prepared the way for his people to enter the land. He wanted them to remember what he’d done.

And God’s prepared the way for US to come back to him. And to enter our rest. And, in the Lord’s Supper, we have a reminder of what he’s done.And we eat TOGETHER to HELP each other remember. And so we can say WITH CONFIDENCE. Romans 8:37-39

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Joshua 5:13-6:27: Joshua DIDN’T fight the battle of Jericho:

The movie “The Matrix” was on last week. One of my all-time favourite movies. Keanu Reeves plays a computer programmer called Neo. The basic idea of the movie is that LIFE, as Neo experiences it, ISN’T REAL. It’s one big computer simulation. Virtual reality. Called “The Matrix”

All the things he experiences every day. The things he sees and hears and tastes and touches and smells/ are simply the result of electrical signals sent to his brain by a computer. His actual body and brain are somewhere completely different. A different reality exists compared to what he can experience with his senses. What is REAL goes against common sense.

And at various times during the movie, Neo has to step out in faith. To respond to what he BELIEVES is true/ but what COMMONSENSE tells him is nonsense.

He sees a boy holding a spoon. As he watches, the boy makes the spoon droop, and then twist around itself into a knot. “The trick”, the boy says to him, “is to remember that THERE IS NO SPOON”.

His eyes SEE a spoon. His hand TOUCHES a spoon. But each of those senses are just electrical impulses. Signals sent to his brain by the virtual reality computer.

And Neo learns to respond to what he BELIEVES is true/ rather than what COMMONSENSE tells him.

And Joshua’s learning that lesson too. Commonsense tells him that water can’t come from a rock. Commonsense tells him that a river in flood can’t be crossed. Commonsense tells him that water can’t stand up in a heap.

But he’s learning that when it comes to the ways of God/ commonsense doesn’t have the answers. God’s plans aren’t bound by the normal rules of physics/ or geology/ or maths/ or logic. There’s a BIGGER REALITY than what Joshua experiences with his senses.

And Joshua’s learning that God is much bigger/ and more wonderful/ than any mould we try to fit him into. And he’s learning to walk in the faith that accepts that.

And in today’s story we see three such challenges. Three times where God’s way clashes with our way.

Firstly, God ISN’T on our side.

Secondly, Joshua DIDN’T fight the battle of Jericho, and

Thirdly, God’s justice ISN’T fair.

Now, I hope, that as I made each of those statements you stopped and thought to yourself, “Hang on a minute! That’s not right! He must mean the opposite!”

No, I meant EXACTLY what I said!

God ISN’T on our side.

Joshua DIDN’T fight the battle of Jericho, and

God’s justice ISN’T fair.

1. God ISN’T on our side

Let me explain what I mean. Firstly, God ISN’T on our side. We’re looking at Ch 5 v 13.

Joshua the general/ is getting ready for war. The spies have come back. The plans are about to be laid. But God’s got OTHER plans. Have a look at verse 13.

(Josh 5:13 NIV)  Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

Joshua’s mind’s on the battle. He’s thinking strategies. He’s thinking conquest. Perhaps he’s even looking down at the battle plans on the ground. Because he looks UP, and he sees a man standing there with a drawn sword.

His mind’s in “fight” mode, so he comes out with a perfectly question. “Are you for US, or for OUR ENEMIES?” Who’s side are you on? It’s a pretty important question to establish – especially since the guy’s carrying a drawn sword. If he’s an enemy, take your eye off him for a second, and you could be .

But there’s a problem with the question. It’s a double-sided question. And they’re difficult to answer. Let me give you an example. How would you answer if I said to you, “Is your pet-rabbit male or female?”

You could either say, “He’s male”, or “She’s female”. But there is another way of correctly answering that question.

“Is your pet rabbit male or female?” Yes. He is either male or female.

The problem is with the question. It’s a double-sided question. A better question would be “Is your rabbit male?” If the answer is yes, we know it’s a boy. And if the answer is no, we know it’s a .

And it’s the same with Joshua’s question. He doesn’t ask, “Are you a friend?” His question is “Are you for us, or for our enemies?”

And the man answers, “Neither”. It’s literally “NO”. Joshua thinks there are only two answers to the question. You’re either on Joshua’s side, or on the enemy’s side. But this warrior comes up with a third option. He’s on NEITHER side.

And in v14, we find out the reason why. He’s part of a BIGGER reality. A reality that Joshua’s five senses can’t help him with. Look at v14.

(“Are you for us or for our enemies?” {14} “Neither,” he replied,) “BUT AS COMMANDER OF THE ARMY OF THE LORD I have now come.”

This guy’s got bigger fish to fry than just Jericho. He’s the commander of THE LORD’S army. He’s not on Joshua’s side like Joshua imagines. If anything, Joshua is on the side of the LORD.

The commander is saying, “The only side I’m on is the LORD’S. And that’s why I’m here now. The Lord’s army’s got battles all over the place. And this is just one of them.

GOD ISN’T ON OUR SIDE. WE’RE CALLED TO BE ON GOD’S.

It’s the sort of mistake that many people make today. “God’s on my side. He’s my little genie in the lamp. Whenever I’VE got a problem, I just pull him out, give the lamp a rub, and HEY PRESTO – he fixes things up.”

You mightn’t think you treat God like that. But think about how you pray. Is it little more than a glorified wishlist? “Hi, God. I’d like this and this and this and this. And please fix up this, and heal this person. And make this situation better. And please find me a parking spot. And …. “

And this sort of thinking gives itself away in the way some people evangelise. “Come to Jesus, and life will be better. Become a Christian and you’ll get joy, or success, or prosperity, or health, or good relationships. Come to Jesus, and God will be on your side.”

But God says, “No! I’m not on your side, OR your enemies. Your job is to fulfill MY purposes. Not the other way around. You’re to work on MY wishlist. Not the other way around.

Listen to Eph 1:11-12.

(Eph 1:11-12 NIV)  In him we were also CHOSEN, (having been predestined according to the PLAN of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, {12} in order that (?we might have a successful, happy and fulfilled  life?)

No! We were chosen in order that WE MIGHT BE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.

God says, “I’VE got plans for YOU. YOU are on MY side. Not the other way around. Don’t follow me because it MAKES YOU HAPPY. Follow me because it’s TRUE.

And this is what CS Lewis found. He was a hardened atheist. But gradually God broke down his barriers. The last thing he wanted was to give himself over to another person.

But he couldn’t get away from the TRUTH that God was there. Lewis wanted to argue. Use philosophy and logic. But, in his words, “My adversary (that’s God) … would not argue about it. He only said, “I am the Lord, I am that I am. I am”

He describes his horror once he realised that. “Amiable agnostics talk cheerfully about ‘man’s search for God’. To me they might as well have talked about a mouse’s search for a cat…

(And a bit further on he says) “Total surrender, the absolute leap in the dark, was demanded. The reality with which no treaty can be made was upon me. The demand was not even ‘All or nothing’. I think that stage had been passed… Now the demand was simply ‘All’.

“The steady, unrelenting approach of him whom I so earnestly desired NOT to meet… That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

CSLewis was someone who recognised that it wasn’t God who was on HIS side. But that he needed to be on God’s side. He bowed to TRUTH, not convenience. God isn’t a convenient God, who fits into your boxes.

He recognised that he needed to side with truth. Then deal with the consequences later.

And you need to follow the example of CS Lewis. You need to recognise truth – whatever the consequences. You need to join God’s side. Have you done that?

Well, Joshua DID respond the right way. Look at the second half of v14.

(Josh 5:14 NIV)  …Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Joshua recognised the reality. He learned the first lesson. He was ready to join God’s side. And he was ready for the second lesson.

2. Joshua DIDN’T fight the battle of Jericho

The second lesson was that Joshua wasn’t to fight the battle. This was to be GOD’S fight.

Ch 6 starts by describing the difficulty of the task. Verse 1

(Josh 6:1 NIV)  Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

This might have been the very thing Joshua was puzzling over when the commander arrived. But while commonsense mightn’t have seen any solution. It was no problem for God. Verse 2

(Josh 6:2 NIV)  Then the LORD said to Joshua, “See (look – “check it out” a modern translation might say!), I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.

“Excellent” says Joshua. He looks up, maybe hoping to see some way to conquer the city. But what does he see when he looks up? “Jericho, tightly shut up. No one going out or in. No HUMAN solution at all. And that’s the point.

God continues. V4.

(Josh 6:3-5 NIV)  March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. {4} Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. {5} When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.”

The strangest military plan ever! But that’s because it ISN’T a military plan. It’s a religious procession. It’s about obeying God, and honouring him. Because HE’S THE ONE who’ll deliver Jericho into Joshua’s hands.

And Joshua doesn’t doubt for a minute. He goes straight to the priests and organises the Ark. He goes straight to the people and orders them to follow the Ark.

And for seven days, the people obey. They march around the city. One long procession. Not a sound, except for the blast of the trumpets. No one speaks. No one answers the cries of abuse from the city walls. No one disobeys God. They just march.

Until we get to the end of the last lap. The end of the seventh lap on the seventh day. The end of their test of obedience. Have a look at v20.

(Josh 6:20 NIV)  When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.

The shout was a sign of victory. The victory had been won already because 1) God had promised it, and 2) They’d played their part. They’d been obedient. They’d learned the lesson.

The lesson in the whole story / was that it was GOD WHO FOUGHT THE BATTLE OF JERICHO, not Joshua.

And it’s a lesson we need to learn, too. The battle is God’s. Let me suggest there’s a lesson for two sorts of people. For people who are CONFIDENT. And people who are DOUBTING.

Firstly, perhaps THIS is you – Things might be going well. You could be feeling quite pleased with how well you’re going as a Christian. Bible reading’s regular. Prayer’s not too bad. People at church think pretty highly of you. You come up with good answers at Home Group. People at work, or school, even ask your advice about Christian things.

But the battle is God’s. Everything you have comes from him. Give him in the glory in everything. Acknowledge your dependence on him every day.

You see, our tendency is to STEAL GOD’S PRAISE. Assume that when good things happen, it’s because of our cleverness. But THE APOSTLE PAUL recognised that he was simply an ugly old clay pot. Nothing special. But he was a clay pot that contained a RICH TREASURE – the treasure of the gospel he proclaimed. He knew who REALLY deserved the credit. 2 Corinthians 4:7

(2 Cor 4:7 NIV)  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that THIS ALL-SURPASSING POWER IS FROM GOD AND NOT FROM US.

The power to change lives is not in MY words, or Paul’s words, But God who changes hearts through his Spirit. And who brings down walls by his power.

This is also a lesson for another sort of person. It’s for those of you who DOUBT.

Every day we look at whatever city we’re trying to conquer – and it’s shut up tighter than a drum. And we forget that it’s God who fights our battles. We lose hope, and confidence, and courage.

It might be persevering with leading that Youth Group, or talking to your best friend, or your mum, about Jesus. It might be resisting the temptation of anger, or lust, or bitterness. It might just be struggling to continue following God in the stresses of life.

All of these might seem like Jericho – shut up tight. No human way forward.

But the commander of the Lord’s army says to you, “Look up. Check it out. I have delivered Jericho into your hands”

Joshua was called to RECOGNISE the true state of reality. To KNOW that / changed his attitude and his actions.

And it’s the same with us. God has reserves of power way beyond what we can see or understand. But it’s all about KNOWING. And in Eph 3, Paul describes it as KNOWING the DEPTHS OF THE LOVE that God has for us in his Son. Verse 16

(Eph 3:16-21 NIV)  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may STRENGTHEN YOU WITH POWER through his Spirit in your inner being, {17} so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, {18} MAY HAVE POWER, TOGETHER WITH ALL THE SAINTS, TO GRASP HOW WIDE AND LONG AND HIGH AND DEEP IS THE LOVE OF CHRIST, {19} AND TO KNOW THIS LOVE that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. {20} Now to him who is able to do IMMEASURABLY MORE THAN ALL WE ASK OR IMAGINE, according to his power that is at work within US, {21} to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Knowing that God loves us deeply/ gives us significance and purpose. That gives us the faith to continue following him.

Lesson 2. Joshua DIDN’T fight the battle of Jericho. The battle was GOD’S. Thank God.

3. God’s justice ISN’T fair

The third lesson we learn from this story is that God’s justice ISN’T fair. Now there’s a sense in which this is true. And a sense in which it’s NOT true. So give me a few minutes to explain myself.

God’s knocked the walls of Jericho down. And the people rush in. And God commands them to COMPLETELY DESTROY every living thing in the city. Nothing is to be spared. And that’s what they do. Look at v 21.

(Josh 6:21 NIV)  They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it–men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

Now our immediate reaction is “That’s a bit much! Was that REALLY necessary? It doesn’t seem FAIR. Surely not EVERYONE deserved that. What about the babies?”

It’s all to do with the difference between what WE think is fair/ and what GOD thinks is fair.

I’ve heard a story about Mike O’Connor. When he’s telling non-Christians about God’s eternal punishment of non-Christians, he says something like, “You know, you seem like a nice guy. If it was up to me, I’d let you into heaven. That seems fair to me. But the problem is/ it’s not UP to me. And God says that that’s not what we deserve.”

God’s measuring stick for fairness is PERFECTION. Our measuring stick is whether someone’s “a good bloke” or not. So it’s no wonder that we think that God’s justice isn’t fair.

And some Christians have a hard time getting past that!

But there are three things about God’s justice/ that may make this chapter a little easier to stomach.

1. Firstly, God’s justice is CLEANSING JUSTICE.

The destruction of Jericho wasn’t just because they were wicked. It was also to PROTECT Israel. To help stop her from being infected by their sin. Listen to Deut 20:16-18.

(Deu 20:16-18 NIV)  However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, DO NOT LEAVE ALIVE ANYTHING THAT BREATHES. {17} Completely destroy them–…–as the LORD your God has commanded you. {18} Otherwise, THEY WILL TEACH YOU TO FOLLOW ALL THE DETESTABLE THINGS THEY DO in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.

It’s like the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in Britain a few years ago. Terrible pictures of huge piles of burning carcases. Whole herds destroyed. And it wasn’t just INFECTED animals either. Neighbouring farms were wiped out as well. Just to be on the safe side. Drastic measures were called for. Because foot and mouth disease is a terrible disease.

And perhaps part of our problem is we’ve been immunised/ anaesthetised/ to how terrible sin is. A drastic solution was required to prevent an epidemic.

2. The second thing we can say about this justice is that it’s PATIENT JUSTICE. Right back in Gen 15, God tells Abraham that his descendants will live back in Canaan – but that it will take 400 years before that happens. Listen to Gen 15:16

(Gen 15:16 NIV)  After 400 years your descendants will come back here,(that is, Canaan)  FOR THE SIN OF THE AMORITES HAS NOT YET REACHED ITS FULL MEASURE.”

God is patient with the Canaanites. They might turn away from their sin. But in reality, it will be 400 years of sin building up and building up, until in God’s timing judgement comes. His justice is patient.

3. The third thing we can say about God’s justice/ is that it’s MERCIFUL JUSTICE.

You might have noticed that what I read before from v 21 of Josh 6 wasn’t EXACTLY true. Because everyone in the city WASN’T destroyed. Look at v22.

(Josh 6:22-23 NIV)  Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the ‘s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” {23} So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.

The whole city DESERVED destruction. Yet, Rahab’s family escaped. God was just. But he was also merciful. Did Rahab DESERVE to die. Yes. But God was merciful. Rahab was no better than the rest of the city. And Israel itself was no probably no better than Jericho.

But God chose to be merciful to some/ and to execute his just judgement on others. And that’s why I said that, in a sense, God’s justice ISN’T fair.

Which is just as well for us. Because we don’t deserve salvation anymore than anyone else. God mercifully chose us to be saved. I’m glad that God’s justice isn’t fair, because if it was NOONE would be saved! I’m glad God is merciful. That he forgives anyone who calls on him in faith.

And we need to be a church just like that. A church that’s RADICALLY SEPARATE. And that’s GRACIOUSLY INCLUSIVE.

We need to be RADICALLY SEPARATE. To give sin its full weight. To recognise its seriousness. How contagious it is. We need to encourage each other to live holy lives. To confess our sins to each other. To be accountable to each other for our behaviour.

There must be no hint of condoning or accepting continual, unrepentant sin. We need to be radically separate from sin.

But we also need to be GRACIOUSLY INCLUSIVE. Just like Israel. They accepted and included Rahab.

God has shown us mercy. His justice towards us WASN’T fair. We mustn’t judge other people because of their backgrounds. Their upbringings, their past lifestyle, their weaknesses. If these people are earnestly desiring to follow Jesus, then we must accept them unconditionally.

The three wonderful lessons this morning are that

1. God ISN’T on our side. We’re on HIS. Thank God!

2. Joshua DIDN’T fight the battle of Jericho. It was God’s battle. Thank God!

3. God’s justice ISN’T fair. He shows mercy when we don’t deserve it. Thank God!

Joshua 7-8: When bad things happen

I had my first Primary School Scripture class on Wednesday. And I’d been in the Year 6 lesson about five minutes, when a hand shot up in the front row. “Excuse me, Sir. Why does God let people get leukaemia?” No beating around the bush with this guy!

The teacher doing her work in the corner looked up. Suddenly she was interested.

“Well that’s a very good question, young man! And thousands of people before you have asked that same question!”

Why DO bad things happen to good people?

Maybe you’re fortunate enough/ that this has only ever been a THEORETICAL question. One you’ve only been MILDLY interested in. Storing an answer away in the back of your brain/ in case you ever need it.

On the other hand, maybe it’s been a HUGE question for you. Something’s happened that’s flipped your world on its head. Everything you thought was stable and firm/ is suddenly shaky and unsteady.

You thought your parents would always be there. But they died, and you feel like you’ve been deserted. Or perhaps your child has contracted cancer, or another yucky disease. Or you’re retrenched. Or separated. Or betrayed. Or abused.

All over the world/ it’s the same story. Babies born addicted to . Or HIV positive. Or chronically malnourished. Innocent children suffering. Why DOES God let bad things happen to good people?

1. The answer:

This is the very question that Joshua’s asking/ here in Ch 7. Israel’s gone straight from victory at Jericho/ to miserable defeat against Ai. His army’s been whipped. 36 men have lost their lives. And Joshua wants to know WHY. 36 families will grow up without their dads. Why? What’s more, the nations will probably turn on Israel, be filled with courage, and wipe them off the face of the earth. Why?

And although Joshua doesn’t know the answer, WE READERS get let in on the secret right at the beginning. The answer to the question – even before the question’s been asked. Look at v1. It’s the answer.

(Josh 7:1 NIV)  But the Israelites ACTED UNFAITHFULLY in regard to the DEVOTED THINGS ; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, TOOK SOME OF THEM. So THE LORD’S ANGER BURNED AGAINST ISRAEL.

God’s angry with Israel. He’d told them that EVERYTHING in Jericho was either to be DESTROYED, or HANDED OVER TO HIM – put into his treasury. Everything in Jericho was DEVOTED to the LORD.

But Achan had disobeyed God. He’d decided that he knew better than God. He’d seen something he liked. And he’d taken it. … But he hadn’t taken it from JERICHO. He’d stolen from GOD. And noone knew about it except him and God.

And the end of v1 says that The Lord’s anger burned against Israel. That’s the answer. Even before we ask the question.

Notice that even though only one person sinned, the verse starts by saying that THE ISRAELITES acted unfaithfully. And even though only one person sinned, God was angry with all Israel.

EVERYTHING was to be destroyed. 100% pass-mark. Not even 99.9% wasn’t good enough. And because they didn’t achieve perfection, the whole nation suffered. There was corporate accountability.

My understanding is that that’s what happens in Law firms. When you become a senior partner, your personal assets can be seized if a sufficient claim is won against the firm. You are responsible for the mistakes of your partners.

And that’s the case here. God was holding ALL Israel accountable. You see, Achan was PART of Israel. He was closely connected to all sorts of people. That’s part of the point of his genealogy. We don’t even know that much about JOSHUA’S background. But this Achan was someone’s son, someone’s grandson, someone’s greatgrandson. He was someone’s husband, and father, and uncle and workmate. Someone’s neighbour. And because he was connected in THESE ways, God’s ANGER connects to everyone too. And we find out how/ as the story unfolds.

2. The problem:

Next, in v 2-5, we see the PROBLEM. Joshua sends some men to spy out the next city on the list. Ai. It’s what he did for Jericho, so he does the same thing again. And the spies come back. “Look, it’s even smaller than Jericho. God gave us a great victory there. This will be like taking candy from a baby. Only send two or three thousand men. Let the rest have a few days R and R.

But when they get to Ai, there’s a problem. Verse 4. They get thrashed. 36 men die. And they scurry away with their tails between their legs. And the end of v5 says the hearts of the people melted and became like water. They were petrified.

3. The question:

That’s the PROBLEM. Now we get to the QUESTION. They make it back to Joshua, and fill him in on the details. And Joshua can’t understand what’s going on. “Why is this happening? Everything’s gone so well up ‘til now! Crossing the Jordan, defeating Jericho. And now this!”

And he does the right thing. He goes to the source of the problem. He brings his questions to God. He spends the rest of the day in the Tabernacle, pouring his heart out to the God WHO’D PROMISED TO NEVER LEAVE THEM.

And look at what his questions are. Verse 7.

(Josh 7:7-9 NIV)  And Joshua said, “Ah, 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’d been content to stay on the OTHER side of the Jordan! {8} O Lord, WHAT CAN I SAY, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? {9} The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. WHAT THEN WILL YOU DO for your own great name?”

Question after question. Our immediate reaction is that it’s a bit of a wimpy prayer. First sign of trouble, and all of Joshua’s wonderful faith deserts him. But let me suggest that it’s not such a bad prayer after all.

You see, HE GOES TO THE RIGHT PLACE. He knows that God’s the only one who’s got the answers.

I’m reminded of the Israelites in the desert – “Why did we ever leave Egypt – with all that lovely garlic and pots full of meat!” But Joshua’s prayer is different to that – His questions are ones of DESPAIR, but NOT UNBELIEF. He’s complaining TO God, rather than ABOUT him.

And that’s a lesson for us. Too often we look EVERYWHERE ELSE when things go wrong. We borrow more money, or take another educational course. Or blame the economic downturn. Or the government. Or go to counselling. Or seek a second medical opinion. Rather than falling before the throne of the only one who has the answers.

Dale David puts it really well in his commentary. “There are periods in which confusion strikes and we haven’t any idea what God is about. We have no recourse but Joshua’s – ANGUISHED PRAYER/  to a MYSTIFYING GOD, pleading both our danger, and his honour.

4. The answer (again)

That’s the question. (Why are these bad things happening?) And now God gives his answer. Finally, Joshua gets let in on the secret we already know about. The reason the first attempt failed. Look at v10.

(Josh 7:10-12 NIV)  The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? {11} ISRAEL HAS SINNED; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. {12} That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I WILL NOT BE WITH YOU ANYMORE unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

Israel has failed the test. It might have scored 99.9%, but it’s still failed. And that’s enough for God. And that’s why they lost the battle. And what’s more, until they rectify the situation, it’ll keep happening. God won’t be with them until they destroy the stolen stuff.

Before we move onto the solution, I want to stop and think about how this applies to us. We’ve seen Joshua’s question, and God’s answer. But what’s God’s answer to US/ when we ask why bad things happen?

Let me suggest four possibilities:

The first two sorts of suffering are the result of an individual’s specific sin. God MAY be punishing you because of your own sin.

When something bad happens to you, it’s appropriate to ask God if there is some sin you need to confess. Something which God wants to bring to your attention. Something which is preventing God from fixing the situation.

1. This suffering might be a DIRECT CONSEQUENCE of your sin. If you sleep around, God may allow you to catch a ual transmitted disease. That’s punishment that’s a direct result of your sin. You may lose your money because you’ve greedily invested in high-risk high-return stocks. That’s a direct result of your sin. Or your bitterness and anger towards someone might result in an emotional breakdown, or stomach ulcers, or high pressure. That’s a direct consequence of your sin.

This seems to be the sort of thing that Rom 1:26-27 is getting at.

(Rom 1:26-27 NIV)  Because of this, GOD GAVE THEM OVER to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged relations for un ones. {27} In the same way the men also abandoned relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and RECEIVED IN THEMSELVES THE DUE PENALTY FOR THEIR PERVERSION.

It seems to be some sort of physical suffering that was a result of their sinful behaviour.

2. Secondly, your suffering might be a SPECIFIC PUNISHMENT for your sin, but that isn’t an immediate consequence. This one’s harder to work out in our lives. Because there’s no direct connection. (apart from it being God who’s brought it)

But let me give you an easy example from Acts 5. An open and shut case. Ananias and Sophira. They lied to the Apostles, and to God, about the amount of money they received for selling a block of land.

And as soon as Peter pronounces their sin, God strikes them down . Suffering/ that’s the direct punishment for sin.

Another example. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says that many of the Corinthians were sick, and some had even died, because they didn’t treat their brothers and sisters in the church properly. Suffering/ that’s the direct punishment for sin.

It’s appropriate that if you’re suffering, you ask God if there’s sin in your life that you need to repent of. (That’s the first two cases)

3. Thirdly, The suffering may have NOTHING TO DO with a particular sin. I think this is the case with most suffering. The world is a messed-up place because mankind is sinful. So MY suffering is the result of MANKIND’S sin – in a general, non-specific way.

That’s a situation Jesus spoke about on a of occasions. You can look up Lk 13:1-4 yourself. Another time is in Jn 9:1-3. And the disciples ask Jesus about a man born blind. “Rabbi, who sinned – this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”

(John 9:3 NIV)  “NEITHER THIS MAN NOR HIS PARENTS SINNED,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

And it seems to me that this is the case with MOST suffering. It’s just the way the world is, rather than God’s specific judgement against sin. The sufferer is no worse, or no better, than the next person. You can’t pin it on a PARTICULAR sin. Just sin in general.

I know that doesn’t seem like much comfort if you’re in the middle of something. But did you notice Jesus’ wonderful words at the end of that verse? “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

God’s purposes are ALWAYS that his glory might be seen.

And that’s a comfort in the middle of suffering for two reasons. Firstly, that God DOES have a purpose. It’s not SENSELESS pain. And secondly, that this is an opportunity for you to direct glory towards God as he works in your life.

Listen to what it says in 1 Peter Ch 1 v6-7. His letter was to a bunch of Christians who were suffering for their faith.

(1 Pet 1:6-7 NIV)  You greatly rejoice in the coming salvation, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. {7} THESE HAVE COME SO THAT YOUR FAITH–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and MAY RESULT IN PRAISE, GLORY AND HONOR WHEN JESUS CHRIST IS REVEALED.

Suffering is in God’s control. And it results in his glory in your life.

4. The fourth case involves suffering that affects THE CHURCH/ because of INDIVIDUAL sin. This is the case with Israel and Achan. All Israel was accountable because one man sinned. All Israel suffered until the cause of the sin was removed.

And who’s to say that God doesn’t work like that in the church today? Don’t take this the wrong way – I think we’re going well as a church – but we’re small. Maybe one of the reasons things aren’t going better is because there’s sin that needs to be repented of. Pray that God might point anything out to you that you need to confess.

1 Corinthians 5 talks about the immoral brother who must be expelled. He’s like a little bit of yeast that affects the whole batch of dough. There are CONNECTIONS between us as members of this church. The behaviour of an individual can have consequences on the whole.

We need to encourage each other. We need to provoke and prod. Sometimes we may need to be MORE than gentle. At our Bible study, Jeff Thorpe described a painting of a king “encouraging” his troops into battle – he was holding a long pole with a sharp spike on the end, and he was prodding the soldiers. Sometimes our encouragement needs to be like that.

Now, if you’re sick or suffering, I can’t tell if it’s because of sin. Even YOU can’t tell if it’s because of sin. But it’s an appropriate thing to do to ask God to show you if there’s sin you need to repent of, so that you might be healed, or the suffering removed.

It may even be the case that suffering in the church is because of someone ELSE’S sin. In which case, it’s appropriate to ask God if there is any sin among US which is causing suffering.

5. The solution

Let’s get back to Joshua. Because God’s given him the answer. And now he gives him the solution.

There’s an old saying that’s true: “Beware, your sins will find you out!” And Achan’s about to be found out!

I came across this story in the paper. About a Chinese man who’s sins found him out.

“A woman in Chongquing city began divorce proceedings against her husband based on words recounted by a talking bird. She returned from a month-long absence to find her bird repeating phrases such as “divorce”, “I love you”, and “be patient”. She took the bird to a lawyer’s office to seek legal advice, but lawyers were not optimistic. “The judges are unlikely to rule against the husband’s case based only on the bird’s words,” lawyer Wu Di told the newspaper.

My guess is, whatever the lawyers said, that marriage didn’t last too long. Beware, your sins will find you out!

God’s plan starts at verse 13. the people must consecrate themselves. Be PURIFIED, because God the JUDGE is coming to do business.

And the people are told how the court case will operate. What they’ll have to do in the morning. They’re to present themselves tribe by tribe. And, somehow, God will narrow down the selection until only the guilty man is left. The people are even told what the punishment will be.

And that means Achan was also told! Achan knew what was coming. He had the chance to confess, and seek God’s mercy. But he refused.

God’s solution was MERCIFUL. But Achan does nothing.

And so the next day dawns. And the court is in session. Verse 16. and because we’ve read v1, we already know what’s going to happen. We know the tribe, the clan and the family. We even know the man! We can see things from God’s perspective. Verse 16.

(Josh 7:16-18 NIV)  Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was taken. {17} The clans of JUDAH came forward, and he took the ZERAHITES. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and ZIMRI was taken. {18} Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and ACHAN son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.

And when Joshua confronts him with the facts, Achan confesses. He points Joshua to where the loot is stashed. God’s picked the right man, because he provides information that only the guilty man would know about. Verse 21.

(Josh 7:21-22 NIV)  When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” {22} So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath.

They had the right man. You see, God’s solution was JUST.

And the punishment is swift, and COMPLETE. His whole family have been infected with his sin. Even his animals. And so they’re all stoned. And then – just to make sure, everything’s burned.

God’s solution is MERCIFUL, JUST, and COMPLETE.

And at the start of Ch 8, we see that God’s solution is also EFFECTIVE. Because the matter has been dealt with. The guilt is gone. The sin is forgiven. Forgotten. If Joshua had gone to God the next day and said, “Hey God, you remember that situation with Achan…?” And God would have said, “What situation?” Look at v1 of Ch 8.

(Josh 8:1 NIV)  Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.

God’s solution is merciful, just, complete, and effective.

And he delivers on his promise. Ch 8 describes how Israel defeats the city of Ai. And their race is back on track – at least for a chapter!

And just like Israel, God has provided a solution for OUR situation. Despite the suffering and the pain that we experience in this life, God has provided the ULTIMATE solution. And just like Israel, God’s solution is merciful, just, complete, and effective.

One day, he’ll wind this world up. The ultimate restructuring. And because of Jesus, we’ll be part of his NEW world. The one without ANY suffering. Any bad things.

Jesus is God’s ultimate solution. And in his and resurrection, we see that God’s solution is MERCIFUL, JUST, COMPLETE, and EFFECTIVE.

Thank God for Jesus – his ultimate solution to our suffering.

Joshua 9: A Sneaky Scheme

Have you ever had one of those “It seemed like a good idea at the time” moments?

It used to happen to me all the time when I was a kid. When the Hills hoist clothes line seemed like the perfect toy. Take a running jump, hang onto one of the arms, while the hoist spun around and around.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Until the centre pole buckled under my weight, and the clothes line wouldn’t swing around anymore.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Or the time I climbed a great big tree. I was very good at going UP. Even though it was a real struggle to make it up some branches. But when I got to the top, and started trying to come down. I realised it was a lot easier going up than coming down.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Often there are things that/ from a HUMAN point of view/ seem like a good idea. But they can be DECEPTIVE. When we go to the trouble of finding out what GOD’S opinion is/ it’s a different picture.

Last week I received a circular letter. It was advertising a church open day. The leaflet said many families were struggling to stay together these days, and that people needed a close family. True point! One of the highlights of this Open Day was a seminar on “Keeping the Family together”. From a HUMAN point of view, it sounded pretty good.

They wanted us to invite people we knew to their Open Day. Which was all very well – except they were from the local Mormon Church! A FALSE church who say they’re Christian – but who know very well they don’t believe what Christian denominations believe.

I wonder how many people they’ll deceive at their Open Day!

Halfway through last year I was sitting down at Woodcroft lake one Sunday afternoon with Luke Jackson, and a pair of Mormon missionaries who were trying to convince Luke to come and be baptised into their church. And I was trying to convince him NOT to.

From a HUMAN point of view, they’re such nice guys, and very convincing. But they’re DECEIVED, and they deceive others. They don’t teach the TRUTH of the Bible about who God is, who Jesus is, or how we become friends with him.

Beware that you’re not deceived. Don’t look at things only from a human point of view.

1. The Sophisticated Scam

That’s advice that Joshua would have liked. Because, here in Ch 9, he falls “hook, line and sinker” for A SOPHISTICATED SCAM.

The news about the success of Israel had made it to the town of Gibeon – only about 5 –10km away. And while SOME nations decide to FIGHT, the people of Gibeon come up with a DIFFERENT plan. Verse 3.

(Josh 9:3-5 NIV)  However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, {4} they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, ed and mended. {5} The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy.

The whole idea was to make it seem like they’d travelled from their country which was a long way away. So Israel wouldn’t realise they were actually neighbours.

Because, at the end of the chapter, when they finally come clean, we learn what they’d been thinking. They’d heard that every inhabitant in the land was going to be slaughtered. And so the aim of the whole disguise was to convince Israel that they WEREN’T inhabitants in the land AT ALL. This was the only way they could avoid . It’s a bit hard to be too hard on them. You can justify most lies if peoples’ lives are on the line.

And so, in v6, they arrive at Israel’s camp. And tell their tale to Joshua. “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us”

The plan was the only way Joshua would make a peace treaty with them/ was if they were foreigners.

2. The Scientific Substantiation

And in v7, Joshua and the leaders start with what SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME. They start to grill them. Check out their story. It’s the start of their scientific substantiation.

(Josh 9:7-8 NIV)  The men of Israel said to the Hivites, “But perhaps you live near us. How then can we make a treaty with you?” {8} “We are your servants,” they said to Joshua. But Joshua asked, “Who are you and where do you come from?”

And then the Gibeonites start with their prepared speech. About how they’d heard of God’s fame. And how scared everyone was. Verse 9.

(Josh 9:9-10 NIV)  They answered: “Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the LORD your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, {10} and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan–Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.

And then they pull out their old bread, and their ed wineskins, and their worn-out shoes. It’s the clincher. The “scientific proof” that they’re telling the truth.

It’s like those ads on tele. Which paper towel is better. Two beakers full of blue liquid. With two different brands. And one sucks up the water faster than the other. That makes it better. And just in case we’re not convinced/ an actor in a white labcoat TELLS us which one is better. Scientific proof!

Israel saw all of this stuff. Verse 14 even says they TASTED it! From a HUMAN point of view, they probably couldn’t have done much more! They interrogated. They observed. They tasted.

But they made one big mistake. It was their self-sufficient slip-up.

3. The Self-sufficient Slip-up.

Look at the second half of v14.

(Josh 9:14 NIV)  The men of Israel sampled their provisions BUT DID NOT INQUIRE OF THE LORD.

As far as they were able, they tried to check out the Gibeonites’ story. But they forgot their most important test. They didn’t ask for God’s advice.

It’s the assumption/ that THEY KNEW BEST. That their eyes could see everything worth seeing. Their mouths could ask every question worth asking.

One writer puts it like this;

“It wasn’t that they were sloppy in their investigation, but that they were alone in their decision. It wasn’t that they didn’t think, but that they didn’t pray.”

And that’s the simple application for us.

WHEN IT COMES TO MAKING DECISIONS/ AVOID BEING DECEIVED/ AND LISTEN TO GOD. (repeat)

How can we listen to God? What’s the process?

The first step is to ASK God to help. In James Ch 1 v 5 God gives us a promise.

(James 1:5 NIV)  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and IT WILL BE GIVEN TO HIM.

Ask God, and he will give you wisdom. He’ll give you HIS perspective on the situation. That’s the first step. Ask.

The second step is to listen to God’s answer. He might do that in a number of ways.

The first, and most important, and clearest, way that God communicates to us is through his word – the Bible.

If we think back to the situation with the Mormon church’s Open Day. The Bible tells me that God is eternal, and that he existed before creation. So when the Mormons tell me that God was once a man who lived on another planet, and who then became a god, I’m not deceived by them.

But I need to KNOW WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS about God before it’s any use. So I need to study the Bible. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. And it’s a wonderful poem about how wonderful God’s Word is. This guy loved God’s law. Listen to v14-18.

(Psa 119:14-18 NIV)  I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. {15} I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. {16} I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. {17} Do good to your servant, and I will live; I will obey your word. {18} Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

And a bit further on, he says (v105)

(Psa 119:105 NIV)  Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

It’s God’s word that shows us the path ahead.

But you might say, “There’s lots of specific things the Bible DOESN’T talk about!” (Who you should marry. Which job to take. What to buy your mum for Christmas)

This is where your prayer for wisdom comes in. When it comes to making decisions/ The Bible gives us lots of GENERAL PRINCIPLES. But when it comes to specifics, God often wants us to USE THE WISDOM HE’S GIVEN US. The wisdom we’ve asked for. That’s still turning to God.

In lots of situations there might be SEVERAL wise choices we could make. And God can do great things in EACH of them.

Sometimes/ God’s help in making wise choices/ comes through OTHER PEOPLE. It might be conversations, or books, or songs. It may even be research done on the internet. But once again, the important thing is to PRAY that God will guide you/ as you look for what he wants.

One thing I can be SURE of. God’s directions (however he chooses to guide you) will NEVER go against his word in the Bible. (repeat)

God’s directions will NEVER go against his word in the Bible.

Dad tells me about a friend of his. Who announced one day that God had told him to leave his wife and family and move to the other end of land. And Dad replied, “I’m sorry. But God’s told me that you’re NOT to!”

The Bible tells us that’s NOT what he wants. This friend was simply using God as an excuse to do what HE wanted.

What are some other situations where we can be deceived?

1. The world tells us that happiness and success come from THINGS. The more STUFF you have the happier you’ll be.

And from a human point of view/ that seems fair enough. But don’t be deceived. God says (Mt 6:31)

(Mat 6:31-34 NIV)  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ {32} For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. {33} But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. {34} Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Deceiving church leaders, false teachers, lies of the world – work/ success/ family. Success of a church. Beggars)

WHEN IT COMES TO MAKING DECISIONS/ AVOID BEING DECEIVED/ AND LISTEN TO GOD.

But back to Joshua. Israel sampled the provisions, but failed to inquire of the Lord.

And once they’d made that SELF-SUFFICIENT SLIP-UP, the rest followed easily. They fell hook, line and sinker/ for THE SOPHISTICATED SCAM. Verse 15.

(Josh 9:15 NIV)  Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.

Even though God had told them NOT to make any treaty with the people in the land – that’s just what they did.

Pretend you haven’t heard this story before. What do you expect to happen now? They’ve disobeyed God. So God’s going to act. Put things right! He’ll let them know – one way or the other – that they’ve done the wrong thing. Right? Wrong!

We’re not told that God does ANYTHING. In fact, God’s got no part in this whole chapter. He doesn’t DO anything. He doesn’t even SPEAK. He’s only talked about. Everything that happens/ happens at an EARTHLY level. Human beings doing this and that. All on their own.

And I think that’s the point. Because that’s exactly the attitude the Israelites had about the situation. They were pre-occupied with what was happening on THEIR level. And God wasn’t included at all.

So what DOES happen next. Verse 16. The Gibeonites go home. Perhaps they were even followed. Because three days later, Israel finds out the REAL story. And so they pay Gibeon a little visit.

And the people aren’t too pleased. Perhaps they’d been eyeing-off some of the choice bits of farming land, or they saw some cattle they liked the look of. And now because of the leaders’ blunder, they miss out. Verse 18.

(Josh 9:18-19 NIV)  But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders, {19} but all the leaders answered, “We have given them our oath by the LORD, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now.

They’re in a pickle. What should they do? They disobeyed God in making the treaty in the first place. Now, they can either break their treaty and risk God’s punishment for THAT. Or they can keep their word, not destroy Gibeon, and risk God’s punishment for THAT.

So what’s the first thing YOU would do in the same situation?  What’s the lesson of this whole chapter? They should ASK GOD. But do they do that? Of course not! Look at v20.

(Josh 9:20-21 NIV)  This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them.” {21} They continued, “Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers for the entire community.” So the leaders’ promise to them was kept.

Once again, they make up their own mind. God is silent, because they don’t ask for his advice.

And that’s what they do. The people of Gibeon become house-slaves for Israel. They cut wood and carry water. But at least their lives are spared. And that sounds good when the only other alternative is .

And it probably even sounds like a good deal for the Israelites. They get free labour – nice chopped wood piles, plenty of water. But it’s only from A HUMAN POINT OF VIEW. And that’s the point of the whole chapter.

God’s opinion is neither asked for, or given. But his word still stood. Don’t make treaties. Kill all the inhabitants of the land.

And we don’t have to look too far forward to find out why. Listen to how things turn out. From God’s point of view.

Judges Ch 3 v 3.

(Judg 3:3-7 NIV)  the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. {4} They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses. {5} The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. {6} They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. {7} The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.

From a human point of view, it seemed like a good idea at the time. But if they’d only asked God’s opinion, he would have filled them in on HIS perspective. The way HE sees things.

What seemed to be a neat solution to a curly problem/ was nothing more than giving in to the forces of evil who wanted to drag God’s people away from him.

We need to be on our guard that the same doesn’t happen to us. That the world, or even false teachers inside the church, don’t lead us away from what God wants us to be doing.

May God give us the FAITH to ASK FOR HIS HELP, the WISDOM to KNOW HIS WILL, and the STRENGTH AND COURAGE to do it.

Joshua 10-12: Israel’s Two Heroes

Mark Waugh and Steve Waugh. Two great heroes of Australian cricket. Between them, they’ve played something like 700 one day internationals, and scored more than 15,000 one day runs.

And within the last few weeks, they’ve both been dumped from the Australian one day cricket team.

I’m sure Channel Nine’s already putting together a whole stack of limited edition memorabilia. Pictures and books and souvenirs. To help us remember their careers.

And I reckon, even now, Peter Fitzsimmons is warming up his computer to write their comprehensive authorised biography. Complete with all the highlights.

I reckon they’re both fantastic. Mark is probably one of the most gifted batsmen and fielders ever. He makes everything look so EASY. And Steve is as tough as old boots. Super –competitive. He’s got one of the strongest wills in the game. They’ve each saved the game for Australia on dozens of occasions.

Two great heroes/ whose achievements will go down in history.

And, in a sense, that’s what we’re looking at today. Two great heroes whose achievements have gone down in history. The MIGHTY WARRIOR of Israel. And the LEADER of Israel.

And these three chapters are like the authorised biography. The highlights of their careers.

So take a look with me at these two heroes of Israel.

1. The mighty warrior of Israel

Firstly, the mighty warrior of Israel – that’s God.

Chapter 10 starts off in a familiar way. The neighbouring kings have heard about Israel. (They’re from Jerusalem, and some of the other towns.)

But this time/ it’s Gibeon that gets their attention. Because now they’ve sided with Israel. And so these kings reckon it’s PAYBACK TIME. They decide to teach them a LESSON. They join together, and attack Gibeon. That’s in verse 5.

But Gibeon’s quick to test out its new allegiance with Israel. Verse 6. “Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us!”

So Joshua moves out. With the entire army. But there’s one EXTRA warrior who’ll make all the difference. It’s The LORD. Look at v8.

(Josh 10:8 NIV)  The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.”

God’s given these kings, and their troops, into Joshua’s hand. They’re as good as defeated. The mighty warrior is on Israel’s side. So don’t be afraid.

It’s almost like God’s used Gibeon as BAIT. It’s their treaty with Israel that sparks everything off. It’s what INCITES these other kings to go to war. GOD USES ISRAEL’S DISOBEDIENCE FOR HIS PURPOSES.

Remember, he told them NOT to sign a treaty with Gibeon. But they did. And then he uses THAT VERY DISOBEDIENCE to achieve his purposes in defeating other nations.

He uses imperfect and impure instruments to do his perfect and pure work in the world.

And that’s encouraging for us. Because even though we stuff up, and make a mess of things. Even though our motives aren’t always good. God uses us to achieve his purposes. What a privilege that is!

So don’t give up – even though you don’t think you’re the most singer, or Kids’ Church teacher, or youth group leader, or father. God’s power is SO great, he even works through YOU!

Don’t LIMIT God. That’s what you’re doing when you think about giving up. “He’s not big enough to do anything good through me. I always make mistakes. I’m not talented enough, or committed enough, or happy enough.”

If your desire is to see God glorified, then God can use you.

And Joshua doesn’t give up, either. God’s promise doesn’t make him down tools, sit back, and just wait for it to all happen. It spurs him on to greater action.

It’s not a case of “Let go and let God”, but work EVEN HARDER because God’s behind you. Colossians 1:29 puts it like this. “To this end I labor, struggling with all HIS ENERGY, WHICH SO POWERFULLY WORKS IN ME.

Verse 9. Joshua marches all night, takes them by surprise. God, the mighty warrior, throws them into confusion, and they’re defeated. As they run away, v11, God sends a ferocious hailstorm. Giant rocks from heaven. And more are killed by the hail than by the sword. Killed by the mighty warrior of Israel.

But that’s not all for this day. Because the most EXTRAORDINARY event is still to come. At some stage during the day, Joshua decides time is running out. They’re chasing after the defeated armies. But nightfall’s on the way. And Joshua’s scared they’ll get away. So he calls out to God. Verse 12

(Josh 10:12-13 NIV)  … “O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” {13} So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.

What an amazing day! Imagine! The sun actually stopped moving across the sky! That’s what most of us think is so amazing, don’t we? In fact, our scientific minds want to know HOW it happened.

But that’s NOT what was so amazing at all! Look at the next verse. Verse 14.

(Josh 10:14 NIV)  There has never been a day like it before or since, A DAY WHEN THE LORD LISTENED TO A MAN. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!

The clincher. The PROOF that God was fighting for Israel wasn’t the hailstones, or even the sun standing still. The REAL miracle was that God listened to a man!

I reckon we forget how AMAZING it is that God actually hears us. What a privilege that the creator of the Universe actually takes the time to listen to the ravings of our puny minds. He actually considers the desires of our sinful hearts!

I get excited when the LOCAL PAPER publishes a PRESS RELEASE of mine. Why don’t I get excited that the One who keeps the planets orbiting the sun/ actually takes the time to hear about the tiny things that orbit my world.

The TRUE miracle of this day/ is that God listens to men and women. He did then. And he still does today.

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Psalm 8 starts off.

(Psa 8:1-4 NIV)  O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

And then David describes God’s creation.

{3} When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, {4} WHAT IS MAN THAT YOU ARE MINDFUL OF HIM, THE SON OF MAN THAT YOU CARE FOR HIM?

David can’t understand how the God who made heavens with his FINGERS – fine detail work to God – would actually care for mankind!

As the genius in the movie “The Princess Bride” would say – “Inconceivable!”

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The mighty warrior of Israel fights on their behalf, and listens to their prayers.

And as the story continues. This point is made again and again. Battle after battle. Scan through it quickly with me. Ch 10 v14

Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!

Verse19.

the LORD your God has given them into your hand.”

Verse 30

The LORD also gave that city and its king into Israel’s hand.

Verse 32.

The LORD handed Lachish over to Israel,

Verse 42.

All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.

Ch 11 v8

and the LORD gave them into the hand of Israel.

And finally, Ch 11 Verse 20

(Josh 11:20 NIV)  For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

At every turn, it’s GOD who’s leading the way.

And by the end of Ch 11, most of the hard work’s been done. The Ch finishes, “Then the land had rest from war”.

2. Israel’s leader:

That’s hero number one. But the other reason Israel’s successful is because of Joshua. He’s the OTHER hero.

If it wasn’t for his FAITHFUL OBEDIENCE, the outcome wouldn’t have been the same. Right back in ch 1, God gave Joshua this warning;

(Josh 1:7 NIV)  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.

And the point Chapters 10 and 11 are making is that Joshua DID it. He WAS obedient, and God brought him success. He was the leader for Israel because of his COMPLETE, PERSISTENT faith.

Let’s look for a moment/ at what happens on the day the sun stood still. Verse 16. It describes one of the significant events of that day.

The five rebellious kings have fled. And they’ve hidden in a cave at a place called Makkedah. But when Joshua finds out about it, he tells his soldiers to roll large rocks across the mouth of the cave. That’ll keep the kings trapped until he’s got time to deal with them properly.

And then, in v20, they keep up the chase, until the foreign armies are completely destroyed.

And THEN. V 21.

(Josh 10:21 NIV)  The whole army returned safely to Joshua in the camp at Makkedah, and no one uttered a word against the Israelites.

The whole army arrive back at the mouth of the cave. And Joshua’s waiting for them. It would have been easier and quicker for Joshua to have just killed the kings himself. But he’s got another plan. He’s going to use them as an OBJECT LESSON.

Look at v24.

(Josh 10:24-25 NIV)  When they had brought these kings to Joshua, he summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders who had come with him, “Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings.” So they came forward and placed their feet on their necks. {25} Joshua said to them, “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.”

Joshua PASSES ON God’s words of encouragement to the people. And to ram the message home, he gives them a PICTURE. He doesn’t just SAY it, he SHOWS them what God’s victory LOOKS like. Their feet on the necks of the foreign kings.

And then, in v26, he kills the kings with the sword. Then he hangs them on trees until evening. So EVERYONE can see – friend and foe alike. And then he takes the bodies down, puts them back in the cave. And seals the cave with the same rocks that were there before.

That’s an awful lot of trouble to go to just to make a point! But that’s how important it is that God’s people DON’T DOUBT. That they DO remain obedient. And that they DO keep their side of the bargain.

If they’re OBEDIENT, God promises them BLESSINGS. And if they’re DISOBEDIENT, God promises them CURSES. And Joshua’s working hard to keep them obedient.

He’s Israel’s leader.

Look at how Joshua’s described in the verses that follow. Half way through v30.

The city and everyone in it Joshua put to the sword. He left no survivors there. And he did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho.

And so on all the way through Ch 10. Until we get to v40.

(Josh 10:40-42 NIV)  So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, JUST AS THE LORD, THE GOD OF ISRAEL, HAD COMMANDED. {41} Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon. {42} All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign…

God commanded it. Joshua did it. And the same story again into Ch 11. This time in the NORTH. Verse 9.

Joshua did to them as the LORD had directed:

And v12.

(Josh 11:12 NIV)  Joshua took all these royal cities and their kings and put them to the sword. He totally destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded.

And again in v15.

(Josh 11:15 NIV)  As the LORD commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses.

And the last enemy to be defeated are the Anakites. They’re the GIANTS who scared off Israel the FIRST time. Forty years ago. Everyone was petrified of them – except for two spies. Caleb and … JOSHUA. “We can defeat them. God’s on our side,” they said then.

And, eventually, they were proved right. Joshua, the leader, even defeated THEM.

And v23 summarises his career.

(Josh 11:23 NIV)  So JOSHUA took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and HE gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.

Notice the two heroes of Israel? Joshua took the land. God gave it to Israel. God, the mighty warrior. And Joshua, the faithful leader.

Let me make one final point. This obedience of Joshua’s was no ONE-OFF, RAPID BURST OF ENERGY AND ENTHUSIASM. Look at Verse 18 of Ch 11.

(Josh 11:18 NIV)  Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time.

One estimate is SEVEN YEARS from Jericho until Ch 11.

And that’s the sort of obedience that God STILL calls us to. Long-term, committed obedience.

In some ways, it’s easy to put in a quick burst of enthusiasm for some task. Like a beach mission, or a camp. But it’s not good enough if we’re CONTENT WITH THAT – if we rest on our laurels for the whole YEAR, thinking that’s enough to satisfy God.

Or resting on PAST efforts. Perhaps you USED to lead a bible study, or youth group, or teach Kid’s Church, or pray regularly, or read your bible. But now life’s too busy. But you keep telling yourself that one day, you’ll get back to it. When the kids grow up, or when we get the mortgage down a bit, or when I make partner. Or when I get through exams.

The Christian race is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t run out of puff when the race has barely started. It’s how we FINISH that’s important, not how we START.

Faithful obedience is seen in the week in- week out slog. In doing ministry DESPITE not seeing wonderful success. Living your WHOLE life in CONSISTENT, long-winded, long-sighted service to God.

It’s why we meet together regularly. To encourage each other to keep going. To not give up.

Have a look at Heb Ch 12 v1-3. It’s printed in the news sheets.

The writer to the Hebrews has just given us a great long list of Old Testament heroes in Ch 11. People who showed faithful obedience. And then he starts Ch 12, with what that means for us.

(Heb 12:1-3 NIV)  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (that’s the Old Testament heroes of faith), let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and LET US RUN WITH PERSEVERANCE the race marked out for us.

And then, v2, someone ELSE for us to focus on.

{2} Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. {3} CONSIDER HIM who endured such opposition from sinful men, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT GROW WEARY AND LOSE HEART.

Consider Jesus. He’s BOTH our mighty warrior. And our leader. He’s the ultimate example of servanthood, and endurance, and suffering. And we’re to our lives on him.

But he’s also OUR MIGHTY WARRIOR. He’s gone before us. He’s defeated sin and . He’s the author and perfecter of our faith. He’s the one who makes it all possible, the CREATOR of the life we now have as God’s friends and followers. Without his work on the cross, we’re still in our sin. And we’re without any hope.

And as we recognise that/ we can begin to obey him in GRATITUDE for HIS obedience. We can begin to serve others in gratitude for HIS SERVICE for us.

Jesus is OUR mighty warrior. Jesus is our leader. Continue in faithful, persistent obedience like Joshua. And like Jesus.

Run the race with perserverance. Don’t grow weary and lose heart.

Joshua 13-21: God delivered, and is delivering, on his promises

Today’s chapters are Joshua Chapters 13 to Ch 21. Inclusive. That’s nine chapters of lists and lists of names. Towns and rivers and mountains you’ve never heard of. Boundary markers and plots of land. Lots and lots of “lots”.

You may have noticed that we didn’t read it all. We skipped over whole chapters.

Put your hand up if you’ve got the sneaking suspicion that these chapters are BORING.

Put your hand up if you’ve got the sneaking suspicion that these chapters AREN’T RELEVANT to us. Perhaps that they were never relevant to ANYONE.

Surely, if there was ANY part you could skip over/ this would be it, right?

I must admit that I thought exactly the same thing on Monday morning when I realised what I was preaching on this week.

Yet I believe what Paul said in 2 Timothy. ALL Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training. And that means Joshua Chapter 13 to chapter 21. God promises it.

Matthew Henry wrote his famous commentary on the Bible nearly 300 years ago. But he got it right, when he described the right attitude to these chapters.

“And therefore we are not to skip over these chapters of hard names as useless/ and not to be regarded; where God has a mouth to speak and a hand to write/ we should find an ear to hear and an eye to read; and God give us a heart to profit.”

That’s the attitude I want US to have. To trust God. That he has something USEFUL to say to us.

Our problem is that we see BOUNDARY PEGS/ when we should see PROMISES ANSWERED/ And we see PLACE NAMES when we should see AN INHERITANCE.

What did you see at your house this morning? Boundary pegs and place names, or promises and an inheritance?

Did you see a floor that needed vacuuming, children who argued, only weetbix left for breakfast. Did you have trouble deciding what to wear? Or which of your friends you’d ask to come for lunch today? Did you see rubbish that needed to go out?

Or did you see promises completed?

God promises that if we seek first his kingdom, he’ll give us all the material things we need. Food, clothes, housing. Even taking out the rubbish is a sign that we have more stuff than we need.

Even in the mundane and everyday, we should see God’s goodness and provision. PROMISES and an INHERITANCE/ rather than BOUNDARY PEGS AND PLACE NAMES.

We should see more than just LOTS OF LOTS.

I think the reason we DON’T see it that way/ when we get to Joshua/ is because it’s not OUR inheritance.

Imagine that Rob O’Connor received a registered letter this week. From a solicitor in Ireland. And he discovers, to his great surprise, that he’s the closest surviving relative of his Great Aunt – Hilda Mary O’Connor. Poor old dear died of liver failure. 92 years old. Years of drinking a bottle a day of fine Irish whiskey finally took its toll!

And she’s left everything to ROBERT. And inside the letter are pages and pages of all the things he’s inherited. An itemised account of houses and cars, and priceless furniture, fine art, and antiques. Holiday houses is the south of France.

My guess is that no matter how long the list was/ Robert would never get bored reading through it. It’s HIS INHERITANCE. It’s great news. In fact, the longer it is, the BETTER the news.

And this would have been the case with these chapters of Joshua/ for the original readers. We’ve come across the phrase several times already in Joshua – “And they’re still there to this day”. It’s likely the book of Joshua was put together within a generation – maybe 40 years – of the original conquest.

And so this is great news for the people reading it. This is THEIR LAND that’s being described. THEIR INHERITANCE. God’s promise fulfilled TO THEM.

So that’s the attitude I want us to have as we look at these chapters. It’s great news/ because God’s delivered on his promises.

That’s what it says right at the END of these chapters. God’s done it. He’s finally come good on all his promises. Turn to the end of Ch 21. Verse 43.

(Josh 21:43-45 NIV)  So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. {44} The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. {45} Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

Not ONE of God’s promises failed. They all came to pass. That’s not a bad record!

And what WERE those promises?

Firstly, they had THE LAND. (Verse 43) They took possession of it. And they settled there.

But it wasn’t just the land. Verse 44 says they had REST. Rest on every side. Rest from TRAVELLING. Rest from WAR. Rest from HARDSHIP.

Land and rest.

But how did the people respond to these wonderful promises? Let’s flick back a few chapters to look at TWO different responses. One’s an example to FOLLOW. And the other’s an example to AVOID.

a)    an example to follow

Firstly, the example to FOLLOW. Turn back to chapter 14. Verse 6. It’s about Caleb.

You’ll remember that Caleb was the only other man who’d been in Egypt, apart from Joshua. And who’d actually made it this far. Everyone else had died in the desert.

Joshua and Caleb were the only two spies who’d trusted God. They’d gone in to check out the land. And even though it was filled with giants, they’d believed that God could deliver on his promises. They tried to convince the people to take God at his word. And to go in and fight. But everyone else was too scared.

And that’s what Caleb reminds Joshua of. Verse 7.

(Josh 14:7-8 NIV)  I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, {8} but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.

And then he reminds Joshua of what God promised him. Verse 9.

(Josh 14:9 NIV)  So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.’

And good old Caleb’s STILL trusting God. He’s lost none of his faith, OR his energy. Look at v10

(Josh 14:10-12 NIV)  “Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! {11} I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. {12} Now 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.”

God’s promised it, and now Caleb’s ready to take it. DESPITE his old body. DESPITE it still being full of giant Anakites. DESPITE it being full of large, fortified cities.

He’s sure that God will help him/ because God’s already promised it.

Notice that Caleb doesn’t MISUNDERSTAND God’s promise. He recognises that he still has to WORK for it. It’s not going to happen as long as he just sits back, puts his feet up, and expects God to do everything.

Just like we’ve seen so much in this book/ GOD WORKS OUT HIS PURPOSES IN PARTNERSHIP WITH HIS PEOPLE. God’s promises are always DEPENDANT on his people being obedient.

(pasue) God’s promised it/ and Caleb has the faith to step up/ and take hold of the promise. And Ch 15 describes how he does it. He conquers the same region that God promised him.

b) An example to avoid

But in the very next chapter, Ch 16, we learn about an example to AVOID. The very OPPOSITE of Caleb’s attitude. This time/ it’s the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.

Have a look at v12 of Ch 16. We just get a list of all the towns that God promises them. But then we get to v12.

(Josh 17:12-13 NIV)  Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. {13} However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely.

The Canaanites were determined to live there. It doesn’t really seem like much of a reason, does it! After all that God’s done to bring to this point. The only thing that’s stopping them/ is that the Canaanites were determined to live there!

It says more about the determination of the Manassites (or lack of it) than it does about the Canaanites!

And then because they can’t be bothered to drive them out, they don’t have enough room to live. And so they come whinging to Joshua. Verse 14

(Josh 17:14 NIV)  The people of Joseph said to Joshua, “Why have you given us only one allotment and one portion for an inheritance? We are a numerous people and the LORD has blessed us abundantly.”

But Joshua won’t have any of it. If there’s not enough room where it’s easy, they should go into the hills, and clear some land for themselves. Verse 15.

(Josh 17:15 NIV)  “If you are so numerous,” Joshua answered, “and if the hill country of Ephraim is too small for you, go up into the forest and clear land for yourselves there in the land of the Perizzites and Rephaites.”

But even THAT’S too much work for them. They don’t want to clear forests, and they don’t want to drive out Canaanites from the cities. They’d rather just have everything handed to them on a silver platter. And so they come back to Joshua. Verse 16.

(Josh 17:16-18 NIV)  “The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the plain have iron chariots, both those in Beth Shan and its settlements and those in the Valley of Jezreel.”

{17} But Joshua said to the house of Joseph–to Ephraim and Manasseh–” You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment {18} but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours; though the Canaanites have iron chariots and though they are strong, YOU CAN DRIVE THEM OUT.”

That’s the truth. They CAN drive them out. But unless they DO IT/ then God’s promise to them won’t be fulfilled.

Two different reactions to God’s wonderful promises. One an example to FOLLOW. And one an example to AVOID.

2. The rest of “the rest”

But how do we FOLLOW Caleb’s example? What does it mean to act in faith on God’s promises TODAY? Israel had IT’s rest, but where’s ours? Where’s the rest of the rest?

Obviously, God doesn’t promise us a LITERAL land filled with rest. But his word is FULL of promises.

And that’s what you’ve got inside your newssheet today. A list of God’s promises. It’s not a COMPLETE list – you can probably think of verses I’ve left off.

But they’re promises to YOU. So I want you to write your name in the space. God’s promises to Jolene. God’s promises to Robert. God’s promises to Grant. Write it in NOW.

I came up with 24 different categories. And even though it’s a long list/ I DARE YOU to read through it, and think it’s boring. Or repetitive. Because this is an itemised account of your Father’s inheritance to YOU.

If you are one of God’s children, then these promises are for you. And if you’re NOT one of his children, I DARE YOU to read through this list, and decide at the end of it that you DON”T WANT to be one of his children.

If you’re not one of God’s children, or not SURE whether you are/ FOR GOD’s sake, see me about it. I’d LOVE to show you how you can be sure that these are promises for YOU.

So let’s quickly skim through the list. It starts off with a promise that God’s promises can be trusted. Just in case the book of Joshua hasn’t convinced you already.

(Num 23:19 NIV)  God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

And then God promises you REST, he promises you PROTECTION. He promises you WISDOM and GUIDANCE and PEACE.

He promises to HEAR YOUR PRAYERS, to BE YOUR FRIEND, and TO ACCEPT YOU and BE GOOD TO YOU.

His promises to ABRAHAM came true. He delivered on his promise of SENDING THE GOOD NEWS OF THE GOSPEL. He’s promised you that HIS HOLY SPIRIT lives in you.

JESUS HIMSELF is a promise fulfilled. As is HIS RESURRECTION.

God promises to FORGIVE you, and TO ADOPT YOU AS HIS CHILD.

He promises you that Jesus is PREPARING A PLACE for you, and that he’ll RETURN TO JUDGE. And on that day of judgement, He promises you AN INHERITANCE. A CROWN OF LIFE. An eternity with him. An eternity full of REST.

And while it’s not a PHYSICAL land you’re promised. HE does promise you a SPIRITUAL country. A heavenly city. And a new heavens and a new earth.

Put your hand up if you’re bored with THAT!

But we need to make sure that we have the attitude of Caleb, rather than that of Ephraim and Manasseh. We need to take hold of those promises, and make sure they apply to us. We can’t just sit back, and do nothing. Let’s look at one in particular. Promise number 23. The promise of eternal rest.

Heb 4:1 gives us a promise. But also a warning. God promised PHYSICAL rest ot Israel. But most of them missed out. And we shouldn’t fall into the same mistake they made.

(Heb 4:1 NIV)  Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

God has PROMISED it to us. But we need to take hold of it. To live in obedience to God. To make sure that we don’t miss out.

We need to follow Caleb’s example, rather than that of Manasseh and Ephraim.

A few verses on in Heb 4/ it expands on these two ideas of a promise and a warning. Heb 4 v 9.

(Heb 4:9-11 NIV)  There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; {10} for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. {11} Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

Make every effort. Continue in obedience and faith. May your declaration at the end of your life/ be like that of Caleb – “So here I am today, eighty-five years old! {11} I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.

God has given you many wonderful promises. And he WILL deliver on them.

Joshua 22: Keeping God’s people together

Building bridgesOur vision, there on the front of the news sheet, is BUILDING BRIDGES TO GENUINE COMMUNITY AROUND CHRIST. And then we explain a little about what that MEANS, and HOW we hope to DO it, under God. BY GROWING DISCIPLES THROUGH AN EMPHASIS ON HOME GROUPS AND BRIDGE-BUILDING ACTIVITIES TO REACH ASHFIELD. And the FIRST part of that strategy is building bridges with EACH OTHER. CONNECTING. Because church should be A FAMILY. Church isn’t a place you come just to INDIVIDUALLY worship God. This is called CORPORATE worship. Which means “BODY”.

Ephesians 4 describes church as A BODY. Made up of different parts. That means we’re CONNECTED. Just like a BODY is. We INFLUENCE each other. We encourage and challenge and support and love and correct and comfort and pray for and teach and train and laugh with and cry with each other. And BUILDING BRIDGES is about ENCOURAGING OPPORTUNITIES for those things to HAPPEN. As leaders, the Session wants our church to reflect how Ephesians 4 describes the church. 11 It was Christ who gave some to be … pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare GOD’S PEOPLE FOR WORKS OF SERVICE, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach UNITY in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become MATURE, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. … speaking the truth in LOVE, we will in all things grow up INTO HIM WHO IS THE HEAD, THAT IS, CHRIST. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, GROWS AND BUILDS ITSELF UP in love, as EACH PART does its work.

Unity. Maturity. Love. Growing into Christ. Built up. Each part doing its work. Is that YOUR experience of Ashfield? Or is it something DIFFERENT? It’s certainly something I want to be working towards. But in many churches, it’s not LIKE this. If we ARE a little like a family. Then it’s not surprising that there are PROBLEMS. Disagreements. Different ways of looking at things. Different priorities. Misunderstandings. People getting annoyed. People saying things they regret. Often, it’s members of your family who ANNOY YOU THE MOST. Because you know what they’re REALLY LIKE. But they’re also the ones you are MOST COMMITTED TO. And I hope it’s like that for you here at Ashfield. At least the LAST part of that description!

How do we make sure WE’RE a church that’s united? That’s CONNECTED? That our BRIDGES ARE STRONG? How can we KEEP GOD’S PEOPLE TOGETHER? That’s the question we’ll look at today in Joshua 22.

We’re nearly at the end of the book. And the war’s over. The land’s been divided up. And all the way through, Israel’s been UNITED. To one man/ standing behind Joshua. Following through on God’s plan to give them the land.But now, with the end in sight. There’s a problem. A misunderstanding. And unless it’s dealt with properly, it could plunge Israel into full-scale civil war. And as we look at how Israel behaves/ we can learn some lessons for US. About how to keep God’s people together.

  1. Watchful against PERSONAL DISOBEDIENCE.

First lesson, we keep God’s people together by being watchful against PERSONAL DISOBEDIENCE. That’s Joshua’s call at the start of Ch 22.Everyone’s about to return to their own regions. And Joshua calls for the 2½ tribes. They’re the ones whose land was on the OTHER side of the Jordan. On the DESERT side. And right back in Ch 1, they’d promised to come and help their brothers. They were going to join in fighting on the EASTERN side. Even though it wasn’t their land. And even though THEIR land was at PEACE.And that’s what they’d been doing for years and years.

But now the fight’s over. And Joshua commends them for their OBEDIENCE, and for their COMMITMENT TO THEIR BROTHERS. Look at v3. “Go home!” Joshua says. “You’ve done A GREAT JOB, You’ve been obedient. And haven’t deserted your brothers. And you’ve been there for the long haul.”

He’s given them the COMPLIMENT. But now it’s time for THE HARD WORD. The warning. V5.(Josh 22:5 NIV) BUT – be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”“Watch out!” He says. Keep obeying God.

And look how many different ways he says it. Keep. Love. Walk. Obey. Hold FAST. Serve. With all your HEART. With all your SOUL. Joshua’s not talking about some superficial religious observance. A one day a week commitment. He’s not interested in a bunch of part-time, clock-on clock-off, one-day wonders. Total, absolute, 24-7 dedication. That’s what God requires. What he DESERVES. Complete submission. In thought, word, and action. In motivations, desires, emotions. Everything is to be devoted to obeying God. That’s to be the general pattern of your life. Stick by him. Don’t let go. Don’t look away.

Does that describe YOUR life? Are you CONSISTENTLY RELIABLE in how you follow Jesus? Or are there TWO DIFFERENT “You’s”. Is there a SUNDAY self, and a MONDAY TO FRIDAY self? Is there a PRIVATE self, and a PUBLIC SELF? Is there a CONSISTENCY about your behavior, and your thoughts and motivations? Do you wear the same face when you look in the mirror that you do at morning tea? Do you speak to your family the same way you speak to people here?

Joshua’s challenge is a BIG ONE, isn’t it? Perhaps our problem is/ you’re not sure you actually WANT to be that committed. Perhaps you have the sneaking suspicion that by being a Christian/ you’re MISSING OUT on something. You’re not convinced that God’s way is ENOUGH to make you happy. And so you try to have the best of both worlds. Perhaps you follow Jesus but you’re not convinced his way is REALLY all there is to life. You DON’T hold fast to him. You DON’T serve him with all your heart and soul. And so you grab hold of OTHER things AS WELL. You grab at being successful, and rich, and popular, and important and valued, and respected, AS WELL. Just so you can be REALLY happy. You DIP YOUR TOE in religion. But then you keep your OTHER life going. Because that’s what SATISFIES you. At least you HOPE it will. But the problem is/ by trying to have the best of both/ you miss out. You miss out on the RICHNESS that God’s offering.

It’s like snow-boarding and skiing. Thomas and Kip and Dion went a few weeks ago. Imagine they couldn’t decide which to do, which would be more FUN. So they tried to do both, at the same time. Ski on one leg and snowboard on the other. It would be RIDICULOUS. (But HILARIOUS! I’d like to see the GoPro video of THAT!) The problem is they’d have LESS fun, not TWICE the fun. COMPLETE devotion to Jesus/ is the way to be happy. To be TRULY rich.

I’m UTTERLY CONVINCED that the more we hold onto God. The more we hand over EVERY PART OF OUR LIVES. The more we give him EVERYTHING. And GIVE UP everything. The more JOY we’ll find in God. Jesus said, (in Matthew 13:44) 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and SOLD ALL HE HAD and bought that field. Or, it’s like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Jesus is so valuable, he’s worth us investing EVERYTHING into. That’s a big challenge! He’s the bottomless well. The deeper we dive, the more we want to go deeper. The more we KNOW about God, the more we realise how LITTLE we know. But the more we want to know MORE. The more we grow LIKE him, the more we realize how UNLIKE him we are. The more we love him, the greater our hunger to love him more.

The Psalmist puts it like this. Psalm 37. (Psa 37:3-4 NIV) Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. {4} DELIGHT YOURSELF IN THE LORD AND HE WILL GIVE YOU THE DESIRES OF YOUR HEART.

If we delight ourselves in God, he’ll give us what we want. And what is it that you want when you delight in God? God! He’ll give you more of HIMSELF, he promises. A greater understanding of who he is. And how much he loves us. A greater awareness of his Spirit living with you. And even greater delight.

Some people think God’s a killjoy. (That He gives us rules to stop us having fun.) But it’s the exact opposite. God loves us to have joy. And the best joy is to dive into the deep end of God.

 

CS Lewis says that “it’s not that God finds our desires too strong. But too weak”. We settle for the second-best the world offers as fun, when TRUE joy and fun are found in God. Lewis says we’re “half-hearted creatures/ like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he can’t imagine what a holiday at the sea is like. We’re far TOO easily pleased”

Steven Curtis Chapman compares this settling for second best (earthly pleasures) / to “playing gameboy in the middle of the grand Canyon. Or eating candy at a gourmet feast. Or wading in a puddle when I could be swimming in the ocean”

Go on! I DARE you! Dive into the deep end with God. No half-measures! See if God’s promises doesn’t come true – {4} DELIGHT YOURSELF IN THE LORD AND HE WILL GIVE YOU THE DESIRES OF YOUR HEART.

When we’re totally besotted with God. When our lives are completely controlled by pleasing Him. Then it will be easier not to be distracted by those OTHER things. Because they’ve LOST their ATTRACTION.

That’s Joshua’s first warning. Be watchful against personal disobedience. Be careful to follow him closely.

  1. Watchful against OTHER’S DISOBEDIENCE. (9-12)

Next, Joshua sends them on their way. But here’s where the misunderstanding starts. Because the 2 ½ tribes get to the edge of the Jordan, and they build an altar. It must have been a pretty serious pile of rocks. Verse 10 says it’s an IMPOSING altar. It’s literally “an altar great to look at”. They were pretty serious. This thing was going to be around for a while.

Notice we don’t yet know WHY they built it? And the rest of Israel isn’t too sure either. But, in v 11, they assume the worst. (Josh 22:11-12 NIV) And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, {12} the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.

The land’s just got peace. And now Israel going to start fighting itself! They’ve been united against the ENEMY. Now there’s no enemy, they TURN ON THEMSELVES. How tragic! So, why is one little altar such a big deal? Down in v16 we find out what they were thinking.

(Josh 22:16 NIV) “The whole assembly of the LORD says: ‘How could you BREAK FAITH WITH THE GOD OF ISRAEL like this? How could you turn away from the LORD and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now?

They assume the altar’s a sign of REBELLION. Of DISOBEDIENCE. In fact, they’re worried it’s going to be another sin of PEOR, or a sin of ACHAN. In both those examples, the sin of ONE PERSON, or A GROUP OF PEOPLE, resulted in God punishing LOTS of PEOPLE. In the case of Peor, God killed 24,000 by plague because SOME people worshipped Baal. And for Achan, even though it was only Achan who sinned, Israel lost lives in battle because of him.

And they’re worried the same thing’s going to happen again. They’re watchful of OTHER’S disobedience because they realise God will punish EVERYONE. That’s what they say in v18.(Josh 22:18 NIV) And are you now turning away from the LORD? “‘If you rebel against the LORD today, tomorrow he will be angry with THE WHOLE COMMUNITY OF ISRAEL.It’s in EVERYONE’S interest that we don’t sin. That we stay obedient.

And the same is true today. Churches are torn apart by the sinfulness of one or two people. MANY suffer because of the sin of a few. And so we need to be watchful of other’s disobedience. And we need to be prepared to do something about it. Perhaps to show TOUGH LOVE. For the sake of keeping God’s people together.

  1. Watchful against MISUNDERSTANDING.

Thirdly, we need to be watchful against MISUNDERSTANDINGS. I’m sure most of us have experienced it at one time or another. We SAY something, or DO something that was perfectly innocent, or from good motives. And someone takes it the wrong way. Assumes we’re trying to UNDERMINE them, or we’re OUT TO GET THEM. Or we HATE them. We need to be careful about misunderstandings. And we can learn this lesson from Israel. They could very easily have gone to war. Shoot first, and asked questions later. But they didn’t. Look at v13. They send a delegation to ASK QUESTIONS FIRST. V16 “The whole assembly of the LORD says: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? Etc. They want to check the facts. To hear the other side of the story. And that’s a great thing to do. To be watchful against misunderstandings.

And often when you DO check the facts, you find that there was nothing to worry about. Often the other person is actually GRATEFUL you pointed it out because they weren’t aware of the problem. That’s happened to me. I was in a meeting chaired by another minister. And I had a splitting headache. And I guess I must have been sharing my bad temper around. Making cynical comments that made it obvious to everyone how I was feeling. No one said anything at the time, but that night the minister phoned me up. “I felt like there was a problem between us today. Have I done something wrong? Are you unhappy about something I’m doing” I hadn’t even realised there was an issue. Rather than letting things continue, he’d confronted the problem. And made sure there was no misunderstanding. It would have been easier NOT to make the phone call. But I’m glad he did. I was able to apologise. And reassure him that it was just my bad temper. And I believe we’re closer as a result. It was actually an opportunity to BUILD a bridge, rather than TEAR ONE DOWN.

And there was a good ending in the case of Israel, too. Once the 2 ½ tribes get the chance to explain themselves, everyone realises that everything’s fine. Look down at v33. (Josh 22:33 NIV) They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where the Reubenites and the Gadites lived. That’s the third lesson. Be watchful against misunderstanding.

  1. Watchful against FORGETTING

And the fourth lesson is to be watchful against FORGETTING. This is the very thing the 2 ½ tribes were worried about. And why they built the altar in the first place. Look at what they say as they explain themselves. First, they say what they WEREN’T doing. It had nothing to do with disobedience. Verse 22. (Josh 22:22-23 NIV) “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the LORD, do not spare us this day. {23} If we have built our own altar to turn away from the LORD and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the LORD himself call us to account.

That’s pretty emotional language! And then they explain why they DID build the altar. It’s all about making sure that everyone REMEMBERS GOD. It’s all very well for everyone to be united NOW. For everyone to be joined together in their obedience to God.

But they’re afraid that it won’t ALWAYS BE LIKE THAT. They’re afraid that generations to come will treat the Jordan River like a dividing wall. The Iron Curtain, or the Berlin Wall. Separating ONE half of God’s people from THE OTHER. Verse 24.

(Josh 22:24-25 NIV) “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? {25} The LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you–you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the LORD.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the LORD.

Their fear was that this disunity would stop their children from fearing God. That was why it was so important to remember where they’d come from. So that their children would continue to follow God.

So rather than the altar being a symbol of REBELLION and DISunity, it was actually the very oppposite. A symbol of their commitment to KEEP worshipping God, and to KEEP united. Verse 27. (Josh 22:27 NIV) On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we WILL worship the LORD at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings.

These people were seriously committed to making sure that they didn’t forget where they’d come from. Making sure they didn’t forget WHO they worshipped. And WHY. Are WE that serious about making sure OUR children continue following God? One of my friends is an elder at my last church. A very godly guy. But as a teenager, he was pretty wild. He tells the story about his Christian parents having family devotions as he grew up. And he said that, for the most part, they were TERRIBLE times. He and his brother and sister just DIDN’T want to be there. They sulked and sloached and moaned. It was a BATTLE.

But EVERY NIGHT, after dinner, his parents PERSISTED. They’d talk, read the bible, they’d pray. And he said it was that PERSISTENCE that spoke more to him than any words they might have spoken. They showed by their ACTIONS how important their faith was. And how much they wanted to make sure their children remembered the Lord. They were watchful against their children FORGETTING.How serious are you about making sure your children remember?

And that’s the fourth lesson. Remembering God, and what he’s done for us in Jesus, is crucial for keeping God’s people together. Because we’re only united as one body because we’re joined to the one head – that’s Jesus.

Ultimately it’s our RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS that’s the source of any relationship with each other. And if we lose that/ then God’s people just disintegrate. The BODY falls apart. It was a body that was SO VALUABLE to Jesus/ he DIED for it. A bride, whose husband GAVE HIS LIFE FOR.

What are YOU willing to give/ to keep the unity and peace and health in Christ’s body here at Ashfield. Let’s work HARD at building bridges/ to genuine community/ around Christ.

 

Joshua 23-24: As for me and my house – we will serve the Lord!

When it’s time for you to go, will it be with a WHIMPER? Or with a BANG?

Gough Whitlam went out with a bang.

That day when the Governor General, John Kerr, sacked him as Prime Minister, he stood on the steps of the old Parliament House, and roared those famous words, “Well may we say ‘God save the Queen’ because nothing will save the Governor General!”

Let me tell you about a much less famous occasion. Of someone going out with a roar. Not quite as animated, or over-the-top. But every bit as important!

His name was Tony Goldsby-Smith. And he was my Year 12 English teacher. I was no huge fan of English –DH Lawrence, TS Elliot and William Shakespeare didn’t really do much for me. But Tony Goldsby Smith was a man I respected.

He was a great teacher. Quiet and reserved, but great classroom control, and a great insight into literature.

We’d come to our last lesson. Week one of Term 4. We all filed into class, talking noisily. There was an air of excitement about the place. Only one week ‘till Stuvac. Only a month ‘til it was all over!

Tony was sitting on top of the desk, which WASN’T unusual. He was looking quite nervous, which WAS unusual. He normally seemed so confident. He waited until everyone was quiet. I can’t remember his exact words, but they went something like this.

“This will probably be the last time I’ll see many of you. Pretty soon school will be a distant memory. We’ve talked about lots of important things over the last two years. But I want to spend this last lesson telling you about someone who’s more important than any of them.”

And he proceeded to spend the rest of the lesson telling us his testimony. Why Jesus was the most important person in his life. How he’d changed. How his goals and ambitions and direction in life were different because of Jesus.

And how EACH ONE OF US needed to allow Jesus to do the same things for us.

There wasn’t a sound for the whole lesson. At the end, he handed everyone a New Testament as they left. Each one had a hand-written bible verse in it.

I don’t know what effect that talk had on the lives of the students. I was already a Christian, and I still remember it nearly 19 years later.

As far as the world sees things, it probably didn’t seem to be that impressive a way to go out, but I reckon that in God’s eyes, it made a pretty big impression.

That’s REALLY going out with a bang, not a whimper.

And that’s what Joshua was choosing to do, too. To go out with a bang, not a whimper.

In a sense, my teacher was making the same DECLARATION as Joshua. “Choose this day who you’ll serve. False gods, or the true God? But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

It’s a bold declaration, isn’t it! I don’t care what anyone else does! I know the truth. I have no choice but to follow it.

That was the declaration of the early Christian, Polycarp. He was the Bishop of Smyrna.That was a town in modern-day Turkey. And he was martyred – killed because he was a Christian – about 150 AD.

He was brought before the Roman governor. The governor wanted him to swear by Caesar. In other words, to take an oath to serve only Caesar.

When Polycarp refused, he was threatened with being thrown to the lions.

“Bring on the beasts,” said Polycarp.

“If you scorn the BEASTS, I’ll have you BURNED,” the Governor responded.

“You try to frighten me with the fire that burns for AN HOUR, and you forget the fire of hell that never goes out.”

Then Polycarp made his declaration. “”Four score and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong: how then can I revile my King, my Savior?”

He was burned at the stake. That’s going out with a bang, not a whimper.

But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Is that your declaration? Can you say those words with Joshua? “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”?

That’s exactly what Joshua wants – that we declare OUR allegiance, too. That we join with Joshua in serving God.

His speech here, at the end of his life, is more than just a chance to congratulate himself. To slap himself on the back. More than just some old guy looking back, nostalgically, at his life.

He’s making his choice – taking his stand- and challenging Israel, and us, to stand with him.

But he does more than just make his choice. He tells us HOW we can do that. What it involves to FOLLOW THROUGH with the declaration. Because it takes more than GOOD INTENTIONS to keep serving God for the long haul.

Joshua’s message is that we can serve God by

  1. remembering God’s mercies.
  2. obeying God’s commands.
  3. recognising our own inability to do it.

1. By remembering God’s mercies

Firstly, we’re enabled, or encouraged, to serve God by REMEMBERING HIS MERCIES.

Notice how Joshua points the Israelites back? “Look back to how God’s dealt with you. Identify his hand at work. Remember!”

Sometimes it’s good to look back. At other times – perhaps not!

An old were talking quietly in the hospital. The old man was lying motionless in his bed. He’d been slipping in and out of a coma for several weeks. His wife sat by his side. She’d been there every single day.

One day, when he came to, he motioned for her to come nearer.

As she leaned forward, he whispered, eyes full of tears, “You’ve been with me all through the bad times. When I got fired, you were there to support me. When my business failed, you were there. When I got shot, you were by my side. When we lost the house, you stayed right here. When my health started failing, you were still by my side ….You know what?”

“What dear?” She gently asked, smiling as her heart began to fill with warmth.

“I think you’re bad luck.”

Sometimes, it’s not such a good idea to look back.

But not in Joshua’s case. Once again, he reminds Israel how God’s brought them this far. Verse 2 of Ch 24.

(Josh 24:2-4 NIV)  Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods. {3} But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, {4} and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.

God chose Abraham – perhaps even while he was worshipping other gods. And he showed him the land of Canaan. And gave him descendants.

And Joshua CONTINUES. God was there in Egypt. He brought them out. He killed the Egyptians in the Red Sea. He brought them through the desert. He defeat enemies there.

Then they crossed the Jordan, and came to Jericho. Verse 11. And God gave them all those nations with the funny names.

(slowly) And Joshua concludes in v13.

(Josh 24:13 NIV)  So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’

Everything they have/ is by God’s POWER and his MERCY. Nothing they have is because they WORKED for it, or DESERVED it.

It’s ALL by grace.

And it’s the same for you. Do you know that?

Do you know it with your HEART, not just your head? Does it TOUCH YOUR EMOTIONS when you think about God’s goodness to you? That there’s not a single, solitary thing that you’ve ever done to DESERVE God’s goodness.

Or is it only a truth in an INTELLECTUAL, or a RATIONAL way.

Nothing you have, or are. Is because you deserve it. It’s all by grace. So be grateful. ACT grateful. LIVE grateful.

Remembering God’s mercies motivates us to serve him.

“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

2. By obeying God’s commands

Joshua’s second point is that serving the Lord involves OBEDIENCE TO HIS COMMANDS. Look back to Ch 23 v 6.

(Josh 23:6 NIV)  “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left.

And, in particular, Joshua highlights ONE AREA of obedience. That of worshipping OTHER GODS. It’s such a dangerous temptation that God doesn’t even want them to mix with the PEOPLE who worship the gods. It’s too easy to be sucked in.

Look at how he goes on to describe the spiritual tug of war. LET GO of one, and HOLD ONTO the other. Throw away the lies. And catch hold of the truth. Verse 7 of Ch 23.

(Josh 23:7-8 NIV)  DO NOT ASSOCIATE with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. {8} But you are to HOLD FAST to the LORD your God, as you have until now.

Joshua’s describing an either/or situation. Perhaps they were tempted to keep their options open. A little bit of this, and a little bit of that. Hedging their bets.

But that’s not good enough for God. It’s all or nothing. Verse 12.

(Josh 23:12-13 NIV)  “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, {13} then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the LORD your God has given you.

There are serious consequences for dipping your toe in the ly pool of idolatry.

SNARES AND TRAPS are the sorts of things that catch you when you least expect it. Are you playing with idols?

Financial security, emotional comfort, job satisfaction, materialism, professional recognition.

They’re all idols that the world bows down to. Be careful that they don’t jump up and bite you when you least expect it.

You see, our Christian life is like a canoe. And the world is like the water. A canoe is designed to move through the water. It just doesn’t work if you take the canoe out of the water. And it doesn’t work when you take a Christian out of the world. We’re not designed to be cut off from the world. We’re designed to live in the world, and to move through it.

But there’s more. Canoes are designed to move THROUGH the water, but not be FILLED with water. If the canoe’s got a hole in it, you’re in trouble. The more water that’s in the canoe, the worse it goes.

And the more world that’s in the Christian the worse he goes.

Turn away from all other gods. Don’t let them leak into your canoe.

“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And we can only do that when we hold fast to God, and let go of all other gods.

3. By recognising my inability to serve him – 24:19-20

Joshua’s third point seems a strange one. We can only truly serve the Lord when we recognise our inability to serve him.

What do I mean by that?

Flip back over to Ch 24. In verse 14 Joshua’s just pleaded with them to throw their pet gods away, and to serve the Lord.

And in v15 he gives them the choice. And strangely enough, it’s a choice in THREE.

(Josh 24:15 NIV)  But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether THE GODS YOUR FOREFATHERS SERVED beyond the River, or THE GODS OF THE AMORITES, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, WE WILL SERVE THE LORD.”

The old traditional gods? The new trendy gods? Or the true God?

And the people immediately respond, “No worries! We’ll serve the LORD, because he’s our God.”

But they’ve answered too quickly. They’ve rushed the decision. And so, Joshua gives them a strange reply. Verse 19.

(Josh 24:19-20 NIV)  Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. {20} If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

“Don’t take God lightly!” Joshua warns. “Don’t presume on his mercy!”

It’s no good SAYING you’ll serve God, but then running after the OTHER gods. He’s not interested in that sort of commitment. He WON’T forgive you/ if that’s what you attitude’s going to be. Don’t even bother!

And sometimes we can fall into the same trap. In our tradition we’ve had it hammered home to us – you’re saved by grace alone. Not works. Grace alone. Not works.

And so it’s very easy to fall into the trap/ of not worrying about our sin. Because forgiveness is just a prayer away.

But that’s treating God, and his mercy, like a PROCESS, or a MECHANISM. Not a PERSON who can be HURT, and INSULTED.

Joshua reminds us;

(Josh 24:19 NIV)  “You are not able to serve the LORD (with an attitude like that). He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins.

When we start to get too sure of ourselves. Too confident in our own ability, we’re setting ourselves up for a fall. Because NOONE is able to perfectly satisfy the requirements of a Holy God.

And the writer of Joshua knew that it wasn’t long before Israel stumbled, too. Look forward to Ch 24 v31. and read between the lines.

(Josh 24:31 NIV)  Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel.

What’s the assumption when we read that they served God during the lifetime of Joshua and the other elders? (pause for answer)

That they STOPPED serving once they DIED. And that’s what happened. Listen to Judges 2:7. The very next book.

(Judg 2:7-14 NIV)  The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel. {8} Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. {9} And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, …. {10} After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, WHO KNEW NEITHER THE LORD NOR WHAT HE HAD DONE FOR ISRAEL. {11} THEN THE ISRAELITES DID EVIL IN THE EYES OF THE LORD AND SERVED THE BAALS. {12} They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger {13} …

{14} In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.

Joshua’s warning came true. Israel WASN’T able to follow God. They turned away, and he DIDN’T forgive their sin.

All the good intentions in the world counted for nothing. They made a promise. They even drew up a covenant. A legal contract. Between them and God. Specifying all the things they’d do.

But in the end it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Or the parchment. Or the stone. Because it was a covenant that noone was actually able to keep. It was an old covenant. An obsolete agreement. A useless contract.

What was needed was a NEW COVENANT. An agreement between God and man that could actually be KEPT. That was FEASIBLE.

And it’s just as well for us/ that God DID organise JUST SUCH A COVENANT.

A NEW covenant. An EFFECTIVE covenant. A covenant satisfied, and ratified, by Jesus. Listen to Heb ch 9 v 15.

(Heb 9:15 NIV)  For this reason CHRIST IS THE MEDIATOR OF A NEW COVENANT, that those who are called (that’s YOU and ME) may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

This is a treaty that can actually DELIVER. We CAN receive the promised eternal inheritance.

What the first covenant was never able to do – to deal with the sin that separated evil mankind from holy God – Jesus dealt with through the sacrifice of himself.

It’s only by recognising our DEPENDENCE on that act, that it’s possible for us to declare with Joshua, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

It’s only by recognising our own INABILITY to satisfy God that we truthfully declare “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Serve the Lord by remembering his mercies, by obeying his commands, and by recognising your own inability to serve him.

“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Let’s pray.

Sometimes our declarations are in SONGS. There are SOME songs we need to think carefully about/ before we sing them. Do we really MEAN what we sing?

There’s an old hymn some of you might know. It goes like this;

“I know not why God’s wondrous grace

to me he has made known.

Nor why, unworthy, Christ, in love,

Redeemed me for his own.

But I know whom I have believed,

And am persuaded that he is able

To keep that which I’ve committed unto him

Until that day.