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Joshua 23: What Has He Done and What Will He Do? Print E-mail
Sunday, 20 April 2008

It is always good to have a warning in advance.  We have seen in recent days how a warning of a tornado can help prepare an entire campus.  In fact, millions of dollars are invested every year in trying to come up with better systems of warning.  Here in Sikeston we have the tornado sirens that are used when necessary.  Strangely enough, even this very week we had some odd weather.  For the first time in my life, I felt an earthquake.  I, like many of you, were awakened Thursday night at 4am by the shaking of my house.  Thankfully, not much damage was done.  Yet, when we think about events like that, we understand how beneficial it can be to actually have a warning of what could potentially happen.

The Bible is full of warnings not about weather, but about judgment.  The biblical writers are constantly warning us about what will happen if we do not obey the Lord, as we see in the passage from Hebrews that we read in our call to worship (10:19-39).  Moses, near the end of his life, warned Israel that the Lord would curse them if they did not obey (Deuteronomy 27-28).  Likewise, Joshua is coming to the end of his life (v. 1, 14).  He too wants to warn Israel against disobedience and call them to continue in faithfully following after the Lord.  In order to get this message across, Joshua reminds Israel of what God has already done for them and what He will do for them.  I want us to consider his warning as we look at these actions of the Lord together.

First, what has the Lord done in the past?

Joshua gives the people two basic answers to this question that have pervaded this book.  First, he reminds them that the Lord has fought for them.  Look at verse 3 and verses 9-10.  Joshua continually reminds them that all credit belongs to the Lord for the battles that they have won, lest they begin to trust in themselves.  It is the Lord who has given them victory.  Second, not only did the Lord give them victory in battle, but He also gave them the land.  Look at verse 4.  This is the whole book of Joshua.  Joshua 1-12 tells us about the Lord fighting for Israel and 13-21 tells us about Him giving the land to the people.  Joshua sums all of this up in verse 14.  Look at that verse with me.  God promised to give them victory and He delivered.  He promised to give them an inheritance and He delivered.  Joshua is once again calling the people to remember all that the Lord has done so that they might continually follow Him.  He set up stones all over the conquered land as a reminder to them of all that God has done.  They have to remember these past actions of the Lord.

As we have pointed out before, this is why we do so much of what we do on Sunday mornings.  Why do we sing the same songs, preach similar sermons, pray familiar prayers, and repeatedly come to the table each week?  Why don’t we just try something new, talk about something different, focus on something more fresh?  Because we never want to forget all that the Lord has done for us in Christ.  Thus, we sing the gospel, preach the gospel, pray the gospel, give to support the spread of the gospel, and eat the bread and drink the cup to never forget the cost and promise of the gospel.  We do all of this because we want to remember all that God has done for us, just as Joshua is calling the people of Israel to do here.

Second, what will the Lord do in the future?

Joshua not only reminds them of all that the Lord has done, but he also warns them about the future.  So, what exactly does he say to them?

First, he tells them that the Lord will bless their obedience.  Look at verse 5.  There are still nations remaining in the Promised Land.  There are still battles to be fought and victories to be won.  Joshua tells the people that if they are faithful to do all that the Lord has commanded them, then He will continue to drive out these peoples from the land.  As we have seen over and over again in the book, there will never come a time (outside of Glory) when God’s people can stop being obedient and faithful to His commands.  I should note that this is not some horrible burden that the Lord has placed on His people, but rather a glorious privilege we are given, for it is always more blessed to be obedient than disobedient.  The Lord commands what we could never do on our own (like driving out the rest of the nations) and then He gives us strength and grace to obey.  He commands us to fight, but He also fights for us.  And as Paul states it: If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).  Look also at verse 10.  Joshua wants the people to know that just as the Lord has fought for them in the past, He will continue to fight for them as they obey Him.  Israel can have great hope as they face the future because of the promises of the Lord.  They can trust and know that He will go with them and fight for them and give them victory.  Joshua wants them to know that He will bless their obedience.

Second, he tells them that the Lord will curse their disobedience.  What will happen if Israel decides that they will not follow the Lord?  How will He respond to their disobedience to His commands?  Look at verses 11-13.  As Joshua shifts to what will happen if they disobey, he begins by telling them to be very careful.  He is telling them, ‘Do not take disobedience to the Lord lightly.  Do not act like it doesn’t matter.  Do not presume on the Lord’s kindness.’  Joshua makes it clear that if Israel does decide to intermarry with these nations and allows them to remain in the land, then the Lord will not drive them out.  In other words, if Israel does not obey, then the Lord will no longer fight for them and bless them with victory.  Rather, the nations will become a snare to Israel.  Not only this, but the Lord’s anger will be kindled against Israel and He will take away the land.  Look at verses 15-16.  Joshua is warning the people that if they do not obey the Lord, then they will receive the promised curses.  He warns here specifically against idolatry and bowing down to other gods.  Since we know the rest of the history of Israel, this all sounds familiar does it not?  If you look at the book of Judges, you see these warnings being fulfilled.  Likewise, if you look at the Kings material, beginning especially with Solomon and his choice to intermarry, then you see these curses playing out.  In other words, Joshua is not just getting fired up for one of his last speeches.  These are not idle threats from an aged leader.  These are real, legitimate, rock-solid warnings against disobedience.

The contrast here is pretty clear.  Joshua tells them what the Lord is going to do if they obey and what He is going to do if they disobey.  Of course, the obvious implication is that we need to obey.  What exactly does Joshua tell them to obey?  Look at verses 6-8.  Joshua calls them to continually obey the Word of God that was given to them in the Law of Moses.  This is what the Lord told Joshua in chapter 1 and now Joshua is telling the people at the end of his days.  Notice that in both of these accounts a similar phrase is used.  The Lord said to Joshua concerning the Law of Moses: Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left (1:7).  Here, Joshua tells the people: Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left.  The Lord expects Israel to follow hard after the Law of Moses and to obey it completely.  He does not tell them to only obey it when it is convenient.  He does not tell them to only obey it when it seems like it will work.  No, the charge is to not turn from it to the right or to the left.  The charge is to trust the Lord and His Word even when it may not be easy.  This is the message that Joshua continues to relate to the people.  He told the eastern tribes to obey the Lord (22:5) and he will return to this charge again in his last speech (24:14ff).  All of this talk of obedience includes the call to love the Lord your God (v. 11, see 22:5).  Again, obedience is not a burden as much as it is an outworking of our relationship with God.  He has kept His promises and fought for His people.  We respond to such blessing with love and devotion.

Just as the charge was given to Israel, it also comes to us as the Church.  God has given us the victory through the work of Christ.  He has sent His Son to live a perfect life and to die in our place at Calvary.  He has made it clear that this sacrifice for our sins was enough by raising Him up three days later.  All of those who repent of their sins and trust in the work of Christ are now a part of the people of God.  Likewise, just as Israel was called to obey and warned against disobedience, so too, are we called to obey and warned against disobedience.  We too do not want to turn to the right or to the left from God’s Word.  We do not want to simply follow it when it is convenient or easy.  No, we put our trust in the Lord by putting our trust in His Word.  We say to one another as God’s people: Let us be very careful to the love the Lord our God.  Let us be very intentional to follow all of His commands.

You may be wondering to yourself at this point: ‘Why is it such a big deal that we follow the commands of the Lord?  I mean, we’re saved, so why all the fuss?’  I think the book of Hebrews helps us here.  Throughout the book of Hebrews we are given stern warnings about continuing to follow after the Lord (similar to these in the book of Joshua).  We read this morning to begin our service from Hebrews 10 and the warning there.  Look at verses 35-39 again with me.  The writer of the books says, You have need of endurance.  If you look at the other warning passages in the book, you see this repeated call to endurance and perseverance, to continuing to hold fast our confession.  So, why do we have need of endurance?  According to the passage in chapter 10, we fight to persevere because the Lord takes no pleasure in those who shrink back (v. 38).  Jesus tells us: Many men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm until the end shall be saved (Mark 13:13).  Thus, we see that we must stand firm until the end.  We must obey until the end.  We must hold fast our confession until the end.  We must love the Lord our God until the end.  We must not turn to the right or to the left until the end.  For, we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

Of course, now you may be thinking: ‘How am I ever going to persevere like that?’  Well, go back to what Joshua told the people: The Lord will continue to fight for you.  Yes, we are called to obey, but it is the Lord who provides the strength and grace we need to actually fulfill this call.  So, move forward in hope this morning.  The warning is clear, so let’s fight for our own souls and for one another that we may persevere in faithfully following hard after the Lord.  May we be encouraged by what the Lord has done and what He has promised to do.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 30 April 2008 )

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