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Pastor’s Note: Journeying Through Joshua

Pastor’s Note: Journeying Through Joshua

Note: Some of what is written here you could get from any good Study Bible or commentary introduction to Joshua, while other parts are particularly targeted to 2020 and/or Southwood. If you want a helpful and accessible commentary on Joshua for this sermon series, I’d recommend one by Dale Ralph Davis … Click here to see it.

Joshua? Wow, that seems old! … 24 chapters? Didn’t it take us 3 years to get through 24 chapters of Luke?!

Yes, this Sunday (April 26) we begin a new sermon series: “Certain Promises for Uncertain People: The Book of Joshua.” I want to assure you that the plan is to journey through Joshua over the coming weeks (as opposed to years) and that as old as Joshua is (yes, it’s near the beginning of the Bible), it’s profoundly relevant to us today. In fact, as I’ve reflected on this current situation where we find ourselves in 2020 – not at all like what we anticipated only a few weeks ago – I’ve found Joshua to be deeply encouraging and helpful in directing my heart and life in this ever-changing season. Here are a few things I believe you’ll find helpful to consider as we begin this journey together.

Joshua’s Place in God’s Story (Human History)

The Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) takes us from the beginning to the edge of the Promised Land, and then Joshua bridges the historical narrative to the rest of the Old Testament. God creates people to live in relationship with Him in a garden He has made for them, where they can flourish. But mankind brings sin and rebellion into that perfect place, breaking it so that God in his grace must intervene to begin to fix it. What God does is to call a special people to model this special relationship with Him in a special land where He will take them (the “Promised Land”).

But before they settle in, the people of Israel become slaves in Egypt for years and years, until God sends a great leader, Moses, to deliver them and head toward the Promised Land. Unfortunately, as they near the land, the people get fearful, they doubt God’s provision, and instead of entering that special land, they end up in the desert for 40 years because of their unbelief and disobedience. Many of them, including Moses, die there in the wilderness on the edge of the Promised Land of Canaan.

So as we get to the book of Joshua, here God’s people stand with a big river (the Jordan River was about 100 feet wide and overflowing its banks) between them and the land where they long to be. They are eating manna yet again, when they had been told to expect a land flowing with milk and honey. A large majority of the Israelites still alive have been born since they left Egypt or were children during the Exodus, so they have very little recollection of this powerful God Joshua and others trust. God’s promises sound great, but they’re not realized yet!

They find themselves with more questions than answers. Do you know what that feels like? They are asking “When will this situation ever change?”, “How will I know I’ll be safe?”, “Whom can we trust to lead us in this season?”, “How will we take this land?”, “How do I trust God when his promises haven’t become reality yet?”, and many more questions to which our hearts can relate. Jesus has come and delivered us from sin and death, but we’re not to the Promised Land yet. In fact, we’ve spent years or decades in unbelief and disobedience to the point we’re probably pretty comfortable there. We feel plagued by sin and haunted by death constantly. Now the bedrock of life seems to shift every day, and it’s hard to know how we should live or what we can trust in this changing season. Joshua and Israel understand how many of us feel, I think.

Certain Promises for Uncertain People

The good news of the book of Joshua is that YHWH, the God of Israel and all creation, speaks into this confusion and these doubts. He reminds his people of promises He has made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and most recently Moses. They are, after all, HIS people. And He is, after all, faithful. He has promised them they will be a special nation with a special relationship with Him living in a special land. The book of Joshua is the story of how God’s faithfulness to these promises unfolds through the rest of Joshua’s life.

In fact, as he prepares to die, Joshua tells the people, “And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:15). The book of Joshua begins in deep uncertainty but ends in hopeful reality – may that be true in our lives today, too!

The God of the Promises

This is really great news, but honestly getting some real estate in the Middle East is not the most important promise for us today, right? What’s more important for us to know is the God of these promises who remains faithful to his people today. That’s actually a primary reason why God gives us the history of his people – books like Joshua and other historical narratives – so that we will know Him better. One of my favorite Old Testament commentators, Alec Motyer, writes, “History in the Old Testament is a declaration from God about God.” In other words, it is given to us not merely to inform us of historical data, people, and places but moreso to inspire us with a vision of God’s greatness, to convict us of our similar idolatries, and to comfort us with the knowledge of God’s consistent character one generation after another.

God’s people today are no longer a nation-state as they were in Joshua’s day; we no longer have the specific land promise of Canaan; we don’t have directives to bring God’s judgment on other nations. No, but we do have the same God yesterday, today, and forever. In fact, think about the land promise particularly for a minute since it stays before us throughout Joshua. Land in these agrarian days was the source of sustenance and rest. And God is giving it graciously to his people who don’t deserve it. Hebrews says God similarly gives us a gracious gift of rest – and we similarly must receive it by faith and walk in obedience to Him. Jesus (same Hebrew name as Joshua, meaning “YHWH saves”) delivers us fully and finally into an eternal Promised Land of rest and security. So seeing how God is faithful to his land promise in Joshua’s day helps us trust Him to bring us home forever in our day of uncertainty.

Learning Across the Generations

Another reason my heart was drawn to Joshua right now is that our kids have just finished going through this book in their walk through the Bible (thanks, Children’s Team, for keeping us resourced for this from home!). If you have kids, I’d encourage you to let them teach you some of what they’ve learned about God and his faithful presence with his people over the weeks leading up to Easter. If you don’t have kids, you can borrow one of mine when we’re back together! Regardless, hearing their questions and their childlike faith will be an encouragement and help to yours.

Furthermore, Joshua encourages us to listen to and learn from those older than we are as well. One of our members often tells me he loves this first half of the Bible because he has something in common with it – being “old!” But seriously, the longer we live the more opportunity we have to witness God’s faithfulness over years and generations. Hearing these accounts is a vital part of knowing God and following God together as his people, and we have rich opportunities for that in our Southwood Family. It might require a phone call these days, but there’s no better time to chat with one of our older members than right now. Ask them to share a story of God’s faithfulness to his promises in their lives – and then sit back and listen!

I’m looking forward to this journey through Joshua with you. Please pray that God will teach me more of who He is and that I’ll have the joy of sharing that with you as we go!