Let’s remember that we seek to follow the Divine Promiser and His promise which transforms ordinary people into “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). It is God’s promise which encourages our hearts and lifts our souls. His promise keeps us going when the going gets tough.
So far in our series on Courageous faith we have discussed Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. Now we come to the story of Joshua.
Life has its ups and downs. For many people it is an ongoing battle: a conflict of values, a battle of beliefs, a struggle of wills, and a war of nerves. God never promised this life would be easy. But He does promise to go with us through every conflict.
After Moses’ death, God called Joshua to lead the army of Israel into the Promised Land. They had been in the Sinai wilderness for forty years. The older generation had died in the wilderness, and the younger generation was ready to move ahead.
In Joshua 1:8-9 we read God command to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.” “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night…then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.”
Prosperity and success are pretty big promises. God was telling Joshua to put Him first, and then he would be prosperous and successful. Most people either miss this point altogether or get it backward. They put prosperity and success first. It becomes their all-consuming goal. Then, if they have time, they get around to God.
A husband might say to his wife, “Honey, once we get some financial security, I’ll start going to church.” How many wives have heard the same excuse over and over again? “Just give me time to learn this new job, then I’ll have time for God.” But it never happens. There never is time for God because their priorities are out of order. God isn’t first. And in some cases, He isn’t even on the list!
Joshua knew he was facing incredible odds. He was trying to lead a band of former slaves against the fortified cities of Canaan. The walls looked insurmountable. The people appeared unconquerable. But God promised, and that was the key. The promise meant everything, which included conquering the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants.
Joshua placed the challenge in front of the people of Israel. And they replied in Joshua 1:16, “Whatever you command us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.” In fact, they even made a pact to execute anyone who rebelled against Joshua’s orders. They were “burning their bridges” behind them. There was no turning back now.
“Only be strong and courageous!” the people shouted. These were the young people whose parents died because of disobedience in the wilderness. They had seen firsthand what cowardice could do, and they wanted no part of it. They couldn’t go back now. So, they were determined to go on to victory.
Check Out Your Options
Before they charged ahead to attack Jericho, Joshua sent two spies to check it out. Two may not seem like much, but Joshua had been part of the contingent of twelve spies that Moses had sent out forty years earlier. Remember, only two of the twelve, Joshua and Caleb, brought back a positive report. The other ten were overwhelmed with fear and convinced the Israelites to turn back into the wilderness.
He wasn’t about to make that mistake again. So, he sent only two spies. When they got to Jericho, they discovered it to be one of the great walled cities of the ancient world. It sat on an artificial mound, already several centuries old. Its massive double walls surrounded the “tell” (or mound). It was an imposing sight to the desert spies.
Jericho was near to where the Jordan River drops into the Dead Sea. It literally guarded the entrance into Canaan from the wilderness. When the spies arrived, they found the city already in a panic over the news of the advancing Israelites. The people of Jericho were terrified because they had heard that God was with the people of Israel.
The Israelite’s didn’t have a superior army. They had very limited military experience. They weren’t even well trained, and they didn’t even have a battle plan. But God was with them, and that was all that mattered. The spies rushed back with the good news: “Jericho is afraid of our God.”
When you check out the options in life, it doesn’t take long to realize that God has the best deal to offer. All other options are empty and meaningless by comparison. When you realize what you have in Christ, you realize He is all you need. Everything else pales in comparison.
Step Out In Faith
It was time to take a serious step of faith – across the Jordan River. In Joshua 3:5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves…” In Joshua 3:6 he ordered the priests, "Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over before the people." The ark was the symbol of God’s presence. His glory rested inside this golden chest. Carrying the ark in front of the people symbolized that they were following God’s lead.
Joshua instructed the priests to carry the Ark of the Covenant to the river’s edge, and step into the water. However, there was a problem with this instruction. The Jordan River was flooded from the spring rains.
“Don’t worry,” Joshua explained. “The water will part.” Just as God had parted the Red Sea for Moses, He would part the waters of the Jordan for Joshua. Sure enough, as soon as the priest stepped into the water, it stopped flowing downstream. The water was dammed up several miles north at the town of Adam (Joshua 3:16). Since the river drops in elevation as it flows southward, the remaining water simply flowed down into the Dead Sea. The Israelites crossed over on dry ground.
Apparently, you can stand on the mound at Jericho today and see the Jordan River in the distance. This means that the Canaanites at Jericho certainly saw the waters part. They would have been shocked. The God of Israel who parted the Red Sea had now parted the Jordan before their very eyes. Who could stand against Him?
Perhaps you are hesitating to take a step of faith in your life. The same God who stood by Joshua will stand by you! He will go with you all the way. He never asks you to do anything that He will not make possible for you to do.
Imagine the excitement of those Israelites. They had seen a miracle of God right before their eyes! Some of them were small children when they had crossed the Red Sea years earlier. Most of them, however, had been born in the wilderness. They had never seen anything like this before. They were excited and ready to continue on to Jericho.
Did We Forget something?
As usual, God had another idea. He told them to camp at Gilgal. God told Joshua in Joshua in 5:2, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites” (Joshua 5:2). I can just imagine their reaction, “You want to do what? Are you crazy? Here? Now?”
Circumcision, remember, was the sign of their covenant with God. All males were to be circumcised eight days after their birth. So why were they doing this now? The Bible explains that all the men who came out of Egypt in the Exodus had already been circumcised. However, all the boys born in the wilderness had not been circumcised.
How could they have neglected something so important? They crossed the Sinai desert in about two months. But when the spies brought the negative report from Canaan, the people turned back in disbelief. So, God made them wander around the desert for forty more years.
The older generation had disobeyed God, and He would not let them go into the Promised Land until they had died in the wilderness. There is no other explanation for what happened. God must not have allowed them to circumcise and dedicate their children to Him. He might have said, “If you are not going to obey Me, then don’t make a mockery of dedicating your children to Me.”
They had lost sight of the promise. They wandered in unbelief until the generation of doubters was gone. There is a powerful principle in this story – a principle that convicts the heart of every adult. If we don’t obey God in our generation, He will skip over our generation and move on to the next generation that will trust Him.
Let God Take Over
The Israelites had plenty of time to think things over while they recuperated at Gilgal. Ironically, the name of the place means “rolling.” It was there that they rolled away the flesh of their foreskins. In Joshua 5:9 God explains, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And they each got the point!
They also celebrated the Passover at Gilgal – the first one to be celebrated in the Promised Land. After that, the manna stopped appearing. God finally had His army ready but notice He did it His way. There was nothing to depend on but Him.
In the meantime, Joshua must have wondered how he would ever be able to take Jericho. He didn’t have a battle plan, so he strolled over the hills to get a better look at Jericho. En route, he met a man with a drawn sword in his hand. In Joshua 5:13-14 we read, “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, "Are You for us or for our adversaries?" 14 So He said, "No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, "What does my Lord say to His servant?"” The response to Joshua’s question might sound familiar to what Moses was told to do before the burning bush for in Joshua 5:15 Joshua is told, “Take off your sandals for the place where you are standing is Holy.” Joshua was standing on holy ground just like Moses was at the burning bush. Barefoot before God, with his feet in the sand. Joshua was reminded that all people are nothing more than dust before the Almighty.
God’s Battle Plan
Then, God gave Joshua His battle plan as we read in Joshua 6:3-5, “You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. 4 "And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. 5 "It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him."
Joshua did not argue. He did not hesitate. He obeyed God. One of the great character strengths of his life was his confidence in God. It was the source of his courage and the key to his success.
Imagine being a Canaanite at Jericho. The city is ready. The walls are up. The gates are barred. The soldiers are positioned. Their swords and spears are in your hands. You’re waiting for the Israelites. And finally, they appear!
“Here they come!” the shout goes up.
The dust rises in the desert. The Canaanites see the Israelites marching toward Jericho. They get ready – shields up, spears up. However, the Israelites only march around the walls carrying a golden box. And after one complete circle they leave, marching back over the horizon to Gilgal.
“They chickened out!” They may have said. “Must be afraid of us! Yeah, we’re tough – real tough!”
But the next day the Israelites come back. “Get ready! Here they come again.”
Again, they just march around the city, blowing their trumpets and carrying that golden box. Then they march off again.
By the sixth day it had become ridiculous. Perhaps the Canaanites taunted them: “Here they come again! There they go again! Cowards!”
But on the seventh day, things changed. This time the Israelites kept on circling the walls. Around and around they went. Seven times they circled the walls. As the psychological pressure built to a crescendo on the seventh time, they stopped and blew their trumpets louder than before, then they shouted, and God moved.
The walls began to crack. The embankment caved in as the ground shook. The inner wall collapsed and tumbled down the mound, covering the outer wall with broken bricks. The stone wall began to break away and the Canaanites themselves cracked up!
As the walls fell, the Canaanites fled into the center of the city. The Israelites climbed up over the rubble and captured the city. They destroyed it and burned it to the ground. The layer of ashes and the pile of bricks are still there to this day.
God won a great victory that day for His people. The greatest and oldest city of Canaan had crumbled before the God of Israel. It wasn’t long before the entire nation of Canaan fell. As you read the book of Joshua, with the exception of one minor setback at Ai, the Israelites won victory after victory because God went with them.
The Israelites stepped out in faith. They sanctified their hearts and bodies. They submitted to the Lord and they found the success He promised. In a few short years, the land – Israel, the Promised Land – was theirs.
Looking Back and Looking Ahead
There is nothing more satisfying than looking back over a job well done, whether it’s mowing the lawn, painting the house, or fixing the car. There’s just something fulfilling about getting the job done and doing it right.
Joshua conquered Canaan section by section: central, southern, and northern. In all thirty-one cities fell to his army. Israel’s borders stretched from Sinai to Lebanon and from the Mediterranean to the East Bank of the Jordan. Next, they divided the land among the twelve tribes of Israel, and the people settled down to plant the new nation.
Before Joshua died, he gathered the tribes together at Shechem and gave his farewell address (Joshua 24). He reminded them that God had called Abraham from the land “beyond the river,” and that He had promised to give this land to Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. Next, he reminded them that God had called Moses to lead them out of Egypt. Finally, Joshua reminded them that it was God who fought for them in the conquest of Canaan.
Joshua wisely took the people back over their history. Each lesson was intended to reinforce their faith in God, who had kept the promise alive all those years. Now it was up to them to settle this land to His glory and to build a nation that would honor Him.
Joshua urged them in Joshua 24:14, “Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!” he reminded them that Abraham had forsaken the gods of Babylon, and that they had been delivered from the gods of the Egyptians. Surely, they wouldn’t serve the gods of the Amorites and Canaanites whom they had just conquered!
Then Joshua made an unusual request in Joshua 24:15, “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” He left no doubt in their minds what their options were. They could worship the gods of Babylon, Egypt, or Canaan, or they could worship the Lord – the true and living God.
This may sound like a strange request under the circumstances, but Joshua knew the days of conflict were over. Now they would be tempted to be “At ease in Zion.” Sometimes, when everything is going well, we fall the furthest away from God. Our need for Him is not as great, so our prayers to him are not as fervent. Suddenly, without notice, we’ve slipped away from Him.
Even today many people fear surrendering their lives to God. They think they are going to lose out on something or that it’s going to cost them too much. However, such surrender brings life’s greatest victories. If you are not serving God, you’re serving someone. If you are not living for God, you’re living for someone else. Either yourself or the devil!
These options had to sound ridiculous to the Israelites. Who would want to go back to the gods of the Babylonians? They had left them years before. The gods of the Egyptians who put us in bondage. No way! The gods of the Amorates and Canaanites – Baal and Ashtar? We just conquered them!
As For Me And My House
Somehow Joshua knew this issue would face them again in the future. For Joshua declared in Joshua 24:15, “…But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
The people responded to the challenge in Joshua 24:18, “…We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God.” They renounced the gods of Babylon, Egypt, and Canaan and pledged their faith in the Lord.
Then Joshua reminded them in Joshua 24:22, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him." And they said, "We are witnesses!"
Once again, it was a high and holy day. A new nation was born on that day in the Promised Land, the covenant with God was renewed as we read in Joshua 24:25, “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.” And the people of that generation kept their promise to God. The Bible records in Joshua 24:31, “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the LORD which He had done for Israel.”
Then they buried Joseph’s body at Shechem in the soil of the Promised Land. They had carried his mummified body with them from Egypt. Finally, after four hundred years, he had come home. God had kept the promise!
As times passed, there would be new struggles and new challenges. Later generations would turn away from God and follow the gods of the defeated Canaanites. They would try to coexist with the enemy only to be corrupted and defeated by them.
For Joshua’s generation, there was total victory. They had already seen what defeat was like in the wilderness, and they refused to go back. Realizing they had only one real choice, they marched ahead to victory. And what a glorious victory it was!
Going All the Way
Halfhearted comments never really work. There are those who try to live that way. Some will come to services if nothing more important comes up. Some will say, “God ought to be glad I’m here as much as I am.” Some will even say, “I’m doing better than most.”
The problem is folks like this aren’t doing well at all. Their lives are up and down like a spastic yo-yo. Everything is out of balance and almost everything is out of control. What’s more, we’ll find that these folks are not happy or satisfied at all.
You see the halfhearted Godly life never works. It’s just enough religion to make us miserable. We know we can’t go back into the world; there’s no satisfaction in spiritual bondage. But if we don’t go on to victory, we are destined to remain stuck in a vast spiritual wilderness.
It’s like being on a fence. You come far enough to know you need to go on. But if you don’t get off that fence, you’ll never be happy. And you sure won’t be comfortable.
Some will say, “To go all the way with God it will cost me.” The answer to that is, “It’s going to cost you if you don’t go all the way!”
Some people come to a decision for total commitment easily. But for others, it is a real struggle, and we shouldn’t dare shortcut that process. It’s like giving birth to a baby. You can’t rush it. But when it’s time, it comes.
When we commit ourselves completely to Christ our whole life turns around. But it takes total surrender. Obedience to the Gospel call is the first step to complete and total victory! Just ask Joshua and his generation!