1. So I Will Be With You
There are no audio or video file uploads at this time
A long-time leader is gone. His former assistant has taken on a new role. All eyes are on him. Change is in the air. Along with some excitement there is some trepidation. There is a task to be accomplished. There is something for a faith community to do together. There is a promise to be taken hold of. It’s not a clean slate however. It’s not a restart, or a reset. It’s a continuation of what has gone on before.
“After the death of Moses…” This is the situation the Israelites found themselves in. They are moving into a new phase of God’s great restoration plan – God’s great saving plan. From one of exodus from Egypt and wandering to one of claiming God’s promise of possession and partition of land and of rest. It’s been said that the only constant in life is change. While I believe there are other constants in life, there’s some merit to that statement isn’t there. Change is hard. It’s exciting. It’s scary. In our own faith community here we have new leadership, some of it known, some of it less well known right now. We have people taking on roles for the first time. We have people facing changes in their individual lives. New situations, new schools. New challenges – be it health, work, relationships. Let us look this morning at the opening chapter of the book of Joshua and see what God might have to say to our hearts this day…
In our own season of change, we are going to be going through the book of Joshua over 9 Sundays. Joshua is the first of the books of the Hebrew Bible that are known as the lesser prophets. It’s also closely tied to Deuteronomy – which is largely a record of Moses’ injunction to the people who are about to enter the promised land about how to live there. As such it is a continuation of the story we find in Deuteronomy. The story of Moses gathering the people of Israel to give them the “second law” – to describe what it will look like to follow Yahweh in the land they are about to enter. The story of Moses commissioning Joshua to take over. The story of Moses going up Mount Nebo where he will view the land that was promised to Abraham so long ago, of Moses’ final blessing on all of Israel and his death and burial in Moab, leaving Joshua to lead the people into the land of promise.
And who was Joshua, son of Nun? He had been one of the spies sent in to scout Canaan out. One of only two (along with Caleb) who had said “If the Lord is pleased with us he will give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey… the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” (Num 14:8-9). He became the commander of Moses’ army. He would guard the tent of meeting when Moses would meet there. We are told that Moses changed his name from Hosea – meaning “help” or “salvation” to Joshua – “Yahweh is salvation”. The book of Joshua is an account of God’s saving acts – of God acting in history to effect salvation.
Speaking of history, there has been much debate about the historicity of Joshua. I’ll leave that for the small group leaders to deal with. There are many theories that attempt to explain how the Israelites entry into Canaan was a military conquest, a peasant revolt, or immigration. There are archeological questions surrounding the historicity of events described in Joshua. There are questions around authorship and editorial additions – it is thought by most Biblical scholars that additions were being made to the book right up to the time of post-Babylonian exile Israel. There are contradictions within the book – in chapter 10 we read of the land being subdued, while in chapter 14 the author lists the areas that are yet to be subdued. If you would like to read about some of these things I can provide you with some reading material. Don’t let it shake your faith. I heard once about a man who said his faith was shaken because the royal timelines in II Kings don’t line up with the timelines in Chronicles. These historical records were not written to accomplish the same goals that we in our post Age of Reason mindset consider historical records are meant to accomplish. These historical records were inspired to teach us about God, and how God has intervened in human history and what that might mean for us today and what it will mean for us in the future.
After the death of Moses
“After the death of Moses…” Why does the book start this way? As I said this story is a continuation of salvation history. This story is the fulfillment of a promise made to Abraham when Lot took the fertile plain of the Jordan and God told Abraham to look northward and southward and eastward and westward and said “…all the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” (Gen 13:15) While Joshua may be what we consider the main character here, the primary actor is God and how God acts to fulfill His promise. There is a command here in v 2 to be sure – “proceed to cross the Jordan” – but look at how God’s actions are described – “the land that I am giving to them… Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses…. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you…the land that I swore to your ancestor to give them…” Before we talk about what God commands of us we need to talk about what God has done – we need to be reminded of our complete and utter dependence on Him. Joshua’s very name is a reminder that Yahweh is salvation. For the ancient Israelite, the land itself was a reminder of their dependence on God. Look at Deuteronomy 11:10-12 – “For the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like a land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by foot like a vegetable garden (this is a reference to Egyptian irrigation systems, fed by the Nile, that were operated by foot). But the land that you are crossing over to occupy is a land of hills and valleys, watered by rain from the sky, a land that the Lord your God looks after. The eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” A land mostly dependent on rainfall with a long impossible to defend border. The very land would be a reminder of dependence on God.
It’s harder for us isn’t it? Coming to an understanding of our need for God. We know it, sure, but we don’t always act or think like everything is dependent on God. Too often we think and act like it’s all up to us, I know I do. Like it’s down to our own competencies, our own machinations.
Be Strong and Courageous
So how do we keep our need for God in front of us as we seek to follow Christ? As we seek to make Christ’s promises our own, to claim them as our own? We get our answer in the next command found in v 6 – “Be strong and courageous; for you shall put his people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and courageous. Even here though the courage and strength that is being called for is not based in and of the Israelites (or ourselves!). The strength and courage that is being called for is rather based on God’s acting on Israel’s behalf. Look at Deuteronomy 31:6 – “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” As one commentator puts it – “…the words ‘be strong and courageous’ are not really a call to be vigorous in waging war. Rather they are primarily an injunction to trust and depend on the Lord.” We see the same thing in Psalm 27:14 where the psalmist writes “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Trust and depend on the Lord. Remember His promises. As I said one Sunday in the summer, following Christ is in large part an act of remembrance. Remembering God’s saving acts. Remembering God’s promises. Remembering how God’s promises in the face of change, in the face of the unknown, in the face. Remembering the promise “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” Remembering the promise “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Claiming that promise. Waiting for the Lord, and in doing so, coming to an ever increasing awareness of our need for Him. Trusting in the God who has proven himself trustworthy. Coming to an ever greater understanding that God’s faithfulness means, as I used to say to the children here, “When God makes a promise, he keeps it.” Be strong and courageous – trust and depend on the Lord. What has this meant to you in the last little while?
Now at this point you might be saying this all sounds very good, but what do we do? Are you looking for something to do? We’re talking about God being the primary actor here but what role do we have to play? Do we have a role to play? We do. Look at v 7 – “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.” Note that Joshua is not being commanded to be strong and courageous in military conquest – that is God’s work – but rather in following the book of the law set out by Moses as the people of Israel are poised to enter the land of promise. Now you may be saying “What’s with all this talk about law and I thought this Christ following is all about faith now?” What’s the importance here for us? The laws that are spelled out in Deuteronomy (and I encourage you to read through it as we begin our look at Joshua) are intended to show how one goes through life showing complete devotion to God and neighbour. One author puts it this way - “…the specific laws of Deuteronomy were not intended as an exhaustive list that Israel could first check, and then claim to have fulfilled their obligation to God. Rather, they provided a select register of ways Israel could show its intention to love God alone and to be devoted to God with all their heart, soul, and might.” In other words, following God was never simply about checking off boxes – no more than it is for us today. For the ancient Israelite listening to the law as they prepare to enter Canaan, the law was about how to live in the land and be devoted to God and in step with God and be devoted to and in step with things that God is devoted to like fairness and justice and mercy.
“This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night…” It’s thought that “shall not depart out of your mouth” means to read it aloud. Read God’s word aloud, even to yourself. It’s meaningful. It’s part of what we do when we practice Lectio Divina – divine reading. Read the scripture, meditate on it day and night. Pastor Bill was often thanked for how much he stressed the importance of us reading our Bibles. Be strong and courageous to act in accordance with the law, to not let the words depart from your mouth, to meditate on them prayerfully. To repeat things like “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” To repeat things like “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Talk about them when you are home and when you are away. Be strong and courageous. God has acted and is acting and will act – the question for us is, how do we respond? Do we respond with trust and willingness to hear God’s voice and to figure out what it means to wait on the Lord in the midst of this 120kph world that we live in? People said to me coming up this month “How do you feel?” Excitement. Trepidation. Of course. We all know what this is like don’t we? We identify with the Israelites who said “You want us to do what? The people are stronger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified up to heaven!” Stuff’s daunting! Be strong and courageous, comes the word from God. Trust. Wait on me. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.”
“For then I shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.” The end of v 8. What does this mean? That our prospering, our success is dependent on how well we listen? That we’ll gain some sort of material advantage, get more stuff, if we are strong and courageous? There is no causality here. The promise of the land has already been given. God’s saving, redeeming, restoring work is going to go on. The only question is how will we respond. Will we accept the invitation to enter this land of promise? Success and prosperity here do not mean material success and wealth. They mean prudence and wisdom. They mean “taking a path that is right…to live in the proper knowledge of one’s proper place before the creator.” To live, in other words, as God created and intended us to live.
So how do we respond? We’re constantly facing change aren’t we? We face things that are daunting don’t we? Do we claim God’s promises? We went through a series this summer during which we were reminded of Jesus’ promises – I am the good shepherd. I am the door. I am the way the truth and the life. I am the vine, you are the branches. Part of our recognizing and claiming these promises is gathering around this table. Remembering. Dwelling on what God is doing among us. Thinking on what God will do one day when we’re gathered around his banquet table. Joshua was unable to give his people rest, but one would come along to fulfill that promise. How can we think of Joshua without thinking of the one known as Yeshua – Yahweh saves. The one who promised rest. The one who said “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” We’re not meant to do this alone. The promise of rest is here. In this season of change, may there be renewal. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, encouraging one another to be strong. To be courageous. To trust. To wait on the Lord. May this be true for us all.