Joshua: Marching as to War: Be Strong and Courageous

Sermon by on January 20, 2002

Joshua 1:1-9

Strong and Courageous

Joshua chapter 1.
Now it came about after the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord that the
Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, “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. From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great
river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the
Great Sea toward the setting of the sun, will be your territory. 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 that I swore
to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to
do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; do not turn
from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you
go. This book of law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on
it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is
written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will
have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble
or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you where ever you go.”

Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His holy and inerrant word.

At the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, it’s actually at the
beginning of book two, The Two Towers, Boromir is dead. He is lying,
actually, sitting up next to a tree with arrows sticking in him from wild and
savage Orcs. Aragorn comes up to him and Boromir says some words to him just
before he dies. Aragorn then says, “Boromir has laid it on my to go to
Minas Tirith, and my heart desires it, but where are the ring and the bearer?
How shall I find them and save the quest from disaster?” Well of course if
you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, you don’t know what I’m
talking about. The words “how shall I save this quest from disaster”
could very well have been words the Joshua could have spoken, because Moses is
dead, and the people of God are still in the wilderness and they have been there
for forty years. The promises of God have yet to be fulfilled. How can I save
this quest from disaster?

We’ve jumped ahead forty years from Exodus 19 this morning. Actually 39.75,
if I’m accurate. We’ve jumped ahead all the way now to where the people of
God are encamped on the eastern side of the Dead Sea in the plains of Moab, just
at the point where they are about to enter, at last, the promised land Canaan.

It’s perhaps opportune that we are looking at the book of Joshua now.
Hollywood has seen fit to release a whole state of war movies. Perhaps you have
seen some of them. I the wake of ‘911’ it’s alright now to be in favor of
war. Brister and I were discussing the hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers
Marching As To War,
and Brister can remember a time when it was not okay to
sing that hymn, when the militaristic overtones of that hymn were considered to
be outside the pale of what Christianity were all about. Well, of course, here
in the book of Joshua we are going to meet war and we are going to meet in the
guise of a great hero of the Old Testament, namely captain Joshua. I suppose in
terms of the four temperaments, Joshua could be described as choleric, robust,
restless, forthright, never happier when he’s engaged in some great project or
other. People like that can be a little intimidating. God raises up such people
to do His work.

I. The purposes of God never fail.
Now, I want us to see in these opening nine verses
several things that God taught Joshua, and in teaching Joshua underlined some
fundamental principles about establishing the kingdom of God. The first of which
is this, it’s a principle that is taught in the very opening verses of Joshua
chapter 1. Moses is dead but the purposes of God are not. Moses may well be
dead, but the purposes of God are not. Isn’t it startling how this book opens.
In verse 2, this is God now speaking to Joshua, “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.” Do you see the point?
The work of God is not dependent on men.

It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that amongst the people of God, there
may well be some misgivings now to the purposes and the plan of God now that
Moses was dead, now that their great leader was gone. Having spent forty years
in the wilderness, imagine that. Going back to 1961 or 62, to the very early,
early days of the Beatles. How far back in your memory do you have to go to
bring up those memories? It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that many, many
amongst the people of God were beginning to think that perhaps the promises of
God would never be fulfilled and now that Moses is dead, that’s the end of it.
Isn’t it startling that the very first words in this book are, “Now that
Moses is dead, now therefore arise and go and occupy that land which I promised
to you.” God’s hand is the thing that God wants us to see here. It’s
not dependant upon man. That’s not to say that man is unimportant, that’s
not to say that man is insignificant. In the end, men and women are His servants
who do His bidding. The kingdom of God does not ultimately depend on us. Look at
how He puts it, “I, which I am giving to them.” The emphasis is on
sovereignty. The emphasis is on that which God is about to do.

That’s a tremendously significant statement. For not only did it mean that
the leader that they had known for the forty years was no longer standing in his
place, it had a much deeper significance than that. It meant that the final
judgment of God had now been expended. You remember the story, of course. Joshua
was one of the spies that gone into the land of Canaan and had brought back the
report to Moses and the others. “It’s a land that’s full of milk and
honey. It’s a pleasant place, it’s a wonderful place.” Then there were
others, in fact , the majority, who came back and said “it’s full of
giants and we dare not set out foot in it or else we’re done for.”
Because of their refusal, God’s judgment, you remember, came upon them and no
one above the age of twenty, apart from Joshua, survived in order to enter the
land of Canaan. They were all struck down with a plague, of course you haven’t
done that part of the story, that’s in the story that’s to come. We’ve
jumped ahead now 39.75 years. That’s the background. Do you remember that some
of them did try, despite what God had said, and the Canaanites and the
Amalekites came and stuck them down and they were beaten back. The first lesson
you see is one of sovereignty. This is God’s work, this is the Lord’s work
and He will accomplish it. I will build my church and the gates of hell will not
prevail against it. It’s not dependant on man, it’s not dependant on great
men, it’s not dependant on people like Moses, and there were few greater than
Moses. When the men appeared at Jesus’ transfiguration, it was Moses and
Elijah that would represent the entirety of the period of the Old Testament.
There are few greater than Moses, but the kingdom of God is not dependent on

Do you ever wander what it was like for the early church in Asia minor in
Turkey when the Apostle Paul died and the news of his death traveled from church
to church along that early news grape vine before the days of the internet and
email? Do you imagine how dejected the people of God must have felt towards the
end of the first century when Paul, the great apostle, was dead? You can feel
something of the angst that Paul himself felt when he writes Second Timothy as
his last message to Timothy preparing the church indeed for that period of time.
Can you imagine what the churches in North Africa felt in the fourth or fifth
century when Augustine, the great St. Augustine finally died? Can you imagine
what the people of God must have felt in the middle of the sixteenth century
when Calvin died. I have a picture, not an original you understand, but there is
a picture here in my office in the church, that scene when Calvin is a few days
away from dying, just sitting in a chair. He’s gaunt and thin as he was for
most of his live, but even thinner and more gaunt just before his death and he
is surrounded by some of the great men of Geneva and Theodore Beza and others
are there. It’s a wonderful poignant moving scene just before his death.
Imagine how they felt when the great John Calvin had died.

Well, let’s bring it right down to our time because we’ve just lost in
the last year or so, perhaps the dean of at least our branch of the evangelical
and Reformed church in the name of Jim Boice. Yes it’s a great loss, it’s
more of a loss than people can imagine. It’s more of a loss than probably most
of you realize. How great a loss he is to the Presbyterian Church in America.
Yet, with all due respect to Jim Boice, who is sitting in heaven amongst the
angels and archangels, the kingdom of God was not dependent on him either. Moses
is dead, now go in and possess the land. It’s about the purpose of God and the
purpose of God is sure.

II. The certainty of God’s promises.
The second thing is closely related to it and it’s
the reason why the purpose of God is sure, and the reason why the purpose of God
is sure is because God always keeps His promise. If the first thing that Joshua
had to learn was about the purpose of God, the second thing was about the
promise of God. Joshua stands at a moment of transition and at that moment he
stands in need of all of the grace of God that is possible and one of the things
that God says to Joshua, “Remember My promise.” Verse four of
“Onward Christian Soldiers” reads, ‘Crowns and thrones may perish,
kingdoms rise and wane, but the church of Jesus constant will remain, gates of
hell can never against that church prevail, we have Christ’s own promise and
that can not fail.’ That’s precisely what God is saying here to Joshua in
verse 3. “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given
it to you just as I spoke to Moses. As I promised to Moses.” It’s like a
refrain that goes through this entire chapter and it’s as though God is saying
to Joshua, ‘feed your soul on the promises that can never, ever fail.’

Now God has strange ways of fulfilling His promises. Sometimes our lives can
be falling apart and God is saying, ‘I’m keeping My promise.’ Sometimes
the clouds may gather, sometimes the storms may break, sometimes lightning and
thunder may crash into our lives, but God’s promise is sure and certain. He’s
promised to bless us, He’s promised to keep us, He’s promised never to leave
us or forsake us even when our lives look to be in ruins. God’s promises are
certain. That’s what Joshua is being told. He can be trusted. God can be
trusted. “Those who trust Him fully find Him wholly true,” we sing.

You know what it is to trust someone? There is dependability about God, there
is a rock like quality about the God is Israel. That is what made Jehovah, the
covenant Lord of Israel so different from all of the surrounding deities of the
Canaanites. The gods of the Canaanites were not dependable. The gods of the
Canaanites were irascible, the gods of the Canaanites were given to fits of
temper and moodiness. They were hot headed, they were bad tempered, but the
covenant Lord of Israel was utterly dependable. His word was His bond. He had
come to Abraham, He come to Isaac, He had come to Jacob, and He had come to
Moses and He had said, ‘this is what I’m going to do and I’m going to do
it, I will do it.’ Like a little child you can come to God and you can say,
“but Daddy, you promised.” You promised to take them to Twin Lakes for
a night. You know work, and business, and the weather is too cold and he says,
“I’m not going to go.” And the little child gets a hold of him and
he says, “But you promised. You promised.” Joshua is being told, learn
to feed your soul on the promises of almighty God.

Now I wonder if Joshua was given theses promises because, well, in some way
he needed them. There is something about Joshua even though he is choleric, even
though he’s a strong military soldier, a ‘Type A’ personality. There is
something about Joshua too, he constantly needs reassurance. Alec Matter, one of
the Old Testament scholars, refers to Joshua as ‘a most unlikely leader.’ A
most unlikely leader because it’s as though God knows what he’s like and He’s
strengthening him, He’s reassuring him, He’s well, perhaps we’d say, and
don’t run with it or make too much of it, but He’s affirming him. Affirming
him not in what he is in himself, but affirming him in what God is going to make
of him.

III. The precepts of God.
If the first point is about the purpose of God,
the second point is about the promise of God and the third point has to do with
the precepts of God. Do you notice in verses 6 through 8 that now God draws
attention to His precepts, His law. The book of Joshua is a record of how the
word of God, given to His people in the first five books of Moses, the
principles of the kingdom of God as described in detail for example in the book
of Deuteronomy, began now to be worked out in the lives of God’s people. As
Joshua is going to lead the people of God into the land of promise, one of the
things that they must bear in mind is the role of the word of God in their
lives. The role of the law.

Look at what he says in verse 8 especially. He says to him, “To be
strong and very courageous and to be careful.” Verse 7, “To do
according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded to you.” Then in
verse 8, “this book of the law,” perhaps referring to the book of
Deuteronomy. Now, we have to have a right paradigm whenever we hear this word law
because we tend to hear the word law and to think of detailed instructions
that usually are telling us that we are doing something wrong. That probably
says something more about our fallen nature than our understanding of God’s
law because in the Old Testament the law, the Torah, is thought of as something
much broader than simply commands that lead to our condemnation. Rather the
Torah, the law of God is that which makes us wise. That’s a very different
idea. “Which makes us wise,” because if you follow God’s law, if you
heed God’s law, you will be prosperous and successful.

Now don’t take this as some health and wealth gospel. That’s not what
Moses is saying, that’s not what the book of Joshua is saying. No, you will be
prosperous and successful in the sense that you will be wise if you heed God’s
law. Do you remember how the psalmist put it in Psalm 119: “Because I love
your law, I have more wisdom than my elders.” If you love God’s law you
can be wiser than those who are much older than you because you have the law of
God as a liberating principle working itself out in your heart.

Samuel Bolton, and it’s uncanny almost how this ties in with what Ligon was
saying in Exodus 19 this morning in the very similar sort of passage. Samuel
Bolton, who lived in the middle of the seventeenth century, was one of the
Westminster divines who wrote The Westminster Confession of Faith, was
raised and went to Christ College in Cambridge, and had a pastorate in London.
He wrote a very important book that’s still in print today, The True Bounds
of Christian Freedom
. This is how he put it, “The law drives us to the
gospel to be saved and the gospel drives us to the law in order to help us how
to live.” The law drives us to the gospel and the gospel drives us to the

Now, two things that Joshua was told with respect to the precepts of God.
First in verse 8, he is to meditate. This book of the law shall not depart from
your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night. He is to meditate on the
word of God. He is to allow the law of God, the book of Deuteronomy, the law and
all of its multi frailty to be like a diamond. Ladies, you’ve got that rock on
your finger, given to you by someone that you love. Have you ever held it up to
the light and allowed the light to shine through it and seen something of a
multi faceted nature in the way in which that rock has been cut? Meditate on the
law that way.

Let me change the metaphor. I’ve only discovered garlic really in the last
few years. If you know me, I’m from Britain and we don’t put a lot of
seasoning in food. As a friend of mine here says, there are Italian restaurants,
and Spanish restaurants, and there are Mexican restaurants, but there are no
British restaurants. One of the strange things, and actually it can be a plus
and actually it can also be a minus, one of those strange things about garlic is
that several hours later it can creep out of your pores. Well, don’t take that
too far, but think but think of the law of God in that way. Meditate on it so
that a few hours later it is breaking out of your pores.

Did you ever think of Jesus when He was being tempted in the wilderness what
He did? He took three passages of Scripture, cited them from Deuteronomy 6 and
Deuteronomy 8, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God,” was one of
them. He cited them from memory as though it’s saying to us that one of the
things that Jesus did was read and meditate on the Scriptures. You might say
that because Jesus was God He knew all of the Bible, well that’s a
misunderstanding of how to understand the nature of the person of Christ. He was
a fully integrated man. One of the things that Jesus did was to learn, and
study, and pour over the Scripture so that in the hour of need it poured out of

Ah, but I don’t have enough time to do that, you say. Maybe what this verse
is saying to you is that you need to read some Scripture in the morning so that
you can meditate on it as you go about your work, so that you can meditate on it
as you drive your vehicle to work. You know, I don’t know how much time Joshua
had. He was a captain of thousands of soldiers. They weren’t really soldiers.
They were totally untrained, They were unfit for warfare. They never had a day’s
experience of warfare. Yet God is saying to Joshua, if you’re going to make
one solid step in advancing the kingdom of God you need to meditate. You need to
meditate on My words. Not only that, but you need to obey it.

Look at verse 7 again, “be strong and be careful to do according to all
the law which Moses My servant commanded you,” be careful. That’s one of
the things that we moderns are not very good at, being careful about the word of
God. I can hear this comment. If you make too much of the law, if you make too
much of Scripture it become excessive, it becomes legalism. Strange, isn’t it,
that when you are playing golf, and the ball lands in the rough, and if somebody
goes and just picks up that ball and places it right in the middle of a fairway
where he has a perfect sight to the green, you don’t say, “There is no
need to be careful about the rules of golf. You know, we’re free now.” No
you’re saying, “He’s cheating.”

If you’re going to be a man of God, if you’re going to be a woman of God,
be careful to do everything that God asks you to do. That’s the way you will
grow and that’s the way you will become strong. Meditate on God’s word and
keep God’s word.

IV. God promises His presence.
There is a fourth thing in this passage. The fourth
thing, if the first thing has to do with God’s purpose, and the second has to
with God’s promise, and the third with God’s precept, fourth has to do with
God’s presence. He says it in verse 5 and again in verse 9, “Just as I
have been with Moses, I will be with you.” It’s like a lite motif,
or in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, it’s like that horn call that signals that
Sigfried has come onto the stage or is about to leave the stage. It’s
something like a signature tune, that every time that God comes and addresses
one of His servants He says, “Look I’m going to be with you.” Can I
put it in the modern ‘touchy feely’ sort of way, “I will be there for
you.” David, we recited this morning in our morning service from the 23
Psalm, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I
will fear no evil because Thou art with me.” Now matter how dark, no matter
how difficult, no matter how trying the circumstances may be. No matter what
obstacle, no matter how great the giants are, no matter how fierce the
opposition, no matter how you may feel, no matter what state your mood may be in
. Whether you’re a morning person or an evening person. Whether you’re
choleric or whether your sanguine or whatever. “I will be with you.” I
will be with you wherever you go. When Paul was faced with the difficulty of
evangelizing Corinth and he was frightened to go on, this was God’s word to
him, I will be with you. It’s what Jesus said to the church. “Go into all
the world and I will be with you.” It’s what one of our friends called,
the ‘Emmanuel Principle,’ God with His people. That’s what Jesus means,
God amongst His people.

I wonder what you’re facing. I wonder what obstacles, what difficulties. It’s
a principle we are lifting out of this passage. This is a specific promise to
Joshua as the captain of the people of God as they are about to enter the land
of Canaan, and conquer it for Christ, and occupy it. You know, it is a principle
that is found throughout the holy Scripture. You may be in this service tonight
as a child of God, you’re trusting in Jesus, but your life is a mess. Jesus
says to you, “I will never leave you and I will never forsake you.”
You may be going through the ravages of a divorce and Jesus is saying to you,
“Child of God I will never leave you and I will never forsake you.”
Some calamity may have befallen you and it looks as though the sky has fallen in
and the bottom of the world is fallen out and Jesus is saying to you, can you
hear the echo and reverberation of His sovereign voice, “I will never leave
you. I will never forsake you.”

It’s hard to imagine greater encouragement for Joshua as they are about to
embark on this great quest. Moses is dead, but the purpose of God is not. Moses
is dead, but the promise of God is not. Moses is dead, but the precepts of God
that can make you wise are not. Moses is dead, but the presence of God goes with
His people forever. Now, there is a word to take you through this week and give
you strength and give you encouragement and give you fortitude and God so enable
it for His namesake. Let’s pray together

Our Father in Heaven , we thank You for the richness of Your word. We thank
you that it is a word that is alive and a word that is able to make us wise and
to salvation, a word that can make us strong. Bless it to us, for Jesus sake.

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