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Come on guys, be a real man
Joshua 24: As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.
Here’s the most famous thing Joshua says and what a glorious declaration it is. He’s come to a decision and now he’s making a firm commitment to abide by that decision. While Joshua can’t control what others do Joshua knows what he and his family are going to do: they’re going to worship God. I know some might squirm a bit at Joshua’s including his family in his declaration of intent. Our Western culture says, “But Joshua, everyone has to make their own decision — you can’t just unilaterally speak for your family.” The fact of the matter is that, in his culture, he can do just that. He’s the leader of his family, and his worship of God isn’t built around a 21st century reading of John 3:16 anyway. In fact, while I know this concept can be abused, most families need the man of the house to stand up and say, “We’ll worship God.” Fathers and husbands need to show some leadership. Men need to make a commitment and to take action. I doubt that there are many wives who would be offended if their husband showed some of the manly leadership Joshua shows here. “Alright family, I’ve come to a decision: we’re going to worship God.”
Take Away: A man’s influence over his family is powerful.
Stand guard over your heart
Joshua 23: Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love God, your God.
The final pages of the book of Joshua contain the sermon Joshua preached to the people of Israel in his old age. It’s a mere “sermonette” when compared Moses’ farewell that fills most of the book of Deuteronomy. It may be that since Joshua has been primarily a military leader that he’s short on words and long on action. Still, Joshua has things to say that are worth hearing. He reminds his hearers that their success is all due to the gracious hand of God. One Israelite soldier has put a thousand enemy combatants on the run. Only God could do that. Their unprecedented success is because of God’s goodness. Still, there’s one area where they must be ever vigilant: their souls. Moses warned them about this many years earlier and Joshua renews that warning now. Even with military victories won there remains the battle for their hearts. As an army posts sentries to keep watch against enemy intrusion, they must stand guard over their own lives. Now, I already know that two or three pages over I will find myself in the dark ages of the book of Judges, but here I find Joshua already warning them of what’s coming. How sad to win the land and yet lose the greater war. Joshua tells them to “stand guard.” That’s good preaching to the people of Israel 3300 years ago and its good preaching for me to hear today.
Take Away: The most important thing for me to protect is my own heart.
God keeps his promises
Joshua 21: Not one word failed from all the good words God spoke to the house of Israel. Everything came out right.
The battles are over, the land divided, and the special cities designated. It’s a time now for reflection. Soon Joshua will call the people together and preach a “conclusive” sermon of his own, even as Moses did decades earlier. Here’s the thing: God has kept all the promises he made to them. Today, I operate under certain promises: “believe and be saved,” “I am with you to the end of the age,” “I will come back and take you to be with me.” Sometimes just the receiving of God’s promises takes an effort on my part. Beyond that it almost always calls for my patience and trust as I wait to realize it in my life. The great phrase before me today is this: “Everything came out right.” With that in mind I stay the course. God has made promises and everything will, indeed, come out right.
Take Away: Receiving God’s promises almost always takes patience.
Cities of refuge
Joshua 20: A person shall escape for refuge to one of these cities.
We’ve been looking over Joshua’s shoulder as the newly occupied Promised Land is divided up among the tribes of Israel. Frankly, this isn’t an especially inspirational section of the book. Now we are down to special cases: cities for the Levites and priests, and the Asylum-Cities. These cities are important places indeed. If a person has messed up and accidentally killed someone they can flee there and find mercy. These cities of refuge are the only hope for some in need of a second chance. I think there will always be a need for “cities of refuge.” Simply put, people mess up. Our world is filled with broken families, broken promises, and shattered dreams. The need of the day is not for the Church to tell lost people how bad they are as it is to tell them that there’s still hope. To some extent every church is to be a “city of refuge.” God’s people are to offer, in Christ, mercy and hope of restoration. The Church is to be a city of refuge for hurting, broken people.
Take Away: Hurting people, including people who’ve messed up, need hope and through Christ the Church offers that hope.
“Good enough” thinking isn’t good enough
Joshua 17: But they never did get rid of them.
In some movies when certain people appear on screen or when certain words are said we hear the background musical score take on an ominous tone. That’s what we ought to hear when the phrase, “they never did get rid of them” or something similar is read concerning the occupation of Canaan by the various tribal groups. As happens in those movies, what sounds pretty innocuous in the Book of Joshua becomes deadly serious as we continue reading into the Book of Judges and beyond. So far as the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership are concerned it’s not a big deal. Their opposition is defeated. There are no more armies to fight. A few stubborn hold outs won’t give up and move away, but they’re submissive and provide reliable slave labor. Out on the edges of the land there are still serious enemies, but they have great respect for the power of the army of Israel and aren’t a threat. Israel will leave them alone if those unfriendly neighbors will leave them alone. After a generation of war it’s time to build houses and plant crops and adapt to a more peaceful life. Again, it seems reasonable, practical. However, it’s not what the Lord told them to do. Their failure is going to cost their descendants dearly. It will all be quite clear as I continue into the Book of Judges and beyond. I think we all live in danger of “good enough” thinking. What’s good enough for me right now may not have the momentum to carry through the next rough spot that’s over the horizon. I need to let this passage remind me to pay careful attention to the Lord’s direction on my life and not substitute my so-called wisdom for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Take Away: “Good enough” isn’t good enough until we’ve do all the Lord has told us to do.
What can an old man do?
Joshua 14: So give me this hill country that God promised me.
With the battles ending, the country is being divided up among the people of Israel. An old friend comes to the leader, Joshua, with an insistent request. Caleb was a mature 40 years old when he was named one of the 12 to scout out the Promised Land. Now of the 12, only he and Joshua are left, with Caleb at 85 years of age. All of his contemporaries are dead and he’s in the twilight of life. But he doesn’t come to Joshua to reminisce about the good old days. A generation ago, when the people were revolting against God this man stood firmly for God. The Lord was pleased with Caleb and promised that a portion of Canaan would be his. Now, Caleb is reminding Joshua of that. For over 40 years Caleb has remembered that land and now he wants it as his inheritance. The thing is this section of Canaan is still unconquered. In fact, there’s a fortress there. What is an 85-year-old man going to do in the face of such opposition? Caleb says, “Just give it to me and see what I am going to do!” You have to like old Caleb! This guy trusts God to keep his word, and not just in some vague theoretical sense. He trusts God in a blood and dirt, “let’s get to it” kind of way. Tell you what, I want to be more like that — more ready to take God at his word and start claiming that which he’s promised me.
Take Away: The Lord can do amazing things through a person who takes him at his word.
Here’s what’s next
Joshua 13: This is the land that remains.
The book of Joshua fast forwards through many years and many battles. That’s okay with me. As I’ve said before, I’m rather uncomfortable with all the blood and death involved in this march across Canaan. We’re given a list of defeated kings, starting with the first battle at Jericho. In all, thirty-one are listed. These battles continued for years, even decades, and after I see this list of battles won I’m told that Joshua’s now a senior citizen. All in all, Joshua and all of the Israelites should feel good about what they’ve accomplished. However, even as the Lord speaks to Joshua in complimentary terms, he also reminds him that there’s more for Israel to do. In fact, the Lord has a list of places that are yet to be occupied. He assures Joshua that this task isn’t his, God, himself, will handle the clearing of the land in preparation for the continued expansion of their territory. Even though Joshua’s day is winding down, the Lord is looking ahead to the next step, the continuation of his grand plan. It’s reasonable to be reminded here that God not only works in my life, walking with me day by day but he also sees the big picture that I don’t see. I serve him, cooperating with his purposes in all my life, but when my day is done, the Lord doesn’t close up shop and call it a day. He continues right on into the next chapter, and the next. As I read this passage I find that truth to be somewhat humbling.
Take Away: The Lord sees a bigger picture than we see.
Sometimes God is a stranger to me
Joshua 11: It was God’s idea that they all would stubbornly fight the Israelites so he could put them under the holy curse without mercy.
It’s bloody with lots of death and destruction. Individual tribes and cities and also coalitions of previous enemies resist the onslaught of Joshua’s army. Now victory has come and war is over. I know that the book of Joshua gives a “marching to victory” view of the Canaan Conquest while Judges paints a less pretty picture, but frankly, even the positive view of Joshua makes me cringe. All the slaughter of entire peoples: men, women, and children — even, in some cases, animals. The Scriptures explain that it isn’t that God wants to give Canaan to the Israelites so he helps them exterminate those who live there. Rather, it’s that those who live there are so degenerate, so unholy, that God doesn’t want them or anything about them to contaminate the people he’s chosen. Still, I struggle with this because it seems so distant from “God is love.” I confess that sometimes God is a stranger to me. Still, that which is wrong humanly speaking isn’t necessarily wrong for the Creator. The “Giver of Life” has full authority to be the “Taker of Life.” Sometimes devotional lessons are hard to come by in passages like this, but here’s what I get today: there is an “other-ness,” a sobering, even a fear-generating side of the Lord. I love him and I trust his character but I definitely don’t always understand who he is and why he does what he does. I am glad God Almighty doesn’t need me to be his defender.
Take Away: Sometimes we simply have to trust and believe even as we struggle to understand.
Stopping the sun
Joshua 10: The sun stopped in its tracks in mid sky; just sat there all day.
Because of the significant military victories of the Israelite army, word of their success has spread like wildfire through the area. These residents of Canaan are cruel, child sacrificing, warring peoples, but some unite in an effort to stop the advance of Joshua and his army. The battle that ensues is a momentous one. In one fight they’ll either gain a decisive advantage or be beaten back. It’s during this battle that Joshua asks for an unbelievable favor from God. He asks that the sun stand still so that they can continue to fight while they have the advantage. God answers and the sun stops in the sky as the battle rages. Of course, the impossibility of that actually happening is clearer to me than it is to Joshua, who doesn’t understand anything at all about the solar system. I’m no scientist, but I know that if the sun stood still that it would mean the earth quit rotating, and if the earth stopped turning…well, it would be the end of the world. Needless to say, I would never pray the prayer Joshua prayed — I’m too educated to do that. But here we have poor, ignorant Joshua asking for something that couldn’t possibly happen. What’s that? You say that the Bible says it did happen? Listen, I have no idea of how God could stop the sun in the sky without the entire solar system crashing. It’s such a big miracle that I, even with my limited knowledge, could never pray for it. Joshua doesn’t know that the earth is round and is spinning and is orbiting around the sun. All he knows is that he needs a miracle from God. And that, my friend, is the whole point. Sometimes I need to throw out all the facts and hold on to the only real Fact, God, Himself. I need to be careful that I’m not so “smart” that God can’t do for me what he wants to do. Take Away: God specializes in doing the impossible and he doesn’t need for me to explain to him what he can or can’t do.
Joshua 9: The men of Israel looked them over and accepted the evidence. But they didn’t ask God about it.
Word of the impressive victories of the Israelite army has spread far and wide. Waves of fear sweep across Canaan when the powerful armies of the kings west of the Jordan fall. Now, with Jericho and Ai both destroyed the region is in the grip of dismay. Some are gearing up for war but one group desperately tries a different approach. The people of Gibeon send emissaries to the Israelites. They’re made up to look as though they’ve been on a long journey but actually they’re local. They tell Joshua’s people that they’ve heard of the might of God and their exploits and that, from a distance, they want to make a peace treaty with them. Apparently, the Israelites are somewhat flattered that their fame has spread far and wide, so, without giving it much thought, they seal the deal with Gibeon. To the surprise of the Israelites, they find that they’ve made a deal with one of the groups they’re supposed to purge from Canaan! What a blunder on the side of the Israelites and what resourcefulness on the side of Gibeon! The problem, of course, for Israel is that, while they were examining the dried, moldy bread from the saddlebags of the emissaries they forgot to “ask God about it.” They relied on their own wisdom rather than on the guidance of the Lord. I’d like to be very critical of the Israelites at this point, but I’d better tread carefully here. How many times have I, in my so called wisdom, checked out all the facts, made up a “pros and cons” list, researched the issue and moved on it. Only after the fact I may have tossed an “and, by the way Lord, please bless what I’m about to do” prayer. As I see Israel making an un-prayed over deal with Gibeon I’m sorry to say I see myself all too often doing the same sort of thing.
Take Away: You’ll never be sorry you prayed first.