Conquering those who heard
- John 15:1-8
- Joshua 10:1-28
My dear brother and sister in the Lord,
The book of Joshua tells about how Israel, under their new leader, Joshua, entered and conquered the land God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses died and Joshua was installed as God’s man of choice to lead his people across the Jordan River to take possession of the Promised Land.
What is described in Joshua is a type and pattern of the work of the church of Christ in its missionary work. Under our Joshua, Jesus Christ, the church marches on to the very ends of the earth to proclaim the message of salvation in Christ.
There are few important things we need to keep in mind as we apply this story of conquering the world and the enemy of God.
Our promised land: our basis of operation to reach the ends of the earth
First, the Promised Land was a gift to the Israelites, something for which they had not worked. Yet, they were in the line of fire all the time as they engaged in battle to conquer it. Their Promised Land was not a destination in itself; it was a means to the destination, which was to proclaim the great deeds of God to all nations, and glorify the greatness of his name. In a sense then, the Promised Land was supposed to be for them the basis of their operation, and not the final resting place.
For the church, our promised land is not in the first instance heaven, but this world in which we are nothing but sojourners, living in tents. We are not saved to be saved, but we are saved to proclaim to the nations the wonderful works of grace in Jesus Christ, so that the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as water covers the sea. Jesus Christ is our inheritance, our Promised Land, and He will one day take us to the mansions of his Father; but in the meantime, we are engaged in a process of conquering. We do so, because our Commander-in-Chief, saved us, conquered death, sin, hell and Satan – He is sending us out; in His Name we have victory.
Hearing is obeying
Second, it seems as if the two words שׁמר (shmr), which means to obey/to guard/listen, and another or, שׁמע (shm’) which means (and we use it in the same way in English too) to obey/hear, are important markers in the book of Joshua.
To guard/to listen/to obey, is generally directed at Israel. God commands them to adhere to his commands, and to live by them. This is their guarantee to successfully wipe out the enemy and take possession of the Promised Land. Disobedience led to destruction.
In Joshua 1:7 we read:
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. (Joshua 1:7, NIV)
When the people prepared themselves to conquer Jericho this warning came to them:
But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. (Joshua 6:18, NIV)
We know the story of Achan who took some of the spoil and put it in his tent, which led to them being defeated by the people of Ai. He did not obey to the words of the Lord.
At the end of Joshua’s life he once again calls to people to obedience:
“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. (Joshua 23:6, NIV)
All the disobedience of Israel was fulfilled in Christ’s perfect obedience to be our perfect righteousness before God.
Hearing is to fear
The other word, when used in connection of the enemy has another meaning. It is music to the ears of those who are part of the conquering battle. Joshua sent out two spies into Jericho. When they got there they met Rahab. She came to faith in the God of Israel because of this:
We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. (Joshua 2:10–11, NIV)
They heard about the great deeds of God and they understood that God is God in heaven. Another one:
Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites. (Joshua 5:1, NIV)
When the people marched around Jericho, on the seventh day, they were to shout aloud on the sound of the trumpets of the priests:
When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. (Joshua 6:20, NIV)
Even the walls of Jericho could not remain standing when they heard about the great God of Israel!
The story continues. Turn with me to Joshua 9:1-2:
Now when all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things they came together to wage war against Joshua and Israel. (Joshua 9:1–2, NIV)
Directly following these verses, another group, the Gibeonites, also heard what God had done through Joshua, and they submitted themselves as slaves to Israel. (Joshua 9:2)
Why did they do it?
“For we have heard reports of Him [God]: all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan (Joshua 9:9–10, NIV)
Then in Chapter 10:1:
Now Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies. (Joshua 10:1, NIV)
What does all of this mean to us as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ?
We are engaged in a battle
I think it helps us to understand that we are, or are supposed to be, in a battle. In an effort to conquer the nations with the message of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must make known his deeds of salvation. We must think big of God and his kingdom.
James Montgomery-Boice tells this story:
About twelve years after Donald Grey Barnhouse had graduated from Princeton, he was invited back to preach in the chapel, and when he arrived, he noticed that [Robert Dick] Wilson (his former professor in Hebrew) had taken a place near the front to hear him. When the service was over, his old Hebrew professor came up to Barnhouse and said, “If you come back again, I will not come to hear you preach. I only come once. I am glad that you are a big-godder. When my boys come back, I come to see if they are big-godders or little-godders, and then I know what their ministry will be.”
Barnhouse asked Wilson to explain. He said, “Well, some men have a little god, and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration of the Scriptures and their preservation and transmission to us. They have a little god, and I call them little-godders. Then there are those who have a great God. He speaks, and it is done. He commands, and it stands fast. He knows how to show himself strong on behalf of those who fear him. You have a great God, and he will bless your ministry.”
Donald Barnhouse did have a great God, and he did bless his ministry. But that God is our God too, just as he was the God of Joshua and the victorious Israelites. Nothing is too great for him.
The power of the Word
It is when people hear this message that something happens: God works in their hearts to see Him in his greatness. Paul says:
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17)
The message might be foolishness to some, but to those whom God elected from all eternity, it is the power of God unto salvation. A few Sundays ago we met John the Baptist. His only strategy and task was to preach the Word of God. It worked! One of the catch cries of the Reformers was sola Scriptura, the Bible only. Everything was put into place to get the Word out: it was translated, printed and distributed. Missionaries who conquered dark places like India, China and Africa took only one thing with them: the Bible and the message of Christ.
The Lord says:
“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:29, NIV)
The Battle belongs to the Lord
We face opposition, but we are never alone. As God promised Joshua, so He still promises us:
No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Joshua 1:5, NIV)
Only, we do not have a Joshua who led the people into a certain geographical area somewhere in the Middle East, we have Jesus Christ, our Joshua, who not only conquered death and hell and sin and satan, who said:
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NIV)
Remember the battle does not belong to us. When the forces of the enemy descended upon Joshua and the battle became heavy, we read this verse:
Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel. (Joshua 10:14, NIV)
The work of the church is never its own work; it is the work of the Lord. He bought us, set us free, gave us his Holy Spirit, and He marches out ahead of us as our Commander in Chief. Let’s listen to this verse again:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11–16, NIV)
We need to obey the Word ourselves
We need to be faithful to the Word of God. The enemy of the cross will not hear and shudder, if we we do not proclaim the Word without compromise. We can try to water down the Scriptures to make it more acceptable to the unbelieving world up to the point that there is nothing for them to believe in anymore.
Add to this personal obedience and holiness. How may times do we get tripped up in our own unholiness while satan sits with a smile knowing that our testimony is weak and untrustworthy. J.C. Ryle once said, “People may refuse to see the truth of our arguments, but they cannot evade the evidence of a holy life.”
The power of prayer
Another thing, and we will look at this more in detail next week, never underestimate the power of prayer. Joshua prayed to the Lord “in the presence of Israel”, which means that he prayed in their behalf, and he asked for the impossible to happen:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” (Joshua 10:12, NIV)
So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:13–14, NIV)
There is one text where the meaning of the word “to keep” did not imply human activity of obeying, but points to God’s act of mercy by protecting his people.
He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. (Joshua 24:17, NIV)
Now in Joshua 10:14 we learn that God listened to a man. It does not mean that God obeyed man’s command, but it means that God delighted in helping his people who cry out in battle for the glory of his Name.
Jesus Christ, our Joshua – yes, indeed far more than Joshua of Israel, gave us this promise:
You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:14–17, NIV)
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 19 January 2014