The Cause and Command of Christ (Joshua 1-6)

In Sermons, The Whole Story, Year 2024 by harvest.admin

Resource by Eric Weiner

If you remember from a few weeks ago, we said that God had rescued the people from their slavery in Egypt, made a covenant with them at Mount Sinai, and was leading them into a land of rest. All of this was part of God’s plan to establish Israel as a kingdom of priests. 

But then things take a turn for the worse. Moses sends spies in the Land who come back reporting that it’s too dangerous. The people become afraid, and fear can lead you to act in irrational ways.

Israel’s fear led to an uprising. People are going around the camp passing out tracts saying, “Don’t trust Misguided Moses!” See, they’d rather go to battle against Moses than the Canaanites. That’d be much safer. Except that their rejection of Moses is really a rejection of God. 

So God judges the people. Forty years He will wait for this unbelieving generation to die out. And on top of that, eventually even Mighty Moses stumbles and falls. He lashes out in anger at the people, showing his own distrust of God.

If you ever read a play by William Shakespeare, they say the best way to tell if it’s a comedy or a tragedy is that at the end of a tragedy everyone dies. Well, by the time we get to the end of the Torah, it sounds like a tragedy. Everyone dies. In fact, that’s the conclusion of Deuteronomy. Moses is like, you people can go into the land God promised, but as for me, I’m gonna go up on this mountain and die. 

But as the book of Joshua opens, it doesn’t skip a beat. The opening lines of Joshua are all about the transfer of power from Moses to Joshua and the promise that what God did through Moses, he will now do through Joshua. 

Starting in verse 2, the LORD says to Joshua,

“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” (Josh. 1:2-6)

Now, Joshua was not a new face for the people. He was a known military leader. He was one of the faithful men that Moses sent in among the 12 to spy out the land. Joshua was like Moses’s right-hand man. His aide. 

And in some more immediate way, Joshua was to be like a New Moses. 

Let me just go over some of Moses’s career highlights with you: 

  • Moses encountered the holiness of God at the burning bush and God gave him a specific call to lead Israel.
  • Moses led the people out of Egypt and was used by God to cross the Red Sea. 
  • Moses would administer the Law and establish Israel as God’s covenant people. He taught them how to celebrate the Passover.
  • Moses would later send out spies to investigate the land God was giving them. 
  • Moses would charge Israel to take heart, to enter the Land, and to obey all the LORD commanded. 

Now consider the opening chapters of Joshua:

  • In chapter 1, Joshua is established as God’s leader and assumes command over Israel. 
  • In chapter 2, Joshua sends spies into Jericho as they prepare to receive the Land God promised. But, instead of sending 12 spies, he only sends 2.
    • Do you think Moses ever said to him, “If only I had just sent you and Caleb!”? Maybe Joshua learned from Moses. 
  • In chapters 3 & 4, Joshua leads the people to cross the Jordan River on dry ground. That seems a bit familiar, don’t you think? 

BTW, here’s an interesting little detail about the Jordan crossing. As they set out to cross the Jordan, the text says the priests went in with the Ark of the Covenant first – to indicate that God is the one who leads them. And as soon as they began to step into the Jordan, the waters “rose up in a heap very far away…” And then, in verse 15, “(now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest)…”

If you’ve ever walked along a river bank with the intention of crossing, you know that you’re looking for a place where the water is shallow and has little movement because the more movement the more dangerous. But at the time of Israel’s crossing, Joshua wants you to know it was flood season. The water levels would have been at their deepest. 

So when Israel came up to the Jordan – this is not a small river. I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but they may have been thinking, “You can’t be serious!”

Who among us has ever faced difficult circumstances and asked God, what are you doing? Why does it have to be like this? And I don’t say this definitively, but it may just be that God has ordained a difficult path for you, not because he wants you to struggle, but because taking the difficult path will lead you to stop trusting in yourself and to start trusting in Him.

  • In chapter 5, after crossing the Jordan, Joshua has the men circumcised to reestablish their commitment to the covenant. And then, after that, they celebrate the Passover which is surprising for at least two reasons. 

(1) First, they’re about to go into battle. Physically speaking, circumcision doesn’t sound like a great war strategy. Right before battle, let’s weaken the infantry. 

(2) The Passover is like a victory meal. The first Passover was meant to celebrate God’s deliverance from Egypt. Now, they’re enjoying the Passover as a celebration, not only of what God has done, but what He will do. 

Now, I want us to look at three truths being teased out in these opening chapters:

  1. God desires all his people to participate in serving His cause. 

We all have a role to play. Do you ever consider what God is doing in the world today? And how He’s uniquely gifted you for his purposes? What’s God calling you to do to leverage your life for the sake of His cause? 

Now that doesn’t necessarily mean God wants you to step into full time ministry. It could. But if you are a follower of Jesus then you have become a servant of God, which means he has a claim on your life. And God calls all of us to take up the cause of Christ. Do you live that way? 

See, most of us flip this. Most of us think, what do I want to see happen in my life and how can God serve me toward those ends? But Joshua didn’t think like that. Israel wasn’t supposed to think like that. 

In fact, in the first 9 verses of Joshua God lays all of this out. He gives them (1) the promise of His presence, (2) clarity about His cause, and (3) he wants them to have confidence in His command. It’s all there. And how do the people respond? They say in verse 16, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.”

Listen, it’s common to fear the call of God in your life. And maybe that comes because we’re not sure we’re ready to do what he’s set before us. 

Maybe it’s learning how to leverage your job for kingdom purposes. Maybe it’s learning how to teach the Bible to non-Christians. Maybe it’s mentoring women who are new in faith. Maybe it’s advocating for refugees and serving at a refugee school once a month in the city. 

Or maybe it’s committing to follow Jesus altogether. You’ve been weighing the cost for some time, but you know it’s going to divide your family. It’s going to cost you friendships. Maybe even career opportunities. 

But this isn’t some friend asking you to make a sacrifice. This is the Lord of Lords calling you to align with Him. The cause of Christ is something we all should seriously consider. We will all die for something. But the question is will we learn to truly live? 

  • The courage to surrender is built on the foundation of God’s presence and promise. 

We should be willing to take risks to advance God’s cause because we trust that it’s what he’s doing anyway. That’s what the gospel does. We’re just stepping into the streams of his divine movement. 

For Joshua, God was calling him to lead the people in receiving the land. And even though the previous generation distrusted God, their fear didn’t come out of nowhere. The wickedness of Canaan was still before them. The task at hand warranted struggle. But see, Joshua could not deny the promise and presence of God in his life. That’s where his courage came from. 

You know, the late Tim Keller, started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in 1989 in the heart of Manhattan. But before that, New York was a high-crime, religiously-disinterested city. New York needed a gospel movement. 

Personally, Keller didn’t want to move to New York. His family definitely didn’t want to move. That’s usually all you need to know. 

But Keller thought someone should, which is why he and others in his denomination tried to send someone. The only problem is that no one else was in a position to go. So Keller started making the 3 hour drive twice a month to spy out the land. To assess the spiritual climate. 

And even though NYC was becoming increasingly diverse, even though it was high in crime, even though it was spiritually barren, those factors didn’t deter him. Those circumstances actually convinced Keller that the city was set up for revival. He thought the presence of God was obvious. 

Every time God calls someone to step out in faith, the assurance he gives them is his presence with them. Go and see. Search for God’s presence. But Keller reacted just like any of us would. What made him hesitant to go was his fear that he didn’t have the spiritual maturity to do it. 

Some of you, I know, have felt that way about what God is doing through this church. Not that long ago, this church was in what felt like an impossible scenario. You said, I’m not sure we can keep this thing going. It seems evident that God is at work here. But I just don’t see how we can keep the doors open. Maybe you felt like you were walking on unstable ground. Either we’re going to fall on our faces or God’s going to hold us. And right now, he’s holding us.

But listen, God doesn’t want to just keep the doors open to this church. He wants the nations to come in to experience the power of His gospel and to be discipled in the ways of Christ. And that’s not a one-person, two-person, three-person job. You probably need a small army for that. Are you ready to swim in those waters? Are you ready to fight in those battles? 

You know, eventually Keller became convinced while reading a book called The Christian in Complete Armour by the Puritan, William Gurnall. In the book, Gurnall writes, “It requires more [bravery] and greatness of spirit to obey God faithfully than to command an army of men; to be a Christian, than to be a captain.” Keller took that to mean he needed to live more bravely. He started saying, “Might as well go to New York.” I was reading this story early last year. After I read that, I thought, might as well go to Kuala Lumpur. 

People like to ask me what I think about KL. My honest answer is that I like KL a lot. But it was really never about the place. It was really about the One giving the orders. And along the way, I realized that I cannot deny the assignment of God.

See, to take risks for the Kingdom of God. I want to give my life to that. And if you really want to start swimming in those streams then it causes you to ask, what is the cause of Christ and how is God uniquely positioning me to serve him in it? Listen. Surrender will require sacrifice. But serving God’s cause is never without reward. 

And when you walk down that path it’s the presence of God and the promises of God that become the Christian’s greatest possessions. You start to see them as solid joys that give you the courage to go where only God could lead. 

Sometimes He calls us into the rough waters. Sometimes He leads us into the battles we could never win ourselves, asking us to trust that He’s with us, that He’s fighting for us, and that He will do good through us. 

In Joshua 1:5 the LORD told Joshua, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”But do you remember the final words that Jesus speaks in Matthew’s gospel (28:20)? He says to his disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It’s the same promise. 

The presence and promises of God are what sustain us as we learn a life of surrender. And ultimately, the reason why we surrender, the reason why any Christian surrenders to the cause of Christ, is because we’ve encountered the Lord ourselves. Christ changes everything for us. 

  • Those who encounter Christ the Lord obey the commands of God.

Now, I want to come back to the end of chapter 5. If you want to turn there. Remember, the people are about to embark on their quest to take the land. You’ve probably heard about the fall of Jericho. But this little encounter right before it will reframe how you understand the rest of the book and even how you understand yourself. 

Jericho was a large city with a massive wall around its borders. Humanly speaking, it would have appeared impossible to break through. And one night, before the Israelites are about to take Jericho, Joshua goes out to take a look at it.

Maybe he wants to take a moment to remember how far they’ve come. To vow to himself and the Lord that this time things will be different. 

Verse 13 says, “When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”

14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 

15 And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.”

(1) The first thing we should notice is that this is Joshua’s burning bush moment. 

See, Joshua is the Commander of Israel’s army. But he has just encountered someone greater than him. Some think that Joshua is seeing an angel. But in Revelation 22, after John encounters an angel he falls down to worship and the angel quickly says, “Don’t do that! I’m a servant just like you.” 

But Joshua’s response here is an act of worship, and the Commander doesn’t stop him. He goes one step further. He says, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” 

This is no angel. This is the LORD in the appearance of a man. 

(2) A second thing we should notice is who’s really in charge. 

Joshua comes to the Commander asking, “Are you friend or foe?” But the Commander says, “No. But I’m here now.” IOW, he hasn’t come to serve Joshua. 

And Joshua rightly discerns that he owes him his allegiance. What does he do? He says, “Rule me! Command me!” Have you ever said that to Christ?

See, this battle isn’t what Joshua thought it was. It wasn’t Israel’s to fight, but God’s. Because this battle is really about judgment against sin. Canaan practiced all sorts of wickedness – idolatry, sexual perversion, and child sacrifice. 

But just because God condemns the sin of Canaan doesn’t mean he will overlook the sin of anyone else. Just because he condemns the sin of Canaan doesn’t mean he won’t pardon the repentant among them. Rahab was a Canaanite who turned to the Lord. Which tells us that the repentant of heart can turn to the LORD and find mercy. 

But again, God is the one who fights the battle. And you really notice this when you hear their military strategy. You can just imagine this scene. 

Joshua comes in after this encounter with the LORD. He’s got a pep in his step. He gathers up his men, and he says, “Alright men! Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to march around the walls of the city for six days. And you know what? We’re gonna position our priests on our frontlines, and stay with me here, we’ll give them rams horns to blow. On the 7th day, we’ll march around the fortified walls 7 times and have the men shout. That’s how we’ll bring down the walls of Jericho.” 

And the whole time, the men are just nodding their heads like, that’s what you got? What are they supposed to say? “You know Joshua, it’s no Art of War, but I think it just might work.” No, they’re probably wondering “Have you lost your mind? Do you think we’ll kill them with laughter?” 

But then, after all the groaning, Joshua pulls them back in to say, “Men, you’re right. This all sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But honestly, what’s the greater miracle? Remember what God did for our forefathers in Egypt? How he crushed their foes in the Red Sea? Remember what we just saw him do at the Jordan? Or how he provided our daily bread in the wilderness? What about even the seemingly small things? Not even the sandals on our feet wore out these past 40 years. How do you explain that? Every time we’ve gone against the promises of God things didn’t work out. But I’m convinced that, even in this, our God is with us!” And they say, well then let’s get the rams horns. 

But listen. Today, we blow our horn of victory, not over the conquest in Canaan, but through the Cross of Christ. Because on the night before our greatest battle, the Commander of the Lord’s Army showed up again. But this time our only orders were to watch and wait. Because He was taking the judgment of God upon himself. 

See, the Cross of Christ has become our greatest boast because it’s the place where every sinner can receive forgiveness of sins. Because it’s the place where the Commander of the Lord’s Army fought our battle of sin and death for us. And though he was slain on our behalf, he emerged victorious. And now so do we. 

(3) Finally, Moses and Joshua are not the only people to experience a holy encounter with the LORD.

Every Christian today has had this kind of experience. It may not have seemed so outwardly supernatural. But inwardly, to say that what happened was supernatural, is the only explanation that makes sense. 

Anyone can convert to other religions, whether by force or by reason. But to truly become a Christian requires nothing less than the Spirit of God to bring you from death to life. IOW, becoming a Christian is nothing short of miracle. 

And you know, Moses and Joshua, were servants of the LORD, which was high praise in the Old Testament. But now, as followers of Jesus, God has changed the way he relates to us. 

In John 15 Jesus told his disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

And as friends of God, He’s empowered us with His Spirit. Meaning, he has not only promised his presence. He has supplied it. 

And then later in John, after his resurrection Jesus appears to his disciples saying, “Peace be with you.” Because the battle has already been won. 

He shows them his wounds. And he says, “Touch! See! Believe!” Because he wants his presence and works to be their source of confidence. 

And then he says to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Imagine Jesus standing before you, lifting his nailed pierced hands as he’s saying “Peace to you!” And you realize the price of peace required the death of Christ.

And his words echo in your ears, “Just as the Father sent me, now I am sending you.” And you start to realize, if God sent Jesus to serve and give his life as an offering for me, then how am I positioned to serve him now from a heart posture of gratitude and love? 

God has uniquely gifted you with His Spirit for His purposes. So what has He called you to do for the cause of Christ? 

Ultimately, his purposes involve gospel proclamation and discipleship. We don’t live this way to earn God’s love. We live this way because He loves us and he wants us to joyfully receive what he is pleased to give. He wants us to enter the gates of Zion’s city – our land of rest – and to enjoy our reward, which is life in Christ. 

  • Joshua: The God Who Fights For Us – Greear
  • Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary – Hess
  • Joshua and the General – Keller
  • “Is God Guilty of Genocide?” – Kruger
Other videos in this series: