Joshua 1:1-9: "How Brave are you, really?"

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(1) And then, after the death of Moses the servant of Yahweh, Yahweh said to Joshua son of Nun, the one serving Moses, saying, "Moses my servant died, and so then, rise!, cross! over this Jordan-- you and all this people to the land that I am giving to them--to the sons of Israel. Moses was, overall, a great leader for Israel. He was a faithful servant of Yahweh; He was a faithful servant of Israel. But in Numbers 20, he sinned against Yahweh in how he brought water out from a rock. And Yahweh made a promise to Moses, then, that because Moses sinned, he wouldn't personally get to enter the promised land. And Yahweh keeps his promises. He is a God of his word. So when we read Yahweh's words to Joshua in verse 1, we understand them in light of Numbers 20. Our book starts on a very sober note. Israel couldn't cross over until Moses had died. God expects obedience. In verse 2, Yahweh gives Joshua two commands. Get up! Cross the river! The Jordan isn't a really impressive river, to look at. It's not a big deal. But the Jordan River marks the boundary of the promised land. And that makes it a big deal. This command marks Yahweh beginning to fulfill his promise to give the land. Now Yahweh is a patient, kind, and gracious God. And Yahweh knows that He is asking a lot of Joshua. And so Yahweh doesn't simply command Joshua to rise and cross the Jordan River, and leave it at that. He also gives Joshua five promises to encourage him in verses 3-5: (3) Every place that the sole of your feet walks on it, to you I gave just as I spoke to Moses. (4) It is from the desert and this Lebanon and up to the great river--the river of Euphrates--, all the land of the Hittites and up to the great sea, the great setting of the sun that will be your territory. No man will stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have lived with Moses, I will be with you. I will not abandon you, and I will not reject you. So here are the five promises: 1) Imagine someone walking. Every single step they take, they are touching a new piece of the ground. Every step Joshua takes, marks a piece of the promised land that Yahweh is giving to Joshua. (take a step, that piece, take a step, that piece). 2) Yahweh's second promise is that as long as Joshua lives, no one will be able to defeat Joshua in battle. He says this: "No man will stand before you all the days of your life." There's going to be lots of wars in Joshua. Lots of fighting. Lots of killing. Imagine yourself holding a sword, as part of an army, and you are lining up in battle against your enemy. Or you are trying to attack a fortified city that's ready for you. How do you know that you will be the one to win? How do you know that you will be the one who lives? Yahweh promises Joshua, "No man will stand before you all the days of your life." As long as you live, you will always be victorious. 3) Yahweh's third promise is this: "Just as I have lived with Moses, I will be with you." Joshua was Moses' servant. Joshua saw, first hand, what it meant that Yahweh was with Moses (Deut. 3:21). If you know that God has promised to be with you, and you've seen him do miraculous, amazing things, there's really no reason to be scared. 4-5) Yahweh's fourth and fifth promises are that he won't abandon Joshua or reject him. He won't bring Joshua halfway into the promised land, and then abandon him. Yahweh won't leave him in the middle of a battle. Yahweh will be with Joshua. End of story. So Yahweh has given Joshua two commands-- Rise!, and cross!, and given him 5 promises. He now gives Joshua 2 more commands in verse 6. (6) Be strong and be brave because you will give this people the land that I swore to your fathers to give to them. "Be strong." "Be brave." Why? Joshua has to be brave, because it is Joshua who will give the people the land. Everything depends on Joshua. There is no one else. And at the end of the day, when Yahweh points a finger at you, and says, "This is your job; it's you who will do this," what can you say? What can you do? You may not like it; you may wish someone else was doing it. But you'll be strong, and you'll be brave. Verses 7-8 introduce a wrinkle to all this: (7) Only, be strong and be brave exceedingly, to keep to do according to all the instruction that Moses my servant commanded you. (8) This scroll of the instruction must not depart from your mouth, and you must mutter over it day and night. in order that you may keep to do everything written in it because it is then that you will be successful in your roads/ways, and it is then that you will prosper. Verse 7 begins with Yahweh saying "only." The way that "only" works in Hebrew, is that it places a qualification, or limitation, or condition, on something that was just said. Yahweh has given Joshua five great promises. But these promises have a condition attached to them. Joshua has to be strong and exceedingly brave, to keep all of Moses' instructions. I understand the need to be strong, and be brave, if I'm holding a sword and attacking a fortified city. I know men aren't supposed to admit to something like this, but I'd want to wet my pants. But here, in verse 7, being strong and being brave is connected to obeying the commands Yahweh gave Moses. Why does it take strength, and bravery, to trust and obey Yahweh? How can this be harder, and more important, than attacking cities? Joshua is commanded to be exceedingly strong, and exceedingly brave. When Yahweh talks about the instruction Moses gave--your Bibles probably translate it as the law of Moses-- this is basically the book of Deuteronomy. At the heart of Deuteronomy is the establishment of a covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel. We know about covenants, probably, from weddings. When a man and woman want to get married, they are joined to each other through a marriage covenant. They made a solemn promise to be faithful to each other, as long as they both live. Yahweh and Israel made a covenant after Yahweh freed Israel from Egypt. Yahweh promised to bless Israel, to multiply them, to give them the land, and to protect them from enemies. This is what it means for Yahweh to be faithful. Israel promised to serve Yahweh alone. They would worship no other gods; they would be committed solely to Yahweh. This is what it means for Israel to be faithful. Let's read Deuteronomy 31:14ff.: 14 The Lord said to Moses, “Now the day of your death is near. Call Joshua and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, where I will commission him.” So Moses and Joshua came and presented themselves at the tent of meeting. 15 Then the Lord appeared at the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the tent. 16 And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your ancestors, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. 17 And in that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and calamities will come on them, and in that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?’ 18 And I will certainly hide my face in that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods. 19 “Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. 20 When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their ancestors, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. 21 And when many disasters and calamities come on them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants. I know what they are disposed to do,even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.” 22 So Moses wrote down this song that day and taught it to the Israelites. 23 The Lord gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: “Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you.” 24 After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, 25 he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord: 26 “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die!28 Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to testify against them. 29 For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall on you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and arouse his anger by what your hands have made.” ------------------- This is a terrible, depressing speech. Yahweh knows that Israel will rebel against him and worship other gods. It's inevitable. Israel is a hard-hearted, stiff-necked people. And so Yahweh gives Moses a song to teach the people. I imagine it had a catchy tune, to help them remember the words. And this song is a horrible song. It's a song designed to be a witness against Israel, that one day, when they are settled in the land, they would abandon Yahweh and turn to other gods and worship them. And every time people sang this song, or found themselves humming it, it would serve as a reminder of the importance of being faithful to Yahweh, keeping the covenant. The song itself is found in Deuteronomy 32. I'm not going to read it, but I'd encourage you to read it out loud later. It goes something like this: "Yahweh was faithful to us, and blessed us, and made us prosperous. We grew fat and bloated, and then turned to serve other gods. We were faithless. We forgot our promises, and relied on ourselves and our other gods. We made Yahweh angry, and he brought disaster on us." Imagine if some of our worship songs were warnings about the importance of obeying God, and being faithful to Jesus, and warnings about what happens to people when they rebel (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 6:6-8). Maybe we could ask Chris Tomlin to write something for us. Moses, looking to the future, and knowing the hearts of the people, knows that all of this is hopeless. They are rebellious; they are stiff-necked. And this is all going to end badly for Israel. Yahweh will become angry with them, and he will bring disaster on them. And Moses knows that this is all inevitable. The people are wicked. The people don't want to trust and obey Yahweh. They want to hedge their bets. Or they will start to think they don't really need God. And so, turning back to Joshua 1:7-8, what does Yahweh tell Joshua to do? (7) Only, be strong and be brave exceedingly, to keep to do according to all the instruction that Moses my servant commanded you. (8) This scroll of the instruction must not depart from your mouth, and you must mutter over it day and night. in order that you may keep to do everything written in it because it is then that you will be successful in your roads/ways, and it is then that you will prosper. All of Israel has a responsibility to obey the instruction of Moses-- but for Joshua, this is even more important. As he leads, the people will follow. Being a leader is a huge responsibility. Joshua (and Yahweh) knows it's inevitable that Israel is going to rebel. Moses made it sound hopeless. How can Joshua lead rightly, and serve Yahweh rightly, and keep Israel on the right path? The answer is found in the instructions Moses left. Joshua has to keep the scroll of the instruction in his mouth, muttering over it. We tend to read our Bible silently, and we deny ourselves the chance to use more of our senses, and learn with our ears, and learn with our mouth. When you read God's word, you should do so out loud. You should mutter it to yourself. This will help you to slow down, and actually read what's there, and think about what you're reading. You should be reading it often enough that's it's always in your mouth. You're constantly thinking about it, muttering over it. The reason you do this-- the reason Joshua is supposed to do this-- is so that you will do everything written in it. If Joshua does this, it is then-- and only then-- that he will be successful, and it is then-- and only then-- that he will prosper. Yahweh has every intention of giving Israel the land, and he has made promises to that effect. He has already freed them from slavery to Egypt and led them safely through the wilderness. And he has promised to bless them, give them the land, and be good to them. But the way covenants work is that both sides have responsibilities. Joshua must center his life around God's commands. They need to be in his mouth day and night, so that he keeps them all. It is if he does this, that he will then be successful, and then he will prosper. If Joshua disobeys, Yahweh's promises won't hold true. Bad things will happen to him. Again, this is how "only" works in the Hebrew. Yahweh then concludes his words to Joshua in verse 9: (9) Did I not command you, be strong and be brave? Don't tremble, and don't be terrified, because with you Yahweh your God is, in everywhere that you are walking." There are really two things Joshua needs to do. Be strong, and be brave. Courage isn't just a matter of holding a sword, and being ready to take the fight to the Canaanites and Amorites. Courage is really about trusting Yahweh to keep the promises he has made in his covenants with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Israel. Will Joshua trust Yahweh, or not? That's the question. And then Yahweh reminds Joshua at the end of the single most important promise he has made. Where is Yahweh? "With you." "Don't tremble, and don't be terrified, because it is WITH YOU that Yahweh your God is, in everywhere that you are walking. Joshua needs to remember that everywhere he walks, Yahweh is with him. If he keeps this in mind, everything else should be easy. If you know Yahweh is with you, why would you be scared? Why would you disobey? God is with us. When we think about how we should apply this, this passage pulls us in lots of different directions. We should read God's word constantly, out loud, keeping it in our mouth day and night. We should be brave, and strong, and not fear anything, because we know God is with us. But rather than unpack those, I want to focus on the idea of covenant. Most of you are familiar with the idea of covenants because of marriage. You've been to weddings, or you got married, and marriage was described as a covenant between two people under God. But it's possible that many of you don't really think about your relationship with God as being a covenant. You maybe talk about being in a relationship with God, or being his children--but a covenant? I'm not sure. As NT Christians, we read Joshua from the other side of Jesus dying on the cross and being raised from the dead. We read Joshua, knowing that the covenant described here isn't our covenant. It's Israel's covenant. It's the Mosaic covenant. And we are supposed to understand that we are not under the Mosaic covenant. We don't place ourselves under these commands and obey them, as the way to become part of God's people. This is not our covenant. Our covenant was established through Jesus' blood. Luke 22:14-20: 14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it[b] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. God initiated this new covenant through Jesus. He offers us salvation, and entrance into his people, through Jesus. What God has done in the NT is offer this covenant to everyone. What difference does it make, whether we talk about our relationship with God in terms of a covenant or not? A lot of times, when people talk about salvation, they talk about it as a free gift that requires nothing on our part. But it would be much better--much more biblical-- to think of it in terms of a covenant. It is through Jesus' blood that God offers a new covenant to you. God offers you forgiveness of sins, freedom from the power of sin, membership in his family, access to Him, the Holy Spirit, and the hope of an inheritance when Jesus returns. And God offers you all those things through Jesus. The question is, do you want to enter into this covenant relationship with God that He offers through Jesus? And, if so, how do you do this? What does God want? God wants three things: (1) He wants you to repent from your sins. What repentance means, is that He wants you to turn from your sins, to serve the living God. Every non-Christian I've ever met has understood this. They know that they are living in sin. And they know, concretely, the things they do that displease God. You have to repent. (2) God wants you to give your allegiance to Jesus as King. This is what "faith" means. Faith means allegiance, or faithfulness. The salvation God offers, he offers through King Jesus. Whenever you approach a king, you come on bent knee. You submit to Jesus as Lord. You give him everything. This allegiance is not a one-time thing. This isn't the sinner's prayer. This allegiance is how you wake up every morning. Today, Jesus, I confess you as Lord, and live for you. (3) God wants you to be baptized. Baptism is your pledge of commitment to God (1 Peter 3:21; use NIV); it is how you are united with Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6). As we begin our study of the book of Joshua, we need to remember that we are not reading about our covenant. BUT, there are a lot of things God can teach us about how covenants with him work through this book. God hasn't changed. And what He wants from people, broadly, fundamentally, hasn't changed either. The main thing we should learn here was found in 1:7-8: (7) Only, be strong and be brave exceedingly, to keep to do according to all the instruction that Moses my servant commanded you. (8) This scroll of the instruction must not depart from your mouth, and you must mutter over it day and night. in order that you may keep to do everything written in it because it is then that you will be successful in your roads/ways, and it is then that you will prosper. Many Christians think that God really doesn't care how they live. God loves them the same, and He treats them the same, regardless. They think you can be greedy, or sexually immoral, or an idolater, and it makes no difference for how God relates to you. God gave Joshua some amazing promises in Joshua 1. And evangelical Christians tend to read these promises, and claim them for themselves. But what they don't understand is the limitation God attaches to these promises in verse 7. They don't understand how "only" works in Hebrew. These promises are conditional. Joshua has an obligation to mutter over God's instructions day and night, always keeping them in his mouth. He has to be brave to keep all of God's instruction. Because it is then that he will be successful, and then that he will prosper. We will see how this plays out in Joshua as we keep reading. I don't want to spoil the book. But what we see up front, is that God's grace, and his promises come first. But what does God require in response, for these promises to be fulfilled? God requires obedience. So be exceedingly brave, and obey.
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