Series: God Given Courage
Title: Joshua’s Story
Wednesday, January 18, 2011
It is an act of courage in Alaska – first a coast guard cutter, breaking through hundreds of miles of ice in one of the worst winters in a long time. Then there’s that Russian oil tanker that followed, trying to get fuel to town of Nome, before the fuel runs out.
It is a record breaker of a winter in Alaska and not only Nome, but other towns are threatened with running out of fuel in a state produces so much energy. But crude oil but be turned into the right kind of energy to provide heating oil for homes, gasoline for cars and snow-blowers and diesel for trucks. Without courage, just about nothing ever gets accomplished. And that includes father’s fathering and families being a family. But even as Joshua was told to be strong and be courageous, the Bible teaches that true courage comes only from the Lord. Courage is a gift of relationship with Jesus.
OPENING SONG –
All of us want courage, don’t we? Courage is the theme through the movie Courageous that we are releasing this week on DVD. And I’m still encouraging you to join me in reading the Bible in 90 Days and when you do that, you quickly get to the life of Joshua, the man who replaced Moses as the leader of God’s people. All people find courage at different points in their lives – whether they follow the Living God or not. As the Israelites are preparing to take and enter the Promised Land, we learn in Joshua 5 that
1All the Amorite kings west of the Jordan River and all the Canaanite kings along the Mediterranean Sea heard that the Lord had dried up the Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross. So they lost heart and had no courage left to face the people of Israel.” That’s the beginning of Joshua 5. But as you know, those of us who are Christ followers have our own times of discouragement. What can we do? Well, we do what Joshua did. Earlier in his life, he showed courage. He was one of the men sent to spy out the Promised Land. He and only one other said the land could be taken with the Lord on their side. But because of the doubts and lack of courage with the other spies and on the part of the people, God forced them to wander 40 years. In Joshua 5 that time of testing and faith-building is over.
The commander-in-chief of the Israelites, Joshua, is on the eve of the biggest battle of his life. In front of him stands the city of Jericho. Its mighty walls tower before him, reaching into the sky with a trained army guarding the gates and walls. In front of him stands the city of Jericho, guarding the eastern entrance to the Promised Land. since the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God promised the land to Israel. However, to take possession of the land, its cities and peoples have to be conquered. Listen for the courage of lack thereof in a most unusual event as I read Joshua 5:13-15:
13When Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you one of us or one of our enemies?” 14He answered, “Neither one! I am here as the commander of the Lord’s army.” Immediately, Joshua bowed with his face touching the ground and worshiped. He asked, “Sir, what do you want to tell me?” 15The commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals because this place where you are standing is holy.” So Joshua did as he was told.
The word of the Lord from Joshua 5. Joshua has doubts, fears, worries, and concerns. He wonders if his reconnaissance is accurate – do the people of Jericho really fear Israel. No doubt he’s worried about the archers of Jericho and their accuracy. He’s troubled by the high, thick walls and how to get through, under, or around them. He’s anxious about the armor and skill of his untrained soldiers. Joshua has one big question mark in his mind that last night before the battle begins: will Israel be successful and how big will be the price in Israeli blood and death?
He looks up and sees a man who identifies himself as "commander of the army of the LORD".
Who is this man, this commander? It is immediately evident he is no mere man. Before him Joshua falls "facedown to the ground in reverence" and calls him "my Lord".
Who is this man, this commander? His identification becomes positive when he tells Joshua, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy". This reminds us of the time the Lord spoke to Moses from the burning bush in Exodus 3. Like Joshua, Moses was commanded to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. This is no mere man standing in front of Joshua. This is the Angel of the Lord.
The Angel of the Lord. We’ve heard about him before. He shows up to aid Hagar, Sarah's slave girl, in her distress in the wilderness (Gen 16 & 21). He appears to Abraham and promised that Sarah would have a son "this time next year" (Gen 18). The Angel of the Lord stopped Abraham's knife from killing Isaac on Mount Moriah (Gen 22). He wrestled with Jacob (Gen 32). He guided and guarded the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt. He spoke to Moses on the wilderness journey, and delivered to him the Ten Commandments. He blocked the road for Balaam and terrified his donkey. All these times you read about in the first days of reading the Bible with me in 90 days.
The Angel of the Lord. Most Bible scholars agree that he is a visible presence of Jesus before Jesus took on flesh. This is confirmed when Joshua 6:2 identifies the man speaking to Joshua not as the "commander of the LORD'S army" anymore but as the LORD Himself. So, it is the Lord Himself who stands before Joshua.
I want us to look at the strange answer given in this encounter, the night before the great battle. Joshua stands before Jericho. He’s filled with his private doubts, fears, worries, and concerns. He looks up and sees not only a man. He sees "a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand". "Are you for us or for our enemies?" asks Joshua. He doesn’t know whether the man is a friend or a foe. Evidently the man's features and clothing are neither Canaanite nor Israelite." Are you for us or for our enemies?" That's a crucial question when you’re faced by a man with a sword in his hand. If he's a friend you have nothing to fear. If he’s an enemy you better be ready to fight. "Are you for us or for our enemies?" Joshua wants to know if he has to draw his sword and fight this stranger in front of him.
But do you notice the Lord's strange answer? "Neither," he says. Neither? That's not an answer! Joshua wants to know: Are you a friend or an enemy? Do I have to fight you or shake hands with you? "Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come". As far as Joshua is concerned, it is us against them, Israel against Canaan, Joshua against the King of Jericho. If that is really the case, then Israel doesn’t stand much of a chance. It’s the Canaanites who are skilled, trained warriors – not the Israelites. It’s the Canaanites who know how to handle swords and spears and shields – not the Israelites. Don't forget, the Israelites are a tribe of ex-slaves with no military training. The little bit of fighting they’ve done has all been in the open desert. They’ve never mounted a siege against a fortified city.
"Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Do you realize this tells us whose battle it is? It’s not Israel's battle against Jericho and Canaan. It’s God's battle against Jericho and Canaan.
"Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither”. Do you realize this tells us who are the opposing generals? It isn't Joshua who is in command. It isn't Joshua who issues orders and plots strategy. It isn't Joshua who leads Israel. Not at all. The real general is the "commander of the army of the LORD."
"Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither.” Do you realize this also tells us Israel's role? It isn’t a case of whether the man is for or against Israel. Rather, it’s a case of whether Israel is for or against the Lord. It’s the Lord's fight, it’s the Lord's battle, so who is on the Lord's side? Who is in the Lord's army? Israel's role is to be but a part of the Lord's army, and just a small part at that. After all, in the Lord's army there are also tens of thousands of angels. Israel is but one of many weapons the Lord can choose to use in battle. He’s the living God. He can use a human army. He can deploy a countless number of angels. He can make use of wind and rain, hail and snow, heat and cold, earthquake and lightning.
This should give us all pause before we claim the Lord is on our side and not see ourselves in the proper light. During World War II the phrase "God with us" was inscribed on the belt buckles of German soldiers and that's the way it has been throughout history. Every army wants to claim God is on their side. But that’s the wrong claim to make. The question is not "Whose side is the Lord on?" but, rather, "Who is on the Lord's side? Who is in the Lord's army?" "As commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." This is a word of victory as far as Joshua and Israel are concerned. This means it is Jericho and Canaan, not Israel, who don't stand a fighting chance. Jericho's fight will not be against desert nomads unskilled in sword and spear. Rather, Jericho will be fighting against the Lord and His army. He is the one who gives courage. He is the Creator, the God of heaven above and earth below. It is He who enabled an old woman to bear a child. He visited the ten terrible plagues upon Egypt. He dried up the Sea of Reeds so His people could walk through on dry ground. He brought water out of a rock and manna from the sky. It's no use to even think of fighting. It's no use to lock the city gates and guard the city walls. For the Lord who opposes them is almighty enough to crush them in a moment. “Put down your swords, Jericho, and open your city gates, and seek mercy.”
The sword of the commander of the Lord's army is a two-edged sword: it’s a sword of grace and salvation and it’s a sword of judgment and punishment.
We see this in the story of Jericho's defeat that follows. The walls come tumbling down.
What can we learn from this passage? Well, first, I think there’s a word of warning. As it was with the people of Jericho, so it is with us. We have to be sure we keep faith in and with God and that we walk obediently before Him. Don't ever forget the words of Hebrews 10:31 which says, "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Yes, God keeps a record of those who are disobedient and punishes those who forsake Him. Where there is no fear of the Lord, people tend to do what they think they can get away with. The problem for humans is that God keeps a record. This may sound harsh, but Revelation 20 declares that one day the "books" will be opened. At that time, those who have forsaken the Lord will surely be punished.
But second, this passage gives us a word of comfort. We must realize that just as Israel can only gain victory over Jericho by grace through faith, so can we gain victory in our lives, not by our own efforts, but only by grace through faith. It is purely a free gift.
Think of what we have been given in Christ – forgiveness, eternal life, the riches of heaven – all a gift by grace through faith and not by any other way.
Third, God keeps his promises. Like Israel, we can say that God is true to His covenant and covenant promises. God kept the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God never backs away from His promises the way politicians start back-pedaling once they are elected. Pick any promise of God: the promise of life eternal, the promise of the Spirit and its gifts and fruits, the promise of answered prayer, the promise of Christ's return, the promise of the resurrection, the promise of preserving and guarding our souls, the promise of never leaving or forsaking us. All of these promises are kept by God. He is always true to His Word.
Finally and fourth, ask the right question. We don't ask whether God is on our side but we must always ask ourselves, are we on God's side. We don't ask whether God will fight for us but whether we are in His army. We must never forget, for those of us in Jesus Christ, the battle is the Lord's. It is not us but the Lord who battles sin and Satan, error and heresy, evil and injustice. It is the Lord's battle and we, we are but part of His army.
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