We are halfway through the book of Joshua, and two-thirds through our study. For the sake of perspective and context, today we’ll look at the major themes we’ve been focusing on in Joshua. This is especially important as we get into the epic battle scenes because it’s easy to get lost in the drama. We saw this last week as Pastor Sam led us through the account of a great battle.
Although there was a great battle and God worked mightily on behalf of His people, the battle was a backdrop to an even greater story: the story of how God redeemed the failure of Israel. Israel failed to seek God’s counsel and entered into an unholy alliance, yet God used that alliance to further His purposes and His kingdom for the good of Israel and His own glory. As Pastor Sam explained, that battle was really a picture of the Gospel. Although the Gibeonites were deceptive and tricked Israel into making a covenant, Israel went to battle before five kings on behalf of the enemy, the Gibeonites, because of the covenant. Does that remind you of the Gospel? It should:
For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:7-8
We all like to identify with Israel here – even though they were deceived, they took the moral high ground. But in this story, we are the Gibeonites. While we were still sinners, deceitful and undeserving, Christ died for us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. God is a God who redeems.
As we look at Chapters 10-12, we will see that the battles are fierce and real historical events, but I don’t want us to lose the timeless truth God has given us in these events. In Joshua 1, God tells Joshua repeatedly that He is giving them the land. He promises the land and guarantees the outcome:
“Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel. “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses…”No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. “Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them….Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, “Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, saying, ‘Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you are to cross this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you, to possess it.'” Joshua 1:2-3, 5-6, 10-11
So why all the battles? If God had already promised and guaranteed the outcome, why were there still years of battles? The battles were for God’s glory and the good of Israel. In those battles, Israel was kept close to God and the battles were a display of God’s faithfulness and power. In the battles, we see the major themes of the book of Joshua.
1. God fulfills His promises. He is faithful and true to His word and does not lie. He had promised a land for Israel and He would fulfill that promise. The same is true in our lives – the promises for us found in His word are true, and God is faithful to fulfill them.
The issue for us, as it was for Israel, is twofold: timing and faith. From the decree of the promise to the fulfillment of the promise, 400 years passed. There were many people who passed away, believing God would fulfill His promise, but they never saw the Promised Land. God is not slow or unwilling; it is about His perfect timing:
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9
Christ will return when it will give Him the most glory and will be best for His people. Israel struggled to trust God’s timing, just as we do. Whatever promise of God you are waiting on will be fulfilled when it will bring Him the most glory and you the most good.
The other issue is faith, meaning our obedient response to His promises. As we look at Joshua 11 and as the account of Israel entering and conquering the Promised Land comes to a close, we see God fulfill His promise to Israel:
Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass. Joshua 21:45
2. Trusting in God’s character develops courage. In Chapter 1, God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous, and Joshua tells the people to be strong and courageous. Their courage and strength was not because of who they were, their skills, or their power, but because of their God. The Israelites were commanded to put their confidence in God, and He was able – He was giving them the land and He would fight the battles for them.
What insurmountable obstacle are you facing today? Look to God, and be strong and courageous. When we live in fear, we look at ourselves instead of the character of God. It’s not about mustering up courage on our own – acting in faith is believing in the goodness of God and that He has a perfect plan. God’s goal in our life is not comfort but conformity to the image of His son.
3. Acting in faith initiates the work of God in our lives. As God works in our lives, there is a mix of the spiritual and the practical. The spiritual is the work that God does. In Joshua, He separated the waters, fought the battles, and held the sun in the sky. The practical was when Israel stepped out in faith and went into battle, even when outnumbered. There are times that we do not experience the work of God in our lives because we do not take the step necessary to initiate the work. Faith is the soil that God works in.
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6
For example, Paul writes that we can experience the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. That peace comes by taking a step of faith and giving thanks for all things, and then the peace of God which surpasses understanding will guard your heart and mind (Philippians 4:6-7, 9). The act of faith is thanking God for all circumstances and trusting that He has a greater eternal purpose for every circumstance, even when we don’t understand.
Then it came about, when Jabin king of Hazor heard of it, that he sent to Jobab king of Madon and to the king of Shimron and to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings who were of the north in the hill country, and in the Arabah–south of Chinneroth and in the lowland and on the heights of Dor on the west– to the Canaanite on the east and on the west, and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Jebusite in the hill country, and the Hivite at the foot of Hermon in the land of Mizpeh. They came out, they and all their armies with them, as many people as the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. So all of these kings having agreed to meet, came and encamped together at the waters of Merom, to fight against Israel. Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow at this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” Joshua 11:1-6
Here we see the kings of the north come together to fight against Israel – at this point, Israel has to take a step of faith. We all want a life of comfort without battles, but battles teach us to trust God’s character. Through the battles, God demonstrated His faithfulness in delivering the land, taught them to trust in His character, and gave Israel the opportunity to act in faith so that He could work in them and through them.
Joshua waged war against the kings for a long time (Joshua 11:18). God could have wiped them all out in a minute, or a day, or before Israel even arrived. Instead, the war was over a period of seven years. God was in the process of making them a people for Himself, a holy and set apart nation. This is the same concept from the New Testament that we understand as sanctification – the process of being set apart or being made holy.
Just like when an artist is at work on a great weaving or painting, one color is applied and blended at a time. At first, the painting appears to be complete chaos, but as the artist works, shapes begin to form and beauty emerges. It is the same with God’s work in our lives and God’s work in the battles. In the midst of blood, sleepless days, exhaustion, and fear, God was working to make them a people who would bring His glory to the world.
The Jewish historian Josephus numbered Israel’s enemies with horses and chariots at almost a half million soldiers. Israel was outnumbered, but God would be true to His promises, just as He had spoken through Moses in Deuteronomy:
“When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you. “When you are approaching the battle, the priest shall come near and speak to the people. “He shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, you are approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’ Deuteronomy 20:1-4
We all face different battles, valleys filled with innumerable obstacles to keep us from being and receiving all that God has for us. The point is not to compare our battles with other people’s battles, but to remember that God loves us perfectly. Jesus took on God’s wrath and the penalty due to us on the cross. He loved us enough to die for us, and He loves us today because of who He is – there is nothing greater or more important than our relationship with Him.
The battles in our lives are designed to shape and mold us. The battles are God’s grace to us, just like they were for Israel. God is faithful and will fulfill His promises, trusting in God’s character develops courage, and faith initiates the work of God in your life. Has God been prompting you through His word? Is there something you need to put down or pick up? Is there someone you need to forgive, or something you need to give? God loves you and has amazing plans for you as you follow Him.