Lessons from Joshua

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In this sermon we will have a look at some of the lessons that we can learn from the nation of Israel during the time of Joshua.

As we move into the leadership of Joshua, we can imagine what an exciting time it is for the children of Israel on the border of the Promised Land. Those that remained at the end of the time in the wilderness would have watched a whole generation die off in the wilderness, those who were children when they started wandering were now well progressed in age and have been waiting their whole lives for this opportunity and finally it is just around the corner. It’s the kind of excitement we should have, on the border of the Promised Land.

Joshua chapter 1 really lays down the groundwork for the rest of the book. Some of the lessons are positive, but some of them are warnings also. They had been wandering in the wilderness for forty years and many of the leaders they had known and trusted were dropping off. Aaron had gone, Moses was also gone and no longer the leader who they had followed for so long, and everything was changing so fast. In this short space of time after Joshua became their leader everything was changing. The people who had to die off before they could enter the land would have now been gone also, friends, family, people they had lived with and trusted for so long. They would have looked back over the last 38 years since they sent the spies out and seen the many mistakes during that time, they had been paying for them ever since and now was the time to move on and leave them all behind.

In Joshua chapter 1, he is trying to motivate the people and move them on. They are on the border of the Promised Land and now is the time to move on from the events of the past few months, to leave behind all the experiences in the wilderness and leave behind those who were not destined to enter into the land. Joshua trusts in God to know what he is doing.

The problem is we can get stuck in the events of life, sometimes we can miss the big picture in our lives. Perhaps we are mulling over the past and what could have been, but sometimes we need to stand back and realise what is being accomplished and see how God is using each one of us to develop ourselves.

Here on the border of the Promised Land, the children of Israel had lost a great leader, but there was a good reason why Moses couldn’t go into the land for he was also a lawgiver. The children of Israel had trusted in Moses, but they would look back through the years and think of Moses as the law, and you only need to look at the writings of the apostle Paul to see how difficult it was to drive out of the people the dependence on the law.

God had to show that the law was never designed to bring the people into the Promised Land, and so it was to be on the basis of Joshua, that God’s Salvation, would come to the people to take them into the land. The people had to understand this principle and so he sets up Joshua as the leader to take them in by faith. All they had to do was to trust in God and He would do the rest. Notice how often in Joshua chapter 1 a key phrase comes up. That phrase is “the land that I am giving to them”.

Jos 1:2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.

Jos 1:3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.

Jos 1:6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.

V11 talks of the 2 ½ tribes.

Jos 1:11 “Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, ‘Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.'” Jos 1:12 And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, Jos 1:13 “Remember the word that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, ‘The LORD your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’

And twice in v15

Jos 1:15 until the LORD gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they also take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and shall possess it, the land that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.

You couldn’t ask for a more explicit phrase. It was not on the basis of what they had done, but it was on the basis of being a gift of grace from God. All over the Bible we see the same message, but sometimes we can tend to miss it. It was on the basis of God’s grace that He was going to give them the land, and this would be the motivation. We could never deserve the Promised Land, we could never earn it, we could never pay him back for it, but because of what he has done for us we will want to live with Him, we will want to agree with Him and serve Him. He provides the motivation. The gift of His land and the death of His son should be all the motivation we need.

We have a tendency to look back on our lives at times when we have trusted in faith and times when we have trusted in works. It’s difficult to get a balance as James tells us when he is talking about faith and works in balance together. But in this whole account of Joshua we see a lovely balance of the two. In Joshua there is one who is able to lead them into the land, and by putting their trust in Joshua, and ultimately God, they will enter the land, but they had to get up and face the giants to do it, they had to join together as a community and fight for God. Those are what James would call the works of faith. They were not the works of the law, but of faith, in believing that God will accomplish things that you could never dream of doing yourself. They could not have gone into the land and circumcised themselves without God protecting them for the days after. Marching around Jericho for seven days would have given the city plenty of time to prepare defences, and these were all acts of faith, trusting that God was right and therefore being obedient to Him and letting God take care of the things that were out of their control.

As we look through this first chapter of Joshua, you will see that God gives him a motivational speech.

Jos 1:5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.

God would be with him, it’s a speech that we all need to hear.

God is with them and no-one will be able to stand before them. It is all on the basis of belief and faith, and God will take care of everything.

God is giving us the land and he is doing something for us that we could never do. Jesus had provided the basis of salvation for the human race and showed that our nature is something that had to be overcome and we have to take up our cross like Jesus did. We can believe and have faith, but where does the encouragement come from, where does the power to put that faith into practice everyday come from. Well, it comes from meditating on the Word of God,

Jos 1:8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success

And so we are to not let the Bible leave our minds, it is our motivation by constantly reminding us of the good things that are waiting for us, the wonderful gift that God has given us.

But how much time do we spend really meditating over the Word of God. Our lives are so fast-paced, after reading this we will probably have our minds on other things within a few minutes and the lessons from this will be pushed to the back of our minds. We might quickly do our readings, but then what? Are we quickly into something else? We really need to take the time to meditate on the Bible, so that it has the power to change our lives. Joshua knew that’s what would change these people’s lives, and would make them prosperous and they would work together and take the land of Canaan.

Towards the end of the chapter Joshua reminds the 2 ½ tribes of their duty in taking over the land of Canaan.

Jos 1:12 And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, Jos 1:13 “Remember the word that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, ‘The LORD your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’ Jos 1:14 Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but all the men of valor among you shall pass over armed before your brothers and shall help them,

So they are not going to cross over at this time. Can you imagine that? They are going to leave all the families behind while the men of valour will cross over and fight for the land. Again faith comes into play, trusting God that he knows what he is doing and he will take care of the rest. The 2 ½ tribes to their credit are faithful to their duty and help the other tribes take the land.

You might think that reading over the next few chapters as they conquered the land it all happened quickly, maybe a year or so, but it would have been more like 7 years that they were fighting for the land. We find that out in a speech given by Caleb in chapter 14 after they had taken the land.

Jos 14:10 And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the LORD spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old.

It was 45 years since they were told that they were going to wander and 38 years of that time was spent wandering in the wilderness and so the other seven since have been spent fighting in the land.

That was a long time for these tribes to be away from their families, the men spending about 7 years on the western side of the Jordan, living with the other tribes, fighting alongside the other tribes, setting up ambushes, trusting each other, basically doing everything together.

Imagine transferring to a new church and spending everyday with them for seven years. It would be a huge change, but it you would become very close. So at the end of the seven years you would imagine that a lot of friends had been made, and lot of trust had been built up.

But watch what happens when they go home with the commandment in v5 to “ love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments”.

Jos 22:10 And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size.

This altar is not something they ever intended to use, but v11 “ And the people of Israel heard it”, the rumour came to their ears and immediately they sought to go to war with the 2 ½ tribes.

For seven years they had lived and worked together, but suddenly, one little rumour and they are ready to go and fight each other. How sad is that? Seven years they stood side by side, but that’s human nature for you. It’s the way we are, we don’t trust each other, we are unkind to each other.

Fortunately there were some clear heads who decided to send Phinehas (the same Phinehas who stopped the plague), along with a chief leader from each of the ten tribes, people who they trusted, and they go and enquire what they the 2 ½ tribes think they are doing and find out what this treachery is.

They had learned the lesson from the plague and how God had been angry with them because of the mistakes of a few. They pleaded with them not to rebel, to remember the sin of one man Achan and his family, and that everybody had to pay for that.

Then the 2 ½ tribes responded, and said if the altar had been built in rebellion to let the Lord take vengeance, and explained the real reason for building the altar in v24

Jos 22:24 No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? Jos 22:25 For the LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the LORD.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the LORD. Jos 22:26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, Jos 22:27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the LORD in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the LORD.”‘

Nobody from the 2 ½ tribes had considered it to be an act of rebellion, and that’s the reason why we should always talk things over, for sometimes we may have got the wrong end of the stick completely.

We often have to defend the truth as a community, but at the same time when we come to deal with our brethren and sisters we have to put that fighting spirit aside and not make the mistake that Israel nearly made. In the end they went the correct way about it, by sending someone to find out the facts and report back, just like Phinehas and the other leaders, not everyone went to hear the story, just a few representatives, and as far as we know the altar they built remained. It was never intended as an altar for offerings. The 2 ½ tribes never expected the other tribes to come and fight against them, they were more concerned about what was going to come in the future and set up the altar as a witness for future generations.

It is a warning to us though, that while we have to fight for God sometimes, we have to be careful we don’t take that fighting spirit to each other. If we hear a rumour we mustn’t think the worst, these are the people who we stand side by side with and we shouldn’t be quick to judge.

So now we turn our thoughts to the bread and the cup of wine. If we are stuck on events in our lives from the past then now is the time to take the lesson from Joshua and leave them behind as we move on to the Promised Land, leaving our mistakes of the past behind, moving on in faith, letting God take care of everything. Let us thank God for his grace and remember as Joshua said that He has given us the land, and also remember that He has given us his Son. He has done something that we could never have done ourselves, and what he has done for us should motivate us into doing those good works, to obey Him and serve Him, and to not let the Book of the Law depart from our mouths, but to meditate on it day and night and think about what God is trying to do in our lives. Let us thank God for Jesus, someone who was willing to trust God in absolutely everything, he set an example for us and encourages us to respond to the gift of God’s grace, to serve God and serve one another as we stand on the border to the Promised Land.

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