Welcome to the OT book of Joshua.
This is the narrative account of how the nation of Israel, having been miraculously sprung out of slavery in Egypt, having wandered in the desert for 40 years. Now under the leadership of Joshua, enter into, conquer and take possession of the land of Canaan that had been promised to them by God.
It’s an ancient story, 3000 years old. another time and another place. It’s not without it’s difficulties. Not least the God ordained genocide of the Canaanite nations which i will cautiously try and make some sense of in these coming weeks ..
Why would we study this ancient seemingly primitive book?
Well because it is not as distant as we might think.
Jesus says in Luke 24:27 that all the OT Scriptures are about Him, So, Institutions in the OT - like the temple and sacrifices - they teach us about Jesus. People in the OT particularly prophets, priests, leaders and Kings in so far as they are good, they point us to the character of Jesus, in so far as they are bad- they point us to our need for Jesus who is the perfect prophet, priest and king. So Joshua the man foreshadows Jesus (actually Joshua and Jeshua are the same name). Joshua the leader points us to the ultimate leader - Jesus. So the story is about him.
And the story is also about us. The apostle Paul says in a couple of places - Romans 15, 1 Corinthians 10 - that the history of Israel occured and was written down to teach, warn and encourage us. Christians. This OT story of a nation rescued through sacrifice from slavery for a promised land is kind of like the prototype, the model, the mini-trailer in anticipation of the fulfilment of the ultimate plan of God: A world rescued through sacrifice from sin and death for a promised eternal rest.
You can see this link made in the NT. Hebrews chapter 4 verse 8 says
if Joshua had given [the people of God] rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.
The Israelites entry into their promised land teaches us about OUR ultimate entering into God’s eternal land/rest to which all of this points.
So let’s begin there with the promise of rest.
1. Our promise
Do you long for a place called home? Your own bit of land that is your possession? Perhaps you own a home but that experience of settledness? .. It feels like something so fundamental doesn’t it? A human right. A heritage. Do you long for a home?
Do you long for rest? Rest from all your enemies. Security. Rest on every side. Rest from your restlessness. Peace for your mind and soul?
God had long promised a land, a rest, a home for his people. It had started with Abraham nearly 600 years before Joshua when the nation of Israel were then but a twinkle in Father Abraham’s eye. And now here the time has come for God it seems to make good on all his promises up to this point:
1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
Here was the promise - the land of Canaan, A land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ as God described it to them. (A land also full of enemy squatter nations that will need to be removed - but we’ll come to that). This was good land that God who is owner and ruler of all the earth has pledged to these people to be their inheritance at this time.
Notice that the inheritance of this land is a gift from beginning to end. It’s the land I am giving you, says God.
It’s not a portion to which they were entitled. not some birthright.
nor had they or their ancestors done anything to merit such a heritage
and nor would their subsequent conquering of the canaanites suggest that they had earned it. It is a gift from beginning to end.
And so it is with our entry into the eternal rest of God. It’s never something that we deserve or that we have warranted or that we have earned. It is from beginning to end a gift of grace and mercy to be received by simple faith.
It’s a gift
and it is also a certain gift.
God has sworn (v6) to give it.
And as we read the book we will see Israel enter and conquer and settle in the land just as God has promised. Joshua 21v43 towards the end of the book sums it ll up. So the Lord gave Israel all the Land he had sworn to their fore-fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed, everyone was fulfilled.
This week’s News - a soldier in the american reserves lost her job after attempting to make a viral youtube video to impress her kids. She had a colleague video her taking her oath of allegiance with her commanding office with a dinosaur head puppet on her raised right hand mouthing the words of the oath as she repeated them. The commanding officer was also forced to stand down for colluding with the stunt and failing to raise his right hand.
The swearing of oaths is a serious business.
God promises on oath - his right hand raised - an eternal rest for his people. Peace and justice. Land and home. He swears on his life that he will bring it about. He did so for the children of Israel. Not one of his promises failed. Neither will he let us down. he is faithful and he will do it. Our promise
2. Our battle
v10 (we’ll come back to verses 6-9 in a bit)
10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God IS giving you for your own.’”
notice that present tense there? It’s the land - not that God has given you - so that you just can wander in when you’re ready when you fancy. No, it’s more dynamic. It’s the land that God is giving you that now you have to cross the precipitous Jordan gorge while the river is in flood and face formidable obstacles - armies and walled cities in order to take possession of what is yours. the promise is assured but must be claimed. The land is God’s free gift and yet there is a command to lay hold of that gift. It is as the Israelites go in and take possession of it that God will progressively give the land to them. THE PROMISE OF GOD IS RECEIVED BY THE ACTIVITY OF FAITH.
it was actually part of God’s compassion that Israel should inherit their rest progressively - as they moved forward. Back in Exodus 23 God had said this about entering the promised land. “[I will] drive [your enemies] the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. 29 But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.
Israel will enter into their land, their rest. But there’s a now and a not yet dimension to it. The land is theirs now but battles must be fought, obstacles overcome before they can enter into possession of and enjoy their inheritance.
And it’s exactly the same for us in Christ in whom all these promises are being fulfilled.
So, Hebrews 4v3 says ‘We who believe enter God’s promised rest.’ As soon as you believe in Jesus - the burden of your sins are rolled away, peace of conscience, rest of soul, assurance and acceptance by God are now yours…
BUT you are not there and then taken straight to heaven. No, you have to: fight a fight, run a race, keep the faith before you can fully enter your eternal rest. Become a Christian, cross the jordan, alive in Christ and suddenly you’re facing foes both within and without of which previously you knew nothing. Foes that God wants to rid you of that you might flourish. Now let’s be clear OUR foes are not fellow human beings; enemy nations that need to be defeated just as our inheritance isn’t a plot of land in the middle east. No Christians love their human enemies and pray for those who persecute them precisely because our real enemies are injustice and apathy and the evil desires that war against our souls - our anger, our hate our lust. God wants to lead us to overcome all that is godless in our world and in us to prepare us for our eternal rest. That’s the battle that you enter into inorder to take possession of your inheritance. It’s the battle for justice, the battle for our church, God’s kingdom, the battle for the restoration of our souls in the midst of the hardships of life. It’s the fight for the formation of christlike character within us. Our healing. That’s our battle.
and so 6 verses after telling us that we who believe have entered God’s rest Hebrews 4v9 says ‘There remains, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; …11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.’ Rest is now and rest is not yet. And the promise of God is received by the activity of faith.
It is when we step out in faith - ceasing from fighting God, instead trusting and obeying Him that we find progressively the rest for our souls that we are promised. It is in losing our lives for Christ that we find life.
I wonder where you are at in all of this?
I guess there would have been some Israelites back then who were very hesitant to enter the promised land at all. And perhaps you’re in that place with Jesus. I just want you to encourage you that his promise of rest and his love is real. Rest is found nowhere else. Step out in faith and you will find him unrelentingly faithful.
perhaps other Israelites were deeply discouraged by the presence of so many enemies in the land. and we can become discouraged in the fight of our faith. cut off one temptation and three more appear in its place and nothing changes very fast. well, remember that it is a battle. If you’re struggling on that’s a good sign. And remember God doesn’t give victory over all our enemies all at once it wouldn’t be good for us if he did. God is patient and his timing is perfect. He waits to be gracious to you. He has many victories to give us that we are not yet quite fitted for. But we shall be. Gradually progresively he will do it. so don’t lose heart. Keep on.
I bet there were some Israelites who were over confident. A bit like some Christians who use the promises of God like a couch to relax on rather than a spur to action. God has promised us eternal rest, they say, God has promised never to leave or forsake us and therefore it’s not then end of the world if i make peace with my weakness and sin. I’m not saved by what I do or don’t do but by God’s grace. But this of course is a cheap grace a non grace that releases us from the following of Jesus Christ! Don’t give up and rest on cheap grace. Don’t do it. There is no true rest there.
I wonder finally if some of the Israelites felt weak, isolated and alone. I can’t do this. Is anyone watching my back? Do you ever feel that? Well, our passage answers this need for community wonderfully. See we’re to fight the good fight together. We’re to fight for one another.
12 … to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”
16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.
These 2 and a half tribes - the reubenites, gaddites and half Manasseh had already been given their inheritance of land and rest on the east side of the jordan river. But they could not be at rest until all their brothers and sisters were at rest as well. And so they are called to the frontline to selflessness and sacrifice for the sake of their fellow Israelites’ rest. And they agree to it!
In the same way Hebrews 4v1 says to us. since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us (plural) be careful that none of you (singular) be found to have fallen short of it.
We fight for one another.
But finally we never fight alone because of Our Joshua. 3rd point. Our promise, Our Battle, Our Joshua.
Look at the way the leader is prepared. His high calling.
Taking over from the greatest of all the prophets Moses and Joshua is called to strength and courage v6 and 7, commanded to it v9!
He’s called v7 to complete, unswerving obedience to God’s word
that will spring v8 from constant careful meditation on God’s words
and God end of v9 will be with him and will never forsake him.
Courage, faithfulness, bearing the presence of God. It’s an extraordinarily high calling for the leader of God’s people. And while Joshua is a wonderful leader we know that we are being pointed forward here to the true Joshua, the author and perfecter of our faith - Jesus.
He is the one who with extraordinary strength and courage, in perfect unswerving obedience to his Father’s word which he had internalised from his youth, he lays down his life that he might lead us into an eternal future. he enters the battle with us and he has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.
He is our strength in the battle.
Our response to Jesus could be none better than those tribes to Joshua in v16
‘Whatever you command us we will do and wherever you send us we will go’
In christ we are called to strength, courage, obedience, internalising his words, living on his presence.. that we might be fruitful in the battles of our faith.