Joshua: When God is Like a Wild Animal

Sermon by on April 28, 2002

Joshua 11 & 12
When God is like a Wild Animal

I said last week that you cannot make sense of Joshua apart from the cross of
Jesus Christ. In particular, the battles, the warfare, the bloodshed, the (at
times) “scorched earth” policy where no survivors, “nothing that
breathed” (11:11) survived–these things that we have read about in our
Bibles tonight are deeply disturbing. If they are not disturbing to you then we
are living in very different worlds. There are times in the Bible, and
especially here in Joshua, that God appears to behave like a wild animal. Maybe
you are offended by that remark. These chapters are meant to do that. It has led
some to reject the book of Joshua and the Bible as a whole, at least the
portrayal of God as we have it in the Bible. And my point is that we cannot make
sense of it apart from a biblical understanding of the cross. What possible
reason does God have to crucify His own Son? You may say that it wasn’t God
that did that. It was men who did that. But it was also by God’s doing, as
Peter said in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, “this Jesus, delivered up
according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and
killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23 ESV). God did this! Why? And
the only satisfactory answer to that lies in a biblical understanding of the
meaning of the cross: that God’s justice demanded it!


Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.

O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet,
A trusting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet!

That is it exactly! The cross is where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice
meet!

The God of battles is leading them into war in order to give them the
fulfillment of the salvation He has promised. But in order to bring salvation to
His people, judgment must fall upon wickedness and unbelief. The iniquity of the
Amorites has reached its fullness and God is now pouring out His justice. What
we have depicted here is the warrior God. God is marching to war.


1. What we have here is more than just a description of
some battles, interesting as they may be.

Let me begin
this evening by citing a passage that we looked at on Wednesday evening at the
Prayer Meeting: “For whatever was written in former days was written for
our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the
Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4 (ESV). Whatever in written in
Joshua 11 is written for our instruction.

What can we learn from this chapter that will be a help to us? I think that’s
a perfectly valid question to ask.

These Old Testament books are historical, but they are more than history.
They tell the story of redemption. Our redemption, yes, our redemption
begins in the Old Testament, with the stories of the Patriarchs and of the
nation of Israel. What God is doing here is preparing the way for the Savior to
be born, of ensuring that His people have somewhere to live and to set up homes
and establish a godly society and so on.

God is at work in these battles. You see that several times in the chapter
(see v. 9 for example–where the Lord is directing Joshua what to do; cf. vv.
12, 15, 20, 23). Very especially, this is a holy war that is being fought
on the soil of Canaan. It is of a different order to the wars fought on
the soil of this country. There are spiritual principles operating here.
The manual for this holy war was not a volume of past battles. He’s not
reading Battle Strategy for Dummies, something equivalent to a ‘how-to’
book on military campaigns. Lord Cornwallis, for example, in the Revolutionary
War, is said to have studied in detail manuals of battle formations from past
engagements

.
You might think he would have done better had he not consulted those, of course.
What is the military strategy book for Joshua? For Joshua it was the book of
Deuteronomy! And so God urged him not to study military strategy but to study
His revelation and to live in obedience to His word and to trust it.

And it is for this reason that the teaching of a book like this, that teaches
us about military battles, can teach us about issues in life in which we are
involved in spiritual battles. It may have been physical in the days of Joshua,
and they may be more spiritual in our time, but they are both holy wars.

And we see in Matthew 16:18 that the way in which Jesus builds the church is
in the context of a holy war in which the enemy is the gates of hell, and the
gates of hell seek to destroy the church that Jesus is building on the Rock. But
the Lord Jesus Christ, who is portrayed again in the book of Revelation as the
divine warrior, coming to deal with all His spiritual foes, has promised that as
His people live in obedience to His word, trust in His promises, then every
enemy will be defeated and the church of Jesus Christ will stand even in the
evil day (Eph 6).

And that’s what we have in these battles. We need to be able to see the
spiritual principles, that the way of victory is the strategy that God employs.
You and I are caught in a battle tonight. It’s not out there, it’s here in
the church. The devil doesn’t have a little sign outside that says, “You
can’t come in here.” He marches in, and he’s here before you get here.
Sitting in the pew. And we need to know, and be absolutely convinced, that he’s
a defeated foe.

In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, as Christian is approaching Palace
Beautiful
where he hopes to get lodging, he is walking down a very narrow
passage to the porter’s lodge, and there he meets two lions in the way. And
Bunyan adds, “The lions were chained; but he saw not the chains.”

They were chained, but he couldn’t see the
chains! And isn’t that such a graphic representation of the way we live our
lives. We see the lions, but we don’t see the chains, and God wants us to know
that Satan is defeated.

And that’s why we can turn to a passage like this one. And even though we
don’t live in a conflict situation, we live in the midst of a spiritual battle
every day of our lives, we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against
principalities ands powers, the forces of spiritual wickedness which was true of
Joshua himself.


2. What we have here is a vivid instance of how the
work of God can meet with concerted opposition.

Wherever Jesus
Christ, the captain of the Lord’s army, is giving His inheritance to His
people, it invariably meets with concerted opposition.

Following the Southern campaign in chapter 10, chapter 11 now opens with some
details of a massive battle in the north. References to Hazor (v.1), Napthoth
Dor near to Mount Carmel and the Mediterranean (v.2), and Mount Hermon (v.18)
identify the locations as in and around Galilee to the north of the country.

It is interesting to notice in these opening verses of chapter 11, Jabin king
of Hazor (whose name means “ability” of wisdom and intelligence) is
the mastermind who orchestrates a huge alliance/coalition of forces. These
kings, v.4, amass a huge army which seeks to withstand the onward movement of
the purposes of God.

It is also interesting to note how slowly the author of Joshua 11 moves
through the details of this passage to build up the sense of the sheer hugeness
of the opposition, as numerous as the sand on the sea-shore. And how
outstandingly equipped: horses and chariots, the very latest in military
machinery and maneuverability. We need to understand that several years
(possibly six or seven years) have passed since their initial entry into the
land.

Verse 4 is intended to impress us, perhaps intimidate us. “They came out
with all their troops, and a large number of horses and chariots–a huge army,
as numerous as the sand on the sea shore.” Their power and numerical
superiority was far beyond that of the people of God.

The forces of Israel are clearly outnumbered and outmatched.

And what does God say to Joshua and to the people in a situation like this?
Listen, listen! “Do not be afraid of them” (11:6). Thirty-three times
we read this little phrase in the Scriptures.

When Pastor Wilhelm Busch got married he said to his wife, “I’d like to
have six sons, and all of them will have to learn to play the trumpet.” He
had dreams of a family band. They eventually did have a family of six children,
four girls and two boys. But they lost their two sons in horrible circumstances.
Meanwhile, Busch had become the courageous preacher to young people, imprisoned
by the Nazis several times. His life was spent in teaching and pastoring other
people’s sons while his own lay dead.

What kept this servant of God? It was going to the Lord and pouring out his
sorrows and questions to him. He once said, “I remember the day I learned
that my second son was dead. I paced to and fro, feeling as if someone had
plunged a knife into my heart. People filed in to express their sympathy, but
their words didn’t speak to my heart. They couldn’t get through to me. I was a
youth worker at the time, and I kept on thinking, ‘Tonight you have to go to the
youth rally and joyously proclaim the Word of God to 150 young people.’ My heart
was bleeding.”

So what did Wilhelm Busch do? “I went to my room and shut the door.
Falling on my knees, I prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, You are alive. Have mercy on me.’
Then I took my New Testament, opened it, and read these words, “Peace I
leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do
not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ I knew that God always
kept His promises, so I persevered in prayer, ‘Lord Jesus, I don’t know why You
did this to me, but I beg You, give me Your peace. Fill my heart with Your
peace.’ And He did.”

And perhaps the most striking thing, and the reason why the author is taking
this so slowly, so that we may grasp what is going on here, is an echo of what
has been going since the opening pages of human history: it is the conquest that
involves the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). The
conflict between the powers of darkness and the kingdom of God.

This passage is so illustrative of the second Psalm. “Why is it that the
heathen rage? And the kings have engaged in concerted activity against the Lord
and His anointed?” The very things that we read of in the Gospels and the
flurried attack of the nations upon our Saviour on the evening of our Lord’s
crucifixion. And how poised He was, by contrast, because He was conscious that
whenever God seeks to build His kingdom we may expect opposition to His
purposes. And so Joshua stands before us here as one, to use the language of
Simon Peter, as one whom Satan seeks to devour; but he stands steadfast because
he wants to submits himself to the word and promise of almighty God.

And that is what you need to do today. This passage is teaching us to listen
to what the Lord said to Joshua: do not be afraid of them. We don’t have to be
afraid. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Isn’t that a staggering
thought. He is calling us, do you see, to rest in the Lord — Jesus-like —
that when the enemies of God surround we are able to stand with a divinely given
poise in the confidence of the Commander of the Lord of hosts who is with us.


3. What we have here is a description of the absolute
sovereignty of the work of God.

This confirms
the rightness of Joshua’s trust in the Lord. Why is he not in a panic? Because
he trusts in the Lord! Because he believes in the absolute sovereignty of God!
Because he believes that God will fulfill His own purposes and through Joshua’s
simple obedience to His every word!

And that sovereignty manifests itself in two different directions.


i. In the victory described in verses 6, 7 and 8. I will hand all of them
over to Israel… Can you imagine what was going on Joshua’s mind as these
armies gathered together with their horses and chariots? How could he possibly
be obedient to the word of God in the face of this overwhelming opposition. It
is because God had given him a great promise. It was not Joshua, but the Lord
who gave them into his hands. He was trusting in the sovereignty of God. And my
friends, isn’t that a lesson for us? To trust in the sovereignty of God, to
trust in His word, that what He says, He will do, invariably, without fail. And
then we have this picture, the writer must have enjoyed describing it, as they
chased them down the valley to Mizpah. He hamstrung their horses and burned
their chariots. He trusted in the sovereignty of God. And we see that
sovereignty working itself out in another way, in the terrible judgment in verse
20, one of the most difficult verses in the whole Bible.


ii. Also in the terrible judgment of God in verse 20. How are we to
understand this enormously solemn word? This holocaust. Few are comfortable with
this horrendous scene which, if it were a movie would receive a restricted
category to be sure. How is it possible that this holy war could have been a
just war? The answer lies in this. I wonder if you have noticed, as you read
through the book of Joshua, how frequently we are told that these people had
heard what God was doing. About six or seven times up to this point that we read
that the people had heard what God is doing (2:10, 11; 5:1; 9:1, 3, 9; 10:1;
11:1). They heard, but they resisted, except the Gibeonites, who lied and
deceived their way in. But the others heard what God was doing and instead of
coming to the Israelites and pleading for mercy, which they would have
undoubtedly received, they turn instead to chariots and horses and implements of
war. They said, “We will resist whatever it is that God is seeking to
do.” They resisted the purposes of God. Instead of repenting of their
ungodliness, and idolatry, they brought into action all the human defenses they
could muster in order to resist the purposes of God. And what they asked for
they received.

Now that has all kinds of applications to it: but we do the same things
ourselves. When God comes in His mighty power. When he makes demands upon us.
When he seeks to make us bow down, we muster the resistance. How can we stop the
onward march of Jesus Christ into our lives? And we find that if we harden our
hearts the day will come that He will give us over to that hardness. If it is
a hard heart that you want, dear creature, then it will be a hard heart that you
will get. And that for ever more
.

There is an echo of that, isn’t there, in those stunning verses of Paul in
Romans 1:18f , 22f 24f, 26, where he speaks of the stubborn resistance of men’s
hearts to the overtures of God’s grace, “And so God gave them up to their
unbelief.” God gave them over to their wickedness. If you will say, my
friend, “I will have my will rather than Your will,” then at the end
of the day the Lord will say, “Your will be done on earth.” And
ultimately, alas, in hell. And that’s really what this chapter is a picture
of. God is saying, “enough.” It is a picture of people who have heard
of the mighty works of God in redemption and instead of pleading with God that
they might share in His mercy in His redemptive mercies, and in the blessings He
might give to them upon their repentance, they resist Him. And they are given
over to this terrible, terrible hardness of heart until God comes and says
“enough!” And He will come, the true Joshua will come and say,
“Enough is enough” and bring to pass the very judgment they have
called down upon themselves.

Now you see the point of this. That there is no defeating God. You either
have your heart broken by His onward movement of His power or break yourself by
the power of His majesty and person. I beg you to understand, you can never
overcome God. You can never find the ingenuity in your heart to withstand in
such a way that you make Him your servant and you His master.


iii. Also in what Joshua did to the horses in verse 9. One of the things
they did, and you see it here at the end of verse 9, and the absolute
sovereignty of God is seen in one little detail. When God asks Joshua to do one
little thing, to hamstring the horses and burn the chariots of their opposition.
What does this mean? They are crippled and useless in battle. Some of the men
would have said, “These will be useful in battle.” Why? Could they not
have taken them and used them? He understood something that we don’t always
understand: that they needed to be destroyed lest they become objects of trust
among the people of God rather than them trusting in the Lord. Joshua must learn
that this battle will be won by different principles, not by might, not by
power, but by the Spirit. Joshua is not to employ in this battle the strategy of
this world, but the wisdom of life.

Isn’t that a challenge? We are so tempted in this church to employ the
wisdom of the world, and despise the wisdom of God. And this is such a
challenge. God is saying, I am going to take from you every vestige of self
trust, and I want you to trust absolutely in Me. The battle was an immediate
victory. Even the giants fell.

Do you know the words that the great Augustine writes in his Confessions? He
describes a time when he prayed to God: “God, give me purity, chastity, but
not yet!”

They were not to adopt the principles of the world in order to gain the
ultimate victory.

I find that very challenging.

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