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Joshua 1: Obeying God's Commands by Remembering God's Promises Print E-mail
Sunday, 27 January 2008

If a person picked up the Bible and starting reading it for the first time and made it through Genesis and maybe the first few chapters of Exodus, but then skipped ahead to the Kings material, they might have this question: How did Israel go from being slaves in Egypt to rulers of Canaan?  Or if they made it through what we call the Pentateuch (first five books of the OT) and then stopped, they might be asking a similar question: What about that promise to Abraham and Moses and Israel concerning the land?  How did that work out?  The book of Joshua answers these and other questions about the history of Israel and her relation to Yahweh.  It is a book about the conquering of the land (chapters 1-12) and the division of the land (chapters 13-24).  It tells us how Israel came to dwell in the land of Canaan.

Yet, it is not just a book about land or military conquest.  As we have said, it is a book about God keeping His promises.  He made a promise to give Israel the land of Canaan, and the book of Joshua records the fulfillment of that promise.  Thus, the book teaches us that God keeps His promises, a simple but profound truth revealed throughout the Scriptures.  Likewise, we see in this book that God fights for His people.  He is a Warrior who cannot be defeated.  He is not uninvolved.  We see these and other truths about God clearly in the book of Joshua.  In a very real way, the book prepares us for the battle that Jesus fought and won at Calvary, a thought we will return to again and again as we work through Joshua.  Thus, may we see our God as a keeper of His promises and a warrior for His people as we study the book of Joshua.

The book begins with Israel encamped on the east side of the Jordan River.  Moses has died and Joshua is left in command.  The battle for Canaan is about to begin and will not end until chapter 12.  Yet, before the battle begins, the author of the book, who is possibly Joshua himself at points but is otherwise unknown, tells us about Godís preparing of Joshua and the people for the battle ahead.  I want to break this chapter into three sections for us this morning in light of these preparations: Godís promises (v. 1-5), Godís commands (v.6-15), and the peopleís response (v.16-18).  Letís begin with Godís promises.

Godís promises (v. 1-5)

The book begins with the Lord reaffirming to Joshua that He will keep His promise to give Israel the land.  Look at verses 1-4.  God remembers His promise to Moses.  The words here are taken directly from this promise in Deuteronomy 11:24.  The land of Canaan is being given to Israel.  As we have already mentioned, this promise goes back all the way to Abraham (see Genesis 15:17-21).  This is why it is called ĎThe Promised Land.í  God told Abraham that He would give this land to His offspring.  God told Moses that even though he would not be able to see it (because of his disobedience at the waters of Meribah, see Numbers 20:2-13), Joshua would lead the people into the land (see Deuteronomy 3:23-29).  And so again, the Lord here promises Joshua that He will deliver the land to Israel.

Yet, this is not His only promise.  Look at verse 5.  The Lord promised the people the land, He promises Joshua His presence.  We are told that Joshua, son of Nun, was a good warrior (see Exodus 18:8-13), a servant to Moses and follower of God (Exodus 33:11), and, with Caleb, one of the only spies who believed that God would give them the land (Numbers 13-14).  Yet, even so, the Lord knows that the days ahead will be difficult for Joshua.  He knows that the battle will be hard.  Thus, He gives Joshua the best promise a person can receive: I will never leave you or forsake you.  The Lord does not promise Joshua that things will be easy or that circumstances will always be bright.  In fact, it seems that the opposite is true, for the land will not be possessed without a battle.  Yet, the Lord promises Joshua that He will not face a day alone.  No matter how dark or how bleak things get for Joshua, he can always know that the Lord is with him.

As believers preparing and fighting in constant spiritual battles, what promises have we been given?  Well, I could spend years answering that question, but in light of the promises that we see here, let me just mention two.  First, we are not just promised the land of Canaan, we are promised the Kingdom of God.  Look at Matthew 5:3ff.  These are unbelievable promises from Christ.  We are not just promised a small portion of land, we are promised the earth and the Kingdom of heaven.  I do not have time to go into what all this means and its implications, but I point it out to encourage us as we prepare for battle, as we send out missionaries to all the world and as we go next door to share with our neighbors. 

Second, we, like Joshua, are promised the presence of God.  Look at Matthew 28:18-20.  In giving the Great Commission, Jesus gave us a glorious promise: I will be with you.  Just as the Lord spoke to Joshua on the brink of the battle for Canaan, so Jesus says to us as we engage in the battle for souls, ĎI will never leave you or forsake you.í  Brothers and sisters, we must be aware of Godís promises to us as believers.  He has not told us that it would be easy, but He has told us that we will not be alone. 

Godís commands (v. 6-15)

Since God promised the land to Israel, that means that Joshua can just set back and watch the Lord work, right?  No, the people must fight and Joshua must lead them in the battle.  The Lord gives him some specific commands in verses 6-9.  Look at those verses with me.  God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous and to obey the Word.  Three times the Lord tells Joshua to be strong and courageous.  The Lord knows that he will be given many opportunities to turn from the battle, many opportunities to doubt and fear, so He tells him from the beginning: Be strong and courageous.  What is the basis of such strength and courage?  Again, the Lord tells him that He will be with him (see v. 9).  Is it not an amazing truth that the Lord gives to His people what He commands from them? 

The Lord also commands Joshua to follow the Law of Moses.  This was Godís Word to Israel at this time and they were to follow it.  Joshua, as the leader, was to meditate on it and be careful to obey it.  He was to lead the people in obeying it.  Here we see the clear connection between faithful leadership of Godís people and obeying the Word.  If Joshua is going to faithfully lead Israel into Canaan, then he must obey Godís Word and be strong and courageous.

Through Joshua, the Lord has a command for the people as well.  In order to understand this, we need to explain the background.  The tribe of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh had settled in the land east of the Jordan, where Israel was currently encamped.  Yet, they had promised to go and fight with Israel when they entered the land of Canaan (see Deuteronomy 3:18-22).  After instructing the officers to get the people ready for crossing the Jordan, Joshua addresses these tribes.  Look at verses 12-15.  The Lord commands these tribes through Joshua to keep their promise to fight.  They could be tempted to just remain in their land and take it easy, but Joshua reminds them of their promise and of Godís promise to them.  They must fight.

Just as God has given us promises as believers in Christ, He has also given us commands.  Once again, I cannot cover them all in one sermon, but following the text here, let me point out two.  First, God commands us, particularly our leaders, to follow His Word.  Look at 2 Timothy 4:1-5.  Paul is leaving Timothy final instructions for his continued ministry.  He exhorts Timothy to be faithful in preaching the Word to the people.  He knew that the time would come when Timothy would be tempted to do something else, something more popular, something more entertaining for the people.  Yet, Paul told Timothy to hold fast in the ministry of the Word.  Just as the Lord told Joshua to hold fast to the Word and to be strong and courageous, so Paul tells Timothy (and all ministers of the gospel) to preach the Word in season and out. 

Ministry is not measured in numbers or budgets, but in adherence to the text.  This was true for Joshua, true for Timothy, and true today.  Second, God commands us to be strong and courageous in our battle against evil.  Look at Ephesians 6:10-18a.  Our enemies are not the Canaanites, they are not flesh and bone, but they are real.  Our battle is not for cities and land with swords and clubs, but it is nonetheless dangerous and demanding.  Thus, may we stand firm and fight hard.  May we put on the armor of the Lord and be strong and courageous as we march into enemy occupied territory with the very power of God: the gospel of Jesus Christ!!

The peopleís response (v. 16-18)

Will the people follow Joshua?  Will the people accept him as their leader?  Will the three tribes keep their promise and go to battle?  We see the answer in verses 16-18.  Look at those with me.  The people make it clear to Joshua that they are behind him.  They will go wherever he directs, deal with whoever rebels against him, and do whatever he asks.  They will not back down from the promise that they had made to the Lord.  This is their response at least at this point.  We will note in the weeks to come how they struggle to fulfill this promise.  Yet, here they affirm their commitment to Joshua.  They recognize that he is Godís appointed leader for them and they willingly submit to his direction.  They too encourage him to be strong and courageous in his leading of them into battle.

Of course, the question then comes to us: how will you respond?  In light of Godís promises to give us the Kingdom and to be with us, will we obey His commands to follow the Word and fight the good fight?  You may be in a place right now that seems similar to what Joshua and the people were facing.  Maybe you look at the days ahead and you are tempted with fear and doubt.  Maybe you have been fighting for so long that you have just grown tired and weary of the war. 

Maybe the battle has not gone like you expected and you are beginning to question what the outcome will be.  It is in these times that we must remember the promises of God.  We must press on in our trust in the Lord.  Why?  Because we know the book of Joshua.  Because we know the Old Testament.  Because we know that Jesus came and defeated all our enemies at the cross and has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us.  He has promised to return for His Bride.  And all of the Bible teaches us that He keeps His promises.  Brothers and sisters, in light of such glorious truth, may we obey the Lordís commands and march faithfully into the battle.  To Him be all the glory in the victory!!  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 06 February 2008 )

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