We’re over half way through our series of sermons in the OT book of Joshua and it’s a chance for us to recap again the way that this ancient book, this ancient story operates for us here in 21st C London.
Does this seemingly distant primitive story have anything to say to me about my life and my God?
Well we’ve said that the OT is not as distant as we might think.
Jesus tells us in the gospel of Luke 24:27 what the OT Scriptures are really all about.. The are are about Him, Every story; 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 Jesus, in so far as they are bad- they point us to our need for Jesus the perfect prophet, priest and king. So Joshua the man foreshadows Jesus we really see that in Today’s passage. Remeber Joshua and Jeshua Jesus are the same name. So this ancient book is all about Jesus.
And this ancient story is also all about us. The apostle Paul says in a couple of places in the NT - Romans 15, 1 Corinthians 10 - that the history of Israel occured and was written down to teach, warn and encourage us, Christians. I remember a few years ago when we were making plans to renovate our church hall - leaky roof, rotten windows, no heating, poxy kitchen and the worst toilets in England - and Pete and Dave drew up architects plans for developing the kitchen with a mezzanine and new toilets and they built this little scale model of the hall as it would be in the future complete with little people inside. It wasn’t the reality, it was a model. But it helped us to understand for the future, the ultimate fulfiment of the plans for the hall. That’s the OT. The OT story of a nation, Israel rescued through sacrifice (the exodus) from slavery for a promised land. That story is the prototype, the model in miniature, in anticipation of the fulfilment of the ultimate plan of God which is A world rescued through sacrifice from sin and death for a promised eternal rest.
So the ancient book of Joshua is about Jesus - he is there foreshadowed Our Jeshua. And it’s about us. Israel’s entry into and claiming of, conquering, the promised land pictures for us OUR entering into eternal life with God which has both now and not yet aspects to it. We both have eternal life with God now AND we await the full consumation of that life beyond our death or when Jesus returns to establish a new creation. In the meantime, in the now and the not yet, just as Israel, entering their promised land needed to claim it, conquer their enemies. So we, having entered life with God need to take hold of that which is already ours. We need to fight our enemies to enjoy the life and rest God has for us. And our struggle to quote Ephesians 5:12 is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Spiritual war. against sin, temptation, godlessness. Are you aware that you’re in a warzone? If you’re oblivious you’re very vulnerable. you’re a sitting duck. Perhaps you’re weary, afraid and hiding from the conflict. Or perhaps you’re surrendering, throwing in the towel? you’ve given up and there’s not getting back in as far as you can see..
I hope this passage will give you encouragement and hope to not be naive, to not give up, to not be afraid but to keep fighting with the help that God provides.
Israel in Joshua 8 were not in a good place. They’d just lost a battle, chapter 7, taken by surprise by a seemingky weak enemy - the tiny stronghold of Ai - means ruin! 3000 soldiers would be more than enough they’d thought. Wrong they got their buts whipped, there are casualties, 36 dead, presumably many wounded and worst of all morale is completely lost. If we can’t defeat little Ai we’re doomed - what hope do we have surrounded by enemies?
It’s often happens in life that it’s the small things that trip us up and ruin us. We make great strides and then fall to the most innocuous temptation. One small problem that breaks us having withstood so much difficulty and that failure can lead to great discouragement and despair. How am i ever gonna do this?
But don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. Hope is coming…
I said last week that Israel’s defeat at Ai wasn’t because of their prayelessness - they hadn’t prayed beforehand. And it wasn’t becuase of their pride. They only thiught they needed a small force to win this battle and so they left the majority of the army behind. I said that because the passge Joshua 7 makes plain that God withheld victory from Israel because there is sin in the camp. Achan’s disobedience.
But reading chapter 8, it does seem that Achan’s sin - his self centredness in taking for himself things that God had said should not be taken. His self inflated view that he could get away with it. Achan’s sin is perhaps characteristic of all Israelits hearts after the crossing of the Jordan and the victory at Jericho. They had it seems become complacent, self dependent and proud because God, in chapter 7 and her in chapter 8 gets Joshua back on his knees, back to prayerful dependence. AND. They had it seems become over confident and proud because God, here in chapter sends the whole army with a detailed stragegy to attack little Ai.
so 3 things we’re going to consider
- Our prayerfulness
- Our obedience
- Our Jeshua - Our joshua, Our Jesus
- Our prayerfulness
At the beginning of chapter 8 Joshua has been on his face again in prayer. When things are going well - as they had been so far from Israel crossing the Jordan, defeating Jericho - when things are going swimmingly we pray less. Ai looked easy - well within their grasp, so you don’t pray, you just act…
If Joshua had prayed, had sought the Lord would be not have received God’s revelation about Achan’s sin BEFORE having to learn of it the hard way - the failure of Ai, the loss of 36 lives. The discouragement and despair. Wasn’t prayerlessness in part to blame?
When things are going well we begin not to pray. We revert to independence, self confidence and a fall and failure is inevitable.
One of my favourite songs at the moment, I have made mistakes by Texan brother sister, rock folk duo The Oh Hellos - has these words.
The sun it does not cause us.. The sun is does not cause us to grow
It is the rain that will strengthen… The rain that will strengthen your soul. It will make your whole.
After the failure of Ai, Joshua is on his face. And he waits for God. On his face til evening. Having poured out his heart to God - his pain, his confession, his complaint, his cries for help. He waits for God. He waits for God’s response.
Because prayer is not a one way thing. It’s not submitting a complaint form or shopping list to some impersonal faceless beauracracy. Prayer is a child coming to her heavenly Father. Prayer is expectation. Prayer is the beginning of a conversation.
Prayer cannot be just us speaking. It must involve listening because God is a speaking God. he has things to say! AND His words, unlike ours are Wisdom and Truth and Life.
We’re always told that the way God speaks to us is through the words of Scripture and that is entirely true. But we moderns we have a problem with reading and listening. In the ancient world you read for wisdom, you read slowly. With the founding of universities in the 13th C and the consequent age of enlightenment the purpose of reading changed from the learning of wisdom to the speedy acquisition of information. Reading became the very functional activity that it is today.
We’re in danger of not hearing God in prayer.
We need to rediscover a prayerful waiting before God that holds before him and ourselves the truths of Scripture in such a way that we can receive his particular word to us and wisdom for us deep into our hearts and minds. God speaks in our prayers but are we really listening?
i love and am challenged by this quote from James Ussher - the Puritan Archbishop of Armagh who said that: “Every sermon is but a preparation for meditation,” and, one hour spent in meditation is “worth more than a thousand sermons.”
God’s direct words to you, to you - that is your food, that is a the feast for your soul - says Isaiah 55 where God invites us to come and listen to him to come feast. Here is joshua hungry and waiting on God. And he receives food
After the earthquake of Achan’s sin. God restores a troubled and shaken heart with strengthening word and renewed promise, a generous gift, and a wise strategy.
v1 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. an unmistakeable, strengthening word from God.. God proving his presence and involvement. We need that when we’re in trouble, we need to know God is with us and he is for us. Wait upon the Lord Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For listen to the promise renewed I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. God is going to do this. In fact it’s already as good as done. It doesn’t depend on you. Listen to the generous gift 2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that this time you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Wow, if only Achan had waited. God is not a spoilsport he doesn’t withold gifts from us. Then finally there’s wise strategy for the way forward Set an ambush behind the city.”
How different Joshua must have been when he finally arose from waiting on God’s living word in prayer. The work of prayer is totally where it’s at. Wait on God. Allow him to truly speak to you. You will be transformed. Our prayerfulness
2. Our obedience
God’s strategy for Ai is almost the polar opposite to Israel’s original failed strategy.
Israel had thought that Ai could be handled with just a small force of men, give the rest of the army the day off.
But God sends the whole army into battle v3. All God’s people are required. That’s instructive for us - whether it’s the global church or the local church - the battles of God are not won by just one subsection or group. Everyone is needed.
Israel had thought that they could just march up to the gates of Ai and walk straight in - how wrong they were as the nutters of Ai came running out straight at them causing them to leg it in the opposite direction.
God’s strategy is not boastful and proud - marching up to the city.
God’s strategy is humble and seemingly weak. Part of the army hides behind the city! The rest of the army with Joshua march towards the city gates and the thugs of Ai can’t believe Israel’s stupidity. They’re back for another kick in. They rush out from the city and true to form Israel turn and run away! At which point the Israelite forces hidden behind the city slip into an empty stronghold set everything on fire and then march out to surround the men of Ai and defeat them.
God has a strategy that Israel are required to follow to the letter> God is the commander of the army. He wins the victory.
Obedience can seem like a dirty word in our self obsessed culture. Obedience to another is considered weak and weird. Be your own person, actualise your freedom, don’t be constrained. But freedom to live as you please is not freedom if you don’t have the wisdom to know how to live well!
True freedom, True life is found in focussed obedience to God who is the source of all life.
When it comes to the battles we face. God instructs us in Ephesians chapter 6v10
be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes…. 14 with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 …take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
God’s instructions for our obedience
be strong IN the Lord
brings us to our final point because left to oursleves we won’t pray, left to ourselves we won’t obey but we are no left to ourselves. We have one who prays for us and with us, we have one who who obeyed for us -
3. Our Jeshua
All of the Scriptures are about Jesus
and i was looking at this passage and thinking where’s Jesus here and of course he’s staring you in the face because Joshua in this passage is foreshadowing Jesus - our perfect leader, our captain, our Lord, our substitute - where we had not prayed, he prays on our behalf, where we had not obeyed he obeys, where we deserved death he died, where we needed life he rose to victory
Look at Joshua’s journey in the story
Following his prayers - he enters into obedience to this humble, seemingly weak plan of God.
he sets the ambush and end of v9 he spent that night with the people. Literally he dwelt with the people.
There are only 2 places in the gospels where Jesus is said to have dwelt with his people. One is speaking the incarnation. God becoming a human being. He came down, became what we are inorder that we might become what he is. He comes to our humaity to the heights of his throne. The second place that it talks about Jesus lodging with his people as opposed to sleeping rough which seems to have been his usual practice - was on the night before the night before he died. when he lodged with his friends in bethany. The night before the night before his great battle.
The next day Joshua takes his troops to camp as a lure in front of the city of Ai. but that night v13 Joshua went [alone] into the valley.
Jesus too entered the city. And on the night before he died he went into the valley - the darkness of gethsemane, the trials before his opponents, the abandonment of his friends.
Joshua’s battle is one of seeming weakness. The Israelites flee in the face of the hooligans of Ai. But the tables will be turned when the ambush is sprung. Jesus’s battle on the cross is one of seeming weakness. All seems to be lost as Jesus hangs on a wooden cross. But the ambush on evil is sprung. By killing him they are killing sin and Jesus rises from the dead victorious.
Joshua stands with his spear aloft until the victory is finally won.
Jesus, raised and exalted stands at his Father’s right hand praying for us. Victory is won and shall be won.
How incredible he is. He has done it all. All of our prayers and all of our obedience are a privileged entering into his prayers and his obedience. We don’t pray and obey because we have to. becaus we have to ingratiate ourselves to God, earn our way. No it’s all been done for us. Jesus has already walked that road on our behalf and secured our eternal life - so that we can now pray and obey ..
Let’s pray together..