When Mark Twain’s beloved wife “Livy” died…the darkness fully enveloped him.
“There is nothing, there is no god and no universe, there is only empty space and in it a lost, and homeless and companionless indestructible thought. And I am that thought. And god and the universe and time and life and death and sorrow and pain are only a grotesque and brutal dream evolved from the frantic imagination of that insane thought.”
Since his daughter’s death his writings had turned increasingly dark…but his wife had kept him from making them public…but when she died…he gave full vent to his despair.
In the book “The Mysterious Stranger”
He questions God and talks with Satan…delivering scathing attacks on God and conventional religion.
In the book Satan appears on earth to report on the absurdity of human belief.
In the last chapter, Twain wrote that the god humans have invented is insane, he is a nightmare…why would we invent a god who can make everyone happy and yet didn’t make a single human being happy.
Keep in mind that several years earlier Twain had written that he was totally and completely happy, he couldn’t imagine anyone could be happier
He, like most of us, tended to view all of reality from the perspective of his current situation.
The Scriptures encourage us to view our current situation from the perspective of God’s eternal purposes.
I will read one more quote from Twain but first let me tell you why…I am using him as an as ongoing example for these first books of the OT.
Twain said he was not just “An American” he is “The American”…he said in fact he is the human.
His struggles, his inconsistencies…he believed he represented the human race as whole.
Adam, the first man…his name means “human”…in his fall put himself in the place of God…deciding for himself what is good and what is evil.
Perhaps Twain was right…maybe his struggles do represent humanity at large.
But though I feel pity for the way his life turned out…wealthy, famous, alone and empty.
He allowed his own thoughts to sit in judgment on God and his word.
Here’s the quote that is most disturbing of all…but honest and sad
“Our bible reveals to us the character of our God with minute and remorseless exactness. The portrait is substantially that of a man if one can imagine a man charged and overcharged with evil impulses far beyond the human limit. His acts expose his vindictive, unjust, ungenerous, pitiless and vengeful nature constantly…it is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere.”
Today we look at Joshua…a book that those very remarks may have originated from.
A book that enourages us to trust God…not self.
But I regret that Twain did not trust God as much as he trusted himself…in fact he seemed to be a man who more and more made life about himself.
He devoted his final decade to working on his autobiography, and seeking the adulation…really worship of people.
At his daughter’s own wedding…he showed up in the Oxford garb, he was given when he received an honorary doctorate…he wore it to be the center of attention…even at his daughter’s wedding.
His daughter left the country immediately afterwards to have distance from him.
The PBS special on his life said that he eventually persuaded a group of mothers to bring their young daughters around him often(He was over 70 now)…and he openly sought their praise and admiration.
It seems he had fully made life about himself…and he put himself forward as God’s judge and the judge of God’s word.
But he was not…God’s word could have helped him…had he let it.
Heb. 4:12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
We are spending the first quarter of this year: Doing an overview of the Bible to demonstrate its continuity and authority.
Single objective this year: confidence
We started with a sprint through the Torah, first five books of the Bible.
Today we are in Joshua, the book of transition where the people enter into the land promised to them by God.
We will see where it fits into the larger picture in a few minutes…but first let’s
- Walk through the book
The book is named after Joshua, the leader who takes over from Moses after he died.
His name means “The Lord gives victory”
The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name, “Joshua”
Joshua, 38 years or so earlier had been one of two of the twelve spies who had gone into the land who was ready to trust God.
So Joshua, along with Caleb were the only two out of the many thousands who left Egypt who actually went into Canaan.
The book divides into four parts
- The entry into the promised land
- Battles there
- The dividing of land among the twelve tribes
- Joshua’s final speeches before he dies
It all points to the fundamental human issue…will we trust God?
-If we will, we will experience him and his life
-If we will not, we will experience what life without him looks like.
- Into the promised land:
Moses is dead, the Lord tells Joshua…that is time to take the people in.
He said some important and challenging things to him…things Joshua would live by his entire life.
This is like a change of command.
When a military leader assumes command…the leader who has authority over him or her will give a charge…in this case Joshua receives his charge from his commander…God.
Josh. 1:6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua was God’s human selection to accomplish his covenant promise.
Abraham’s kin…would have a land…which was to be the staging grounds to bless the entire world.
Joshua…would be responsible to choose courage and strength.
In addition he was responsible to choose obedience.
And to do that he was responsible to proactively know and think constantly about the Scriptures…so he would be positioned to obey them.
When he did all this…then he would succeed in his endeavors…he would be able to lead his people well.
Notice the balance here:
- God’s sovereign choice: An unconditional covenant with his people and a selection of Joshua to lead them in the fulfillment of that promise.
- Joshua’s responsibility to step up and be courageous
There are, throughout Scriptures, this tension:
-God’s sovereign plan
-Our responsibility to choose to be faithful, obedient and courageous
God is sovereign in our lives and we must choose to be faithful/courageous with our choices.
So Joshua assumes command…like Moses, he sent in some spies to gather intel.
This time it is a very different story than 38 years earlier.
The location was different and the outcome was different.
The spies went to Jericho, a city-state near where they would enter the land…and they came back encouraged…not discouraged.
The King of Jericho found out spies were there, so his people went looking for them.
Rahab hid them, and helped them escape.
She would later be saved when the city is attacked.
Two things are important about Rahab
- She was a Canaanite…and as a prostitute she would have been a part of their religious practices that combined ritual prostitution with worship.
-Impossible to know if her profession was her choice, or if she was forced into it.
But because of her faith, she was saved.
See God did not delight in destroying these people…any of them.
In fact when the army is told to go to war against the city, they will march around it for 6 days…why?
Presumably to give people in the city time to change their minds
Is this even possible…or plausible?
Yes…Jonah, later on, would go to the wicked city of Nineveh in Assyria and walk around it telling people simply to “repent” and the entire city did…Jericho sadly did not.
- She was in the line of the Messiah…she was a few generations back from King David…and Jesus came from the lineage of David.
This nobody, pagan prostitute is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, as well as being recognized for her faith by the writer of the book of Hebrews and by James.
God wants to bless all nations through his people…he doesn’t delight in the destruction of people…he delights in people being saved.
God is at work to bring the Messiah through Abraham’s family line…only God could bring these pieces of human history together like this.
Let’s move on…
The spies return, the people cross the Jordan.
Then they celebrated the Passover…and ate the produce of the land for the first time…some cakes and roasted grain.
The next day the manna(the supernatural provision of God) ceased (Josh 4:12)…they no longer needed it
As Joshua was standing looking at the walled city of Jericho he saw a man (what he thought was a man) standing with a drawn sword.
Joshua approached him and asked “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
Turns out this was an angel…a word that means “messenger”
And he delivered a message: “I am for neither side; but as commander of the Lord’s army I have come.”
Very important point here: God was on God’s own side.
This was not going to be Israel vs. Canaanites…it was God’s battle.
People can join God…he does not join people.
This doesn’t mean all nations and all human armies are morally equivalent…they are not.
The Nazis were clearly more wicked than the allies (not in every action by every soldier or leader but overall in conduct and purpose).
But God is for God…we join him, he doesn’t join us.
The main point was…God was going to accomplish his purposes…Israel needed only to trust and obey him…he would fight for his own honor.
Now this message from the angelic commander is played out in two ways in two battle accounts:
- Ai (ah-ee)
The battle plan for Jericho…a fortified city state…was passive on Israel’s part.
They were to march for 6 days…then shout.
God delivered his people…brings victory in a way that no human can take credit for.
Meanwhile an Israelite named Achan broke faith and took some things from Jericho that God had said were to be destroyed.
Joshua, of course didn’t know this had happened…he sent some of his Army to Ai(ah-ee).
He didn’t feel the need to send them all…it was less fortified than Jericho…and Jericho had been a breeze.
However…Israel was routed by the Ai(ah-ee) and the people were filled with fear.
With good reason…if the word got around to their many enemies that they were actually beatable…the armies would line up to destroy them.
It is discovered that Achan had sinned…that sin was addressed and the army was sent again to Ai…this time Joshua sent 30,000 troops…he was trusting God, but taking no chances…good choice.
What follows these two stories is a list of all the battles they would go on to win…they had learned their lesson.
The reason these two particular battles get a lot of ink is that they demonstrate in practice what God had said would be true…if they are to experience God’s provision and protection…they must obey.
They must join him…he was not going to join them.
Next section is the division of the land among the twelve tribes…if you read it, it’s a slog…and its okay to skim it…as long you get the point.
It is a direct fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier…after years of captivity God would give his people this land.
The book’s final chapters are after the war has ended and Joshua is really old.
He calls all the leaders together for a final cabinet meeting.
He gives them essentially the speech Moses had given before he died…in shorter form.
He tells them that God has kept his end of the covenant…he always will.
However the same fate would befall them as did the Canaanites if they failed to keep their end of the Covenant.
They, like the Canaanites would be exiled from the land.
Josh. 23:14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as every good promise of the LORD your God has come true, so the LORD will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”
So…just as the Canaanites were exiled from the land…because of their rebellion.
=Israel would be as well if they rebelled…and they did rebel…and they would be exiled.
- How it fits in the larger storyline
That’s the story of Joshua…let’s see how it fits into the larger story.
Genesis: Creation, Fall, Plan of redemption is initiated in the family line of Abraham,
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: God’s redemption of his people from slavery, his provision of the law (how to live well with God and each other), the Lord’s presence with them again, their rebellion and his continued provision…all the way up to the border of the land promised to Abraham.
Joshua: As the people trust and obey…they experience the goodness of God’s promises.
-The book ends with everything looking pretty good…maybe the Bible can end here.
But Joshua knew better…he said “You guys are not going to be able to obey…but since you say you will be able to I’m going to set up a stone, a visible symbol of this conversation.”
“This stone has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us. It will be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” Josh. 24:27
This was a creative way of saying…this silent, inanimate stone is a visible and permanent symbol of the truth of God…down the road when you are experiencing the results of your own rebellion…it will be here to tell you why.
Judges: The next book was the reality of what Joshua predicted coming to pass…cycles of rebellion…and God’s continued rescue of his people.
He would be patient…for many years…but eventually they would be exiled from the land for the same reasons the Canaanites had been.
A continual refusal to let God define what is good and what is not.
Let’s look at an issue or a problem that many have with the Joshua narrative(Including Mark Twain).
Why is God declaring war on these people groups in Canaan?
Did God initiate a genocide? What kind of God is this?
There is a satisfying response for anyone who is willing to grapple with the complexity of human history and our interactions with God and his with us.
For those looking for simple answers…there is probably no satisfying one…this will be true throughout our study this year.
First, a question for those who question whether or not this “God of the book of Joshua” is worthy of respect, let alone worship…Twain thought not.
If God took you back in history and put you in charge…how would you handle it?
What would you do?
Here’s the sitrep (situational report):
God has a lasting rescue plan that involves a particular people (Israel) and a place (Canaan).
-To be a people you need a place…it is the nature of being humans.
-It’s why “refugees, displaced people, homeless people” get attention and sympathy in Scripture and in culture.
The people(Israel) are very easily swayed(much like we are) by the winds of culture that blow around them.
They are entrusted with carrying the reality of God to the nations.
The people who are in the place when they return after 4 centuries…the Canaanites…have been given hundreds of years to change.
It is one of the reasons given for the long slavery of Israel in Egypt…God was waiting, patiently for them to turn.
They have not changed…in fact, if anything…they have grown worse.
They are morally corrupt as seen in two primary ways…of course there are others…but these are the highlights…or low lights.
-Sexual perversion (read of this in Lev. 18)…there were no boundaries for them.
-Child sacrifice…they murdered their own children, in painful and terrible ways as a part of sacrifices to their gods. (read of this in Deut. 12)
*Arguable you can make the point that we are there as nation…no boundaries for sexual perversion and we sacrifice unborn children to our gods (pleasure, money, convenience)
Okay…God makes you in charge in these circumstances…what do you do?
- Hold meetings with the heads of these city states? (meanwhile they were banding together to wipe you out)
- Let the people live side by side, hope for the best? (This actually did happen because of rebellion and it was a disaster all around)
- Let Israel have their own land? (This was their land, and where would you take them…Egypt, Assyria, Babylon…yeah they would end up all those places)
“What do you do when you are faced with two “bads”?”
What does the Bible say?
For instance, Rahab…she could “lie” (a bad) or let these men of God die (another bad).
She chose the lesser bad…or the greater good.
This is not situational ethics…Joseph Fletcher is famous for this flawed approach…and it is an approach that is totally “human centric”…we decide the greater good…the best in situations.
Biblical ethics is God-centric.
God always chooses the greater good…from his eternal vantage point.
And the greater good involves real world tensions for us.
God was both patient with the people in the land…and committed to his larger purposes for the world.
He did not want any to perish but he would protect his people because of what was at stake.
*We see this in the story of Rahab a Canaanite prostitute…who God accepted by her faith
And there is another story in Joshua of a people group called the Gibeonites who came and asked for asylum and were granted it.
Again demonstrating that God was open to those who turned to him from any nation…now they tricked Israel to make it look like they were from far away…but they were allowed to live regardless.
This was not genocide…this was a terrible judgment that had become unavoidable because of human wickedness.
In fact in Deut. 20 Moses told the people as they prepared to enter the land…to pursue peace when possible with the nations in Canaan.
20:10 “When you draw near a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it…if they refuse to make peace then kill the soldiers but not the children or the women.”
So a careful reading of the text indicates a complex situation…caused by human sin.
There is no OT God and then Jesus…is a single-story line…God did not delight in the death of the wicked, but his purposes are priority.
God’s rescue plan…was so important, so much was and is at stake.
- Application: Joshua 1:8-10
Let’s look more closely at God’s charge to Joshua
Joshua 1:8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
First…since this was a direct charge to a person…how do we apply it to our lives?
Important question…it has implications for how we view the OT and all historical narratives in the Bible.
The Bible describes what happened(historical narrative) and it prescribes what should happen(principles and direct instruction)…how do we know the difference sometimes they are blended.
*Like the Law given to Israel…what applies to us now, what doesn’t?
You might say “Clearly this Joshua passage applies to me…I mean read it.”
Okay, I agree it does apply to us…but why does it and how does it.
It was a direct word from God to Joshua…your name is not there.
If you insist it is a word to you…then why don’t you believe the verses just before this apply to you as well?
“Lead my people across the Jordan River.”
“Well” you might say “It’s different.”
Yes, I agree…but it is important that we know why it is different…we want to understand in order to have confidence in this book.
Twain lost confidence in the Bible because he misunderstood it.
From OT and NT historical narratives (which are descriptions of what did happen)(Jesus died on a cross) we can rightly come up or find principles and practices.
So…”No, you don’t have to jump through all the Leviticus hoops…sacrifices and rituals in order to be right with God.”
But “Yes! God is holy and must be approached with reverence…and Jesus is the final sacrifice and no one comes to the Father except through him.”
So the charge to Joshua and his application…what are the principles that clearly transcend this single historical situation?
- It is critical that we internalize God’s word…vital for his success.
The phrase…”Do not let this law depart from your mouth” refers to the custom of muttering while studying or reflecting.
*People still do it…not as much in our culture…we consider it very annoying and impolite
That phrase goes with the other key phrase… “meditate on it day and night”
*Hebrew word “meditate” literally means to “mutter”
Mutter constantly with your mind not just your mouth…let truth shape you inside out.
- Then, obviously, the purpose of this “muttering” is to do what God has said.
- Then results: you will prosper and be successful
-This is not financial
-There are many rich and miserable people
-It may include money…but in this case it meant success in obeying God and doing what he wants done…love people
For Joshua success meant leading the people well…for their good and God’s glory.
We are being shaped inside out by what we “mutter with our minds”
*Is what is there true or not?
TWAIN was shaped by stinking thinking…he muttered in his mind and with his mouth…that which is not true…and it shaped him into a certain kind of person over time.
*What is shaping you…what are you “mind muttering”…allowing to stay in your head…do those thoughts conform to the truth?
Twain: Evaluated reality by his own current situation
Joshua: Evaluated his own current situation by reality
*Do you see the difference?
Then another important principle that you can rightly “own” for yourself:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
The reason God told Joshua this was because in the years to come…there would be many opportunities to be terrified and discouraged…and many situations he would need to choose courage.
Joshua, in his long life, spent much of it at war…he had to be discouraged many times.
His emotions would fail him often…he had to choose…like all who live with courage must choose…to not let discouragement dictate life direction.
This choice was empowered by Joshua’s ongoing choice…”muttering of the truth to self.”
God is with me wherever I go…this is true whatever I see around me.
Goal of this year: Confidence
Key application today: Believe God’s word, understand it accurately, and take it deep into your life…so it shows up in your actions and attitudes more consistently.
So you can be strong and courageous…BECAUSE the Lord is with you wherever you go.
Will you evaluate the truth by your own current situation?
Will you evaluate your own current situation by the truth?