Captain Joshua! Attenshun!
Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, “Pass through
the midst of the camp and command the people, saying, ’Prepare provisions for
yourselves, for within three days you are to cross this Jordan, to go in to
possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you, to possess it.” And
to the Reubenites and to the Gadites and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua
said, “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you,
saying, ‘The LORD your God gives you rest, and will give you this land.’
Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle shall remain in the land which
Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but you shall cross before your brothers in
battle array, all your valiant warriors, and shall help them, until the LORD
gives your brothers rest, as He gives you, and they also possess the land which
the LORD your God is giving them. Then you shall return to your own land, and
possess that which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you, beyond the Jordan,
toward the sunrise.” And they answered Joshua, saying, “All that you
have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we
obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you; only may the LORD your God be
with you, as He was with Moses. Anyone who rebels against your command and does
not obey your words in all that you command him, shall be put to death; only be
strong and courageous.”
Amen, may God bless to us the reading of His holy and inerrant words. Now let’s
Our Father we bow in Your presence once again. This is Your word; You caused
it to be written by Your finger. Holy men of old wrote as they were carried
along by the Holy Spirit. Be our teacher, we pray, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Voltaire, the French enlightenment philosopher-a humanist, whose views on
self sufficiency captured the minds of the educated classes in the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries of Europe (his most favorite work, of course, was Candid)-
said that within a hundred years of his death, Christianity would be swept out
of existence and pass into history.
Now many of you are saying, “Who is Voltaire?” Well you know fifty
years after Voltaire’s death the Geneva Bible society used his press and house
in the production of Bibles. I don’t know about you but I find that deeply
encouraging. The point being that God’s purposes can never be thwarted. He
builds His church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Moses is
dead, but the plan of God and the purposes of God as regards redemption of His
people abide true still. God will do that which he has promised. As John Wesley
put it, “God’s varies His workmen, but His work goes on.”
Now I have deliberately divided the chapter this way because I want to us to
capture something of what kind of man Joshua was. I want us to see something of
the character of Joshua as a leader of men and women so that in the ensuing
study of the book of Joshua we might have a better grasp of the kind of man that
God raises up for such a task as this. He was of course Moses’ first officer,
his commander-in-chief of this rag-tag army that would do this enormous task of
conquering and possessing the land of Canaan. It was a huge task. Don’t under
estimate the enormity of the task that now lies before them.
I don’t know about you, but the hardest thing is to start. Of any task of
any program of any motivation, the hardest thing is to start. I was reading this
week of the days when horses pulled four wheeled wagons in the shunting yards,
the railway yards of nineteenth century England. It took the strength of six
horses to do that which only one horse needed in order to maintain the momentum.
It needed six horses to start, but it only needed one to continue the movement
on those railway trucks.
How do you begin a great task like this? Chapter 4 in verse 13 says that
there were forty thousand men that would eventually cross over. The army, if you
like. The army that eventually would cross over the Jordan and into the promised
land would be around forty thousand men. Back in Numbers 26, in the second
census that was taken after the men that were over twenty had died because of
the plague, God’s curse that befell the children of God in the period of the
wilderness, they are numbered as over 600,000. There would be need for some men
to stay behind to take care of the families, the mothers, the children, the
livestock which was still left on the east of the river Jordan, but forty
thousand men is still a significant number. Forty thousand would cross over and
form the battle array. Of course it would be the younger men that would do that,
it would be the fittest man that would do that.
During the Revolutionary War there was something in the region 200,000 men
enlisted in the army. In the Civil War it was something in the region of
3,800,000. I think there were something like 2,800,000 in the union army and
something just over one million in the confederate army. In World War II, there
were 16,000,000 enlisted. This is 40,000, but it’s still a significant number.
How did Joshua do it? How did Joshua lead these people, and leave these men
in particular, into the land of Canaan. There is no secret here, because in the
book of Joshua we have the memoirs, the recorded narratives of the war story. I
want this evening to try and pick out some of the highlights of that. I want to
mention four things that arise out of this passage that tell us something about
the character of Joshua as a leader.
I. Joshua is committed to the principle of
The first thing that I want us to see is that
Joshua is committed to the principle of partnership. He’s committed to the
principle of partnership. We need to uncover some history in order to understand
what it is that Joshua is saying to these two and one half tribes. The
Reubenites and the Gadites had very large herds and flocks and they had asked
Moses, as we heard just a few minutes ago, they had asked Moses is they could
stay in that territory, that region of land to the east of the Jordan. Not in
Canaan proper, but where their flocks and herds had already begun to settle down
where there was good grazing and whatever. For some reason that isn’t all
together clear half of the tribe of Manasseh also wanted to stay there. Now,
eventually half the tribe of Manasseh would be to the east of the River Jordan
and slightly to the north and the rest of the tribe of Manasseh would be in
Canaan proper and slightly to the south. That’s how they would eventually end
up. Moses tells them, “Yes, you may do that, you may stay there,” and
now Joshua is reminding them of that promise that Moses had made. You may stay
east of the River Jordan so long as the men, the fighting men joined with all of
the rest and indeed go in first fully armed for battle. You to must do this work
What is the point of all of this? It looks like I have a bad text and I’m
looking for something to say. There is something here of considerable
significance. God doesn’t want anyone to miss the blessing that He has
promised. That’s how a nice person would put it. Everyone has to get involved
in the work of the kingdom of God. There are to be no hitchhikers. There are to
be no loafers in the kingdom of God.
Actually what we have here is an Old Testament expression of what Paul says
in Ephesians chapter 4. The body of Jesus Christ is built up of individual parts
that are committed to the well being of the entire body. When all of the
individual parts are doing their work properly the body is in fit condition.
Paul works that out in a very graphic and detailed way in Ephesians 4. We all
have gifts, we all have duties to do for the work of the kingdom of God and when
everybody is doing what God wants them to do, the body is in good shape. That is
what Paul is saying in Ephesians 4. It seems to be the principle upon which
Joshua is now engaging in the leadership of the people of God.
That’s challenging, isn’t it? If I am not whole-heartedly committed to
the work of God, not only may I miss the blessing, but I may also be the
instrument that causes some others of God’s children to miss the blessing. Now
I want you to think about that very deeply. Your inactivity, your refusal to use
the gift that God has given you for the advantage and prosperity for the kingdom
of God not only may rob you of blessing, but it also may rob the rest of the
body of Christ of the blessing which God desires to bestow upon it. That’s the
principle. It’s a staggering principle. What Jesus is saying to His church
through this narrative seems to be that He wants the commitment of every single
individual in the progress of the kingdom of God. That’s why where you miss
and absent yourselves form the means of grace you are doing damage not just to
your own soul, but actually you’re doing damage to the rest of the body of
Christ. That’s how a mean spirited person would say it. Isn’t that a
staggering principle? Here is Joshua, a leader, a commanding officer and he’s
saying to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half tribe of Manasseh, you are
never going to dwell in this land in which we are now going to fight and occupy
and possess, but I want you to be a part of the blessing which has come to the
rest of the body of Christ. The fact that the Reubenites and the Gadites, and
the half tribe of Manasseh were prepared to do that shows their servant-like
spirit, doesn’t it?
Joshua is committed as a leader to the principle of partnership, it’s all
about partnership. That’s Joshua’s strategy. There is no unity, there is no
cohesion, unless everybody is singing from the same page. It’s important that
everyone is singing from the same page. Well, that’s a principle that applies
to the church of Jesus Christ and to the kingdom of God. Every single
individual, no matter who you are, if you belong to Jesus, you have a
responsibility to the body of Christ. That’s the first thing.
II. The second thing is that Joshua is committed to
the principle of planning.
You get the sense from these words that Joshua is
in control. That he knows what he’s doing. There is a plan of operation. He
thought it through. There is a very definite strategy. They will enter the land,
they will go to the center of Canaan and then some of them will go north and
some of them will go south. It was a wonderful plan for occupying the land of
Canaan and possessing it. He sends word through his officers to go through all
of the camp and tell them that in three days this plan would begin. Now, these
officers may be those whom Moses had appointed as leaders that we heard about
very recently in Exodus 18. But look at Joshua 1:14. We read that they were to
cross over, these Gadites and the Reubenites and the half tribe of Manasseh, and
presumably along with all of the other men, they would form in battle array as
valiant warriors for the kingdom of God.
Now I was reading a book this week that had in it, pictures. Pictures of the
kind of weapons that these farmers, these wilderness wanders might have had. I
have to tell you, it was pitiful. They virtually had no weapons. They might have
brought some things from Egypt 40 years before. They might have done that.
Scripture doesn’t actually record that. They certainly didn’t have any means
of producing weapons when they were in the wilderness. They may have picked some
up along the way, but whatever they had it was pitiful. All the more for Joshua
to have a plan and a strategy, to exercise his leadership in such a way that he
was conveying that he knew what he was doing.
I had a deacon in the church I served in Belfast, who had served in the
Second World War on the fields of North Africa, under the authority of Field
Marshal Montgomery, or Monty as they called him. Monty, Field Marshal
Montgomery, had an ego the size of Mount Everest. Eisenhower didn’t like him,
nor did anyone else, but he had a plan, he had a plan, he had a strategy. That’s
important if you’re going to call upon men to lay down their lives on behalf
of a principle. It’s principles like these, I suppose, that account for some
of the great campaigns of history, under Alexander the Great or Cromwell, or
Napoleon Bonaparte, or Patton, or Winston Churchill, or whoever it may be.
No, Joshua doesn’t give us the details here. That’s part of the wisdom.
Some things in military strategy are best kept secret so as to maintain the
element of surprise, but he’s setting out a goal isn’t he? He’s setting
out a goal. He’s giving the big picture and the big picture as he says, on
several occasions and for example in verse 11, the big picture is, “in
order to possess the land.” That’s the goal. That’s the goal.
III. Joshua is committed to motivation.
There is a third thing I want us to see here in
the leadership of Joshua. Not only is he committed to the principle to
partnership, and not only is he committed to the principle to planning, but also
he’s committed in the third place to motivation. It comes about in the
discussion that we hear with these two and one half tribes. Twice Joshua reminds
them of the reason why it is that they are about to embark on the campaign of
their lives. In verse 13, and it’s repeated again in verse 15, Joshua reminds
them that the motivation, the motivation for embarking on this campaign is in
order that they might secure rest. Look at verse 13, “the Lord your God
gives you rest.”
Now, that’s a pretty significant term. It’s probably more significant
than you imagine. It is in Scripture because it has immense consequences as the
Scriptures now grow and develop. For 40 years they have had no rest. They have
been wandering. They have been going hither and yon in the wilderness, but they
have never had rest. They were nothing more than a large group of spiritual
vagrants, you know, the kind of people you want to move on and sleep at somebody
As the Bible takes shape and grows and develops, the book of Hebrews for
example, in chapters 3 and 4 make this issue of rest the key word that unlocks
the meaning of the book of Joshua, in the understanding indeed of the entire
plan of God’s redemptive purposes. Because what God is essentially about is
obtaining a rest for the people of God. The writer of Hebrew cites the 95th
Psalm, which says that David would not have mentioned a rest that is still to
come if that rest had already been obtained. So, entering Canaan to obtain that
rest was only a foretaste, it was only a picture of the rest that is still to
come, and the New Testament says we are just like these people wandering about
in the wilderness longing to enter into our rest. Those who have died in Jesus
have entered into their rest and their works do follow them, Scripture says.
The Bible says that the Lord’s Day, this day, this first day of the week
upon which we commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, this
day is a day of rest and gladness. This day, this recurring pattern of six days
and one, or one day now and six, that every time the Sunday comes around, every
time the Lord’s Day comes around, it’s a reminder, it’s a pattern. It
tells us that we have a rest which is yet to come, the rest of Heaven , the rest
of glory, the rest of seeing the beauty of Jesus’ face in all of it’s glory.
The rest when every tear will be wiped away, the rest when all will be joy and
celebration, when trials and tribulations will be no more. Yes, that’s what
Scripture does with that principle.
You may say, “Where is all of that in Joshua chapter 1?” It’s not
there, but the rest of Scripture says that’s the principle that’s being
worked out. Joshua is committed to the principle of motivating the people of God
in order that they might get their rest.
Now motivation of course is very important. I received for Christmas a very
large book of the speeches of Winston Churchill. I’ve been dipping into it
every now and then. I’ve been dipping into it late at night when I should be
going to sleep and they have been keeping me away because they are so powerful.
His first speech as prime minister during World War II when France was falling
and British power was at its lowest ebb, and capitulation was staring Europe and
Britain in the face. These were Churchill’s words,
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat…. What
is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory–victory at all costs, victory in
spite of terror, victory however long and hard the road may be…” And
later, when invasion seemed certain: “We shall; defend our island,
whatever the cost may be; we shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight
them on the landing grounds, we shall fight them in the fields and in the
streets, we shall fight them in the hills; we shall never surrender…”
It’s probably one of the most moving speeches ever given. You can buy it on
a tape or on a CD and you can play it. It is very powerful and with Churchill’s
voice it’s even more motivating, but that’s the principle. That’s what
Joshua is doing. He’s motivating the people in order that they might obtain
the rest that God has promised.
IV. Joshua is committed to God.
Now there is a fourth thing and very quickly. He’s
committed to partnership, he’s committed to planning, he’s committed to
motivation, but he’s committed in the fourth place to God. I don’t know any
other way of saying it. It comes in what the Reubenites and the Gadites are
saying to Joshua. They swear allegiance to him in this blood-curdling oath that
they give, that even if there is a hint of treason, that person must be put to
death. They are giving themselves entirely without reservation to this great
Notice what they say in verse 17, “may the Lord, your God be with you as
He was with Moses.” Though it’s a prayer on their behalf, it helps me to
see something of the strength of Joshua’s character as a leader, because what
is it that motivates? What distinguished Joshua from motivational speakers?
Maybe you’re been to some of these things. I’ve never been to them but I
have seen some of their videos. You know the kind of things that say,
“motivation is our focus, success is our passion.” Now what
distinguished Joshua from someone like that? It’s because his entire emphasis
is not upon himself and it’s not even upon the goal, it is upon the Lord
Himself. Verse 11, “the Lord your God is giving you this land.” He
repeats it again in verse 13, he repeats it again in verse 15. Take a little
peek at Joshua chapter 3 and verse 5, “Joshua said to the people, ‘consecrate
yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’” Joshua is
full of God. That’s what makes him a great leader. He is full of God. His
every word is about God, His motivation is the glory of God.
What makes great Deacons? What makes great Elders? We are going to have to
think about that this year. What makes a great Elder? Someone who is full of
God. Someone who is consumed by the glory of God. “If you can keep your
head while all around you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, you will be a
man my son,” said Kipling. Joshua is such a man, who keeps his head, and
keeps his head focused upon the Lord. Did you notice the last thing that these
men say to Joshua? They say to him, the very last words of chapter one, “be
strong and courageous.” Now, they have just heard God saying those very
words to Joshua. I think, I suspect the reasons they are now echoing it is by
way of a reminder that the strength and the courage that Joshua needs is a
strength and courage that comes when we are consumed by almighty God. May God
raise up in this congregation leaders of that caliber. May God bless His word to
us. Let’s pray together.
Our Father as we study Your word, our hearts are often moved and our spirits
are often moved, but we pray this evening that that movement might be such that
would draw us to rest entirely upon You. To see You as our chief glory and aim.
Our Father, we pray for Your blessing and benediction upon us just now and ask
that Your word might be hidden deep within our hearts for Jesus sake. Amen.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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