What would you expect God to do when a generation has failed to achieve all He had in mind for them and to make its mark on the nation? Raise up another one! More and more, the Lord has been showing me that there is a ‘sea-change’ going on – the wind is changing direction and blowing in strength to raise up a new generation who will take ground for the kingdom of God. I have called this ‘The Joshua Generation’, not ‘religious’ but on fire for God.
I began by speaking about adventure: what do we need to adventure for the Lord? And tonight how we can take ground for the kingdom.God’s dealings with mankind haven’t changed in essence over the millennia. Just as He was preparing the people in Joshua’s generation to come into a new dimension, He is doing much the same thing for us today.
We are going to be looking at how Joshua succeeded in doing what the Moses generation had failed to do: leading more than two million Israelites into the Promised Land. We are going to look at a few simple statements of God’s intentions and basic principles of faith to live by – and we can spend the rest of our lives working them out, just as Joshua himself did.
Courage. Without courage we will not accomplish anything of any lasting worth.
Courage and then obedience – discernment, the ability to see what God wants us to do. Without that we will foul up!
Let’s explore this theme of discernment for a moment. We need to develop the ability to see out of the corner of our eyes. In the army they are taught that for night vision it is best not to look directly at the object: you can’t see it, but you can, to a greater extent if you look at it out of the corner of your eyes. We need peripheral vision, to see what the Lord is doing out of the corner of our eyes. Pick up the clues that God scatters and then put them into action. Courage, discernment and flexibility. You know what you have planned for the service - but what might God want to slot in? Someone to incorporate a testimony, a need to share, a prayer or even a message to deliver. Keep alert in the Spirit to see what the Lord wants to release, and who He is anointing.
The fact that God kept the Israelites waiting for so long reminds us that we may have to wait a long time for God’s plans to become apparent in our lives. As someone put it, ‘God’s timetable has more delays than British Rail!’ There are delays for the right combination of circumstances to line up, delays that test our faith and delays that develop our character. Ponder your own experiences and you will see the truth of this.
God doesn’t want a Church swamped by tradition or dominated by pastors, but the fact is that when He intends to achieve something His normal method is to raise up a leader to do it. Joshua was an excellent leader: he had learned at Moses’ side, which is always the best way to learn, he had God’s calling, he showed great courage, and he learnt to consult God before plunging ahead with his own schemes and ideas. He knew it wasn’t enough just to be eager for God; he knew he would need to follow His instructions to the letter. That’s where obedience comes in. When he forgot to seek God, he paid for it. No need to be starry-eyed. He wasn’t always one hundred percent courageous, which of us are? But he was a man after God’s own heart.
What do leaders need to be doing apart from following the Lord’s leading in directing affairs? They need to be on the lookout to see who they can raise up to go on further than they have done. One of the greatest tasks a leader can do is to raise up leaders who will take people further on than they themselves have been able to go. That is real leadership. That’s why they need to be free of insecurity and to be, to use an old phrase, ‘of good character’.
We take up the story at the start of the book of Joshua where Israelite people are still mourning Moses’ death. Moses had done a Herculean task in bringing the people out from the servitude they had been forced to endure in Egypt. God had done amazing miracles through Moses but He had not allowed him to enter the Promised Land. It will pay to examine why this was. God had told him to strike a rock, which, incredibly, released sufficient water to meet the people’s needs. But when God called him to speak to the rock on another occasion, he promptly hit it – and the Lord was grieved. The water poured out – God had to meet His people’s need – but God had wanted Moses to trust Him enough just to speak to the rock. It takes real faith to trust God when He asks us to do something we have never done before, and which many people are falling over themselves to tell us is impossible or wrong!
Somewhere along the way, Moses fell into the trap of making a doctrine out of an experience. In the heat of the moment – and he was under a lot of pressure at the time – Moses thought He knew what God was asking him to do. What we think we know is often our problem – it stops us being flexible enough to see new ways of doing things, and to follow fresh leadings of the Spirit.
All this tests our trust. The Lord is very careful in the things He allows to come our way. It may not look that way when we find ourselves in the superheated howling wilderness – but He kept the Israelites alive in theirs – and He will do the same for us. He will stick to His side of the bargain for as long as it takes, however many times He has to reshape the pot when it becomes marred when we have held back or taken wrong turnings. He even takes our hesitation and deviation into account.
Obedience means yieldedness, which leads to blessing. That means not doing something when He isn’t telling us to do it just as surely as it means going forward in faith when He tells us to, even when it looks as though everything is falling apart and on the point of collapse.
Israel had to survive – God had chosen this little nation to be a people for His own possession, through whom salvation would come to the whole world (Is. 63:7-9) – even insignificant little countries that no one in the Middle East had heard of in those days – like England and Gaul! And you. I’m sure Shetland was doing well in those days!
It may seem harsh to disqualify Moses for what sounds like a technicality, but obeying God right down to the details matters enormously. Did Moses just sit back and sulk because he had been barred from going into the Promised Land? No more than David did when forbidden to build the temple. Just as David concentrated on investing in his son, Solomon, Moses put all his efforts into preparing Joshua to be the one who would lead the new generation into the land.
Through Moses and Joshua, God had drummed it into His people that faith and obedience bring victory, but unbelief and disobedience bring only misery and futility. And they had had plenty of opportunity to prove the point as they wandered round and round for forty dreary years in a howling sun-baked wilderness. God continued to provide for His people; their shoes did not wear out in terrain so rough that the ‘normal’ shelf-life for sandals was four or five days. He knew there were no cobbler shops for quick repairs in the desert. And He sent manna to keep them alive. There is a wonderful principle at work here to meditate on. When there is no more that we can do, God steps in and takes over. We must do our part and God will do the rest.
But of all that generation, only Joshua and Caleb made it out of the wilderness.
What an amazing relief it must have been for the Israelites to hear the Lord promising them ‘The Lord is giving you rest and has granted you the land’ (v13): a prophetic declaration. It was the most welcome of promises – but it didn’t mean the way would suddenly open up easily for them. There would be many battles to establish what God had decreed but at least the people were now heading somewhere. They had regained a purpose for their lives again.
It is so precious when the Lord gives us goals – and the wisdom, strategy and energy to know how to work towards fulfilling them. Get praying, get in touch with people who are being used by God and you will get a vision – that’s great. Keep pure and keep praying through the inevitable mid-vision doldrums and you will see the vision beginning to be fulfilled - that’s even better. Best of all, may God enable you to live in the good of the vision that you and the Lord have brought into being together.
As always in the kingdom, unity is of paramount importance. God knew that the people could only get into the Promised Land if they were closely linked together. There was no space for everybody doing their own thing then any more than there is space for it today. Just as there had been no jealousy in Moses’ heart towards Joshua: so there was no resentment between the people and their leaders - but when Korah had rebelled against Moses, and even Miriam grumbled that ‘it wasn’t fair’ God intervened and resisted them firmly. Jealousy is such a problem amongst leaders. May the Lord set us free from constantly comparing ourselves with others. It can sprout wings and a demonic force.
‘Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?’ (Proverbs 27:4)
Paul was understating it when he said that we are not wise to compare ourselves with one another. (2 Co 10:12)
There was a great spirit amongst the Israelites. The people answered Joshua, ‘Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.’ (1:16) They were ready for action!
You of the Joshua Generation need to be linked together. I’ve seen people texting each other across the road! You are always troubling the satellites with small text messages about the slightest matters. Let’s do it about things that really matter, to pray blessings and strength into many situations.
Turn the information you hear and share in conversation into prayer. It brings God right into it and sends the devil skiddadling – it gets him really depressed and annoyed when Christians pray regularly together. To adapt a well known commercial: ‘the prayers of others can reach the parts our own can not’. I call it the Heineken principle. On that note, make sure you marry someone you can pray with! It’s tragic when Christians live but rarely, if ever, pray together. We don’t have to stay like that.
New ways are needed to bring about God’s purposes for this generation
Let’s face it, the old ways of doing church aren’t going to be enough to impact outsiders. God is looking for something different, something more creative. God is going to touch professional leaders as well as church people. That is why we need to get behind people who are sowing into the professions. For example, a friend of mine is involved in running courses at Waverley Abbey which reach out to business leaders teaching kingdom dynamics and principles to people who would normally have nothing to do with the church.
How do you move into Canaan?
What was the land like that the Joshua generation were going to face and overcome?
In a word, lawless and depraved. A place riddled with perverted sexuality and child sacrifice. In all to many ways we are a typical modern-day Canaanite society.
How then did Joshua start his great task? By charging in with all BC-guns blazing? Not so easy – there was a river in flood between him and Jericho, the gateway city. And God had other things on His heart. He started by insisting on the principle by which Joshua must live his whole life: ‘Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.’ Joshua 1:8
It is so important that we take time to wait on the Lord to find out what He would have us do rather than rushing in too quickly in what we hope is the right direction. That is important for us individually and corporately. Jersey, like Shetland, is a gateway city. Something about this North and South bit and what God wants to do here – to gain sight, to have strategy to achieve breakthrough. God is the God of the breakthrough. But that’s the end game. For the time being, we need to know where we are on God’s timetable and are advancing steadily towards the moment of breakthrough. We need to know what, when and how to do in order to see breakthrough.
Along the way, we may often experience shortages and drought. The temptation is to fear God will not provide our needs. How do we respond when we are insecure? Prayerfully or Puddle-Glumfully? Are we warriors or worriers? I am sufficiently good at worrying not to want to be too harsh against it so let’s just say it’s not a sin not to worry! The word ‘gongoozmo’ means to moan. I am more than familiar with that feeling. Yet we do neither God nor man a favour by moaning. How much better if we can turn our fears and grumbles into prayer! Don’t back off or take yourself out of the arena when things get difficult. Give the Lord the chance to fulfill His purposes and He will attend to your needs in the process.
So let’s look at the story in more depth, because this is speaking directly to the new generation that God is raising up.
In 1:2 God tells Joshua to get ready. I love it when the Lord tips us off when something is in the air – and in this case He needed to because Joshua then had to get the others ready. There is a right passing on of battle orders in every chain of command.
God gave Joshua a wonderful promise that every place on which he set his feet would be given to him. Now that is taking ground for the kingdom. But Joshua, like us, could only take the ground God led him into. He could have shouted all he liked on the sixth time going round Jericho but nothing whatsoever would have happened. There is a profound partnering with God and His time scale in all of this.
That was when the Lord told him that no one would be able to stand up against him all the days of his life! What a promise! No man, no opponent can ultimately ever stop the purposes of God from working out. They can do all kinds of hindering and damage on the way – and some of you who have been through distressing experiences and unexpected relational breakdowns know all about that. But Bob Gass expressed an important truth when he said that the Lord Jesus needed Judas Iscariot as well as the beloved disciple John in order to fulfill His mission and get to the place where He would save the world – the Cross. It would never have happened if He had just remained preaching, teaching and healing individuals in the Temple courts until He died of old age. There would have been a lot less sick people cluttering up Jerusalem’s streets, but the underlying problem of sin would not be dealt with.
Think of all the people who found the Lord in Ravensbruck concentration camp because Corrie Ten Boom was betrayed and sent to that terrible place. Along the way she had to win inner battles with herself, and these are often the hardest of all. For instance, it was agonisingly difficult for her to do, but she managed to forgive the man who betrayed not only her but who, in doing so, condemned every single member of her family to death. She alone survived – and that was only because of a clerical error. She was put on the release list by mistake! Praise the Lord for God-inspired clerical errors! Corrie traveled the world for many years after the war and was mightily used by God to bring many a saint to knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
Concerning these ‘opponents’ who stand in your way and refuse to budge, have you tried praising God for them, and praying for God to touch their heart? No one is claiming that it is easy, but it is virtually impossible to resent someone you are praying for. Loving them can soften their hearts and change you in the process.
If the Lord then chooses to deal with them because they are opposing Him, that is His decision. Awesome things happen when God breaks through. I heard of a man in the Faroe Islands who was opposing a great work of God who was struck blind for two weeks until he stopped resisting. Spend much time in His presence. Try to sense when it is right to ‘nestle’ and when we need to wrestle against unseen opposition. He is even more eager for us to seek Him than we are! Don’t settle for second best - pay the cost and pray the cost for the power of God to turn meetings into encounters.
God’s got feelings as well as plans. It means so much to Him when He sees us eager to be in His presence.Remember how the Lord Jesus said to His disciples on the night before He was betrayed, ‘I have eagerly desired to share this fellowship meal with you.’ He says the same to us today.
When God wants to do something, He allows us to see the difficulties first – but when He is going to do something truly magnificent, He allows it to appear completely impossible. He takes impossible people and breaks them so that they can do impossible things for Him. Don’t panic if the Lord calls you to do things by faith that look as though they cannot be done.
If God realises that you really are ‘trapped’ where you are and are never going to be able to develop you gifts and talents any further, like the Israelites were in Egypt, He may well choose to take you somewhere where you can work more freely towards fulfilling what He has given you to do. That’s fine. He went to enormous lengths to deliver Israel from her oppression and He will not allow us to remain ‘trapped’ forever either. Jesus withdrew from certain places in order to spend time with His Father. That is strategic retreating in order to plan the next advance. It is totally different from running away from something tough. It’s so often when we draw aside to seek the Lord in such ways that we gain His wisdom and perspective.
A friend of mine pastors the church where William Carey used to preach. Carey was a man who knew that God was calling Him to reach out to the heathen millions – but there was no culture for doing so at that time and no structures in place to support him. The spiritual authorities over him could by no means track with him when he told them how God was leading him. Bishop Ryland reputedly told him in no uncertain terms that if God wanted to convert the heathen, He wouldn’t bother involving us in the process. How wrong can you get? What a blessing that Carey had the courage to go anyway! His work in India brought many to the Lord and marked the start of the great evangelical missions that brought the knowledge of Christ to the far-flung places of the world. That is not an excuse to go off doing our own thing as rugged individuals but who can deny that following God’s calling may well bring us into conflict with the traditions of men? We can be so comfortable where we are that we often don’t want to embrace the cost of growth. Unless your status-quo is red-hot for the Lord it is unlikely to be God’s very best.
Joshua teaches us that the fulfillment of God’s plans depends on our active cooperation. God intends to fulfill His purposes for the world through His people, the Church. (Eph. 3:10] Without His blessing we cannot do anything of lasting value. But without us He won’t either. What a thought!
What is it that will gives us the strength and courage we need to do the Lord’s will? His Word to us and His Spirit in us. Like Joshua: to be strong and courageous (1:9) because without courage we will not accomplish anything of any lasting value. We are surrounded by fears on every hand, and the self-indulgent easily heed the devil’s plausible excuses for not attempting things.
Many fellowships exude ‘the fear of Church’ rather than embrace the fear of the Lord. They push for conformity, they mistake attendance for commitment and they fear things that challenge the status-quo. No wonder the Bible urges us, in one form or another 365 times not to be afraid. An encouragement a day to step out with what God is giving us.
It is said of John Wimber that although he ministered to thousands, he was only interested in an audience of one. We need that spirit. It is so easy for leaders to play to the gallery and to bend over backwards not to rock the boat. But Jesus is always rocking the boat! He said that He came to bring division as well as peace. (Luke 12:51f)
Let me introduce you to the Hebrew word, chazaq. It means ‘to be strong’. It is used 300 times in the Bible. I love the way it is recorded of David that he strengthened himself in the Lord. This was at Ziklag when he heard the new terrible news that he had lost his family, his wives, everything in fact – and as if all that wasn’t bad enough, his own men turned on him and spoke of stoning him. Now that is stress. Big time. Reach for the Valium. But David sought the Lord and gained the reassurance to go ahead and pursue the raiders. It is a great thing to be able to stop and hear God in the midst of a crisis when the adrenaline is pumping and it is so easy to let fear drown out the still small voice.
People tend to fall into either the ‘Word-only’ camp or the ‘just follow the Spirit’s leading’ camp. Actually, we need both. Word only and we risk become so doctrine-obsessed that we dry up. But if we seek only to live by the Spirit there is a strong likelihood that sooner or later we will go off course and blow up. As the years go by you are almost bound to see many examples of this. But the post-modern generation won’t be reached by Word only; the eye and musical ear gates are very important. We need to find creative ways to allow Word and Spirit to flow together. That is when we become culturally relevant and spiritually empowered. Smith Wigglesworth said that it is when both are flowing together that we well see revival. Without a regular diet of God’s word we become too subjective in our faith and too circular. That’s why the Lord was at such pains to insist on the need for daily meditation (1:8).
Give space to let the Spirit minister through the Word – eg, don’t keep preaching till the end of the service! Put music and prayer together. One note of inspired music can lift people’s spirits. Go wider in prayer. Don’t miss the opportunity to pray together. Make frameworks for God to use and trust Him to fill them.
It is time to seek the Lord; time to plough up the unploughed ground. You don’t put seed into ground that hasn’t been prepared. The farmer ploughs with a purpose. So too does God. By the way, boldness and courage have nothing to do with not being afraid - it just means that we are determined to go ahead in pursuing what God has shown us despite our fears, and the pressure that certain people may be putting on us not to do what God is asking of us.
We should not be surprised when we encounter misunderstanding and opposition. People ask awkward questions according to their own misunderstandings and perception of matters, instead of acknowledging that God may be in something that is new to them. They say you have got the vision wrong, or the timing of it or some other point of detail. They question you suitability to do the work and a host of other such issues. All or any of these can be immensely painful, especially if they come from people you would be inclined to trust or look to in other circumstances.
But if God has sounded a call to get ready, as He had done to the Israelites in 1:1, then we cannot afford to hold back. Too often in the past we have suffered through being insufficiently obedient to the call that we have received. The criticisms will come, by the bucketload, but we must still walk on, keeping as much in step as we possibly can with the call God has given us. If we are prepared to do this, He will not fail to come to us again in one guise or another to confirm His call and to open the doors that need to be opened.
The danger comes when, in our hearts, we give up. We decide that the path we are on is just too lonely and the cost too high. That’s when we settle for what we have rather than pushing on towards the higher calling on the harder path that God has called us to. I pray the Lord will strengthen you with fresh courage to embrace the call God is placing on your life.
1:11 Then comes this wonderful call to get ready that we have heard. Forty years of training in the wilderness had gone into this moment when the officers told people to get ready. And two men were there to see it and to lead it who had been sent out as spies first time round: Caleb and Joshua, who had such a different spirit from the others who had all perished in the desert. Study books such as Mark Stibbe’s Prophetic Evangelism. Wait on the Lord to find out what strategies He would have you adopt for meeting people. The one thing we can say is that it will involve going out to meet people rather than assuming that all we have to do is to hang around to greet people as they come through the church door.
As soon as they were fully in the Promised Land the supply of manna stopped as suddenly as it had miraculously first appeared. God had changed His ways with His people: He expected them now to cultivate the land for themselves. It’s a reminder not to expect God to do the things we are supposed to do, and not to worry about doing the things we really can’t do and that only God can do for us!
Later on, God would hold back the sun the pace of a day in order to allow a crucial victory to be won. But the people had to do their part and get down to the battlefield.
So you can imagine the scene: a bit like getting ready for the D-day landings, with everyone mustering for the offensive. Tense and nervous – but determined to succeed where the previous generation had failed. The last thing they wanted to do was to wander about in that ghastly wilderness for another forty years. This is the Joshua Generation.
1:13 Remember the command that Moses gave you. They were urged to remember what God had asked them to do. We need to know and remember what God is asking us to do and to work towards fulfilling those goals: not just drift along hoping that things will work out ok some day, one day, maybe.
Leaders have to spell out the goals and objectives to those they are leading. They have to live and breathe them themselves and then communicate them to others – frequently – until they become a living reality for them too. I highly recommend Understanding Leadership by Tom Marshall (Sovereign World). But remember this – the Lord really does look on the desire that is in our hearts, and the effort we put in as well as the targets we actually achieve. Understanding that God is prepared to bless the direction of our hearts is a real encouragement. He doesn’t expect you to be another Billy Graham if He hasn’t given you his platform.
And if we have not done well in a particular situation, God often allows us some sort of a rerun. Joshua and Caleb were the only ones still around – and this time it was Joshua sending out spies rather than being sent out as one himself. Why did he do so? He wanted strategic information about the city. Time spent in reconnaissance is rarely wasted. This time the reports were completely different: the people of Jericho, having heard what miracles God had done for them at the Red Sea, were already quaking in their boots. No chance this time of the Joshua Generation pulling back through unbelief. (2:10-11)
Can you think of times when the Lord has sent a sort of ‘rerun’ your way – either to you as an individual or to your Church? He is looking to see if you will handle it differently this time round.
What a turn around! For forty years Israelites had been afraid of the Canaanites. Now we find the Canaanites in fear and trembling of the Israelites. (5:1) Never underestimate how God can turn things round. That very relationship or situation that is causing you such pain and problems now may be the very thing that God is going to be glorified through later on. Pray, pray and persevere. Shortly after the Second World war had finished, Winston Churchill was invited to speak to his old school, Harrow. The great British Prime Minister, who had almost single-handedly kept Britain going with his inspiring speeches, shuffled forward in that old overcoat and that deep voice of his and said just this: ‘Young men, never give up. Never, never, never give up.’ That was all. And no one will ever forget what He said!
One common excuse I mentioned earlier that the enemy often uses when outright isn’t working is along these lines: ‘It isn’t the right time for you to do this!’ It can be a remarkably successful ploy – if we listen to it. But God told the people to get up and move when they saw the Levites carrying the ark of the Lord. (3:3) When the Lord is doing a new thing, we need to go after it. I don’t mean rushing to join the church where it’s all happening. We shouldn’t do anything of the sort unless He plainly tells you to. But we do need to be in touch with people who can help us learn things we don’t know much about. Spiritual gifts are caught as well as taught.
God is leading you by a way by which you have not passed before.(3:4) That word 'passed', abar in Hebrew occurs 500 times in Scripture. We have to pass through a lot of tricky circumstances in order to reach the high places He has in mind for us. A lot of stuff happens! There are openings for all kinds of people! Don’t miss where God is leading you, whether it is to a geographical region, or to a new sphere of ministry. What new things has the Lord been leading you to consider in the past year or so, again both as individuals and as churches?
Just a word of warning: never let the thing (the vision, the person, the ministry that God has given you) become more important than loving Jesus Himself. As somebody said, ‘many people love to preach, but do we love the people we preach to?’ Visions are God-given, and require enormous faith and sheer plain work to be fulfilled – but we can go badly off course if we get in the way of thinking that everything depends on that vision being fulfilled. It is so easy to become vision-centered rather than Christ-centered. The Lord may even have to take a vision from us in order to get the balance right again in your life.
Consecrating ourselves (3:5) means yielding ourselves and everything that means most to us to the Lord. The ark of the covenant, of course, was Israel’s most sacred treasure? It was the symbol of God’s power and presence amongst them. May I ask you to consider what yours is? You may not even realise how much something or someone means to you until God asks you to be willing to let go of it. What you sow does not come to life until it dies (1 Co 15:36). At the heart of all anointed ministries you will find hidden sacrifices which in God’s eyes powered the whole movement.
Coming back from a disappointing meeting with his denominational leadership, Loren Cunningham was involved in a horrifying car crash. His wife was flung from the car and lay motionless beside the road. It was at that point that the Lord said to Him, ‘Are you still prepared to follow me?’ Loren was faced with much the same situation that Peter was when Jesus asked him if he was still prepared to follow Him at a time when the crowds were deserting Him. As Loren yielded to the Lord he felt a strong call to pray for his wife. The battle was a prolonged one but Darleen was restored to life and Loren went on to found Youth with a Mission (YWAM) an organization that has affected countless thousands for Christ. If you aren’t willing to yield it to the Lord with an open hand, it will hurt if He has to prise it from our fingers. It is so much better to yield to the Lord than to have Him prise things from our closed fingers!
I love the next bit, 3:7 when God says ‘I’m about to give a bit of a kick start to your ministry, Joshua.’ It’s always tough to follow in the footsteps of a spiritual giant. It must have been hard for Elisha to follow Elijah – but he kept his eyes fixed on his master, and when the time came for him to take over, he cried out, ‘where now is the God of Elijah?’ – and God dramatically enabled him to cross the river without getting his feet wet. And Elisha went on to do more and bigger miracles than Elijah himself had done. May that be true of you too.
God is into walking through rivers in flood when it really matters – but don’t try it for a hobby. It puts people off. No kidding, one of the islands is resistant to the Spirit in Faeroes because some ill-advised people donkey’s years ago boasted they could do it and they couldn’t. It made such a bad name that people there are still scared of anything to do with the Holy Spirit.
But here’s what the priests had to do and it didn’t sound too plausible ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan rivers, go and stand in the river.’ (3:8) How would you like God to tell you to do that? It sounded wacky enough when He told us to go to Shetland!
Spare a thought for just how courageous the priests needed to be as they set foot in the river. It’s the first step that’s the hardest to do – stepping out in faith when God has set the direction for us. Suppose the ‘but I can’t swim’ brigade had shouted the loudest and won the day? Fear is horrible and highly contagious. Here’s a helpful hint: take two tablets of praise for every step of faith and see if it helps. You can’t praise and doubt at the same time! Remember the hymn that encourages us to fill every part of our life with praise?
God was quite happy to time His miracle for when the river was in spate (3:15). What He had done at the Red Sea in making a way where there seemed to be no way, He did again now. He got an entire nation safely across a river in spate. It nowhere says so, but Joshua may well have wondered whether God had left it too late for him and Caleb: I mean to lead an army across a river swollen by flood at their age? Wow and double wow!
Did God send a landslide upstream to block the waters? Or did He just wade in and hold the waters back supernaturally? I have no idea how God’s Heavenly Flood Control Department did their job, but the waters stopped flowing. Hallelujah!
When we see the Lord working in power we all run the risk of getting a bit carried away. The Israelites must have been desperately keen to press in and possess the land now, but God still needed to make sure that they learnt to cultivate the habit of seeking Him. (3:9) ‘Come near and listen to the words of the Lord your God.’ Just to take that phrase in slow motion. Come. Near. Listen. The Word of the Lord. Remember the principle: prayer and preparation, then action. It is not never clever when we are so busy that we forget to wait on the Lord. That’s the place where we gain our strategy to find the best way forward, and to hear any instructions He needs to give us. Do you do this as a church in your (committee) meetings? Turn them into encounter times!
Right, we’ve heard you, Lord; we’re over the river, now can we press on and take the land? No, not quite yet. Go and pick up stones from the river bed! What do You want with a load of old stones, God? Because what I’ve just done is so stupendous that I wanted you to remember it for ever! (rough paraphrase of chapter 4).
We’re back with the idea of remembering again. “What do these stones mean to you, Grandad?” people would ask. “Ah, those were the days, youngster. The glory days when Caleb and Joshua led us across the Jordan River. It was in spate you know…!” And here we are still telling the story today, thousands of years later! God is into story-telling. It’s good to set aside times to tell stories about how the Lord has led you as a family or fellowship. As you do this, you will be awed by the precision of His leading, the things he keeps you from as well as things He’s leading you into. And the specific recounting of what He has done for you in the past will serve as a springboard for faith into the future. The Lord loves the story, the testimony that He is building in you – and it isn’t just about how you came to know the Lord in the first place, it is a continually unfolding story from one year to the next – from week to week even. Did you realise that you are living a soap?
v Five things God has done for you.
v And five things He is leading you into.
You can’t ignore God and His ways most of the time and just take it for granted that He’ll show up on time and in place to give you what you want when you want it. How unfair would that be?
It was at this stage – after something so wonderful – that God realized the people needed to be made still more aware of His holiness. Or rather, Joshua himself did. Successful leaders need to be reminded of that more often than most. You can read the account of his encounter with the commander in chief of the Lord’s armies in 5:13 onwards.
Joshua had a huge task ahead of him. But God had a still more important priority. Before He told Joshua how He was going to use him in the coming battle, He revealed more of who He was to Joshua.
‘The atmosphere of the 20th century is just too dense with man.’ (John Piper)
‘We make celebrities out of nonentities.’ (Greg Haslam)
And then it was time to tackle Jericho itself. Like the burning bush and crossing the Jordan, taking Jericho would be one of the key moments in all history. The city of Jericho was one of the oldest and best fortified cities in the world, the walls were up to 25 feet high and 20 thick. God caused them to fall down flat at the sound of a trumpet. Anyone know any other cities that are allergic to brass bands?
At this crucial time, God didn’t want people expressing their unbelief like the first bunch of spies forty years ago, whose unbelief had proved so contagious. It’s so easy when we are really up against it to let unbelief pour out of our mouths. Far better to be silent, even as the Lord commanded the army to be as they marched around Jericho. It sounded a strange order. God was less concerned about scaring the people inside Jericho by means of the Israelites hollering – they were already scared enough – but rather to keep the Israelites from voicing their unbelief and mockery that such a scheme could ever succeed. Mockery is faith denying. It showed enormous self restraint on their part to keep silent.
This wasn’t an easy strategy and involved the priests leading the troops carrying the Ark of the Covenant. Where were the soldiers? Further back -- just like when He sent the choir into action first in 2 Chronicles 20. This was such a test of Israel’s faith and obedience. Are you seeking the Lord for Him to show you the best strategy to do the things He has led you to attempt for Him.
After the stunning success at Jericho – a setback. God had said, ‘Don’t keep any of the booty for yourself,’ but one man thought that it was decidedly mean of God not to pay His troops. He thought nothing would happen to him if he allowed greed to get the better of him.. He found out the hard way that it is not so much we who break the commandments of God than they which break us. And Israel learnt that what one person does affects all the others. When one member of the family is down and out of sorts, everyone else feels it too. So don’t be surprised when God picks us up on it. We can fool other people most of the time, but we can’t fool God. Welcome his inspection, welcome His discipline. Don’t be surprised when it happens. God has promised to discipline His children.
There is no quick path to holiness. We are not called to be strong in ourselves but to be strongly dependent on the Lord. Read Hebrews 12.
Chapter 7 shows us how badly things can go wrong when we do wrong – and they will stay that way until we do whatever it takes to put things right. Many men died because of Achan’s sin. All Israel became afraid. This was a time when the call appeared all but swamped by a sense of utter failure in Joshua’s heart. It can feel as though God Himself has turned against you – especially when your own people hurt you. Joshua himself was downcast. I love his prayer in verses 7-9: that is honest prayer, such as we find when Moses was up against it. That’s the language we must use: not prayer book language at those times. God welcomes honest prayer, but keep an ear open to what God has to say in reply.
God requires us to do all that He says, not holding any part back. Don’t pretend it doesn’t matter because you can’t see any negative effects spreading from what you have done wrong, the Lord can. Like dark ripples they form pools of evil.
Joshua had gone up against Ai without consulting the Lord. He has assumed it would be a pushover after Jericho. We become complacent very quickly, and we pay for it when we stop seeking the Lord about the details. It was a crucial moment. If Israel had failed to take Ai, the Canaanite kings would have been re-emboldened. But once the sin had been dealt with, God moved very fast again to gain the vital next victory. God moves us on beyond the failure of sin and opens new doors of opportunity. Sin itself should become more like a railway accident than a railway timetable.
We often find ourselves in the Valley of Achor (trouble); the battle is ferocious. But look how vigorously Joshua became once he had picked himself up off the floor. In 8:18 and 26 we see him in an attitude of vigorous prayer, fighting through until the battle is won. I believe we often stop praying too soon for things. ‘PUSH’: pray until something happens. Pray fervently!
The message was getting round; direct opposition to Israelites was a surefire recipe for digging your own grave. Time for some a-symmetrical tactics. How about a spot of deception? A local tribe stuffed their saddlebags with mouldy old bread, and pretended they had come from afar to ask for a peace treaty. Joshua never even bothered to check it out with the Lord. It just seemed the sensible thing to do. And once he had made his oath, he had to stick to it, because the word of God tells people to honour their oaths. It would involve him having to fight battles to protect the Gibeonites who he had entered into an awkward alliance with – the last thing he would have wanted to do. Leaders, take time and seek discernment! Don’t get caught up in relationships and enterprises unless God makes it clear that you should get involved with them. If you are, God will make it clear to you by several different ways: don’t just rely on one strand of guidance.
Ponder 10:12-13 to see the authority the Lord gives us from time to time in order to accomplish certain things. Remember that heaven is closer than we think: God’s presence and His power.
It feels at first read as though they swept through and conquered the Promised Land at one go. In fact it took about seven years, and was never really complete. We often expect quick changes: many things require careful planning, others we have to act on promptly. Be open to the Lord’s time scale as well as to his leading. Remember, our journey with God is a lifetime journey. It’s easy to get impatient with God, and feel that nothing is happening. Like watching the bar moving across your E mail if you are opening a 10 meg file without broadband. It seems to take forever. Go can answers years of prayer at one go, keep praying, PUSH! – Pray Until Something Happens! (It’s the midwife’s prayer!)
We find much the same message again in Joshua’s final warnings: don’t get involved with things that will become a snare for us. Marrying Canaanite women is like marrying non Christians today: it causes all sorts of snags as the years go by. 23:12 Watch out for snares and traps. Women wanting a strong man; men wanting conquest without responsibility. The fear of man is another snare. There are plenty of man traps around. Don’t follow the lawless ways of the Canaanite society about us, which rationalizes sin on the basis that ‘everyone’s doing it’. We just can’t afford to use that as an excuse. God is serious and he wants us to be whole hearted and to keep making right choices and keeping his commandments - and He will find ways to use you greatly in His service.
We may not have to conquer nations as Joshua did but every day there will be fresh challenges and opportunities, we will have to deal with awkward people and difficult situations. God can help us to overcome them. Remember: success does not come from human skills or influence or drive, but from a great determination to be strong and courageous in seeking and obeying God. To gain victory we need to Stay pure, Watch out for sin and be courageous to move forward as God shows us to. Day by day, and He will get you to where you need to be when He needs you to be there.
He expects much from us, but He gives much to us.
There is no quota of prayer we can ever use up.
There is no ‘quota’ of blessings from heaven we can ever exceed. The river will not run dry.
Jesus has declared, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ What a promise!
Joshua’s testimony at the end is that God has not failed to make good even one of His promises. He has been entirely faithful.
May His closing affirmation also be our experience: You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.
And may His ways be established in your hearts.
‘Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’ (24:15)
1:9 Read widely!
After thoughts: mainly from Greg Haslim, senior pastor, Westminster Chapel:
‘The call of God is supreme. All your life has been a prologue for Him showing you what is on His mind.’ (GH)
1. You will encounter misunderstanding and opposition ‘What’s your backing?, people will ask, instead of pausing to see if God is in it. Humility is not just seeing your weaknesses, but seeing God’s strength.
2. You will encounter dead ends and disappointments Everything God asks us to do is a risk. Risks rejection. Moses had a handicap/impediment. Who makes a man deaf or dumb? (v11) No you go and I will teach you what to say. Our limitations won’t stop the Lord. Your limp does not disqualify you. GH
3. I’m not willing enough to do this. (v13) This is what Moses said in summary. Self-will got in the way. Send someone else when God’s go us in mind – don’t be so impertinent. GH
4. You will be tempted to doubt : doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs, rather than the other way round. GH
5. You will encounter shortages and drought (GH) But God will provide for your needs. Try to avoid grumbling at such times! Gongoozmo – to moan. ‘You do neither God nor man a favour by moaning. Turn it into prayer.’ GH Part of the problem I’m sure is that people in the UK are used to thinking of terms of drought and low expectations in this country because there is so little real water flowing, so little real heavenly light penetrating. Don’t settle for less than meeting God: pay the price to turn meetings into encounters. But don’t stray the other way into presumption either. It’s perilously easy to do so!
6. A leader is someone who makes things happen! GH
God is raising up a generation of leaders who know God’s strength. The ‘dunamis’ power that pushes grass seed through concrete. You need power as well as authority. ‘Exousia’ – the authorisation of God to speak and impact people’s belief systems.
Power without authority is dangerous – like a gangster with a gun.
Authority without power is like a policeman without a gun…no match for the gangster!
God uses you to extend His kingdom. Word and deed are needed to save the nation. A gospel must be preached that can be seen as well as heard.
One who is intimate with God will not fear the devil., though he or she will by no means underestimate him either. Smith Wigglesworth.
There is no limit to what God can do with one man or woman who fully surrenders to Him. He will take and use what we do have and turn it into something supernatural. GH
You’ll have to pray with anew intensity if you’re going to see God break through. GH
See who God is anointing and acknowledge it. GH
Risk criticism, abuse – march to the sound of what God is giving you to do, according to the mandate He is giving you. From day to day as He opens doors for you. GH