Second Reformed Church

Monday, December 09, 2013

"Joshua" Sermon: Hebrews 11:30


[Hebrews 11:30]

December (1) 8, 2013 Second Reformed Church

Moses and the people of Israel had crossed the Red Sea and begun to make their way from the Sinai Peninsula to the land of Canaan.  It was a journey – by the most direct route – of about 250 miles.  They could have made the journey in about a month.  Yet, they didn’t arrive for forty years.  Why?

Several months into their journey across the Sinai – since they stopped for the Ten Commandments, it took longer – Moses sent forty spies into the land of Canaan, as God commanded, to see the land that God was giving them, that they might be filled with joy and give thanks to God, and we read:

“And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, ‘We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.’

“But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.’ Then the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.’ So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, ‘The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them’” (Numbers 13:26-33, ESV).

Thirty-eight spies said it was too dangerous to try to take the land.  Two spies – Caleb and Joshua – said, believing by faith God’s promise that He was giving them the land, that they should go and take the land.  The people took the words of the thirty-eight to heart, and they cried out, “We’re all going to die!  We should never have left Egypt; let’s appoint a leader and go back to Egypt.”

And God told Moses that everyone over the age of twenty, except for Caleb and Joshua, would die in the wilderness, and then they would go into the land that God promised to give them.  That’s why it took forty years.  They didn’t believe God.  Their eyes and their fear got the better of them.  They thought God was too weak to bring them into the Promised Land.

After forty years, the people of Israel, Caleb, Joshua, and Moses, went to the edge of Canaan.  Joshua had been appointed Moses’ successor, and Moses died on Mount Nebo, overlooking the Promised Land.  Joshua led the people across the Jordan, and saw in the distance, the frontier town of Jericho.

Our text for this morning reads:  “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.”

As we consider what happened, we discern three doctrines:

If we believe in the promises of God by faith, we need no other deliverance.

Through faith, we trust God, even when what God has said doesn’t make sense to us.

Through faith, we patiently wait on God, even when we think we need something now.

Let us turn to Joshua chapter 6 to see what happened:

“Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.’”

As we have already noted, Jericho was a frontier town – it lay outside the main metropolis and served as protection for the bulk of the people.  It was a military town, set up to protect Canaan proper.  The spies who had gone in forty years earlier had not lied – Jericho was a secure facility, inhabited by unusually large, strong soldiers.  To the naked eye, it was suicide to try to attack the town – the walls were shut, the guards were on alert, Israel didn’t have the strength or the weaponry to take the town.  The inhabitants of Jericho knew what these two million people were up to as they approached Jericho – there was no way to surprise Jericho.

But what was God’s promise, “See I have given Jericho into your hand with its king and mighty men of valor.”  God was fighting for Israel – and the battle was a done deal.  God’s promise is in the past tense – “I have given Jericho into your hand – it’s done – it’s yours.  There is absolutely no question that the city will fall to you, because it has already fallen to Me.” 

The problem was never that God was too weak to take the city for Israel; the problem was that Israel doubted and sinned in disbelieving God’s promises.

The fact of the matter, for them and for us, is that if we believe in the promises of God by faith, we need no other deliverance.  If God has made a promise, it will come to pass, and we don’t need to fret and worry and groan and wring our hands, because God will make the possible reality.

They should have known that – we should know that – they saw the miracles in Egypt, they saw the Red Sea divide, they saw God’s provision of food and water for them in the wilderness, they saw God bind Himself to them as their God and they as His people, and so forth – still, they saw one big fort filled with mighty men, and they were willing to go back into slavery.

And before we say, “Stupid Israelites,” remember that every time you and I sin, we are telling God that we don’t believe Him.  Every time we worry and doubt that God’s promises will not come to pass, we are telling God that we don’t believe Him.

In our culture, perhaps the best way to see if you trust God and His promises is to take a look at your check book.  God has promised to provide us with all of our needs; do we give thanks to Him for that by giving to the work of His Church?  Do we give the minimum that He has required of us – ten percent of our gross income?  Have we learned to give more – generously – joyfully?

Paul, writing about his status, wrote, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8, ESV).

The voices in your ears are saying, “But I have to pay my bills.  And I have to have a buffer for anything that might happen.”  Beloved, God wants us to be wise with all that He has given us, but wise planning does not cause us to be disobedient or to be paralyzed in fear about what might be!

Whatever stumbling block is before you that keeps you from being able to trust Christ with your money, your possessions, whatever it might be that you are hanging on to – other than Christ – like a life preserver, whatever fortress looms before you and is causing you to shake in fear, remember what Solomon wrote, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10, ESV).

Run to Christ!  Be safe in Christ!  Trust Christ!  Believe in the promises of God – and act on them – for we need no other deliverance.

God continued His instructions:

“’You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.’ So Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the Lord.’ And he said to the people, ‘Go forward. March around the city and let the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord.’

“And just as Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the Lord went forward, blowing the trumpets, with the ark of the covenant of the Lord following them. The armed men were walking before the priests who were blowing the trumpets, and the rear guard was walking after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually. But Joshua commanded the people, ‘You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.’ So he caused the ark of the Lord to circle the city, going about it once. And they came into the camp and spent the night in the camp.

“Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. And the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the Lord walked on, and they blew the trumpets continually. And the armed men were walking before them, and the rear guard was walking after the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets blew continually. And the second day they marched around the city once, and returned into the camp. So they did for six days.”

If you’re going to take a heavily guarded fortress, this is not a good plan.  The people of Israel were out in the open, walking around the walls of the city – in silence, where the people of Jericho could easily have killed them.  They were tiring themselves out walking round and round, day after day – making themselves less able to fight when the time was right.

And what a strange sight this must have been to the people of Jericho!  “Look at these weird Israelites:  they’re not protecting themselves, they’re not trying to attack, and they’re just walking around in circles – day after day.  I think there’s something wrong with them.”

What God told them to do was bizarre, was it not?

God tells us to do strange things:

We read the history of Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, who was a leper.  He heard there was a prophet in Israel who could heal him, so he traveled to Israel and asked for Elisha, but Elisha wouldn’t meet with him, though he did send his servant out with a word from God:

“And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, ‘My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (I Kings 5:10-14, ESV).

Sometimes we are left scratching our heads:  why did God tell Naaman to wash in the Jordan, when there were better rivers in Syria?  Why did God tell Israel to walk around Jericho, when they should have been preparing for battle, not making themselves a target and wearing themselves out?

Paul wrote, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (I Corinthians 1:26-31, ESV).

Sometimes God does things and commands things that don’t make sense to us – “I want to teach Jonah that I have chosen people to be mine out of all the peoples of the world, so I will have a fish eat him.”

The fact that something God says doesn’t make sense to us in some way is irrelevant – of course we should search the Scripture to try to understand, but if we do not, in the end, it doesn’t matter, because if God has said something, it is so, and our right response, no matter what we think or feel, is to obey.  We are to trust that God – being God – knows what He is doing – His mind is greater than ours, so we must submit.

It is through faith, then, that we trust God, even when what He commands doesn’t make sense.

God has promised Israel that Jericho was already in their hands, and God told Israel to march around Jericho in silence for six days, and they trusted God and obeyed God – though they surely had no idea what the marching did for their conquering Jericho.

The point we sometimes miss – in these texts – and in our own lives – is that God did not tell Israel to march around Jericho because it would weaken the walls and make it easier for them to conquer Jericho, God told them to march around Jericho that their faith and trust in God and what God had promised would grow. 

God didn’t tell Naaman to wash in the Jordan because it had some magical power – Naaman recognized that – God wanted Naaman to understand that healing was not found in the water itself, but in faith and trust and obedience of God, the Great Physician.

And, so, God sometimes tells us to do things that we would be strengthened in faith and trust of God.

Finally, we read:

“On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times.  And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.’ So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword” (Joshua 6:1-21, ESV).

On November 28th, I went to the emergency room at St. Barnabas with what I thought was “merely” an infection.  I was expecting to wait for quite a while, get some anti-biotics, and go home.  However, they suspected something more was going on, so they sent me for a CAT scan and found that, indeed, I not only had an infection, but a salivary gland duct stone – and they said I could not leave the hospital.  As I waited for a room, I objected to God and told Him that I had to get home and finish this sermon, etc.

Unbeknownst to me, the same day, Al Weinstein was admitted to emergency having an infection after having two surgeries to remove parts of his stomach and colon, after being diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer seven weeks earlier.  He received his room assignment first.

Around 11:30 PM, I was finally brought to a room, where I met my roommate, Al Weinstein.  Over the next five days, we got to know each other, and we began to talk about the God of the Bible.  I was released about twelve hours before Al, but we exchanged phone numbers and pledged to keep in contact.  We have called each other twice already this week to check in.

We said that God told Israel to walk around Jericho to build their trust in God and the promises from Him that they received by faith.  Why did God have them walk around Jericho for seven days?  Could it have been five?  Could it have been eleven?  Could it have been one?

Israel was beginning to take the Promised Land, why did God drag out their taking of the first outpost?

We, at least, see God teaching Israel to be patient.  God was teaching them to trust, but they could have sincerely trusted and still prayed to God, “Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up!”  By making them wait, He was teaching them that through faith, we patiently wait on God, even when we think we need something now.

I wanted to get out of the hospital and get home.  I had work to do.   I had the work of the Lord to do – to finish preparing this sermon, to preach last Sunday.  But God said, “no.”  Why?

If nothing else, I know that God kept me from being with you, so I could be with Al Weinstein and befriend him and begin to talk with him about God.  Al said he wants to come visit us when he is back on his feet.  Please pray for him – for his health and salvation.

Paul explained to the Philippians that he was always content:  “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13, ESV).

What was Paul’s secret?  How could he be content in poverty and riches as they came his way?  In Christ, Paul knew:

If we believe in the promises of God by faith, we need no other deliverance.

Through faith, we trust God, even when what God has said doesn’t make sense to us.

Through faith, we patiently wait on God, even when we think we need something now.

The walls of Jericho fell by the Hand of God – not by anything Israel did.  And in preparation for conquering Jericho, God taught Israel to believe in Him for deliverance, to trust Him – and to work that trust out in obedience, and to be patient until God says the time is right.

May God teach each one of us likewise.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for the history of Joshua and the conquest of Jericho, that we would be reminded that our deliverance is in You Alone, and not through anything we do.  We ask that you would help us to trust and obey You in all that You have put before us in Your Word.  Help us to be patient as we wait on You and long for the Second Advent of Your Son Jesus, in Whose Name we pray, Amen.


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