Sortable Messages

 

 

There are moments in life that call you to be sober-minded in an instant.  One of those moments takes place in the Scripture in 2 Samuel 6. You may remember the scene.  David is bringing the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem, and everyone is celebrating. In one verse we read that they’re “celebrating before the Lord with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals” (v. 5).  And in the next two verses we find man lying dead on the ground. An ox had stumbled, the ark looked like it was going to fall, Uzzah had put his hand up to steady it, and the text tells us that the Lord struck him down there, and he died.  You go from a moment of great joy and celebration to sober-mindedness in a flash. That’s why the text speaks of David being afraid that day (2 Sam 6:9).

 

Something like that happens when you begin this second section of Joshua (chs. 6-12).  Last week everything was encouraging. Joshua is blessed by the Lord, God is exalting him, and they’re going to get the land.  God is going to give it to them. Or, even if we merely reflect on the points from the sermon: God is acting with us and for us, he’s doing more in our lives and for our good than we can imagine, he’s present with us, and we simply get to benefit from walking under his Lordship.  We sang loudly. We rejoiced. We didn’t play castanets or tambourines, but we had a steel guitar. It was good. It was right. Those truths were worth rejoicing in and singing about. And the next thing you know, we look at Joshua 6-12 and it’s instantly sobering.

 

If you’ve read these chapters this week, you know what I mean.  You’ve seen that in this second part of the book of Joshua, we move into a failed battle, sin, and severe punishment against those who do not trust in the Lord.  It is a sobering few chapters. And it’s good for us. Even as Uzzah’s dead body sent a stark reminder to David that God’s commands aren’t up for negotiation, so our text this morning calls us back to the importance of holiness, even before a God who loves us, dwells with us, and gave his Son for us.  So, this morning, I want to hold up some weighty truths to us that I hope will help us get a more complete picture of what is demanded of those of us who follow Christ and a fuller picture of who our glorious God is.

 

But before we dive into these points, let’s get a quick rundown of these seven chapters.  In chapter 6, we read of the battle of Jericho. This is a familiar story, and you may have even grown up singing the children’s song, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho.”  The thing is, though, Joshua didn’t do much to conquer Jericho. The Lord’s might was on display. He had the people march around the city for six days, with the priests carrying the ark of the Lord.  Then, on the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times and erupted in sound so that the walls of the city fell. We read in 6:20, “So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city.”  Everything starts out glorious in their conquest of the land.

 

Chapter 7, however, is a wakeup call.  Israel had been instructed not to plunder any of the riches in Jericho for themselves.  Everything living was to be slaughtered, and the riches were to be brought into the treasury of the Lord.  But one man named Achan had taken some silver and gold and hid them under his tent. So, when the army goes up to conquer the much less fortified city of Ai, they are actually defeated.  But the problem wasn’t their military tactic but the judgment of the Lord. Consequently, they are told that Achan and his family must be executed before God will turn his anger away from them, and that’s what happens at the end of the chapter.  

 

Chapter 8 then tells us about the defeat of Ai.  The Lord gave Joshua a brilliant military plan, as they sent a group to act like they were retreating before the army of Ai, but when that army chased after them, Joshua sent another portion of the people of Israel to come in behind them, burn the city, and defeat the people of Ai.  

 

Chapter 9 records another misstep for the people of Israel.  The inhabitants of Gibeon see that Israel is going to be successful, so they hatch a plan to make themselves look frazzled and present themselves to the Israelites as people from a far away land who are coming to make a truce with them.  Joshua and the others fall for their plan. The text tells us in 9:14-15, “So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.”  Thus, even when they discovered they’d been deceived, Joshua and the leaders keep their promise, though they make the Gibeonites servants of the people.

 

Chapters 10-11 then give us a brief run through of the conquest.  We are briefly told of the conquest of the Amorites, the northern cities, and the southern cities, including a day when Joshua prayed for the sun still, and the Lord did something miraculous and fought for Israel in an amazing way.  

 

And, finally, chapter 12 gives us a list of the kings defeated under Moses and under Joshua.  It’s one of those chapters you want to skip right over in your Bible reading but one that reminds us of God’s faithfulness to deliver the land into the hands of his people, and one that perhaps serves as a reminder to reflect on the Lord’s blessings in detail as we give him thanksgiving in prayer.  

 

So, what then do these chapters serve to highlight for us?  Let’s start with:

 

The importance of obeying God’s commands

 

This is especially apparent in chapters 6-8.  Chapter 6 begins by describing Jericho in terms that help us realize the seeming impossibility of conquering this city.  We read, “Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in” (v. 1).  Now compare that to the spies’ report about Ai. They say to Joshua in 7:3, “Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai.  Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.” One is seemingly impossible, and the other relatively easy. But they conquer Jericho and fail in Ai on their first attempt.   And don’t for one second think that the failure of Ai was because of the fact that they only sent a few thousand men. The text doesn’t let us blame this on poor military strategy. The text shows us the importance of obedience to God’s commands.  

 

You can almost feel the focus the writer puts on obedience when you read about the dramatic moment when the walls of Jericho fall.  You read in 6:16, “And the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout, for the LORD has given you the city.’”  Now, just pause for a second. What do you expect to follow that verse? Probably something like what we read in verse 20, “So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown . . . and the wall fell down flat . . . and they captured the city.”  But that’s not what immediately follows verse 16. The writer makes an aside, right at the most dramatic moment in the story, right after verse 16, and he tells us about some specific commands the Lord had given to spare Rahab and to make sure not to take any silver, gold, bronze, or iron, for those things were to be devoted to the Lord.  

 

That’s not how you tell a story—unless, you want to highlight how crucial obedience to the Lord’s commands is.  And that’s exactly what he’s showing us.1  The reason Israel was initially defeated at Ai and thirty-six Israelites lost their lives in that battle is because Achan had disobeyed the Lord’s command and taken some gold and silver.  

 

And just in case we miss this point, chapter 8 makes it clear.  After a brilliant military ambush executed by Joshua at the instruction of the Lord leads to the destruction of Ai, the chapter ends with Joshua reading the entire law of Moses to the people.  The last verse of chapter 8 reads, “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them” (v. 35).  That’s a lot of reading, and my guess is that’s a rare response by a people after a military victory. But Joshua was making clear to the people that the reason why they were going to be able to take the land or fail along the way was not dependent on their military prowess but on their obedience to God’s commands.  

 

Chapter 9 reinforces that point even more, as even for a split second, they forget how reliant they are on the Lord and fail to ask counsel from the Lord (9:14) when the Gibeonites come to deceive them.  Why include this note among all their military conquest? The answer seems to be that the Lord wants us to see that what matters most in our lives isn’t our ability but our obedience.

   

And, brothers and sisters, this reality hasn’t changed in the few thousand years since Joshua was written.  The Scripture teaches us that the greatest thing we must do in this life is to love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And Jesus reminds us that if we love him, we will keep his commandments (John 14:15). So, the first and most important question we must ask when thinking about our money, our relationships, our words, and our actions is simply, “What does the Lord command?”  Don’t try to be wiser than God. God isn’t waiting to be impressed with your abilities. Jericho wasn’t about the trumpet players playing so well. It was about obedience. Our Lord commands us and expects us to obey his commands no less than Joshua and the army of Israel were expected to obey his commands.  

 

So, if you read the story and think, “O foolish Achan,” then let that be a reminder to us as to how foolish our disobedience to the Lord is.  Let us use this as an opportunity to repent of sin, run to the cross, and then walk in obedience to the Lord.

 

And it’s this issue of the importance of obedience in all details of life that brings us to the second reality I want us to see in these chapters:

 

The severity and fearfulness of God’s judgment

 

If you read these chapters this week this right here may have been the thing that jumped out at you most.  God’s judgment is so severe and fearful in these chapters that it’s almost hard to read. And we see it in several ways.  We see it, for example, with God’s judgment against Achan and his family after Achan’s sin. We read in 7:25, “And Joshua said, ‘Why did you bring trouble on us?  The LORD brings trouble on you today.’ And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones.”

 

And it doesn’t stop there but only intensifies.  We continually read that all the inhabitants of these cities were devoted to destruction.  For example, we see in 8:26, “But Joshua did not draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had devoted all the inhabitants of Ai to destruction,” or in 10:33, “And Joshua struck him and his people, until he left none remaining,” or in 10:40, “He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the LORD God of Israel commanded.”  And that’s just a taste of that kind of language that litters these chapters.

 

And God’s judgment is at every corner.  You can’t escape it. I remember reading these chapters and thinking to myself, “Why won’t these kings ever stop and say, ‘Look, we’re beat,’ let’s go and surrender and make peace’”?  And then I read 11:18-20, “Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon.  They took them all in battle. For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the LORD commanded Moses.”  

 

The answer to why they didn’t make peace is because they had already become objects of the Lord’s judicial hardening.  They were already under God’s judgment. That’s the same reality that we see in Romans 1 about God handing those who reject him over to their wickedness.  And it’s a reminder to us, brothers and sisters, that sin is not to be trifled with. If you’re tempted to play around with things you know the Lord condemns, don’t do it.  Let fear of his judgment grip your heart. And don’t think that this is merely such harsh judgment we’re reading because we’re in the Old Testament, and God’s judgment really lightens up in the New Testament.  After all, it is Hebrews 10:31 that tells us that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. It is the last book of the New Testament that pictures God’s judgment in terms of the Lord trampling his enemies underfoot, and their blood rising all the way up to the horse’s bridle (Revelation 14:20), and that same book mentions God’s enemies being tormented day and night without rest (14:9-11).  God’s judgment is severe. We must not lose sight of that. It’s what keeps us focused on our mission as a church, and it’s what reminds us that we cannot trifle with sin.

 

And let me give one last word here, especially in light of the judicial hardening we read of these kings.  Don’t pursue sin simply thinking you’ll repent later. It may be that the Lord will give your heart over to your sin and you find your heart hardened and unable to repent.  So, this morning, if you’re convicted about your sin, rejoice, and turn to the Lord for grace and mercy, which brings us to the last reality I want to highlight from these chapters.

 

The magnitude of God’s generosity and grace

 

In these chapters that are filled with judgment of God’s enemies again and again, it might not feel like we see much of God’s generosity and grace, but it’s everywhere.  Let me note some of these places. First, we’ve already noted that 6:17 tells us of the sparing of Rahab the prostitute and her family, reminding us that there is nothing you’ve done that is beyond the Lord’s mercy and grace if you’ll turn to him in faith.  

 

Second, note the Lord’s generosity in 8:2.  Right before they conquer Ai, the Lord says to Joshua, “And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king.  Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves.” Do you see what’s going on there? We just read of the death of Achan because he disobeyed the Lord and took the silver and gold of Jericho.  And my guess is that Satan’s whisper to Achan when he saw that silver and gold was, “Look, the Lord has told you not to take that because he’s holding out on you. He doesn’t want you to have anything good. His hands are clasped toward you.  You’ve got to get it yourself.” And what we see in the very next chapter is that this was all a lie from the serpent. God was merely instructing Joshua and the Israelites to give these first fruits to him, but it wasn’t because he wanted them to be without.  In the very next city, he was going to give them its spoil and its livestock. His heart was to bless them.

 

This is the same lie that Satan told in the garden, and it’s the same lie that he continues to tell us today—the Lord is holding out on you.  The enemy attempts to convince us that the Lord is holding out on us in terms of the pleasure that can be found in sexual immorality, the freedom that can be ours if we abandon our spouses, the financial security that can be ours if we’ll hold on to our money or at least be measured givers, and on and on and on.  But every one of these lies is built upon an understanding of God as being less than generous. And are we really willing to believe that when he sent his Son to live, die, and rise for us when we’d made ourselves his enemies?

 

There are two other places that I want to note the magnitude of the Lord’s generosity and grace toward his people in these chapters.  The first comes at the end of chapter 7, right after Achan and his family are stoned and burned. We read in 7:26, “And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day.  Then the LORD turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.” How does this point us to the Lord’s grace?

 

Well, much later in our Old Testament, in the book of Hosea, the Lord is wooing Israel back to himself, as they had been an adulterous bride to him.  He’s exhorting them to repent so that he might lavish mercy on them. And he says in Hosea 2:14-15, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.  And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of Egypt.”

 

Did you see it?  The Valley of Achor, the place that marked judgment against sin, will be a door of hope.  In other words, the Lord is saying that he’ll turn from judgment to mercy. And this is true for any of us and concerning anything we’ve done.  Turn to him in repentance and faith this morning, and he’ll forgive. He’ll lavish his mercy. He’ll not hold you at a distance. When the enemy says, “He wants nothing to do with you anymore,” you answer can be, “That’s not the God of the Bible.  He turns Valleys of Achor into doors of hope.” He turns our sin into an opportunity to repent and know his mercy. That’s our gracious God.

 

Another picture of grace in these chapters is seen in the hanging of the enemy kings.  After Joshua executed the five kings of the Amorites, for example, we are told in 10:26 that he “hanged them on five trees . . . until evening.”  Why? It’s because being hanged on a tree showed that one was under the judgment of God. Again, disobedience brings severe judgment from our God.  But this is also a reminder, isn’t it, of the one who came and was hanged on a tree for us. Jesus died on that tree so that we who deserved that judgment might never face it, and he loves us so much that even as he wiped out all the inhabitants who were against his people, one day he will get rid of Satan, sin, and death completely.  

 

You see, the New Testament reminds us that our enemies aren’t flesh and blood.  Our enemies are Satan, sin, and death. But one day, even as he pictures in these chapters in Joshua, our enemies will be wiped out.  We won’t have to worry about Satan accusing us anymore. We won’t have to fear death. We won’t have to fight against sin and deal with the sins of others against us.  That day is coming. The same Lord who said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand,” will one day say, “See, the kingdom of his world has become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ,” and we will live forever with no sin, no fear, no pain, no death, but only glory forevermore.  That is certain. And that’s why the Lord’s people have cried throughout history, “Lord, come quickly.” So let us remember his promises to us now as we come to the table. Amen.

 

1 Dale Ralph Davis makes this observation in Joshua: No Falling Words (Ross-Shire: Christian Focus, 2003), 55.